Mark 1:21-34

The Astonishing Authority of Jesus

There are few words that strike more fear in the hearts of modern (or is it postmodern now) people than the word authority.  The word authority perhaps conjures up in the mind images of corrupted power, a self-serving agenda, or  even overt bigotry.   To be sure we have seen many abuses of authority in our day,  but are we right to reject all authority?  There is such a thing, after all, as good authority.

The last words of King David included this very hopeful vision of authority:

When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, 4he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.      2 Samuel 23:3b-4

David says that when authority is used properly it can lead to very good results.  Like when the sun rises on a clear morning or when rain comes to water the earth.  Put simply authority used rightly can lead to human flourishing.

We see the perfect picture of authority used rightly in this passage.

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.      Mark 1:21-22

Jesus perhaps has already gained a reputation as a powerful preacher.  He shows up in Capernaum, a small town on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee that appears to be the hometown of his first disciples.  On a particular Sabbath he delivers a message in the town’s synagogue.

There are many things for which a preacher might stand out in the ears of his hearers.  Perhaps he is particularly relevant, able to speak with keen insight into the issues of the day.  Perhaps he is able to relate the passage directly to issues of the heart.  Perhaps he is known to be witty and able to use powerful illustrations to illumine the text.  Jesus likely stood out from others for many reasons but we are told here that  what most impressed the congregation in Capernaum was the authority with which he preached.  His preaching was like nothing that had ever heard.  Now certainly the scribes which they would ordinarily hear had a certain measure of authority.  They were well-educated and likely could quote extensively from different sources.  But Jesus’ preaching was different.  The people were astonished.  Jesus taught with authority.

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.”     Mark 1:23-24

Immediately there comes a test to Jesus’ authority.  A demon-possessed man who perhaps sat through the sermon or perhaps just wandered into the building calls out to Jesus.  The people were already astonished at his teaching.   But how will he handle this situation?

We are not given any details about this man who has suddenly come into the story.   We don’t know what happened in his life that he has come to be owned by an unclean spirit.  We don’t know how he felt about it all.  Was he desperate to be rid of the unclean spirit?  Was he cutoff from his family and community?

As Christians hopefully we have a high view of Jesus’ authority.  We believe he can speak into even the most desperate of situations.  And while this might be the confession of our mouths it is not always the pattern of our lives.  We can easily slip into hopelessness as we think about certain “big” problems.

Certainly demon possession falls into the category of a “big” problem.  Yes Jesus is a powerful preacher.  Yes he preaches as one with unique authority.  But could he defeat the powers of darkness?   This is the very question the demon asks of Jesus — “have you come to destroy us?”

Indeed he has.  It should not be a surprise that the first thing Jesus does after his baptism is confront Satan in the wilderness.  It should not be a surprise that as he preaches on this day he is confronted with a demon.   Jesus has come to defeat the powers of darkness.  All the way back in Genesis we read these words addressed to the serpent:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.  Genesis 3:15 

This is what theologians refer to as the protoevangelium – the first announcement of gospel. We hear all the way back in the Garden that there is one coming from the offspring of the woman who will do battle with the offspring of the serpent.  The offspring of the woman has arrived.  His name is Jesus.  And though Satan will strike at his heel, he will have the victory because Jesus will crush his head.   Through his death and resurrection Jesus would deliver the final blow to Satan.

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.  Mark 1:25-26

Jesus exercises his authority even over the powers of darkness.  He commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man.  And the unclean spirit obeys.

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.” 28And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.     Mark 1:27-28

If the people had reason to be astonished at his authority simply by listening to what he had to say, certainly they were full of even more reasons after watching what he did. The people are amazed.  They are not sure what to think and ask among themselves – “What is this?”

29And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.    Mark 1:29-31

After a long morning of preaching and demon-casting Jesus and his disciples enter Simon and Andrew’s house presumably to rest and eat.  We are told Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever.  If encountering a man with a demon falls into the category of “big”problems, this falls more into  the category of “everyday” problems.

If we doubt Jesus’ ability to address the “big” problems of our life, we sometimes forget his ability to address the “everyday” problems.

Jesus takes her by the hand and she is healed.  Jesus has authority not only over the big problems but the everyday problems as well.

32That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.     Mark 1:32-34

Indeed Jesus’ fame has spread.  He has come to town, his power and authority have become known, and apparently people must go see him for themselves.  This is a difficult scene to picture.  It’s nighttime.  The sick and demon oppressed  have arrived at the feet of Jesus.  In fact we are told the “whole city” has gathered outside Simon’s door.  And Jesus continues to minister to them exercising his good and right authority to heal the sick and free the oppressed.

Jesus, however, does not allow the demons to speak.  He is uninterested in the testimony of demons.  Even though their testimony is truthful it does not proceed from heart of faith.


What issues are you facing in your life right now that need to be confronted with the loving authority of Jesus?  How does this passage give you hope?

Discussion Questions

  1. List the ways you see Jesus’ authority demonstrated in this passage.
  2. How does Jesus exercise authority different from other human authorities?
  3. A man with an unclean spirit (a demon) enters the synagogue. What do you suppose life was like for this man?
  4. The unclean spirit correctly identifies Jesus as the “Holy One of God” (v.24). Later in Mark’s Gospel, Peter will say to Jesus “You are the Christ (Mark 8:29).” Peter is praised for his confession while the unclean spirit in this passage is rebuked. Why do you think this is?
  5. The Bible identifies the world, the flesh, and the devil (c.f. Ephesians 2:2-3, 1 John 2:16) as enemies which continue to war against believers. What encouragement would you give to a fellow believer who is in “bondage” in one of these areas?
  6. Compare Simon’s mother-in-law and the man with unclean spirit. How are they similar? How are they different? How does Jesus respond to each?
  7. In verse 34 we are told that Jesus does not allow the demons to speak because “they knew him.” Why do you suppose this is?


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