The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
January 28, 2024
From the Jordan to the Mountain—
21They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” 28News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
What is the closest you’ve ever come to having absolute authority? Sometimes parents think that they have absolute authority. When their children are young Mom and Dad have the authority to tell them what and when they are going to eat, what they are going to wear, and when they are going to bed. As their children get older, however, Mom and Dad have less and less authority over them.
At work the boss sometimes thinks that they have absolute authority. The boss thinks that they have the final say in what does and what does not happen in the workplace. And yet, if the boss goes too far they may get reported to their boss who then reminds them that their authority only goes so far.
Whenever someone is in a position of authority that oftentimes means that they have the power to determine what happens. They have the ability to give directions and commands. But among us human beings authority is limited, isn’t it. It is limited in duration. It is limited in scope. It is limited by levels— meaning, there is usually someone on a higher level, someone who has even more authority.
Our text for today reminds us that there is one Man— only one— who has absolute authority. That one Man is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus’ authority has no limits. It is not limited in duration. It is not limited in scope. There is no human being has a higher level of authority than Jesus! As we continue our sermon series entitled From the Jordan to the Mountain let’s see how Jesus uses His absolute authority for our benefit and for our blessing.
Mark begins our text with some details that would be easy to overlook. He writes, “They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.” It certainly doesn’t surprise us that Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. Luke tells us that this was Jesus’ “custom.” (See Luke 4:16) Jesus knew the importance of going to the synagogue on a regular basis because Jesus knew the importance of gathering together to worship the Lord and to study His holy Word. So while it might seem like a little detail that would be easy to overlook, God the Holy Spirit had Mark record this little detail to serve as a powerful reminder to us concerning the importance of attending church on a regular basis so that we too can worship our God and so that we too can study His holy Word on a regular basis.
It also doesn’t surprise us that Jesus made use of the custom which allowed visiting rabbis to participate in leading the worship service. That’s why Mark tells us that Jesus “began to teach.” While we are not told what portion of Scripture Jesus used as His “sermon text” that day, we are told what kind of impact Jesus’ teaching had on the people. Mark tells us, “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.”
The Teachers of the Law were notorious for quoting from the writings of well-known powerful rabbis. Instead of focusing on what God said in His Word, they would focus on the traditions of the elders. Instead of emphasizing what the Lord did for His people, and what the Lord promised to His people, they would emphasize keeping the rules and the regulations which they had added to God’s Law and what God’s people had to do for the Lord. But when Jesus preached it was different! There was such a startling contrast between Jesus and the Teachers of the Law that the people were “amazed”! Another way to translate this word would be to say that the people were “astonished” or “astounded” by Jesus’ teaching!
Why were they “amazed”? Why were they “astonished”? Why were they “astounded”? Mark tells us that Jesus taught “as one who had authority.” It’s not difficult for us to understand why Jesus taught with “authority.” As the true Son of God Jesus taught God’s Truth. He didn’t emphasize the man-made traditions or the man-made laws that the Teachers of the Law emphasized. He focused on what God said to His people. He focused on what God promised to His people.
It’s also not difficult for us to understand that Jesus still teaches with “authority” right down to this very day. By the grace of God we know that Jesus is the Prophet whom Moses described in our Old Testament lesson for today. (See Deuteronomy 18:15-20) Jesus is the One concerning whom the Lord said, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account” (Deuteronomy 18:18, 19).
“The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority.” Do those words accurately describe us, my friends? When Jesus speaks with authority on the fact that God’s Word is Truth (John 17:17), do we listen in amazement? When Jesus speaks with authority on God’s design for marriage (Matthew 19:4-6), do we listen with amazement? When Jesus speaks with authority on the reality of both heaven and hell (Matthew 25:31-46), do we listen with amazement? When Jesus speaks with authority on the fact that faith in Him is the only way to enter into the heavenly Father’s home (John 14:6), do we listen with amazement? When Jesus speaks with authority and tell us that we are to love the Lord our God more than anyone and anything else and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 28:37-40), do we listen with amazement? When Jesus speaks with authority and tell us that we are to freely forgive those who sin against us just as our heavenly Father freely forgives us when we sin against Him (Matthew 6:12), do we listen with amazement? We need to be very careful that we listen to everything that Jesus says to us in His holy Word. We need to be very careful that we do not pick and choose what we will listen to and what we will ignore. As the true Son of God Jesus does indeed speak to us with “authority” right down to this very day!
To emphasize very clearly that the authority that Jesus possesses is indeed absolute, Mark goes on to tell us, “Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are— the Holy One of God!’ ‘Be quiet!’ Jesus said sternly, ‘Come out of him!’ The evil spirit shook he man violently and came out of him with a shriek.”
