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The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

[Mark 1:21-28] And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And 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.”25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And 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.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.


A Teaching with Authority

“Thus says the Lord” – For centuries, prophet after prophet, sent to God’s people, would speak God’s word to the people beginning or ending with this phrase, “Thus says the Lord”. Which simply means, “This is what the Lord says.”

The point being that what they spoke was not their own message – it was not something that came from them or their thinking – but the words were God’s words.

This means, for those prophets – including Moses, and, later, men such as Elijah, Elisha, Ezekiel, Jonah, Jeremiah, Amos, Obadiah, Haggai, Malachi, and several others – what authority they had was not their authority.

They didn’t have authority as coming from them. Their only authority was in the words they spoke. Those words, being God’s Word, had all authority, over all. When the prophets spoke, they had to say, “Thus says the Lord” – they were ambassadors of another’s message.

Man after man sent by God says it – “Thus says the Lord” – This new man who has come never says it. Jesus – who is called a great prophet yet is much more – never says, “Thus says the Lord.” When Jesus speaks, the Lord is speaking. He Himself is the Lord made man.

And they – Jesus and His disciples – went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he – Jesus – entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.

Moses said, in our Old Testament reading [Deuteronomy 18:15-20], “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen.” Jesus is one like Moses, but greater. He is the Son of God who is God with God His Father – He is the same substance as His Father.

The Son of God is God with the Father from all eternity. He is also the very Word of God the Father – more than just speaking God’s Word, He is God’s Word [John 1:1-14]. And He was raised up among us from the brothers of the people of Israel by taking on flesh and being born of the virgin Mary.

When this Jesus was revealed to be the Son of God in His baptism in the Jordan River – God the Father speaking from heaven, “This is My beloved Son”, and the Holy Spirt descending on Him – immediately after, the devil attacked Him in the wilderness. Jesus prevailed.

Now, shortly after, when Jesus enters the synagogue in His disciples’ hometown, a man with a devil – “a man with an unclean spirit”, a demon – harasses Jesus, crying out with fear inspired rage, “What have you to do with us… I know who You are… Have you come to destroy us?!” 

With a word, Jesus the Lord silences the unclean spirit – “Be silent”. And, with a word, Jesus the Lord casts out this spirit – and saves the man – “Come out of him!”

The evil spirit convulses and cries but cannot successfully oppose God’s authority. It comes out of the man. The man is free. The people marvel again – “What is this?”, they say. “A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

A new teaching with authority. A new teaching that conquers the devil and frees the man.

You who were once slaves of sin, death, and the devil have been set free as servants of the living God. Now you are servants of righteousness [John 8:34-36; Romans 6:15-18]. The teaching with authority – the gospel of Jesus – has made you free.

The gospel of Jesus has forgiven your sins. The one with authority, the Lord, died a slave’s death – wrapped in your sins and slavery – in your place. The chains of your sins unto death brought Him into the agony of hell on the cross and into death and the grave.

Jesus, who has power and authority over and above all things, conquered sin, death, hell, and the devil for your sake and is risen.

The risen Jesus lives triumphantly at the Father’s right hand and is with you always – to still speak with authority to break every new attempt of the unclean spirits and to keep you free.

In other words, Jesus has saved you and continues to preserve you. Sin, death, and the devil – though they constantly try – cannot win against you if you are with Jesus. That is, if you are where His teaching with authority is still taught and heard.

That Jesus’ teaching is a teaching with authority doesn’t mean you go to a place where the preacher has an authoritative attitude. The devil can outdo that easily.

And it doesn’t mean you go to a place which has high, kingly, throne-like authority. That’s the devil’s kind of authority; he even offered it to Jesus once and Jesus declined [Matthew 4:8-10].

The authority of Jesus is the authority to forgive sin. The devil has no more grip on the forgiven person. The forgiven person has been received by God.

The power of Jesus is to create new life in this forgiven person. Whoever is in Christ “is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” [2 Corinthians 5:17]

The authority of Jesus isn’t carried out through sword and spear nor through rulers or earthly power. The authority of Jesus is carried out through the teaching of His Word.

The proclaiming, preaching, and teaching of the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus is the activity of the living, risen Jesus where His people are gathered.

Therefore, after each reading, we say, “This is the Word of the Lord”, or, “This is the Gospel of the Lord” – in other words, “Thus says the Lord.” It is not our teaching.

It is not the church’s authority. Not from us. It is the living Jesus standing among us where God’s Word is spoken, where two or three are gathered in His name.

Be where Jesus’ teaching with authority is still present for you.

And pray that those enslaved to every kind of uncleanness would enter this gathering, as that man with the unclean spirit wandered into the synagogue in today’s Gospel reading —

— and that the news of Jesus would spread, as mentioned in the end of today’s Gospel, so that many others can hear, believe, be baptized into Christ, and be set free. Amen.  



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