We're turning to Mark's gospel chapter 1, and if you're visiting for the first time, or at least for the first in a while, you may not know that we're going through Mark's gospel these Sunday mornings. We're still in chapter 1, though this is our ninth study today, and our title this morning is 'The Servant's Authority'. We're looking at verse 21 through 28: "And they", that is, those who Christ had just called to follow Him and be fishers of men, Peter, and Andrew, and James and John, "And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day the Lord Jesus entered into the synagogue, and taught. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes. And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him. And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him. And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee".
Now it's very clear from verses 1 to 28 that the paramount theme of these few verses is the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ as God's Servant. Now verse 22, if you look at it for a moment, shows that the people were astonished at Christ's doctrine, for He taught them as one that had authority, and not as the Scribes. Now that does not mean that the Scribes did not have authority, because they did - but there was something significant, something intrinsically different about the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ's teachings that made it unique.
So what is the difference between the authority that Christ is showing in His teaching, and the religious authorities? What was so different that made these people realise that Christ was different? This is vital in order to understand what the text is saying to us this morning. Well, I looked up the Oxford Concise English Dictionary for 'authority', and this is at least the first definition that is given in it: '1a. Authority is the power or right to enforce obedience'. So if that's the definition, let us ask: what gave the religious authorities of Christ's day in Palestine the power or the right to enforce obedience from the people? The religious authorities were the Pharisees and the Scribes, but what gave them the right or the power to make people obey them? The answer is very simple: what gave them right of power for people to obey them was position. They were in the position of religious authority. The legal qualifications that came from that gave them, in some form, the right to judge wrongdoers according to God's law and the additions that they had made to it.
So the people's obedience was motivated by fear, fear of the power that these religious authorities had because of their position. But there are two types of authority at least: one is derived from position, but the other comes from respect - I mean an honourable recognition of people that an individual is worthy of our obedience, and therefore, because they are worthy of it, they have a right to it. Now Jesus had the right to command people's obedience because He was worthy of their obedience. That's how His authority was different than that that came from position, which was the authority of the Scribes and Pharisees.
His authority, Christ's that is, is evident in two ways in our portion today. Here's the first: the authority of His word. Let's look at this. The Scribes would pride themselves in a position. Their authority was derived from that position, and they held to that position rather than the character that they had and the kind of persons that they were. Let me try and illustrate the type of people these Pharisees and Scribes were. They were the type of people to pull rank. What I mean is, like the boss who says: 'It's only my suggestion now, but remember who's making it!'. They are bringing their position to bear weight on the commands that they are giving to people. But Jesus, as we see right throughout the Gospels, He never had to say: 'Do you know who's speaking to you?', or, after He had taught some people, 'Do you realise who I am?'. It was clear to people who was speaking to them, it was clear to them who He was because He spoke with authority, the Bible says. His words, in and of themselves, had the sound and weight of authority.
Because of that, we read in verse 22 that the people were astonished and amazed, literally that word means 'to strike with panic or shock'. One person has called it 'they were thunderstruck by the authority that was in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ'. Now we must ask the question: how were His words authoritative? Well, we have to go right into the scene of the story. He has entered the synagogue early on the Sabbath morning. The synagogues were teaching institutions where people, the congregation, would have been used to the rabbis and Scribes deliberating over the Old Testament law. Every little jot or tittle of that law would be argued and disputed. So they would spend all of their time arguing, debating the tradition of the elders, what they said, and how those traditions, ancient as they were, applied to contemporary personal present circumstances in people's lives. One person has put it: 'The Scribes were notorious for droning on mechanically, arguing and debating over the Torah'.
Often what the Scribes would do, and the Pharisees, if they felt perhaps that the debate wasn't going as well in their favour as it should, they would bring weight to the argument and their position by citing the great authorities of Jewish theological history. So Scribes and Pharisees were people, religious scholars, who were obsessed with quoting 'the authorities'. So maybe if the argument was over divorce or marriage, they would say: 'Well, Rabbi Hillel says this', or maybe over another moral matter, 'But on the other hand Gamaliel says this', or then 'Rabbi Eleazer's testimony and witness of the truth is this'. So they would sit for hours in the synagogue debating in this manner, and bringing the evidences of these religious authorities. But here was the difference between them and Christ: Christ's words implied that there was no debate permitted, there would be no theological discussion or reflection, and Christ needed no proof for His argument or for what He was proposing because He was the authority.
