Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’ authority’

The literary structure of Mark 1:21-28

Last week we saw how Jesus called out the first leaders for his new community – Simon, Andrew, James and John. The story of Jesus’ early ministry in Capernaum continues today with Jesus teaching and casting out a demon in their synagogue.

Let’s begin with some –


Capernaum was a fishing town. As I said before there was a booming fishing industry around the sea of Galilee as this time. It had a significant North-South trade route running through it and so it had a customs office for taxes. And there was also a small Roman garrison there.

Here’s a map . . .

map of Galilee

This is a picture of the 4th century synagogue, with the floor of the first century synagogue under it, where Jesus was teaching and ministering in our story today.

Capernaum Synagogue


Let’s look at our story –

Mark 1:21-28

21And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.

Jesus and his new disciples come into the city and are attending the weekly worship service at the synagogue. Jesus must have taught enough that the local synagogue leader had heard of him and asked him to teach, as was the custom to do with traveling teachers.

Mark doesn’t tell us what he taught. We know it had something to do with his basic message in chapter 1:15 – “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” And it would probably depend on what the Scripture reading was in the synagogue service that day (Luke 4:17ff).

Mark’s focus isn’t on what he taught, but how he taught – “as one who had authority.” The scribes taught based on citing tradition and various teaching authorities. So and so said this and so and so said that. Their authority came from being a scholar and they simply placed their opinion alongside others in expounding on the Law.

Jesus taught based on his own authority as Messiah and Son of God. Perhaps a part of his teaching here is like what we find in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, where he says several times, “you have heard that it was said to those of old. . ., but I say to you . . .” – and then he clarified and raised the standard of Old Testament teaching.

Jesus spoke clearly and authoritatively about God’s will to the people. As he said in Matthew 7:24, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them . . .” will make it through the final judgment. His words determined one’s eternal destiny.

The result of his teaching was that they were “astonished”; it blew them away.

Well, if Jesus’ authority in comparison to the scribes stood out to his audience, certainly his authority, or as it can also be translated “power” stands out in the next episode in relation to demons.

23And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24“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.”

An unclean spirit is another way of saying “demon” (e.g. Mark 5:2; 15) Demons are spirits that are in rebellion against God and under the dominion of Satan (3:22-23). Paul, referencing Deuteronomy 32:17 (also Psalm 106:37) tells us that demons are the spirits behind the idols that pagans worship (1 Corinthians 10:20-21).

It’s unclean in that it’s contaminated by sin and evil and thus it makes the man unclean. Here the spirit has control of the man so that it speaks through him.

Now we want to avoid two extremes in talking about demons. The first is saying that demons don’t exist because in our culture we only believe what we see. The second is  thinking that demons are behind every bush; that they’re the cause of anything that’s bad.

Let me give you an example in relation to the second extreme. Scripture tells us that demons can cause physical problems – being deaf or unable to speak. But not all such physical problems are related to demons. And Jesus heals people in numerous cases, where there’s no exorcism involved. The key is that when a demon is involved, it means there’s a personal, destructive, supernatural force at work. And this force has to be dealt with for the symptoms to be resolved.

The demon asks, “What have you to do with us?” This comes from a Hebrew idiom. (Literally, “What to us and to you.” It is used several times in Scripture). It means ‘what business do we have with each other?’ Or even, ‘get out of my face.’

Notice that this demon speaks for his comrades too. “Have you come to destroy us?” It’s threatened and defensive. And it should be, because it knows who Jesus is. All the demons know who he is (1:34) since they are from the Spirit world. And though they cause people to fear, Jesus causes them to fear.

The title “holy one of God” is likely the same as saying, “the Son of God,” which is what the other demons in Mark call Jesus (3:11; 5:7).

25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.

Jesus’ authority stands out here. Others at times cast out demons (9:38). But not like this. They relied on magic, incantations and spells. Or they prayed to God who acted for them. Jesus casts out the demon with a simple command. Not even a prayer to God. And there’s really no struggle. Jesus speaks and the demon has to obey, even though it tries to resist.

Why silence the demon??? It’s not that what they say is wrong. Mark expects us as readers to take into account what they say, because demons do know who he is (1:34). It’s that Jesus wants to reveal the fullness of who he is in his own time and in his own way.

