Mark 1:21-28 (4th Sunday after the Epiphany—Series B)
“Made Clean in Christ”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
February 1, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson from Mark 1:
And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
H. G. Wells’s 1897 War of the Worlds relates the story of an alien invasion of Earth. Among the most famous, or infamous, adaptations is the 1938 radio broadcast that was narrated and directed by Orson Welles. The first two-thirds of the 60-minute broadcast were presented as a news bulletin and led to outrage and panic by some listeners who had believed the events described in the program were real. Our text from God’s Word this morning reveals to us that a “war of the worlds” is actually more fact than fiction. No, no. You don’t need to worry about Martians landing and invading our planet. Although, that actually might be preferable. The “war of the worlds” that God’s Word shares with us is a spiritual war between the realm of God’s reign and rule and the realm of unclean spirits, the demonic power of the devil and his evil angels.
In our Gospel reading we have Jesus, possessed by the Holy Spirit, in direct confrontation with a man possessed by an unclean spirit. At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit, as a dove, descended “into” Jesus. Therefore, we say that the Holy Spirit was in Jesus, or, Jesus was possessed by the Holy Spirit. In the Capernaum synagogue, we encounter another possession—a man “in an unclean spirit.” Two worlds, spiritual worlds, are colliding. Jesus who is clean, washed in His baptism, and possessed by the Holy Spirit, collides with the unclean, the unwashed and unrepentant, indeed, the demonic.
To better understand this, we need to go back into the Season of Advent, to our friend John the Baptist. John baptized to prepare people for the coming of the kingdom of God, the rule and reign of God in their very midst in the person of the Son of God made flesh. John’s baptism was described as a “washing of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Through John’s work, God was “washing” the people of their uncleanness, idolatry, and sin, in order that they might be repentant and so receive their coming Lord. That’s why washing signifies cleanness. (If you take a bath and wash, you get off the dirt from your body. You are clean.) Cleanness was a prerequisite for the reign and rule of God. So to be unclean is to be unwashed—unrepentant—which means you are not ready for, and are not under, God’s reign and rule. Unclean spirits, then, are part of a realm that is not under the rule and reign of God. They are alien to it. They resist it. But in the coming of the Lord Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, the unclean spirits will be overcome by that reign and rule of God in and through Jesus.
But before Jesus encounters the unclean spirit, He encountered the unclean gathered in the synagogue. He encountered the unclean when He first came into Galilee “proclaiming the good news of God and saying, ‘Repent and believe in the good news.’” Jesus’ first sermon was to the people of Galilee to “repent,” to “turn from sin and be made clean by faith in the good news that the reign and rule of God had come to them in the flesh and blood person of Jesus.” Jesus, possessed by the Holy Spirit, who was without sin and therefore, clean, encountered first “unclean” people. The spiritual realm of God and the spiritual realm of sin, death, and the devil collided with Jesus teaching the people.
And how does that encounter go? The congregation at the synagogue were “amazed” at His teaching. Jesus was teaching them, conveying to them the impression of authority. When their scribes taught, they quoted other rabbis who quoted other rabbis who quoted other rabbis. But not so this Jesus. It’s a fresh new teaching, a different teaching in line with authority because the rule and reign of God has come in the ministry of Jesus and it is colliding with a whole other world. And that collision between worlds is demonstrated as Jesus casts out the unclean spirit from the man in the synagogue. And, in the verses immediately following our text, next week’s Gospel reading in fact, Jesus continues this in-breaking of the kingdom of God as He “healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” (Mark 1:34) The realm of sin, death, and the devil was being turned inside out and upside down by Jesus. A “war of the worlds” was on to make people clean.
Perhaps we should stop to think a moment of what this all means for us. Into which realm were you born? Under the rule and reign of God in His kingdom or under the reign and rule of sin, Satan, and death? The answer from God’s Word is the latter. As descendants of Adam and Eve, we are born sinful and unclean. By nature we are unfit and unworthy of God’s kingdom. We cannot be part of it. We are alien to the rule and reign of God. God is holy. He is free of any corruption or filth. He cannot and will not allow Himself to become tainted by the stain of sin. Before He receives people into His presence, before He favors human beings with His grace, we must be purged of all offenses that pollute us and cause God to recoil from us. And that is precisely why in His great love for humanity, the crown of His creation, God sent His Son to collide with the realm of sin, Satan, and death so that Jesus would rescue us by making us clean and then bring us into the kingdom of God.
We read in Colossians 1, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14) Jesus Christ assumed our sins, our guilt, our evil. He carried it in His body to the tree of the cross. There, the sinless One, the Holy One of God, became sin for us. (2 Cor. 5:21) He subjected Himself to the reign and rule of sin, death, and the devil. He suffered for our sins. Jesus paid in full the punishment of death and hell that we deserved. He shed His holy, precious blood and died to make us clean. As promised through the prophet Isaiah, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) And so it is that we are clean. We are washed. “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
And that means we’re part of the Kingdom. We are clean—forgiven and washed by the blood of Jesus. Christ has made us fit for the reign and rule of God. He has cast out our sin. Christ has poured His Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives. We read in Titus 3, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3:5) In Baptism, you and I become possessed by the Holy Spirit who makes us “in Christ.” We are no longer in an unclean spirit of sin and death. We are in Christ. We are new creations. (2 Cor. 5:17) The rule and reign of God has come to each of us in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit through Baptism, the Word of the Gospel, and the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood.
Because we are now under the reign and rule of God in Christ Jesus, God is not afraid to make His dwelling with us today. Our bodies are now temples where God dwells, temples of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, temples of Christ in us. Because we are under the reign and rule of God in Christ Jesus, God is not afraid to make His dwelling with us in eternity. Listen to His promise to you and me who have been made clean by Jesus Christ. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’” (Rev. 21:3)
It is just that wondrous! The Holy One of God, Jesus Christ, collided with all the unholiness of sin, death, and the devil to make sinners clean, to make sinners holy, so that we could stand before God in righteousness and purity forever. When you feel unworthy of God, let your Baptism remind you that God has come to near to you with His reign and rule in Jesus. When you feel unclean in your guilt, know that your God and Savior has called you by name, washed you clean in His blood, and put the saving mark of the cross on your head and heart. And let Paul’s words be a sure comfort to you, “But you were washed, you were made holy, you were declared not guilty of sin in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11) Amen.