Proof is in the Pudding: The Story of Jesus's Authority
Sermon Passage: Mark 1:14–15; 21–45 | Preached to Sovereign Grace | 04/11/2021
By Peder Kling
Encountering Jesus through Story
Every time we open Mark’s gospel in the upcoming months, we will continually be reminded of that fundamental, driving question which this gospel asks us throughout the whole story. “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?” That question is one to be reckoned with for eternity—who is he? What is he like, that we should listen to and obey his commands and promises?
We often place this question in the context of evangelism and outreach. We like to press this question upon people who don’t have this question settled, or who have decided to reject Jesus as a liar or lunatic. But do we press ourselves with this question every day, even as Christians?
Years ago, I listened to a preacher deliver a sermon where he simply walked us through Jesus’s attributes, or his characteristics—his personality traits. The sermon was one of the most powerful I’ve heard. There really was not much application in the sermon—simply, “we must press on to know Christ, the Lord”. And, with that message alone as the fullness of Christ in all his power and glory was presented, the application was clear. Jesus is that powerful, glorious, and awesome. So, repent from your petty worldliness and turn to him. It’s good to keep asking that question—“who is Jesus, and what’s it mean to me?”.
Just think of the ways our Bibles describe Jesus, both in Jesus’s own words as we find them in the gospel, but also through the words of the apostles.
Jesus himself claimed life-giving power. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” John 11:25
Or, you might recall Jesus’s claim to unchallenged authority when he said after his resurrection: “All authority has been given to me, therefore go make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18). All authority, over all nations. He claimed to be the ruler of the world in that one statement.
Jesus’s words alone are jaw-dropping. Then of course, Jesus’s apostles said of their Lord—
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (substance), and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:3)
In other words, he's God—sharing all of God’s power and glory, his love and joy and peace and wrath against sin.
Or think of what they said regarding Jesus's wisdom and knowledge—
In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:3)
Jesus is the wisdom and knowledge of God, wrapped in human flesh. We’re talking about “all wisdom and knowledge”, here. So, Jesus is omniscient. He knows everything about you, this town, this nation, this world—things past, present, and future.
And yet, even with all this knowledge about our deepest and darkest secrets, he is powerful and able to love with humility and servitude. Paul’s famous words from Philippians 2,
Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And… he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Could you imagine having all the power in the world, with all the knowledge of everyone’s sin and rebellion, and still have it within you to act in such humility and love? This is where John Piper reminds us with the words of Hosea 6:3, “Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD!”. This is an infinitely great endeavor, for the LORD is an infinitely great God whose goodness and glory will take eternity to know and enjoy.
When we open Mark’s gospel, this is the Jesus we are confronted with. That’s who we learn Jesus to be. But, the awesome thing about the gospels is that we encounter that Jesus in a uniquely powerful way.
Rooting Our Faith in Reality: Drama Gives Rise to Doctrine
In Mark’s gospel, we aren’t confronted with Jesus through doctrine statements or conclusions like what we find in Paul’s letters. We are confronted with him through story. In the gospels, we see the drama of Jesus’s life as we learn the doctrine of who Jesus is. And, that’s why I’m bringing this up as we really begin to hit the road with the story of Jesus’s public ministry in our passage. We often think Bible stories give us morality—we have an example in Jesus. Yes, but that’s not the driving point these stories want us to see. We’re meant to see Jesus in his glory, power, wisdom, and authority. To say it another way—the gospels don’t force us to ask “what would Jesus do?” (WWJD), but “who is Jesus?”.
It’s really an awesome part of how God has revealed himself to us. He doesn’t give us an abstract, head-in-the-clouds faith. Most of the Bible is written as a story, and the doctrines of our faith rise out of the drama of history—the stories. So, we’re talking about reality, here, in our faith. Jesus Christ really did walk the face of this world. He really did exercise a visible authority over demons and sicknesses and death. Today, we really do—in reality—experience sin in our own hearts and in this world. And, Jesus really did die on a cross for our sins, that he might rise again and ascend to glory, to offer us new life.
