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The Authority

Jan 28, 2018

Passage: Mark 1:21-28

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Epiphany


In the Name of Jesus. Amen. Last week we spoke of St. Mark’s powerful introduction to his gospel which was -- quite frankly -- the necessary first step for our being rescued from sin, death, and the power of the devil and being given the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation: “Jesus came.” And as was proclaimed last Sunday, when Jesus came, He did two things: 1) proclaimed the gospel; and 2) fulfilled and established the Kingdom of God! We spoke of these two things: this gospel-good news that is so frequently misunderstood and/or underestimated and just how good, great, wonderful, and beyond even glorious description, it really is; AND we spoke of how the Lord’s kingdom is both now and still coming at the same time: the Living Lord Jesus reigns in our lives RIGHT NOW through faith in Him and lived out in receiving His Word and Sacrament as we live in and share His love! And while it is true that we are yet to see MORE of this Kingdom on the glorious LAST DAY, we are already ONE with the Lord; already we have received His eternal gifts! The Kingdom of God is in the-midst of you (Lk 17:21)!

Now these are indeed powerful assertions, but as great as they are, human nature is what it is. And our natural skepticism easily responds with the words (or thoughts): “show me.” We have-to be careful here. Because on the one hand the Lord has already addressed sinful requests for signs. Matthew 12:38: “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’” Then at verse 29 we have, “But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. [And then continuing at verse 40] For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’” These words point to the sign, the pivotal event of the Christian faith upon which everything else hinges and is built upon: the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is our sign too: Christ is Risen!

We need this, because since we have a sinful nature dear friends, we also have a terrible skeptic living in us. We too say in full expression of our sin: “show me!” So, this sign – THE sign that God has given us – also comes with historical evidence that is extraordinarily impressive. Still, the skeptic remains. Thankfully dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there is an ongoing sign that reverberates from THE sign of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ: it is the sign that He lives. Indeed, if Christ is risen, then He is alive.

The Christ, the Son of the Living God LIVES! This in-itself necessitates an ongoing sign flowing out of the resurrection: Jesus is still speaking through His Word. His Word is the ongoing sign that He is risen! The Word is the sign of the Risen, Living LORD!

But how do we recognize it? This is where today’s gospel from Mark 1:21-28 comes in. In today’s gospel when Jesus started to teach in the synagogue in Capernaum, there was an immediate REACTION to His words. The Scripture says at Mark 1, verse 22: “And [the people] were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”

For one thing Jesus never used the prophetic formula that the scribes used. The scribes said, “thus says the LORD,” [The Lutheran Study Bible, 1656] essentially referring to the LORD in the third person. Jesus didn’t speak that way.

Jesus spoke in the first person. He spoke as God.

Take note for example of Matthew 6:43-45a: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, [are you catching this? But I say to you,] Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” The Lord Jesus spoke this way throughout the Sermon on the Mount: “but I say to you…but I say to you…but I say to you.”

His authority reverberated with the power of God; as One with authority over death; and as One who in Himself was Life and the Giver of Life. When He spoke, His words were undeniably surging, piercing, they grabbed and demanded attention; and they sunk into the soul.

It’s important to take note of the reaction at verse 22 of our gospel from Mark 1: “And they were astonished at this teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”

They were astonished when they heard the words of Christ. This word astonished is a great word and it tells a lot about Jesus. To astonish is to cause great alarm. You really, truly get someone’s attention. Growing up, no one could get my attention like my dad could. When he spoke, I jumped. That’s how it was. There was no going against his word. It was just too compelling. That’s how I was raised. In U.S. Army Chaplain School, the word to get up at 5 am was also very compelling. There was a ton commotion, drill sergeants yelling, and you had to get up, and get dressed for a long run very quickly. The word – the announcement – was kind of astonishing. It was alarming. It got us moving. It produced results. And if one didn’t respond to such a word, then you were in trouble. And you didn’t want to go there.

