West Point Grey United Church
Jan 28, 2024

The Highest Authority

Mark 1:21–28

Mark 1:21-28

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and 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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They 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.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.


I remember when my son John was in the swimming club in elementary school.  Sometimes, when the children did land training, I tried to outcoach the coach; I liked yelling at John to correct his swimming posture at the side of the swimming pool. He shook his head angrily toward me many times and then did what the coach said. His angry head shaking spoke louder than words; it said, “Mom, you are not the authority here. You need to be quiet.”

The word “authority” is used predominantly in the New Testament, which appears 96 times. In the scriptures we read this morning, “authority” appears 2 times. Authority in Greek is exousia , which has functions in at least four ways. The function of this word in today’s story refers to the power, ability, or capability to complete an action. Jesus was given the authority to teach and to drive out unclean spirits. I will reflect on three points: First, Jesus teaches God’s word with authority. Secondly, Jesus has authority over the unclean spirit. Lastly, Jesus is the authority in our life.

Today’s story took place in a synagogue. In Jesus’ time, unlike today, the synagogue had no set teachers. Instead, they had the custom of “the freedom of the synagogue,” where learned guests were invited to speak on the scripture reading for that day. This custom gave Jesus a platform or opportunity to teach and preach.  So, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. Jesus’ primary purpose on planet Earth was to share the gospel, his number one mission was to preach the kingdom of God to tell people the good news of Jesus Christ. The people in the synagogue were not at all prepared for what Jesus had to say or how he said. In verse 22, they were astounded at his teaching; astounded is a powerful word, which conveys a sense of astonished and stunned. 

We are not told what Jesus taught, but we are told of the effect the teaching had on His audience. They had never heard anyone teach quite like this before. The scribes of Jesus’ day were considered to be experts in the Old Testament scripture, but they rarely taught boldly; they relied heavily on what other scribes did and liked to quote the esteemed rabbis to support their arguments. Jesus, it would seem, did not follow this pattern. He did not quote Calvin or Wesley. He simply taught the people from the scriptures, and the people were astonished by what they heard. It is clear that His teachings were truly exceptional.  In the book of John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  According to Christian doctrine, Jesus is the embodiment of God. Therefore, when people listen to Jesus’ teachings, they are essentially directly from God. Unlike the scribes, Jesus spoke with authority. So, people have never been, nor will there ever be, a teacher as good as Jesus. Jesus’ words still are, they always will be lifegiving. 

The second part of the story starts in verse 23, which immediately says there was a man with an unclean spirit in their synagogue. Unclean spirit has appeared several times in the New Testament; each of those times is when Jesus comes face to face with a man who is controlled by a demon. We know that demon is fallen angels –Satan, who rebel against God; they are the power of the air. When Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in his first ministry, a demon-possess man suddenly interrupted the worship service.  The demon knows precisely who Jesus is, not just Jesus is from Nazareth, but also knows who Jesus is really from, the demon said, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (1:24b).  So, from the moment that Jesus entered the synagogue, this demon must have known that his time was up. Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet!” The demon was done talking. “Get out of him.” and the demon immediately obeys.  This is the absolute authority to command this demon. Nowadays, those who delight in corrupt thoughts and actions are full of evil.   We pray that through the mercy and love of Jesus’ authority, they may be freed from the bondage of unclean things, and the Holy Spirit could come into their heart.

The people were watching Jesus’ authority teaching and what was happening before them.  Even evil obeys Jesus. The people were astounded, astonished, stunned, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this?” Yes, we are going to ask ourselves today when we read this scripture, “What does this scripture tell us to do?” This takes us back to the question of authority. This takes us to the third point: Jesus is the authority in our current life. We live in a time that questions most forms of authority. Parents have been given the authority to nurse and educate their children. Similarly, coaches hold the authority to guide and train their swimmers. Meanwhile, a police officer is granted the right, warrant, and capacity to enforce authority on behalf of an entity that possesses the power to maintain law and order. As Christians, we too have the representative authority to establish, enforce and carry out God’s will here on earth as it is in Heaven. Today’s scripture is so clear to tell us over and over and over that we are told to obey Jesus is that Jesus alone has the HIGHEST authority, who is worth of our complete obedience, both in the physical and spiritual. As we embark on this journey, it’s important to recognize that none of us holds any true authority. Our authority is derived from the one who guides us.

I would like to quote Matthew to close my reflection of today: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). This is a great commission for every Christian.  Discipleship is to continue the work of Jesus and to express His will on earth, we must go beyond simply believing to ACTING on the authority we have been given by Jesus. Amen