A few days ago I was concerned that the boys were not respecting my authority around the house. So I had a poster printed with the words “I’M THE BOSS!” printed on it. I placed the poster in the kitchen to remind everyone. The next morning I went into the kitchen to make some coffee and saw that someone put a sticky note on the sign: “Mom called, she wants her sign back.”
Did that really happen? You’ll never know. This morning we are going to talk about authority.
We are in the gospel of Mark today, our passage is Mark 1:21-28.
Mark is making a very clear point with this text:
Jesus proclaimed and demonstrated the arrival of God’s kingdom with authority.
Authority is the key word.
What does it mean for us? What is the application? There is one great application Mark is driving at throughout the gospel:
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:15)
Let’s look at some historical context for our passage and then get into the application.
The event begins in Capernaum.
- Became Jesus’s residence after leaving Nazareth. (Matthew 4:13)
- Why? His first disciples lived there. (Mark 1:29)
- We know that it was a coastal town, a fishing center, with a ½ mile promenade dotted with piers extending out into the lake.
- We know that about 1,500 people lived there at time of Jesus.
- We know that the majority were Jewish
- And we know that the Jewish community enjoyed friendly relations with non-Jews (Luke 7: a Roman centurion built a synagogue for the Jews.)
- The town was located on a trade route, but as far as you could get in Galilee from the major Greek cities, away from the eyes of political and religious leaders.
With his new disciples, Jesus went into Capernaum and entered the synagogue on the Sabbath.
- Not in the OT. Developed later in intertestamental times.
- A Greek compound word meaning “gather in”.
- From the beginning the Jewish people recognized a central, holy site for worship – first the tabernacle, then the temple in Jerusalem. Between the Old and New Testament periods, the Jewish people began to build local sites for religious observance.
- The synagogue was an assembly hall where people gathered for study and prayer.
- They became all-purpose centers of religious and national identity: schools, courtrooms, lodging.
- If you go to Capernaum, you can visit the ruins of a 5th century synagogue, which archaeologists believe stands over the structure of the 1st century building. The main hall of that building is about 80 feet long and 60 feet wide. (For reference, our sanctuary here measures about 58 x 34)
- The gospels will record 10 events that take place in synagogues.
- The 7th day of the week. Which is Saturday in the Jewish calendar. 4th commandment: Keep the Sabbath day -holy. (Do no work.)
- When the first three stars were visible on Friday night, the synagogue ruler would blow his shofar, signaling the beginning of sabbath and the end of all work. When the horn blew, everyone would go to their homes and eat a meal which was pre-prepared.
- The following morning the community would gather at the synagogue.
- The locals would make their way to the building, stopping outside the entrance at a water bath for a symbolic cleansing.
- Inside the synagogue rows of benches arranged around three sides. The higher status members of the community would sit on the benches and the regular folk would sit on the floor.
- Each synagogue had what was called a ruler who was responsible for maintenance and scheduling meetings. He would assign reading, typically 7. The ruler would not read, but would stand alongside the reader for quality assurance and accuracy, offering correction if anything was misread.
- The service began with a recitation of several prayers and blessings and the Shema. “Hear, 0 Israel: The LORD our God, the Lord is one”
- Any member of the synagogue could take the role of reader.
- The reading began with the Law, which was followed by a reading from the prophets. Each reading was followed by short sermon.
- Jesus would have attended a synagogue school as a young boy and spent decades going to the Sabbath service every Saturday morning.
“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.”
- After beginning his public ministry, Jesus continued to attend Sabbath services in the synagogues.
“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.”
- During the period of the kinks, scribes were secretaries and recorders.
- The word came to mean expert in the Torah, Ezra being the first.
- The role grew in influence and power over time.
- Scribes were the experts, issued decisions on the interpretation of the text.
“Their erudition and prestige reached legendary proportions by the first century, rivaling and sometimes surpassing the high priest. Only a scribe or chief priest and their family could enter the Sanhedrin. Commoners were expected to defer to scribes on the street. The best seats in the synagogue were reserved for scribes.” -James Edwards
So Jesus, James, John, Peter and Andrew entered the synagogue in Capernaum along with hundreds from the local Jewish community for a service which they had all experienced hundreds of times.
They probably would have sat on the floor together. They recited a series of prayers and the Shema together. The synagogue ruler than called on 7 men to read portions of the Old Testament. Jesus was one of those called. We don’t know what he read. After reading, Jesus gave some commentary on that text. We don’t know what he said.
