The Voice of Authority

Scriptures: Mark 1:21-34

God is good. [Congregation responds, “All the time.”] And all the time [congregation responds “God is good.”] I didn’t intentionally plan this particular Scripture and sermon on the day that we celebrate Reformation Sunday. That’s just the way it worked out. Of course, we all know that there’s no such thing as coincidence.

I think it’s fitting that we talk about the voice of authority and Jesus’ authority on the day that we celebrate the Reformation, where it was taught that Scripture alone has authority, Christ alone has authority, that we get our authority directly from God, through the Holy Spirit.

We want to look and see today how that authority was exercised in this particular set of circumstances. I’d like to recap a little about Mark and his Gospel, in terms of remembering that his main point, his main question (each Gospel has its own question) was “Who is this man?” Who is this Jesus of Nazareth. Of course, we know, from the very first verse of the first chapter: Jesus Christ the Son of God.

This is the knowledge that seems to be hidden from the people and the disciples and everyone in the Gospel of Mark. The disciples don’t look good, really, in any of the Gospels, but they look really bad in Mark, as far as being dense and unobservant.

They ask this question, and we know the answer, and at the time that Jesus’ ministry is starting here, it wasn’t time yet for him to be revealed. That’s important for us to know and understand. Jesus is beginning his ministry. He has had his temptations. He has called the first four disciples. He has had his baptism. He is ready to go. He has been tested. He has been prepared.

He starts his ministry, not really surprisingly, I think, in the synagogue. “They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.” It’s important for us to understand the nature of the synagogue. We have difficulty understanding it because we have the sacraments here in the church, in the same place that you hear a sermon, the same place that you sing psalms and sing other hymns of praise to God.

But in the Jewish tradition, in the Jewish faith in that day and age, the temple was where worship occurred. The temple was where they sang the psalms, the temple was where they offered sacrifices, where their sacraments, if you will, were held.

The synagogue was a place of teaching. They would start with prayer. They would have the reading of the Scripture, and then somebody would elucidate on it. They would make it better understood. It was not somebody who was a paid professional, necessarily. They could have picked anyone. In some places like Nazareth, which was very small, they took turns, apparently. The scribes frequently taught.

There are different roles, by the way, in the synagogue. If you want to find out what those were, you can come to Bible study Tuesday morning. But they had their cantor, they had a person who handled the scrolls, they had a person who would lead the prayers.

The scribes, when they taught, as the liturgist said, did not teach from personal knowledge of God and His will. The scribes spent their lives studying the Law, the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The Law is supposed to impact every part of their life.

And in order for the Law to impact every part of their life, according to their logic, you need to know how you’re supposed to respond according to the Law in everything in life. The scribes were frequently used as judges. If somebody came up on a situation, they’d say, “How do we handle this?”

So the scribes were in the habit of looking back at tradition and teachers (rabbis) who had given their interpretation of the Law from studying it over decades, and even centuries. Famous rabbis – we would call them experts. Authorities. So the scribes would frequently preface their remarks about interpreting the Scriptures by saying “such-and-such a rabbi says” or “tradition says that we should do this” in response to the Word.

Jesus, however, spoke directly, with authority, with the power and knowledge of God Himself. It was not something that your average person would be willing to take on. Kind of a big mantle. So the people were amazed that he would speak so directly, saying “God wants you to do this. God wants you to do that. The Scripture means this. The Scripture means that.”

So Jesus began to show, in his teaching, his authority in the church. I want to mention in passing, before we get into that more in depth, that he showed his authority in this passage today in three different venues: in the church, in private, and then on the street. That’s important for us to understand.

Within the church he spoke with authority, providing interpretations of Scripture based on personal knowledge of God’s will and not the accumulated “wisdom” of previous teachers. He spoke with power and authority over opposition. There was a demon that was oppressing someone in that congregation.

It’s part of the paradox in Mark that the unclean spirit recognized Christ. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” The demon knows who he is. “Have you come to destroy us?” The demon is afraid of Jesus. “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” The Messiah, the Son of God. This demon was naming him before all the people. And Jesus said, “Be quiet,” and then cast him out, by his word alone.

Notice that Jesus did not deny the title, since it was true, but he rebuked the spirit for speaking out of turn. It wasn’t time for Jesus to be recognized as the Son of God. It wasn’t time for the people to understand it, and they might have taken the wrong idea from it.

Imagine if you were here and suddenly someone that you knew was demon-possessed, that you knew had evil in them, spoke up to whoever was leading the worship service and said, “You’re the holy one.” People might misinterpret that as to what “holy” means.

Jesus showed his authority, and it amazed the people. “They kept asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’” So Jesus spoke, and people heard. Jesus spoke, and power flowed. Jesus spoke, and even the demons themselves had to listen.

In this time and day that Jesus was there, as Paul himself says in one of his letters, the devil was seen as the king of the earth, the prince of the air, the ruler here on earth. Now we know that it is at God’s sufferance, because God is sovereign. But here was Jesus, commanding these demons. So apparently it was by his sufferance as well that they were there, and he had the ability to send them away.

Then they go into a home, the home of Simon Peter and Andrew. Simon Peter was apparently married and his mother-in-law was sick with a fever. The Greek word that’s used for fever is the same word that’s used in secular sources for a kind of fever that is fairly common in that part of the Mediterranean.

It’s a kind of fever that leaves you debilitated, weak, sometimes with delusions. The closest I can compare it to is maybe scarlet fever or hepatitis. Those are actually more severe, I think, but that’s what I could come up with.

So she was not doing well, and they mentioned it to Jesus. There is no crowd now, no bunch of people in the church, no bunch of people outside, just a few disciples. He goes to her and he takes her hand and lifts her up. It says the fever leaves her, and she begins to serve them.

