Sermon: The Authority of Jesus (Mark 1:21-28)

Text: Mark 1:21-28
Fourth Sunday After Epiphany, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

There was a great disaster at sea. A ferry, loaded with cars and tourists, had failed to shut its doors properly; the water began to pour in; the boat began to sink, and panic set in. People were screaming as the happy, relaxed atmosphere of the ship turned in minutes into something from a horror movie. All at once one man—not a member of the crew—took charge. In a clear voice he gave orders, telling people what to do. Relief mixed with the panic as people realised someone at least was in charge, and many managed to reach lifeboats they would otherwise have missed in the dark and the rush. The man himself made his way down to the people trapped in the hold. There he formed a human bridge: holding on with one hand to a ladder and with the other to part of the ship that was nearly submerged, he enabled still more to cross to safety. When the nightmare was over, the man himself was found to have drowned. He had literally given his life in using the authority he had assumed—the authority by which many had been saved.

Take that picture to a different sea coast, that of Galilee. A hundred meters inland, in the little village of Capernaum there was a synagogue — a place of prayer, Bible reading, teaching, worship, and community gathering.  In that synagogue there was a man beginning to teach who was not one of the official, recognised teachers. This man was Jesus, the new rabbi on the block. What would he say? The people were all ears. The passage today form Mark’s Gospel is all about Jesus’ authority. Who has authorised his teaching? What kind of authority does Jesus have, and how does that relate to our lives?

The Authorised Teacher

When Jesus taught that day, the people were amazed at what they heard. There was something different about this Jesus. The official teachers—priests, scribes, and Pharisees—didn’t teach like that. What distinguished Jesus from the scribes is that he didn’t use credentials. No footnotes! A scribe credentialed his teaching by his teacher. “Rabbi so-and-so taught this, and he learned it from rabbi so-and-so.” Somehow that gave their teaching authority and guaranteed that it was true.

Jesus didn’t teach that way. He taught by his own authority. He said things like, “You’ve heard it said by the teachers of old…but I say to you.” And that grabbed people’s attention because, how could someone dare to speak on their own authority? It’s like writing a paper with no footnotes as though all the ideas were your own.

This was not simply persuasive oratory ability with a flashy PowerPoint presentation. To hear Jesus speak was to hear the very Word of God, with authority, and not just a man’s interpretation or opinion. Words are powerful. They can come with authority. The words of a judge can send you to jail. The words of a legislature can create or abolish laws. When one who is in authority speaks, those words carry that authority. When one who has power speaks, those words carry power. When the Son of God who is the Eternal Word speaks the Word, His words come with the power and authority of God Himself.  There is no higher authority than the Lord, not even Moses. Jesus words are God’s words. His teaching is God’s teaching. And this is the cause of great astonishment. He teaches with the authority of God, because He is God.

Do you give Jesus’ teaching the authority it deserves in your life? When his word says something you don’t like, do you submit to his authority? When the authority of that word points out your sin, do you repent? Do you listen to the Word?  We are tempted to treat the Bible like any other book. It suffers from neglect. We may read the news each day, because it’s important to keep up to date on what is going on. Right beside our papers and periodicals, beside our social media feeds and memes, can lie the Bible, but we can be tempted to let the dust collect on it. We can come up with all kinds of excuses, but we know that there really is no excuse for such indifference. The Bible is Jesus speaking to us with his authority. Do you give Jesus’ teaching the authority it deserves in your life?

The Authorised Exorcist

And with the same authority Jesus spoke words of healing. For some people, life had become a total nightmare—their entire personalities seemed taken over by evil powers. These people had a tendency to confronted Jesus. Somehow, they knew exactly who he was and what he’d come to do. He’d come to stop the nightmare, to rescue people from the destructive forces that enslaved them. This was such an occasion. That Sabbath day in the synagogue while Jesus was preaching, a demon possessed man decided to disrupt things and distract the hearers.  The man jumps up in the middle of Jesus’ sermon and shouts, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” That’s the word of Jesus which silences the demon and casts it out of the man on the spot leaving the man unharmed. With a word, Jesus is able to silence the demon. “Be quiet.” It’s the same word he used to silence the wind and the waves that threatened to swallow up the disciples’ little boat during a storm on the sea of Galilee. “Be quiet, and come out of him.” Jesus sounds a bit like someone scolding a puppy for having chewed up the curtains. But that’s how easily Jesus deals with the demons. Just a word. The demons are no threat to him. A few little words is all it takes to bring them into line.  As Luther wrote: 

”Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us. We tremble not, we fear no ill, they shall not overpower us. This world’s prince may still, scowl fierce as he will. He can harm us none; He’s judged the deed is done.One little word can fell him.” 

“A Mighty Fortress” – LSB 656, st. 3

Jesus silences demon powers with a simple word from his mouth. Now that’s authority!  He speaks and it is so. That’s what this passage is about. He doesn’t need long incantations, or impressive exorcisms, or displays of power. No! This is a word that cuts through the darkness, that casts out the demons, the changes water into wine, that calms the wind and stills the waves, that cleanses the leper, and lifts paralysed men from their beds. 

Jesus’ presence, words, and deeds threaten evil forces that claim authority over people’s lives. These destructive forces of evil have something to lose. Jesus is intent on liberating you from the forces which enslave you. Jesus is the one who has been authorised, commissioned, and empowered to declare and institute the reign of God. There are evil powers in this world that are like the dark, cruel sea pouring in on top of those frightened and helpless travellers. These forces sometimes look unstoppable. Yet, one man stands up and with authority takes control of our perilous situation. Jesus came to be the human bridge across which people could climb to safety. And in the process, he himself paid with his own life the price of this saving authority. On the Cross Jesus became a human bridge with outstretched arms carrying people from death to life. The demons had their final shriek at him as he hung on the cross, challenging and mocking for the last time the validity of his authority. On the cross he completed the healing work he began that day in the synagogue. Jesus’ death on the cross is the exorcism of the world.

Where can we see souls set free from destructive forces and powers that we thought were beyond anyone’s control? In this congregation. This congregation is your Capernaum. A gathered community of the baptised, where we hear the Word spoken with Christ’s authority. We need to hear it spoken against our sin, against the devil, the world, and our own flesh.  The authority of God in the Church rests solely in the Word, in Jesus. He spoke as One with authority, and His Word had authority even over the demons. It’s by the authority of Christ’s Word that Baptism is your personal rebirth in Christ, that with the bread of the Supper, Jesus gives you His Body, with the wine of His Supper he gives His blood shed for you. By His Word your sins are forgiven, you are saints in Christ. By His Word He will raise you from the dead. Now that’s authority!

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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