Garland on Jesus’ Authority and Church Leadership

by Feb 2, 2022Discipleship0 comments

We are back looking at some of the more provocative thoughts from David Garland’s commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Garland in discussing Jesus’ authority contrasts Jesus’ response to his authoritative teaching and the obsession with spiritual authority in church leadership notes a common disconnect. First, Garland points out that in Mark Jesus avoided publicity but never people.

“Jesus’ concern to avoid publicity should give us pause. Unlike modern politicians and pop stars, whose survival depends on their remaining in the public eye, Jesus does not hustle to increase his name recognition. In our day, the miracles might make the headlines for a few weeks, but then interest would probably flag as people hanker after something new and more sensational. Jesus’ mission is not to provide sound bites and fresh sensations for the eleven o’clock news each night. He is not after personal glory that will deflect credit from God (see 2:12; 5:19; 10:18). He wants to avoid the adoration of a crowd that is without understanding and personal commitment….”(p.83)

In the opening scene of chapter one we see a theme emerges that remains for the whole of the book. Right out of the gate Jesus displays his miraculous power. The crowd marvels at his authoritative teaching. The theme of Jesus’ authority is a key theme for Mark. Garland notes a few examples from Mark’s opening chapters (taken from page 87)

  • Jesus have authority as a teacher (1:21–22);
  • Jesus also has authority
    • over the Sabbath (2:27–28),
    • over forgiveness of sins (2:5–12),
    • over unclean spirits (3:19–27),
    • over nature (4:35–41; 6:45–52),
    • over the law (7:1–13, 14–20),
    • over the temple (11:12–33; 12:1–12),
    • over the mystery of the kingdom of God, which he gives to others (4:10–11).

Through the rest of chapter one, Jesus continues to show his authority in powerful ways. Her heals Peter’s mother-in-law, a leper, and a paralyzed man. These events show not just his authority but also his compassion and willingness to be Near to the hurting and broken. It make clear that Jesus is not an inaccessible authority. Jesus is clearly a compassionate accessible healer. Garland makes observation on modern leadership.

“Many today in Christian leadership crave for the same thing to be said of them as was said about Jesus—he or she speaks with authority. They aspire to winning a pliant crowd of devoted followers who bow to their every word. Recent history reminds us how religious leaders can stake a claim to authority and hoodwink the credulous, distraught, and disenfranchised. It is easy for all but a handful to recognize the crackpots who tragically brainwash their followers with their authoritarian ranting and raving, arm them to the teeth, and engage in sexual promiscuity. But what about those who would speak authoritatively within more traditional churches and denominations? They announce: “This is my unanimous decision. I know this is the will of God. Is there any discussion?”(p.87)

Garland then turns to makes application to this common predicament by way of a few questions to evaluate leaders. Questions I find to rather useful and insightful. Garland states: (I’ve adapted the quote into a list)

To evaluate religious leaders today, we must judge them by the standard of Jesus.

  • Do they share his aversion to publicity and acclaim?
  • Do they want to receive credit for all that happens?
  • Are they primarily interested in a power grab, in building empires for themselves, and in serving their own needs?
  • Do they truly speak in the name of the Lord from sincere motives?
  • Are they accessible to those in need, not just the wealthy and influential but those from the margins of society? (p.87)

One concluding note on using these questions. They may be more helpful as a self diagnostic for leaders to conduct on themselves. Caution should be used in assessing others from a distance. It is always dangerous to make snap judgments about people especially leaders when it comes to their motives. We live in a culture that feeds on such judgements. Whole ministry platforms have been built on such judgments. Such questions help us when we are in a place that hearts can be discerned humbly and situations seen holistically. Otherwise we’re just being jerks, with a hand full of questions and often a name to make for ourselves. Essentially doing the exact same thing as the ones we point and scoff at are doing.

Note:  All quotes from David E. Garland, Mark. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996. Page number after the quote.