By Jesus' Authority
Sermon 1730 Mark 1.21-28 January 24, 2021
“Who’s in charge here?”
Them’s fighting words as any teenager knows when your sister, older than you by but 18 months is left as the babysitter when Mom and Dad go out for their once every three months dinner date.
“Who’s in charge here?”
Them’s blaming words as we disparage those in charge, no matter what the situation—long lines at the DMV, bewildering procedures in the halls of government, ridiculous, but persistent snafus at work. We don’t like authority, unless we can usurp it for ourselves.
Today’s text before us is all about a different kind of authority and our place under it.
By Jesus’ Authority
1. Hearts are won (21-22).
2. Faith is strengthened (23-29).
“They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law (21-22).”
Unlike the Temple, which was run by a highly trained, hereditary priesthood, the synagogue was a people’s power sort of thing. You didn’t have to be a Levite. You could be any adult male (over 30) respected as a believing voice to be listened to for guidance and inspiration. Leaders of the synagogue were trained, scribes, Pharisees, teachers of the law, the New Testament calls them. But they were open to those recognized by the people. They generously offered their chairs to others (they preached sitting down). You get the feeling Jesus preached a lot at the synagogue when he was in Capernaum on a Sabbath.
The content of Jesus’ preaching amazed the people. All Mark has to do is compare Jesus to the teachers of the law. It wasn’t that Mark was trying to be unkind. It was the unvarnished truth. The teachers of the law were in a different world than Jesus inhabited. They were concerned about the rules and regulations that governed the ceremonies of daily life. Imagine you have a friend who is an extended houseguest, marooned by COVID travel restrictions. They have sort of a crazy diet. You can’t cook two different meals all the time, so you accommodate them. But the healthiest of foods, to your mind, are poison to them. No ketchup—sugar in it! No tofu—a soy product! Whole grain bread, Wheaties? Carbs—beware! How about a quinoa pasta? They have to consult the internet for guidance. Rule on rule, line on line, Isaiah portrayed the religious teachers of his people. “You set aside a tenth of your mint for the Lord, but you have let go of mercy, justice and faithfulness,” Jesus accuses.
Not a lot of inspiration, comfort and joy there.
But what did Jesus preach? Just before our text Mark tells us Jesus preached, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news (Mark 1.14).” That is different than a sermon on whether pork flavored tofu is kosher, except for exceptional situations. Jesus confronted the people with their sin. Jesus presented the people with God’s Promise. Both of those demand authoritative teaching.
When Jesus preached the Law, people could not sidestep it, like a kid playing alto saxophone in the junior high band can. The director tells the kid he is flat and he instantly looks at his instrument, like there’s something wrong with it, not with him! Jesus was more like the choir director who tells the sopranos they are sharp and three of them burst into tears. “Sell all you have, give it to the poor and follow me,” he tells a rich, young ruler who naively thinks he has kept all the commandments since youth. That young man goes away sorrowful knowing he loves his money more than he loves his God. “The greatest among you must be the least, the servant of all,” he tells his disciples quarrelling over who is the greatest and they fall silent. “This is the heir! Come, let us kill him and the vineyard will be ours,” he tells the Temple priests in a parable and they storm off without a word, but more determined than ever to kill Jesus.
You want to make the rules for yourself, Jesus tells us. That’s why you speed slowly through those flashing yellow school zone lights that are on even though no one is in the school building. You think you are owed, Jesus tells us. That’s why you always err for your own benefit in filling out those taxes where you don’t need proof of deductions. You want to be treated differently, Jesus tells us. That’s why you are so quick to forgive yourself and so slow to forgive others.
Ouch. In a world where everyone hesitates to hold anyone accountable for their actions, where consequences seem so cruel, where let’s just let bygones be bygones, Jesus stands out. So should his preachers.
When Jesus preached the Gospel, the Good News hit home. Rich tax collector, Zacchaeus rejoices that Jesus will eat at his house. A woman of questionable repute wets Jesus’ feet with her repentant tears. An excommunicated Roman collaborator leaves his tax collecting booth when Jesus says, “Follow me.” The healed demoniac across the Sea of Galilee tells so many people about what Jesus has done for him that the next time Jesus arrives he can, for the first time in his walk on earth, reveal himself as the Son of God.
My sins are forgiven. You will live forever in heaven. “Lord, I believe.” Hearts are won. That doesn’t come from a consultation to see how far you can walk on the Sabbath. Hearts are won by Jesus’ authority.
By Jesus’ authority faith is strengthened.
“Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!’ ‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirts and they obey him.’ News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee (23-28).”
