Mark 1:21-28 (Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany—Series B)
“The Authority of the Holy One”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
January 28, 2018
21And they went to Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath, upon entering the synagogue, He began to teach. 22And they were astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching them exhibiting authority and not as their scribes.23And immediately there was in their synagogue a man within the power of an unclean spirit and he cried out, saying, 24“Why are you meddling in our affairs, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.” 25And Jesus admonished him, saying, “Be muzzled and come out of him!” 26And upon convulsing him and yelling with a loud voice, the unclean spirit came out of him. 27And all became astonished with the result that they began to argue with themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching in accordance with authority? Even to the unclean spirits He gives a command and they obey Him.” 28And the report about Him went out immediately everywhere into the whole surrounding area of Galilee.
Some time ago we had a guest teacher, a guest rabbi, here at our Capernaum synagogue. His name was Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth. I don’t know a whole lot about him. You don’t usually think of rabbis coming out of small towns like Nazareth or from Galilee. I think they’d usually come from Jerusalem, where they would be trained by older, wiser rabbis. Jesus was only about 30 years of age, certainly old enough to be a public teacher, but you have to wonder about his training in the rabbinical school. Who was his teacher, his rabbi? No one seemed to know.
Usually, it becomes pretty obvious when the rabbi teaches in which tradition he stands because our rabbis quote their teachers, and their teachers’ teachers, and expound the Torah from their rabbinical tradition. But this Jesus didn’t do that. In fact, as he has gone around teaching in the synagogues of Galilee, he has never done that. It was really a strange explanation of God’s Word because Jesus never referenced other rabbis or other rabbinical authorities or traditions. His teaching was new and different. When Jesus taught in our synagogue, and when he teaches elsewhere, he teaches displaying authority—his own authority. He never relies on the authority of the scribes and other rabbis. He spoke as if the Scriptures were his words that he had given to Moses and the prophets. That’s just crazy. It was like Jesus was saying, “I don’t need to tell you the interpretation of this text by rabbi so-and-so. I’ll tell you what God really means because I know what God meant when He inspired it to be written.” It was sort of like I imagine it would have been listening to Moses or Elijah or Isaiah proclaiming God’s Word. There wasn’t any room for debate or theoretical reflection. Jesus confronted us with the absolute claim of God. We were utterly astonished at this; dumbfounded might be a better word.
Some of the synagogue congregation wondered “Who does this guy thinks he is, God or something?” You know, I actually think Jesus believed he was God, or at least was God’s messenger or prophet or something like that John who had been baptizing down there in Judea in the Jordan. Heard that Herod’s had him arrested for telling Herod that he shouldn’t have married his brothers’ wife. John was right but probably shouldn’t have preached about it. Well, he’s paying the price now for his brutal honesty, just like the prophets of old paid the price for speaking God’s truth. Hmm. That’s an interesting thought.
Anyway. Back to Jesus. In our shock at the authority he was demonstrating with his teaching, we really were not paying attention to this weird guy who had come into our assembly. I might have seen him around before. He’s an odd one, somebody you steer clear of. Well all of a sudden, this guy is yelling out at Jesus. “Why are you meddling in our affairs, Jesus of Nazareth?” For a moment I thought he was reacting against Jesus’ authoritative teaching, that he didn’t like Jesus coming in and doing things differently from the other rabbis. (You know, we’re a little like Lutherans—don’t like change!) But then the words came out of the guy’s mouth, “Have you come to destroy us?” I mean, really? I don’t think this Nazarene teacher was in any way going to destroy our synagogue congregation. There was no danger of that. We’d just never have him back to teach, that’s all. This guy had lost his marbles. Then I realized, as we all did, that this man wasn’t worried about the destruction of our synagogue community nor was his issue with the authoritative teaching. This guy was within the power of an unclean spirit! The spirit was freaking out about this Jesus, afraid that this rabbi from Nazareth was here to destroy this evil spirit and the rest of the unclean spirits out there. “Why are you meddling in our unclean spirit affairs?” he wanted to know. “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are,” he said. “The Holy One of God.”
