Warm-up: read Mark 11:27-33
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 1:27 NIV
By the grace of God I am what I am. 1 Corinthians 15:10 NIV
What a contrast.
At the outset of his ministry Jesus casts out a demon and the untaught, ignorant crowd can’t help but see the
authority in the action.
After several years of ministry and exposure to numerous healings and exorcisms and even miraculous feedings, all off the scale of even what their most prophetic ancestors experienced — and the religious leaders have to ask “By what authority do you do these things?” after Jesus overturns tables in the temple courtyard.
“Authority” is a key concept in Mark’s Gospel, finding it’s way into the unfolding story that Mark is telling some ten times before he’s finished. It’s not a warm and fuzzy word, something you can cuddle up with on a chilly night. It tends to be a bit cold and off-putting. It typically conjures up images of badges and batons and rules and regulations and…well, religious leaders who are stand-offish and restrictive.
So what a revelation to know that the word translated “authority” in these Mark passages (exousia) has this wonderful flavor of freedom, of permission, of the power to choose and move and speak and act. Authority is that which springs from an author. It is not something extrinsic that is handed to you like a badge or a certificate on the wall. It’s intrinsic, it’s what you carry in your person because of who you are. It’s a question of identity. What we say and do – whether it’s casting out a demon, cursing a fruitless tree, giving a blind man his sight, or overturning tables in the temple — ultimately radiates from the reality of who we are, of who we are being made and shaped and formed in Christ to be.
Of course, if we have no idea who that is, of who we are, of what our identity is as God’s kids, we will at best be hesitant and tentative in life and will probably never be asked by anyone, “By what authority do you do these things?”