In the prologue of the Gospel of Mark, we are given a behind-the-scene glimpse of the identity of Jesus Christ. There it is revealed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; that Jesus is the promised coming-into-the-world of the LORD God himself. Immediately after the prologue, the reader is thrust into the action-packed life and ministry of Jesus Christ. As we, the readers, watch Jesus, we realize that we are encountering a being very “other” from ordinary humans, a man who lives with unparalleled authority. As we watch others encounter Jesus, we are, subtly, being invited, even challenged, to submit to his authority and swear our allegiance to him.
Let’s take a moment to consider the authority of Jesus and ask the question: why should I submit my life to the authority of Jesus?
In Mark 1:21-38, we observe a day in the life of the mission of Jesus and encounter the multifaceted, radical, unique authority of Jesus Christ.
First, we encounter the intellectual authority of Jesus. In Capernaum, on the Sabbath, Jesus enters a synagogue (in that day, the center for Jewish teaching and intellectual activity) and begins to teach. We are told, “the people are amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the teachers of the law.” They recognized that unlike their scribes and teachers who taught with a derived authority, Jesus taught about God and life with an original, un-derived authority. Tim Keller points out that the teachers and even the prophets would begin their teaching with, “thus says the Lord,” but Jesus would say, “but I say unto you.” Keller comments, “this is something neither the teachers of the Law or the Old Testament prophets had the audacity to do” (The Gospel of Mark, Leaders Guide, 13). Another characteristic of Jesus’ authoritative teaching was that he often began a statement by saying “Amen, amen” which is translated “truly I say to you.” Again, Keller points out “this term was pronounced by elders of the synagogue after a teaching as a way of approving and validating what the speaker had just said. The term means, ‘yes this statement squares with the Scripture and the traditions;’ it is always used to affirm the teaching of someone else. Jesus, however, begins his statements with this formula and bestows it on himself. He is saying, ‘I take away your right to judge my teaching. No one has the authority to reject any part of my teaching nor is there any standard for evaluation of teaching any higher than me myself.’” (Keller, 13) By doing this, Jesus makes a unique and radical claim: I am the truth of God, the ultimate intellectual authority.
Second, we encounter the spiritual authority of Jesus. A man who was possessed by an evil spirit enters the synagogue and cries 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!” Jesus sternly answers, “Be quiet. Come out of him.” The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. While, like today, there are those who claim to be exorcists, what Jesus did was radical, new, other (See R. T. France’s excellent commentary, The Gospel of Mark, 100). There was no hocus-pocus, no incantations; just a word of authority spoken, and an evil spirit’s violent submission. Those who witnessed Jesus authority were rightly amazed: “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.”
Third, we encounter the physical authority of Jesus Christ. That same Sabbath, Jesus goes to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother in law is in bed with a fever. Jesus merely reaches down to her, touches her hand, and heals her. She immediately gets up and begins to serve her guests. And, in response to Jesus’ growing fame as a healer of spiritual and physical problems we are told, “that evening, after sunset, the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases.” Again, we are confronted with a very “other-worldly” being; one who has authoriy to heal with the mere touch of his hand.
But, one may ask, that was then! What about now! Why should any person, today, submit to the authority of Jesus? Let me suggest this answer: only Jesus has authority to deliver you from the dominion of sin.
As we watch the story of Jesus unfold, we are confronted by a world that is very much wrong and broken and disintegrating. It is a world of religions, each trying to address the guilt and shame and anxiety of humanity. It is a world of invisible spiritual reality, of spiritual conflict and invisible forces. It is a world of sickness and death. In short, it is a world under the dominion of sin. It is the world we live in!
And, while the world’s religions, institutions, and leaders all claim to have authority in their unique spheres – whether that it education and the forming of the intellect, or in medicine and the healing of the body, or in spirituality and the healing of the soul – none of these authorities even come close to claiming or bearing the authority that we witness in Jesus Christ. Their authority is a derived authority. It is a limited authority. Take for example, intellectual authorities. In his influential The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn shows that there have been “paradigm shifts” where one paradigm of belief, one set of truth claims, has given way to another (for example, the transition from a Ptolemaic cosmology to a Copernican one). In other words, what one generation believes to be “true” is often considered “rubbish” by a later generation. Who can list the great teachers, the great authorities, in the time of Jesus Christ? In the same way, the great teachers and authorities in our time will be passing fads and forgotten by future generations.
Consider, also, the authority of medicine, the authority of Medical Doctors today. They are looked at as great authorities, and they must go through a rigorous training. But their authority is limited and temporal. They do not have the authority to heal by the touch of a hand. Nor can they reverse the inevitable disintegration of the body by death.
The Bible says, again and again, that the whole world is under the dominion of sin; that the whole world is disintegrating and that no person, no nation, no organization, no religion, no religious leader can deliver you. But, even as it says, this, the Bible says that there is one who can deliver you from the dominion of sin: Jesus Christ.
Imagine it like this. Imagine a canyon, with a mighty river coursing through it. The torrent of this river carries with it all people (both commoners and intellectual elites). It carries whole institutions (of education, science, discovery). Religions and entire nations and even whole civilizations are crushed and carried away in its torrent.
Then suddenly, among the devastation of this raging torrent, steps the God-man, Jesus Christ. He is not carried away by the torrent. No! Rather, he begins to wade upstream. His hand reaches out and touches people, heals them. Many of them reach out their hand and grasp for Jesus Christ. They seek to get in his wake, to follow him upstream.
This is the message of the gospel. The God of the Universe entered this world, assumed human flesh, and, in the coming of the King, the Kingdom of God has come in power and authority! It is only when you, so to speak, get into his wake, that you can be delivered from the dominion and disintegration of sin.