The Authority of the Servant
Most of you have probably heard of Robert Louis Stevenson’s story, “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the story of one man with two vastly different personalities. Dr. Jekyll is a well-known, respectable citizen, Mr. Hyde is cruel and remorseless, a perpetrator of unspeakable criminal acts. And so, even today, a person with extreme or violent mood swings is said to have a split personality and they’re sometimes characterized as a “Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde.”
There are some words in the English language that also seem to have split personalities. One of them is the word authority. On the one hand, when we’re looking for information, we seek out those who are an authority on the subject. We want to find the best most credible source of information. We look for those whose training and experience confer that authority.
For many years Dr. Ben Carson was the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. He performed the first successful separation of conjoined twins who were joined at the back of their heads. Later on, he became a professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery, and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Doctor Carson is an internationally recognized authority on neurosurgery.
On the other hand, to some people, the word authority has extremely negative connotations. I remember the slogan from the 1960s; “resist authority!” The police were referred to as “pigs.” There were demonstrations and riots on college campuses across the United States. People wore clothing with images of the Cuban revolutionary, Che Guevara, or a clenched fist. Their goal was to throw off all the restraints that established authority placed on their lives. Today, we have those who advocate for abolishing law enforcement, freeing convicted criminals, and promoting anarchy.
I will be the first to admit that authority in its varied forms has often been abused. But the problem isn’t authority; it’s our sinful human nature. Those who resist authority do so because of pride; “I know what’s best and you will not tell me otherwise.” That mindset started with Satan, was embraced by Adam and Eve, and has been part of our humanity ever since. The rejection of authority brought chaos into God’s perfectly ordered world.
As we continue our study in the Gospel of Mark, I remind you of the theme; “Jesus, the Suffering Servant.” Our text this time is Mark 1:21 to 34. The text introduces the concept of authority in relation to Jesus and His ministry. As we meditate on these verses, we will see His authority in action. I’ve titled my teaching “The Authority of the Servant.”
Listen carefully as I read this text, Mark 1:21 to 34, and see if you can pick out the specific areas where Jesus demonstrated His authority.
In this text, Jesus, the Servant, demonstrates His authority in several significant AREAS. They are–authority over definition, authority over demons, and authority over disease.
The First AREA (where we see the authority of the Servant) is,
Popular culture tells us that we can define truth as whatever we want it to be. Truth is subjective, rather than objective. So, if I want to define myself as a cat instead of a human being, then my school district must accept my truth and put a litter pan in my classroom for my use. No, I’m not making that up. It has actually happened.
The established definition of words is ignored too. Let me give you an example. On January 6, 2021, a crowd marched on the Capitol of the United States to protest what they saw as interference in a national election. The news media referred to this event as an insurrection. Was the event chaotic, ill-advised, and regrettable? Were there some bad actors in the crowd? Absolutely. Was it an insurrection? Not by any stretch of the definition or the imagination.
This battle over the authority to define meanings is present in religion too. Did you notice what the people said about Jesus’ teaching? They were astonished, amazed, and overwhelmed by His teaching because He taught from a position of authority. Evidently, His teaching was very different from the scribes, the primary religious teachers of that day. That’s what the crowd said.
The root word of authority is author. So, here you have Jesus, the author of the Word expounding on that word. Who is the most qualified to explain the meaning of what has been written, the author or the reader? The author, of course!
The scribes based their authority on the writings of the rabbis who had preceded them. They would often quote them extensively. Rather than speak the truth of Scripture they would share all possible points of interpretation, leaving their listeners unsure of what to do. Edmond Hiebert says, “Their teaching was generally “nit-picking” on the finer points of the Levitical law making it tedious, dull, and boring.” Jesus condemned them for this in Matthew 23:23 and 24.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! They had the outward details nailed down, but they missed the heart issues. They focused on appearance instead of substance.
In contrast, Jesus’ teaching was life-transforming. The crux of the issue between Jesus and the scribes was authority—who speaks for God? You may recall that after Jesus drove the merchants and moneychangers out of the Temple, the religious leaders explicitly asked Him “Who gave you this authority?” It was this battle over authority that would eventually lead to Jesus’ death on the cross.
The battle over authority continues today. There are people in positions of influence who feel at liberty to make the Scriptures say what they want them to say. Many assume that because of our technological progress and our educational advances, we somehow know better how to interpret Scripture than our predecessors. Positions of orthodoxy, embraced by the church for centuries, even millennia, are cast aside as out of date. Jesus and Paul are “reimagined” through the lens of modern intellect that’s often devoid of any presence of the Holy Spirit.
But all these attacks on the authority of Jesus and the Scriptures will fail. Jesus said in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Pastors/teachers and others given the responsibility to teach the Word must do so under the authority of Christ. He alone is qualified to reveal to us the message He wants to convey. We are not at liberty to make our own interpretations and reach our own conclusions. Jesus has authority over definition. We ignore this area of His authority at our own peril.
The Next AREA (where we see the authority of the Servant) is,
The next part of this synagogue scene shows us an important truth. The proclamation of truth often provokes a strong, negative reaction. Satan hates the truth and Jesus was proclaiming it with authority.