This really is important. Does it drive you crazy when people start speaking philosophical or theological abstracts to you, and they never bring it down to something you can experience or relate to? We often say of people like that, “their head is so high up in the clouds that they have no grasp of reality”. It’s really a shame—if we are like this, we really would do well to sit down and read the gospels, and encounter the personal Jesus who experienced the tensions of life that we all experience today: friends dying, demonic oppression that makes your soul feel pitch black, betrayal, false accusations, anger, temptations, sicknesses, and death. Of course, the beauty of the story is not that he experienced these things, but that he had complete control and authority over them in real scenarios that we can understand. Jesus’s authority over demons; his wisdom in tough situations; his anger against sin and the curse—it’s all there in the gospels with a powerful testimony to truth. Even truth that will compel us to worship him for eternity.
The drama informs the doctrine for Christians. That’s why the four gospels come first in our New Testaments. We don’t practice a faith of abstracts and meaningless doctrines that have no bearing in reality.
There is a C. S. Lewis quote which I have kept in my office as a way to help me not get too abstract. I’ve had it in there for years. He says,
Literature [stories] adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this it irrigates the deserts that our lives have become.
To many, abstract theology feels like a desert. But to hear the stories of Jesus which teach us the same answers to who Jesus is? That enriches and irrigates our lives with a Jesus we can understand, relate to, find comfort in, and worship.
The Story of Jesus’s Authority
So, with that, let’s consider our passage today as the story of Mark’s gospel really begins to hit the road. The theme that runs through our passage is the matter of Christ’s authority. You see that right away in verse 22—"they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority”. And then after Jesus’s first exorcism, verse 27—"What is this? A new teaching with authority!” So you might say that Jesus begins his public ministry by establishing his authority as the king.
Now, the matter of Jesus’s authority may seem abstract to many. But, we have this in the form of a real story. So, in this story we will learn about—
1. Jesus’s Authority
2. The Proof of Jesus’s Authority
3. The Power of Jesus’s Authority
4. The Motivation Behind Jesus’s Authority
1. Jesus’s Authority
When a person has authority, what about that person do you pay attention to? His appearance? His job? His character? Maybe. But more than all these, you pay attention to their words. A person with authority exercises their authority with their words. Donald Trump’s—and now, Joe Biden’s—words get parsed out and picked at, down to the syllable. People want to hear authority figures talk. It’s what drives the news.
Of course, when they talk—they talk “with authority”. Their words have a sense of finality to them, their decision or wisdom is the last word on any matter. And, with that finality, consequences hit people’s livelihoods. People get laid off, or they get raises at work. That’s what it means to speak with authority.
That’s exactly what you see in this passage when Jesus opens his mouth to teach. Verse 21 tells us that Jesus and his disciples entered Capernaum on the Sabbath, and they went into a synagogue where Jesus began to teach. Now you might lift your eyebrow at this one. It almost seems that Jesus enters a random synagogue, and they let him speak as a complete stranger. What’s happening here?
Just to get our bearings, the synagogue is the place where Jews worshipped and learned God’s word in any given local community. There would often be a lead elder who organized and ran the synagogue—although, it would be traveling scribes who would come and go as they brought their teachings with them from synagogue to synagogue. They would get regional recognition and prestige; the people would get an array of teachers. Most likely, Jesus arrived in Capernaum with a group of disciples much like the scribes would, and so the local synagogues would be eager to hear from him.
So, Jesus likely opened up a scroll and began to read from it, and explain what it means. This is when verse 22 tells us that he taught with “authority”. I love how verse 22 gets at this: “they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes”. You almost have to laugh at this, don’t you? “Authority… not as the scribes”. You might think this is a subtle jab at the scribes, wouldn’t you? What’s interesting, however, is that this was not meant to be a jab at the scribes. The scribes had authority, and they taught with authority. Only, they taught with academic authority. They would open a scroll and explain all the heady and academic possibilities of what any passage might mean. They were not seeking to present the word of God as the word of God through a message. They were seeking to offer academic insight. One pastor (R. C. Sproul) once said that “scribes were like PhDs in theology”—and, I get the impression that their words felt more like a lecture than a sermon.
