There are times when it’s necessary to obtain proof of a person’s authority to do something. A plainclothes law enforcement officer comes to your door to ask questions. If that individual didn’t immediately produce a badge or credentials, you’d ask to see them as proof that he or she has the authority to be there asking you questions. Or, another example; when your telephone rings. Somebody comes on the line saying they have some questions or information regarding your credit card. You’d better ask that person to prove themselves; are they who they say they are, and are they really calling under the authority of your credit card bank. Better yet, when those calls come, hang up! So, there will be times when we must ask a person to prove that they have the authority to do what they are doing.
Jesus was asked later in his ministry, shortly before his crucifixion, by what authority he had been doing certain things, like cleansing the temple of the non-worship activity of selling animals for sacrifice and exchanging money. The religious leaders of the Jews demanded that Jesus prove he had the authority to do those things. In that instance Jesus told them he’d answer their question about his authority if they’d answer his question about the authority John the Baptist had to do the things he did. Since those leaders realized that put them between a rock and a hard place, they gave no answer. So, neither did Jesus.
In reality, for the previous three years Jesus had been revealing that the authority is his. Often, in what he taught and did demonstrated his authority over everything and every person. We see both in our lesson today from Mark 1.
Jesus Reveals His Authority
In his powerful teaching
In his powerful acts.
Those people who heard Jesus teach in their synagogue in Capernaum on that Sabbath day recognized Jesus’ authority. What they heard was unlike anything they’d heard from their “teachers of the law” (their rabbis). So, what did he teach / preach? Mark doesn’t say in this section. But he did write down some general things Jesus was teaching as he went through Galilee. We heard them in our Gospel readings from Mark chapter one the last couple weeks. Mark 1:14, 15 – last week: Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. “The time is fulfilled,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near! Repent, and believe the gospel.”
We also hear from Luke’s Gospel what he was teaching. Luke recorded this same incident in chapter 4 (verses 31-37). Just before that section Luke wrote about Jesus teaching in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. There he read a section from the prophet Isaiah, a part of which was our Verse of the Day this morning: “The spirit of the Lord is on me for he anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18,19). He then began his teaching by saying, “TODAY THIS SCRIPTURE IS FULFILLED IN YOUR HEARING.”
He, no doubt, went on to teach about repentance; that it involves people recognizing their sins against almighty God, seeking his forgiveness in his promised Messiah, receiving it for their comfort, and then turning from their sinful behaviors. He certainly taught that he is that Messiah, that “anointed One” set aside for the purpose of bringing the Lord’s favor to sinners who are oppressed with their guilt and held captive by their sin and the fears of God’s judgment that come with them. Was he saying similar things in Capernaum? Probably. But in all he taught, he was speaking right from the Scriptures, pointedly teaching from them God’s demands for how human lives he created are to be lived – God’s commandments. Pointedly, he was probably telling them what God had been doing for sinful humans through the people of Israel for the last century and a half, and what God was doing NOW as Jesus the Messiah/Savior had arrived in this world. Apparently, they were not hearing these things from the teachers of the law. Perhaps from them they heard just opinions and their own thoughts. Especially with those teachers who were Pharisees they heard more little commandments they had made up. Seemingly, they were not teaching God’s promises and God’s love for his people, to be fully demonstrated in the sacrifice of that coming Messiah / Savior.
Jesus taught with authority and power. Maybe, “This is what the Scriptures say and mean” vs. “I think”, or “the commonly accepted opinion among our rabbis is…”. “Today, this is fulfilled!”, Jesus said in Nazareth. It was an authoritative and powerful message that touched hurting and guilty hearts. He brought them all the things people hurting from sin, guilt, and it’s earthly and eternal consequences craved to hear! Forgiveness! God’s favor! Freedom from judgement! Life and peace with God forever!
Jesus reveals his authority over everything – ideas, people, the world – in his powerful teaching that changes lives for time and for eternity!!!!