But these human examples are nothing compared to the Word of Christ. The tenor, the energy, the compulsion, the driving force was and is the sort of thing that creates light and raises people from the dead. Jesus speaks so-as to astonish because He has authority, exousia in the original language…I think just pronouncing the word kinda sounds like power…Jesus’ authority was heard and experienced and one author describes the astonishment that it produced as being thunderstruck! (Voelz, James, Concordia Commentary: Mark 1:1-8:26, 161).

And this kind of word gets people all stirred up. It’s like fish, just chilling in a pool of water, maybe hiding under the rocks and then something invades…maybe a big worm on a fishing line: the water is stirred up, the fish are stirred up and they start reacting to it. They are drawn to the worm and some of them are caught. But this kind of stirring is not to harm you, but for you and me to come to the Lord – indeed we are drawn to Him – so that we may be “caught” to be in Christ and to experience the reason He comes fishing for us in the first place: to love us, to bring us to God, to save us from sin and death; and to give us life that overflows for eternity and in a raised body restored and glorified…it is a fishing that’s all good and all glorious, but it starts by the way the Lord speaks!

Mark goes on to describe further effects besides “thunderstriking” people. A man was there in the synagogue with an unclean spirit/a demon. In the ancient world it was believed that if one ever encountered a demon and if that demon spoke your name, then it meant that the demon had power over you or control over you (The Lutheran Study Bible, p 1656). So, the people were witnessing something truly remarkable.

The demon speaking through this man spoke and said at verse 24, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” Oh O…the demon let the cat out of the bag: it was seeking an advantage; it was seeking control and power over Jesus. The demon spoke His name: “Jesus of Nazareth!” And the demon spoke even His title: “the Holy One of God!” The people may very well have suspected that this was the true test of the authority of Christ.

Then, the Lord rebuked the demon, saying: “Be silent, and come out of him (verse 25)!” And at verse 27, it is recorded that again – the people were amazed – and they said, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” They obey Him. They have no choice. They must because of WHO is speaking! These are words unlike other words. They possess innate power!

William L. Lane comments: “The people were utterly astonished and alarmed at Jesus’ word. The same measure of authority with which they had been confronted in his teaching was demonstrated in the word of command to the demon. There had been no technique, no spells or incantations, no symbolic act. There had been only the word (The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Mark, p 76).” RCH Lenski wrote, “The exousia [authority] is the authoritative power that filled this wonderful teacher. The deity of Jesus revealed itself in all that he said…It shone forth with overwhelming force in this instance… (The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel, p 74).” And further he wrote, “Even these vicious spirits, to say nothing of ordinary diseases, Jesus commands, and they obey him. The point lies in this that Jesus needs only to utter a word, and helplessly these demons yield. These people rightly combine the power in the preaching with that in the expulsions [of the demons] (ibid., p 81).”

This is what deals with our inner skeptics. This is what leads us on-a daily basis to drown and to kill our skeptic within. This happens through authority and power of the Word of Christ…the reverberating sign of all signs of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. His Word have the power of overflowing life…these words cause us to LIVE!

I cannot begin to tell you why it is just so darn exciting to have the privilege, the gift, the allowance to be a pastor after 26 + years, because of being permitted to see the practical results of the power of Jesus’ Word, His ongoing authority. People without hope (at the end of their rope) given hope because they are given Jesus’ Word; couples on the verge of divorce, restored in marriage because they are given Jesus’ Word. People with serious illnesses either miraculously healed or given a peace in the face of death that beams a light into the hearts of the loved ones surrounding them, a light of witness that such a one is with and will always be with the Lord. This Word does something. It does, because it is authoritative. It is the Word that belongs to Jesus. It is our sign. It deals with our skeptics within. And it gives us strength in-spite of our weaknesses. This Word – and only this Word of the Resurrected Christ – is what propels us to continue living as the children of God. It is our sign. It is our authority. It stirs us up and leads us to obey. So, we confess the Lord Jesus, and now – by His authority – we live for Him!