1/31/21 – Epiphany 4 – “The Authority of Jesus” – Mark 1:21-28

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our text for this morning is the Gospel Reading from Mark 1:21-28. It’s the story of Jesus’ first “outward” ministry in the Gospel of Mark. But before we dig into our text for today, I would like to offer a brief recap of the opening of Mark’s Gospel to give a bit of context to our reading. If you have a Bible in your hands, especially one that has the words of Jesus in red letters, you’ll notice pretty quickly that Jesus says very little in the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. In fact, he speaks a total of six sentences in the entire chapter (which is about how many sentences I’ve spoken since beginning this sermon). There’s not a lot that a person can communicate in six sentences……unless, of course, you’re Jesus. I would like to suggest that Jesus introduces every part of his ministry in these six sentences.

And so, in a way, these six sentences offer a great introductory summary to Jesus. Let me show you what I mean. The first words that Jesus speaks in Mark’s Gospel are: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15). These words are a thesis statement of sorts. They’re communicating the essence of what’s to follow: It’s time: The Kingdom of God is here! Believe in the Good News! And so, next, Jesus enlists some people to help him spread this good news. He says to Peter & Andrew: Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men (Mark 1:17). Then, in our text, which we’ll look at more closely in a minute, Jesus confronts the cosmic powers of darkness who have no place in God’s Kingdom. He says: Be silent, and come out of him! (Mark 1:25). But that’s not all that Jesus has to do. Next, he says: Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out (Mark 1:38). He has many people to share this Good News of the Kingdom of God with. Then finally, Jesus speaks twice to a man with leprosy: I will; be clean. and See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them (Mark 1:41, 44). First, Jesus shows first that in the Kingdom of God, there is no sickness or disease. But in the second statement, Jesus tells this man to keep quiet about what has just happened. This tells us as readers that there is more to Jesus mission of announcing the Good News of the Kingdom of God than first meets the eye. You, of course, have to read on into Mark’s Gospel to figure out what this is. But for our purposes, we can see clearly that our text for this morning, Jesus’ first “outward” ministry, is set in the context of Jesus’ proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Through our text, we’ll learn something about how Jesus brings the kingdom of God to us.

2. Mark tells us that Jesus came to Capernaum. Capernaum was a small town on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. But Jesus didn’t go to Capernaum for a nice view of the lake or because he was in search of a new and better fishing spot. Jesus went to Capernaum because he wanted to teach in the synagogue that was there. Since the synagogue was the religious gathering place for the Jews of that area, it makes sense that he would go there to teach. And it was actually a fairly normal practice to have a guest preacher or teacher in the synagogue. What wasn’t normal, though, was to have this guest teacher astonishing those who were gathered! But that’s exactly what happened. Mark tells us: And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes (Mark 1:22). The authority of Jesus’ teaching is powerful.

3. But then, Mark tells us that immediately something else happened. And quite frankly this is the part of our story that we pay the most attention to. Picture the scene: you’re sitting there listening to the sermon, then all of the sudden this guy bursts in and starts yelling at the preacher: 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 (Mark 1:24). But then Jesus responded to this man by casting the unclean spirit out of him. Then Mark tells us how the people responded: 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” (Mark 1:27). Again, it’s the authority of Jesus that gives him the power to cast out this demon. Maybe you’re starting to notice the theme here and how this fits into the large context of Mark 1: It’s by the authority of his word that Jesus brings the kingdom of God to earth.

4. We have an interesting relationship with authority in our culture, don’t we? In a lot of ways, authority is what we seek above all else. What is the American Dream but to have ultimate authority over your own life? So, we work our tail off at a job we don’t like to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t even like all in the name of moving up in social status—climbing the ladder, as it were—so we can get to a place where we can control our lives. The American Dream is to be able to do what I want when and where I want and to be freed from the control of others so that I can be my own authority. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we live in the richest country in the world, yet at the same time we’re utterly dysfunctional and dissatisfied. The primary problems in our country and in your life aren’t economic. They aren’t philosophical. They aren’t a matter of a lack of education. They’re spiritual. Our problem is that we would rather be our own authority than submit to Jesus. Until you and I learn to fully submit to Jesus’ authority, our lives will be a mess. Whether it’s financially, relationally, emotionally, or all of the above and then some, your life will be a mess until you fully submit to Jesus’ authority. This is why you’re not satisfied with the stuff you have. This is why you’re not satisfied in your relationships. This is why you feel purposeless and aimless in life. It’s only through submission to Jesus’ authority that you’ll find satisfaction, purpose, and meaning. You weren’t created to have that kind of authority over your own life. Authority belongs to Jesus.

5. Yet the irony of Jesus is that he exercised his authority by submitting to the Father’s will. Even for Jesus, submission was a part of his purpose in life. It was only through submission to the Father’s will that Jesus could bring the Kingdom of God to earth. It’s only by dying on the cross that he could free us from the cycle of helplessness, purposelessness, and stupid decisions that we inevitably make because we’re sinful human beings. And it’s through submission that Jesus invites us into the fullness of life. I want to leave you with this thought about submission. In his explanation to the fourth commandment, Martin Luther talks about submission to earthly authority as involving honoring, serving, obeying, loving, and cherishing. What would it look like if we thought about our submission to Jesus in these terms? What would it look like if we truly honored him, served him, obeyed him, loved him, and cherished him? Maybe, just maybe, we would start to experience more fully the kingdom of God that he desires to bring to us right here and right now.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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