Why is it that I am the only one who preaches here on a regular basis? Why is that the congregation not take turns to preach? It all comes down to who has authority to preach and who doesn’t. As we look at our Gospel reading, we see Jesus entering the synagogue and begin teaching. But there is one problem with this picture: Jesus does not have the authority to teach in the synagogue because He is not one of the teachers of the Law. As far as authority goes, he has as much authority as the next Jewish male to begin teaching, which is none. As Mark records for us, “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” What Jesus’ specific message was on this particular Sabbath, Mark does not tell us; he does tell us about the impression His preaching made on the worshipers. They were amazed, for Jesus did not teach as the teachers of the Law. They always appealed to the interpretations of past rabbis and were particularly adept at breaking down God’s Word into any number of legalistic regulations. Jesus instead always proclaimed the Gospel of God. He quoted no experts but proclaimed the good news on His own authority.
What did that say about the teaching of the scribes? What was at the heart of their teaching if it wasn’t the Gospel? Imagine the scribes when they heard Jesus teaching. What a humbling experience that must have been, or rather, should have been. Remember what was at the heart of their teaching: adherence to the Law in order to bring about salvation. Again, without knowing what Jesus said or taught, you can only imagine that it was not, “If you keep this law and that law, then you will be saved.” Rather, I imagine that the message of Jesus was all about the forgiveness that comes through the gracious mercy of God.
It is solely the authority of God that brings about salvation. It is not the authority of man. It surely was not the authority of the scribes and their strict adherence of the Law, or at least strict adherence in their own eyes. They were the ones who were trained to know what the Scriptures said. However, merely knowing what the Scriptures say and teaching what they say are two different things. One has the authority of man attached to it and the other has the authority of God.
It is no wonder that Jesus taught as one who had authority because He WAS the authority. As the very Son of God, everything that the Scriptures spoke of concerning the Messiah were fulfilled in Him. Every prophecy, every mention of salvation was the result of Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah.
Not only had the people gathered realized that Jesus had authority, so did a particular man with an unclean spirit. He called Jesus out on the spot, telling everyone who He was: “I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” For Jesus, the cat was out of the bag. His identity had been revealed to everyone who was there, whether He wanted it known or not. Jesus was just beginning His ministry. He had just begun to call His disciples as we remember from last week’s Gospel reading. Even there we see Jesus exercising His authority when all He has to say is “Come, follow me” and Simon, Andrew, James, and John immediately leave their boats and what they were doing to follow Jesus.
The time had not come and it was not right that the true identity of Jesus be revealed, and so He commands the demon, “Be silent, and come out of him.” As Mark records for us, the demon obeyed and left the man. Why did the demon leave the man so quickly? Why didn’t he try to put up a fight and retain his hold on this man? The answer was because Jesus had the authority and the demon did not. Jesus has all authority as He says in Matthew, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” The words which Jesus spoke were words that commanded authority. They commanded authority because they were not His own words, but they were the words of God. They were the words of promise; they were the words of forgiveness.
Those who were gathered recognized that there was something new to the teaching of Jesus. His teaching was not the same as that of the scribes and rabbis. They recognized that what He taught had authority behind it. It wasn’t made up of fluff, of things that didn’t matter. Those people had heard the Word of God and now here they were confronted with the Word of God made flesh for them. They were amazed at the authority of His words and His work. It was teaching that was focused on the Word of God, with the authority of God behind it. Why did it have the authority of God behind it? Because Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh.
This authority that Jesus Christ asserts over the demon, the authority that He uses to teach in the synagogue, the authority that He uses in performing miracles; in short, the authority that He asserts throughout His life and ministry is the authority as the very Son of God.
As Jesus speaks, we see His authority in action. As Jesus speaks, something happens. Jesus speaks to the blind and they receive sight. Jesus speaks and the lepers are cleansed. Jesus speaks and the lame walk. Jesus speaks and the thief on the cross enters paradise. Jesus speaks, “It is finished,” and your sins are forgiven. It is that blessed Word of God that has such great power and authority.
Even today, we see that authority of God’s Word at work as Gary/Jude came to the waters of Holy Baptism and was made a child of God. What was it that made this possible and earned him that forgiveness? As Luther says, “Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word, the water is plain water and no Baptism.” It is God’s Word that gives it authority.
God’s Word is the final authority. In our case, God’s Word does not cause evil spirits to come out of us. Instead, they are words with the authority to restore. Three words, “I forgive you,” from the mouth of God, dispel all gloom and sadness and bring on joy and gladness. It is joy and gladness in knowing that we have been bought by the blood of Jesus Christ, that all of our sins have been forgiven, and that we have been given life eternal with Jesus Christ. There lies true authority: authority of Jesus Christ to forgive and to make holy. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.