Thursday, February 1, 2018

One With Authority

Mark 1:21-28

There is something different about Jesus. There is something astonishingly different about Jesus. The things that this man says are powerful in a way that is greater than any other teaching they have heard before. He speaks with such conviction! Such certainty! All the people of the synagogue are astonished by him. Mark frustratingly doesn’t tell us what Jesus spoke, but it is enough to strike terror in the forces of evil for an unclean spirit calls out from within its host, “Have you come to destroy us?!”

With simply a command Jesus cast the spirit out of the man with a shriek. It is quite a dramatic scene. “What is this?!” the people ask. They had never seen anything like this. This was a new teaching with authority.

Every other teacher stood on some authority other than themselves. The scribes and the Pharisees stood on the authority of the law. The law itself was where the real authority lay. They received that authority as something handed on to them. Moreover that law was authoritatively interpreted by men who came before them. The scribes belonged to different schools of interpretations, different denominations if you will, built on the teaching of well-respected Rabbis. There was the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai for instance to name the two leading systems for interpreting the law in Jesus’ day.

These were two men whose interpretation of the law was considered to have authority. If as a scribe or teacher you wanted what you taught to have credibility you would say “Hillel said,” or “Shammai said.” To accept their interpretation of the law meant carrying their yoke. In general the yoke of Hillel tended to be a lot less strict and easier to follow than that of Shammai.

The people were in essence saying, “This teacher Jesus does not teach the yoke of Shammai, Hillel, or any other interpreter of the law, he is offering a whole new teaching entirely!”

There is more though. Jesus’s teaching was more unprecedented than they were even able to articulate at that moment. Hillel and Shammai were both interpreters of the law, but Jesus spoke as if he himself was greater and more authoritative than the law itself. He spoke as if he were the lawgiver himself!

A more contemporary Rabbi, Jacob Neusner gets to the heart of Jesus’ difference with every other teacher of the law. In his book, “A Rabbi Talks with Jesus” he explains in a straightforward and unapologetic way why, if he had been in the Land of Israel in the first century, he would not have joined the circle of Jesus’ disciples.

For Neusner at the heart of Judaism is the sanctification of the world through the observance of Torah. Jesus, he says, turns the focus away from Jewish Law and ritual to himself. Jesus lifts up his own word as the word of God himself, higher even than the Torah. It is true that Jesus said he did not come to abolish the Torah but to fulfill it, but this implies that his own teaching is the perfect realization of Torah, the reality to which it points, and is therefore greater. 
As a deeply committed follower of Judaism, this is simply not a claim Neusner feels he can accept.

Christians often look to our Old Testament lesson today, Deuteronomy 18, to show that even the original law giver, Moses, understood that the message that he brought was not the final an ultimate message. There was another who was to come, one greater than himself, who would be an intercessor between God and his people.
Many Jewish commentators have insisted that this prophecy was meant to refer to a succession of prophets rather than one prophet in particular. They point out that God raised up many prophets after Moses to lead his people.

In the books of Acts, however, both Saint Peter and Saint Stephen, name Jesus as this prophet like Moses who God promised to raise up after him.
God gave the law to Israel through Moses and made a covenant with his people. Every other prophet called people to obedience to the law and foretold of the coming of Christ and the promise of a new covenant.

Only Jesus fulfilled all the promises of God. He was the one not only that Moses spoke of, but all the prophets spoke of. He speaks with the very authority of God himself!
How can we be sure that the authority that Jesus claims for himself is true? One of the ways in which Jesus’ authority is demonstrated and proved is through his mighty deeds, his miracles, healings, and especially his exorcisms.

Jesus not only spoke with powerful and compelling authority, he did things that nobody else could do. He opened the eyes of the blind, he healed the sick and the crippled, and he delivered people from the powers of evil.

Where did he get these powers? How was he able to do these things? He must be from God. Jesus spoke and God listened. God powerfully confirmed Jesus’ authority through signs and wonders, through the power of the spirit. Other teachers came in the name and the authority of men, but Christ in the Holy Spirit and with divine authority.

The evil spirits recognized his authority; they shrieked and howled because they were powerless to oppose him. Some claimed that Jesus himself was acting under the power of these spirits, but as Jesus said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” He was not an ally to these demonic powers but their greatest threat.

Jesus still to this day has authority over every power that oppresses and enslaves you. He has the power and the authority to set you free.  Fall at his feet and let him break your chains. Let him prove to you in whose authority he has come.