Arthur was our church’s resident crazy man. He was unemployable, quirky, and creepy. His long suffering wife put up with his craziness to the great amazement of all of us who knew them.
I hurriedly left my office and drove toward my home where I was going to put my car, out of sight, into the garage. But in my rearview mirror appeared Arthur, clearly following me home. I took a longer route and eventually lost him. Several minutes later the door bell rang.
“I’m not going to be a prisoner in my home,” I told my wife. So I opened the front door and greeted Arthur. He commented on my protective stance in front of my door. “Afraid I’m going to rape your wife,” he growled.
I didn’t know what Arthur was capable of. During my tenure at that church he did things like loudly interrupting a worship service in progress, calling the medical office of one of our elders and threatening the staff, and once coming to an elders’ meeting where he asked, “Afraid I’m going to shoot you?” So there were reasons to feel a little skittish when it came to Arthur.
I decided to take an authoritative position with Arthur. “No I’m not afraid,” I said, looking at him squarely in the eye. That was a good strategy. Arthur shrank a little in size. His voice became a little softer and less threatening, almost friendly. You see, Arthur was intimidated by authority.
The gospel writer, Mark, tells a story from Jesus’ life in which a man with an unclean spirit came into the synagogue where Jesus was teaching. Probably similar to what Arthur did the day he interrupted our worship–loudly speaking among people whose minds were focused elsewhere. “What are you doing here, Jesus of Nazareth,” the unclean spirit cried out.
Spirits respect authority and know that Jesus has the power to destroy them. Mark says the spirit convulsed the poor man and came out of him.
The crowds of people watching the defeat of the unclean spirit recognized that they had just seen something extraordinary and told all their friends. But what was it that made his teaching and presence noteworthy?
Jesus teaching focused on giving people what they needed to be truly free from the slavery of sin and death. In fact Jesus accused the Pharisees and teachers of “tying up heavy burdens, hard to bear and laying them on the shoulders of others,” Matthew 23:4. Jesus, doing the opposite, lightened burdens.
Second, Jesus went boldly into every context. He was equally at home with a Samaritan woman burdened by the difficulties of her life or a Roman centurion wanting his servant to be cured of a terrible illness. Nor was Jesus afraid of the cemetery where a crazed demoniac was chained up. By contrast, the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:16) were mastered and defeated by an evil spirit who did not recognize their authority.
Jesus showed no limitation to his authority and strength. He cast out demons and raised up lame people. Hemorrhages dried up, and the dead walked out of their tombs at his command. There was no place where his authority was not known.
Genuine authority is different from imposed authority. It’s like comparing the relationship between a child and his/her very loving parent with the relationship between an ISIS member and a captive over whom is held a sword. Jesus had genuine authority, and everyone recognized it. No swords necessary.
The best authority is born in conviction coupled with respect and love. When people heard Jesus speak, it was clear they had heard something incredibly unlike anything they had heard before. Demons fled from his authority but burdened people were transformed and freed by it.