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"New" Authority?

Mark 1:21-28

Pastor Jason Zirbel

Epiphany 4
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View Associated File

Sun, Jan 29, 2012 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

Have you ever noticed how people respond to things they're not familiar with?  It's brand new, and if it's brand new to them, then it must be brand new—period.  After all, if they've never heard of it, then it must be brand new, right?  I noticed this with my seven-year old nephew the last time I was home.  He was very excited to tell me about this "new" cartoon that he likes—Tom and Jerry.  He explained how Jerry is the mouse and Tom is the cat who is always trying to catch Jerry, but things never work out for Tom.  I let him explain it, feigning excitement over this new-found joy in his life.  When I told him that Tom and Jerry's relationship sounds a lot like the Roadrunner and Coyote's, he looked at me like I was crazy.  "Who's Roadrunner and Coyote?" Of course, this sort of behavior isn't just restricted to seven-year olds and classic cartoons that were created while their grandparents were still in elementary school, watching these same cartoons when they really were new.  Unfortunately, we witness this behavior all the time in life.  If we're honest, we do it too, probably more often than we'd like to admit.

That's what I like about the Gospel lesson for this morning.  Jesus is in the local synagogue, teaching and preaching.  Even before the demon-possessed man tried to disrupt the worship service, we're told that the people were astonished at Jesus' teaching because He taught them with authority, and not like the other teachers and preachers.  And before we go any further, we need to clarify what this means.  It does NOT mean that Jesus simply was brash and bold and loud and forceful.  That would be power in action; the strongest, loudest voice commanding all the attention.  That's often what we witness today in our world.  The loudest voice calls the shots, even if the loudest voice is in the minority and flat-out wrong.  The loudest voice wins.  That's NOT what this text means when it says that Jesus taught with authority.

Authority is different from power.  Any child may have the power to change their grades with their computer, but that does not mean that they have the authority to do so.  When Jesus taught with authority, He was teaching "this is the Word of the Lord."  You see, the scribes and Pharisees didn't teach that way.  They taught in matters of opinion and conjecture.  They were more concerned about what different rabbis and commentaries had to say than with what God had to say.  A typical sermon in those days would sound more like this: "Rabbi X said this about this portion of Scripture, as did Rabbi Y.  Rabbi Z, on the other hand, wrote this in his commentary.  Let us consult yet another commentary to see what yet another rabbi had to say about these differing opinions."  Honestly, would you get anything out of such teaching?  That's not authoritative teaching.  That's simply reading over a number of different opinions.  Who's right?  Who's wrong?  Who's to say?

This is what set Christ's teaching apart from everyone else's.  "This is the Word of the Lord."  You can almost hear the people, "I've never heard that before!" I'll be honest with you: That's one of the greatest compliments you can pay a pastor.  I love to hear it, especially from you "life-long, cradle-to-grave" Lutherans who aren't too proud to admit that you've never heard certain things before.  I love to hear it, not because I taught you something radically new, but because it means that God is doing exactly what He promised, creating and sustaining faith through the hearing of His Word.  I love to hear this because it means that you actually heard the authoritative teaching of the Word of God Himself; a Word which is so often stifled nowadays in favor of differing opinions and feelings and emotions and agendas.

And that brings us to our main point today: This is God's Word.  What you see and hear and receive here today all comes to you in the stead, by the command, and with the authority of Christ Jesus Himself.  Believe it or not, but there's nothing new here.  Just because you may not have heard it before doesn't mean that it's brand-new.  It's not brand new.  Maybe you were never taught it.  Maybe you never listened.  The teaching—the doctrine of repentance and salvation by faith alone in God's grace alone because of Christ Jesus alone is not new.  In fact, this authoritative Law and Gospel message of the Word is eternal.  It's just brand-new to our sinful ears.

And that's worth noting.  Notice what the people say after Jesus heals the demon-possessed man: "A new teaching with authority."  Did you catch that?  Not a new teacher, but a new teaching.  The divine, healing authority wasn't in the messenger, but in the message!  At first glance, we see Jesus and think, "well…of course the demons responded to Jesus.  He's almighty God!" Guess what?  This sort of thinking has a real sad way of working itself into today's ministry.  "That was then.  That was with Jesus, in the flesh.  Today is different.  Jesus isn't here.  What makes you right and me wrong?  What gives you the right or say-so over me?"

In a word—authority; not my authority, but Christ's authority.  "I, as a called and ordained servant of Christ Jesus, in His stead and by His command and authority, forgive you all your sins."  I don't have the power to forgive sin.  I don't have the power to make atonement for sin—your sin, my sin, a single sin, let alone an eternity's worth of sin.  Only Christ has this power; power which He displayed on His cross when He proclaimed with all authority, "It is finished!"

My fellow redeemed: It is Christ's authority—the authority of the Word of God Himself made flesh—that confronts you in your sin, calls you to repentance, and proclaims the joy and peace of complete forgiveness to you.  "Those who hear you hear Me and hear the One who sent Me.  All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me; authority which I now bestow upon you.  Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in My authoritative name—the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you." 

Notice: We're not called to teach anything other than what Christ has commanded and taught.  "Repent!  You are that man!  You are in sin.  What you are doing is sinful in the eyes of the Lord."  That's not my opinion.  That's God's authoritative Word.  "Baptism now saves you."  That's Christ's authoritative Word.  "This is My body.  This is My blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin."  That's not my opinion or my take on a particular passage.  That's Christ's authoritative Word and promise.  Let the Word do the talking.  Let the Word work.  It is this Word, and this Word alone, that has the authority to bring about repentance and salvation.  This Word—this doctrine; this teaching—has the authority to kill and to make alive.  God keeps His promises.  His Word does not return to Him void and empty.  It accomplishes that which He purposes.

Just look around you today.  Look at all the reasons to give thanks.  We haven't done anything radically new here.  We simply let God work—Word and Sacrament ministry.  That's it!  No programs.  No gimmicks.  No smoke and mirrors and laser-light shows.  No Chuck E. Cheese games or coffee-shop goodies or rock bands.  Those things may have the power to make disciples, but disciples of what?  Those things don't have the authority to make faithful disciples of Christ.  Only His means of grace—His Word and His sacraments—have that sort of authority.  Ironically, shunning the popular models of "ministry" and simply letting God work does seem radical and new to most people, just like it was for those folks gathered in the synagogue listening to Jesus.  It's not new though; not at all.  It's just new to a world that has been blinded and corrupted by the power of sin.

My brothers and sisters in Christ: My prayer for you is that this life-giving, life-saving Word of Christ; this Word and teaching that alone has the authority to kill and to make alive—eternally, has authority over you and all that you say, think, and do.  This teaching—this Word made flesh—does great and mighty things.  Just look at all that He's done for us already.  Just look at all that He's about to do for us with His own body and blood in just a few minutes.  May your eyes and ears of faith be opened anew so that you too can behold the joy of Christ in your midst, not doing anything new or different from what He's always done—making us new and alive and complete in Him through His life-giving, life-changing Word and Sacraments.

In His name and by His authority…AMEN.

Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.

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