Mark 1:21-28 | The Authority of Jesus
Last week, we saw Jesus say in Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” What is the kingdom of God? It’s God’s presence coming to all peoples and cultures, pressing into the brokenness of the world, fulfilling God’s promise to restore all things. It means things will finally be done on earth as they are in heaven. God will rule and his people will be glad. We pick up the story now to see what life in God’s kingdom looks like.
Jesus Heals a Man with an Unclean Spirit
21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 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.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
This passage includes at least two things almost no one believes in anymore: authoritative teaching and spiritual warfare.
And there are two primary way of ignoring them. One is to deny their existence outright. That’s what the Enlightenment thinkers told us to do. They said modern people must question all authority. They said all tradition, all revelation, all external authority must be put under the microscope of personal reason and submitted to the moral authority of the Self.
Part of that subjection to reason was a rejection of the supernatural—not only the supernatural miracles of God but even the person of God. Skepticism replaced faith.
So today’s passage, in today’s world, is just about as crazy as you can get. Here we have the God-Man, Jesus, teaching not with suggestions for a better life but with the authority of the living God. And we have a demon-possessed man healed, the unclean spirit cast out, and everyone left awestruck. Could you imagine an event like this making the front page of the news websites today with any level of seriousness?
The other way is no less a denial but a much more subtle one. And it’s the one we swim in, primarily, in our area today. Our culture really likes Jesus. But the popular Jesus is a far cry from the biblical Jesus. He fits squarely into the mold Self-centered thinking. Instead of accepting the Jesus of the Bible with all his claims of lordship and exclusivity, many have accepted a half-Jesus, which is really no Jesus. It’s a Jesus fashioned out of the selfish mind, perfectly contoured to personal desires and felt needs. He has all the encouragement and good vibes we want without the lordship and salvation we need.
We can call this half-Jesus “Jesus Jr.” Who is Jesus Jr.? Jesus Jr. is a phrase I learned from Ray Ortlund at Immanuel Church. Jesus Jr. Is a sanitized version of the real Jesus. Jesus Jr. doesn’t surprise us, astonish us, or amaze us. Jesus Jr. does not cause us to say, “What is this? A new teaching with authority!” Jesus Jr. is safe, comfortable, manageable. Jesus Jr. never disagrees with us. But, as pastor Tim Keller says, “If your God never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself.” If your Jesus never stuns you with his glory, if he never causes you to fall down at his feet in worship, if you never realize before him you are undeserving of his love and cry out for mercy only to find within him storehouses of grace, you are deprived of the only One who can really do something glorious in your life.
The problem with both of these views is that neither accepts the authoritative lordship of Jesus Christ. Both are a rejection of the King of the kingdom that has drawn near. You can’t be saved in a world without Jesus, but you can’t be saved in a world with Jesus Jr., either.
So we need the real Jesus who can do something about our sin. We need the real Jesus who takes matters into his own hands. We need the real Jesus who teaches, heals, reshapes, recreates, raises the dead. We need the authoritative Jesus of the Kingdom of God. And that’s the Jesus we have, if we’ll take him.
So let’s look at this real, authoritative Jesus of the Kingdom of God by considering three things.
1. Jesus teaches with authority (vv. 21-22)
2. Jesus heals with authority (vv. 23-26)
3. Jesus saves with authority (vv. 27-28)
JESUS TEACHES WITH AUTHORITY (vv. 21-22)
Look at verses 21 and 22.
21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.
What astonishes the world? That’s hard to say, isn’t it? We live in a day when everything is amazing. How many “amazing” videos did you see on Facebook just this week?
But amazing isn’t astonishing. To be amazed is to be entertained with something better than what you could do. To be astonished is to be floored by what you never thought anyone could do. And that’s what we see here in these verses. Mark tells us what astonished the world. What is it? Christian doctrine. What is Christian doctrine? Doctrine just means teaching. So Christian doctrine is the teaching of Jesus Christ.
But it wasn’t doctrine alone that astonished the world. It was doctrine taught with the authority of Jesus. It wasn’t just what was said but who said it and how he said it.
The congregation in Capernaum noticed a difference between Jesus and every other teacher. In those days, the leaders of the synagogues were primarily administrators, not teachers. So each Sabbath day, they would identify someone who could read and comment on the Scriptures. And in a primarily illiterate society like theirs, sometimes the only qualification needed was the ability to read. You can imagine, then, that many of these teachers didn’t have personal authority.