These Scribes and Pharisees were trying to draw water from broken cisterns, but Christ's words were like arrows from the Almighty. What Christ was speaking and expressing was not second-hand theology, these were the very words of God! What Christ in effect was doing for these people was He was bringing God to them in the person of Himself. He was bringing God's absolute claim upon their lives to them, and that is what disturbed them so much - the authority that was in His speech! Now, was it only the words and the way that Christ spoke those words that brought authority to Christ's teaching? Well, I think if we come to that conclusion, we will be greatly mistaken, and it will lead us astray somewhat. Yes, there was authority in His words. Yes, there was authority in the manner in which He spoke them - but I think the salient point here in this passage is that the difference between Christ and the Scribes was the difference between true authority and false authority. What is that? Well, the false authority that the Scribes had, they claimed it themselves - it was only claimed from their position - but the authority that Jesus had was exhibited, it was manifested, it was evidenced, it was proved. Christ manifested it both in His claims and in His actions.
So Christ not only displayed His authority plainly in the words that He spoke, but the deeds that He did. The deeds that He did equalled the words that He spoke. So the authority was in His word, but that - and do understand what I mean when I say this - that was not enough. There had to be authority in His deeds. This is what we see in this same passage, for this authority in His actions was demonstrated in the deliverance of the man with the unclean spirit. Here we see that a man, verse 23, entered into the synagogue with an unclean spirit - in other words, he was possessed by a demon. Now grasp the significance of this: here is a man in a religious surrounding, and he is overwhelmed by a power that is all-controlling. Someone has said: 'His personality had been damaged to the point that the demon had usurped the core of his self, and even utilised his voice'. The demon was speaking through him! Yet we see in this synagogue that this man who was possessed, and the spirit that possessed him - both of them were forced to acknowledge the superior authority of Christ's power.
Now we will see this in our studies right throughout Mark's gospel, so many occasions of demon-possession where Christ uses His authority as the Servant of the Lord and casts them out. Tempting as it is just now to talk about the phenomenon of demon possession, which we'll have an opportunity to do later in our studies of Mark, we can't take a detour into that and miss the point, I believe, of what Mark is saying here. The authority of the Servant of the Lord was not just exhibited in the words that He spoke, but these mighty actions, and in this specific deed of casting a devil out of this man.
Now note how His authority and His deeds were exhibited. First of all His authority was testified by the demon itself. If you look clearly, you'll see that the train of thought is that once the Lord Jesus Christ, in verse 22, began to teach with authority, that in reaction to what Jesus is teaching the demon made an outburst in verse 24: 'Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth?'. In effect, what the demon is saying later on when he says: 'Art thou come to destroy us?', the demon was saying: 'You have no business with us yet, leave us alone!'. Now it's interesting to note, before we move on, that the demon addressed the Lord Jesus as first of all 'Jesus of Nazareth', which speaks of Christ's humanity, and then the demon said that He was 'the Holy One of God', which speaks in part of His deity. There is a conflict here implied in the passage: it is this idea that the demonic power that possessed this man understood more clearly who the Lord Jesus was in His perfect humanity and absolute deity than these religious rulers, the religious authorities of the day! This demon knew a greater awareness of what the presence of Christ meant.
