Authority in Action
Text: Mark 1:16–34
Main Idea: The authoritative words and actions of Jesus Christ reveal his true identity.
I. Worshipers were Amazed at His Teaching (Mark 1:21–22)
II. Demons were Conquered at his Command (Mark 1:23–28)
III. Mankind is Locked in a Clash of Kingdoms (Ephesians 2:1–3; 6:12)
Now, I know that many of you are wondering how in the world I am going to cover 18 verses this morning, given the fact that I have only covered 14 verses in the last three weeks? Well, I am going to cover them by focusing on the single theme that ties them together.
Main Idea: The authoritative words and actions of Jesus reveal his true identity.
To put it another way, Mark wants us to see that Jesus is not just another prophet or divine mediator who delivers messages from God. He wants us to see the unrivaled and unmitigated authority of God himself in the words and deeds of Jesus Christ.
In passage this morning we see:
- His Authoritative Call to Discipleship (1:16–20)
- His Authoritative Teaching in the Synagogue (1:21–22)
- His Authoritative Command over Demons (1:23–28)
- His Authoritative Power over Illness (1:29–34)
And, I believe this authority is most clearly seen in the spiritual clash at the synagogue in Capernaum (Mark 1:21–28).
Worshipers were Amazed at His Teaching (1:21–22)
The Historical Context
Now, it is important to remember that the synagogue is not like the temple in Jerusalem. There were no sacrifices and more often than not there were no priests. The synagogue was, and still is today, simply a gathering place for practicing Jews. A safe place where practicing Jews could meet every Sabbath to pray and to hear God’s Word read, explained, and applied to everyday life. So in many ways, Sunday church services reflect Sabbath gatherings in the Jewish synagogue.
The primary difference is that the first-century synagogue didn’t have a dedicated teaching pastor. Rather, the primary duty of Biblical exposition and instruction fell to the laity, and on this occasion to Jesus himself. Yet, Mark doesn’t seem very interested in telling us “what” Jesus taught; he wants us to see “how” the people responded to his teaching… they were completely blown away by his exposition of the Word.
A Marked Contrast
As one commentator puts it. The Greek verb behind “they were astonished” could be easily be rendered, “they were being knocked out by astonishment.” As one pastor puts it, they were absolutely “thunderstruck” by his teaching. Everyone was on the edge of their seats, their eyes were fixed, they were hanging on his every word because he taught with a kind of authority that the greatest teachers of their day—the Scribes—did not possess. This is an important contrast.
Scribes were experts in the OT Law. Ask any question about any of the 613 statutes in the OT and they could give you an exhaustive answer from memory! But, for all of their wisdom and influence, the scribes’ teaching was more like an annotated bibliography than an expository sermon. What I mean by this is that the Scribes did not really wrestle with the text itself. Rather, they taught by quoting rabbinical traditions of the past. Rabbi Moshe said this. Rabbi Eleazer said that. But, Rabbi so-and-so disagreed with them both and said this.
The scribes authority was grounded in their education and ability to cite the preexisting authorities. But, Jesus did not cite authorities. He explained the Bible with amazing purpose and clarity because he was speaking with divine authority.
- A difference in Authority that measured on the Richter Scale not a bathroom scale.
- A difference in Authority that measured in Light years not in millimeters.
- Authority that utterly eclipsed every spiritual authority of his day.
Yet, the interesting thing in this account is that the Scribes never appear to defend their honor and authority. And that is because, it is one thing to demonstrate authority over spiritual knowledge. It is quite another to demonstrate authority over spiritual beings.
Demons were Conquered at His Command (1:23–28)
Before we dive into the second half of this encounter this morning, I think it is important to ask the question, “Where did demons come from?” Because, many Christians struggle to explain their existence and the scope of their powers.
The Origin of Demons
Scripture teaches that God created everything—the entire universe and everything in it—from nothing.
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
Second, Scripture tells us that God created angels to fulfill different roles of divine service.
Colossians 1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
Scripture does not tells us when angles were created, but it appears that God most likely created angels just before he created the earth.
Job 38:4; 7 Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding… 7 when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Finally, Scripture clearly indicates that God created everything, including angels, in a state of goodness because at the end of the 6th and final day of creation…
Genesis 1:31 God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
I take this to mean that, there are no evil angels or demons on the 6th day of creation. There are no rebels fighting against the glory of God because God proclaims that everything was “very good.” All of creation—including God’s spiritual servants—were walking in perfect obedience to their Creator.
Therefore, we can say that Satan and his followers rebelled against God sometime between the events of Genesis 1:31 and Genesis 3:1. In other words, Satan and his demons have not been warring against God from eternity past they are created beings who mutinied against their creator.