Every now and then, though, the synagogue would host a legitimate teacher, a scribe. But even those scribes taught not with personal authority but with secondhand theology. Their teaching was comprised of quotations. “You know, so and so rabbi says this.” And, “So and so rabbi has said this…”
But Jesus didn’t rely on other teachers. He had no quotes. Again and again in the gospels Jesus says, “You’ve heard that it was said…but I say to you.” He spoke not in secondhand quotes but with firsthand authority. The word, “authority,” means “out of the original stuff.” When Jesus spoke, he spoke as the author of the words, but more than that as the author of the truth he spoke. It came out of the original stuff. As Tim Keller says, “He didn’t just clarify something that they already knew, or simply interpret the Scriptures in the way the teachers of the law did. His listeners sensed somehow that he was explaining the story of their lives as the author, and it left them dumbfounded.”
This is authoritative teaching. This is astonishing. No one else could author the story. Only Jesus. Christian doctrine astonishes the world because the author, Jesus, is at the very center. When truly heard, we all become the Samaritan woman at the well, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” It’s astonishing.
That day, Jesus drew his hearers out as a fisherman draws fish out of water. They were left breathless on the shore, flipping and flopping in disturbance. That’s the effect of the authoritative teaching of Jesus!
So when we open the Bible and hear the teaching of Jesus, we encounter not just another good, moral teacher but the author of life itself. As Jesus spoke in the synagogue, he spoke as the author of their very experience! His authority reached far beyond the pulpit, it reached their hearts. He knew what was going on inside each of them.
And inside of one of them was something far more than appeared on the surface. There was evil lurking, and the call to repent and believe, the drawing near of the kingdom of God became too much. The authoritative teaching of Jesus was tested, which leads to our second point.
JESUS HEALS WITH AUTHORITY (vv. 23-26)
Look at verses 23-26.
23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.
In light of this authoritative teaching, who would you expect to be the first to respond? Maybe the synagogue leader? Maybe the long-time congregants? What about a demon?
There’s something profound about the fact that a demon was the first to respond. Something deeper was going on that what anyone could see on the surface. Outside, the world went on as it always had as Jesus and the demonic realm did battle in a synagogue in Capernaum.
We don’t know how this “one with an unclean spirit,” arrived in the synagogue. Maybe he was there all along. If so, what does that say about the spiritual state of the people? Perhaps he came in a little later, sensing somehow that Jesus was near. Whatever the case, it seems this unclean spirit heard the teaching of Jesus, because what he does next is in response to that teaching.
The unclean spirit had seized control of the man. His personality was affected by this demonic presence. He cried out, resistant and defiant, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”
What’s he saying here? These words reach all the way back into the Old Testament. It’s a formula of disassociation. The demon wants Jesus to go away and leave him alone. He’s not asking as much as he’s proclaiming. He’s saying, “You have nothing to do with us, and I have nothing to do with you. Be gone, Jesus!” He treats Jesus as an invader in this world that for so long was controlled by Satan and his minions. But Jesus is not invader, the demons are. Jesus is coming to reclaim his people in the fullness of time.
The unclean spirit speaks not only for himself. Notice, he says “us.” “What have you to do with us?” “Have you come to destroy us?” Why does he do that? There are a few different possibilities.
● It could be that a legion of demons inhabited this man. We see that elsewhere in the Bible. But Mark calls this a man with an unclean spirit, singular, not plural.
● It could be that the demon is grouping everyone in the congregation together with him. He’s speaking on their behalf. And while it is true that everyone is far from Jesus and his authoritative teaching struck them all with a certain violence, I don’t think this is what he means.
● Rather, I think the demon is referring to the entirety of the demonic realm. We see in the gospels that when Jesus came to earth, all hell broke loose. The demons went on attack. And so this unclean spirit says not, “What do you have to do with me?” but “What do you have to do with us—all us demons?” Jesus is a major threat to every demonic power. They all recognized it, and sought a coordinated effort to undermine his authority.
The unclean spirit recognized the authority of Jesus. He knew who Jesus was and what Jesus was doing. And so he does something really interesting. He mentions Jesus’ name twice. “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.”
What’s he doing there? Think back to the Old Testament story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. After wrestling all night, Jacob demanded a blessing. So the angel asks Jacob his name. Why? Because revealing your name to an opponent was an act of submission. Jacob was admitting who he was, and coming under the authority of the angel. So when the unclean spirit shouts Jesus’ name, it was an attempt to unveil his identity to defeat him, to cause him to submit. He was saying, in effect, “I know who you are. You can’t fool me.”
