In last week’s Gospel we heard Jesus calling the first disciples and I spoke about how Jesus calls each one of us. I invited you to reflect on the “follow me” moments in your own lives. This week’s Gospel is very challenging. Jesus continues his ministry  and our attention is directed towards two themes: authority and spiritual warfare. Both challenging topics at this time in today’s world.

The Oxford dictionary defines authority as “The power or right to give orders, make decisions and enforce obedience; the right to act in a specified way, delegated from one person or organization to another;  official permission or sanction; a person or organization having power or control in a particular, typically political or administrative sphere; the power to influence others, especially because of one’s commanding manner or one’s recognised knowledge about something.”  Some people have an innate authority, something that is just “in them”, natural leadership and power to influence, often from a very early age. Many people today are suspicious of authority, rebel against authority, or don’t accept the authority of a particular person, often with very good reason.

Today’s Gospel passage tells us that Jesus taught with authority. As an observant Jew, he would have attended Synagogue on the Sabbath but the passage tells us that on this occasion, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and “all were astonished”. Why? Because they somehow recognised his authority to teach. Not amazed but astonished. To be amazed is to be entertained with something better than what you could do. To be astonished is to be floored by what you never thought anyone could do.

The congregation in Capernaum noticed a difference between Jesus and every other teacher. In those days, the leaders of the synagogues were primarily administrators, not teachers. So each Sabbath day, they would identify someone who could read and comment on the Scriptures. And in a primarily illiterate society like theirs, sometimes the only qualification needed was the ability to read. You can imagine, then, that many of these teachers didn’t have personal authority. Every now and then, though, the synagogue would host a legitimate teacher, a scribe. But even those scribes taught not with personal authority but with second-hand theology. Their teaching was comprised of quotations. “rabbi so and so said this.” And rabbi so and so said that…”

But Jesus didn’t rely on other teachers. He had no quotes. Again and again in the gospels, Jesus says, “You’ve heard that it was said…but I say to you.” He spoke with firsthand authority. When Jesus spoke, he spoke as the author of the words, but more than that, as the author of the truth he spoke. He didn’t just clarify something that they already knew, or simply interpret the Scriptures in the way the teachers of the law did. His listeners sensed somehow that he was explaining the story of their lives as the author, and it left them astonished. So when we hear the teaching of Jesus, we encounter the author of life itself. As Jesus spoke in the synagogue, he spoke as the author of their very experience! His authority reached far beyond the pulpit; it reached their hearts. He knew what was going on inside each of them.

And inside one of them was something far more than appeared on the surface. There was evil lurking. The unclean spirit had seized control of the man. His personality was affected by this demonic presence. He cried out, resistant and defiant, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? I know who you are—the Holy One of God. The demon wants Jesus to go away and leave him alone. He’s not asking as much as he’s proclaiming. He’s saying, “You have nothing to do with us, and I have nothing to do with you. Go away, Jesus!” He treats Jesus as an invader in this world that for so long was controlled by Satan and his minions. But Jesus is not the invader, the demons are. Jesus is coming to reclaim his people in the fullness of time.

And what about the man who was possessed by the demon? He was healed, proving that Jesus’ authority wasn’t just a claim. He actually had the power he said he had. The kingdom of God truly was at hand. No one else could drive the unclean spirit away. No one else had the authority of Jesus.

Jesus’ authority isn’t distant; Jesus doesn’t only have authority over the world in some general sense, he has authority over each of our hearts in a very personal sense. Whatever mistakes we’ve made in our lives, here’s the Gospel truth: Jesus came to save sinners. He has authority to heal you! Whatever is wounded or broken in you, whatever sin you struggle with, whatever is lost, Jesus wants to heal you.

Martin Luther said it this way “The life of Christianity consists in possessive pronouns.” It’s one thing to say, “Christ is Lord.” It’s another to say,” Christ is my Lord.” What do you say?

They were all amazed. The “all” is emphasized. No one in that synagogue was unimpressed. “What is this?” they asked. Even the unclean spirits obey. The word “even” there tells us it was more than just the teaching that caught their attention. It was what the teaching accomplished that was so remarkable. To teach as Jesus did was impressive. But what was more impressive was that even the demons could not resist him. Jesus’ teaching had an effect.

Not all authority is worthy of respect, however, so let’s conclude by looking at how Jesus acts throughout this passage. He takes his newly-called disciples into the synagogue. He opens the Scripture and begins teaching. He speaks words of life, not from the mouths of others but out of his own mouth, as the author of it all. When the demon opposed him he could have destroyed the whole person but he didn’t do that; he cast the demon out and healed the man. He could have boasted about his own power and raised himself up the ranks of the Jewish social order. But instead he went away quietly. His fame grew because of his undeniable authority, but he didn’t use his authority to lord it over others. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

We have nothing to fear in the authority of Jesus. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, and he uses it only for our good.

If my salvation was dependent on me getting everything right, I would never make it. But it’s not dependent on me. It’s dependent on Jesus. Jesus has authority over me. And he has authority over you, too.

When you can’t seem to get any better, Jesus has authority to save you from yourself.

When you fall into the trap of temptation, Jesus has authority to set you free from darkness.

When your heart is broken, he has the authority to bind it up again.

When you feel hopeless and in despair, he has authority to put hope deep in your heart

He has authority to make your restless soul still.

And when you fall into the sleep of death someday in the future,  he has authority to raise you up again.

Jesus has the authority to fix everything in the deepest part of your being and no one can stop him. There is so much to be afraid of in this world. But the authoritative Jesus says to us all, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.”  Amen.