Let’s not get carried away by this evil spirit. That’s exactly what the devil wants us to do so we stop paying attention to Jesus. More than one evangelist can tell you just as their presentation of the Gospel is starting to hit home in a visit with a prospect, the phone rings or the dog starts barking its lungs out. The devil cannot stand the spread of the Gospel. That’s what was going on in Capernaum’s synagogue that day. Nobody knew the man was possessed by an evil spirit. No metal detectors could have tipped them off. He didn’t have a temperature or even the sniffles. What better place to catch a few winks than seated before yet another boring rabbi droning on? But when the evil spirit saw the reaction of the people! People were believing! People were listening! This wasn’t another befuddled rabbi losing his place in his prepared notes! This was the Son of God, the Holy One of God who had driven this evil spirit out of heaven shortly after the beginning of time. What to do? Make a scene! Throw some dishes! Tell the truth from a lying source!
Jesus will have none of it. He treats the evil spirit like a six year old talks to their yappy dachshund. “Be quiet! Come out of him!” And the spirit comes out of the man, convulsing him at every step of the way.
Did the people believe in Jesus because of the miracle? We, addicted to spectacle and drama, might think so. But look at what Mark tells us. “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority (27)!’” They talk of Jesus’ teaching. That’s what won them over. That’s what blew them away. This miracle was just icing on the cake. In fact, all the miracle did was strengthen the growing faith they already had in Jesus.
But if you look closely, that’s the purpose of all of Jesus’ miracles. Remember the man blind from birth? Jesus put mud on his eyes and told him to go and wash. For him to do that, he had to have faith at least to some extent, in Jesus’ words. His trust in Jesus moved him to act. A miracle ensued and the man’s young faith was strengthened. In fact, it was strengthened so much he confessed his faith in the Savior to the synagogue authorities, who excommunicated him for it! Jesus’ first miracle, changing water into wine. John tells us, “His disciples put their faith in him (2.11).” They already believed in Jesus, otherwise they would not be his disciples. But now their faith is strengthened by Jesus’ authority.
What keeps you hanging on? What keeps me getting up in the morning? We are living through such upheaval and economic wreckage. Lots of businesses are closed and aren’t going to reopen. During a particularly boring football game my wife and I went to the web and looked up our favorite restaurants where we have repeatedly vacationed. Closed. Closed temporarily. Missing without a trace. Couldn’t even find it anywhere on the internet! More people than you realize have given up on the life they had and moved elsewhere—back to familiar California, on to Texas where the grass may be greener. Even those who are trying to make a stand in our town are trying to get into a different kind of business, especially those who were happily employed in the live entertainment side of the Las Vegas economy. But you haven’t turned Buddhist. I haven’t applied for membership at the synagogue down the street. Why?
By Jesus’ authority our faith is strengthened.
Christianity isn’t like the polio vaccine. One shot, and maybe another booster, and you are good for life. Get the kid baptized, make sure he is confirmed and then you have Sunday mornings free for the next fifty years. No, Christianity isn’t like that. Faith has to be strengthened. It is strengthened by Jesus’ authority.
Our sinful human nature wants to doubt everything about our God. But since we can’t argue away his existence because nature proclaims the works of his hands and since we cannot dismiss the Bible because how can all those prophecies coming true be coincidence, our sinful human nature can only try to distract us. Look at all these other fun things to do! And then our sinful human nature can only depress us. You were never there for God—why should God be there for you?
We need to live under Jesus’ authority. We need to hear his Word. The Gospel of our salvation gave us faith. You keep ‘em like you caught ‘em someone once told me. The Gospel of our salvation keeps our faith strong. We keep coming to church, not to see a string of little miracles paraded before us week after week. We keep coming to church to hear the Good News. We are forgiven. Believe it. We keep coming to church to feel the burden and guilt of sin lifted from our shoulders. “By his authority, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Our whole life is lived by Jesus’ authority. Where do I get the right to tell you your sins are forgiven? Where do you get the right to forgive someone? From Jesus. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven (John 20.23).” Jesus has given us that authority.
Where do we get the certainty that we will go to heaven when we die? Some would say if you have that presumptuous certainty, it is a sure sign you are going to hell. How do we know the souls of our loved ones are in heaven? By Jesus’ authority! Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Where do we get the authority to say you don’t have to follow Old Testament ceremonial laws? That it is not damnable to eat pork, get a tattoo or not practice the tithe? By Jesus’ authority! And if our preaching seems pretty decisive, pretty much an open and shut case, it is! There is something out there called God’s Gospel. There is something out there written in stone—the Ten Commandments. Those touched by Jesus’ authority have been delegated with Jesus’ authority. We must speak it boldly. We must use it to judge the events in this world. This does not mean we can be boors or heartless when it comes to applying it to the lives of an individual. The biggest problems in counseling come in just trying to get the person over the hump to trust in God’s promises, whether they be promises to punish or promises to rescue. But the teaching, the preaching, it must be authoritative, not as man’s authority, but by Jesus’ authority.
By Jesus’ Authority
1. Hearts are won (21-22).
2. Faith is strengthened (23-29).
“Who’s in charge here?”
I hope each of us enter and leave this church every Sunday knowing the answer—Jesus. By his authority we live as forgiven sinners, intent on showing our faith by kindly deeds. And I hope that will allow us to deal with the other authorities in our life. Unlike our Lord, they are not perfect. Patient endurance is a virtue.