“[Those gathered in the synagogue] were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22, NRSV)
Mark's gospel is the first and shortest gospel written of the four gospels. Scholars believe the author was not one of the original disciples, as most people assume by his name; instead, they think he was Peter's disciple who recorded Peter's stories about Jesus. The gospel was composed sometime after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem that occurred in 70 A.D., making it at least 40 years after Jesus' death and resurrection before these stories were written down.
In his construction of the narrative, Mark tries to prepare the Jews for life without the Temple as the center of worshiping life. Of course, Mark's obvious answer for post-Temple religious life is for Jesus Christ to be at the center, who embodies everything the Temple represented about God, and whose life and death reflect the heart of God even more. Therefore, one characteristic of Mark's writing seems curiously out-of-place, and that is the way Jesus seems to hide his identity as the Son of God from all but his closest disciples.
Mark makes very clear at the beginning of his writing that he believes Jesus is the Son of God:
"The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." (Mark 1:1, NRSV)
As Mark's narrative unfolds, Jesus is a mysterious miracle worker. He intentionally keeps his identity a secret, and he even silences demons who declare his true identity as the Son of God when he confronts them. When he heals people, he tells them not to tell anyone about what he has done. He pulls the disciples to the side for instruction to keep from revealing too much about himself to the crowds. And yet, from the very beginning of the gospel, people know there is something special about Jesus. His goodness, or more appropriately, his "God-ness," is undeniable. They recognize something different about this spiritual man's teachings that is more substantive and real than what they've been hearing from their religious leaders. They marvel at how he speaks "as one having authority" and contrast this with the legalistic and moralistic teachings of the scribes.
I suspect the scribes taught mostly the law of God. Jesus mainly communicated the love of God and demonstrated how the law fits in with God's love. Those who have the most authority in our lives are those who love us the most. Their authority is not heavy-handed. When they need to play the authority card, it's with a heavy heart, for their burden is not because we've broken the law; it's because we have broken love's grip on us and chosen the lesser path of disobedience. God's love for us, expressed as his will or his law, is never meant to diminish our lives; instead, it is God's design for the best possible life we could live. Disobedience short-circuits the life of blessing because the consequences of sin create brokenness and pain that require time to heal. Love's authority draws us, and that's why Jesus spoke as one with a unique authority from that of the scribes. Jesus hides his identity as the law-giver so that we might recognize him at the heart-level as the love-giver, and thereby be better equipped to live according to God’s laws.
We'll continue to explore the authority of Jesus in this week's sermon, so I hope you'll join us either in the pre-recorded First Worship Service posted at 8:30 on Sunday mornings or for the live stream at 10:45 am. Remember, if you miss it on Sunday morning, you can always go to the website at any time and click on the link to watch any of our services.