What we do know is the impact of Jesus on the crowd. Mark tells us they were astonished. The word literally means to be struck as with a blow. Some scholar suggest the word ‘thunderstruck’ is an appropriate translation.
What caused the reaction?
Mark tells us that it was the nature of Jesus’ teaching – he taught as one with authority.
Authority is the power or right to give orders, make decisions and enforce obedience.
The great Sociologist Max Weber saw three primary types of authority: traditional, legal and charismatic. Some have authority over us whether we recognize that authority or not. Some have authority in our lives because we voluntarily recognize some quality in them that inspires trust.
What kind of authority is Mark talking about? The answer is in the contrast. He taught as one with authority, not like the scribes.
The scribes and religious teachers of Jesus’ day exercised traditional authority. Their teaching was saturated with reference and quotations of honored leaders from the past. They would read from a Torah scroll and begin, “Shimon says . . .” “Gamaliel taught . . .”
Jesus was different.
Jesus appealed to himself for authority.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”
“Truly I tell you . . .”
The difference is significant and the impact was profound. Jesus taught as someone who owned truth.
Let me give you a picture to help you understand. Imagine that you are a fan of Apple products. You read blogs and listen to podcasts about the company. You follow a few tech geeks with insider connections. You might even visit an Apple event. You may listen to a tech geek share some reports he has received about what’s coming. You might feel connected to Apple. Now imagine that Steve Jobs walks into the room. Suddenly the whole atmosphere changes. Why? Steve Jobs owned Apple. He created it. He set the agenda, he made the decisions. He had the authority of ownership.
When Jesus read the Word of God, he gave commentary as the owner. When he spoke that crowd heard the Word of God directly from the Son of God.
They were thunderstruck.
“Other teachers explained the law; He is a lawgiver. Others drew more or less pure waters from cisterns; He is in Himself a well of water, from which all may draw. To us, as to these rude villagers in the synagogue of the little fishing-town, Christ’s teaching is unique in this respect. He does not argue; He affirms. He seeks no support from others’ teachings; He alone is sufficient for us. He not only speaks the truth, which needs no other confirmation than His own lips, but He is the truth. We may canvass other men’s teachings, and distinguish their insight from their errors; we have but to accept His. The world outgrows all others; it can only grow up towards the fulness of His. Us and all the ages He teaches with authority, and the guarantee for the truth of His teaching is Himself. ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you.’ No other man has a right to say that to me. But Christ dominates the race, and the strong Son of God is the world’s Teacher.” -Alexander Maclaren
That Sabbath service was not an ordinary service. And Jesus’ teaching was just the beginning.
As he finished and the crowd sat in astonishment, a voice rose out of the silence. An eerie, other-worldly voice. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth” A chill went through the room. All eyes turned to a man who had transformed into something different. “Have you come to destroys us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.”
Mark tells us that the man had an unclean spirit.
- Literally impure or defiling spirit. Interchangeable in gospels with the word demon.
I don’t know how that word strikes you. In the 21st century, our ears are tuned to hear words like demon, devil and Satan with skepticism and maybe ridicule.
If you look up the word in Wikipedia, here’s what you will find:
“a demon is considered a harmful spiritual entity which may cause demonic possession, calling for an exorcism. Large portions of the Jewish demonology, a key influence on Christianity and Islam, originated from a later form of Zoroastrianism, and were transferred to Judaism during the Persian era.”
If you’re paying attention, you will notice that explanation is a psychological definition. It explains a what some people believe and the sociological and historical reasons they believe it.
The presupposition behind this definition is the belief that if you can’t observe something it’s not real.
There are two things a thoughtful person will see in that presupposition.
The first is that it’s a childish way to look at the world. Only a child is so impressed with their own thinking that they believe that whatever they have not seen is not real. This places a lot of confidence in the human mind. It fails to realize the limitations of the human mind and the vastness of our universe. It also fails to realize the inherent motivations. Anyone who has raised a two year-old knows that we often find it convenient to fail to observe certain things.
The other observation is that we have observed phenomena in our world which are difficult to explain apart from the presence of real evil.
How do you explain the extraordinary rise of the young artist, Adolf Hitler, to power in Germany? How do you explain the extraordinary force of hatred and the darkness of Kristallnacht and the concentration camps?
How do you explain the extraordinary transformation of a woman who suddenly begins to speak with a deeply masculine voice and display a physical power that a room full of men cannot restrain?