Put yourselves into the sandals of the people who were there in that synagogue. Someone they knew— “a man in their synagogue”— had been possessed by an “evil/ unclean” spirit. While we’re not told how this man was affected by this “evil/unclean” demon who possessed him, there was obviously nothing that he or any other member of that synagogue could do to help him. What we are told is that like all the other demons whom Jesus confronted in His earthly ministry, this demon knew exactly who Jesus of Nazareth is: “the Holy One of God”! This demon also knew that Jesus had both the power and the authority to “destroy” them.
Jesus used that power and that authority to command this demon to do two things. First Jesus commanded the demon to “Be quiet!” While the demon did indeed know the truth about who Jesus of Nazareth is, Jesus did not want nor did He need the endorsement of this demon. That would be like someone today calling Vladimir Putin as their character witness! After Jesus had put a “muzzle” on this evil spirit, He commanded him, “Come out of him!” The demon had no choice but to obey. While this incident shows the strength that Satan possesses, it also shows how Satan’s power is nothing compared to the power of the One who has all authority in heaven and on earth!
Th impact of Jesus’ interaction with this demon is made very clear when Mark tells us, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching— and with authority!’ He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.’” Take a moment to think of how this interaction between Jesus and this demon applies to you and to me! For me it helps me to understand certain people in this world and the awful things they do. While the old sinful nature that lives inside of every human being can lead them to do awful things that you and I cannot comprehend, when we look at some of the atrocities that people are committing today we can’t help but wonder if there is some demonic influence involved. Our comfort is that we have Jesus standing by our side. As the One who has absolute authority over everything— even the demons!— we have the confidence of knowing that Jesus can and will fulfill His promise to make all things work together for the good of those who love Him. (See Romans 8:28)
Turning back to our text we see that as the people listened to Jesus speak “with authority,” and as the people watched Jesus act “with authority,” they were once again “amazed” by what they describe as a “new teaching.” The word that is translated here as “new” very literally refers to something that is “unknown,” something that is “unheard of.” These people had heard the Word of God before— probably all their lives. But now, as the Word of God incarnate, as the Word of God who had come into this world as a true human being, Jesus was teaching them the Truth— the Truth about sin and grace, the Truth about Law and Gospel, the Truth about repentance and forgiveness. And all of the miracles that Jesus performed during His ministry— here it was the miracle of casting a demon out of this man— all of the miracles Jesus performed were not done for “show” as if He were trying to “impress” the people. No, my friends, all of Jesus’ miracles were designed to impress upon the people that they needed to listen to what He was teaching them!
Once the people heard Jesus speak “with authority,” and once the people saw Jesus act “with authority” they did precisely what you would expect. Mark tells us, “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” Do Jesus’ words and Jesus’ actions have the same effect on you? You have heard Jesus speak “with authority.” Every time you read and study your Bible you are listening to Jesus as He speaks to you “with authority.” Every time you hear a pastor or a Sunday school teacher or a Bible class leader faithfully share with you what God teaches, you are hearing Jesus speak to you “with authority.” Remember that Jesus Himself told His disciples, “He who listens to you listens to me” (Luke 10:16).
You have also seen Jesus act “with authority” over Satan and the evil effects that sin has brought on people. The most significant and the most eternally important example of this is right there— the cross on Calvary’s hill. (Pointing to the cross) When Jesus proclaimed from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), He was revealing His absolute authority over Satan. This absolute authority was proclaimed to Satan when Jesus descended into hell. This absolute authority was proclaimed to the world on Easter Sunday when Jesus revealed that He had kept His promise to physically rise from the dead on the third day.
You have seen Jesus act with absolute authority every time a little baby is baptized in the Name of the Triune God. You have seen Jesus act with absolute authority every time He gives to His disciples the visible tangible guarantee of forgiveness as they receive His true body and His true blood in His holy Supper. You see and hear Jesus act with absolute authority every time He fulfills the promise He gave to His disciples in that locked room on that first Easter Sunday, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven” (John 20:23).
Because we have heard Jesus speak “with authority” and because we have seen Jesus act “with authority” we now have the joyous privilege of following the example of the people here in our text. We have the joyous privilege of spreading the Good News about Jesus as far and as wide as we can!
From our perspective and in our realm of experience there is no absolute authority. Here on this earth every authority is limited. It is limited in duration. It is limited in scope. It is limited in levels. Purely by the grace of God we know the One— the only One!— who has absolute authority! It is our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. My prayer this morning is that we not only acknowledge Jesus as the One who has absolute authority, but my prayer this morning is that we always praise Jesus for exercising His absolute authority for our benefit, for our blessing and for our eternal salvation.
To God be the glory!