The Awe Inducing Authority of Jesus (Mark 1:21-2:12)

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Introduction

In last Sunday’s sermon we began our task of answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” by looking at Jesus’ own announcement of the arrival of God’s kingdom. In verse 15 of Chapter 1, Jesus announced, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” And I explained last week how the coming of Jesus is the fulfillment of the good news promised by Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets. And that through Jesus, God has decisively intervened in space and time and has come, in the person of Jesus who came to proclaim the gospel of God. As I said last week, Jesus is the herald of the gospel and he is the content of the gospel. Jesus came proclaiming the good news and the good news was that Jesus had come. And he had come announcing the promised and long-awaited arrival of God’s kingdom. In our passage last week, Mark began answering the question: “Who is Jesus?” by showing us that Jesus had come as both the Messiah and Son of God.

And so where last week’s sermon focused on this divine announcement, this week we will begin looking at demonstrations which prove God’s kingdom has come near and that Jesus is both the Messiah and the Son of God. In today’s passage we will see what I am calling The Awe Inducing Authority of Jesus.

So let’s go ahead now and read our passage for this morning. Please follow along with me as I read Mark 1:21–2:12.

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. 29 And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. 40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter. 1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 1:21–2:12 ESV)

Authority in Teaching (vv. 1:21–22; 1:35–39)

Verse 21 begins by explaining that Jesus and his four newly called disciples traveled into Capernaum which was a city located along side the Sea of Galilee, and the hometown of his four new disciples. And Mark, using one of his favorite words, says that on the Sabbath Jesus immediately entered the synagogue and was teaching. Now, the fact that Mark begins his description of Jesus’ ministry by saying he immediately went into the synagogue and began teaching should not be missed. Teaching and preaching lie at the core of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Though the crowds were most excited by the healings and casting out of demons, Jesus came to earth to proclaim (with his mouth) the coming of the Kingdom of God. The other activities, like healings, and exorcisms, and miracles were visual indicators that the kingdom of God had arrived, but Jesus was more interested in giving verbal indicators that God’s Kingdom had arrived. And many times the crowds that flock to the visual indicators are portrayed by Mark as hinderances to Jesus and his preaching ministry and something that he tries to avoid by disappearing into the wilderness or moving on to another town.

Later in this chapter we have an example of this very thing. Look down with me in verse 35. After spending the night being mobbed by what Mark describes as the “whole city” of Capernaum in verse 33, healing and casting out demons, verse 35 says that Jesus rose “very early in the morning, while it was still dark” and he “departed and went out to a desolate place” where he prayed.

But when morning arrived the crowds where clamoring around trying to find him, and Peter acting as the manager for this new “Rock Star” preacher, along with the other disciples, finds Jesus and says, “Hey man, everyone is looking for you! Let’s go give them some more of what they want.”

And even in these verses, Jesus is making a statement about his authority by saying in verse 38, “No… Let’s go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And so we see in verse 39 that Jesus “went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” Jesus is not going to be dictated to by the crowds who are wanting more. Jesus is on a mission and that mission is to preach the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God. He is both the king and the herald of the king. And often times the crowds are a distraction from what he is trying to do.

I think there is a message in here for pastors and churches who are always interested in their attendance figures and the attendance figures of other churches. As one commentator puts it, “Clamoring crowds [are not] a sign of success or aid to ministry” and “enthusiasm is not to be confused with faith; indeed, it can oppose faith” (James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, PNTC, 67). It’s easy to draw a crowd, any man can do that. But it is impossible to make a single convert without the aid and intervention of God. And we see here that Jesus has the authority to go where he wants and do what he wants. He will not allow pressing needs and crowds to distract him from his mission of preaching and teaching the gospel.

But look back with me now at verses 21 and 22 where Jesus has begun his ministry in Capernaum by teaching in the synagogue. It is important to note that Jewish synagogues in Jesus’ day functioned much differently than our modern day churches do with regard to preaching and teaching. Every synagogue had in place someone who was known as the “ruler” of the synagogue, but this person was not the one who taught and exposited the Scriptures each Sabbath, that responsibility was delegated to others. Usually the synagogue ruler would invite someone to teach, and on this Sabbath, Jesus was invited to teach.

