When we think of divine authority, what kinds of images pop into our minds? If you are anything like me, you think of healings, exorcisms and other amazing things. And to be sure, the divine authority Jesus displayed included plenty of those, but Mark introduces us to the concept of divine authority in this story about Jesus worshiping in the synagogue.
These next few verses present us with a literal “day in the life” of Jesus and the disciples. Mark tells us that the first thing he does on this day (“immediately”) is go to synagogue. Over and over we will find Jesus sitting with the collection of common people worshiping their God with them in their house of worship. Though he has come as their Messiah and the completion of their hopes and desires, he never disparages their worship. In reality, he is an active part of it. I love this little fact—Jesus went to church.
When Jesus begins to teach, the people quickly learn that his teaching is different in kind from the teaching they are accustomed to. And they are used to teaching. Every week their Rabbis and scribes would open the Scriptures and teach the people. This week, Jesus does the same and the people know something different is happening. Before we get to any of the spectacular stuff, Jesus teaches the people and they recognize the divine authority contained in what he is saying.
Mark’s first example of divine authority is the accurate and faithful exposition of Scripture. And for a book that contains the smallest amount of actual teaching, the act of teaching carries enormous weight. In 2:2, before the paralytic is healed, Jesus is teaching the people. In 2:13, before he calls Levi, he is found teaching. In 6:2, Jesus is rejected by his hometown because of his teaching. Then, when they run him out, he goes through the surrounding villages teaching. And so the story goes in Mark. Almost every time, the act of miracle working is set up by the teaching. Divine authority begins with the divine Word of God.
The next event in the story is what we may typically consider an expression of divine authority. Jesus frees a man of his demonic possession. The coming of the Kingdom of God comes with radical freedom and the power of God to do things these people had never seen done before. In fact, when they see the man freed of the demonic spirit, they exclaim:
“What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” (vs. 27)
Jesus received exactly the reaction he intended. The people heard the teaching of the Kingdom of God and beheld a miracle and their response was shock at the power in the teaching. Instead of creating a group of people who see only the wild and follow only a miracle worker, Jesus properly prepared their hearts and minds by teaching them first.
Where does divine authority—the power of God—begin in my life? It begins with the Scriptures and the life transforming truths of the Kingdom of God. Then, when God reaches down and the miraculous happens, we know exactly where to give the glory.