As if on cue, Jesus had opportunity to reveal his authority also in a powerful act. In that synagogue was a man who was possessed by an “unclean spirit”, a demon, a devil. The demon spoke through the man. “What do we have to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth?” In other words, “what do we have in common?”; “why are we together here?” Then he spoke some truth that answered his own question: “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the holy One of God.” Until Jesus brings this world to an end, wherever Jesus is, to draw sinners destined for destruction in hell to himself and life with him, the devil will show up to try to prevent God’s will from being done, even though he’s already condemned and could be defeated in such attempts. One Bible commentator has said that in this way the devil is like “a moth attracted to a flame”. He can’t resist it and he very well may get burned; as was the case here. Yes, Jesus had come to destroy the devil’s work; and he would do so here. Jesus commands the devil to stop talking and to come out of the man. Once Jesus has made his judgment and spoken his powerful word, this devil had nothing to say. As it departed from the man it could only make an unintelligible “shriek” (NIV). Jesus allowed it one more action, that of throwing the man into a violent convulsion. But what a powerful purpose that served! As the man flopped around on the ground it was clear to everyone what the results are of being under the devil’s authority – misery, terror, violence, and harm. But what a contrast when Jesus took control and the man was under his authority!! He had peace, no fear, and was unharmed in Jesus! The people at the synagogue heard and saw Jesus’ authority in action. Their reaction? “A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits, and they obey him!”
Jesus still reveals his authority today in his powerful words and powerful acts. The message is the same from God’s Word, and should be from the mouths of his messengers. There is a powerful call to repent; to recognize our sin and how we so often place ourselves under our own and (in reality) under the Devil’s authority. In that call to repentance is the clear statement that being under our own and under the Devil’s authority is a miserable place to be, now and in eternity! I’ve offended God. But also in the call to repentance, when it is heeded, is the good news Jesus proclaimed! “The kingdom of God has come near!” God’s kingdom is his ruling activity – his saving activity in the hearts and lives of people. Jesus is that “anointed One”, that “holy one” of God, set aside for the special purpose of doing what he himself read from Isaiah’s prophecy: “to preach good news to the poor… to proclaim freedom for the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor!” To you and me, poor in spirit because of our sins, captives to our sins and their guilt and deserved punishment, oppressed with our guilts and the struggles that we create for ourselves through our sins, Jesus comes in his powerful teaching to put us under his authority where we have forgiveness of every sin, peace with God and with our consciences, and the means by which to be at peace with those against whom we sin and who sin against us.
The power of his message rests in his powerful acts for us. The demonstrations of power that revealed his authority were wonderful previews of the most powerful acts he has carried out for us. His entire life was a demonstration of power over the devil and his temptations to sin, as he faced every temptation you and I face yet overcame everyone and remained perfect and innocent before God in our place. It was a powerful act on his part to remain on his cross in the face of temptations to leave the cross and to not endure God’s anger over our sins. In power he took back the life he gave up in death!
And still today he exercises his authority in our lives, blessing us with his peace, joy and life. How many times haven’t you come away from a situation, only to say “God’s hand did this for me.”? And right here, in the supper Jesus gave for his disciples of all time, he acts powerfully again, revealing his authority over all things. With the bread and wine he will give his very body and blood offered on his cross, to personally assure the forgiveness of sins and perfect, eternal life with him!
This brings us to the “hurtful” zinger question. If this authority of Jesus is revealed to us in his powerful teaching and in his powerful acts on our behalf, and if even the devils must obey him … then – you finish the question – WHY DON’T __?
There is still a “devil” who lives in me, and in you. It goes by different names and titles: “sinful nature”, “flesh”, “Old Adam”. That “devil” in me wants to resist Jesus and his authority over me at every turn of life. But by his powerful teaching and his powerful acts, God the Holy Spirit has created within you and me a new person that rejoices and finds peace in Jesus’ authority over all things, including us. We have a better reason than the “devils” to submit to Jesus’ authority. It’s in his message, “the kingdom of God has come near” to you and to me. God’s saving and ruling activity has taken place for you and in you! Jesus has removed the sin and guilt that makes us poor and condemned before God. He has removed the oppression of guilt and fear of God’s eternal judgment and punishment. We live under the favor of God, for Jesus’ sake!
This Jesus, eternal and powerful Son of God who desired to become also the Son of Man for us, is our compassionate and benevolent Savior! What peace, hope and joy we receive when under his authority. For that reason, let each of us joyfully and thankfully submit daily to his authority! Amen.