And when Jesus teaches, people are amazed. Verse 22 says that after hearing Jesus’ teaching, those present were astonished because “he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” At the end of last week’s sermon Jesus commanded the four disciples to follow him and they obeyed. When Jesus spoke to them there was authority in his words. And in today’s passage the people in the synagogue are brought face to face with this reality. Even in comparison to the religious experts known as the scribes, Jesus’ teaching made the jaws of those who were present drop in awe and amazement. These religious experts who were treated with the greatest level of respect by the Jewish people for their knowledge concerning the Jewish Scriptures, were made to look like grammar school students when Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, began to teach. And so Jesus’ first encounter with the Jewish religious leaders has taken place and the score is Jesus 1, Scribes 0.

But notice that in the middle of his story about Jesus demonstrating his authority through his teaching that Mark interrupts himself with another story about a man with an unclean spirit. And in this story, Jesus demonstrate his authority over demonic and satanic forces. Look with me now in verses 23–28.

Authority over Demonic/Satanic Forces (vv. 1:23–28, 1:32–34)

Part of what Jesus came to do was to put an end to the tyranny of Satan and his demonic minions. He has already informed Satan of his arrival in verses 12 and 13 of chapter 1, and now he demonstrates his authority over the Satanic forces present in this world.

Now I know for many today, talk of demons and Satanic forces seems archaic and uneducated. We prefer scientific explanations for everything that takes place in this world. Science has done all it can to disprove the existence of anything and everything supernatural. And it is my belief that this is just fine with Satan. For if science could prove and acknowledge the existence of Satan and other demonic powers, that would only hurt Satan’s work in the Western world at this point in history. Because if we, in our modern, enlightened Western society acknowledged the presence of evil spiritual forces it would only bolster our belief in the God of the Bible who speaks so much about the existence of such beings and their presence in this world.

So it is my belief that Satan is happy to let us believe we are too smart to believe in things like demons and the devil. But that does not mean he is not at work in the Western world, it just means his mission is more covert. While in other parts of the world, in less developed countries, Satan continues to work in very overt and in your face ways. There are plenty of accounts of stories coming out of third-world countries of demonic and Satanic activity that sound exactly like the accounts we have recorded for us in the Bible.

I say all this because I don’t want you to believe we are dealing with a “that was then, this is now” situation. Satan and his minions are still active in this world today devising schemes and plans of attack appropriate for each time and place. And as Christians we are in a battle with them. The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians that we are in a battle not against flesh and blood, but against the cosmic powers over this present darkness and against the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).

And in this particular instance, in Mark 1:23, a man approaches Jesus as he is teaching in the synagogue, and this man is apparently demon-possessed. And the man, being controlled by this demon or multiple demons cries out in verse 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.” And this is interesting. While the religious leaders and the crowds, and the disciples even, still do not know who Jesus is, the demons know. And they know what he has come to do. They know Jesus is the Holy One of God and that he has come to destroy them. These demons in their fear actually help us as we are trying to paint this picture of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.

And in verse 25, Jesus demonstrates his authority over the demonic realm. First he commands the unclean spirit to be silent and then he orders it to come out of the man. And after what would have probably been a terrifying moment for those witnessing this, in verse 26 the demon comes out of the man.

And the response of the people witnessing this was appropriate. Again, like with Jesus’ teaching, they were all amazed at the awe inducing authority of Jesus. And in their own words, they ask the question: “Who is Jesus? Who is this man?” In verse 27 they ask themselves: “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And apparently this crowd went out of the place telling everyone what they had seen because in verse 28 we see that Jesus’ fame spread everywhere throughout the region of Galilee. Jesus has burst onto the scene and made himself known—to the religious leaders, to the crowds, and to the workers of Satan himself. The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.