In terms of the bigger picture and in answer to the demon’s question – Jesus has come to defeat and destroy them. Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God has come with his coming – and wherever it comes there is a clash with the kingdom of Satan. And so here we see, right at the beginning of his ministry (and will continue to see) that God’s kingdom will win this war.

27And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

The people recognize that this is really different. And they are amazed. What’s going on? A new teaching backed up by a demonstration of God’s power through Jesus in the casting out of a demon. Here is someone who speak with God’s authority, clearly, about God’s will. And backs it up with actions that show that God is working powerfully through him.

28And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

 Jesus becomes a celebrity. As we will see, crowds begin to swamp him.

As we will also see later, just because people are amazed by Jesus doesn’t mean that they believe in him or accept his message “to repent and believe the good news.” In fact, many of these same people will turn on him and reject him (Matthew 11:23-24).

And isn’t this true today? Many are amazed by Jesus in various ways, but never give their life to him. Jesus is popular; he’s famous, but no one does what he says or trusts in him with their very lives. Being amazed and believing in him and obeying him are quite different things.

Let me end by sharing –

Two truths

 – I want you to take with you and put into practice.

Jesus speaks clearly and authoritatively to us about God’s will for our lives. He teaches us how to live.

And as the crowd said, it’s “a new teaching.” In his teaching Jesus revealed God as God had never been revealed before. He gives us the highest and final revelation of God. It is in accord with what came before, but it goes above and beyond it.

Do you build your life based on his teaching (Matthew 7:24-27)? Or do you pick and choose what you accept? And then add in some of what this person teaches, some of what that person teaches and, of course, what you think is right?

Jesus is our teacher and authority for all of life. Build your life on his teaching. Study it. Understand it. Put it into practice.

The second truth is this – Jesus sets us free from Satan and his demons! We need not be under Satan’s power.

We see today what happens when an unclean, unholy spirit comes up against the Holy One of God – anointed with the Holy Spirit, indeed, the anointed one. Jesus wins. And he wins every time!

We can be free and we can be free of our fears of demons and all the power of evil, for Jesus not only sets us free, he protects us and cares for us. Trust in him; call out to him and he will deliver you.

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(Community sunrise service)

It is an honor to be able to share with you this morning. I want speak on a theme that I believe God has put in my heart – Jesus has overcome!

Scripture portrays three powerful enemies who oppose God and seek to destroy us.

The first is Sin. For sure, Scripture talks about sins in the plural. But it also talks about Sin, with a capital “S.” This is the power of sin personified as a tyrant.

God said to Cain in Genesis 4:7, “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you.” Jesus said in John 8:34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to Sin.” Sin is a power that comes to control and destroy our lives.

But we have good news to celebrate this morning – Jesus has overcome the power of Sin! Jesus himself was tested in every way, but without sin (Hebrews 4:15). And when he walked this earth he called all to repentance and forgiveness.

Even on the cross when he bore our sins, Sin could not overcome him, but rather his death brought about the provision for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus overcame.

And this same Jesus now sets us free from the power of Sin. Paul says in Romans 6:17-18, “thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart . . . having been set free from sin . . ..”And although Jesus tells us in John 8:34 that all who sin are slaves of sin, he also tells us in John 8:36, “if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.”

Jesus has overcome! Can I hear you say it! “He has overcome.” What has Jesus done? “He has overcome.” He has overcome the power of Sin.

Satan is another powerful enemy. In Luke 11:21-22 Jesus describes him as a fully armed strongman who holds his captives hostage. And John tells us in 1 John 5:9, that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

But, sisters and brothers, we have good news to celebrate this morning – Jesus has overcome the power of Satan! Jesus himself did not give in to Satan’s temptations and testing, and when he walked this earth he delivered people from the power of Satan, and this was especially evident when he cast out demons.

Because of the cross, as Jesus said in John 12:31, “the ruler of this world (is) cast out.” And this should not surprise us for 1 John 3:8 tells us that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” If at the beginning of the gospel of Matthew Satan is portrayed as having authority over all the kingdoms of the world, at the end of the gospel of Matthew, after his death and resurrection, Jesus tells us, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Things are quite different – now Jesus has all the authority!

And this same Jesus now sets us free from the power of Satan. As Jesus went on to say in Luke 11, Satan may be a strong man, but Jesus is the stronger one who “attacks him and overcomes him” and sets his captives free! (v. 22). Jesus sets us free from Satan! As Paul says in Colossians 1:13, “God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”

Jesus has overcome! What has Jesus done? “He has overcome.” What has Jesus done? “He has overcome!” He has overcome the power of Satan.

