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In my high school, there was a teacher we were all scared. Mr. Ang had a loud booming voice, a stern face that rarely smiled, and a thin long cane that he carried everywhere. When he passed by, even naughty students cowered in fear. During his lessons, no one uttered the smallest squeak and no one fell asleep in class. He was the school’s head of discipline. So when I think of the word “authority,” I think of Mr. Ang.
In today’s passage, Jesus is described as a person who taught with authority and who had power over demons. Before we read the passage, let us pray.
[Read Mark 1:21-28]
Jesus’ Authority, Identity, and Mission
If Jesus came to our church, can you imagine how he would preach a sermon? Mark doesn’t tell us the content or style of Jesus’s sermon in today’s passage. But Mark does tell us the response of the audience. The people who attended synagogue that day said that Jesus introduced “new teaching” with “authority”. What is this authority, exactly?
According to verse 22, the people thought Jesus had an authority that other religious teachers didn’t have. Other teachers referred to another source of authority; for example, by saying, “This is what Moses taught…” or “According to Rabbi so-and-so, this is the proper way to understand these scriptures.”
Jesus taught in a different way. When you look at Jesus’ famous Sermon of the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, this is how he taught about Moses’s law. He said, “This is what it was said [in Moses’ law], but I say to you . . .” Another example: In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 4, after reading from the book of Isaiah, Jesus proclaimed, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, when Jesus teaches from the Old Testament scriptures, he either provides his own interpretation of the scripture, or he claims that he has fulfilled one of its prophecies. Unlike most religious teachers in his time, Jesus didn’t depend on what other teachers said—he taught with his own authority.
Furthermore, he not only showed authority to teach about God but also power to drive out evil spirits. Now, there were other exorcists in Jesus’ day. They performed long, elaborate ceremonies to try and drive demons out, but they did not always succeed. Jesus, however, needed no special rituals, incantations, or holy objects. He simply said, “Be quiet!” and “Come out!” The man Jesus healed that day must have been so helpless and tormented by the evil spirit. But in the presence of Jesus, it was the demon’s turn to be helpless.
People were astonished by his power. Who on earth was this man?
This leads us to ask about Jesus’ identity. As we read a few months ago, the Gospel of Mark opens with a clear statement that Jesus is the Son of God. This identity was affirmed during Jesus’ baptism, where God the Father said, “You are my beloved son; with you, I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). And in today’s passage, this identity was affirmed through his authority to teach and power to cast out demons.
Why did God’s Son come to earth? For a holiday? No, he had a mission. Remember that in verse 15, Jesus went around Galilee announcing, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near!” The Son of God’s mission can be stated in many ways, but here are a few ways to phrase it. He came to inaugurate God’s kingdom on earth. To bring heaven to earth. To establish God’s authority on earth.
Defeating the Devil
But isn’t God already the authority over this earth? As a matter of fact, our world was under the control of the devil—though only by God’s temporary permission.
Three times in the Gospel of John, Jesus mentions someone called “the ruler of this world” or “the prince of this world”. We believe this refers to the devil. The devil, a spiritual being who rebelled against God, enticed Adam and Eve to disobey God. Ever since Adam and Eve failed to trust him, God allowed mankind to live however we please, using the gift of free will to do good or evil. And since that time, God also allowed the devil to have power over this world.
However, God also promised Eve that in the future one of her descendants will crush the one who deceived her (Genesis 3:15). Elsewhere in the Old Testament scriptures use different names for this chosen one or Messiah. He is also called the Prince of Peace; the Son who will be given authority to rule all nations; the one who releases prisoners from darkness (Isaiah 9:6, Psalm 2:8, Isaiah 61:1). Jesus claimed to fulfil those promises.
The evil spirit in Mark 1 shrieked, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” For the devil and his cronies, this incident was the beginning of the end. Jesus’ battle with the devil climaxed on the Cross. His death and resurrection—through which our sins are forgiven and we are given new life—dealt a fatal blow to the spiritual forces of darkness (Hebrews 2:14, Colossians 2:15).
But this isn’t the end of the story. Though Christ defeated evil and now sits by his Father’s throne as ruler of the earth, the kingdom of God has yet to fully come to earth. The devil still has power, though it is limited and temporary, until the time of God’s final judgment. Therefore, suffering, death, and evil are still realities in our lives. When Christ returns, he will complete his mission to bring heaven and earth together—the new heaven and earth. He will also put an end to the devil once and for all. The devil may have some power at this moment, but his eventual defeat is certain. He may currently hold the power of death. But even death will be finally defeated when God raises us up bodily one day like Jesus from his death. Until that day comes, we wait for our king to return and pray, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, come!” (1 Cor 16:22)
To summarize what I’ve said so far: Jesus’ authority is one evidence that he is the Son of God. As the Son of God, his mission is to rule as God’s appointed king on earth. He has defeated the devil through his death and resurrection.
Our Response to Jesus’ Authority
So how does this affect our lives today? I would like to suggest three responses to Jesus’ authority.
First, we have a choice to whether to accept or reject Jesus’ authority over our lives. Will we be like the fishermen we read about last month, who recognized Jesus’ authority and let him transform their lives? Or will we be like the religious leaders who rejected his claims?
Second, if we recognize Jesus as king of our lives, then we are called to live by his ways. For example, Jesus says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12,13)
Third, as God’s people we are called to join his mission to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. This is the process of God’s new creation. It is where God’s space, heaven, is finally rejoined together with our space, earth. God will restore the world as it was in Genesis before sin and death marred it, though not exactly like Eden. The book of Revelation shows a picture of the heavenly Jerusalem coming down to earth—that is God’s space and our space finally reunited (21:2).
This isn’t just an event in the distant future. It is also happening now. We are to partner with Christ to bring future events of new creation into our present reality. And new creation starts with us. The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, when we identify with Jesus through baptism, we die to our old selves, and rise again as a “new creation.”
As God’s new creation people, we bring light where there is darkness with the help of the Holy Spirit. We proclaim the good news that God has triumphed over evil. We take care of people who are suffering from poverty, illness, and injustice (Matthew 25:37-40, Micah 6:8). And if God cares for the renewal of all creation, then we too should steward God’s good earth rather than contribute to environmental decline. These are all ways to join God in bringing heaven to earth today.
So, you see, the story of the Bible isn’t over. The good news that Jesus taught isn’t just about being saved from our personal sins and entering heaven when we die. That’s only one part of the story. The bigger story is that God is renewing the world and reestablishing his kingdom on earth. That is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Everything I’ve said today may sound quite vague or theoretical to you. So let me end with an example of how God brought heaven to earth in my life. This is a story of another teacher in my high school, Mr. Jacob.
When Mr. Ang retired as head of discipline, Mr. Jacob replaced him. Mr Jacob didn’t have Mr Ang’s commanding presence, but he had other strengths. He was very approachable and kind. Of course, he had to be firm with problem students, but he also built relationships with the kids he disciplined or taught. As a result, he made a positive impact on many students.
I, too, was impacted by Mr. Jacob. When I first met him, I had just become a Christian and was from a broken family. Mr. Jacob befriended me and listened for hours as I shared about family troubles. He mentored me in my new faith. You could say that he was a spiritual father to me. Through him, I felt God’s love for me. Through his gentle advice, God helped me forgive my family. In other words, God brought healing and peace to my world. So when I think of Mr. Jacob, I see Christ working through a humble schoolteacher to make new creations.
Whoever you are, God can use you in his mission to renew the world, one small bit at a time. No matter how bad things seem in the world or in your life, know that God will restore things in his timing. Let’s be glad that we have the privilege of seeing that happen.