It's interesting to note the contrast that there often is between the way men address the Lord Jesus in the Gospels, and the way that demonic spirits address Him in titles. Take sick people, for instance, throughout the Gospels. Take Mark as an example, Mark 7 and verse 8, one sick person appeals to Jesus as 'Lord'. In chapter 9 and verse 17 He is addressed by a sick person as 'Teacher'. In chapter 10 verse 47 and 48 He is called by another ill person 'The Son of David'. In chapter 10 verse 51 another person with ailments calls Him 'Master'. But when we look at what the demoniacs and the demons themselves speak as titles to Him, in chapter 1:24 here He is 'The Holy One of God'. In chapter 3:11 a demon calls Him 'The Son of God'. In chapter 5:7, 'The Son of the Most High God'. These spiritual beings identifying Jesus of Nazareth as the divine Son of God sent into the world to be the Saviour - isn't that interesting?
James gives us a good commentary on that fact of the different titles between men and demons, he says in James 2:19: 'You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder!'. Can I ask you: do you know who He is? Is He just Jesus of Nazareth to you, an historical, religious figure? Or is He God's Son? If you recognize that He is God's Son, do you also recognize His authority over you? That's the difference between the demon and the believer in Jesus Christ: the demon recognizes who Jesus Christ is, but refuses to recognize His authority over him as a spirit or the whole of creation - for they want to usurp it. That's the reason why Christ was so unwilling to accept the forced witness of this demon to who He was, and He rebuked him and told him to keep quiet, because Jesus Christ does not want a mere religious or intellectual witness to who He is as a man and as God, but He wants a witness to Himself that comes from the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul of man.
What am I talking about? I'm talking about what Peter said when he said: 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God', and Jesus said to Peter 'Flesh and blood has not revealed that to you, Peter, but my Father from heaven'. The apostle Paul in Corinthians tells us that no man can call Jesus 'Lord', except by the Spirit, and that is what Christ looks for in a man or woman, a boy or a girl - not just some kind of intellectual knowledge! Sometimes people say to me: 'I believe Jesus, I believe He was a man but He was also God's Son. I believe He went to the cross and bled and died and rose again three days later. I believe He's coming again. I believe the Bible' - but if that is only an intellectual, mental belief, it is worthless! The devil has that belief, these spirits have it, but do they accept the authority of the Servant of God, Jesus Christ, on their lives? Do you?
That's the proof whether or not you are a disciple of the Lord Jesus, that's what makes the difference between you and the devil. Martin Luther, who we've heard much about already, said: 'The life of Christianity consists of possessive pronouns'. What does that mean? Well, it's one thing to say that Christ is the Saviour, to say that Christ is a Lord, that He is a God - but it's a different thing to say He is my Saviour, He is my Lord, He is my God. The demon testified to His authority out of force, I wonder have you done it willingly by faith?
The second way His authority was evidenced in this deliverance of the unclean spirit from the man was: it was attested by the deliverance itself. Not only testified by the demon, but attested by the deliverance. In verse 25 Jesus said to the demon: 'Be quiet', or literally 'Be muzzled'. Now, hallelujah, that means that there is hope for any of us, whatever condition we find ourselves in, whatever sins we have become immersed and been made in bondage to, wherever you find yourself today or I, there is hope because Jesus, with just words, muzzled a demon. Because of the authority of Christ, the devil, sin, wickedness, darkness of every kind can be defeated! Jesus is stronger than Satan, and Satan to Jesus must bow.
Now, Christ was not the first preacher, though He was the best. In the same sense, Christ was not the first person to exorcise a demon, but He was the best - and that is the point of this story. Not only in His teaching did He excel the rest, but in the dispelling of this demon from this man was Christ proven to be completely superior to exorcists of His day. This is why the people marvelled, they had never seen anything like this before. You see, exorcists in Jesus' day would often go to great and elaborate lengths, and go through all sorts of incantations and rituals to try and cast a demon out, even among the Jews.
Josephus, the historian, tells us of an exorcist by the name of Eleazar who demonstrated his ability before Vespasian the Emperor of the day. This is what Josephus says, I quote him directly: 'He put to the nose of the possessed man a ring which had under its seal one of the roots prescribed by Solomon. Then, as the man smelt it, he drew out the demon through his nostrils. When the man had once fell down, he adjured the demon never to come back into him, speaking Solomon's name and reciting the incantations which he had composed. Then, wishing to convince the bystanders and prove to them that he had this power, Eleazar placed a cup or a basin full of water a little way off, and commanded the demon, as it were, out of the man to overturn it and make it known to the spectators that he had left the man'. Now whether that is authentic or not, it matters not - the point is this: this is what people were used to in people attempting to exorcise demons from individuals, but Jesus, with just a few words, cast this man's demon out! This is why the crowd was so astonished, His authority in word and deed was unrivalled.
