We don't like the word "authority". In life, we see how many people abuse their authority — parents, teachers, government, and even the church. Many may be able to tell a specific story of the abuse of authority. But the Bible speaks of the importance of authority and also the struggle with authorities. The book of Judges show us clearly the problem when there is no authority, when everyone did what was right in their own eyes because there was no king. The NT books, especially the epistles, were written to churches that had some part of their lives that were not under the authority of God. In Mark 1:21-34, we will seek to examine Jesus' authority and we hope to come to conclusions not only about the nature of His authority (in each of the headers) but also that authority is a good thing. But we all do not like authority by nature.
(A) Authority that teaches (Mark 1:21-22)
Mark 1:21 refers to "they", and this refers to the people that Jesus called who had to leave behind what they taught was theirs. The rest of the events in this passage is about the “they”! This is not about the people of Capernaum coming to know Jesus Christ. It is about the realisation of people who have already started following Jesus. They thought they had Jesus figured out when they followed Him but here, Jesus is showing them more of who He really is. This text is therefore not about non-Christians, but about us who have already left something to follow Jesus. This text is also for us.
Mark also provides some details in Mark 1:21.
Each of these conveyed something specific:
- Capernaum: It is a town in the region of Galilee (Mark 1:14), and it is affiliated to Zebulun and Naphtali (c.f. Matt 4:14-15). In the account in Matt, Isa 9 is quoted, predicting Jesus’ entrance and ministry in that region.
- Exodus: From the Ten Commandments in Exo 20:8-11, the Jews knew it to be a day commanded to be dedicated to the Lord. This is a day God has designated it to be a holy day, and God’s people gather on that day. They turn attention away from their lives to God. This is one way to rest.
Synagogue: There are people (the congregation) who gather and come together (c.f. Num 27:16-17). These people are physically congregating there! With the congregation comes a leader. The synagogue is a place of authority and it is not a Senate or a Town Hall. Jesus chooses to come here to speak. He doesn’t ask questions and neither does he write. He teaches.
Teaching: Matt 7 is a sample of what Jesus’ teaching is like. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives the parable of the solid rock and sand (Matt 7:24-27). In this parable, Jesus’ teaching is the solid rock. Therefore, if you build your life on the foundation of His teaching, you are wise. The storm will reveal the foundation of your house. There is no middle ground. Either you are a fool or you are wise.
When we pause and consider the parable in Matt 7, we realise that Jesus’ teaching is always characteristically about Himself. It is never about our life in theory, but it is always about our lives in relation to Him. In any other contexts, His teaching could seem narcissistic and sounds like self-praise and worship. But only when it is Jesus is it not narcissism and navel-gazing.
Mark also records for us the people's response. Mark 1:22 tells us that people were “astonished at his teaching”. They were confused and extremely anxious. We see how Jesus is a teacher unafraid to speak of reality and to speak of Himself. Many of us go to church or cell-group and we speak of our opinions and feelings. If we were there, we would be just as astonished! Why? Because Jesus never speaks in greys. He always sees it as black and white and He is not afraid to say so.
Mark 1 shows us that teaching with authority challenges and even confuses. In the church, teaching is out and community is in. We love to hear prophetic monologues during the “sermon time” which can sometimes involve a dramatization of the text to help people get into the story. But does Jesus help you get into the story or does Jesus just teach and preach? What do you crave for when you go to church? What are you looking for as you come tonight? What are we doing on Wednesday nights, apart from telling the King “show me your will that I may obey you”?
The Christian life is essentially saying that we want to hear the will of the Lord — better, greater and higher than ours — so that we can obey it. Teaching with authority sounds like that. Could it be that we don’t want to hear what the text says because we don't want to hear God and we don't want to obey? Teaching makes us ask the question “who is God” and “what is it you believe”? Most of us want enough teaching just to get by and still remain in control of our lives. Jesus taught with authority because holiness is not up for debate. Jesus taught with authority because the gospel is not an opinion. Our hearts baulk at teaching with authority and we try to wriggle away and reason it out. But this text forces us to confront our sins. The Spirit is a preacher and shows us clearly the areas of our lives that we need to obey. What will you do today?