Jesus, in speaking with authority, did something that distinguished him from those wise and learned scribes. He spoke with “authority and not [authority] as the scribes”. His authority was totally different. It had that finality to it, and it called people to a particular faith and repentance. Again, just few verses earlier in verse 15, we get a summary of Jesus’s message that he would have brought to a synagogue. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”. He’s not appealing to scribal authorities. He’s not offering various readings of any given passage. He’s offering that decisive, authoritative word that brings finality and real-life consequences to bear upon those who heard him in the synagogue.
Luke’s gospel actually gives us an account of Jesus speaking this way at a synagogue in Nazareth. A scroll of Isaiah was given to him, and he found the words of Isaiah 61:1–2 which state
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This is a passage about the coming kingdom of God—you know, that kingdom Jesus was referring to when he came preaching “the kingdom of God is at hand”. And Jesus’s explanation of the text, again, was with an authority “not like the scribes”. His words were simple and decisive. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. And, whether Jesus said it or not, I’m sure his call to repent and believe upon him for salvation was obvious in the room.
The authority with which Jesus assumed in his words was the authority of the Messiah who would bring God’s kingdom and promises to fruition. “The kingdom of God is at hand—the Messiah has arrived to judge his enemies and proclaim good news of salvation to his people who would receive him. So, repent and believe the gospel!”
Jesus Still Speaks Through Preaching
Now, in case we miss it, churches do not fill their pulpits with pastors who preach with the authority of the OT scribes we just learned about. An academic lecture is not a New Testament sermon. In the New Testament, Jesus continues to speak to his people through his appointed preachers who declare the word of God with the same finality and urgency that Jesus spoke with when he proclaimed the kingdom of God. You get a very clear example of this when Jesus sent Paul out as his appointed apostle. Jesus said to Paul in Acts 26:18,
"I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me."
So, that’s what Paul did. Perhaps you remember his words to the Corinthians when he said “my message [was] not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power”. That is—“the power behind my words was not my eloquent speech or wisdom, but the very Spirit of God speaking power through me”.
Do you get what that means about hearing God’s word preached? It’s hearing God’s word! It’s Jesus continuing to speak with the authority of the Savior to you today, through his appointed preacher. And Paul fully understood that. He concluded his statement to the Corinthians by saying “so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”. Let me ask you this. Do you experience the power of God when you come to worship and hear his word preached every Sunday morning? Do you experience God’s power to convict you, train you in his ways, change your affections? Or take a step back—do you expect it? Do you prepare for it? I often send emails before Sunday, telling you what passage the sermon will be from and what devotional questions you might consider as you prepare to hear God’s word in our worship service. The New Testament gives us a high view of preaching—so much that an honored phrase from church history says “the preaching of the word of God is the word of God”. You’re not listening to any mere man when you hear a sermon on Sunday morning. And, it all goes back to our passage. Jesus spoke with decisive authority about his kingdom—its judgments to avoid and its blessings to receive by faith and repentance. So also, he speaks the same word today from heaven with the same authority, through his word and Spirit.
Talk is Cheap, Proof is in the Pudding
Now, that’s Jesus’s authority. It’s expressed in the way he taught with the authority of the Messiah, not the scribes. But a man’s authority can be dashed to pieces if his authority is not backed up with results. A president who does nothing can be impeached. A CEO who talks a big talk but brings no money will lose his business. When it comes to authority—proof is in the pudding, isn’t it?
2. The Proof of Jesus’s Authority
That’s where Jesus’s miracles come in. You see, Jesus came preaching that people need to repent and believe in his gospel because “the time is fulfilled [in him], the kingdom of God is at hand”. The kingdom is the central part of his message—he’s the king, and he’s brought the kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy. Again, recall Isaiah 61—
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.
That’s the picture of the kingdom which he had in mind—and, which the Jews had in mind during Jesus’s day. Israel was poor, political captives of Roman rule. They needed the promised Messiah to come and “set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”.
Only, Jesus didn’t merely come to proclaim it. He came to demonstrate it. Jesus actually recovered the sight of the blind and brought liberty to the oppressed. It wasn’t just political, and it definitely was not theoretical. We’ll talk more about the actual miracles in our passage in a moment, but I simply want to point out the effect that these miracles had upon the people.
The effect did two things—one good, and the other bad.