He silenced this demon to prove that He had come to judge Satan and his world, to strip the evil one of his authority, of his power, of his mastery over humanity. So, His authority of deed was testified by the demon, attested by the deliverance - but here's the third and final thing I want you to note: it was talked about by everyone. In our last verse we read: 'Immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee'. Please grasp the whole import of what is being recorded here by Mark: it was because of the authority of His word and His deeds that they were talking about Him.
Now let me ask you a question: why aren't people talking about Christians today like this? Is it because, as one has said, we're selling for more than we're worth? Is it because our lives do not measure up to our words as the Lord's did? Is it because our lives do not measure up to our Lord's words as everyone knows them clear in the Gospels and the New Testament? We are faced today with the task - and I think it is correct to make this direct application - we are given the job of bringing the authority of Christ to others, the kingdom of Christ to others in the Gospel - but are people talking about it? No, they're not! Why are they not? Could it be that we do not have authority in our words, perhaps, because people do not see authority in our deeds? They do not see a difference between us and everyone else.
Richard Foster, I heard him say this: 'You can't preach the good news and be the bad news'. Isn't that so simple? That's what Christians are, sure look at their faces! You'd think they'd just heard bad news at times - all you get is frowns and moaning at times from people who profess the name of Christ, and that's not the way it should be! You can't preach the good news and be the bad news - he goes on: 'One of the biggest problems we are facing today is that evangelism has reached the point of diminishing returns. That is, people have to ask themselves', that is, those we are evangelising, ''What am I to be converted to?', because when they look around at those who are identified as Christians, they don't see much difference!'. He continues: 'We are basically, in our churches, taken over with theologies of sin-management, more sophisticated ways of managing our sin, but God can do a whole lot better than that, Jesus came that a whole lot more than this might happen!'.
Ah, we come on a Sunday morning, a Sunday evening, and are we just managing our sin so that when God gets the accounts on the day of judgement, we'll be alright because we asked Jesus to come into our heart so that we can go to heaven when we die? Is that what it's all about? That's not what the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the New Testament is about - it's not about heaven when we die, it's about life now while we live! It's about His life making a difference by the Spirit in our lives, and our lives by the Spirit touching other lives! The authoritative teaching of Christ was followed by powerful acts, and that is what we need, that's where we are deficient! It is that that will lay hold of a man's heart, it is that that will grip a person, and astonish them, and cause them to ask: 'What new teaching is this?'. Actions must follow words! The Scribes peddled a second-hand religion, and it wasn't real to them, and because it wasn't real to them it wasn't real to others! Kent Hughes puts it like this: 'Christ's sermons were like thunder, because His life was like lightning'. For Christ, words and works went together - and that is what gave His life authority. Do you remember Nicodemus said to Him: 'Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God, for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him'.
Now let me, as I close this message this morning, bring all these truths together: the authority of His word, the authority of His deeds, testified by the demon, attested by deliverance, talked about by everyone - let me apply them very definitely to our hearts this morning. Here's the first way I want to do it, listen carefully to this: this passage of Scripture means that the tradition of the authority of the word without the tradition of the authority of the deed is not Christian tradition. Where does that leave you? Where does it leave me? Where does it leave this church? In fact, the word without the Spirit is powerless, the word of God says. The law has the ability to kill, but that is all it will do if the spirit of life in the new covenant and the gospel does not come - but that is not just a verse on a page in black and white, the Gospel is incarnational life, it is Christ in you! The Christ in you touching others to bring them to Christ! That is what Paul meant when he said: 'God has made us ministers of the new covenant'. He has made us competent to be ministers not of the letter, but of the Spirit, for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life! Oh, we can quote the verses and the doctrines, we can blast them through loudhailers - and people aren't listening, because our lives are not saying the same things! Maybe our lives are contradicting the word of Christ.
