Theme: Jesus’ Authority and Power
This week’s lessons show both the positive and negative changes that an encounter with Jesus can produce.
Scripture: Matthew 8:28-34
In my experience I have never known anybody whom I would say has been demon possessed, but I do believe it happens. But by way of application, I have known people who have been afflicted in a similar way, possessed by some bad spirit or sin, and so have come under all the various influences and experiences that these men had. One thing about demon possession is that those who are possessed are unable to break free. The evil spirit is stronger than they are. Now there are scores of people in your experience as well as mine who would confess to that—being possessed by some spirit of evil, such as the spirit of alcoholism, lust, or treachery. There are all sorts of things that have empowered them and overcome them so that even if they would be free of it they find they’re unable.
As a result of that the other things that were true of these men followed also. They have been cut off from others, because in their sin they have offended others. They have fallen into violence, violence against themselves and other human beings. And there is a sense, perhaps, because sin lies at the heart of their bondage, that we could say they dwell among the dead. All of us, apart from the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, can be described as dead men or dead women dwelling among dead men and dead women.
But when we talk about these men we’re talking about something which is particularly terrifying, and which still happens today. Applying this spiritually, it is an apt description of what it means to be bound by sin. You may not have come under the power of a particularly destructive habit, but apart from Jesus Christ you have been bound by sin. It’s something from which you can’t break free. It alienates you from other people because that is what sin does. It produces violence of one sort or another, certainly violence in your relationship to God. And it puts you among the dead, spiritually speaking.
Now this is one side of the encounter. On the other side, as we saw last week when we were talking about the centurion, we have Jesus. What do we know about Jesus? Well the first thing we find about him is that he has authority over the evil spirits. In the Greek language there are various words that are translated “authority” or “power.” Generally, they’re variations of the idea of power. There’s the word kratos that simply means the sheer naked exercise of physical power. We have that in such words as democracy, plutocracy, and monarchy, and it has to do with power as it is distributed in various ways, whether, for example, it’s exercised by an individual or many people. And then there is the word dunamis, which means explosive power. It is the kind of power the Holy Spirit exercises. When the Holy Spirit comes into a life it explosively drives out evil and changes an individual. And then there’s the word exousia, which is often translated power but would be far better translated authority. It is not a question of mere force, but, rather, it’s a matter of legitimate authority which comes from God, from which all legitimate authority comes.
Now, Jesus Christ, being the Son of God, exercises this kind of authority to an eminent degree. When it’s said of Jesus that he has authority over all things, this is the word generally that is used. Now in this eighth chapter of Matthew we see three different forms of that. The first form is the authority of Jesus over sickness, and there are several examples. At the very beginning of the chapter he heals a man of his leprosy. In the story of the centurion and his servant he heals a man of paralysis. And then in the story that immediately follows that we find Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. Jesus can heal every kind of physical malady because of his authority. The second kind of authority that Jesus demonstrates is an authority over nature. We see this in the story of his calming of the wind and the waves when he and his disciples were caught in the storm in Galilee. This is what amazed them, that he had authority even over the elements. Thirdly, Jesus exercises authority over the spiritual forces of evil against which we struggle, according to the way Paul describes the Christian life in Ephesians 6.
Because the Lord Jesus Christ has that kind of authority, over all things both in heaven and in earth, he is able to send his disciples out into all the world to preach the gospel, which is the way the Gospel of Matthew ends. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and earth is committed unto me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” If he didn’t have that authority over the nations, we could go but we’d have no hope of success. But because he has such authority we can go and understand that he will bless us as he does.
The second thing we see about Jesus in this story is his compassion or mercy. In Matthew’s account these words do not appear, but in Mark’s version of the story, in chapter 5, Jesus tells the man to go to others and tell them how he had mercy in delivering this man from his demonic possession.
Define the three words that Greek has to denote different kinds of power? Which one is Jesus said to demonstrate, and how?
What two things do we learn about Jesus, and how does each one serve to address the need in this particular encounter?
Application: How have you observed sin cause people to be cut off from their family and friends? Be committed to praying regularly for families who are suffering, and if it is in your ability to do something, what will you do to try to bring about reconciliation and restoration?