Mark 1:21-28 * January 29, 2012 * Epiphany 4
Dear Friends in Christ,
It was only a two-word bumper sticker I saw, but it was loaded with volumes of late 20th century social commentary. Perhaps you’ve seen it also. It read: “Question authority.”
Although every generation has undoubtedly raised this issue, those of us who grew up in or lived through the late 60’s and early 70’s know the most recent soil from which this sentiment springs. “Question authority” is essentially a call to not trust anyone just because they are in a leadership position. It is a warning to not blindly fall in line with what someone says simply by virtue of a title they hold. It is the admonition not to automatically believe, but rather to “question” authority. And, unfortunately, those who take such a position can provide plenty of historical examples ranging from presidents to preachers of those who have betrayed or misused the authority entrusted them…
Behind that two-word bumper sticker are some important questions. Is there anyone we can trust? Is there any authority figure that we can believe without reservation? Is there anyone worthy of our trust and our allegiance?
Our text for today provides us with the answer. Yes, there is someone we can trust. Yes, there is an authority figure we can believe. Yes, there is someone worthy of our trust and allegiance. This is the welcome truth we will now gladly consider:
1. The Word of Christ
2. The Example of Christ
Our text takes place early in Jesus’ public ministry. In the section immediately before, Jesus called His first four disciples. These 5 constitute the “they” in the opening verse. “They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.”
The fact that Jesus addressed them as a spiritual teacher was not something unusual for the people of Capernaum. They presumably listened to different rabbis (teachers) throughout their lives. Why, then, were they, so amazed at what they heard? For this reason: they never heard someone like Jesus before. He was entirely different from what they were used to both in the way He talked as well as what He said.
We are told that Jesus spoke with authority, not as the teachers of the law. Other rabbis they had heard were certainly learned men, but they used their knowledge to appeal to the teachings of past rabbis. Jesus, on the other hand, appealed to no one. Why? Because as God He was and is the ultimate and final authority. And that obviously came through loud and clear. Think, for example, of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He would introduce many of the subjects He there addressed with the formula, “You have heard… but I say.” We don’t have a recording of Jesus’ voice, but we can imagine it was the calm and assured intonation of one who knew exactly what He was saying. It was the voice of authority.
Not only did Jesus differ from other teachers in method, but in content as well. We know from history that often time synagogue sermons would major in minors, trivialities, and legalistic interpretations on obscure matters. In contrast, Jesus talked about important things – matters of life and death and salvation and eternity. The result: “The people were amazed at His teaching…” What happened next amazed them even more:
“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!’” From the New Testament we know that demon possession was not uncommon at the time of Jesus, and we have many such instances reported in the Gospels. Here we have such a situation. (As a sidebar we might mention that demon possession is clearly distinguished from physical illnesses. In other words, the Gospel writers were not backward, ancient men who superstitiously blamed all troubles on “evil spirits.” They knew the difference between the two.)
This particular evil spirit speaks through the afflicted man and gives evidence that it clearly understands who Jesus is – “The Holy One of God.” Not only does it understand who Jesus is, but also what Jesus can do. Jesus, however, is not interested in a dialogue:
“‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” With the same authority that marked His teaching just minutes before, Jesus commanded the evil spirit to leave. And it did. Banished at the word of the Lord. Predictably, this caused quite a stir.
“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.’” Once again (and for the second time in our text) the people are described as being amazed. And once again they marveled at His “authority” – now demonstrated by this tremendous display of divine power. This was news! Our text ends as expected, given the circumstances: “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” And what was being said? Probably something like this: A new authority walks among us…
By way of application, nothing has changed. The conclusion drawn by the crowds back then is just as true today. Jesus Christ, “the Holy One of God” is the voice of authority. And Jesus Christ continues to be the voice of authority for us today. But how is this authority communicated to us? It comes to us through His Word and through His example. And that’s what we’d like to talk about in the remaining time we have left…
The first point to be made is that Jesus’ teaching (the Word of God) is authoritative (the truth)… What we mean is this: Jesus Christ is God, and God has given us His Word in the Holy Scriptures. Through the process of verbal inspiration we know that the Bible is the very Word of God. As such, it is the true and final authority on all things…
This is a truly comforting and liberating fact. Because the Bible is truth, we don’t have to spend a lot of time and energy debating what is and what isn’t valid. Rather our time can be spent, if I may paraphrase the words of our liturgy, “hearing, reading, learning, and taking them to heart for our spiritual strength and comfort.” It is pure joy to know that we have such an authority for life.
