, Mark says, “Jesus went into the
synagogue and began to teach” (Mark 1:21 NIV). As always when he went into the
synagogue, he amazed everyone present. Even as a boy of twelve “in the temple
courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions”
(Luke 2:46), he amazed “Everyone who heard him”—not least the teachers
themselves—with “his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). Now that he’s
a man, what amazes them—Mark says the word twice, in this brief account, for
emphasis—is not merely his knowledge about matters spiritual but his “authority.” Capernaum
Mark writes, “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1:22). Teachers of the law—that is, the experts in what he was teaching—did not teach with authority. Which makes me wonder why not.
Were they, like me, too speculative? Trying to tease out layered meanings where the answers were simple and clear?
The account of Jesus confronting a man “possessed by impure demon” that immediately follows Mark’s authority claim demonstrates—a little comically, to my mind—the difference between the rabbis’ teaching and Jesus’.
The man with the demon (or, arguably, the demon itself; it’s always hard to sort the spirit from the person in these demon possession stories) cries out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
“‘Be quiet!’” said Jesus sternly.” (That’s the part I find funny.) “‘Come out of him!’”
And with that, “The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek,” and “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him’” (Mark 1:24-27).
Jesus’ amazing authority, like the authority of the Centurion with the sick servant whom we encounter much later, amounts to his ability to get others to do what he wants them to do. He tells demons to shut up and come out, and they do. He commands others to drop everything and follow him, and they do. That’s the difference.
Something in his voice and person commanded obedience. Commands it still.