Mark 1:21-28 21Then they went into Capernaum. On the next Sabbath day, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22They were amazed at his teaching, because he was teaching them as one who has authority and not as the experts in the law. 23Just then there was a man with an unclean spirit in their synagogue. It cried out, 24“What do we have to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25Jesus rebuked the spirit, saying, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” 26The unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions, and after crying out with a loud voice, it came out of him. 27Everyone was so amazed that they began to discuss this with each other. They said, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands the unclean spirits, and they obey him!” 28News about him spread quickly through all the region of Galilee.
In the 1950s, when Christian Herter was governor of Massachusetts, he was running hard for a second term in office. One day, after a busy morning chasing votes (and no lunch) he arrived at a church barbecue. It was late afternoon and Herter was famished. As Herter moved down the serving line, he held out his plate to the woman serving chicken. She put a piece on his plate and turned to the next person in line.
“Excuse me,” Governor Herter said, “do you mind if I have another piece of chicken?” “Sorry,” the woman told him. “I’m supposed to give one piece of chicken to each person.”
“But, I’m starved,” the governor said. “Sorry,” the woman said again. “Only one to a customer.”
Governor Herter was a modest and unassuming man, but he decided that this time he would throw a little weight around.
“Do you know who I am?” he said. “I am the governor of this state.”
“Do you know who I am?” the woman said. “I’m the lady in charge of the chicken. Move along, mister.”
The chicken lady had authority. She told the governor what to do.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus has authority. With a single word, Jesus tells a demon what to do. He says, “phimotheti” – “Be quiet.” As Jesus heals, so He also teaches – with authority.
Jesus is a 30-year-old rabbi, a teacher. He is the invited preacher in the Capernaum synagogue this Sabbath. Understand that this happens at the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He has been baptized, defeated the devil, called a few disciples and changed water into wine. He has not done or said many of the things for which He will later be known. He has not yet preached His Sermon on the Mount or put the Pharisees in their place; He has not yet stilled a storm or healed any lepers or raised anyone from the dead. As a result, Jesus is still an unknown commodity. Capernaum’s citizenry has not formed an opinion of Him. They have not made up their minds about their Savior.
But then Jesus begins teaching. It doesn’t take long before the people are amazed. They are baffled that Jesus teaches with such authority. He doesn’t quote former rabbis and teachers like was the common practice. He has no need to. He teaches the Scriptures as if He is the original writer of the Scriptures … which He is!
He is the Authority!
Mark doesn’t record what Jesus says that day, but He comes to teach, in the Greek – “to indoctrinate.” Many people today in our post-modern world think that “doctrine” is a bad word; that we can’t possibly know the truth; there can’t possibly be anything as complete truth or a church body – like ours – that can claim to have the truth. But that’s not what the Bible teaches. That’s not what Jesus taught. He is speaking the truth that never changes. That’s doctrine. He came to preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Though we don’t have the text of the Messiah’s message, we do have the reaction of those who listened to Him. They are filled with awe, adoration and admiration at the words of repentance, forgiveness and salvation. Words they had never heard proclaimed with such clarity. With such authority.
Well, not everyone is in awe in the synagogue. Not everyone is comforted by the message of the Christ. Not everyone is blessed by His presence. There is one person in the crowd who hated what he was hearing. One person who is both frightened and furious. A man possessed by a demon cries out, “What do we have to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
Remember, Jesus has just recently come from the desert after His victorious battle against the devil. Jesus went mano e mano with Satan. And now, Jesus enters this ancient church to do battle against a demonic soldier.
It seems as if the devil and his demonic forces were putting in overtime during Jesus’ ministry. You can be sure that wherever the doctrine of Christ is being taught, the devil and his demons will be hard at work. There’s nothing the devil despises more than the preaching of Christ crucified for sinners. The devil and his demons are not afraid of lies and false doctrine. They love vague spiritualities, nebulous praise and cross-less, bloodless gospels that are really no gospel at all. You can preach social justice and morality until you’re blue in the face and the devil couldn’t care less. But preach Christ and all hell lets loose.
Christ preaches about the Christ. And all hell breaks loose in the synagogue. But with a single word, Jesus silences the disruptive demon and restores order to the worship service. “Be silent. Come out of him,” Jesus speaks with authority. And the demon obeys. He must. He has no choice. He must obey the Word in the flesh.
Jesus certainly demonstrated His authority in the Capernaum synagogue 2,000 years ago in His teaching and healing, but is Jesus the authority in your life today? Is it possible Jesus is an authority, but not the authority? Perhaps, like Eve, the eye-pleasing pleasures of this world are your authority. Perhaps, like King David, lust has lured you away from your Lord and become your authority. Has fear paralyzed you, like King Saul and the Israelites hearing the taunts of Goliath? Is it possible that you, like Ananias and Sapphira, are looking to advance your life by making shady business deals; or like Achan, you find yourself caught up in a sin separating you from God’s grace or like Lot’s wife, you are looking longingly at the things of this world? Then fear, cheating and materialism are your authority.
