We’ve all played games as children, and some of us still play games today-games such as golf or curling. Every game has rules, and so does life. Our rulebook is the Bible, and it was written by God. We have to learn the rules before we can play any game, and we have to know the rules God gives us. The only way we can learn God’s rules is to read and study the Bible both by ourselves and as part of a larger group.
In the passage we heard from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus went to the synagogue and started teaching. The people were amazed because Jesus sounded like someone who had written the rules-and He did write the rules, because He was God in human form. Whereas the people were “astonished” at Jesus’ authoritative teaching, they were amazed in this instance because Jesus had absolute authority over the demon. His words had full power to accomplish what He spoke.
In our churches it’s unlikely that a stranger would be allowed to walk into the church, enter the pulpit and begin teaching. There are rules to be followed. There is the issue of credentials. I am a lay minister with credentials issued by the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and I also serve under the guidance and direction of my Parish priest. Churches have to be careful about who gets to teach and preach, especially since there is a lot of bad theology such as the prosperity gospel in the world today. We might not be comfortable with Jesus getting up and preaching, especially if we don’t have a sense of who He was (or is) beforehand. Most ministers would let Jesus take the pulpit if they knew He was coming.
The regular teachers of the people interpreted the Law for the people and decided cases. In their teaching the scribes would have drawn on past teachers and commentators. They wouldn’t have claimed their own authority. When Jesus taught, he referred to no source of authority beyond Himself. He was (and still is) the source of authority. Without saying so, Jesus laid claim to be the Son of God. The only authority He had was the confidence that what He did and said was God’s will and God’s truth. His authority lay in the power of His words and deeds. His authority lay in his living as God’s servant. Jesus used His authority to serve humanity, not to obtain power for Himself.
Every rule has exceptions. Every rule can be broken occasionally, and when that happens, there are consequences. Jesus broke one of the Pharisees’ rules when He healed the demon-possessed man. Jesus did the healing on the Sabbath, and that was against the Pharisees’ rules. Healing was work, and the people weren’t allowed to preform healing on the Sabbath. When He performed the exorcism, Jesus said to the Pharisees in effect, “You are making void the Word of God through your tradition which you hand on.” Does Jesus turn to us with the same accusation? In our longing for greater certainty and clearer religious authority, it is often people who suffer. In order to shore up the tradition we devalue precious women, men and children. How, for example, can churches continue to make judgments about gay and lesbian people without hearing and seeing precisely people who have been judged by religious rules? We must judge ourselves and our churches by Jesus’s insistence in valuing people more than laws.
Does any of this sound familiar? Sometimes our “unclean spirits” take up residence in our holy places. That is, we carry our destructive habits and tendencies right into our churches, our friendships, our families, and our workplaces. Sometimes our demons — our fears, our addictions, our sins, and our compulsions — recognize Jesus first because they know that an encounter with him will change everything. So they make us recoil as soon as he shows up in the guise of a loving friend, or a provocative sermon, or a pricked conscience. Sometimes our lives get harder when we move towards faith and healing, because unclean spirits always fight the hardest when their time is up.
When Jesus ordered the demon to come out of the man, the demon obeyed, but not without a fight. When Jesus’ authority is invoked in teaching and preaching, there is a violent confrontation with the demons who possess our souls and rule our lives. You see, the devil wants to obey his own rules, not Jesus’, but the devil does respect Jesus’ authority.
The demon instantly recognized Jesus and called Him the Holy One of God, perhaps in hopes that identifying Jesus by name would give the demon power over Him. The title “Holy One of God” refers to Jesus’ high priestly authority. Ironically, the demons recognized this first.
The demons had authority over both the man and the congregation. When Jesus used his authority to strip the spirits of their ability to control human beings, He denied their capability to have a settled place or influence in the world. When they lost opportunities to win over people’s bodies and minds, they lost the authority they thought they had.
Jesus didn’t use his authority to self-aggrandize or to consolidate power. He used it only to heal, to free, to serve, and to empower those around him. Maybe this is precisely why his audience found him so compelling — his was the authority of a servant king. He had no political power. No earthly throne or kingdom to speak of. But he had an integrity and a consistency that compelled people to follow him.
Second, Jesus stepped directly into the pain, rage, ugliness, and horror at the heart of this story. He wasn’t squeamish. He didn’t flinch. His brand of holiness didn’t require him to keep his hands clean. He was in the fear, in the sickness, in the nightmare, ready to engage anything that diminished the lives of those He loved.
