Sunday Sermon: Astonished by His Authority | Mark 1:21–28

We begin Jesus’s long Sabbath-day ministry in Capernaum with this visit to the synagogue. During the service, He astonishes them with His authority—with His authoritative doctrine and even more with His authority over the demonic realm. We see today that He is Lord, and that is how we should worship Him.

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Astonished by His Authority | Mark 1:21–28
Shaun Marksbury | Morning Service | 12 February, 2017
Heavenly Father,
We thank You that You came to serve, not to be served.  And we thank You that You are Lord.
May we bow to Your Word this morning.  Help us to understand it and apply it in all that we do.

I. Introduction
Remember that Jesus was preaching, calling everyone to repent and to believe the gospel (vv. 14–15), and He then called His disciples to this ministry (vv. 16–20).  They were willing to leave their hometowns, employment, and families to engage in Christ’s mission.  As He and His disciples enter the synagogue in this passage, they learn more of His message as He continues to teach.

Mark presents Jesus as the suffering servant, and with this passage, we enter into Jesus’s long Sabbath-day ministry in Capernaum with this visit to the synagogue.  He serves on this way in many ways, but we must see that bringing the message of the gospel as His paramount service.  In addition to His teaching this morning, we also see the authority of the servant Christ—and that will continue to be the theme throughout the rest of the chapter and into the rest of Mark.  As such, Mark presents an interesting balance between the fact that Jesus Christ came to serve and that Jesus Christ is Lord.

So, this morning, we see the service of Christ in the synagogue, but we also see authority.  Indeed, He astonishes them with His authority—with His authoritative doctrine, and then even more so with His authority over the demonic realm.  We see His truth rushing in with full force, a tide eroding the power of the enemy and the vain traditions of man.  We see the service of our Lord today, He Who we worship.

II. His Authoritative Doctrine Astonishes
21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 

Though Jesus was raised in Nazareth, He travels northwest to Capernaum.  It’s interesting that He doesn’t remain in Nazareth, his homeland, but here in Capernaum.  One reason is the sad fact that His home town rejected Him (Mt 4:13; Lk 4:16–31).  The other may be that Capernaum is bigger than Nazareth, having a large fishing industry situated along a major Roman road, home to a Roman garrison.  Strategically, then, it’s perfect for what will essentially become Christ’s base of operations in Galilee and the propagation of the gospel message.

This text is the Sabbath right after He calls His disciples—perhaps the next day or so, but no more than a week has passed before they entered Capernaum.  The name of the city means “village of Nahum,” so it either refers to the OT prophet or the meaning of his name, “compassion.”  Unfortunately, in the end, the city isn’t very compassionate to the Lord, and they would also reject His rule (Mt 11:23–24).

The Sabbath began at sunset the night and extended until sunset on Saturday evening.  God’s command for Sabbath observance had two components—the resting from work and the reflection upon God in worship during that rest (Ex 20:8–11; Dt 5:12–15).  It’s in the synagogue during the Sabbath that Christ enters in and teaches them about the good news of God.  While teaching isn’t considered work, He will also do serve in other ways during the Sabbath, including casting out demons and healing.

So, what we begin to see is that the Lord doesn’t rest but is constantly working.  In Psalm 121:4, we read, “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”  Connecting Him with the Father, Jesus says in John 5:17, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”  While Jesus, as a man, did slumber and sleep, we see Him hard at work even on the days of rest, demonstrating that He is the Lord of the Sabbath.

Now, before we go any further, let’s talk a bit about the synagogue.  The word is from the Greek, and it means “to gather together.”  In the Babylonian Captivity, after Jerusalem was sacked in 586 BC and many of the Jews were carted away, the faithful established these gatherings to read the Scripture, worship, and in general, get back on track with the Lord.  There were no animal sacrifices at these houses of worship—only instruction and prayer.

Any town that had ten Jewish males, counting children, could establish a synagogue, so there were plenty of small assemblies like ours.  Bigger towns might have several auditoriums or assembly halls for Jewish worshipers.  The point of synagogues of any size was so all of God’s people, regardless of income or education, could hear the Word of God read and taught.

The leaders of the synagogue might serve custodial roles—taking care of their scrolls and the upkeep of the facility.  They may even serve as school teachers during the week using the facility, much like how the American Sunday School functioned at its inception.  They might even use their synagogues for small claims court proceedings.  The one thing they did not do often or at all, interestingly, was teach the Scriptures themselves—that task belonged to whoever might be capable in the assembly, especially if that individual was a visiting rabbi or scribe.