Here's the second way to apply this: God-given authority that Christ had in His words and deeds was given by God to Christ for the purpose of serving others. Did you hear it? He had it, why did He have it? To serve others, He was the Servant of the Lord, whereas the Scribes and Pharisees were claiming authority for self-serving influence and interest. That's why it's hard for people in authority to serve. So much authority these days is abused - we laugh at the name 'public servant', don't we? You know exactly what I'm talking about! What about in the church? Power, at times, intoxicates among pastors and ministers, among elders - but any authority that we have been given, it is given to us not to throw our weight around but to lay our bodies down for others!
How do our deeds match our words? Earl Radmacher is coming to us at Easter as our speaker, and I have been in correspondence with him by e-mail just preparing for that visit, and he sent a lovely story this week that touched his heart, and I hope it will touch yours. It just concludes everything that I've said today. A few years ago a group of salesmen in the States went to a regional conference in Chicago. Like many men do, they assured their wives that they would be home in plenty of time for Friday night's dinner. In their rush, with their tickets and briefcases in their hands, one of these salesmen inadvertently kicked over a table which held a display of apples. You can imagine the apples went flying, rolling everywhere - and without stopping or looking back, they all managed to reach the plane in time, for they nearly missed boarding - all but one. One salesman paused, took a deep breath, got in touch with his feelings and experienced a twinge of compassion for the girl whose apple stand had been overturned. He told his buddies to go on without him, waved goodbye, and told one of them to call his wife when they arrived at home and tell what has happened, why he had missed the flight. Then he returned to the terminal where the apples were all over the floor, and he was glad when he did because he found there a 16-year-old girl who was totally blind. She was softly crying, tears running down her cheeks in frustration at the plight of how she was going to retrieve all these apples. The salesman knelt on the floor with her and gathered up all the apples. He put them back on the table, he helped her organised her display the way it was, and as he did this he noticed that many of those apples had become battered and bruised. He put those aside in a different basket, and then when he had finished he pulled out his wallet, and said to the girl: 'Now, here, please take this $40 for the damage we did, are you alright?'. She nodded through the tears, and he continued on with: 'I hope we didn't spoil your day to badly'. As the salesman began to walk away, the bewildered blind girl called out to him: 'Mister', and he paused and turned to look back into those blind eyes as she continued, 'are you Jesus?'. This is a true story. He stopped in midstride, and he wondered, then he slowly made his way to catch the later flight with that question burning and bouncing about in his soul: 'Are you Jesus?'.
Do people mistake you for Jesus? Do the blind people in this world who see no beauty in Him on a written page that they should desire Him, does your life make a difference in theirs to such an extent that the authority of Christ is manifest in order to open their eyes and see Christ exhibited in your words and in your deeds? Only that will make blind eyes see the authority of the Servant of the Lord.
Father, we pray that everyone here this morning will have the witness of the Spirit to the words and works of Christ, that they may know who He is and what He has done for them, and apply it to their lives by faith. We pray that all of us as Your people will, every day, recognize afresh the authority of Christ in our lives - that we are not our own, we are bought with a price. Salvation is not a ticket to heaven, that we can just sit easy in first class, but You have left us here to be a testimony and a witness through our words and our deeds to the authority that is in the kingdom of Christ. Lord, help us, we all fall short. Forgive us when we are nothing but Pharisees and Scribes, debating over this doctrine and another, while others go to hell. Whilst we know that the truth is important, and coming to a knowledge of the truth, Lord, help us to be balanced. Help us not only to have a tradition of the word, but the tradition of the authority of the deed, that others may see us and see not us, but Christ in us. May they be won to Him through our witness. Lord, let this not be another sermon, but make a difference in our lives through this message we pray, to the glory of the One who is the Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the ninth recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "The Servant's Authority" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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