A Demonstration of Authority (Mark 1:21-28)

Our childhood memories of something are always far more imposing than reality. Have you ever been confronted by that in a moment? Perhaps it was going back to a school and finding the space much smaller than you remember, meeting an old teacher whose stature has diminished over the years. For me, it was meeting an old Headmaster years after leaving the school and finding myself almost disappointed (by how I had remembered him) by his reality compared with how I had placed him, almost fearing him for those few years we crossed paths in school.

The Passage (Mark 1:21-28)

Learning A Lesson About Authority

There was something about him all those years ago that increased your apprehension around him; I often think it was because of how he exercised the authority that came with his role. He was the one teacher in the school you did not want to have to interact with because he was always obtuse. As I stood chatting to him that afternoon on the street, I found myself trying to figure out why my memory of him was so different to the actual reality of the man before me? It might have been the fact that he made us stand up every time he came into the classroom until he told us to sit down, or that one time someone in our class forgot and was made to stand up for the rest of the lesson; it could have been the fact that he always did assembly while wearing his Graduation Robe and appeared to be something like Batman up on that high stage. Whatever it was about him, my memory of him was not a positive thing. I remembered him as one in authority, yet he did not seem capable of exercising the command given to him. He was in a role of power but never seemed confident with it or comfortable exercising it; hence, how he led and performed his duties led to people reacting against him rather than following him. Yet, on the street under the Belfast sun, as I looked at him and listened to him talk, I realised that leadership/authority in any position does not necessarily mean respect for the person exercising it. Even a given source must be earned by how it is exercised. Hence, leadership is as much about the person in the position and how they exercise what responsibility they have been given rather than the position itself. When I looked upon my former principles, I was reminded of a valuable life lesson: Authority must be earned as much as it is given; to lead is about how the person leads and their heart behind it than any other thing. Someone who exercises responsibility well and for the benefit of their leader will be trusted and followed far more than one who leads out of insecurity or fear.

When you hear the word “authority”, who do you think of? A political leader, military figure, or someone from your life who exercised authority around you or over you. I think most of us have more negative connotations of the word than positive ones because often, it has been exercised from a place of insecurity or fear; in a fallen and sinful world, it is rare to see authority exercised for the good of those under it.

Regardless of our experience of being under authority, or even our view of how it should be exercised or not, the reality of our fallen world is that we are people who are constantly under authority. In work, life, relationships and most other spheres of our existence, we are either under some control or might be the person who is exercising it. Authority is part of our life and living, so we have just gotten used to it being poorly exercised. Yet, what if there was someone in authority who could be trusted entirely to use it well, who had proven by his lifestyle and choices that he led from a place of goodness and security and could be fully charged with the options of our lives the direction of our living?

What if there was someone who was born to lead yet, did not need to show? A leader whose heart was only good and desired only for those under his rule and reign? What if a leader had all the authority that the universe could give and willingly gave it up to serve the people that he had been called to lead? What would you do if such a leader existed and you had the choice to accept their rule and trust their reign, more than that, you knew that if you joined their movement, they would desire to bless you, support you, encourage you and help you become the person that God had made you be, and as you sought to live under them they would give you part of the authority they exercised? Today Mark wants us to see that such a person exists, and we should turn to him.

The Context

Since the beginning of his account of the life and ministry of Jesus, Mark has sought to demonstrate to us the type of person that Jesus is and why we should be compelled toward him. From the moment John the Baptist arrived on the scene and proclaimed that need to repent (to turn from your authority and to recognise a greater authority); then, when he faded from the main stage, Jesus picked up the mantel of Kingdom building in word and deed after being baptised (in a sign of identifying with his people) and being proved worthy of the call by his testing in the wilderness; to his call of the first disciples who at the sound of his voice and sight of his person recognised something about him that drew them from all they knew to become his disciple. In all of this, Mark has sought to make one thing clear: There is one person who can be trusted with all the authority of the world, and his name is Jesus? In every verse and chapter, we see something instinctively different about the person of Jesus, which is tangible to those around him. Thus, the challenge for us is will we see it and accept it in (and over our lives)

Something About Him: Authority

Now with the two sets of brothers in tow who move with Jesus from their old life into the new, we join them all as they continue north further up the shore of Galilee to the town of Capernaum, which would become the home and base of Jesus ministry and mission. It is in ordinary places that we begin to see that there is something extraordinary about Jesus, not that we need any convincing. Over the last three weeks, as we have heard about the Messiah coming and then glimpsed at the beginning of the ministry and work of Jesus, we have begun to see him reveal and exercise his authority. Today, we see even more of that told as Jesus continues his public ministry and the people around him are confronted with something they do not know what to do with. Hence, like the people of God around Jesus, today we must ask ourselves, by what authority does he do these things? And what does it mean for us?

