Be Amazed by Jesus!
A sermon based on Mark 1:21-28
Sunday, January 29, 2012 – Epiphany 4B
In 1973, the popular movie, The Exorcist, hit the theaters. The whole plot is about a priest battling a demon that has possessed a little girl. It was so popular that several sequels and a prequel were created over the next three decades, and in 2005 the same script was remade with new actors, new styles and Dolby Digital surround sound. And The Excorcist isn't the only movie that's grossed millions of dollars by alluring audiences to the theaters and video stores with the intrigue of demon possession and the occult. Let's face it, many people are fascinated with the devil and his forces.
Of course, this fascination is spiritually unhealthy and potentially very harmful, but the opposite is equally dangerous. In the book, Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, an older more experienced demon, Screwtape, gives advice to a younger inexperienced demon, Wormwood, telling him to deceive his "patient" into believing the devil and demons are nothing but red-painted, long-tailed, pitch fork-carrying fairytales…
He tells Wormwood, "If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in your mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you." Then, Screwtape reminds him, it will be much easier to discount all supernatural and make him a materialist and a skeptic.
Both extremes—fascination with and denial of—evil supernatural forces are very dangerous. The devil is very real. So are demons. They sometimes bring terror, but I think more often masquerade as angels of light. To deny their existence is to be susceptible to a surprise attack. But to fear them and be fascinated with their power is equally dangerous and can rob you of your faith. There is no need to fear demons. Though they do have supernatural powers, they no longer have any power over us… no control. Jesus has robbed them of that hold.
In the Word of God for our consideration this morning Jesus clearly reveals that he has power and authority over the devil and every demon. Jesus has ultimate power over everything. He demonstrated that power by his Words with his powerful teaching. And he demonstrated that power by his works, forcing a demon to obey that word. Listen now to Mark 1:21-28 and be amazed at Jesus as he reveals who he is by his powerful word and by his powerful work…
21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" 25 "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. 27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
I. Be Amazed by his Powerful Words
Jesus loved God's Word and remembered the Sabbath day, going to the synagogues each week to hear it and preach it to whomever would listen. But don't think of a first century synagogue like a 20th century church or even like a 20th century synagogue. Unlike churches and synagogues today, they had no resident rabbi. The members of the synagogue took turns reading and expounding upon the books of Moses and the Prophets and they invited any guest rabbi to speak while he was in town. Often then, with a new teacher each week, they encountered conflicting views and frequent debates as to how to interpret the Law of God.
But this Sabbath was different. The guest Rabbi in Capernaum this week wasn't like the others. His message was different than the rest. He spoke with absolute authority. No one could challenge a thing he said and it all made perfect sense. They had never heard anyone speak like this before! Clearly he was a great prophet of God! Perhaps even the Great Prophet God had revealed to Moses would come and speak his Word perfectly. "The people," Mark tells us, "were amazed at his teaching…"
And no wonder! This Rabbi didn't just study the Torah, he wrote it! He was God himself existing in eternity past, inspiring Moses and the other authors of the Scriptures to write exactly what they did. He was omniscient and knew exactly how every one of these verses would be fulfilled. He knew, of course, that they would be fulfilled in him. What an amazing sermon he must have given! And it wasn't received without an impressive effect. All who heard it were amazed, they marveled, at the things he said.
And though Jesus doesn't walk among us today, or stand in the pulpit as a guest preacher, he still teaches us with that same authority. Through the written Word in the Bible, still the most widely published book in the world, through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, through faithful pastors and teachers throughout the world, he still teaches with the same powerful, authoritative Words he did that day in the synagogue.
Through his Word and his amazing teaching, he confronts us in our sins—those sins of neglecting his Word and leaving the Bible sit on the shelf while we pick up a magazine or the remote instead, those sins of thinking his Word is not all that powerful and while, sure, it's good for those ancients Jesus mingled with, it can't really help us in our present day problems, for those sins of knowing the power of his Word, but refusing to share it with others coming up with lame excuses to stay in our comfort zones.
And his powerful Word does even more. After confronting us in our sin, that same Word assures us of our forgiveness, not by anything we do, but what he's already done—by his powerful work on the cross. That Word literally changes every aspect of our lives through and through! It changes the direction of our lives by giving us the desire to no longer live for ourselves but for him, serving him directly and by serving others. It gives us the power to resist sin, and get out of the rut! It gives us excitement, zeal, and encouragement in all we do! It gives us courage to say, "I trust that whatever happens to me, God is in control!" It gives me courage to die for that message! How amazing! What powerful words Jesus has!