God exists perfectly in himself. Satan and his demons are created beings. They are not the equal opposite power to God and his angels. They are not omnipresent, they are not omniscient, they are not omnipotent. God is completely holy with no darkness at all. Satan and his demons are completely evil with no light at all.
Their supernatural power—while real—is like a cap-gun compared to nuclear warhead.
Their abilities—while legion—are wholly limited by their creator.
A Cosmic Conflict
Now, it’s not very surprising when demon possessed people show up in graveyards, or among the idol worshiping Gentiles. But, this demon possessed man shows up in a place of worship amongst the people of God and tries to put God himself on the defensive.
First, the demon aggressively confronts Jesus with the question, “What have you to do with us?” And, this is no simple question! When we look at how this question is used in the OT, the demon is really saying “mind your own business!” or “get out of my face!” You are out of bounds! You have not right to be here!
Second, when the demon reveals Jesus’ name and divine identity, he is not simply trying to discredit Jesus or expose Jesus before his time. He is most likely attempting to exercise authority over Jesus by using his true name because this was one of the ways 1st -century magicians attempted to control demons. This demon is wracked with fear and he is trying to do anything he can to upset, contain, or derail the Son of God.
Mark wants us to see that Jesus overcomes the demon by the authoritative word if his power—nothing else. Magical texts from the first-century indicate three primary strategies for freeing people from demonic control. First, they would shove a nasty smelling substance up the persons nose in hopes that the bad smell would drive the demon away. Second, they would try to determine the name of the demon so they could command it.Third, they would invoke the name of a higher spirit in hopes that it would drive out the lower one.
Jesus didn’t need secret formulas, incantations, magical objects, or someone else’s authority to exorcise the demon. With a word, the demon is conquered. With a word the captive man is free. With a word the people are even more thunderstruck than before.
Mark 1:27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
Notice that they refer first to Jesus’ authority in teaching and only second to the exorcism. This exorcisms is not a showy display of power that overshadows or obscures his teaching. This exorcism is an organic extension of his teaching that substantiates his gospel message. Repent and believe the kingdom of God is at hand. And you can know it is at hand because the kingdom of darkness cannot stop it.
Application: Mankind is Locked in a Clash of Kingdoms
The first two conflicts in the Gospel of Mark are wholly supernatural. Jesus faces off against Satan in the wilderness and he faces off against one of Satan’s henchmen in Capernaum. Mark wants us to see from the very beginning that Jesus did not come to overthrow human empires or human authorities. Jesus came to overthrow a spiritual kingdom, he is leading a war against the kingdom of Satan—the prince of this fallen world.
Ephesians 2:1–3 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
This is what makes the Christian life so hard. All too often we focus on problematic people and completely ignore the reality that we are locked in a spiritual struggle. But, at the same time, the very moment we begin to contemplate this spiritual struggle we can fall into one of two major errors.
When it comes to the supernatural, Christians generally tend to gravitate to one of two extremes or as my preaching professor is fond of saying, “one of two ditches.”
One the one extreme, Christians follow the path of 18th-century rationalism, skeptically denying anything they cannot observe and quantify through scientific investigation. Thomas Jefferson is a prime example, in that, he completely removed any reference to the supernatural from his Bible.
On the other, many Christians emphasize the spiritual so much they talk and live as if angels, demons, visions, and anointings are behind every event in life—It’s like Frank Peretti’s pulp fiction on steroids. But, the problem in this is that they completely ignore the influence of the world and continuing impact of their sinful flesh.
The first extreme tends toward a practical atheism that has little if any need for the Holy Spirit and prayer.
The second extreme tends toward a practical animism that believes evil spirits are behind every illness, difficulty, and inconvenience in life.
The Most Common Spiritual Attack
The most important thing for Christians to remember is that Satan and his demons are not always trying to physically harm mankind or turn them toward the occult. Satan and his demons are doing anything in their power to keep people from seeing the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are more likely to use pleasure and success as they are suffering or Satanic rituals.
2 Corinthians 4:3; 6 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
The devil and his demons know and believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and they shudder (James 2:19). They know and hate the gospel with every fiber of their being because in it God revealed the extravagant depths of his love for mankind and triumphed over the entire demonic realm and “put them to open shame” on the shameful cross (Colossians 2:15).
This is why we need to pray for our family, friends, and coworkers to come to faith in Jesus Christ—they are blind to the gospel, they are blind to their sin, they are blind to the cross, they need new eyes so that they can finally see. Because only then will they repent of their sin, believe the gospel, and truly delight in the love of God displayed in the cross of Jesus Christ.
This is why we should never stop praying for our country no matter how bad it is getting. Our country’s greatest need is not Judeo-Christian values. Our country’s greatest need is individual hearts transformed by the power of Jesus Christ.