The Authority of Christ
Topic: Authority/Power of Christ Passage: Mark 1:21–28
We are continuing our journey through the gospel of Mark so let’s jump right in and turn to Mark chapter one. Mark is the shortest of all the four gospels and it moves along at a fast pace, often speeding from one scene to the next with the word “immediately”. And Mark’s focus is fixed far more on Jesus’ actions than on his teachings, but Mark is far more than just a collection of “action stories” with no point or a purpose. As with all the gospels, Mark has carefully chosen specific snapshots of Jesus’ ministry in order to reveal a particular truth about who Jesus is to his readers.
At points throughout the gospel, after Jesus does a miraculous work, the crowds and even Jesus’ disciples wonder with amazement and fear, who is this man? Who is this man? It’s a question that reaches out of Mark’s gospel and takes hold of every person who reads this gospel: who is this man? It’s the most important question we will ever consider in our lives and the Bible tells us that our conclusion will be the most important decision we ever make in our lives. Who is this man? Who is Jesus? Mark’s answer is contained in the opening words of the gospel and is progressively revealed through the snapshots of Jesus’ life and ministry: Jesus is the Son of God, come to earth to as a man to give his life as a ransom for sinners.
In the passage we are looking at this morning a congregation in Capernaum will be confronted with that question: who is this man?
Jesus returns to the city of Capernaum with his new disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John, and on the Sabbath they enter the synagogue and Jesus begins to teach. And as he teaches, the congregation is confronted with the authority of Christ and find themselves asking, what is this? Who is this man? Christ’s authority is displayed before the congregation in two ways. First they hear the authority of his words and then they see the authority of his works. Let’s begin with
1. The authority of his words (vv. 21-22)
Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus said that day, but verse 22 describes the effect of Jesus’ words on the listeners: And they were astonished at his teaching… (vs 22)
The word “astonish” here is the Greek word ekplesso which means to strike with panic or shock. They were struck by Jesus’ words, to the point of being shocked, and verse 22 tells us why:
…for he taught them as one who had authority and not as the scribes.
Jesus taught them like no one had ever taught them before. He taught them as one who had authority. The word authority comes from a word that means “out of the original stuff” – Jesus taught God’s word as one who had authority within himself not derived from another source. The scribes taught in generalities and technicalities over their interpretation of the law and as they debated over this meaning or that meaning they would marshall credibility for their views by quoting ancient and well respected rabbis, such as Hillel or Gamaliel to give their views credibility. But no rabbi would ever present himself as having any authority residing within himself – it was always derived from others.
Even the OT prophets derived their authority from the Lord God. They would begin their prophecies with the words thus says the Lord. The authority wasn’t that they said it, but that the Lord God was saying it through them. But Jesus would say things like “you have heard it said…” and then after quoting an OT command he would say, “but I say to you…” and he would say things that would transcend or go beyond God’s command. “You have heard it said love your neighbor and hate your enemy (citing Lev 19:18) but I say to you, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” He has adjusted God’s law and based on what? Based on this: “I say to you.” Jesus would often begin a teaching with the words “truly, truly I say to you…” His authority wasn’t derived from another source, it was located in himself. And that was shocking.
Walking in circles
Studies have shown that if you blindfold a man and ask him to walk in a straight line, he will begin well but soon he will begin to turn one way or another and soon will be looping around in ever tightening circles. 3 men walked out of their barn on a foggy day heading for a point a half mile away. Without knowing it they began to loop around and around and ended up back at the barn. It is a phenomenon that has been demonstrated over and over again: without a fixed reference point we cannot keep a straight line. The strange thing is we think we are but we aren’t. We begin to loop and curve eratically – without ever knowing it.
God’s word is that fixed point for our souls. Its truths are fixed – “forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” (Ps. 119:89) and so it gives us a safe and accurate reference point for our lives. That’s why a person who rejects God’s word as the source of truth feels like they’re on the right road – they’re going straight – at least for a while. The Bible says there is a way that seems right to a man (think they’re going straight) but the end thereof is death.
As Christians we are to point to God’s word as the fixed reference point by which we can live and be saved. Pastors have no right to declare their opinions or viewpoints with authority, but we can preach God’s word with authority. It is our fixed point and we can point others to it as truth.
But Jesus didn’t point people to the fixed point, he claimed to be the fixed point. He is the sun by which we navigate our lives. He is the star by which we can guide our path. Jesus didn’t say “I know the truth” or “I can point you to the truth”, he said, “I am the truth” – fixed point.
It was an authority that shocked this congregation, not only because it surprised them, but because it claimed them. Confronted with Jesus’ authority, confronted with the question who is this man, it pressed them to make a choice about how they would respond to his authority. And it presses us today. Who is this man? Who is he to me? Is he my king? Is he my Lord? Or not? Jesus said, “if you love me, you will obey me.” Christians will never perfectly submit to Jesus’ authority in this life because of the ongoing presence of sin in our lives, but what’s he’s saying is that if we love him, we will love his authority.