I couldn’t believe it. This unclean spirit ID’ed this Jesus as the Servant of Yahweh, the Messiah. “Holy One of Israel” or “Holy One of God” was Isaiah’s favorite way of identifying God’s Servant whom He would send to redeem and save His people. The unclean spirit confessed Jesus to be this Servant and Savior!
Then this man who had exuded such authority in his teaching admonished the unclean spirit. He spoke to it, “Be muzzled and come out of him!” And with a yelling sound I had never heard before, the man was convulsed by the spirit and it came out of him. Jesus had uttered only a few direct words but he displayed his absolute authority over the demonic power! Do you want to talk about a new teaching with authority? This is it! Again, we were utterly astonished at his word, and we were alarmed. The same measure of authority with which we had been confronted in Jesus’ teaching was demonstrated in the word of command to an unclean spirit. And the spirit obeyed, immediately!
There was a war of the worlds going on that day in the Capernaum synagogue. The spiritual realm of the Lord God of Israel collided with the spiritual realm aligned against it. Unclean spirits are part of a realm that is not under the reign and rule of God. They are alien to it. But Jesus proclaimed, “The due time stands fulfilled and the reign and rule of God has drawn near and is now here; repent and believe in the Gospel—now!” Jesus confronted the spiritual forces opposed to Him, the alien spirit under the leadership of Satan, whom Jesus first confronted in the desert and defeated. Jesus brought a Good News message that the gracious reign and rule of God is now on the scene. His words proclaimed it and His actions verified it.
Jesus is Himself the evidence that the reign and rule of God has indeed come into this world, breaking into the realm of Satan, in order to restore and to redeem God’s creation from sin, Satan, and death. On the cross, our Lord Jesus willingly gave Himself over to the power of the realm of Satan. He assumed the sins of the world to be His own and, on the cross, suffered hell and death in humanity’s place so that all might receive forgiveness and life. By His death, Jesus destroyed the power of sin to enslave you. John 8, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn. 8:34-36 ESV). The Lord Christ defeated Satan by obeying His Father’s will throughout His earthly life, even going all the way to the cross, in our place. 1 John 3:8b, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” And by His own death and resurrection, Jesus has put death itself to death. 2 Timothy 1:10, “Our Savior Christ Jesus . . . abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10 ESV).
The death and resurrection of Jesus has set you free from the power sin, death, and the devil. The reign and rule of God in Christ has come to you through the Word and the Sacraments of Christ, bringing to you the forgiveness of sins which Jesus won for you and the eternal life that is yours through faith in Jesus. So now is the time for “the report about Him” to go out “immediately everywhere.” That’s what happened after the events in the Capernaum synagogue. Jesus brought God’s reign and rule breaking into the lives of the people. He demonstrated His divine authority by casting out the unclean spirit, showing that the reign and rule of God is bursting into Satan’s realm. Now you have the joyful task and holy opportunity to proclaim to others the Good News of the reign and rule of God come in Jesus Christ.
Since in Christ you have been called to love your neighbors, to show them love and mercy, there is no better way to do so than by speaking the Gospel to them. Share with others how Jesus has come, bringing the reign and rule of God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness to them through faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit works through that Gospel Word to create saving faith in the heart. You, then, become the authoritative voice of Jesus to another sharing with them what Christ has done for you through His cross and resurrection, assuring them that Jesus also died and rose to save them from sin and death! Through the sharing of the Good News, God the Holy Spirit restores people to the heavenly Father by granting them faith which receives the forgiveness of sins and the new life of the people of God in Christ who are now under His rule and reign.
Do not, then, be merely astonished and astounded at the authority and Word of Christ. Receive it as His Gospel for you. Live your lives of repentance and faith centered in Christ. And share the Word with others in love so that they too may not simply be amazed at Jesus’ authority, but come to know His mercy, love, and forgiveness by grace through faith as His redeemed people. Amen.