We are encompassed by authority. If we leap, gravity tells us we must come down. If gravity would bring us down, aerodynamics begs to differ. It is a greater authority for a time. Around town we are confronted by government officials, public authorities, principals, street signs, the press of time. At home there is husband and father, wife and mother, then children. At Starbucks there is the new barista, the experienced barista, the shift supervisor, the assistant manager, then the store manager. That is the chain of authority. We are dominated by authority (even though we like to believe that we are totally free from it). Authority is quite familiar.
Biblically, God is the ultimate Authority or Sovereign. He is the only original, underived authority. All other authority is derivative authority.
Mark 1.21-39 teaches us that Jesus has that kind of authority. In Jesus, the authority of God has come to earth.
All of this serves to teach us that there is an ultimate authority, and it’s not me. It’s Jesus. And that is good news (gospel). It is good news because the One in Mark 1.21-39 with authority to cast out demons and reverse the effects of the Fall is the One who has authority to lay down and take up His life again (cf. John 10.18). All that dominates us, sin, unbelief, spiritual blindness, death, etc., Jesus dominates. Because Jesus has this sort of authority, He is able to set us free and bring us under the sweet reign of God.
In our passage, Mark is emphasizing the authority of Jesus’ Word. He emphasizes this in two ways:
First, by direct statement.
Secondly, by story.
BY DIRECT STATEMENT.
Mark 1.38, Having the opportunity to claim His fame as a healer and exorcist, Jesus instead says, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” The God of the Bible is a God who has delighted to reveal Himself to sinners, and at the center of that delight is Jesus Christ (cf. Heb 1.1-2). Jesus is the climactic and authoritative revelation of God to us, and that implies the authority of His Word. Central to His mission was preaching the Word with unique authority.
So also Mark 1.22, where Jesus, having entered the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath, “taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” The scribes were the lawyers of the day, experts in Torah, the Law of Moses. But they were under authority, namely, God’s authority. They were under the authority of His Word. As lawyers, they taught as those under the authority of the Lawgiver. But not Jesus. Jesus taught as One with authority, not under it. Jesus did not teach as a lawyer but as Lawgiver; not as scribe but as Son; not derivatively but originally; not simply with words but as the Word; He did not say, “Thus says the Lord,” but “Truly, truly, I say to you.” He spoke as only God the Son could speak. His word came with unique authority. And the stories that follow show challenges to the authority of Christ’s Word, enemies to thwart Him. Instead, the authority of His Word and Person are upheld and even strengthened as He exercises it in service of sinners.
So the authority of Christ’s Word is seen BY STORY.
1. Mark 1.21-28, THIS ONE WHO SPEAKS WITH UNIQUE AUTHORITY HAS AUTHORITY OVER THE KINGDOM OF SATAN.
The victory of Christ over Satan has already been seen in 1.12-13 and it’s harmonious passages in Matthew and Luke. We observe it again in these verses, as a man with an unclean spirit comes to disrupt Jesus by his confession of Jesus’ Person. The title that the man assigns to Jesus shows that Jesus is mightier than he. It is a scenario that we ought not distance ourselves too far from. We should not lose sight of the man who is possessed because of the confrontation ensuing between Jesus and the unclean spirit that possesses the man. The man is weaker than that which possesses him. He is a slave to the kingdom of Satan. But when he confronts Jesus, he is confronted by One stronger than himself. Jesus is the Stronger Man who binds the strong man (cf. Mark 3.22-30). This is good news. Not only do we observe the authority of Jesus in the demon’s knowledge of His Person, and not only by the fact that with a word Jesus casts out the unclean spirit, but that this man who was a slave to sin and darkness was, by Christ’s Word, set free indeed. And the reason that we cannot distance ourselves from this occasion is because we all, while perhaps never being possessed by an unclean spirit, have been enslaved to the power of the kingdom of Satan (cf. Eph 2.1-3). We all stand in need of the authority of the Holy One of God exercised in mercy towards us (cf. Eph 2.4-10). Thus the confrontation intended to challenge Christ’s authority, strengthens it in the sight of all, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him” (Mark 1.27).
2. Mark 1.29-31, THE ONE WHO SPEAKS WITH AUTHORITY HAS AUTHORITY OVER THE EFFECTS OF THE FALL.
By verse 28, Jesus’ fame is beginning to spread. Many at this point would be inclined to sit back and become fat with fame. Not Jesus. The only fame that Christ cares for is that of His Father and that which He receives from His Father and all who trust in Him. The same authority used in public to set the man free from the unclean spirit is now used in private to set Peter’s mother-in-law free from the ill effects of the Fall, particularly, of fever.
In these verses we do not so much observe the authority of Christ’s Word as we do that of His Person and being. He “came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them” (Mark 1.31). This is Christ’s unique authority to make all things new. Illnesses that we take for granted are not taken for granted by Jesus. This fever is an enemy of God in a very real sense because it is an effect of the Fall and the reality of sin in the world. It is part of the old creation that Christ has come to regenerate or recreate.
I cared for a brother in Christ for three years. In those three years he lost his wife to dementia, his legs to diabetes, and the crown of his head to cancer. And God strengthened him. But not without the Word of Christ. Again and again we would turn to Revelation 21.3-5, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And He Who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'” This is the power of Christ’s life and death and resurrection. This is the explicit authority unique to Christ, and Mark uses it here to undergird the authority of Christ’s Word.
Mark 1.32-39, CHRIST CAME TO PREACH!