The final enemy is Death. Death is also personified in Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul speaks to Death as if it were a person. And in the book of Revelation Death is the rider of the pale horse rider who comes to bring judgment (6:8). Death is a power that enslaves and destroys us.

But, brothers and sisters, we have good news to celebrate this fine Easter morning – Jesus has overcome the power of Death! Jesus himself was not under the power of Death, but as he said in John 5:26, the Father has “granted that the Son . . . have life in himself.” And when he walked this earth he healed people and raised the dead.

Even though he died on the cross for us, Death could not keep him down. After all, as Peter says in Acts 3:15, he is “the author of life.” And as h also says in Acts 2:2, “it was impossible for Jesus to be held by the power of Death.” As Hebrews 7:16 tells us, Jesus had “the power of an indestructible life.” Jesus really is, as he calls himself in Revelation 1 (17-18) “the first and the last and the living one.” Jesus truly is “the resurrection and the life,” as he himself said in John 11:25.

This same Jesus, who is life, sets us free from the power of Death. Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us that since we are flesh and blood, “Jesus himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of Death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of Death were subject to lifelong slavery.” We no longer need to fear. Jesus sets us free!. For as Jesus said in John 11:25-26, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Jesus has overcome! What has Jesus done? “He has overcome!” What has Jesus done? “He has overcome!” He has overcome the power of Death.

And if Jesus has overcome these most powerful enemies of God, he can overcome any obstacle that we face and give us freedom, and give us victory and give us God’s blessings. Jesus has overcome. And because he has overcome, we too can overcome through him.

William Higgins

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This is really a three-part sermon. My aim is to get to Mark 11:22-25, a very profound and rich teaching on prayer. But to understand these verses we need to understand the context in which they come, that is, after two stories that signify the end of the temple, God’s house of prayer.

So today we look at the first of these stories, when Jesus made a scene in the temple, found in Mark 11:15-19. And the plan is next week to look at the second one, the cursing of the fig tree, which comes right before and after this temple story. And then we will look at prayer in vs. 22-25.

We begin with –

Jesus’ prophetic act in the temple

– which is a sign of the temple’s destruction. “15And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple . . .” During his final week, Jesus and his disciples stayed at night in Bethany, and then went into the city during the day. His destination on this day was the temple in Jerusalem.

The temple consisted of the main building with a court just around it for Israelite men, and then beyond this a court for Israelite women and then beyond this, a court for the Gentiles. The latter court is where our story takes place. The entire temple mount complex was 35 acres of land, most of which was the court of the Gentiles.

“. . . and [he] began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” So in this huge area 1) Animals were being sold for sacrifice. The phrase, “those who sold and those who bought” probably has reference to various sacrificial animals (John 2:14). Those who sold pigeons are specifically mentioned. These were usually sacrifices for the poor.

2. Money was being exchanged to pay the temple tax (Exodus 30:13-16). Every adult male had to do this once a year. This is what supported the temple system. And as a part of this you had to exchange your foreign currency into the acceptable currency for the temple in that day (the Tyrian shekel, made of silver).

So this would have been really a large middle eastern bazaar/ marketplace with people making deals on animals and advertising various exchange rates for the temple tax. It would have been chaotic at a normal time of year, but with all the pilgrims in the city to celebrate Passover it must have been quite a site. According to one record, in 66 AD, just 36 years after this a quarter of a million lambs were sacrificed for Passover. That’s a lot of business going on.

Now given the size of the court of the Gentiles, and the fact that the Roman or Temple soldiers didn’t get involved, what Jesus did must have been fairly small-scale and symbolic. But this is all he needed. He brought that particular part of the temple to a standstill. People couldn’t get their sacrifices, and by turning over the money tables, the system of temple support was stopped. And Mark also tells us that “he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple” – v. 16.

In the area of the court of the Gentiles that he was in he brought everything to a halt. His point is to symbolize that soon all of this will stop. There will be no temple and thus no need for sacrifices and no need for a temple tax system. So his action here is a foreshadowing of the destruction of the temple. Something he explicitly predicts in other places (e.g. Mark 13:2). But here we are dealing with prophetic symbolism.

