The Authority of Jesus

(Mark 1:21-28)

When Jesus had called the disciples he went from Galilee into Capernaum and taught the people. On a Sabbath as he stood and taught in the synagogue the people were astonished for he taught them as one who had authority. In this section of Mark we see the beginning of the authority of Jesus.

The people noted that Jesus did not teach them like the scribes taught, but taught with authority. The scribes had a position of authority and yet the people discerned a different style of teaching coming from Jesus compared to the scribes. This is interesting for it shows a significant change. The Greek word translated here as “authority” has the sense of: power, force, mastery, competence and strength. This was how Jesus taught the people, as one who was master and competent to teach these things.

By contrast the scribes did not teach with power and authority. They taught the people by giving them the words but no explanation. They provided information but did not give answers. In another place Jesus speaks of the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees saying, “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” (Matthew 23:4) Jesus also branded the lawyers in this same way in the Luke 11:45 version of this event. The way they taught the people was to put them into bondage whereas Jesus taught them how to be free. The scribes and Pharisees were the keepers of the law and charged with teaching the people. Jesus said for the people to listen to what they said, but not to do as they did for they were hypocrites. (Matthew 23:1-3)

When you consider today the way lawyers operate you can understand this teaching and why Jesus spoke of them as he did. Lawyers do not provide answers; they give opinions. If you go to a lawyer over some matter of law they will offer a range of opinions saying a matter may go one way or another. But if you want a decision in the matter you need to go before a judge or a magistrate to get a decision. The lawyer will provide arguments to justify a course of action, but there will be opposing lawyers who will offer an alternative course of action, but neither group of lawyers will offer an answer.

In the same way the scribes, lawyers and Pharisees of Jesus time were not offering the people answers. They had the law, which was quite clear, but they confused it and made it complex by adding their own traditions and interpretations. Look at what Jesus said about their teachings in Mark 7:7-13;

7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.”
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!
10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die’;
11 but you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God) —
12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother,
13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do.”

They mixed their man-made traditions with the word of God and negated the law through their false teaching. Is it any wonder the people were confused and that in Jesus they saw someone who taught with authority for his teachings were truth.

We also see evidence of his power and authority in this same section. A man with an unclean spirit was in the synagogue and the demons in the man recognised Jesus and his power and authority. They spoke to Jesus saying, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (Verse 24) Jesus rebuked the demons telling them to be silent and to come out of the man, which they did. This was clear evidence of the authority of Jesus for the people questioned and wondered about his teaching, as they had never seen anyone do the things he did before.

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:20) So we can confidently go to him and find the truth if we are prepared to look. He has promised that if we seek his truth we will find it for he will show it to us.

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