It is the most routine of movements for Jesus as he arrives in Capernaum, and the sabbath has come with the Disciples. He moves to where people are and does what he has been called to: teach about God and what it means to live for him. Jesus is intentional about his call and mission and wastes no time doing what God had called him to do, so he moves to where the most people will be at the time they will be there. It is about maximum Gospel impact and what an impact Jesus had there at the Capernaum Synagogue as Mark tells us that those listening are amazed by what they hear and how they hear it! They are blown away by the manner Christ teaches and what he reveals to them. JP Philips, in his phrasing of Mark One, puts it succinctly when he writes:

“They were amazed at his way of teaching, for he taught with the ring of authority—quite unlike the scribes” (22)

For years the citizens of Capernaum had listened to the same men telling them the same thing’s about God; they had heard the moralisation; they had been scolded and told that they were not good enough and no doubt said that the standards of righteousness were those who were. Quite simply, they were bored with the things of God; yet, now that the Son of God, the messiah, was here for the first time, they were hearing about God in a way that called them to consider just what they were listening to. Whatever Jesus said and how he said it had such an authority that it reached the people to stop and think just what they were listening to and what it meant for them!

Maybe you have been in church for a lifetime, heard about God’s things but never experienced God’s goodness in a tangible, life-giving and authoritative way. Perhaps you know the bible inside out, you have heard all the sermons you need to hear, and you could answer any question of faith or theology, yet, the question that we are asked today is, has the truths that we have listened to confront us with the truth about ourselves? The Pharisees were those who knew the word of God, religion and all the questions of faith inside out, yet, they never knew the goodness of God and his Grace; they lived the life of God without the power of God through Grace; they knew all about God but would never submit to his authority and rule over their lives. Hence, their teaching was lifeless and draining. Now the people of God were hearing the truth of God from the Son of God in a way that called them to consider the authority of God and if they were safe and secure under it? As they are confronted with that question, so are we: What authority are we living under? Just in case they were not sure that there was something different about Jesus, they move from seeing it and hearing it in his teaching to see it incarnated before their eyes as Jesus demonstrates his authority, and they are further challenged to consider just who this man is and what his authority means for them!

A Demonstration of Authority (23-26)

What always happens when you tell a child not to do something? Their mind becomes fixated on the very thing you told them not to do nor touch, and soon you find yourself having to watch them fight against an increased desire to do something that you told them they probably had no desire to do. There seems to be some inbuilt desire to rebel against authority or instruction in human nature, a by-product of Sin where we almost feel the need to challenge any power over us or instructions we might get, even if we know it is good and the best thing for us.

No sooner have the crowd begun to question who it is they are listening to. The message he is teaching do the forces opposed to the Kingdom of God challenge the Son, and the messenger of God, a man with an unclean spirit, appears out of the shadows of the crowd with a loud voice crying: “What have you come to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” The speed of the challenge seems surreal in terms of the composition of Mark’s account; we have little information about what Jesus said to amaze the people with his authority, yet, we have more information about the challenge from the forces opposed to the Kingdom of God and the work of the Gospel? The point? Jesus would always face opposition and challenges to his authority from those opposed to the Authority of God and trusting it, those who would rather trust in their own devices or desire than look to something beyond themselves. Such opposition would lead Jesus to the Cross as those who opposed him because he challenged their Earthly notions of power and prestige and those who opposed his spiritual rule and reign.

Yet, as the Cross reminds us, God is always in control and even what was meant for evil and malice will be used to Glorify Him and further his rule and reign. God’s authority is ultimate, and his goodness and power can always be trusted. Hence, even here as forces opposed to him challenge Jesus by interrupting his word and seeking to know what he wants because they know they belong to two radically different and opposing Kingdoms. Even this moment of little interruption demonstrates to us the Authority of God and the movement of the Kingdom. That God will use every situation and purpose to his Praise and Glory. It is the most surreal of moments as Jesus is interrupted in his teaching and his Authority challenged by the enemies of the Kingdom of God that they somehow, in their challenge, affirm his identity and purpose as the messiah of the world, the sinless one: “I know who you are – The Holy One of God.