The people waited a long time for God to come to their aid. Jesus’ teachings and power revealed that God had arrived and enabled them to resist and overcome evil. The exorcism is visible proof of God’s very present power. Jesus also wants to restore people to the community, and one example of this is the exorcism. Jesus is still at work today, because through His resurrection He is present with us now. He still speaks and acts with an authority that overcomes evil.
Jesus paid a price for revealing His authority in the synagogue. Hope began to stir among the people, and they came to Jesus for healing. His authority for healing is as much the Good News as His message that the time has come, and the Kingdom of God is near. Jesus connected His teaching with His miracles. The miracles were designed to point to the validity of both His teachings and His personal claims.
The power in God’s Word has the capacity to help us make profound changes in our lives. It has that power because it is backed up by the rules God has given us to govern our lives. These rules tell us something and do something to us. For example, when the priest pronounces the absolution of our sins during a worship service, we not only learn about forgiveness, but we experience forgiveness as God casts our sin aside and frees us from whatever bondage grips us. In our last hour God’s Word will have the power to call us from the grave and create us anew.
Are we astounded by God’s Word today? Are we willing to grant Him authority in our lives, even over the many other sources of authority in our world? How do we stay on the narrow way? How do we maintain our standing before God? How do we progress in the Christian life? The answer to these questions is the power of the authoritative Word of Christ. It commands, and in the strength of the Holy Spirit, those hostile powers that would undermine our faith are subdued. We hear and are set free by the grace of Christ’s authoritative Word. Our standing as a Christian yesterday, today and tomorrow rests on Christ’s authoritative promises, not on what we may, or may not, be able to do.
This story is mostly about Jesus’ authority. It is about recognizing Jesus as one of authenticity and power. The demon-possessed man knew this most of all. He expressed his fear that an encounter with Jesus changes everything that ever was and ever will be. He knew who Jesus is and he knew what this means. The question for us is this. Do we know who Jesus is and what this means? Where are we still amazed by Jesus’ authority, by His teachings and His deeds that can change our assumptions about what is possible? Where can we see souls set free from destructive tendencies and powers that we thought were beyond anyone’s control?
The people acknowledged Jesus’ powerful and effective teaching, but they didn’t line up behind him and follow him out of the synagogue. They didn’t make a commitment to follow this teacher who showed forth God’s authoritative presence by his teaching and deeds. They didn’t change their lives. They were admirers, but not followers, which is something a lot of modern people do — admire the “great teacher Jesus” but not follow him.
The man with the unclean spirit cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” That’s a good question for us to ask ourselves. What changes for the better have Jesus caused in our lives? Then, when we realize his authority over our lives has been a guiding and saving light for us, we are ready to give thanks.
The result of the advent of Jesus’s authority is liberation and awe. The authoritative word of Jesus is a word that offers a course to the directionless, release to the bound, possibility to the cornered, and hope to the despairing. It also creates an appropriate fear as, along with giving people a new and liberating direction, the authoritative word of Jesus imposes the weight of responsibility and the dread of the accountability that accompanies it.
Jesus’ authority reaches out to us today-more than 2,000 years since He walked the earth. We are still captured by His words. We feel His authority and the power of His words to guide and direct us. He wants to be in control of our lives. He wants to be in control of the plans we make, the words we say, the things we do, and the places we go. Why? Is he a control freak? No! He wants to be in control because he wants what is best for us. The Bible tells us that God has a plan for us. It is a good plan that will give us hope and a bright future, but we will never see that plan work unless we allow Jesus to be in control.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1344)
- “Living by the Rules.” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.com
- McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pp. 47-49)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2005)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2006)
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 4th Sunday (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- Wendell Debner, “Mark 1:21-28.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for Mark 1:21-28.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- The Rev. Dr. Barbara K. Lundblad, “A New Kind of Authority.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Rev. Janet Hunt, “As One Possessed: Recognizing Jesus.” Retrieved from www.dancingwiththeword.com
- Matt Skinner, “Commentary on Mark 1:21-28.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Stephen Hultgren, “Commentary on Mark 1:21-28.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, Fourth Sunday (B), January 28, 2018.” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- Debie Thomas, “The Exorcist in the Synagogue.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
- “Who’s in Control?” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.com