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February 1, 2015 - Mark 1.21-28

“The Unmistakable Air of Authority”

Mark 1:21-28

February 1, 2015

 

21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “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.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

 

Some people like to rebel against authority.  You knew many of them when they were disguised as irresistibly cute 2 year olds.  But ever since the 1960’s it seems that it has been in vogue in our culture, or at least a certain segment of our culture, to “Question Authority.”  That is not always a bad thing, especially in a system where authority comes from the masses.  In fact, some people in authority wield it so incompetently that we cannot help but question them.  But every so often, perhaps once in a lifetime, there will be a leader that not only wields authority in a manner that inspires confidence; he or she does so in a way that redefines the term “authority.”  Some people have authority given to him them; and yet others simply seem born with it.

There are moments of the last century that ring with the unmistakable air of authority.  Churchill’s speeches to Britain in the first days of World War II.  “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  “The buck stops here.”  “I have a dream.”  As inspiring as those quotes are, we also know that the men that said them were thoroughly human, and they did become great men because of their service to humanity, but their quotes have a bit of God’s truth in them.  It is an altogether different story when the greatness in our midst is greater than is humanly possible.  It’s an altogether different story when the authority is not limited to God’s truth, but is also spoken by God’s own voice.

Such is the case in the scripture text today.  Jesus speaks with the authority of God and those around him are left asking questions. “What is this?”  “Who is this?”

There are some significant differences between Jesus and other teachers of his day.  Much like we preachers today, no Rabbi ever said anything on his own.  He would not only quote the Torah, but also other Rabbis and their opinions on things.  He would begin, “…there is a teaching that…” and he would begin to quote all his list of authorities on the matter.  The last thing that a Rabbi would have done would be to give an independent judgment on something.  Boy, was Jesus different!  He did not need anyone else’s opinion to buttress his, he did not need permission from others, he needed no authority beyond himself.  He was able to speak with finality and utter authority because he spoke with the voice of God…and it showed.  When Jesus spoke it was with the unmistakable air of authority that only the voice of God has.

If Jesus words had amazed the people in the synagogue, then his deeds left them thunderstruck.  It wasn’t just that Jesus exorcises the demon from the man.  It was how he did it.  There were other exorcists around.  If you had a demon, your family could find an exorcist to do the job.  Much like the exorcisms you see in the movies or cable TV, there was a lot of bravado and rigmarole, chanting, posturing, spell casting, conjuring and “fighting with the evil.”  Whether or not those things were legitimate or not, I don’t know, but what I do know is this: Jesus needed none of that and wasted no time.

Jesus’ authority is apparent.  The demon cringes, anticipating that it will be destroyed.  “Are you going to destroy us?” almost as if he is asking on behalf of all that is demonic.  Jesus utters one word (Phimotheti!) – in English it’s two (Be quiet, Shut up!) – and has complete authority over the demon.  Then with one phrase, “exit from him,” the demon is gone. 

Demons couldn’t tell Jesus “no”, like they do to exorcists in the movies.

Does Jesus heal this man because he has compassion for him?  Possibly.  Does Jesus exorcise this demon so that those watching can have proof that Jesus is the Son of God?  Maybe, but that is more like what typically happens in John’s gospel.  This is early on in Mark’s telling, and Mark emphasizes some things differently than John, Luke and Matthew.  The important thing here for Mark is not the compassion of Jesus, which is always there in abundance, nor is it the proof that some seek that he is God’s Son.  The act of Jesus ties in with exactly what he is teaching.  He is teaching with authority that only comes from God, and then they see it in action right in the middle of their synagogue school lesson.  This happens the way it does so that a question will be raised – “Who is this man?”

Imagine being given a cello lesson by this new teacher in town, and in the middle of explaining the proper way to hold the wrist while using the bow, your teacher launches into a piece of music you have never heard and you are stunned by its beauty, and then you find out he was improvising, made it up on the spot.  Your reaction might be, “whoa, who is this guy?”  Imagine now that it turns out to be Yo-Yo Ma, the world’s greatest cellist, and you had no clue. Far beyond that analogy is the reality that Jesus is God and speaks with all of God’s authority.

So all this talk about authority, what does it have to do with you and why you are being delayed getting to lunch?  Let’s not miss what is right in front of us.  Yes, Jesus speaks with all of God’s authority.  But that does not mean that everybody necessarily liked it.  We Christians today can be so ignorant.  So many of us assume that if we were to actually witness a bona fide miracle first hand that it would automatically produce unerring and unwavering faith.  That is not what happens in scripture, and it is not what would happen today.  The text says that the people were “amazed.”  That word does not tell us that they all thought it was a good thing, it tells us that they found what they were seeing hard to believe.  They were blown away, but it was not necessarily good.  In fact, we can assume some of it was bad.  The Rabbis don’t like it when someone speaks without their permission.  “A new teaching with authority? Not on my watch.”  Mark makes it very clear throughout his gospel that there are forces in religion that oppose the liberating authority of Jesus’ gospel, and folks those forces are still at work today.

The question that we must ask is “Is God’s authority over the demonic still relevant today?”  We may not see people like this one that is possessed, but evil is still very real in the world.  You do not need me to tell you the answer to that question because you have seen the news, where children are abandoned, chained in basements, sociopathic dictators gassing thousands of their own people, Christians being slaughtered in Islamic countries in the middle of their civil war (an oxymoron).  Evil is real, and if you do not see it, it is because you have been fooled.  It is also closer than you think.

The power of evil today is often strengthened by our inability to believe that it exists.  Please do not think about devils with pitchforks, horns and all that nonsense.  Today the evil will wear the right clothes, hold the right job, have authority of its own, look much more like Marilyn Monroe did than Marilyn Manson does, and is probably a church member somewhere.  One of my favorite quotes from a recent movie: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

Anything that is anti-gospel is potentially demonic.  Jesus broke down the barriers that kept him from ministering to the demonic man.  He could have been made unclean!  What if the man had soiled Jesus’ clothes?  Jesus stops, pays attention to the man, and shows him love.  He does not have any consideration for the religious codes of his day, which would have made him ignore the man.  Anything, politics, business, people, even religion, anything that is not gospel driven and committed to the gospel can be corrupted by evil.

We can still recognize the unmistakable ring of God’s truth when we hear it.  During the height of South Africa’s struggle to end apartheid, Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu addressed the Minister of Law and Order of South Africa with these words:

Mr. Minister, we must remind you that you are not God.  You are just a man.  And one day your name shall merely be a faint scribble on the pages of history, while the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church, shall live forever.

Authority is very different in the hands of God.  Instead of being used to reinforce and uphold oppressive structures, or to mask and cover the truth, Jesus uses his authority to boldly proclaim the WHOLE truth of God, to break down false boundaries that separate the clean from the unclean, to cast out demons from those possessed, and to proclaim God’s victory over demonic forces. 

In our world, many despots still hold power and hold people captive.  For us, this news of Jesus is good indeed.  Jesus has all authority over them.  The day of dictatorships, whether of the left or of the right, is coming to an end.  The day of leaders whose authority is grounded in lies, cruelty or deception is coming to an end.  The day in which people are possessed by forces that control, manipulate or enslave them is coming to an end.  The days of excluding people on the basis of some arbitrary characteristic such as gender or race are coming to and end.  The days of religion being prostituted for personal gain and political power while using God’s name in vain to bless it all are coming to an end, Hallelujah.  The days of evil invading your life are coming to an end.

The end has begun in Jesus.  Jesus is in our midst, and he speaks to us with the unmistakable air of authority.