But not everyone has been led to this wonderful truth. So we find that which brings us great comfort can also cause us conflict with the world around us. As Christians, we know and expect this. The authority of Scripture is routinely challenged. Take for example, the whole matter of how our world and everything in it came to be. The Bible says God created the world in six regular days using nothing except His divine “fiat” (command), that the history of mankind begins with a literal Adam and Eve, and that the age of the earth itself is in the range of six to ten thousand years.
The world, on the other hand, holds to the theory of evolution. Notable scientists and university science departments make a grand case for the earth being billions of years old. They will claim that all living things, including man, “evolved” over time from one-celled creatures to the complex beings that they are today, all by chance.
So there is a clash. Who do we believe? Who is the authority? As Christians we recognize the Word of God as the final authority. That may not make us the brightest and best in the eyes of the world. In fact, to many we may seem silly or anti-intellectual. Be that as it may. God has spoken in His Word. That’s all we need to know.
We could certainly cite other examples of where the authority of God’s Word comes into clash with the world around us. What about the area of morals or personal ethics? What about the great social issues like abortion or sexual orientation? The world in its “enlightenment” says one thing, God in His wisdom says another. Who do we believe? Who do we follow? Whose is the voice of authority? For the Bible believing Christian the answer is clear. God has spoken in His Word. This is truth. End of discussion…
The Word of God is the authority in our lives. That’s the first point. Here’s the second one: The Son of God is also the authority for the way in which we live our lives.
Let’s set the basis for that statement: Jesus Christ is first and foremost our Savior and Redeemer. His expressed purpose for coming to our planet was to live, die and rise again so sinners like you and me might have everlasting life. Through the gracious working of the Holy Spirit we have come to believe in Him as our Savior. But He is more. He is now also the Lord of our lives. He is the One we live for and look to as the ultimate example, the ultimate authority for how we live our lives…
Have you noticed that within the last 5 years or so the initials WWJD have become quite popular. We see it on wristbands and bracelets and book bags and t-shirts and coffee cups and about anything else that can be marketed. WWJD has become kind of a Christian phenomenon. The initials stand for “What Would Jesus Do,” and they are to serve as a reminder for Christians to thoughtfully make their decisions in light of Jesus’ example and teachings.
I’ve never heard where or when the whole WWJD movement began. Nor do I know the basis behind it. But I have a theory, which might be instructive to us as we consider Jesus as the Lord and authority for our lives…
In 1896 a man by the name of Charles Sheldon wrote a book which can still be purchased today entitled “In His Steps.” The subtitle is “What Would Jesus Do?” I remember reading it during the first year of my ministry, only because my grandmother passed down to me an old copy of the book that had originally been my grandfather’s…
The story takes place at the end of the 19th century in the small town of Raymond, U.S.A. As Pastor Maxwell of the First Church of Raymond was preparing his sermon one day, a young man came to the door. He had fallen on hard times, and was looking for work and some immediate help. The busy pastor politely turned him away and went back to his preparations. In later conversations with other townspeople he heard that the down-and-out young man had been all over the city looking for some kind of help.
When the Sunday morning service came that week, the people gathered as usual in the First Church of Raymond. But toward the end of the service something very unusual happened. The ragged young man who had been looking for work came directly to the front of the church. First there was silence. Then he addressed the congregation.
He told them that until ten months before he had been gainfully employed but then through no fault of his own lost his job. 6 months later his wife died. He had been a vagabond ever since. He asked the congregation what they meant with all their hymns about following Jesus’ example, and how he had been knocking on doors throughout the entire city but had never received any help. Without any anger in his voice he asked the congregation members how they could square up what they said in church with what they did in town. Then, after speaking his piece, he slumped over because of exhaustion and illness, and was carried away.
This event was an epiphany for the congregation. And the rest of the book is how the pastor and certain congregation members, moved by this incident, decided to make the first and foremost question they asked when confronted by any situation in life: “What would Jesus do?” WWJD.
Now I’ve heard some theologians object to the whole WWJD movement because they’d rather have us focus not on what Jesus would do, but what Jesus has done for us. And I can understand that. However, if we view WWJD as a reminder of who we are and whose example we are to follow out of love for what He’s done for us, we can see it as a call to emulate the One who is the Lord of our lives and the Voice of Authority for our lives…
… Let’s bring our thoughts to a close. We began with a bumper sticker that asked us to question authority. While others may cynically search for it, let us rejoice that we have the Voice of Authority among us. Jesus has and continues to speak to us though His unchanging Word…
And there He not only speaks to us, but He also gives us an authoritative example of how we may live as His disciples. Therefore let us strive, with God’s help, to emulate and glorify Him who is our Savior, our Lord and the Authority of our lives, Jesus Christ. Amen.