Jesus’ explanation. “17And he was teaching them and saying to them, ‘Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

First he quotes Isaiah 56:7 – “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” This text points out the purpose of the temple, offering up prayers to God. Jesus knew that it was necessary that sacrifices be bought and sold and that money be exchanged to pay taxes for the temple to work. But he strongly objects to this taking place in the temple precincts. And there is some evidence that this was a new practice. This was an inappropriate use of the temple and no doubt would have hindered those seeking to pray and worship, especially Gentiles since this was going on in their court.

The phrase “den of robbers” comes from Jeremiah 7:11. In this passage, Jeremiah is predicting the destruction of the first temple because of the sin of the people. They thought that just because they had a temple and came to it that they would be safe. This is why the phrase “den of robbers” or “criminals” was used. The temple was full of people who were criminals against God and others, using it for shelter as it were. Jesus is likening the people of his day to the unfaithful generation of Jeremiah’s day.

Jesus takes these two verses and sets up a contrast: The temple is supposed to be a house of prayer but it has become a safe-house for criminals – a place where people who don’t do God’s will gather. And their treating the temple like a marketplace is one indicator of their sin.

[Is Jesus also talking about economic exploitation – too much money being charged for sacrifices, too high of an exchange rate on the money? These things did take place and were complained about. But in Jeremiah the “den of robbers” doesn’t focus on economic exploitation, but on various evils – stealing, murder, adultery and idol worship. Also, Jesus is speaking not just to the sellers, but also to the buyers.]

[It is possible that Zechariah 14:21 is behind Jesus’ temple action. Isaiah 56:7 speaks specifically of what the temple is to be, future tense. Zechariah mentions also that “there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of Hosts on that day.” Perhaps when Jesus came to Jerusalem the problem is that they do not recognize the time of their visitation by the Messiah – Luke 19:41-44 (spoken just before the temple demonstration). The leaders in Jerusalem did not receive him. And so they did not act in accordance with the prophecy of Zechariah. It is a sign of their rejection of his Messianic claims.]

The reaction of the authorities to all this was to come up with a plan for Jesus’ destruction. Notice the symmetry. He indicates that the temple will be destroyed, and they plan to destroy him. “18And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.”

They most likely would have understood his symbolic action. And they would certainly have understood his criticism of them since they would have authorized the commercialization of the temple. And they would have understood his reference to Jeremiah 7:11 as an indicator that judgment and destruction was coming on the temple. And so they are afraid that he might win over the crowd so that they turn on them.

Their solution was to find a way to murder him, thus confirming Jesus’ estimation of them also as “robbers” or criminals.

“19And when evening came they went out of the city.” Jesus and his disciples went quietly back to Bethany for the night.

This was a very dramatic, high-charged encounter between Jesus and the temple authorities. And it is certainly a key part of why Jesus was eventually arrested and killed by them. And Jesus knew this going in.

Let’s end by looking at –

Some things we learn from this story

I would highlight two things for now. 1. The dire consequences of sin. I think it is hard for us to understand the importance of the temple. We live in a day and place where temples like this don’t exist anymore. But this was not only an astounding building complex, renowned in the ancient world, it had God’s name on it, and was at the center of the faith and life of the people of God.

Yet despite this, and its value, because of the sin of the people it will be destroyed. Just as before, when the first temple was destroyed – despite the people believing that God would never do that – Jesus is saying, it will happen again. And sure enough within a generation of this, this temple was destroyed by the Romans.

God doesn’t say, “well they have rebelled against me and sinned, but I won’t do anything because the consequences would be too devastating. No. Even though it causes great disruption, pain, suffering, chaos damage to the people of God, and damage to God’s name – we will reap what we sow, and our sin will find us out, and we will be judged. Don’t think that God will not act just to spare you, or his people these things.

2. Jesus’ great authority is demonstrated in this story. Again, the temple was the absolute center of the life of the people. It was the place where God’s presence was made known and where people could come to maintain their relationship with God.

And, although he quotes the Scriptures regarding the destruction of the first temple, it is he himself who gives the verdict that this temple will be destroyed. Not a thus says the Lord, not a fulfillment of prophesy, but this is what I say. He saw the sin and pronounced the judgment.

Just after this, the priests asked him, “by what authority are you doing these things?” Mark 11:28. Well, the answer is by the authority that he has God’s Son. He has authority over all things, including whether the temple survives or not.

Next time we will look at the cursing of the fig tree and New Testament teaching on the new temple.

William Higgins

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