(B) Authority to reign (Mark 1:23-26)
Jesus was teaching in the synagogue and “immediately” a man with an unclean spirit enters (Mark 1:23). Mark uses one of his well-placed "immediately" to move the narrative along and this is not an accident. He came into the synagogue for a reason. He cries out (Mark 1:24), sounding like one who was provoked. Jesus was just teaching but the spirit felt disturbed. The spirit knows who Jesus is and where He is from (“Jesus of Nazareth”), and even takes a stab at His intent (“have you come to destroy us... the Holy One of God). Jesus commands the spirit to leave the man (Mark 1:25) and the spirit leaves, but not without convulsing the man (Mark 1:26).
This is not just an account of demon-possession. This has everything to do with Mark 1:15. The gospel is the way to the kingdom of God, therefore, Jesus could proclaim that the Kingdom is at hand. In fact, Jesus in that Capernaum synagogue is an invasion of the world in its natural state. You and I do not believe this because it just sounds like words, unless we have the gospel. The gospel proclaimed in power is an authoritative teaching. The gospel of God proclaimed is an attack on the world in its natural state. Every time the gospel is proclaimed, things are advancing, even though the world still looks messy and complicated.
The Kingdom of God arriving is an attack on the kingdom of the world. Therefore, the gospel is an offensive weapon against every sin that grips your heart right now. The Bible records the occurrence of unclean spirits to show us that there is a spiritual reality, and Jesus is over the spiritual realm too (c.f. Eph 6:10-12, 1 Jn 4:4). Therefore, what else is outside His rule and reign? Does anything fall out of His control?
The Lord Jesus has all authority in His hand, even if we are unimpressed by His reign! What do we do with application? Bring your silver and your gold and lay it at His feet. Bring forth your job and promotions, relationships, dreams, everything. If He calls you to do the hardest things, don’t say no. Is this the kind of King you ask to be your personal assistant? Don’t undervalue the authority of Christ, dear friends. If ever you forget this in the week, read Job out loud and hear God speak to Job. This is the kind of King you tremble before and obey all His words.
(C) Authority that surprises (Mark 1:27-28)
How did the people respond to these words? They struggled to express what they had just seen. But they knew that the teaching and teacher had an unseen authority. It was a whole different scale and power (Mark 1:27). In Mark 1:22, they compared Him with the scribes but here, there is no category for His teaching. It was more than what they taught it was. Therefore, it showed that their expectations of religious teachings does not include the power to deal with unclean spirits. Religious teaching tells us how to be a good person/manage life and emotions but never commands unclean spirits to obey. It’s not just about ordering life but shaping the world.
In the book of Mark, Mark repeatedly poses this question "who is this man that even ____ obey?". In the book, he shows Jesus' power over all things, including the supernatural and natural realm.
In Mark 1:28, “they” still refers to the disciples! The authority of Jesus is sometimes surprising for us because we think we know Him and have searched the depths of His will. There must have been something in Jesus that made them leave their fishing trade but here, they’ve moved from astonishment to just being confused by His authority because Jesus destroys all their categories. Does this describe your own walk with Jesus? The authority of Jesus is surprising. When we think we have figured Him out, He turns and shows us another side of Him! This is the joy of following Jesus and knowing Him and being in relationship with Him. This is the joy of following a person!
Do you also realise how Jesus' surprising authority doesn’t surprise the world but his own people? The disciples were astonished because they did not see such good authority and rule! Pray that He surprises you with His authority! Ask Him to show you again what it means that He is a good and gracious King! 2 Sam 23:1-4 gives us a lovely picture of what it looks like when a ruler rules justly. A good leader is a blessing and it is exactly what God had in mind! Under good rule, God dawns on the people like the morning sun!
In our world today, even the best authority is flawed and a pale shadow of the authority of Jesus. Only one teaches and preaches like this. Jesus' authority is not an authority that crushes but makes you flourish. It is an authority that expresses the wisdom of God. It's an authority that we've longed for all our lives! There is no injustice but just joy and trust! This is the authority of Jesus. Do you know Him? Do you live in obedience and under His authority?