If someone stood up right now and said, “I know who you are, David McLemore,” something in me would pause. I would shudder a little bit. What do they know? One of our great fears is being found out. As soon as someone says they know me or you, they’re making a claim. That’s what this demon was doing.
But did it work? Did the demon have more authority than Jesus? Was Jesus afraid of being found out? What sin or weakness or insufficiency was there in Jesus that struck fear in his heart? Nothing!
This demon knew his end was near. He saw better than anyone else what was happening spiritually as Jesus taught. Hearts were changing. Chains were falling. The world was being set free from slavery to sin, from captivity to Satan, from the evil that raged within.
Jesus was not a normal exorcist, using another’s authority. Jesus is the authority. The prophecy of Zechariah 13:2 was being fulfilled. God was removing the unclean spirits from the land. This particular unclean spirit seemed to know what it truly meant that the kingdom of God was at hand. What have demons to do with the kingdom of God? Better fight back now while he has the chance!
But try as he may, the demon’s tactics are no use. He may be powerful, but he’s not authoritative. As G.K. Chesterton said, “If a rhinoceros were to enter this restaurant now, there is no denying he would have great power here. But I should be the first to rise and assure him that he had no authority whatever.” Jesus sees the rhinoceros and rises to assure him he has no authority. He says, “Be silent, and come out of him!” We can see the strength of that statement there in our Bibles. But the original language shows it’s even stronger. What Jesus said would not be considered polite. He said, essentially, “Shut up. Come out of him. I’ve heard enough from you.” It would hold the authority of a father correcting a wayward child, an officer of the law correcting a criminal, a judge sentencing the guilty. It was a silencing statement, one the unclean spirit was helpless against.
Then, “the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.” The cry was one last attempt at defeating Jesus, but Jesus did not flinch. The unclean spirit could not get out from under the authority of Jesus. The kingdom of God was at hand. Jesus bound the strong man to let his people free. And he was successful.
Now, that’s just absolutely fascinating. Even the demons know Jesus and shudder. Even they obey his voice.
It’s easy, I think to look at this and get so focused on the unclean spirit that we miss the man whom he inhabited. What happened to him?
He was healed.
That’s absolutely radical. It’s proof that Jesus’ authority wasn’t just a claim. He actually had the power he said he had. The kingdom of God truly was at hand. No one else could drive the unclean spirit away. No one else had the authority of Jesus.
Now, how does this apply to us today? It’s something we say often here at Refuge because it’s such a foundational truth. No one is too far gone for God to save. Because the kingdom of God is at hand, even the demon-possessed have a chance!
It also means this: Jesus has the authority to change you. Maybe you’re here today and wondering if your life is almost over. Your dreams are fading. Your sin is growing. Your desires as waning. Your hope is lost. Jesus has the authority to heal you.
Jesus’ authority isn’t a removed authority; it’s a personal authority with personal implications. Jesus doesn’t only have authority over the world in some general sense, he has authority over each of our hearts in a very personal sense. Whatever mess you’ve made of your life, here’s the gospel truth: Jesus came to save sinners. Maybe you can’t imagine offering anything to Jesus but your absolute mess of a life. Okay. Bring it. That’s no problem for Jesus. You have a devil inside you? Don’t we all! Jesus Christ came to seek and save the lost. He has authority to heal you!
Martin Luther said, “The life of Christianity consists in possessive pronouns.” It’s one thing to say, “Christ is Lord.” It’s another to say,” Christ is my Lord.” Any devil can say the first. Only the Christian can say the second. What do you say?
What you say to that determines your future. It determines all that ultimately matters in the end. And because that question is all important, I want to consider one final thing from this passage: Jesus saves with authority.
JESUS SAVES WITH AUTHORITY (vv. 27-28)
Look again at verses 27-28.
27 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.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
They were all amazed. The “all” is emphasized. No one in that synagogue sat unimpressed. “What is this?” they asked. Even the unclean spirits obey. The word “even” there tells us it was more than just the teaching that caught their attention. It was what the teaching accomplished that was so remarkable. To teach as Jesus did was impressive. But what was more impressive was that even the demons could not resist him. Jesus’ teaching had an effect. Think about it: Jesus saved a man from a devil inside him. Who else can do that?
What do you make of this kind of authority? Jesus’ teaching was—and is—astonishing, but Jesus proved himself to be more than just a great moral teacher. So many today want to limit him to only that. Jesus can fit inside the Enlightenment view if he’s stripped of authority. He can become Jesus Jr. if we treat his class as merely one we audit for no grade. But with Jesus that’s simply not possible. In the synagogue that day, Jesus claimed to be more than a teacher. He claimed to be the authoritative King of God’s kingdom.