So he spoke with authority over sickness when he spoke with her, and over weakness. Not only did the fever leave her, but she was strengthened enough to offer the hospitality generally required of hostesses in that culture.

The same kind of hospitality that had Martha in such a sweat the one time, when she got mad and said to Jesus, about Mary, “Why isn’t she helping me? You need to go talk to her.” It was an important thing. Hospitality was a critical thing in the Middle Eastern culture. She should have been too weak. But instead, she got up and served, because Jesus had spoken to her illness and weakness and strengthened her and made her whole.

Then that evening, a crowd comes to the door of this house, because word has gotten out about Jesus. Here in a small town, you know how rumors can fly. I once heard a saying, at least in the military, that a rumor is the only thing that can travel faster than lint.

It says the whole town and others came to the door. I want you to imagine, for a moment. Capernaum had about two or three thousand people. That’s bigger than Wapello, but let’s just say it was Wapello. And it was your home, not the church. Although even if it were the church, imagine if every person in Wapello came to the door of the church here, and started knocking on it.

Just for good measure, let’s bring in some people from Mediapolis and people from Morning Sun, some people from Columbus Junction, maybe from Winfield. All of them gathered outside.

They had brought themselves, if they were ill, and they had brought others who were unable to bring themselves – those who were too lame, or who were paralyzed, those who were perhaps so possessed or oppressed by demons that they had to be restrained.

We see that kind of care for one another in their community in a story in Luke where there’s a paralytic, and Jesus was teaching in a house, and they actually knock a hole in the roof to lower the guy down to see Jesus. These were the people who came.

They brought someone with them, “all who were sick or possessed. And the whole city was gathered around the door.” So Jesus went out. And I can’t help but think, it probably wasn’t like a circus, it was probably closer to a riot, as everybody is pushing and shoving and trying to get close.

But Jesus’ authority was such, that he must have spoken to the crowd (it doesn’t say he did, but he must have spoken to the crowd), and they listened. And they were able to come up in an orderly fashion. (We Presbyterians, we love “decently and in order.”) They were able to come up in an orderly fashion, and Jesus would touch them or speak to them, and he healed them of their illnesses. And he drove out the demons, restraining them from saying who he was, because they knew who he was, for the same reason he had at the synagogue.

People came for healing and brought those who could not bring themselves, and came, some of them, just to watch and see the one who had such power, prestige, and authority. And Jesus met them all, there in the streets. Is it any wonder, in the next passage, we’re going to find out that in the morning, while it was still very dark, he gets up and leaves, to get some time to himself?

We may not realize it, but we have that same power and authority. It’s been promised us in Scripture, because we are adopted as children of God, we are given the same power and authority as firstborn sons, inheritors with Jesus Christ. And in the name of Jesus Christ, we can resist the devil and he must flee.

In the name of Jesus Christ, we can touch and heal. James says that if someone is sick, have the elders come to that person and anoint him with oil. That doesn’t mean anointing the forehead with a cross like we do in baptism. That was their version of medicine. They would use oil as medicine on wounds and as a base for a lot of salves. Then it says “lay your hands on them and pray over that person.” Why would that be worth doing unless you had the power and authority, through Jesus Christ, to strengthen that person and make them whole?

We do it first within the church. The elders come to see a member in the church. The goal is, by the power and authority of Jesus Christ, as we listen to his Word and we understand his will and we reflect his love, to bring wholeness to one another.

We go home, and we carry that peace in our hearts, in our homes, and create an environment that is a safe environment, one that is a worshipful environment, that gives praise to God, so that people see in the family – and we all have so much extended family here – and they know that the Lord is in this house, when they come into that home.

Then we take that same power and authority and we’re supposed to go into the streets. That doesn’t mean going into Chicago and standing on a street corner and blessing the people and trying to cast out demons (though if you want to, then far be it from me to stop you). No, it means go to your neighbor, the one who is sick, the one who is depressed.

A lot of depression is caused by physical things and stress, but there is an element of oppression by the devil and demonic forces that causes somebody who is severely depressed to stay by themselves, to think that they are all alone in the world, even though they’re surrounded by people. Kids these days struggle so much with that. The most connected generation ever, and yet the most lonely.

But we can speak to them with the authority of Christ, and let them know they’re not alone, that God is with them, that God will heal them, that God will bring them through this time of trial. Then stay there by their side, being Christ to them, to make sure that it happens.

That’s your authority. It’s also your call. Just as Jesus did. As a disciple of Christ, you want to learn what he commanded and do as he did. We don’t take up that mantle of authority nearly often enough these days. We’re afraid. We’re afraid of looking weird. We’re afraid of offending someone. We’re afraid of so many different things.

We’re not supposed to be afraid. “Perfect love casts out all fear.” Christ won the victory already. He’s resurrected. The tomb was empty. He’s ascended. We say it in the Apostles Creed, which we’ll say in just a couple of minutes. He is at the right hand of the Father, ruling, until the day he comes again, and he will rule right in front of us, physically, here on earth.

The Reformation took a lot of effort and it took a lot of courage. It wasn’t just like taping something on a refrigerator, when Martin Luther banged his 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. It was essentially declaring war, in a way, on the established Church that was there. And many people paid with their fortunes and their lives./

We don’t have that stark a problem here. We don’t currently in the U.S. have a situation where we can lose our fortunes and our lives. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to stand up, show courage, grab the authority of Christ, depend on the power of the Spirit working you, and then do what Jesus calls you to do, bringing reconciliation, bringing the peace of knowing God, and reflecting the love, to help people become whole.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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