And this is not the only occurrence of Jesus casting out demons in our passage for today. If you look with me in verses 32–34 you see that many people who were oppressed by demons were being brought to Jesus and he was cleansing them. But notice specifically verse 34 and what it says about Jesus: “And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” First we have a demonstration again of Jesus’ authority over these demons. He had the authority to command their silence and they had no choice but to obey him. But do you find it a little strange that Mark says the reason Jesus did this was because the demons knew who Jesus was? We saw this earlier with the unclean spirit who said to Jesus in verse 24: “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” Actually Jesus does this throughout the gospel with demons and with people who he has healed. We will see another example of this in a little bit. So what is going on here? Well this is something that has been debated for a long time. It even has a name among theologians. Jesus hiding his identity in the Gospel of Mark is called the Messianic Secret. Sometimes it seems that Jesus is working against Mark’s attempt to tell everyone who Jesus is. So what is going on when Jesus commands a demon or someone who he has healed to be silent and not tell anyone about him? And is this not counter-productive to his mission?

Well, there are several different opinions about this. And this morning I am going to tell you what I believe about this. I think there are two reasons Jesus sometimes commands silence in an effort to conceal his identity. First, as I mentioned earlier, sometimes Jesus is concerned about being hindered by large crowds which will keep him from his mission to proclaim the gospel of God. When swarms of people came looking to be healed, Jesus would often have to go on a covert escape mission to get to his next destination. It was not that he wasn’t interested in healing or that he didn’t care about people, it was just that his primary mission was to proclaim the gospel of God and he only had three years to do it. So one way Jesus controlled the crowds who hindered his movement was by keeping the news about him at bay until he had left a particular area. He was doing it for practical reasons.

Second, I believe there are strategic reasons for Jesus making efforts to conceal his identity from time to time as well. The fact that the Jewish expectations in Jesus’ day regarding a Messiah included military connotations, put Jesus at risk of being perceived by Roman authorities as a threat to the empire. Which is actually basically the grounds on which he was eventually crucified. Had Rome come to believe this earlier about Jesus and intervened, Jesus would not have been able to take the gospel everywhere he intended. So in addition to the practical reasons (he was trying to avoid being stalled by crowds), there were also strategic reasons (he was trying to avoid being arrested before his time had come). He is concerned about being hindered in his mission either by crowds or by Roman authorities.

So Jesus commands this unclean spirit to be silent. But let me show you now an example of Jesus silencing a person he has healed. And by looking at this story we will also see that Jesus has authority over illness and disease.

Authority over Illness and Disease (1:40–45)

Look with me at verses 40–45 of chapter 1. Here we see Jesus being approached by a leper. And while this may not be shocking to us today, in Jesus’ time this was an outrageous idea. Lepers were not supposed to come near anyone. Actually they were supposed to make it apparent by their dress and by crying out “Unclean! Unclean!” as they walked around that they were lepers and to be avoided at all costs. And so the simple fact that this leper approached Jesus tells us he believed there was something special about Jesus. The leper says to Jesus, “If you will, you can make me clean.” In other words, “I know you are able Jesus, but are you willing?”

Now, Jesus could have commanded the leprosy to leave this man from a distance, but that is not what he did. Jesus made a point by reaching out and touching this disease ridden man and saying, “I will; be clean.” Again this would have been amazing and downright shocking. But as one commentator puts is: “The touch of Jesus speaks more loudly than his words; and the words of Jesus touch the leper more deeply than any act of human love” (Edwards, 70).

And there is an application here for us. And this application can be summed up with the question: “Are you willing to get yourself dirty for the sake of the gospel?” It is very easy for us today to live in our protective little Christian cocoons we have created for ourselves by where we live and where go and who we associate with. There is nothing Americans prize more than safety and security. But brothers and sisters, Jesus never promised safety and security. He never promised that you would always be comfortable on your mission to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Actually he warned us that when we follow him we better be prepared to die. And yet many in our churches today hide out from the riffraff and prefer safety and comfort and security to risking those things for the sake of the gospel and the salvation of souls. I want us to all start rethinking those things. Jesus did not come to give us safety and security on this earth.

