January 28, 2024

Jesus Speaks on God’s Authority

Passage: Mark 1:21-28

Jonah Albrecht

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus Speaks on God’s Authority

4th Sunday in Epiphany

January 28th, 2024

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are– the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

In the Name of Christ, who’s Word maintains authority over all things, dear fellow redeemed:

Few modern experiences provide the same level of frustration as trying to call a customer-service number. You first have to navigate what’s called a phone tree or menu: “Press 1 for accounts, press 2 for billing, press 3 for returns, press 4 for customer satisfaction … ” If you finally reach an actual person, he or she might not have the authority to actually resolve your issue.

The teachers of the law in Jesus’ day appeared to be of little service to the people they taught. Though they claimed to be subject to the law, they often wielded it as their own weapon of oppression. Jesus was different. Mark first pointed out the authority of His teaching. The Pharisees may have been authoritative in their heavy-handed politics, but not in their teaching. But authoritative teaching wasn’t the only difference—Jesus had spiritual authority as well.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus would often seek out the synagogue in whatever town He was in and preach on the Sabbath day. Because He was considered a rabbi, or a teacher, they would allow Him to speak and read the Scripture for that day. At this point in His ministry, He was still relatively unknown. He wasn’t drawing in large crowds, but this was His opportunity to reach the most people at a single time.

Mark places emphasis on the teaching Jesus was doing. He says, “And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” In this account, it is easy to focus on how Jesus showed His authority by casting out the unclean demon. That was the cause of His fame spreading throughout the land after all. But it is not the main point the Holy Spirit causes Mark to focus in on. It was the teaching of Jesus that first captivated the people. It was the content of His preaching that set Him apart from the Pharisees.

The Pharisees held a high amount of authority over the people, but their authority was different from that of Jesus. They were supposed experts in the Law of Moses. But these so-called experts used the Law as a yoke to place on the people. The Pharisees had this idea: If God has set the line at no work on the Sabbath, then let us say there is a limit to how many steps one could take on the Sabbath and any work whatsoever is considered breaking God’s Law. They thought by drawing a line even more strict than what the Bible says would prevent them from breaking God’s Law. The problem was, they went beyond what Scripture says. They added over 400 laws that are not found in Scripture. By their outward “keeping” of these laws, they appeared to be holy before the people, and it became a burden to the people because no one, not even the Pharisees, could live up to that standard. Their laws thrust the people into a world of doubt of their status before God and a dependency on the Pharisees of how to be better Jews.

This same destructive teaching is around today. Many people who profess to be in the service of God wield the Law as a burden over people. The Law is not to be used as a hammer to break the backs of sinners in order to make them do what is right. The Law is not what makes people better Christians. The Law always condemns. Yes, the Law can show us the right way to live our lives, but it also shows us how often we fail to live up to that standard God has set. The ten commandments summarize the whole Law, and there is not one commandment that we can fulfill perfectly. To enforce the standard of the Law as the means to salvation and pleasing God will result in a broken people. This was the teaching of the Pharisees and it resulted in a people who dwelt in darkness, not seeing the light of God’s grace and mercy. This is the teaching of so many today who take the free gift that Jesus won for us on the cross and overshadow it with the burden of the Law.

That is why Jesus’ teaching stood out as one who spoke with authority. We are told in Mark 1:14 the content of Jesus’ teaching while He was in Galilee: It was the gospel. Yes, He would have read from the Old Testament, the same source the Pharisees used. And yet His message could not be more different. Rather than focusing on the Law as the source of salvation, Jesus pointed to all the promises of the Messiah who would come. He showed from the Old Testament Scriptures how God never intended the Old Covenant to remain forever. The Old Covenant was a two-sided covenant. The people needed to keep God’s Law in its entirety and God would continue to be with them and rule over them. Shocker, it was destined to fail. Not on God’s end, but on the people’s end.