The good, intended effect that the miracles had on the people is in verse 27. After Jesus cast out a demon, we are told that the people “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!”. So there, the authority is not linked to the way Jesus taught, but to the miracle Jesus performed. Verse 22 tells us that he taught with an decisive, final authority that was unlike the scribes. They were astonished at that. But now, there’s a miracle to back the man’s bold words. Jesus talks decisively about the kingdom, and now he shows everyone what the kingdom is like by performing miracles only God can perform. People understand the link. The miracles give weight to the teaching—it’s a new teaching with divine authority.
The miracles were to shine a spotlight on the teaching, not the other way around. Jesus was concerned most about his teaching. That’s very clear in verse 38 of our passage—“let us go to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out”.
But, the people got fixated on the miracles, didn’t they? They weren’t concerned about his teachings at all—even as they understood that the miracles serve to validate his teachings! That’s the second effect the miracles had on the people, and sadly it was the predominate effect. While they understood that the miracles gave authoritative weight to Jesus’s teaching, they were too excited about the miracles to care about the teaching. Verse 28 tells us that “fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” And verse 32 tells us that “at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons.”. The mention about sundown there is telling. Remember—this was the sabbath, a day of rest and restriction. The Sabbath and its restrictions would be over at sundown. So, people flocked to Jesus at the very second they were able to. Why? It wasn’t because they wanted the Messiah and his words. They wanted miracles. It’s terrifying how people could see Jesus face-to-face and not desire him, but his power.
Sadly, the same is true for many Christians today who have misplaced zeal. Many get zealous to see miracles and revivals, but they don’t pursue Jesus and his words, much less his commandments. They want revivals in the churches but they won’t go to church. They want to see miracles in their lives, but they’re sleeping with their girlfriend. Like the crowds who flocked to Jesus—they aren’t zealous for Jesus, but for his power. And, that’s all over our town if we are honest. I can’t count how many people say, “we need a revival to sweep through the churches in Williams!”—only, they themselves refuse to go to church.
So, we’ve seen that Jesus’s authority is expressed in what he said. He is the Messiah, and he brings the kingdom. So, he speaks with authority. But, proof is in the pudding. He doesn’t just speak with authority, he acts the part. He preaches a kingdom without demons or leprosy, so he shows everyone that he has authority over demons and leprosy.
Let’s now consider for a moment the power of this authority.
3. The Power of Jesus’s Authority
The first thing to notice is just how much Jesus’s power and authority was needed at the time. When Jesus arrived, Israel was infiltrated with enemies—spiritual and physical. Sickness and disease are everywhere. Demonic possession was common. Things were bad. Israel was supposed to be a place of God’s blessing, yet it was a wasteland of the curse. Just to understand how bad things were, here’s a question for you. Can you think of any stories of people being possessed by demons in the Old Testament? It’s incredibly rare. Yet, our passage tells us that there was a demon-possessed man in the synagogue!
Nevertheless, Jesus’s authority comes with a power that shakes demons and sickness to the core. The demon cries out to Jesus in verse 24, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”. The demons knew who Jesus was, and they knew what he was capable of.
And of course, the rest of the verses in our passage remind us that Jesus’s authority has power over sicknesses, diseases, and leprosy. Even when Israel was riddled with curse, Jesus’s word and power brought light into the darkness. Pretty soon, Jesus would even be claiming authority to forgive sins.
It’s amazing what happens when God’s word comes to his people, isn’t it? Israel was destitute of God’s word for 400 years before Jesus arrived. Then Jesus came as God’s word in the flesh, speaking light into the darkness with authority. And so in more recent history—you might consider the time before the reformation. The Catholic church made it impossible for the layman to read Scripture, and the doctrines of Christ and salvation by grace through faith alone were eclipsed by oppressive teaching. Yet in his providence, God returned his word through certain reformers, and revival broke out across Europe in powerful ways. John Calvin of Geneva Switzerland had a unique role in this. Geneva had certain freedoms from Rome which allowed it Calvin to be a safe haven of the gospel. People from all over Europe came to learn under him—as far as Scottland. Inscribed on the inside wall of his church were the word post tennibris, lux, meaning, “after darkness, light”. Why would Calvin be so moved to say this? God’s word was recovered, and on the move.
