Epiphany 4 Year B : Mark 1:21-28 ( Deut. 18:15-20 )
After his temptation by the devil, Jesus has called Peter, Andrew and the sons of Zebedee to be his disciples. Now he begins his ministry - at Capernaum, a prosperous town on the shore of the Sea of Galillee.
Our passage tells us of the recognition of Jesus' authority, both in word and deed.
Jesus was in a synagogue, a place where Jews met to gain a fuller understanding of their tradition through study and worship. At the time, it was probably not a building set apart for study and worship. Anyone with sufficient knowledge could teach. The "teachers of the law" (v. 22) were specialists in the interpretation and application of Mosaic law to daily life. They frequently quoted scripture, but Jesus on this occasion, does not: he speaks directly, confident of his authority.
You might say that a policeman has authority. But why ? He has some authority to act that has been passed down to him by the government. He has no authority of himself. What authority he has is subject to the laws of this land. When he goes abroad on holiday he has no authority over there, because the foreign government does not recognise him as a policeman.
Imagine you lived in the days when a King made the law and what he said went. He decided what the law was and how to administer it. So if he said you were guilty of treason and you would be executed, then you were guilty, and you would be executed. There was no appeal to the Law Lords ! Your only hope was an appeal for mercy. The King was the ultimate authority.
We don't know exactly what Jesus said on this day. We know three things from verses 22 & 27, though.
His teaching was amazing, it was new, and it was with authority.
His teaching was amazing. The root of the word translated amazing in the Greek is strike or smack. So you might translate this using the modern term, 'gobsmacked' ! The word conveys a sense of alarm. That Jesus had really brought home to them something that was very significant and truly challenging.
His teaching was 'new'. The teachers of the law were like policeman. Trying to interpret the Old Testament. We know from elsewhere that they tended to see the Old Testament, and especially the Law, as a way of earning salvation. That the way to be put right with God was to be a Jew and to obey the written Law, and also the oral traditions that they had added to it. These rules enslaved some people and made many more feel excluded. That they could never be good enough for God.
Jesus' words might well have conveyed the idea that God's way was not as burdensome as the teachers of the law made it. Matthew 11: 28 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
However, Jesus words probably confronted the congregation that God had an absolute claim over all of their lives. He might have reflected the demands of the prophets for people to turn back to God. The Bible teaches that we are saved by God's grace , or undeserved favour. This blessing brings the responsibility of following God's ways. Ways that are best for ourselves and others. Obedience to God's perfect will shows that our acceptance of God's grace is genuine. Salvation should free us to be holy for God.
In one sense we are like the teachers of the law, trying to understand and apply God's word today. However, we are radically different from them in that our understanding and application is in the light of Jesus teaching, and is guided by the Holy Spirit who lives within us, and who inspired the writers of Scripture.
His teaching was with authority. For the congregation, it wasn't as if you had a policeman trying to interpret the law. It was as if you had the lawgiver, explaining the true meaning of the law and the demands it makes upon you.
Jesus is the prophet, or spokesman of God, foretold in the Deuteronomy reading. When we hear Jesus, we hear the voice of God.
We know from verse 22 that the congregation had already noticed the authority with which Jesus delivered his teaching before he exorcised the demon. The man with the evil spirit" (v. 23) was, in our terms, possessed: he was under the influence of an evil force or forces. In Jewish terms, he was under Satan's direction, separated from God.
The devil, speaking through this man (v. 24), asks what Jesus is doing meddling in the domain of evil; Verse 24: "Have you come to destroy us?" is better taken as a statement than as a question. The demon addresses Jesus as ' the Holy one of God'. In Jesus' day it was thought that knowing the name of someone gave you power over them. Jesus shows his power by commanding the evil spirit to come out. Wonder-workers of the day healed using ritual or magic spells, perhaps calling on a higher power of false god. But Jesus exorcises simply through verbal command (v. 25), showing that the power was within himself.
Note that although the evil spirit knew who Jesus was this did not make it a Christian. This may seem like a ridiculous statement, but today some people might think that they are Christians if they use the right words in addressing Jesus. We not only have to confess that Jesus is the Holy One from God but also, voluntarily put our lives under his authority.
The evil spirit recognises who Jesus is and that his coming spells the end of the devil's power. He understands the significance of the coming Kingdom. Jesus' exorcisms were viewed as victorious moments in the ongoing struggle with Satan. Verses 12-13 have briefly related the victory of Jesus over the devil's temptations in the desert. Already we are being prepared for the ultimate victory won by Jesus over the devil. The victory he won on the cross.
Today Jesus' name is still powerful in driving our evil spirits. I have, infrequently, been asked to pray in houses that I have been told are possessed. I can think of two cases where I have prayed in the name of Jesus and there has not been a recurrence of the event that troubled the occupants of the house. In each case it is the power of Jesus that has brought about the results, not my power or skill in praying. I can illustrate this with an incident that happened in Derby. The Vicar had been approached by a family living in a council house nearby. They said that they had heard weird sounds at night. The Vicar sent me to investigate. When I got there I discovered that the family had recently been joined by other members of their wider family who were not very welcome ! I suspected that the noises were an attempt to get them out, or to gain different accommodation from the council. I prayed in the house in the name of Jesus and left. The family returned to the Vicar a few days later complaining that my prayers had proved ineffective and could he please help. The Vicar refused, stating that he would be praying to the same God as I had !
In verse 27 the crowd, acknowledges Jesus' authority in word and deed. News about his authority over evil and his authority in teaching spread in the whole region as a result of this incident in the synagogue.
What can we take away with us this evening from this passage? May I suggest three things :
Jesus has the authority of God, therefore, we should follow his teaching for our lives. If people do not submit to Jesus they will, one day be dismissed from God's presence in the same way that the evil spirit had to leave.
Jesus has the power of God over evil. Therefore, we need fear nothing and no-one because Jesus has won the victory for us. We can be secure in the knowledge that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus.
We have the duty and the joy of telling others about the good news of Jesus who can set them free to be a follower of God.
A Christian speaker had been talking about the verse 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God'. Afterwards a young woman approached him. She was a professing Christian and seemed very troubled. The speaker asked what was the problem. She confessed that she was worried that if she yielded everything to Jesus he would require her to give up a job playing the piano in a concert hall, and that she would have to go to China as a missionary.
The speaker explained that you could not have the words, 'not so' and 'Lord' together. He wrote the words, 'not so, Lord' on a piece of paper and left her with the pencil and the instructions that she should either cross out 'not so' or 'Lord'. Two hours later he returned to find a tear stained page with the words 'not so', crossed out. The woman left repeating the one word, 'Lord', over and over again.