And he reveals that amazing Word to us! Be amazed! Trust that power! And spread the Word! We don't need gimmicks to get people into heaven. We've got Jesus' amazing Words. When we share the gospel, confronting people in their sins and comforting them with the gospel, we convey the same amazing message and teaching that Jesus did. It's no less impressive or amazing when Jesus speaks through us. In fact, it's more amazing! It's amazing that Jesus works through us! It's amazing that when we share our faith with someone else, those words have the power to forgive sins. Be amazed at Jesus powerful Words and use them!
II. Be Amazed by his Powerful Works
Now of course it wasn't just his words that amazed the people and left their jaws dropped. It was also the powerful works that accompanied his Words. As Jesus was amazing the people with his teachings, a demon possessed man in their midst cried out, "24 "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" And Jesus had opportunity to reveal his power again. The people were amazed at his powerful works… 25 "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
While the people were amazed at Jesus teaching, they may not have fully understood who he was. But there was one among them who did. Who knows how many times this man evil spirit had been to the synagogue without revealing that he was possessing this man. But this time the demon couldn't contain himself. He cried out in fear, terrified that Jesus would send him back to hell. In fact, what the NIV translates as a question may not be a question at all, but a statement. "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? …[You have] come to destroy us!" For the demon knew what was not necessarily evident to the crowds. He knew that Jesus of Nazareth was (and is) the Holy One of God.
But Jesus knew that the people weren't ready to hear that he was the Messiah. They didn't really understand what the Messiah was about yet. If this truth was broadcast now it would do more harm than good. That's why Jesus commanded his disciples not to tell anyone this truth when they came to realize it and that's why Jesus commanded the demon to shut up. Literally he said, "Be muzzled!" And he commanded the evil spirit to leave the man. No elaborate incantation. No special holy water. Just the command of Jesus and the demon had no choice. He cried, "Leave me alone, Jesus!" in vain. Throwing the man into a convulsion one last time in protest, he shrieked in despair and frustration at being forced to do what he didn't want to—and he left.
What impressive power Jesus displayed! And again the people were amazed! They couldn't contain themselves! They had to tell everyone they saw about this Jesus. 27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
With this, the first of his "exorcisms," Jesus began his war on Satan and his forces. Time and time again he drove evil spirits out of their victims with his divine power, demonstrating that he was and is God. And finally, he defeated Satan, crushing his head, when he went to the cross. And he defeated Satan for us…
You see, just as that man in the synagogue had no control over the evil spirit that possessed him, so we too had no control either. We had no control over the sin that infected our lives. We were slaves to sin, as Paul describes it. We could do nothing but sin. While we had a free will, that free will was limited. Right now, I can choose to stand still, or walk, or run, but I can't choose to fly. It's not possible for me. In the same way, we were unable to choose to do what is right. We were unable to do any good, but only hate God, rebel against him and live to serve our selves. And, therefore, in a certain sense, we were possessed by Satan—he owned us, made us his possession.
But just as Jesus had complete control over the evil spirit that possessed the man in the synagogue, so Jesus had complete control of the enemies of sin and Satan that took us captive as well. He is the Holy One of God. Yet for us, he became a man. He took control of our sin and made it his own. And he suffered the torment and the hell that should have been ours. In vain, Satan cried, "Leave me alone!" because on that cross, as Jesus endured the punishment for every sin ever committed, he crushed Satan's head and undid the work Satan began in the Garden of Eden. There he defeated Satan and all his forces once and for all!
What impressive power Jesus displayed! And we too are amazed! Give thanks to God that though they are very real, there is no need to ever fear Satan, his demons, or any evil spirit, for Jesus has completely defeated them all with his amazing work! Give thanks that he's revealed himself to you by his powerful Word and by his powerful works!
And be so amazed at Jesus and his grace that you can't contain yourself, but have to tell others about him. Tell them the undeniable fact, proven by his powerful teaching and his miraculous works, that he is the Holy One of God. Tell them the truth that he is the Savior of mankind, as you show them his amazing work on the cross. Spread the Word wherever you can that they too might be amazed by Jesus and put their trust in him. God be with you as spread the news about him quickly. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.