"What Gives Jesus His Authority?"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - January 29, 2006

Deuteronomy 18:14-18; Mark 1:21-28

    This morning I want to talk about what led Jesus’ listeners to believe that he taught with “authority.”  What is this unique quality that draws people to a source of authority?  What differentiates the talking heads that we hear each day?  From our experience, what has separated one pastor from another?  What causes one physician or one teacher to stand out from the rest?  Let us briefly look in three important areas that draw us to people who possess such authority.

     Serious investors in the stock market are always searching for those who know much more about investing than they do.  For example, when Warren Buffet buys stock in a company, many investors will follow his lead.  Buffet, who is currently worth 40 billion dollars, is an extremely skillful, informed investor.  He has made a lot of money for people who own shares in his company, Berkshire Hathaway.   

     Other people will watch the skill of Sergey Brin as he acquires or affiliates with companies that enhance Google, the company he co-founded.  Brin is now worth approximately 15 billions dollars.  Such enormous wealth created by a very bright young man causes others to pay attention.  He acts with an authority that will be noticed.             

     In college basketball, high school athletes at one time were attracted to UCLA where John Wooden was the coach.  Like a magnet Wooden attracted the best talent for all five positions of his basketball teams.   Today, high school athletes hope to be noticed by the scouts representing coaches such as Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski. These coaches carry themselves with an authority that is well respected by most admirers of college basketball.         

     If we are facing a very serious surgical procedure for a rather rare condition, we will gravitate toward a physician who is a specialist in treating what has invaded our body.  We will fly to University Hospital in Houston, Texas, Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York or the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to find the one-of-a-kind surgeon who operates with authority.  We seek these people because investments, sports and health are important to the quality of our lives.  

     The authority that Jesus brings to life, however, is much different from all the rest I have mentioned.  He taught his listeners that where their treasure was, there would their hearts be also.  He taught guidance for people searching for meaning and purpose while living amidst the chaos represented by a world that never stops changing. Jesus’ authority governs a world no one can see.  That world governs how we perceive and the spirit by which we live.  

     The arena of human Spirituality, however, is still confusing and shrouded in mystery because its message for centuries has remained the intellectual property of various religious groups.  Since the fundamental beliefs found in many religious bodies have only a few areas of common agreement, many have professed little interest in encouraging the development of a diverse world community.     

     The concepts of change and growth are almost unheard of in religious groups.  People do not like adjusting or tinkering with what they believe has come from God.  If each religion claims to own a piece of God’s inspiration, which belief system will blink first?  Which one will be the first to open its doors to honest and sincere dialogue with humankind in every culture and nationality?   

     We have to believe that God is far from finished revealing Divine will for humanity. There is a lot more that all religions must achieve if they are to remain relevant in the future of humankind.  The truth may be that what Jesus brought has been missed by all of them, including Christianity. 

     Our lesson for today described a scene that would etch itself in people’s minds for the rest of their lives.  “Just then a man with an evil spirit came into the synagogue and screamed, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Are you here to destroy us?  I know who you are.  You are God’s holy messenger.’   Jesus ordered the spirit, ‘Be quiet and come out of the man!’   The evil spirit shook the man hard, gave a loud scream and came out of him.” (Mark 1:23f)

     Those who witnessed this event were amazed.  They said, “What is this?  Is this some kind of new teaching?  This man has authority to give orders to the evil spirits and they obey him!”   Then our lesson concludes with these words, “The news about Jesus spread quickly everywhere in the province of Galilee.”  If we could add a few words to our lesson, we might add, “and eventually throughout the world. 

     If we translate this story so that it has meaning for our lives, we might better understand the authority that Jesus has over all human life.  For example, how many times have we found ourselves knowing that we should love our enemy and we cannot?  How often do we allow the same person to hurt us over and over again and we appear powerless to do anything about it?  How many of us go from job to job unable to understand why within six months, our dislike returns for what we are asked to do?  How many of us go from partner to partner in relationships because we detect certain flaws with which we imagine we cannot live?  How many of us cannot control our spending habits and we grow content to make the minimum payment on each of our six credit card accounts?             

     When such mechanisms are operating successfully within us, we frequently refer to them as our demons.  This is not some strange theology.   People wrestle with their demons all the time regardless of what they believe.  In fact, some people who profess no belief in God will readily admit that they struggle with many of the same life-issues as those of us who live within our religious communities.   

     As I mentioned last week, these little voices, hurts and compulsions appear to hold us prisoner.  They are not external, disembodied spirits that have entered our bodies to terrorize us. As a matter of fact, unwittingly, we are the ones who have created them and we are the ones who are still growing them.           

     One of the best stories that illustrates this point I used some years ago when I delivered the message for a Thanksgiving Eve service.                 