Now, Luke 4:14 says that Jesus’s fame was already spreading through the area, which may be a reason why He was asked to teach here in Capernaum.  The pattern seems to be that they invite someone to teach.  In Acts 13:14–43, after the reading of Scripture, the rulers of the synagogue invite Paul and Barnabas to share encouraging words.  So, we see a drive for getting to God’s Word and allowing many capable people get to it.

The problem came with the professional scribes taught.  They were the experts on the Law of Moses and helped comprise the ruling body of Israel, the Sanhedrin.  They typically did so by intellectually standing on the shoulders of rabbis and the corpus of tradition.  While deferring to experts may hint at humility, it is not so here.  They seek attention, even using it to take advantage of others.  Later, Jesus will warn, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation” (12:38–40).

Pride made the teachers of the Law forget the actual meaning of the Law.  Building fence laws around the Torah, they could tell you how you should wash your cups and plates and hands, how to keep your food separate during cooking, and what you could and could not do on the Sabbath.  They would teach on the minor points of the Law to strain out gnats—teaching that one should tithe even herbs.  They would get into mystical teachings, assigning numerical value to Hebrew letters and expounding on the shapes of those letters.  They would sometimes allegorize key historical events.   In some cases, their interpretations conveniently countermanded the clear commands of Scripture, like when their teaching of corban caused them to dishonor their parents (Mk 7:9–13).  They went still further and competed as to who had the biggest phylacteries and tassels.  They were building the traditions of men, laying heavy burdens on the backs of the people while puffing themselves up, and they were slowly leaving God’s Word behind.

When Jesus taught, however, He did not need to borrow someone else’s intellectual credibility.  He didn’t weigh the people down with heavy requirements based on the minutia of the Law, nor did expound on why one rabbi has a better tradition than another.  He spoke with the definitive interpretation of Scripture, stripping away the accumulated crud of traditionalism with the simple exposition of Scripture.

As an aside, we all bring traditions to the reading and study of Scripture.  You may openly reject some traditions, but in your years of hearing Bible teachers in church and elsewhere, you’ve developed certain understandings of the text.  In your own study, you may have certain unchallenged assumptions.  This is okay as far as it is all in line with the Scripture, but we must always strive to get to the clear and bare meaning of the Word of God.  As 2 Tim 2:14–16 says, don’t “quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness.”

Mark demonstrates the service of Christ in this—Jesus comes teaching God’s Word.  While the verb kērussō (κηρυσσω) “to proclaim” or “to preach” described Jesus’s activity back in v. 14, and here we have didaskō (διδασκω) “to teach.”  Shepherds at times lift of their voices to command and, at others, they simply speak to guide, and our Lord gave shepherd-teachers to the church to carry out His work (Eph 4:11).  This is one reason why we have both preaching and teaching in the local church—our Great Shepherd modeled it and called us to it.

Still, His teaching is unique.  The term for “teaching” also means doctrine.  So, it is His overall message that they find so compelling, so amazing.  He is identifying His words with God’s Word, not with the supposed experts, past or present.  His doctrine comes with authority.

Now, if Christian preachers and teachers are to be different than the scribes and follow the command of the Lord, then they are to be teaching His doctrine, not their own.  They are to “avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Ti 3:9).  They are to instead to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2).  That way, members of Christian churches can submit to authority the Lord, not to the vain traditions of man.

His authority serves as a key for what is to come.  Here, His authority is demonstrated over God’s Word, over the spiritual realm, and then later, over creation, and ultimately, over you and I.  As we move through the account, we see that His words and deeds are so “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (2:10).  Every time we read of this word, exousia, authority, it speaks of what Christ possesses and what He can distribute to His disciples.

We must bow to His authority.  We must commit ourselves to the only doctrine that has authority, the teaching of the Lord.  Consider that the expression of His doctrine is so powerful that it throws demons into a rage!  That brings us to the next point—not only does He have amazing authority over the Word…

III. His Authority Over Demons Astonishes
23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “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 silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 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.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

Mark’s Gospel is shorter, but it doesn’t lack in supernatural accounts.  Jesus is authoritative, and Mark records Jesus's first miracle as authority over demonic forces.  The Romans knew of demonism, and Jesus wields command over the spiritual realm.

It’s worth addressing a question that comes up from time to time.  Is this man really demon possessed?  Some wonder if the people of this time just blamed everything on demons.  “Oh, a runny nose?  That’s the demon of colds.”  We have people like that today, but no—not every ailment was blamed on demons.  In Matthew 4:24, we read differing categories—“they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them.”  The concept that this must not really be a demon comes from a naturalistic and narcissistic viewpoint—Well, today, we just know better.

