Let me admit right at the beginning of this conclusion, that I’m a superhero movie nerd of the highest order. I try to see every new superhero movie when it comes out at the theatre. And when it finally gets to the small screen, well I watch it then too, more times than I care to say in public.
One of the themes often explored in these movies is the connection between power and authority. These superheroes have supernatural powers after all, but the question has continued to be asked: Should they use them?
Other versions of that question are: By what right or authority are they using them? Are they authorized to do so? Who are they answerable to when things go wrong? And what standard of right and wrong is being applied in their decision-making processes.
The Scripture we will look at in these concluding remarks about Jesus focuses on this interrelationship between power and authority as well. This “showdown in Capernaum” we find in Mark 1:21-28, will reveal to us that Jesus has both, power and authority.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Earlier in Mark 1, Jesus had called his first disciples to follow him. Jesus had left Nazareth and was now using Capernaum as his homebase. Capernaum was a fairly large town. It was a thriving, even wealthy area because it was near a popular trade route. In fact, it was the headquarters for many Roman troops.
And while it was primarily occupied by Jews, because of its location and success as a thriving town, there were many pagan influences there as well.
The Visiting Teacher
As verse 21 indicates, Jesus was visiting the local synagogue to teach. This would not have been unusual. The Temple in Jerusalem would have been too far away for most Jews to travel to, so synagogues popped up all over the Roman Empire, as places of learning and worship.
And because no synagogue had only one particular teacher, the leading elder often invited visiting teachers to come and teach the community. This was normal.
In this case it was Jesus who was invited to teach. We don’t know exactly how long Jesus had been in Capernaum, but presumably it had been long enough for folks to get to know him well enough to extend this invitation.
Unlike Matthew’s Gospel, we don’t know what Jesus had been teaching here. But I think an educated guess would be that he was teaching about the good news of the Kingdom of God. Earlier in Mark 1, we read these words,
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)
Whatever Jesus had been teaching, verse 22 tells us he amazed his listeners “because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” What does that mean? Well, it was very common for the scribes, who were the learned Jewish scholars of that day, to cite their tradition and the great Jewish teachers of former days.
However, Jesus did not do that. He spoke as one who had his own authority. He never said, “Rabbi Hillel said this…” “Or Rabbi Shammai said that…” He taught as one whose words were self-authenticating. He did not need to appeal to other human teachers because, we know, he was sent by God himself.
Indeed, Jesus was more than a prophet sent by God, he was God in the flesh – the very Son of God. There was (and is) no higher authority.
Oddly enough there was a demon-possessed member of the synagogue who had been in attendance while Jesus was teaching. In verses 23-24, we read…
Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure 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!”
Isn’t it interesting that the demons Jesus dealt with always seemed to recognize his true identity, just as we find here?
The demon asked Jesus, “Have you come to destroy us?” “Us” – plural. That may have meant there was more than one impure spirit, or demon, inside the man. Or it may have meant, “Have you come to vanquish all demons?”
The answer was ultimately “Yes,” to both. Jesus did come to defeat the devil, and all his junior minions.
I do not know if you believe in the devil and demons, but Jesus certainly did, and we find him encountering one here in our Scripture. The demon knew who Jesus the man was – “Jesus of Nazareth.” But he also knew the deeper identity of Jesus. That Jesus was no mere man, he was, “the Holy One of God.”
There was an ancient idea in that day that believed that speaking the name of a spiritual enemy would give one mastery over it. Thus, this was not merely a case of the demon rightly identifying Jesus, and certainly not paying Jesus a compliment.
No, this was a very scared demon trying to gain the upper hand over Jesus. It didn’t work. Jesus quickly responded in verse 25 – “Be quiet!”
“Be quiet” was really, “be muzzled” or “shut up.” Jesus knew what the demon was up to. He also knew if the people realized too early who he was, they may try to make him a political or military leader, and as we’ve learned throughout this study, that was not why Jesus came.
And so, Jesus said with great force, “Come out of him!” The demon had no choice but to leave the man. He didn’t have the power or authority to resist Jesus’ command. Yet he let his displeasure be known with a shriek and scream that shook the man violently as he left him.
The Why Behind the What
Jesus performed miracles to teach spiritual truths, not for entertainment. He often did miracles to authenticate his teachings, which were usually about himself – who he was and why he came. That helps us understand why Jesus delivered people from impure spirits.
Do you remember when Jesus healed the paralyzed man who had been lowered from the roof by his friends to where Jesus was? Jesus told the man his sins were forgiven. The religious leaders were furious because only God can forgive sins.
Therefore, Jesus said to them, “so that you may know I can forgive sins, I’m going to heal this man.” The miracle was performed to point to something greater, in this case, his true identity.