The power of Jesus’s word and authority is unmatched—demons, sickness, and diseases tremble at his word. Perhaps you’re feeling the curse in a very tangible, oppressive, personal way. Jesus is still speaking through his word and spirit. When God speaks, there’s hope!
But the power of Jesus’s authority goes deeper than demons and physical ailments. The demon in verse 23 of our passage is introduced to us as an “unclean spirit”—not a “demon”. So, an “unclean spirit” highlights the religious and social effects a demon possession would have upon a person. It makes you unclean.
And again, the story of the leper at the end of our passage. The leper doesn’t ask Jesus to heal him, but—“if you will, you can make me clean.” He did.
But more than simply healing the leper—he was establishing the depth of his power and authority. A number of things are going on in this healing.
First, notice that Jesus touched the leper. Usually, that would make Jesus unclean. Instead, Jesus’s touch made the leper clean! Jesus’s power and authority surpass the cleansing laws.
Second, Jesus declares the man clean—a job reserved for the priests after a lengthy ceremony. However, Jesus is a better priest. A simple word suffices!
Third, the man did not need to go to the temple to be cleansed. He went to Jesus. So, Jesus is the new temple of god’s blessing and presence.
All this to say—the power of Jesus’s authority overcomes all effects of the curse—whether its religious, social, spiritual, or physical. The kingdom of God has come in the person of Jesus Christ. Who is Jesus? A priest who forgives sins, a temple wherein God dwells bodily, and a power who heals exhaustively. Repent and believe in Jesus the king.
So, we’ve see that Jesus’s authority is communicated through his message, and proven in his miracles. His power extends as far and wide as the kingdom of God—with power to overcome the curse. Let’s now take a quick moment to consider the motivation behind Jesus when he exercises this authority.
4. The Motivation Behind Jesus’s Authority
One subtle motivation is mentioned in verse 41. We are told that when the leper asks to be cleaned, Jesus was “moved with pity”. The KJV says “compassion”, there. But, some translations actually say that Jesus was “moved with anger” or “indignation”. The reason is because it is unclear which word the original Greek used there. But luckily for us, both words work. Jesus is compassionate—and, his compassion moves him to help and heal us. Yet, Jesus is also angry with the curse. Have you ever been angry at the thought of the innocent being hurt? Perhaps, maybe, abortion? Does that anger move you to do something about the problem? Some people have used this verse to help us understand what righteous anger does. Here, Jesus got angry and he fixed something. He healed someone. Most people get angry and they destroy things. Righteous anger can often be a motivator to do good.
So, whichever word is original is hard to say—but both words hold truth and can be helpful to us.
Now, the chief motivation behind Jesus’s authority was his loyalty to his Heavenly Father. Verse 35 tells us that Jesus rose up “very early in the morning” while it was still dark, and he departed to pray. He must have been exhausted after a long night of ministry. And, his upcoming day involved hiking ot the next town to preach more. Hiking and preaching are exhausting—take my word for it. Yet, Jesus gave up a few hours of sleep to pray. He was human, and he needed strength. He knew where strength comes from—and it’s not ultimately sleep. In the moments before he was betrayed, he would tell a few sleepy disciples “watch and pray that you do not enter temptation, the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak”. God gives strength, so why go to sleep for it? Matin Luther once said,
If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.
Business is a reason to pray, not an excuse from prayer. Jesus is an example for us, here. But he’s more than an example. Because he trusted and prayed to his father, we now can pray through his blood and righteousness, which makes our prayers acceptable before the Father.
So, that’s the story of Jesus’s authority. I could tell you that Jesus has all authority on heaven and earth—and, that he has come with a kingdom of perfect peace and righteousness. But, God knows we need the story. When you read about Jesus’s miracles—remember that they weren’t simply a merciful act to a hurting leper or demoniac. They are written down for you and me, that we might have a tangible picture of the kingdom which Jesus’s preached of. Just as Jesus restored people to social, spiritual, and physical health—he will do the same for all who trust in him for salvation. Today, because of his sacrifice for sins, we enjoy fellowship with him and with one another. But one day, we can say goodbye to all sickness and death, sin and temptation, forever. Why? He has all authority in heaven and on earth, and he exercises it for our good, and for his glory.