… with real authority

by Barry Pollard

(Based on Mark 1:21-28, I Cor 13:1-8, and Ps 111)

“The people were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority.”

Mark, in my view, is a gospeller who gets to the bottom of things quickly and doesn’t add any frills. The first chapter begins straight into the ministry of Jesus with our meeting John the Baptist, a direct pointer to the coming Messiah! When Jesus meets John the Baptist amazing things start to happen. At the point of the baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist witnesses the heavens opening and God’s voice proclaiming the authority of His Son!

Last week Pat spoke about the call from Jesus to the disciples and their willing and immediate response. Without any more than a summons – no explanation, no time period, no job description – they just dropped what they were doing and left, following this remarkable man.

And today we have heard that when Jesus began his teaching ministry the audience were amazed at what he had to say and the way he was saying it, recognising that he had a real authority – unlike other teachers! Such an authority that spirits moved at his command.

The man in the synagogue possessed by the evil spirit cried out, “Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Isn’t it interesting that the spirit named Jesus? Doesn’t that speak to the authority of our Lord? I have been pondering too the prophetic nature of the words the spirit used: Why are you interfering with us? Jesus certainly came to interfere with us. He came to put us back on the path of righteousness, to restore our relationship with God.

Going on: the spirit declares, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” Another authoritative declaration about who Jesus was. And, interestingly, as he did on a number of other occasions in his early ministry, Jesus reprimanded the spirit, commanding silence, as if the truth the spirit was speaking was not ready to be heard.

But the audience was already overcome with amazement! “What sort of new teaching is this?” they asked excitedly. “It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!” And so the news about Jesus spread quickly throughout the entire region of Galilee.

Amazing! Miraculous! Authoritative!

Authoritative with a difference.

Let’s dwell now upon the Corinthians reading: In working through an issue that the early church was grappling with, Paul states that “we all have knowledge” about issues. And while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much, if they don’t share their knowledge with love. After all, God recognises the person who loves Him.

I think this is all about disposition. It isn’t so much what we do, it is how we do it. It isn’t so much what we say, it is how we say it. Paul is pointing out that the model, the amazing authoritative model Jesus gave us, is based on love. If our focus is on a loving God, and we are trying to live a life modelled on that of Jesus, then whatever we do will have a good chance of being done in love. Whatever we say will have a good chance of being said in love.

Consider these two situations:

How do you feel when someone tells you information as if it’s gospel-truth, they are the expert, you are the dozo, and that’s all there is to it?

I rail!

On the other hand how do you feel when someone tells you information in a manner that allows you to have input, to question, to feel that you are making sense out of it all?

I love it. That’s one of the reasons I come to this church!

In the first example, I suspect the focus of the knowledgeable one, the giver of the information, is them. In the second, the focus is the receiver of the information that is being shared. The first is done without consideration of its effect. The second is done with consideration of its effect. The first, without love. The second, with love.

Paul, to the Corinthians, concluded his explanation of the detrimental effect this first approach has on others, telling us that sharing this knowledge without a loving delivery could cause major harm to “weak believers”. “But you must be careful so that your freedom [actions and behaviour] does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.” He referred to this as ‘sinning against others’. Verse 12: “And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ.”

So, the observers in the synagogue had detected a change in the way the teaching, the sharing of knowledge, was delivered. They recognised that Jesus had a new sort of authority. Nothing like they had experienced before. My understanding of the way the Pharisees and religious leaders behaved puts them very much in the ‘unloving’ model. On the other hand, Jesus, being the very epitome of love, could only teach in love.

I read an interesting thing about love in my devotional the other day. Every Day With Jesus has changed hands, so to speak, this year. Instead of the very sound teachings of Selwyn Hughes forming the bulk of the daily offerings, a new approach has been adopted by the new appointee to the role of writer, and we are now dealing with a shift away from reading Scripture to hearing his version of events and, as a self-confessed introvert who had a weird upbringing, this approach seems to be miles off course for the regular readers who have been clamouring for a return to what we all know and love. Anyway, Micah Jazz reported this from Psychology Today: ‘Love does not come with conditions, stipulations, addenda, or codes. Like the Sun, love radiates independently of our fears and desires’.

This resonated well with the ‘epitome of love’ descriptor.

The love Jesus showed was radiated independently of us. It wasn’t conditional, didn’t come with rules, had no riders attached, and didn’t have to be deciphered. Jesus came loving us. We didn’t have to ask or desire. He came to give himself entirely for our benefit. This is a thing of beauty and wonder. It marks a very special sort of authority indeed.

Biblical commentators say the Gospel of Mark has a focus on the servanthood of Jesus. So His authoritative teaching is another example to us of the way He served others, by making them the focus – how He serves us, making us the focus.

And our Psalm (Ps 111) today reinforces that authority of Jesus:

In verse 3:      Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty.

And verse 10:      Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

If everything He does reveals his glory and majesty, His teaching style is an example to us. The fact it stood out to those attending the synagogue should be no surprise.

When the Bible refers to the “fear of the Lord”, it means having a deep respect, reverence and awe for God’s power and authority. Rather than causing us to be afraid of God, a proper “fear of the Lord” leads us to love Him.

If we adopt this reverential disposition and follow in his way, then we will get the maximum benefits his Christian life offers. Although Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus was teaching that day, perhaps this was the point that Jesus was making in the synagogue, by word and action!

I close by repeating the Collect for today: Holy One of God, as healer and teacher of the faith, your words astound, and transform the lives of many. May we teach your word and be bold in our actions, so that your presence will be revealed. For you are alive and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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