Jesus Has Authority - Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Mark 1:21-28
January 31, 2021

Immediately after Jesus called Simon and Andrew and James and John to follow Him, they all went to Capernaum. Jesus immediately began teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbaths. It was Jesus’s regular and continual practice to do that. We can see this because in the Greek, the word for sabbath is in the plural. In this case it means that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on many sabbaths, not just one sabbath. So people were getting to know Him.

Thus, maybe you could have heard this conversation in Capernaum in those days.

Hey Joe, are you going to Synagogue today, since it’s the Sabbath?

No, I wasn’t planning on it. Why are you asking?

It’s because Jesus is teaching.

After hearing Jesus for a few weeks—we don’t know how long He was there. It could have been a few months. Maybe it was a year. Anyway. After hearing Jesus for however long it was, it began to dawn on them: His teaching has authority, not like the teaching of the scribes.

Authority, this is an interesting word in Greek. It means two things at the same time. It means having the right to do something and the power or ability to do it. It means both right and power. Jesus has both the right and the power.

Take Jesus’s encounter with a man who was paralyzed one day as an example. Jesus said to him: “Your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).

The scribes objected. “Hey, wait a minute Jesus. You do you think you are. No one has the authority, the right, to forgive sins but God alone” (Mark 2:6-7).

So Jesus says: “Okay. What is easier to say, your sins are forgiven, or to say stand up and walk, pick up your bed, and go to your house. But so that you may know that the Son of Man has the right to forgive sins;” He said to the paralytic; “stand up, pick up your bed, and go to your house” (Mark 2:9-11).

And the man did just that. Jesus has both the right and the power.

And then there is the episode in the synagogue one day that our Gospel reading tells us about. Jesus encountered a man there that was dominated by an unclean spirit. The spirit cried out in Jesus’s presence—it couldn’t help it: “I know who you are Jesus, the Holy One of God. Have you come to destroy us?” (Mark 1:24).

Jesus told the unclean spirit to be quiet and come out of the man. It did so (Mark 1:26). It had no other choice. It had to obey Jesus. Jesus has the right and the power to command the unclean spirits. They have to obey Him, even though they hate Him.

But why does Jesus command the unclean spirit to be quiet when the unclean spirit is testifying to who Jesus is? This is because Jesus did not want sensationalist popularity. Such popularity could have been turned by the people into a political thing, so that Jesus would have taken the throne away from Rome and rule as absolute monarch of a very worldly, earthly kingdom by the power of the sword—which is how all earthly governments rule; by imposing physical power and motivating people by threats; by turning God’s kingdom into a kingdom of legalism. In John 6, it tells us that the people were contemplating doing this precise thing after Jesus had fed the 5000 with the bread and the fish (John 6:15). In the his twisted way, the Devil would have been quite pleased if Jesus had been distracted from His mission by becoming a political king.

But Jesus didn’t come for that, as the One who has both the right and the power. He came to die an atoning death for the sins of the people, and then to destroy death by rising to life again in immortality in human flesh. In both ways He destroyed the power of the kingdom of darkness over us human beings.

We see God operative as Redeemer in Jesus in the Gospel today. We see this in a couple of important ways. One way is unexpected: the unclean spirit testifies to who Jesus is. It simply can’t help it, because by virtue of being a spirit, it is able to gaze upon God, including God the Son. This is terrifying to it and it hates it, but still it must see God in His glory. “I know who you are, Jesus,” says the unclean spirit, “the Holy One of God.”

The Holy One. This is one of the names for God in the Old Testament. It occurs often in Isaiah the prophet. For example, Isaiah says: “In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 10:20). Isaiah says again: “In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 17:7).

We see that the Holy One is the Lord. The Holy One is the Maker. The Holy One is the redeemer of Israel.

The Gospel reading tells us about that day when the eyes of those present in the synagogue looked upon the Holy One of Israel. The unclean spirit knew this, because it knew who Jesus was because it couldn’t help but gaze upon God, even as it did so in sheer terror and hatred.