Jesus showed how God continually promised a New Covenant that would come through the Messiah. The same promise that God made with Abraham all those years ago: A one-sided Covenant. It was a covenant of grace, of the Gospel. God Himself would take on the burden of man’s sin and man receives the entirety of the benefits that come from God’s righteousness. Jesus knew the true meaning of the Old Testament. It wasn’t just a Law. Yes, the Law was important to remind the people how sinful they were and we are, but that only brings pride and despair. Rather, it is full of the Gospel promise. Over 3000 times the Scriptures pointed forward to Him, the promised Messiah and, in detail, showed how He would be the sacrificial Lamb of God who would bear the punishment for every single time we failed to live up to God’s Law.

Jesus preached forgiveness and God’s grace to the people in the synagogue. That is why He preached with authority because the truth of the Scriptures was being revealed to the people that day. It is that same truth that you come here every Sunday to hear. Your sins are forgiven because Jesus, your Savior died on the cross to pay for them with His blood. The Law is fulfilled perfectly in your place. You are united with your Savior through faith so that His death, is your death to sin. His resurrection is the guarantee that you too will pass from being asleep in Christ to being alive forevermore at His side. These are Jesus’ guarantees for you and they are backed by God’s authority.

As was usually the case, there came an opportunity for Jesus to show the people a proof of the authority His words carry. In this case, it came in the form of a demon possessed man. We know that the demon possessing this man kept its presence hidden from those around him. If anyone was possessed by a demon, they are considered unclean and thus barred from entering the synagogue. And yet, here was this man listening to Jesus when in a sudden outburst he cries, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are– the Holy One of God.”

The outburst of this demon reveals much to us. 1. Even the demons recognize Jesus as the true God and promised Messiah. Among His own people, it could not have been clearer who Jesus was, but they rejected Him. Though they knew He was from God, they cast Him aside and crucified Him. The people did something that not even the demons are foolish enough to do.

The demons know their fate. The question: Have you come to destroy us? Tells us that the demons, and Satan, know that their fate is sealed. There is no escaping their eternal torment waiting for them in hell. Thankfully for us, Jesus has overcome the power of Satan and his demons so that you and I will not join them in hell.
They do not know Jesus’ mission. What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? They wanted to go about their business and they thought they had nothing to do with God or the promised Messiah. They did not know that it was God’s plan for Jesus to be crucified at the hands of the Romans, else they would not have rejoiced in His death.

Jesus did not even give the people a chance to react, but immediately He commanded the demon to depart from the man. Mark gives us the detail that the demon was convulsing and crying out with a loud voice before departing from the man. While there were these visible effects of the demon departing from the man, it is not to be looked on like the demon was trying to hold onto its control. The Lord had spoken and it had no choice but to adhere to His word. The people recognized this immediately.

27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

Demonic possession was quite prevalent in Jesus’ day, especially in Galilee. To see someone who had such authority over the demons that by a simple command, they were forced to listen would have been astounding. No spells, no elaborate exorcisms, but simply the Word of God Himself showed power and authority over the spiritual realm.  This served as a testimony to the authority that Jesus carried. It was God’s authority. The people could look on this and realize Jesus was no ordinary man. He is the promised Messiah.

And yet, this is not the most important testimony to Jesus’ authority. As His ministry progressed, Jesus would make it all the more clear that the importance of His mission was not the healing of the sick or demon possessed, but rather the content of His message. The Gospel that He came to proclaim; that is the most precious display of God’s authority. You and I did not see Jesus cast out a demon, and it is not likely we will see anyone else do the same today. You and I, however, have heard His Word.

You have received the testimony from God that Jesus Christ is God Himself who took on human flesh in order to be our substitute. The grace and forgiveness you have received for your sins, that is the evidence that Jesus is who He said He is and that He carries God’s authority. This changes everything. Your Savior, the one who died for you, carries with Him the declaration from God that you have been reconciled to God. Your life of sin is forgiven. Your future life of sin is forgiven through your Savior. Not even the demons are able to drum up an accusation against you. Nor do they have any power over you.

Dear Christians, you may depart in peace today and every day. Jesus’ word of peace that carries with it the full authority of our God, rests upon you. Amen.

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