In a similar way, Jesus cast out this demon to let the people know they needed to really pay attention to what he had to say. Because if he had the power and authority to cast out demons, then he was someone to be reckoned with.
The People Understood
The people understood this. They asked things like, “Who is this teacher from Nazareth?” “What is he saying about himself and why he has come?” He wasn’t like any teacher they had ever heard. Why, he could even cast out demons. He was different from the rest. How did they respond?
Verse 28 says,
News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
As one person put it, “the proclaimer became the proclaimed.” Word about Jesus spread quickly.
So, what does all this mean for us 2,000 years later? As I poured over Scripture and other resources for this study, I was continually amazed. At the end of one of my study sessions I wrote down these words,
“There is no one else like Jesus! You have never met, nor will you ever meet, anyone like Jesus!”
I was in awe. Truly.
Jesus has the ability to vanquish powers and principalities, temptation and sin, bondage and alienation, and to set the captives free. He created and sustains the very existence of the universe with his word. He has complete power and authority over life and death. I know we crave application in our books and Bible studies. We want to know how to put into practice the biblical principles we read about. It is good and right for us to want that.
But sometimes the application is simply this: To be in awe of this Jesus. To bow in worship before him because of who he is and what he’s graciously done on our behalf. He is the Holy One of God. He delivers people from their sin and bondage. He makes people whole and holy. He saves to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25).
And he can do that for you too because he, as God in the flesh, has both the authority and power to do so.
As we saw several times throughout our study, Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:18 that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. That means he is the Lord over the supernatural and the natural. He has power and authority over every sphere of life.
This ought to make every follower of Jesus Christ breathe a sigh of comfort. This ought to compel every person who knows, loves, and follows Jesus to cry out in joyful thanksgiving: “This is our Savior! This is our Lord! He is the Holy One of God!”
Therefore, give Jesus every fear, worry, sin, temptation, decision, desire – and everything else. He is the Holy One of God who became one of us because he loves us. And he therefore calls us to learn more about who he is, why he came, and what he taught. He calls us to love him more – with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And he calls us to live for him by following him in every sphere of our lives.
And when people see the difference Jesus has made in your life, word will spread quickly about him, and others will want to know this Jesus too.
Deo Gratias. Thanks be to God.
“I have also, as a bishop, sought to strengthen churches across the labels of conservative or centrist or liberal,” he said. “And I don't like the labels, but I've sought to be fair across the spectrum of kinds of churches. And while I believe in our traditional, orthodox faith that's rooted in the Scriptures, I also have always believed that we have to adapt our doctrine and our Scriptures to changing life circumstances that people have.” Bishop Ken Carter. Interview with The Lakeland Ledger
Where There is No King
There’s a prophetic and sobering verse at the end of the Book of Judges, one which speaks directly to us today. Judges 21:25 says, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” Another translation puts it this way: “in those days Israel had no king, and everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.”
The Book of Judges, and that verse in particular, sets the context for the Book of 1 Samuel, which describes Israel’s sinful desire and demand for their first human king.
Judges 21:25 tells us there was no accepted authority over the people of Israel. They no longer submitted to the King they already had. They weren’t content with their invisible, yet divine King. Thus, the people did whatever they wanted to do. We too live in a culture that makes light of any authority outside ourselves. Many of us know parents who have abdicated their rightful authority in their own homes, schools where students do not recognize the authority of the teachers, and communities where citizens no longer respect police officers as authorities in their lives.
So too, the Church at large no longer commands the respect of authority it once did. How often we have heard words to the effect, “Well, my church believes such and such, but I don’t.” Perhaps most sadly, the Bible, the Holy Word of God, is no longer held up as the authority in the lives of many. How often have you heard someone dismiss something the Bible plainly teaches because, according to them, the Bible is nothing more than what ancient people wrote a long time ago, and therefore, isn’t relevant to our day and age? That sentiment is so often expressed it’s practically a cliché.
We too might say, “There is no authority in our day, and each person does what is right in their own eyes.”
Our culture is confused and many in the church are following the culture’s lead.
When there is no recognized authority to govern and lead a people, then the people themselves become the measure for all things. You can imagine the chaos which would ensue if each person in a city, large or small, thought he or she was his or her only authority. Such a conclusion would lead us to ask the same question the late Francis Schaeffer asked, “how should we then live?”.
Rock or Sand?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of two builders who built two homes, which based on casual observation looked basically the same. Yet our Lord tells us there was a profound difference between them. One house was built upon the shaky foundation of sand. The other house was built upon the sure foundation of rock.
Jesus was teaching that we are all builders of lives. And, according to Jesus, we’re either building our lives on the sand or on the Rock. Furthermore, when Jesus spoke of the sure foundation which should undergird every sphere of our lives, he had something particular in mind. He said the only foundation that can give us the strength we need to withstand the raging storms of sin and crises is his Word – both hearing and obeying it.