The Son of God has authority, which we will always struggle to trust and comprehend because it is an authority beyond our understanding. When we speak such truths, we do not simply mean that Jesus is in charge of a place or the boss of a situation. No, expressing such trust acknowledges the fear of greater reality and comfort. In this situation, the authority of the Son is derived from the Authority of God over every situation, or we might say the Sovereignty of God. The Bible teaches from Genesis the simple truths that God is in control over all things, and all things hold together by his power. Think of that beautiful hymn of praise in Colossians 1 about the Son of God:

“For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things; by him, all things hold together.”

Why does something so profound matter as we consider this interruption? Because it reminds us that there is nothing that takes God by surprise, as the one who is sovereign over all things and in control of all things, as the one who knows all things – he can be trusted: with, and, in all things. So even here at the beginning of his ministry when are reminded of the authority of the Son and the truth that God is in control and working all things for his good. Jesus, unfazed by this interruption, shows his ultimate power over all things and purposes by silencing the Demon and demanding it come out of the man it possessed. What does it do? With dramatic flair, it heeds the command of the Son of God and leaves the man it had used for his purposes. Why? Because God is sovereign and never phased, he is working all things to his good and goals – even the moments when opposition comes. Here, the spirit opposed to the Son thought that challenging Jesus might interrupt his work or lessen people’s curiosity about what was happening. Yet, all it did was further the interest in the Ministry of God as it provided Jesus with an opportunity to demonstrate his Authority in deed as the work of God continued.

To know the authority of God is to trust the work of God. It is to know that in every situation, God is sovereign and at work for His Glory, and in his Glory, our sound. To trust the Son as Lord as Saviour is to rely that in every situation Jesus is with us in what we are going to, the Holy Spirit is using those things to transform us into Likeness of Jesus and that ultimately God will be glorified in whatever is going on. Let us not just know about the Authority of the Son and Marvel at it; let us be those who know its goodness in our lives because we trust God’s rule over our lives.

Conclusion: What Are We Going to Do About it (27-28)

We have been reminded today that there is something about this Jesus, something tangible about who he is as a person and the message he carried with him and proclaimed to whoever would listen to it. It caused the ears of those who heard it to ponder its power and authority, especially compared to the lifeless religiosity and morality they had heard from their religious teachers – the Scribes and Pharisees. We are challenged to remember and know that God is not some sluggish force to know about, but the source of life and its ultimate fulfilment and purpose! Hence, to heed the authority of the Son is to find the very reason we were made to live – to know God and enjoy him. The Authority of the Son, as demonstrated here in word and deed, is not just a rule to submit to but the fulfilment of the life we were made for because by trusting it with and over our lives, we enter into life eternal with God. It is by knowing the rule of Jesus, as demonstrated here and displayed ultimately on the Cross, that we deal with our Sin, receive the Holy Spirit and enter the Kingdom and family of God, secure that he is with us and at work in all things for his Glory and our Good.

With the possessed man freed from his curse of Darkness, the crowd intrigued by his teaching is now amazed by his power as they question: “What is this? New teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits, and they obey him.” Such was the intrigue about him that news spread throughout the region (28). Yet, while the crowd might have questioned and marvelled at the authority, they had glimpsed they never really wanted to know the answer because of what it would have meant for their life. Today, in the aftermath of the Cross, which was the ultimate challenge to the Authority and rule of God; and yet, his top display of authority, glory, goodness, grace, mercy, and power, we are not left with the freedom to dwell and consider – we must decide. We do not need to ponder “What is this” because, with the revelation of the Scriptures and the history of the Church, we are blessed to have a clear answer about the Son. Thus, I ask you today: Who is Jesus to you? And do you delight and know the goodness of his authority over your life?

If your answer is he is not your Lord and Saviour, then today you must come before him in repentance (turning from your self and sin and trusting in his rule and goodness) and confess him as Lord (trust the integrity of his authority). If today we know the power of God in our hearts and lives, then our call is simple – to make it known. As individuals and a church, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God now, and we make it known by how we live, serve and love those whom God has called us to be in the midst of. We display our trust in God by making known our love of God through word and deed as we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing that he is sovereign over all things and resting in that. Today, if we have confessed Christ as Lord, let us be bold in making his rule and reign known so that others can see our hope. As CS Lewis reminds us:

To have Faith in Christ means, of course, trying to do all He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.” – Mere Christianity.

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