Authoritative word Mark 1:21 28
President Eisenhower once said ‘Farming looks mighty easy when your plough is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.’ And the famous Lutheran pastor, who was shot by the SS for attempting to assassinate Hitler said ‘It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others.’ We love to hear quotes from important people. This is because words have power when people in authority speak. We listen to them and act on what they say because of the authority of the person saying them
When a doctor says ‘you are very sick, we instinctively respond and believe exactly what the doctor says; even when we don’t feel sick! We don’t know why or how we got sick. We just believe what the doctor says, because his words have authority. Words of authority bring about change and they bring about action; we want to be healed. Perhaps you know other examples, like the words of a parent or even a judge. It is a fact that words and authority combine into action and are change agents.
Mark records an incident in Jesus ministry when his words and authority came together as a change agent to bring about action. Listen again to what happened when Jesus spoke. ‘When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried 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!”
Jesus spoke and things happen. Instantly, people recognise Jesus as someone who has authority; someone who knows what he is talking about and embodies his teaching. His words spoke to their heart and conscience; they are amazed at how his words moved them and acted upon them. Yet they, like us, should not have been surprised at this, after all, the prophet Isaiah says this about God’s word ‘As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, … so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’
Yet, just as in Jesus day, so it is today, many people do not want to hear God’s word. Even many Christians fail to understand the spiritual importance of hearing God’s word. Perhaps you have been told the bible is just words on a page; a message and nothing more. I once had a person tell me ‘why should I go to church, the message is all ways going to be the same. Jesus is always going to rise from the grave; I’ve heard it, nothing’s going to change, I agree with it, so why go?’
Why go to church if the message never changes? Perhaps we all think this at times, why go to church, nothing changes? That would be true, if God’s word was only a message on a page, but its not. God’s word has power and authority, as Jesus says ‘my words are Spirit and they are life.’ What if that man with the evil spirit chose not to come and hear Jesus, would he have known he had an evil spirit? Would he have been healed? Do you think he knew? Do you think the others sitting around him that day knew of the spirit with in him? Of course not. As he listened, Jesus’ words had an effect on him. They revealed the sin, removed it and restored this man’s soul; Jesus words and authority are change agents.
As you and I sit hear, listening to God’s word, none of us can fully know and understand just what action and effect his word is having upon us, just like that man with the evil spirit. God has not given us the privilege of having spiritual eyes to see into our heart, only he can do this, as the psalmist pleads ‘search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.’ His word will reveal the evil and sin hidden within us, or remind us of the sins we try and hide deep within us.
This action of God, where his word convicts us of sin and evil, Luther called the ‘foreign work of God, or his alien work’. It is where, Luther said, he speaks a word of law and demands an account of what we have done. It is where he says ‘have you served other God’s?’ Have you taken part in violence? Do you hold bitterness and anger or partake in wrong sexual acts, all of which attract evil spirits? It is where he makes us realise we are sick and in need of a physician, as he says in Matthew 9:12 ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’ The words of Jesus combine with his authority, as change agents, to reveal and deal with the sin in our lives.
However, we dare not stop there! A doctor doesn’t just diagnose and say ‘you are sick’, then send you on your way. No, a doctor will immediately say what needs to happen in order for you to be cured; he begins to heal you. In the same way, God’s word doesn’t stop at its alien work, its work of revealing sin, it also heals and restores. Jesus said sternly to the man, well, actually to the evil spirit ‘”Be quiet!” “Come out of him!” The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.’ Jesus’ words combined with his authority as change agents and effected change upon this man’s life; he was healed and restored as a child of God.
This action of the God’s word Luther called God’s ‘proper work’. The proper work of God’s word is to save and restore; to sanctify and bless, just as a doctor’s proper work is not to diagnose but to heal. And God does this through the gospel; the word of good news. St Paul points this out saying ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.’ The gospel is the word of God which declares you right before him; that your sins are forgiven, you are healed and a child of God, because of the atoning death of Jesus on the cross for yours and my sin.
The proper work of God, his healing word, comes to you and me as a change agent through what the church calls sacraments. It is where God has promised to heal you and give you grace, mercy and forgiveness. The proper work of God, the pure gospel happens in and through baptism and Holy Communion. In these, the word and authority of God are change agents, which declare you forgiven, because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Many call the sacrament of baptism and Holy Communion, the medicine of eternal life. We are given them as a doctor gives his patients medicine.
Just as the simple words of Jesus ‘come out!’, sent the evil spirit from the man, Jesus word to you and me, ‘your sins are forgiven’, combined with the water’s of baptism or as we partake in his body and blood in the bread and wine in Holy Communion, send the devil flying. He has no power over us. This is the living and active word of God that is a change agent in our life and this is why we continue to come to church and this is why we hear and read God’s word in our homes.
To sum up, let me finish with a quote from John Kleinig, an OT lecturer at Australian Lutheran College, in a book by called ‘Grace upon grace’. Dr John writes
‘The power of Jesus [word]does not just apply to what happened in Capernaum. It applies equally, and perhaps even more fully now in the light of Easter, to us and our situation. All people remain in the darkness until Christ comes and teaches them his Father’s word with authority…with that word he sends Satan and his spirits packing. Everything, therefore, depends on Christ and his victory. Through his self-sacrificial death for our sins and his resurrection for our justification he has won the victory for us.’