While, biblically speaking, you can have physical and mental issues without demonic influence, it is also true that physiological and psychological issues accompany demonic possession.  When we go into an emergency intervention center or a correctional institution, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that some are there due to supernatural reasons.  These cases, just like all others, will not have a chance to be “cured” until they hear the gospel and are converted.

Demonic activity is real.  Sadly, this being a synagogue with the Word being read and taught, a synagogue with Jesus in its midst, is not enough to keep a demon possessed from inside.  Perhaps he’s a visitor, but we see the fact that we must always deal with mixed congregations on this side of the veil—people regenerated by the Holy Spirit sitting next to those still under the grip of the devil.  That is why so many warning passages exist in letters addressed to churches with believers, for the deceived and the unbelieving will not be saved by their simple attendance at a worship service.

Well, the demon shrieks out, using the man’s vocal cords.  He meets the Lord with sass—“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” (v. 24).  The demonic realm isn’t a house divided—it represents one Satanic objective.  Jesus’s appearance and teaching poses the ultimate threat to that objective.  That’s why this single demon speaks with references “us,” and why all demons want Him far away from them.

The demons know Who He is.  Any doubts as to who Jesus was were laid to rest when “a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’ ”  But this “unclean spirit” shrinks back from “the Holy One of God.” Here, we see the truth of James 2:19, “Even the demons believe—and shudder!”

Of course, the demon was correct, but Jesus seeks no press from a Satanic source.  The evil forces might be willing to share some truth with those who would seek it, but they’d twist it to their own purposes.  As such, He commands silence from it, and the expression means that He commands the demon to “be muzzled,” like the beast it is (and to leave the poor soul immediately).  Sadly, some Christians foolishly and sinfully engage in spiritual warfare ministries that talk to demons and ask them questions.  We should trust the Lord to reveal truth in His own time and leave that nonsense alone.

Jesus demonstrates His compassion by casting out the demon.  But we also see, once again, His authority on display as He commands spirits with but a word.  There were exorcists among the Jews.  The Qumran community, for instance, had written enchantments for casting out demons.  The sons of Sceva in Acts 19:11–20 fail to use Jesus’s name as an incantation.  However, Jesus didn’t need to say anything more than “come out of him.”  Our faith isn’t in formulas, but in Christ.

Now, of course, the demon threw a fit like a petulant child.  It screeched, cast the man to the ground, and convulsed him.  The rage of the demon, however, was tempered by our Lord’s control.  What do we read in the parallel account in Luke 4:35?  “And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm.”  The demon could not hurt the man as it wished.

The people react with more than amazement this time—there’s a little holy terror here.  It’s not as though they see demonic activity every day, and they certainly have never seen anyone wield such complete control over it.  They begin debating just what all of this might mean.  They begin to say that He brings new teaching; not that He’s teaching new ideas, but that His doctrine was qualitatively unique—it comes with authority.

They see that Jesus Christ is Lord.  He teaches and operates with ultimate authority.  He “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col 2:15).  You can see why in v. 28 His fame or rumor would spread all the more abroad.

IV.  Final Thoughts
Why is His authority so important?  His words are true, and He speaks and acts in Scripture so “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (2:10).  Unless we see Him with the authority to command us and to forgive us, we cannot come to Him as our Lord and Savior.  We will not bow to His sovereignty over us, and we’ll struggle against the notion that He can truly forgive our sins.  Repent and come to the Jesus of Scripture today with complete confidence in Him, finding new life with your sins taken away and your steps directed by His Lordship over you.

Remember the sad reality of Capernaum.  He says in Matthew 11:23–24, “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”  Even though Jesus invests so much time city, it collectively rejects Him—so it will be rejected on Judgment Day.

So, how do you respond to the authority of Jesus?  To you try to reject His rule over you, only to find yourself on a precipice overhanging Hell?  Or, do you receive His rule over you by repenting and believing the gospel?

And, if you’ve done so, will you bow to His authority by making His Word preeminent over every aspect of Your life?  By His grace, make sure to keep Yourself clean of traditions and preconceptions that would cause you to drift from His Word and authority in Your life.  This includes not only from false Bible teachers, but ideas from the world through various media that color His authority in Your life.  Cling to what He says above all else.

Dear Lord,
Thank you for coming to serve in so many ways, and we thank You for Your continued service.  Thank You for saving sinners.  And thank You for preaching and teaching Your Word.
I pray that we would treasure Your authority in our lives.  May we continually bow to it.  May we follow Your Word all the days of our lives.

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