Bible Passage: Mark 1:21-28
Pastor: Pastor Berg
Sermon Date: February 4, 2011
A prisoner on death row is facing his last appeal. He sits in the courtroom just waiting. Suddenly, the door at the rear of the court flies open and in walks the sharpest dressed man he’s ever seen. He has a spring in his step, his chest is puffed out, his head is held high; he just radiates confidence. The prisoner starts to think that there’s hope after all as the man acknowledges him and walks straight up to the judge. They have a very pointed and intelligent sounding conversation. After a few seconds, he turns back and sits right next to the prisoner and opens his briefcase. This prisoner can hardly believe his luck. With a face full of hope, he asks the man, “Are you my court appointed lawyer?” The man responds, “No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”
We’ve seen the ad campaign haven’t we? Whether it’s defending a death row prisoner or performing brain surgery or taming lions or leading a jungle tour across a precarious bridge, you can do anything that normally only experts and authorities in those fields can do, as long as you stay at a Holiday Inn Express.
I don’t know about you, but just because someone decided to stay at one hotel instead of another doesn’t make them an authority in my book in any area except maybe choosing hotels. Just because your cousin had some car trouble that sounds an awful lot like what you’re having, doesn’t mean that you’d consider him to be an expert mechanic. Just because you co-worker shares with you that her sister had those same symptoms and this is what was wrong with her; that doesn’t mean that you’d consider her a medical authority qualified to diagnose and treat your symptoms. And despite the wealth of information available at our fingertips with just a keystroke or two, we still prefer to talk to someone who knows; someone who is considered an expert, someone who is an authority.
And yet, sometimes, even that isn’t enough, is it? How many people today will listen to someone perceived to be an authority simply because he has the title ‘Dr.’ before his name, or because he’s written so many books, or because his church has so many members? For someone to claim they are an authority simply because they have a lot of followers is like claiming some clip on YouTube is Oscar-worthy simply because it went viral and has millions of hits. Whether it’s Dr. Oz or Dr. Phil or Dr. Schuler, we make a big—and potentially spiritually dangerous—mistake if we think that just because someone is popular they are an authority. So how do you know then? How do you know who to listen to, who to believe? And isn’t that the question for us as we live out our lives on this earth? Is there an authority that we can listen to, that we can trust without reservation?
One day, Jesus went into the small town of Capernaum, on the northern shore of the sea of Galilee. He went into the synagogue and he began to teach the people. That’s what rabbis would do. And notice what the Bible says about his teaching: “Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. They were amazed at his teaching…” Why were the people amazed? Was it because Jesus spoke on some interesting current event? Did he make use of the latest technology and really communicate with the young people of the day? No, not those things. Why were they amazed? “Because he was teaching them as one who has authority and not as the experts in the law.” Now, what in the world does that mean? You see, God’s people were used to going to the synagogue to hear their rabbis, their teachers tell them what God wanted. Only, they would do this on the basis of what someone else said. Rabbi Gamaliel says this or Rabbi Shamei says that. We do the same things, don’t we? I can still remember when the news first broke that Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun had supposedly tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, my brother-in-law texted me the news. And of course, I didn’t believe him at first. And so I texted him back, “Who’s reporting it?” And when he wrote back, “ESPN’s Buster Olney,” my heart sank. Because he’s a respected baseball insider. He’s an authority.
Jesus, though, was completely different. He didn’t say, “Rabbi so and so says this or Rabbi so and so says that.” When he taught, he said, “Amen, amen, I say to you! I’m going to tell you something that’s going to come from me. Those other rabbis will tell you that you have to do this, that, and the other thing to have your sins forgiven. I tell you the truth, I forgive you all your sins. Those other rabbis will encourage you to believe in God. I tell you, believe in God, but believe also in me!” And as you can well imagine, the difference was noticeable. It was amazing. All those other teachers got their authority from somewhere else, from someone else. But Jesus said, “I’m the authority. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Those other rabbis would talk about the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob like he was some God of the past. But Jesus says, “ God is not a God of the past, but of the present, and he’s right here with you today. I am he.” And the people were amazed.