But the people learn differently about Jesus. The people do not have the vision of God like the unclean spirit has, a vision that terrifies it and from which it tries to hide. The people see only the man. But then they see the man using a right and a power that only God really has. They see only the man, but they come to see that Jesus has authority, the right and the power to command uncleans spirits. They come to see by God’s word and action in Jesus that there is a divine reality hidden beneath and in what they see with their eyes and contemplate with their reason. There is a reality there in God’s word and action in Jesus that takes them beyond what reason can contemplate.

This was told to us by God before hand in the Old Testament reading today from Deuteronomy 18, something that is a great blessing for us. In Deuteronomy 18 the Lord said to Moses that the people of Israel were right in saying that they did not want to hear the voice of the Lord again in the way they heard it at Mount Sinai or see the great fire, lest they die (Deuteronomy 18:16).

Here is the backstory. The people of Israel had just been brought through the Red Sea by God, with a mighty and outstretched arm. They were then led by God to Mount Sinai. God met Moses there. There was thundering and lightning and great darkness. There was a terribly loud trumpet blast. The mountain shook. And then God descended onto the mountain in fire. The people were terrified. And there God gave the law (Exodus 19).

But God being merciful said later that they were right not to want to have to deal with God like that anymore. Because dealing with God like that is a foreboding of death. And so God says, “I will raise up a prophet like you, Moses, from among their brothers” (Deuteronomy 18:18). He will be their brother, flesh and blood like them, arising from among them. But He will have an authority to speak such that if one does not heed, believe, and hold fast to His word, there will be judgment, it will be required of him. In other words, the word of this Prophet will be determinative of all things with respect to the kingdom of God. He will have the right and the power for this.

He was there in the Synagogue that day. A brother among the people of Israel. He looked like any ordinary man. But they came to know His teaching as with authority. And then He spoke and the unclean sprit came out. He came to destroy the kingdom of darkness. But then He did something again that was unexpected; the working of God in redemption beneath the appearances and above the contemplation of reason. He died an atoning death for the sins of the people. He rose out of death in immortal life in our flesh as our brother. The power of the kingdom of darkness is destroyed.

We need Jesus to be a man, like us, to conceal God’s glory from us, which terrifies sinners. This is why we can only see God in His glory, unveiled, when we die in Christ’s redemption, for then we are no longer sinners, but redeemed by Christ and a new creation in Him, without spot or blemish. The ministration of the Gospel now prepares us to be able to see God in His glory then, so that we can see God then in eternal peace and joy, in eternal life and resurrection.

But we also need this man to have the right and power of God, to have authority, so that He can vanquish the kingdom of darkness for us; so He can drive the devil away; so He can forgive our sins by having forgiveness spoken to us in His Name by His church. We need Him to have the authority so that when we hear forgiveness spoken to us in His Name, we can believe it is as being good before God in heaven.

We need Jesus to have authority so He can speak wonderful promises to us, like “I will raise you up on the last day”( John 6:45), or “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 24:43). Because He has authority, the right and the power, these promises will come to pass for you.

We need Him to have authority so He can speak the gift of His body and blood, to deliver to each one of us quite tangibly the salvation He won from sin in His death by giving His body given and His blood shed for us to eat and drink in the mystery.

We need Him to have authority so He can speak the washing and renewal of Holy Baptism; so that He can speak the truth to us, about sin, about ourselves, about our Creator, and about our salvation in Him; so that He can command and authorize the speaking and believing of the Gospel of Him, the Holy One of God who has come as our brother to redeem us, so that we can believe this Gospel and be delivered from the kingdom of darkness. For this Gospel in the form of word and sacrament is the teaching of Jesus which has authority.

And so God has graciously given what we need, this brother we need. His Name is Jesus. And God has so graciously given the teaching, the Word of Jesus, that has the right and power of God, the authority. In and by Jesus, He has brought this Gospel, this teaching, into our ears, into our sight, into our touch, to our bodies, as well as to our hearts, so that we can grasp it and believe it.

And holding fast to it, to what Jesus says in faith, we receive the gift of salvation He brings. For Jesus teaches as the One who has authority, and His teaching delivers us from the kingdom of darkness into His own kingdom of life, and peace, and joy in God. Thanks be to God for this wonderful gift. Amen.  


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