     One day a Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson one of life's great lessons.  As the two of them walked around the rim of a lake that was nestled in the valley of a magnificent mountain range, the wise chief spoke: 

A mighty struggle will take place inside of you as you grow up.  It will be a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.  One of them is evil -- he represents anger, envy, regret, greed, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, deceitfulness, unfaithfulness, superiority and arrogance.             

The other is good -- This one represents joy, peace, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.  This same fight has been going on inside of everyone in every nation that has ever lived in our world. 

     The grandson thought about this great struggle for quite some time. Then he broke his silence and asked, 'Which wolf will win, grandfather?'  The Cherokee chief answered, 'the one you feed, my grandson.  The one you feed.” 

     What Jesus taught has authority over all our demons.  For example, Jesus taught his listeners how to reframe their hurts into teaching devices.  When he taught his followers to love their enemies, his lesson had nothing to do with their enemies.  He was giving guidance to his listeners on why it was absolutely critical and essential that they heal their attitudes toward all others.  We must understand that each time we energize hatred we are feeding that wolf.  Without realizing it, we are creating a monster that will not only continue its growth, but it will terrorize us as long as we live.  One day it will define us, even devour us.           

     Every demon that delays our growing up and prevents the development of our life-skills does so because we are feeding it. Lust, for example, develops when we look at people as objects that we want to use for gratification rather than individuals who need our love, support, kindness and understanding.  Uncontrolled spending develops from an unrecognized belief that our happiness is linked to an unrelenting hunger for all that we do not have.  These are demons that will gain control over our lives because we feed them. 

     We have experienced something absolutely fascinating this week that may illustrate perfectly the power of demons in human behavior, indeed, in an entire society.  As most of us have recently learned, the terrorist group, Hamas, has overwhelmingly been swept into power.  This victory was the result of the popular vote among the Palestinians through their new democratic election process.  The question is, “What will a terrorist group do now that they have the power and responsibility for governing?”   

     It is one thing to run through the streets chanting inflammatory slogans, firing guns in the air, shooting at enemies and quite another to govern effectively.    It is one thing to label others and protest what others are doing and quite another thing to demonstrate wise leadership.  Remarkable leadership, my friends, takes the visionary skills of spirit. What wolf have they been feeding?  What lessons have they been teaching their children?   

     If the Palestinians, or any group, cannot conquer their demons of hate, anger and revenge, it will never matter who has been given the power to govern.  When people bow down to the demon of violence it will remain very difficult for them to create an oasis of peace where everyone will embrace a diverse community where lions will lie down with the lambs. 

     Some countries know only strife, conflict and warfare. This way of life is all they have ever known for centuries. They wander in the wilderness looking for various military saviors.  In other countries where people have learned Jesus’ universal message of “serve one another,” they will also learn that “greater things then these will you do.”  It all depends on which wolf they feed.   

     For nearly two thousand years, some Christians have claimed, “Jesus has authority for us because he is the Son of God.”  Others have said, “He has authority because he was God who incarnated in human form.”  We know, however, that in spite of such claims, little would have molded our trust in Jesus’ teachings if there had been no visible results revealed in the lives of people down through the centuries.   

     In our own lifetime we have seen how Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the soul of a nation.  We have watched as Mother Teresa left her American heritage and teaching position to change the world’s view about the poor in India.  Both had Jesus as their authority and gave meaning to Jesus’ words, “greater things than these will you do.”

     Jesus taught with authority.  What gives him authority in our lives is that his words guide us toward a world where peace and love reign.   Congress cannot legislate love.  Governments cannot mandate forgiveness.  No one can force people to cooperate with each other.  No army or Taliban groups can make kindness mandatory.  Jesus governs the world within us that no one can see.  Yet that world is capable of giving birth to two wolves.  Jesus offers guidance concerning which one to feed.   

     Erasmus, a Dutch scholar who tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church in the 1500s and who was a leader of the renaissance of learning in northern Europe, once wrote, “Truly the yoke of Christ would be sweet if petty human institutions had added nothing more to what he himself imposed.  He asked only that we learn to love each other.”  In spite of all the temptations to do otherwise, dare we feed this wolf.  When we do, we have just given Jesus authority over our lives.


     Eternal God, the Scriptures tell us that we were created in your image, that we were made a little lower than the angels.  Jesus told his listeners, “Do not be worried and upset, do not be afraid for I will be with you always.”  Yet the world is frightening; it is always changing.  Our judgments of others inspire more our feelings of self-righteousness than our faithfulness. We would rather challenge people with our truth than love them as they are.  We would rather “fix them” than set the example.  Teach us, O God, how to live inspired lives so that others may see the Christ in what we do.  May the verbal seeds we sow, and the activities from our passion to serve, heal the world in ways we may not understand.  May your will be done in all things.  Amen.