Are you? Are you amazed by Jesus’ authority? C.S. Lewis is perhaps most famously known for his series of novels, The Chronicles of Narnia. But what you might not know about C.S. Lewis is that he was a very committed Christian and he wrote many things with Christian themes. You can see some of that in his Narnia books. In another place, Lewis wrote that there are really only three things that we can call Jesus. We can call him a liar; we can call him a lunatic; or we can call him Lᴏʀᴅ. The one thing that you can’t call him is a good teacher. Do you see his point? Jesus said some amazingly crazy things like: “I and the Father are One. I’m the Son of God. Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up again. I forgive you all your sins on my own authority.” When someone says things like that, you get about three choices, don’t you? Either they are lying to you, or they’re better off in a mental health facility, or they’re telling the truth. Liar, lunatic, or Lᴏʀᴅ? What you can’t say about Jesus is that he’s just a good teacher, though. He never left us just that option, did he? You can’t say, “Well, I don’t believe that Jesus is true God, but he is a really good teacher.” Because, if he’s not true God, he’s lying to you.
Jesus said I am the authority and the people were amazed that he talked this way. And what was even more amazing is that he backed it up. It’s one thing to be an authority, it’s another thing to prove it. “Just then there was a man with an unclean spirit in their synagogue. It cried out, ‘What do we have to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!’” Can you imagine? They’re all sitting in church, listening to Jesus speak, when a man, fully possessed by the devil in body and spirit stands up and starts screaming at Jesus? How would he react? Would he quickly motion to the ushers to get this guy out of here? Would he stop and quietly wait and hope the man would stop screaming? How would Jesus respond in the face of Satan? “Jesus rebuked the spirit, saying, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions, and after crying out with a loud voice, it came out of him.” And just like that, the demon was gone. All it took was the stern word of Jesus and the man was freed and the demon was banished. Jesus not only spoke with authority, but he acted with authority. And what happened next? “Everyone was so amazed that they began to discuss this with each other. They said, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands the unclean spirits, and they obey him!’” This is the second time the people were amazed on that day. So it’s no wonder Mark concludes this section by saying, “News about him spread quickly through all the region of Galilee.” There was a new authority in town. The people knew it. The demons knew it. And you and I know it, don’t we. We know it. We know that Jesus is the authority. The only question left is, are we going to listen to him?
We all have those things in our lives, those authorities that dictate what we’re going to do today, tomorrow, and the rest of the week. So what’s the authority that’s driving you? And it’s easy for us to say, “It’s Jesus.” Until we do a little navel gazing and are honest with ourselves about who it was that we were listening to all week. I don’t think that any of us outwardly and intentionally worship money or power or our jobs or pleasure. But it’s amazing how quickly those things rise to the top of the list—a lot faster than they should. And what a difference those things make in the choices I make. And why is that? Perhaps it’s because the leading authority in my life is that false god that sits on the top of the pyramid, the one spelled with the letters “m” and “e.” It’s because I worship myself. It’s all about me.
Just take a look at the way we let “what’s important to me” dictate our priorities and our decisions. How many times do your spouse’s wants or your spouse’s needs come to mind first rather than what you want to do? How often do you find yourself doing what your parents asked you to do when it conflicts with what you want to do? So often, we delude ourselves into think in that what we want and feel is the most important thing in the world and then we’re upset when the world doesn’t revolve around us, because it should. I’m that important! We say that Jesus is the most important thing in our lives, but don’t you have to say with me that often times, we act just the opposite—whether it be with our time or our resources or our attitudes?
But ask yourself this: have any of those other authorities proven to really have our best interests in mind? What have they given you? Well, they’ve given me conflict with my loved ones, they’ve given me trouble at work, they’ve given me sorrow at home, they’ve given me nothing but empty pleasures that are here today and gone tomorrow. Maybe, just maybe, I should stop listening to them and start listening to the one authority who has proven himself to me again and again and again. The one who traded his throne for a manger; who traded his heaven for my hell; who traded his righteousness for my sins. And when Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning he proved that you can trust him in the face of anything, even death itself. And he did it for you. That’s an authority we can trust. That’s an authority we can follow.
Liar, lunatic, or Lᴏʀᴅ? It can only be one. Either Jesus is lying to us or he’s crazy. Or, he’s telling the truth. Everything about Jesus’ life and death and resurrection prove he’s not lying and he’s not crazy! Let’s be amazed like those in Capernaum! We know who he is! He is the Lᴏʀᴅ! He is our only true authority! AMEN