Pastor Joel Leyrer - The Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany - Sunday, January 31, 2021

Text: Mark 1:21-28

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Dear Friends in Christ…We have just experienced a year of competing voices by those in positions of authority. Our recent presidential election cycle was marked by accusations and controversy. We’re closing in on a year long pandemic featuring all kinds of experts with lots of initials after their names presenting conflicting views on what should or should not be done – and we’re bracing ourselves for more of the same. And we’ve experienced civil unrest both nationally and locally with charges being made by one group and countercharges being made by another.

All these competing voices cause confusion. They also raise questions, such as:  Is there anyone we can truly trust? Is there any authority figure that we can truly believe without reservation? Is there anyone truly worthy of our confidence and our allegiance? Is there anyone who truly has no other agenda than our best interest in mind?

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 without reservation. Yes, there is someone worthy of our confidence and allegiance. Yes, there is someone with our best interests in mind.

His name is Jesus Christ. And his is

THE VOICE OF AUTHORITY

Our text takes place early in Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus had just called his first four disciples. These five 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? Because Jesus was entirely different from what they were used to both in the way he talked as well as what he said. In other words, they never heard someone like Jesus before.

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 addressed there 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. His was the voice of authority.

It was not only his presence that set him apart, but also the content of what he said. 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.

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 (and for the second time in our text) they marveled at his “authority” – now demonstrated by this tremendous display of divine power.

This was news! Given the circumstances, our text ends as we might expect: “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.

Because Jesus Christ is the embodiment of truth.

Recall his statement about himself in John 14: “I am the way and the truth and the life.”  Recall his statement made shortly before his crucifixion when Pontius Pilate asked him if he was a king: “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” And recall how he is described in the opening chapter of John as the One “who came from the Father full of grace and truth,” and then this summation a few verses later: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

So, to repeat: Jesus Christ is the embodiment of truth. Jesus Christ is the voice of authority. He has made the claim. And he has proved the claim. How?

Go back to Easter Sunday. When the women went to the tomb, they did not find a corpse in the first stages of decay. Instead, they found an angel who told them that Christ was risen – “just as he said.” He claimed multiple times that he would prove his divinity as the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. And that is exactly what happened.

Which, of course, is good news for us. Because the reason Jesus came to suffer, die, and rise again was to reverse the curse of sin. Sin is nothing less than cosmic insurrection; consequently, our sins of thought, word, and deed, should damn us to hell.

But they won’t. Because “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” What we could not do – live a sinless life before a holy God – Jesus did. And the punishment we deserve – he took it upon himself. And because he lives, we will live eternally.

But let’s get back to Jesus as the voice of authority. His authoritative voice is still heard – not audibly as back then; now through his Word. 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 immensely comforting and liberating. Because the Bible is truth, we don’t have to spend our time and energy debating what is and what isn’t valid. Rather we spend our time on learning the truth, appropriating the truth, and then applying the truth to our life and our circumstances.

It is pure joy to know that we have such a foundation and such an authority for life.

But there is a flip side. 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, dismissed, or ridiculed.

The cultural landscape we’re living in has changed and is changing at a rapid pace. As Dorothy famously said to Toto, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” The prevailing sentiment among many in high places or who hold positions of influence is there is no such thing as objective truth; that truth is kind of like a do-it-yourself project. Construct it however you wish. About the only absolute truth in today’s secular orthodoxy is that there is no absolute truth. Which, of course leads to the rather confusing conclusion: If everything is true, then nothing is true.

We see this playing out very stridently and vocally in the area of personal and moral ethics. Without citing specific examples, it is enough to say that what used to be settled matters up until this time in human history are settled no more.

So, there is a clash. 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.

What does this mean for us? This is both a comfort and a warning. The comfort is that we know where to go to find answers. We have a solid foundation laid for us in God’s Word. There we find comfort in our troubles, hope for our future, and the guarantee of eternal life with Jesus.

The warning is to underestimate the influence the world can have on us. God has placed us in our world at this place and at this time, so let us not be scared or frightened. However, it is important that we be attentive, and that we regularly arm ourselves with the Word of God and prayer as we carry out our role as Christ’s ambassadors in our world. We need to always stand ready to faithfully represent Jesus.

Which leads us to a final thought today and ties into a portion of our emphasis for the day, and that is the importance of Christian education. Here at St. John’s, we devote a lot of time and energy and financial resources to our school, as well as our support of WLHS. Given the cultural landscape our young people are growing up in only emphasizes how important we remain strong in our commitment to Christian education.

Those in our classrooms today need the solid foundation laid for them in God’s Word for their own lives, but also as they assume their role as the next generation of Christian leaders. So, let us never underestimate the importance and the value of doing what we’re doing.

We began by stating that because of so many conflicting voices in some ways we are living through confusing times. But in other ways we aren’t. Because we know where to turn. And we know in whom we can confide. And we know who we can trust.

Jesus Christ is the voice of authority – in him we trust for our time now, and in eternity. Amen.