4th Sunday after Epiphany (B)
January 28, 2024
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel from St. Mark.
Declaration of Independence states that the people have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and to “secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The government gets its authority by the will of the people. If the government neglects its duties or attempts to destroy or eliminate these inalienable rights, the people have the right to alter or abolish it.
The authority of Jesus is another thing all together. He didn’t obtain it by the will of the people, rather it was given to Him by His Father. He says, “All authority in Heaven and Earth has been given to me.” He has true authority, and His words and deeds demonstrate that His authority is real and unmatched. His authority isn’t utilized to ensure your earthly life, liberty, and happiness. It’s used for something even greater – your eternal gifts.
Saint Mark writes, “And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” The scribes were men tasked with copying the scriptures and interpreting them. They were responsible for making sure the people knew and obeyed all the rules that made them good Jews. To instruct the listeners, they maintained a strong oral tradition of interpretation which meant they frequently quoted others: “Rabbi so and so said this. Rabbi so and so taught this.”
Jesus on the other hand didn’t quote previous rabbis or rely on the oral tradition of rules. His teaching was rooted in Himself. When Jesus taught, He taught Himself. He was present when the prophets foretold His coming. He was there when Moses predicted the coming of the greater prophet in the Old Testament reading for this morning. He was there when Abraham and David were promised the Savior would be one of their descendants. He doesn’t teach only rules, He teaches the full Word of God. He teaches the Law when we hear Him say, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” He teaches the Gospel as He points to Himself and His sacrifice for the sins of the all people.
The listeners said Jesus had a new teaching, but His teaching isn’t new! He teaches salvation by God’s grace through God-given faith, which is as old as the fallen world. But that teaching becomes encrusted by the teachings and ideas that we have to save ourselves by living perfect lives. Jesus brings back the old teaching as He reveals that He embodies the grace and truth of God. And where is that grace found most explicitly? In the cross. Jesus says, “I have authority to lay [my life] down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:18). Jesus isn’t giving rules and regulations, He gives Himself. He isn’t preaching the endless needs for choosing the right behavior, but sin and grace. His message isn’t “You need to do!” but rather “This is what I’ve done for you!” His teaching was so extraordinary that His listeners were amazed, they were dumbfounded.
His listeners hear Jesus speak with authority, now they see Him act with it. Mark writes, “Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are the Holy One of God!’” Notice his words: “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” The demons knew, they know, who Jesus is, and they’re terrified. Despite this accurate announcement of Christ’s identity, Jesus wouldn’t let the demon speak. He’s not going to take the endorsement of evil, so Jesus shuts him up. A one sentence command: “Be silent and come out of him!” Jesus authority as the Son of God couldn’t be ignored, the demon had no choice but to shut up and leave his victim alone. Mark writes, “The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” Now this is something which had never been seen before! “He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him!” This is what Satan and his angels most despise: to be put in their place, to be reminded that they never had, and never will have, true authority.
God’s powerful Word bears His authority, and where God’s Word is applied, Satan cannot be. One sentence from the mouth of God freed a man possessed by evil. In our case, God’s Word frees of our sins, frees us of our guilt and shame, and restores us. How? Through three short but powerful words, “It is finished!” Jesus speaks with all His authority to dispel all gloom and sadness of death and sin and to bring on joy and gladness. His authority is seen in His word, His deeds, and in the greatest of all places, a place where He appeared to have zero authority – on the cross. Mark says that the demon came out of the man with a loud voice. The words that Mark uses are almost exactly the same that Saint Luke uses when Jesus cries out in a loud voice: “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus achieved one of many tactical victories over Satan. In the Good Friday Gospel, Jesus triumphantly shouted His final and strategic victory over sin, death, and the devil.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, and what does He do with it? He uses it for our good. He goes to the cross. He died on your behalf. He saves your soul! And with that same authority, He rises again! He then uses that authority in your life. When you can’t seem to get any better and your illness keeps getting worse, Jesus has authority to work miracles or to give you peace in your affliction. When you fall into the trap of Satan’s temptations, Jesus has authority to set you free from darkness. When your heart is broken, He has the authority to bind it up again. When you feel hopeless and in despair, He has authority to put hope deep in your heart. He has authority to still your restless soul. And when you die, wrapped in His arms, He has authority to raise you up again. There is so much to be afraid of in this world. But the authoritative Jesus says to you, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Jesus wouldn’t let the demon have the authority to reveal His identity, He would do that when and where He chose, and He did as He exercised true authority. Not derived from the people, but from His Father and who He is as the Son of God. He comes and teaches old things of which we need to be reminded: salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. By His grace and with His authority, you get to shout with joy what the demon was forbidden to say: “I know who you are the Holy One of God!”
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen