Summary: The people are amazed by Jesus’ demonstration of a New Authority and Power. It is only through relationsship with God that we have the Authority and Power to be Jesus’ disciples.
Mark 1:21-28 On the Authority and Power to be Jesus’ disciples
Last week we heard through our Gospel verses (Mark 1:14-20) how Jesus called his first four disciples to follow him. Remember how, straight away, without hesitation, Simon, Andrew, James and John left their families and friends and work – all that was familiar to them – and followed Jesus.
Now, Mark tells us, as they walked away from their homes and families, they arrive in Capernaum. It was the Sabbath, so the five of them went into the synagogue to pray.
We might well imagine that, for the four new disciples, this was a comfortable, familiar place in all the ‘newness’ they found themselves involved in now, in the decision they had made to follow Jesus. Here they were, in the familiar surroundings and ‘liturgy’ of synagogue worship (even if it was not their ‘local’ place of prayer). Here they took part in the singing (chanting) of psalms and reciting of prayers. And we need to remember that, at this point in time, Jesus was still a stranger – an unknown quantity – to the four ex-fishermen. These were the very beginnings of Jesus’ ministry, and of the relationship between Jesus and the four men, for no-one had yet had the opportunity to get to know what sort of man he was, what his ‘ministry and mission’ would be nor, indeed, how it would effect them and their lives.
But this particular Sabbath day, there in the synagogue, the four newly recruited disciples of Jesus and the people gathered there were to be left in little doubt as to the impact Jesus was going to have. And, particularly for the disciples, they would have their first glimpse of the powerful, provocative influence Jesus was going to have on THEIR lives, and upon those he would meet and touch in the future.
First of all they see Jesus stand up and begin to teach. He must really have held their attention, and said things the people had never heard before. Quite what the content of Jesus’ teaching was, we’re not told. But what is important for Mark in his Gospel is that the people are ‘astounded’. Astounded because he taught with an unfamiliar ‘authority’ – unlike anything they had been used to before from their scribes. Jesus was a NEW and POWERFUL AUTHORITY, the likes of which they had not encountered before.
Then – well, let us imagine the scene! Suddenly someone – or something –disrupts the atmosphere of solemn worship and reflection there in the synagogue. A man (we are told) whom Mark describes as being possessed by an ‘unclean spirit’ suddenly springs to his feet and cries out at the top of his voice: “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Here, it seems, the ‘unclean spirit’ speaks from within the man, and which (like the people gathered there) also recognises the NEW and POWERFUL AUTHORITY of Jesus.
Again, the people are AMAZED as Jesus rebukes the spirit, calls it to be silent, and releases the man from its grip. “What is this?” the people exclaim! “A new teaching; with AUTHORITY he commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him!”
Considering the incredible events that took place, there in that little synagogue that Sabbath, it is not surprising that Mark tells us that Jesus’ fame begins to spread throughout the region of Galilee from that time onwards. And the life of the disciples would never be the same again.
So, for the first time, that Sabbath Day, the question begins to be asked, “Who is this man, Jesus?” A question that has occupied the minds of countless people from that day to this! Who is this man, Jesus, and from where does he get the power, the AUTHORITY, to do what he does with such great effect?
It is the question of Jesus’ identity, and that of the source of his authority, that is approached in our verses from Mark’s Gospel. For he tells us that Jesus “Was recognised as a man who taught them as one having authority.”
What sort of ‘authority’ did Jesus have in his teaching, though? That authority that made him so remarkable, so different? For his teaching was so very different to that of the scribes, whose authority lay in their training, in their inherited knowledge, and in the power bestowed upon them by the upper hierarchy of the priests to exercise their role as religious leaders. Theirs was an authority based on knowledge and understanding – of their faith and tradition and the Scriptures that underpinned these. But it could also be said that they were as ‘slaves’ to this tradition and to the ‘inherited’ understanding of the Scriptures. They had no freedom to think for themselves about the mystery of God. They placed their faith on, and gained their authority from, their ‘inherited’ religion and through the official roles they had conferred upon them.