Or does the devil make a claim on your life? No, you may not be demon-possessed (although there may be times when you want to walk up to your child, put your hand on her head and say, “Demon, be gone!”) But when you won’t allow Jesus to be the authority, then you are giving permission to the devil to fill the void. The demon-possessed man was afraid that Jesus was going to wreck all of his fun. Do you ever get that way? You think that Jesus has no right to interfere with your lustful longings, with your unrestrained greed, your wicked wants and your desire to seek all that is sinful, sensual and immoral. You think that Jesus has no right to expect you to worship Him every Sabbath, no right to tell you how to better your marriage or raise your children or spend your money or correct your music and TV habits. Satan still suggests that Jesus has no authority to interfere with our depravity, our dishonesty or our decadence.
If your authority is not Jesus Christ, it is a false authority, a demonic authority. It is an influence that is controlling you; that will rob you of joy in this world and remove your assurance of a home in the world to come. It leaves you uncomfortable, screaming because you know that the Messiah is coming to crush these things and end their party. These things have a stranglehold on your spirit – as this demon did with this poor man.
But when Jesus, by the Holy Spirit’s power, rules your head and heart; when Christ is the Authority above anything and everything else; when the Savior is allowed to save you from yourself, then your life is changed immensely for the better.
Satan does battle with you every day. He is a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. He hates that you follow the truth. He wants to create disorder and dysfunction in your life. Satan wants to hold on to you. He wants to keep you in the chains of your sinful desires. He needs for you to stay dead in your sin, plagued by false pride and inflating your ego with independence. But Jesus comes to release you. He sets the captives free. He breaks the chains of your sin. He busts open the prison of your guilt. He wants to take over the authority in your life. Allow His voice to be heard through yours as you command all the authoritative voices clamoring for your attention to “shut up.” Let Jesus drive out the demons that plague you.
Jesus does all this. Not with amazing, fantastic or stupendous displays of power. But with words. “I forgive you.” “I baptize you.” “This is my body. This is my blood.” “Go in peace.” “The Lord bless you and keep you.”
By God’s grace, Jesus has been using His authority in Word and Sacraments in this place for 91 years. This morning, you see Jesus, in His authority, rip Kinsley away from the devil and place her into God’s family through Baptism. Today, you see Jesus, in His authority, move Matt and Terri to promise to be steadfast in Lutheran biblical doctrine and be willing to suffer death, rather than fall away from their confirmation faith. This authority is displayed, as it is every Sunday, to change bread and wine into the very body and blood of Christ for God’s saints. There is authority in God’s words. Forgiveness in these words. Life, death and resurrection in these words.
The Bible prophecies about Jesus, the Son of Man, “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14). Authority over all? Find an exception. Peter’s mother-in-law has a fever; Jesus rebukes it. A tax needs to be paid; Jesus pays it by sending first a coin and then a fisherman’s hook into the mouth of a fish. When five thousand stomachs growl, Jesus renders a boy’s basket a bottomless buffet. Jesus exudes authority. He bats an eyelash, and nature jumps. He spits, and sight is restored. His cloak is touched, and blood stops pouring. He draws in the dirt, and accusers drop their stones. And so, no one argues when, at the end of His earthly life, the God-man declares, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).
Jesus may not have looked like much when He walked into the Capernaum synagogue. He may not have looked like much as He hung from the Roman cross. He may not have looked like much as He was laid in Joseph’s tomb. But those are the places where Jesus demonstrated His victory over death, the devil and his demons. It was with authority that He healed, taught and commanded demons. It was with authority that He preached sermons, calmed storms and raised the dead. It also was with authority that He allowed Himself to die, with all hell breaking loose in jubilation, thinking they had silenced the Son of God. Yet it was with authority that Jesus powerfully took His life back up again and then descended into hell to ruin Satan’s victory parade. Jesus’ death and resurrection meant their destruction. And our salvation.
This is Jesus’ authority. That’s the truth. That’s doctrine.
Epiphany Lutheran Church – this is your Capernaum. It has been for 91 years. A synagogue of the baptized, gathered to hear the Word spoken every Sunday Sabbath. The words of the Christ speak into the darkness of your sins, reclaiming your life, silencing your demons, bringing salvation, healing and life to your soul. Come to the synagogue. Listen to Jesus’ teaching. Believe His doctrine. Receive His healing. Accept His authority. Amen.