C.S. Lewis helps us see this in his great book Mere Christianity. Talking about Jesus’ radical claim to forgive sins, Lewis says:
I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
A few years ago, I met a woman at the Starbucks I go to regularly. Over the course of a few months, we often talked about religion, about Jesus, about her spirituality. She was, in her own words, “a very spiritual person.” She went to churches, synagogues, Buddhist temples, and anywhere else that could offer spiritual condiments for her life. She asked really great questions about Christianity, and I answered as best I could. I wanted to make Jesus attractive and compelling, because he is.
One day, she began talking about how much she liked Jesus and his teaching. She said she thought Jesus was a great teacher, but not the only way to salvation. I pressed in a little bit. I wanted to know where she got this? I wanted to know how she could accept his teaching about loving others but reject his teaching on his lordship. She didn’t have a great answer, so I said to her as gently as I could that Jesus doesn’t leave open the option of accepting his teaching piecemeal. We must swallow him whole. We cannot have his teaching apart from his lordship. He is an exclusive Savior.
Unfortunately, that was the end of our months’ long conversation. She didn’t like the idea of authority. But, really, I’m not sure that’s true. She didn’t have a problem with authority. None of us really do. What we have a problem with is someone else’s authority. We like authority just fine as long as it’s ours.
But personal authority can never save us. Only Jesus can. For the Enlightenment thinkers, that’s absurd. To the Jesus Jr. worshiper, it’s unnecessary. But to all alike, it’s a command: let Jesus be the Lord of your life. And human hearts like ours, another’s authority is a scary thing. We’ve seen such abuses.
So in the time we have left, let’s think though this question: what about Jesus’ authority is to be feared?
Let’s just notice how Jesus acts throughout this passage. He takes his newly called disciples into the synagogue. He opens the Scripture and begins teaching. He speaks words of life, not from the mouths of others but out of his own mouth, as the author of it all. A demon stands to oppose him. What could he have done in that moment? He could have destroyed the whole person, couldn’t he? He could have killed the man and demon all at once. Did he do that? No, he cast the demon out and healed the man. He could have strutted out of that synagogue, boasting of his own power, pushing himself up the ranks of the Jewish social order. But did he do that? No, he went quietly away. His fame grew not because of his great PR team but because of his undeniable authority.
What did Jesus do with his authority? Did he lord it over others? No, the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
We may fear the authority of others, but if we come to him, we have nothing to fear in the authority of Jesus. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, and what does he do with it? He uses it for our good. He goes to the cross. He died on our behalf. He saves our soul! And with that same authority, he rises again, bringing many sons to glory!
That’s really good news, because if you’re like me, you just can’t seem to get your act together. If my salvation was dependent on me keeping up, I would never make it. But it’s not dependent on me. It’s dependent on Jesus. Jesus has authority over me. And he has authority over you, too.
● When you can’t seem to get any better, Jesus has authority to save you from yourself.
● When you fall into the trap of the enemy’s temptation, Jesus has authority to set you free from darkness.
● When your heart is broken, he has the authority to bind it up again.
● When you feel hopeless and in despair, he has authority to put hope deep in your heart
● He has authority to make your restless soul still.
● He has authority to restore your fortunes.
● He has authority to turn your ashes into beauty.
● And when you fall into the sleep of death someday in the future, he has authority to raise you up again.
● Jesus has the authority to fix everything in the deepest part of your being and no one can stop him.
There is so much to be afraid of in this world. But the authoritative Jesus says to us all, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The only reason to fear Jesus’ authority is if you are unwilling to come to him. If you won’t come to the most wonderful person in the world, you will end up like the demon. You will shriek and cry out and you will be cast from his presence. But if you’ll let him melt your heart with his love, you will be like the man from whom the unclean spirit departed. You will be made clean again. You will stand up straight, with eyes clear, beholding your Savior. You will have your life back, and no demon or anyone else can take it from you again. Why? Because no one has more authority than Jesus. When Jesus saves you, he saves you all the way. He’s a complete Savior. There are no half-salvations in the kingdom of God. There are only Spirit-filled, blood-washed, dead-raised salvation of the authoritative King Jesus.
What’s so scary about him? Why not rather fall down at his feet in worship? Why not be amazed at this new teaching with authority? Why not spread his fame throughout the land?
There is no other Savior. The demons may try to make their claim on you, just as they did on Jesus, but don’t worry, there is one more powerful. And when he sets you free, you are free indeed.
Forget about Jesus Jr. Jesus Christ is here.