One of Satan’s foul, vile, unclean spirits was present in a man who was attending the synagogue, and it cried out in opposition. “Let us alone! What do we have to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth (or why do you interfere with us)? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” Did you notice the mixture of the plural and singular in this outburst? One demon seems to be speaking for them all!
The first words from the demon were “Let us alone, why do you interfere with us?” Again, the rejection of Jesus’ authority. What right do you have to interfere? Amazingly, the demon affirms Jesus’ sinlessness and His deity. The scribes who were present denied these very same things and even today many people still deny them. Jesus immediately responded to the demon, “Shut up, and come out of him.” Jesus wants no witness of truth from the demonic realm.
Immediately, the demonic spirit threw the man into convulsions and screamed out a protest; then he came out of him. Jesus demonstrated that even the powers of evil are subject to His authority. This should have been a clear sign to the scribes and other religious leaders of who Jesus really was. But later on, in an absolutely absurd accusation, they accused Him of casting out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons.
The reaction of the people was instantaneous! They responded to this miracle just like they had responded to Jesus’ earlier teaching. They were amazed, astonished, awestruck. They said to each other, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He even gives orders to demons, and they obey Him.” The scribes were interested in binding people by their petty rules, but Jesus was interested in setting people free from the power of sin and Satan. What a contrast!
I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a demon-possessed person. But I’ve definitely seen people who were under the control of evil. Their countenance, their demeanor, their speech, and their actions all gave clear indications that they had sold themselves out to Satan. It’s not a pleasant sight. But deliverance is available. Jesus has the authority over demons.
Not long ago, we received a testimony from a listener in the country of Nepal. He was a sorcerer, dabbling in the works of the kingdom of darkness. He struggled with anxiety and depression. But he came to faith in Christ through the witness of a faithful evangelist. It wasn’t primarily what the evangelist said that drew him to Jesus, it was his willingness to endure beatings and ridicule and still keep coming back to his village to share the Gospel. It was the courage and joy of this evangelist that caused this former sorcerer to seek Jesus.
Yes, Jesus still has authority over demons and the forces of evil today. We don’t need to live in fear of them or in bondage to them. Like this man in our text, we can be free!
The Final AREA (where we see the authority of the Servant) is,
As soon as Jesus and the disciples left the synagogue they went to the house of Simon Peter and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was lying in bed with a fever and so those in the household immediately told Jesus about her. Most likely her fever was severe because the demands of everyday life in the 1st century wouldn’t have given her the luxury of lying in bed just because she didn’t feel very well. She would have felt an obligation to care for her guests and would have done so despite her weakness.
Jesus demonstrated His authority over disease by going to where she was lying, taking her by the hand, and raising her up. As He did that, the fever left her. And what did she do? She reclaimed her role as hostess and served them. Many so-called “faith healers” of today claim to heal invisible ailments. Jesus healed people from serious ailments that were clearly visible.
That last sentence of verse 31 is just four words in English and three in Greek. We see Jesus’ authority over disease in this miraculous healing. I’ve had fevers at times in my life. Even after the fever breaks it takes a couple of days to get my strength and stamina back. But this was instantaneous! Immediately, she begins serving her guests.
Which reminds me of a very important truth. The reason the Suffering Servant exercises authority over definition, over demons, and over disease is so that we who live and act under His authority may serve Him and others. Everything we have by way of skills, possessions, abilities, or gifts is given to us by Him so we can serve others. By serving others we serve Him, and we demonstrate His love and compassion.
And we see, especially from verses 32 to 34, that these displays of divine authority were not flukes, they weren’t one-off experiences. The news of what Jesus did earlier in the day spread like wildfire across the village of Capernaum. Try to imagine the excited retelling of these happenings passing from person to person, people stopping each other in the street to share the latest news. It was almost too incredible to believe.
After the sun had set, and the day’s work was over, the people were free to come and see Jesus for themselves. And come they did! Mark records the whole city coming to the door of Simon Peter’s house, bringing with them the sick and demon-possessed. What Jesus had done in singular fashion earlier in the day, He now repeats many times over. No disease could stand against His power and no demon could successfully resist His authority. He simply commanded them to get out and He forbade them to speak even though they knew who He was.
We serve the same Jesus today. He still has authority over definition. We do not have the right to try and change His Word to make it suit our lifestyle. Instead, as His followers, we are obligated to bring our lifestyle into subjection to the authority of His definition of truth.
He still has authority over demons. When Jesus is present the demons must go. No demon, no habit, no addiction can keep us bound if we cry out to Him. He has the power and authority to set us free, completely free.
And He still has authority over disease. Sometimes, as in the cases we looked at today, He heals miraculously, immediately. Other times He uses the skills of the medical profession or nutritionists or herbalists to aid in the process. But ultimately, all healing comes from Him!
I must ask you, “Have you brought your life under the authority of the Servant, Jesus?” Are you experiencing deliverance from sin and healing from past hurts? If not, you can find those things today when you surrender your heart, mind, and life to His authority.
 Hiebert, D. Edmond Mark: A Portrait of the Servant. Chicago: Moody Press, 1974.