These two instances are but two of many. They are but two instances of Christ’s authority in service of sinners in a day in the life and ministry of Jesus. After these two occurrences, the whole city streamed to Jesus to be healed and those who were demonically possessed, relieved. And we find that everyone was looking for Him the next day also. But why? Contextually, I think because of His power to make others well. Jesus has an opportunity to be the greatest and most famous healer in the history of the world. And He passes on it. Why? Because Jesus came into the world to preach, v. 38!
Let there be no misunderstanding. Jesus healed and Jesus cast out demons, but Jesus came to preach. Jesus came to open His mouth and preach the gospel. Jesus came to reveal God with words, and everything else was supplementary and supportive of that vocation. The authority of Christ over demons and illnesses supported the authority of Christ’s Word and, ultimately, Christ’s Person.
4 MARKS OF CHRIST’S PREACHING
1. Mark 1.14-15, Jesus preached the gospel. When I preach the gospel, I preach Christ. When Christ preached the gospel, He preached Himself.
2. Jesus emphasized preaching because it separated the wheat from the chaff. Many believed in Jesus only to have that belief proven false after they heard and hated His words. So it is in the world that many unbelieving people are attracted to the beauty of holiness, godliness, kindness, true love, lasting joy, hard work, gospel parenting and the like, but despise the message that undergirds and supports these very things in our lives. While faith may be aroused by deeds, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Romans 10.17). True faith is discerned by love of Christ’s Word.
3. The preaching of Jesus was warfare. In Mark 1.39, Mark places the preaching of Jesus just next to casting out demons. That is intentional. Preaching is spiritual warfare. It is Jesus’ weapon of choice. And so it is for biblical Christians. Every time the Word is opened, war ensues. We fight a defeated foe, not a dead one. The god of this world actively blinds the mind of the unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4).
By preaching the Word of God, the heart is laid bare, sins are uprooted, truth confronts lies, light invades darkness, pride succumbs to humility, sinners are made to feel the weight of our sins, the weight of eternity, the weight of glory, the infinite capacity for joy that can only be satisfied by God, what is right in our own eyes is exposed by what is right in God’s eyes, rebels see their master for who he is and what he intends with them, they see who they are and the wickedness of their own ways, they are confronted with the only message which can set the captive free, the gospel, the word of the cross, etc, etc. If it were not so irritating to Satan for Jesus to be preaching in the synagogue, he would not have sought to bother Him by way of the man with the unclean spirit. What is happening right now is a delight to God and a severe agitation to the devil (cf. 2 Cor 4). A verse of this Word truly preached sounds a note of Christ’s triumphant work and a way out of Satan’s to God’s eternal kingdom.
4. The preaching of Jesus has a global backdrop. There is no doubt that Jesus preached in the synagogues to Jews, or that the gospel is for the Jew first, then Gentile. But even here, in Mark 1.39, we get a hint that the message of Jesus is going global. “And He went throughout all Galilee . . .”. The gospel of Christ is good news for all peoples. Let us pray that God would so enlarge our hearts for this undertaking here in Newton and beyond.
NOW WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR DISCIPLESHIP?
Mark introduced discipleship to us in Mark 1.16-20, and he hasn’t left it behind. These disciples are with Jesus in both instances of this narrative, vv. 21, 29. So what are the implications of Christ’s authoritative word for discipleship? Three things:
1. We are to listen to and obey Jesus.
While the world scoffs at the authority of Jesus, the Christian loves it. By the grace of God, we have come to know that we are not our own. We have come to know, like little children, that an authority greater than us knows best. We have come under the authority of Christ’s Word, what He has revealed, said, told, the truth that He has made known, the way that He has illumined, the gospel that He has preached, etc., we have come to love. And we must constantly be reminded that the Father desires us to listen to His Son (cf. Mark 9.7) and, as evidence of grace, obey Him with joy.
2. We receive and believe.
In Mark 6, Jesus gives His disciples authority to cast out demons and preach the gospel. And they have a great deal of success. So much so, that it is likely that pride seeps in so that they fail to pray when given another opportunity in Mark 9, and the consequences are disastrous. All authority is Christ’s. He is benefactor. We are beneficiary. And what that means for us in terms of authority is that we are dependents. We are to believe. We are to pray. And as we believe and pray, Christ grants authority to accomplish all His purposes. Let not our triumphs in this world for the sake of the gospel push out the necessary faith and humility through which it is advanced. Christ has all authority; we have all need to pray.
3. We savor and serve.
The authority of Christ (particularly, that of His Word) calls disciples to savor the grace of Christ and so serve (v. 31) with a new motivation (Christ’s authority in service of us) and goal (the joy of others in the sweet reign of Christ). We see that the authority of Christ in this text is in service of His people. By His authority, the man with the unclean spirit was made clean. By His authority, Peter’s mother-in-law was made well. The authority of Christ is no harsh authority. It is a sweet authority to savor, as Thomas Watson so poignantly puts it, Christ’s rod is dipped in honey. It is for or in service of His people. And, as we see in v. 31, that gives rise or is the motivation to our service. Peter’s mother-in-law immediately begins to serve them. Christ’s service to us, especially that by which He laid down His life and took it up again (cf. John 10), is all the motivation for our service to others. And it sweetens our goal in service as well, making our aim the joy of others in the reign of Christ. Does our service smell of Christ on the front and the back end? Or are we irritated at the beginning and bitter at the end? If so, consider that Jesus gladly used His authority over sin, Satan, death and hell, to serve you and deliver you from a just condemnation to an everlasting exultation in God. Keep His sweet authority close to your heart, and you will never be at a loss for joyful service to others.