How do you explain a mother holding her newborn child in the kitchen who suddenly experiences a powerful impulse to lay that baby on the hot burner in front of her?
How do you explain the persistent presence of crime, animosity, violence and war in human history?
The Bible gives an explanation consistent with our experience – we are more than what we see. And we are not alone. We are spiritual beings living in a world inhabited by other spiritual beings.
The Bible explains that at the beginning of human history, a great spiritual being usurped authority in our world.
He is now the “prince of this world.” -John 12:31
The whole world lies in his power. -1 John 5:19
He is a liar and the father of lies. -John 8:44
He is the deceiver of the whole world. -Revelation 12:9
He is the accuser of the saints. -Revelation 12:10
He is a thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy. -John 10:10
He prowls like a roaring lion, looking for souls to devour. -1 Peter 5:8
“Let a Christian know that he sits among devils: that the devil is nearer to him than his coat or his shirt, or even his skin; that he is all about us, and that we must always grapple with and fight him.”
“Further, in regard to the devil and his angels and the opposing spiritual powers, the Church teaching lays it down that these beings exist, but what they are or how they exist it has not explained very clearly. Among most Christians, however, the following opinion is held, that this devil was formerly an angel, but became an apostate and persuaded as many angels as he could to fall away with him; and these are even now called his angels.”
In the Bible, the works of the devil and his demons fall into two categories: ordinary and extraordinary works.
Ordinary works: false religion, sexual sin unforgiveness, bitterness, intoxication, gossip and division, shame . . .
Extraordinary works: mental and emotional torment, physical injury, illness . . .
That Saturday in the synagogue, the crowd witnessed an extraordinary demonic work. That man’s body and voice had come under the power of a demonic spirit.
Can you imagine sitting in that room? All eyes turned from the demonized man to Jesus. What will happen next? What explosive conflict is about to break out?
“Be silent, and come out of him!”
With a simple sentence, Jesus commands the spiritual realm with total authority.
With a final revolt, the spirit shakes the man and utters a final shriek.
Mark again describes the response of the crowd. They were amazed. They left and told everyone they encountered what happened. Word spread throughout the whole region of Galilee.
Here is a man who teaches with authority and is prepared to use that authority in this world.
Responses to Jesus’ authority:
Who do you think understood Jesus best in that moment?
It should have been the leaders. They were the experts. They should have recognized who it was in their midst.
The unclean spirit understood Jesus’ power, but that’s all he saw.
The crowd saw something new and different, the latest viral trend.
The disciples realized that things were certainly going to be interesting following Jesus, but it would take years for them to grasp who Jesus was.
I think the one who knew Jesus best in that room was the demonized man.
He knew first-hand, he experientially knew, that Jesus was Christus Victor. He knew that Jesus was a liberator with power to set men free.
One of my favorite preachers, Dick Lucas makes this observation:
“If you are oppressed by evil, I want to tell you that the evil that oppresses you is much worse than you thought, and unless you turn to Jesus it may get a grip on you that can never be broken.
There is only one person who has power to overcome these things. If you call on his name, if you call on his authority, you’ll find that even the unclean spirits call on his name.”
He observed that the response of many to the announcement of Jesus’ gospel is similar to the unclean spirit: “Don’t interfere with me, this is my territory.”
If that’s your response to Jesus, “then Satan evidently has a grip on your life. No one may have told you that before, but it is plain NT teaching. A grip that you are quite unaware of” The NT says that it’s as if he keeps us asleep. Satan says, don’t wake the baby, it’s okay go back to sleep.”
We need to be delivered from boring, sleepy religious services and boring, sleepy sermons.
We need to be delivered from religious traditions that lay heavy burdens on the human spirit and provide no power or hope for transformation.
We need to be delivered from power figures who would rather hold onto their positions than admit the power of God into their meetings and congregations.
We need to be delivered from spiritual oppression.
The most dangerous enemy of all . . .
We need to be delivered from the mindless distraction of the crowd.
Someone this morning is hearing the gospel and experiencing a stirring in their spirit, someone is thinking there might be something to this, someone is beginning to face reality and consider the great questions of death and meaning and God. As we walk out of the room this morning, go home and eat a nice meal and turn on our televisions, like a mother rocking a baby to sleep, Satan will soothe our discomfort, there, there . . . don’t trouble yourself, why worry about these things, after all no one can be certain about any of these things, there is comfort and pleasure to be had today.
The greatest danger of all is the soul on the verge of consciousness and life will be rocked back to sleep.
Lord may that not happen this morning.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown