Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. 22 The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts. 23 Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.”
25 “Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!” 26 The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out.
27 Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him!” 28 Right away the news about him spread throughout the entire region of Galilee.
Authority: “It’s a classic movie cliché – the teacher is gone for the day, and in walks a substitute. The substitute doesn’t have the authority or relationship with the students, so the students feel free to subvert the sub’s borrowed authority with pranks and general hilarity.” (Disciplines, pp. 47 ¶1). I remember my first experience subbing. It was for John Corbin at the Middle School. He was there and introduced me to the class. As soon as he walked out you could see the students change. They knew I didn’t really have any real authority, and I very quickly questioned my own authority. Any authority I had was merely in name, yet … . I earned it over time. The more the students got used to me, the more I could ask and get their cooperation.
Who do we listen to as an authority? Good question! This last week I was doing research on video streaming. Certain websites were aimed at professional types. They wanted to sell you up! “You really need a $2,300 camera system with computer mixing and audio enhancement. I was a little discouraged. Then I discovered a site with worship solutions – it was aimed at run-of-the-mill churches who just need to have a basic system. It started with simple, understandable requirements, and then led you to affordable solutions. Which was the authority for me? It was the one who spoke the truth into my situation.
Let’s look for a moment at the movement of Mark’s gospel. He relays the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. Then there is the calling of Peter and Andrew, James and John, which we talked about last week. Jesus then is found teaching in Capernaum. Mark is all about establishing the authority of Jesus, and he does it by a connection with Jesus’ teaching. Notice that authority and teaching are mentioned twice in this short passage. Those who were experiencing Jesus recognized his authority. In verse 22 it says, The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts.” (the scribes). Then again in verse 27 it says, “Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him.” Authority mentioned nine times in Mark. Most places it was people recognizing his authority. In other places it is the Scribes, Pharisees, and Temple authorities refusing to recognize Jesus’ authority and power (Chapter 11).
So, who validates authority? Or, how is that authority validated? There is an interesting detail in verse 25. It reads, “Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon.” Why did Mark bother to relay Jesus’ tone of voice and attitude in this encounter? It was the authoritative posture that Jesus was taking. This wasn’t a request, it was a command! Notice that the demon recognizes who Jesus is! Jesus doesn’t want us to learn of his power and authority from the witness of a demon. Jesus’ authority was his own to validate by his teaching and actions. He knew he had the power to validate his own authority. Contrast that with the Scribes, Pharisees, and Temple authorities. They had power by virtue of their positions, but they needed the ascent of those who put them in power and the people to validate their power. They stood on the sinking sand of public opinion for their authority. They maintained their power most usually by threat of punishment.
The Musical Meditation this morning said, “Christ is the Rock on which I stand. He keeps me safe from the sinking sand. He pulls me up from the miry clay. Christ is the Rock! He is the Way!” It is on the rock of Jesus authority over every power in the world that we can stand with confidence in the face of anything that life brings our way.
In the Gospel of Mark there are recorded 13 healings and 5 miracles, along with numerous general references to the same. One of the threads going through these is the authority and power of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. A second thread is mercy and compassion. Hear Psalm 111:2-4 “The works of the Lord are magnificent; they are treasured by all who desire them. 3 God’s deeds are majestic and glorious. God’s righteousness stands forever. 4 God is famous for his wondrous works. The Lord is full of mercy and compassion.” God’s goodness and faithfulness are extolled. The Psalmist sees all that God has done and is doing, and gives praise from the heart. The passage ends with “God is famous for his wondrous works. The Lord is full of mercy and compassion.” God is in covenant with us. That is, he promises to be our guide and comfort, our strength and confidence if we but follow in his ways. We trust him and he provides. Jesus healings and miracles are compassionate expressions of his authority and power. From healing Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever to the ultimate power displayed over death in the calling back to life of Jairus’ daughter (chapter 5) Jesus concentrates his power for our good. From the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand to walking on the water and calming the storm, Jesus has authority and power over all. As we saw in his temptations in the wilderness, Jesus even has authority and power over Satan. Is there anything our God cannot do?!
The most convincing authority and power is exercised with mercy and compassion. I remember, when I was teaching in Colorado, it had been a trying morning. The students were rather flighty, and I was having a hard time helping them focus on the work at hand. There was a particular girl who was constantly talking to her neighbor. I had asked her to stop several times. Finally, I had had it! She was once again turned and talking to the girl behind her. I walked up and slapped her desk to get her attention. She dissolved into tears. Then she relayed that the night before, her parents had told her they were getting a divorce. For the next few minutes, I listened quietly and offered comfort. That person found me on Facebook several years ago and thanked me for being her teacher.
God connects with us in our most vulnerable moments when our weakness is all we can see. God walks with us through all of life, and in his presence, we experience his power. It is God’s love that sent his authority and power to earth in Jesus. “The Lord is full of mercy and compassion.” All the power of God resided in Jesus, yet he did not use it for himself. He used his power to draw us near to himself and the Father. He had the power to remove himself from the cross, better yet to avoid the cross all together. Instead, he chose to walk that path – to drink that cup - for our own good. He chose to love us all the way to the cross.
Our task in this covenant with God is to submit to the authority of Jesus over all facets of our life. When we do, we open ourselves to the power of our mighty God. When we do, it yields the goodness and mercy and compassion of God poured out on our lives. He is faithful, and he calls us to be faithful.
All this week I kept asking, “What is the Lord trying to teach me through his miraculous interventions in life – my life and the lives of those around me?” I kept coming back to the Lord’s authority and power to bring about the best. I don’t always understand how or why those miraculous things happen in my life, but I know that the one who does them is looking out for me. Do we trust that God has all authority and power to move in this world for the good of his covenant people? How, specifically, can I be more open to His authority over my life? Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman