Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
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A Problem With Authority

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 and Mark 1:21-28

 We seem to have a love/hate relationship with authority.  On the one hand, when we are searching for answers, we crave someone who can give them to us, without any equivocation.  But on the other hand, we often refuse to heed authority.  As soon as someone says, “You must do this,” we resent it.  

 One of the places I’ve seen this at work in my life in the last few years, is that our current bishop has a habit of making things “mandatory.”  “You must be at this training event.  You must come to this meeting.  You must be at Annual Conference for the whole time.”  Even if it’s something that I was planning to do anyway, as soon as I hear, “You have to do it,” I don’t want to do it anymore!  I don’t think I’m the only one with that problem.

 I think what’s going on here is that we recognize our lost-ness.  Deep down, we know we don’t have the answers for life.  We know we need help.  But when we hear an authoritative voice, our pride gets in the way.  Pride is the root of sin.  Pride is us saying to God, “I don’t need you.  You can’t tell me what to do.  I can do it on my own.”  

 Our Scriptures today deal with the subject of authority, first from an Old Testament prophetic viewpoint, and then from Jesus’ life directly.  

 First in Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people, “God will raise up a prophet like me.  You must listen.  After all, this is what you asked for.”  When God spoke directly to the people at Mt. Sinai, they were terrified.  They said, “Can anyone hear the voice of the Living God from the heart of the fire and live?  Moses, you go and listen to God, and then come tell us and we will listen and obey.” (Deuteronomy 5:26-27).  

 A face-to-face relationship with God was too intimidating for them.  They wanted an intermediary who would hear from God and then help them to know his will.  So God gave them prophets to help them know and understand his will in their daily living.  Other ancient Near East societies had other ways of trying to know the divine will.  They would study the stars or perform various acts of divination.  But Israel was to rely on prophets who were called by God and who heard from God and who faithfully related God’s word to the people.  

 Now prophecy was not just to be accepted outright. It was to be tested.  There were tests for false prophecy.  First, anyone who prophesied in the name of a different

god was a false prophet.  Second, if they predicted something and it did not come about, then people could be assured that they had not truly heard from God.  And third, any prophecy had to be in keeping with what God had already revealed.  

 On the one hand, this word of Moses could be seen to refer to prophets in general.  God raised up many of them throughout the history of the Old Testament.  But there is a Messianic element to it.  This prophet would be “like Moses.”  And as Deuteronomy 34 said, “There hasn’t been another prophet like Moses.”  Moses spoke to God face to face.  He performed miraculous signs and wonders.  He brought in a new covenant.  Each of those points to Jesus as the fulfillment of this word.  

 When John the Baptist began his ministry, people asked him if he was “the Prophet.”  He denied it.  But Jesus claimed that this prophecy was about him (John 5:46).  Other people called him the Prophet during his life, such as in John 6:14 and 7:40.  The disciples called Jesus the Prophet after his resurrection in Acts 3:22-23 and 7:37.  

 In Mark 1, we see Jesus acting with the kind of authority we would expect from the Prophet.  

 Jesus is in Capernaum.  Capernaum was a busy fishing village on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee.  It was the home of Peter, and it became the home base of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.  

 Jesus is teaching in the synagogue.  The synagogue was the center of most Jewish religious life in this time period and afterwards.  Synagogues were started during the time of the Exile, 500 years earlier.  Cut off from Jerusalem and without a Temple, Jewish people began meeting in synagogues wherever there were at least 10 Jewish households.  They were places of worship, but mostly of teaching.  Each was led by a priest, when available, or by a “synagogue ruler,” who was basically a “lay leader.”  Children were taught there during the week, and on the Sabbath, everyone came.  Since most small synagogues had no permanent teacher, any traveling rabbi would be welcomed to preach.  At this time, there was no widespread opposition to Jesus.  Later on, he would no longer be welcomed into the synagogues.  

 People were amazed at his teaching.  He taught with authority.  The Scribes, called here the Teachers of the Law, did not teach with authority.  They tried to expand from the Law so as to be able to relate it to every conceivable situation.  But they didn’t teach from their own authority.  They were constantly quoting other rabbis and scholars

to try to build up their arguments.  Jesus taught with authority because he spoke out of his own intimate relationship with the Father.  Jesus said of himself, “I don’t speak on my own authority.  The Father who sent me gave me instructions about what to say.”  (John 12:49-50)

 That is the source of true, spiritual authority:  Hearing from God.  Authority comes from having an intimate relationship with God, hearing from God, and then faithfully relating God’s Word to others.  We talked extensively about those things in our Spiritual Leadership study last fall.  At the end of the day, authority is not about “I have the answers,” but “I know the one who has the answers, and I’m listening to him.”  

 Immediately, Jesus’ authority is put to the test.  There is in the synagogue a man afflicted by an evil spirit.  Evil spirits are “fallen angels,” spiritual beings that have rebelled against God and encourage others to rebel against him.  In the first century world, Jewish people believed there were many of them, and they filled the whole world, but especially inhabited deserts and graveyards.  

 Are evil spirits real, or just an ancient superstition?  I think they’re real.  Not that I think that every mental illness or terrible deed can be attributed to evil spirits, but some can be.  I’ve had a few experiences in my life when I was convinced that there were spiritual powers at work.  

 There were exorcists in the first century world.  But generally exorcists tried to frighten away evil spirits, or expel them by some magical means, or call on the name of a higher spirit to remove them.  Jesus does none of these things.  He simply commands the spirit to leave.  He speaks with authority because God has given him authority.  

 Real, spiritual authority flows out of a relationship with God.  It is knowing God and knowing his will that allows us to speak authoritatively.  But the other necessary ingredient to authority is humility.  Humility is required on both sides of the equation.  The one who is speaking with God’s authority must have humility, or they’ll forget that it’s God’s authority, not their own.  And the one who is listening to God’s authority must have humility if they are going to submit and listen.  

 We often say of some people that they “have a problem with authority.”  I think maybe we could say that about all people.  But I think the deeper issue is that we all have a problem with humility.  

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