It’s good to periodically pause and ask the Spirit to reveal to us, have we gone off? Is Jesus still our reference point? Do I love his authority? Do I obey his commands? Do I love him? And if we find we have strayed, we can correct our trajectory by repenting and giving him full authority in our lives again. They were confronted with the authority of Christ’s words.
2. The authority of his works (vv. 23-26)
While Jesus is teaching, the service is disrupted by a violent outburst from a demon possessed man. This demoniac appears to have been a member of the synagogue but Jesus’ presence and teaching flushes him out and he can’t contain himself any longer.
The Bible tells us that demons are real beings who really do exist. As Christians we aren’t to be focusing on the demonic – I’ve seen churches go far afield by doing that – we are to be focusing on Jesus. But we do need to know that we have an enemy of our souls who Peter says prowls about like a roaring lion looking for whom he can devour, and Paul says we aren’t to be ignorant of the devil’s schemes.
I said last week that all our problems come down to rulership: who’s going to rule our lives. Satan tempted us to be our own gods and all the misery, heartache, violence and brokenness this world is filled with is a result of our being our own gods. Satan is the god of all those who rebel against God’s rule.
This man’s state of being possessed by an unclean spirit isn’t very different than the state of mankind – just a little further down the road. Sin is unclean, sin is putrid – it is pollution of the soul and mind and heart. It is moral filth and decay. And sin is the oxygen of Satan’s domain – the filth of rebellion against the good and holy rule of God. That’s the sad state of humanity: because of sin we aren’t born the subjects of God’s kingdom, we are born the subjects of the kingdom of darkness. Jesus came to save us from sin and the kingdom of darkness.
This unclean spirit knew that – that’s why he cries out. “what have you to do with us?” The language he uses is the common formula in the OT in the context of battle, “you have nothing to do with us – yet.” The demon knows he can’t win a battle between himself and the Son of God, so all he can do is appeal to the timing. What have you to do with us? Have you come to destroy us? The timing is wrong – it’s not judgment day, their time hasn’t come yet.
In a desperate attempt to manipulate Jesus, the demoniac reveals to the crowd who Jesus really is. Remember the question that Mark is answering, who is Jesus? Ironically the first public declaration of who Jesus is in the book of Mark comes from a demon! Even in human form, this demon recognizes the Second Person of the Trinity and he can’t help but cry out his recognition of who Jesus is, the Holy One of God.
Here’s where we see the amazing authority of Jesus. With a word he silences the demon, “be silent” – literally “be muzzled”. And then with a word he commands the demon to disentangle himself from the man and come out. It’s pretty obvious that’s not what the demon wants to do, because he shakes the man and shrieks in anger, but Jesus’ authority and power leave the demon no choice.
He just wants to let us out!
A lot of times people are afraid to give their lives to Jesus. Even Christians fear that if we totally submitted our lives to the lordship of Jesus he’d mess our lives up. He’d ask us to do something horrible and totally self-sacrificing.
A friend of mine wrote a song many years ago that painted the picture of a frightened person hiding in their home – and Jesus comes knocking at the door. As they wipe the frost off the window to look outside at this person knocking at their door there’s an internal struggle, there’s a desire to let him in, but there’s another voice that says, “too much to lose”. The chorus went “no room, no room was the cry of my heart”. The song goes on to say you’re so afraid to let Jesus in, but he just wants to let you out!
Jesus comes with authority to free us, to let us out. This demon possessed man wasn’t destroyed by Jesus’ authority, he was set free by Jesus’ authority. Jesus doesn’t come to mess up our lives, he comes to give us our lives back. His authority is the rule that we long for deep inside because his authority is governed by love.
Today is Palm Sunday, and on that Palm Sunday two thousand years ago Jesus rode into Jerusalem and for a brief time people caught a glimpse of his majesty and authority and cried out “hosanna to the king!” But in less than a week’s time those same voices were crying out “crucify him!” But if we pause there and look a little closer, we are even more astonished at his authority in that moment. Because even Jesus’ death was a display of his authority. In John 10 speaking of his life, Jesus said: "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Even his death revealed his authority to voluntarily give his life as a ransom for sinners like you and me. And on that glorious resurrection day two thousand years ago, Jesus rose again because he had authority to take his life up again.
No one is beyond his reach
No one is beyond Jesus’ ability to reach. If he could save this poor demon possessed man and deliver him from hell’s grip, he can save anyone in this room, no matter how far into sin you’ve fallen or how far from God you’ve strayed. I believe there are some in this room this morning who are afraid you’re beyond his reach. You’re not. Come in faith and believe that Jesus can set you free.
In a minute we’re going to pray, and I want to invite you to pray with me if that’s a description of your life. You are not beyond his reach or his compassion. Call out to Jesus this morning.
For others, it’s a good time to prayerfully consider, am I following Jesus as my fixed point? Am I loving his authority? Am I submitting my life to his Lordship?
Jesus’ authority lays a claim on our lives – and it’s a good claim. Let’s be astonished by Jesus’ authority, and let’s love his authority. God will give us grace to obey him as we come to him in repentance and faith and surrender our lives yet again to his lordship.
More in Gospel of Mark
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 24, 2013A Glorious View from the Mt Everest of Our Redemption