Jesus touches this leper and cleanses him and orders him to tell no one what was done to him and instead tells him to go through the traditional route of being pronounced clean that was commanded by Moses. Jesus tells him to go to a priest and have the priest pronounce him clean. But instead, we see in verse 45, that the man went out and told everyone he saw. And the news spread so quickly that Jesus could no longer enter a town without being mobbed. Even when he went to hide out in desolate places, the crowds were coming to him from every side. The fame of Jesus’ name was beginning to spread. And Jesus has yet to do the most amazing thing he will do in our passage for today. Jesus is about to demonstrate his Authority to Forgive Sin.

Authority to Forgive Sin (vv. 2:1–12)

Look with me at verses 1–12 of chapter 2. For the sake of time I am not going to be able to hit every detail of this story so I am only going to highlight those things which show Jesus’ authority to forgive sin and then explain the implications of that.

Briefly though, Jesus has returned to Capernaum and people find out he is back. And as is becoming the norm, crowds start flocking to him and he is preaching the word (notice that in verse 2, preaching is his primary interest). But as he is preaching, four men bring a paralytic to Jesus hoping that he might heal their paralyzed friend. They are so persistent to get around the crowds that they actually climb up on the roof of the house, make a hole in it and lower the man down. And what Jesus says next is amazing. He says to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” And the scribes who were present flip out. And rightly so, they know that the only One with the authority to forgive sins is God alone. And so they ask in verse 7: “Why does this man speak like that?” And they accuse him of blaspheming. And they would be right to do so, if Jesus were not God in the flesh.

And so Jesus in verse 8, knowing in his spirit that the scribes were questioning him (which is another demonstration of his divinity) basically says to them: “Look, it is actually easier for me to say ‘Your sins are forgiven’ than it is for me to say ‘take up your bed and walk’. Anyone can say ‘your sins are forgiven’ because that is something difficult to verify. So now that you have challenged me on this, I am going to do something to prove I have authority to forgive this man’s sins.” And Jesus turns to the paralyzed man and says, “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And when the man gets up and goes home, Jesus has made clear to the scribes, and everyone else present, that this man’s sins were forgiven. And in doing so, he also demonstrates that he is indeed God in the flesh.

Now I need to quickly address something here that some of you might be wondering. You might be thinking, “Is the Bible saying that all illness is a result of someone’s sin?” I think this question arises because from time to time the Bible does indicate that a person’s illness is a result of some sin they have committed. And in many cases this does not have to be hard to understand. There are some illnesses that we all know are a direct result of sin. In many cases this is true of sexually transmitted diseases. There are health reasons God warns us not to be sexually promiscuous in addition to the moral reasons. And that is just one example. I could name many other illness and injuries and diseases that are easily identifiable as being a result of someone’s sinful activity.

BUT, and that is a big BUT, that does not mean that we should always believe that our illnesses are a direct result of something I have done—a direct result of some sin I have committed. Actually, I think it is safe to say that MOST of the time we are ill it is a result of Adam’s sin and not our own. The vast majority of the time we are sick or ill it is a result of the fact that we are living in a fallen world stained with sickness, disease, and death. And I believe the Bible supports this.

But the fact that most illness and disease cannot, and should not, be traced back to some particular sin in a person’s life, does not mean that we can always overlook that possibility when we are ill. It does appear in this particular case, at least to me, that this man was afflicted because of his sin. And I think it must have been known to others there as well or else Jesus’ point would not have been clear when he said: “Son your sins are forgiven” and the man is healed.

So who is Jesus? He is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. And he is God in the flesh demonstrated by his authority to forgive sin. He is able to cleanse us from our sin in the same way he cleansed this man’s leprosy.

Conclusion

And that is the main reason Jesus’ authority is awe inducing. It is awe inducing because he is doing things that only God has the authority to do. That is why the Jewish teachers and scribes ask in verse 7 of chapter 2, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” For Jesus to make this claim he was either a blasphemer or God in the flesh.

And we all have a decision to make about Jesus. Was he a blasphemer? Or was he God in the flesh? Who is Jesus? I hope that our sermon this morning has brought us all a little closer to understanding that answer. I know most of you already believe the right things about Jesus, but it doesn’t ever hurt to be reminded why we believe these things.

And I also suspect, there may be someone here who does not believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, who came to take away the sin of the world. And to you I will say once again this week: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15 ESV).