Francis Schaeffer compared this idea to the small bridges throughout Europe built by the Romans 2,000 years ago. He said those small bridges have lasted centuries and centuries because they were strong enough to support people and even horses and carriages. Yet, he pointed out they would immediately crumble if a modern-day 18-wheeler was to drive across one of them. They are strong enough for the light load, but the heavy load would destroy them.
God’s Word is the sure foundation we need for every sphere, season, and circumstance of our lives, for the light and heavy loads.
Continue in What You Have Learned
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith, to make this very point. Paul reminded Timothy that he knew Paul’s teachings and his way of life. Timothy knew how greatly Paul was persecuted and suffered for the faith. Timothy knew how God rescued Paul from all of that. He then reminded Timothy that all Christians would be persecuted, and false teachers would run rampant, and even become more blatant in their deception.
It was in that context that Paul encouraged Timothy to continue in what he had learned from the Holy Scriptures. He then explained to Timothy why the Holy Scriptures should be Timothy’s authority for his salvation, faith, and life. “The holy Scriptures,” Paul wrote, “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15-16). (Emphases mine)
Every culture in every age is in desperate need of a transcendent authority that does not blow with every wind of change. Every person needs a clear and true Word from God to guide them through this life and safely into the next. God’s word provides all that and more.
John Wesley beautifully expressed this idea. He wrote,
“I want to know one thing – the way to heaven, how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Only God is here.”
God’s God-Breathed Book
The Bible is authoritative and sufficient for us, Paul says, because it is God’s book. It is God-breathed. Some translations say “inspired,” but the N.I.V. gets it right. The idea is not that the Bible is inspired in the way we might say, “The actor in the play gave us an inspired performance.” Instead, the meaning of the phrase, “God-breathed,” literally means words breathed out by God. Paul is teaching us the words of Scripture are literally God’s words to us. We have in Scripture precisely what God wants us to have, the way he wants us to have it.
What did God, as John Wesley put it, condescend to teach us? In addition to the way to heaven through Christ, Paul indicated all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. We have been given Scripture for a reason. Paul reminds us that Scripture is sufficient for all our needs and should be our comprehensive guide and authority for every sphere of faith and life.
Reformed writer, R.C. Sproul, once shared the story of a time when he was preaching on the authority of Scripture. After the service was over he saw a familiar face walking toward him. It turned out to be his college roommate. Sproul had not seen him for many years. His friend had gone to the mission field for three years after college and then came back to the U.S. to attend seminary in New York. Sproul had attended seminary in Pittsburgh and then went to Europe for doctoral studies. They had lost contact over the years.
Their reunion was a happy one, and they decided to catch up over dinner. During dinner, Sproul’s friend said to him,
“R.C., before we begin visiting, I want to tell you that I heard your sermon tonight where you affirmed your confidence in Scripture as our authority for life. But I have to tell you, after having been a missionary for three years where I learned about many other religious books, and after going to Seminary in New York and learning about biblical criticism, I don’t believe in the authority of Scripture anymore.”
Sproul said he was a bit surprised to hear his old friend say this, and so he asked him, “Well, what do you still believe?” His friend said, “Oh, I still believe that Jesus is my Savior and my Lord.” Sproul said he was delighted, of course, to hear that. However, his friend’s answer led Sproul to ask a follow-up question. “You say that Jesus is your Lord. Can you tell me how Jesus expresses his Lordship over you? That is, a Lord is someone who issues commands. How does Jesus, as your Lord, give you your marching orders?”
His friend replied that it was through the church. Sproul responded by asking, “What church? The Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, the Lutheran church – what church?” His friend answered, “through the Presbyterian church.”
“Which Presbyterian church?” Sproul asked. “The one in New York or the one in Dallas or the one in Atlanta?” “The General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church,” his friend responded. Sproul followed by asking, “Which General Assembly, the one that voted one way last year, or the one that voted a different way this year?”. “Well, I guess I have a problem,” his friend conceded. “Yes,” Sproul said, “You have a Lord who is unable to exercise Lordship over you.” (from Sproul’s video: “Hath God Spoken?”)
Give Me That Book
Is Jesus your Lord? In truth, Jesus is Lord whether you recognize him as so or not. Yet, he exercises his Lordship through his Spirit working through his Word. Thus, we must hear his voice in the pages of Scripture and obey them. Let us say with John Wesley, “O give me that book! At any price, give the book of God! Here is knowledge enough for me.”
Only the Spirit of God working through that book, the Bible, will lead you to Christ and the real, abundant, and eternal life that comes through faith in him. Only God’s Spirit working through God’s Word will sanctify you, making you more and more like Jesus. In a world full of people, ideas, and activities competing for your allegiance, there’s only one standard worthy to be your sure foundation. May it be for you the Word of God.
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.