A New Authority

Mark 1.21–28

…the unclean spirit recognises Jesus, yet the crowd’s reaction focusses instead on Jesus’ authority, not his demonically disclosed identity! Through this ‘secret’ readers are brought in on an insight that characters in the story fail to notice. The upshot is that neither the miraculous exorcism, nor even authoritative teaching, is sufficient for faith. This also underlines the fragility of the gospel promise that Jesus embodies. – David Schnasa Jacobsen, Mark (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries), (Kindle Locations 973-975), Fortress Press, Kindle Edition.


Capernaum, on the shores of Lake Galilee, was where Jesus had made his home. It is in the synagogue of Capernaum that today’s story is set. My wife and I were standing there in the ruined synagogue almost five years ago, on a journey to Israel. From memory, the current structure dates from somewhere around the third century. However, you can see at its base a darker stone which dates from the first century. Jesus would have seen this same stone.

This is the very site at which

the people who heard [Jesus] were amazed at the way he taught, for he wasn’t like the teachers of the Law; instead, he taught with authority.

The people in Capernaum were amazed. Gobsmacked. At the way Jesus taught, and at his authority over the demonic spirit.

But amazement was not enough. It wasn’t what Jesus was looking for.

Jesus isn’t a primarily a miracle worker. Just a reminder of what Jesus was primarily on about: in last week’s Gospel reading, he says

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.

Jesus wants us to recognise that a new day has dawned. God has come near to rule in human affairs. And this is Good News!

Jesus wants our faith. And faith in Jesus means accepting his authority over us. ‘He taught with authority.’ That amazed the people of Capernaum. They were used to the way the scribes spoke. They would quote an ancient authority, and say the people should accept that. Or they would weigh up what several ancient authorities said and try to make sense of their various opinions.

They didn’t have an position of their own. Jesus did. Jesus could take a position because he spoke for God the Father. Jesus listened, and then spoke.

Perhaps the clearest example is in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says five times, ‘You have heard that it was said…but I say unto you…’

Each time, Jesus quotes the greatest authority of all, the Scriptures. And each time, Jesus either deepens or even changes what the Scriptures say.

He deepens the Scriptures:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

And he changes them:

Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all … Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

This is great authority.

How can Jesus do this?

Let’s answer that first of all be looking at the Basis of Union of the Uniting Church. In paragraph 5, it says:

Christ who is present when he is preached among people is the Word of God who acquits the guilty, who gives life to the dead and who brings into being what otherwise could not exist.

Jesus Christ is the Word of God. That’s just what the first verses of John’s Gospel say:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.… And the Word became flesh and lived among us

The Word that was God from eternity, through which all life lives, became a human being. Jesus Christ.

The Basis of Union says that the Scriptures are

…unique prophetic and apostolic testimony, in which it hears the Word of God…

The Scriptures are central to our faith. They have authority because they witness to the One who has all authority, the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Word of God.

Paul tells us that Jesus has been given the highest name of all:

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

But it’s not amazement he requires of us, it’s faith. Faith is believing and trusting and allowing ourselves to be transformed into the image of Christ.

Sometimes, we think of faith as believing the right way.

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: ‘Stop. Don’t do it.’

‘Why shouldn’t I?’ he asked.

‘Well, there’s so much to live for!’

‘Like what?’

‘Are you religious?’ I asked.

He said: ‘Yes.’

I said: ‘Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?’


‘Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?’


‘Me too. Are you Presbyterian or Baptist?’


‘Wow. Me too. Are you Presbyterian Church of God or Presbyterian Church of the Lord?’

‘Presbyterian Church of God.’

‘Me too. And are you Original Presbyterian Church of God, or are you Reformed Presbyterian Church of God?’

‘Reformed Presbyterian Church of God.’

‘Me too. Are you Reformed Presbyterian Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Presbyterian Church of God, Reformation of 1915?’

He said: ‘Reformed Presbyterian Church of God, Reformation of 1915.’

I said, ‘Die, heretic scum,’ and pushed him off.

That’s one idea of what faith is.

He doesn’t have the right doctrine of the Trinity, or the Second Coming? He can’t be a Christian!

He’s soft on same sex marriage? He can’t be a Christian!

But faith is walking through life with the One who has all authority. It’s not about getting everything right.

Faith was two people, trudging their way to Emmaus after the crucifixion of Jesus. A stranger joins them and shows them the deep meaning of their Scriptures. When they arrive home, the stranger makes to move on, but they invite him in and discover who he is in the breaking of the bread.

Imagine if they hadn’t invited him in? Would that have been faith?

Faith is a young woman, disturbed by an angel who tells her that she will bear the Son of God. She said ‘Let it be’.

Imagine if Mary had said No? Would that have been faith?

The Book of James tells us very clearly that faith without works is dead. Jesus invites us to an active faith, and he invites us today.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking faith is all about believing things. It’s about trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. And it’s about what you do. It’s about glorifying God by loving your neighbour as yourself.


Preached at Trinity Wellington Point Uniting Church, 28 January 2018


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Filed under Epiphany Season, RCL, sermon

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