O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Fear the Director of Demons
Fear the Director of Demons
Based on Mark 1:21-28
Preached on February 1, 2015
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Fellow baptized saints, Matthew had his turn last year. Luke the year before that. And now it is Mark's turn to take us through the life of Jesus. But Mark approaches things a little differently than some of his fellow writers. Let's just say, the Gospel of Mark is not the one we use to teach Sunday School. It is too scary, and for nearly the first half of the book, the person everyone is most afraid of and confused by is Jesus! Mark shows us a hard, stern, powerful Jesus that the people feared, that they didn't understand because He just had to keep being God, until it got Him crucified.
The Gospel of Mark is written like Jesus is on a rampage against evil, that God's final action to save His people, is His coming into our flesh to bring about the end Himself. The time has come, He proclaims, Repent and believe in the Gospel. I mean, we are still in the first chapter, only the 21st verse, and already we've had John the Baptizer warn everyone that the Lord was about to come and end things. We've had Jesus baptized and anointed by His Father to crush evil. We've seen Him overcome the archdemon's tempations in the wilderness, push the preaching of His kingdom into the face of King Herod, and gather His army of first disciples in a totally pushy unconventional way. Talk about blazing a trail in a short twenty verses. And then we have our text for today where we see Jesus come into conflict with two more groups - the scribes who taught in the synagogues and the demons. God is going to act, but not everyone is going to like it.
The disciples have literally just left their nets and their boats when they enter into Capernaum. And immediately Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach. Now this would have been normal for it was a Sabbath day, and the people would have gathered to hear the Word of God. But our text says, the people were astonished at His teaching for he was teaching them exuding authority and not as their scribes. When the scribes taught, they quoted what the revered rabbis from generations past had said about the text. For example, "Rabbi Amos was taught by Rabbi Josech that Rabbi Zerubbabel had said this about this passage…" But in comes Jesus without any of that and says "This is what the LORD God says…" It was startling to the people. Unsettling even. For they had never heard anyone explain the Word of God with such authority.
But immediately in their midst, even as they were already rattled by Jesus' teaching, there was a man with an unclean spirit. And he interrupted Christ's teaching, crying out, "Why are you meddling in our affairs, Jesus? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God!"
Evidently the authoritative teaching of God's Word was unsettling to more than just the people. Even the demons were voicing their fears. This isn't the Last Day. You're not supposed to be here! Your Word is interfering with our influence. You see, the demons don't know God's plan. They don't realize He has come in human flesh to save His people. To take back the hearts and minds of those controlled by the devil - and so these demons were afraid.
Now I don't know about you, but when I was a younger man, I was pretty afraid of demons. We don't really talk about them that much here in North America, and while we clearly see from our text that they exist and that they oppose Christ and His Word, they are otherwise kinda difficult to understand. Without some clear teaching from Scripture, we might come to think they work the way they appear in the movies. But thankfully Luther's Small Catechism explains what the devil and his forces are up to. It says they are trying to deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. In short, they want to take away the Word of Christ - to get rid of Christ's teaching - to remove the truth, but leave us thinking that we still have it. Like when people call on the Name of Jesus, but believe in nothing He says. Or when people give up on God, believing He will not help them. And any and all of the shameful human behaviour that comes from such false belief. So you can imagine the terror that would have struck these demons from our text when the Word of God made flesh began teaching right in their midst.
This reminds me of being on Basic Training with the Canadian Forces. From the moment we stepped off the bus, our entire division was terrified. Our divisional petty officer, the man in charge of us, was waiting for us on the parade square. His name was PO Talbot, and he'd been in the Airborne. Why are you people talking? He yelled at us. Loud enough for the entire city to hear. One of the guys in the back thought it was funny. He was sent home that day. And so for the rest of the grueling sixteen weeks our division walked around on eggshells, almost having heart attacks anytime he came into the room. I remember many a time when he would ask one of my teammates a question: [And my teammates just couldn't answer a word] Of course, all of this gave him great pleasure.
But then one day, near the end of the course, the base Commander paid a visit to our class. PO Talbot was disciplining someone in the corner of the room when the Commander came in. "Thank you very much PO, I will take it from here." The Commander said. "But sir, I.." "Out!" The Commander pointed. PO Talbot whisked out of the room, in much the same way as a new recruit. I didn't know what was happening. But I was terrified.
And this is the same sort of thing we see happening in our text. Just when we thought demons were scary, along comes One who can order them around. Who can tell them what to do and where to go. And it's not the head of the demons that's doing this. It's the Holy One of God.
And where we might expect for the people to celebrate that evil has no power where Jesus speaks, the people are thunderstruck. They are shell-shocked. They have entered into a state of astonished fear. They are caught. Overcome. Shaken by the sheer magnitude of the power they have witnessed. By the immensity of the action they have beheld. And then…
Everything breaks down. The rawness of human weakness is exposed and their behavior is thrown into disarray and they begin to argue with each other. "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him." Chaos. Confusion. Cacophony.
This is not the sort of scenario we expect from the Jesus we learned about in Sunday School. We do not expect Jesus to enter the scene and bring fear and confusion and infighting. But all this really reveals is that we, the humans, do not expect the true Word of God. What did we think would happen when the Word of God met with sinners and demons? We imagine that the Word of God is some fancy idea, and not an all-powerful, authoritative actor. We think the Word of God is fluffy and light, when it alone directs and orders all things. Until we understand that this Word-Man has come to us in mercy, until we reach that point in Mark's Gospel when Jesus reveals He has come to suffer and die for us, we have every reason to be utterly terrified of Him. The people are right to respond with fear, for at this point, they have no idea what is going on.
But thankfully you and I know the end of the story. You don't have to wonder about this Jesus, for you know this critical piece of information: He is on your side. His Word. His authority. His power. He has come for you. To speak His kingdom over you. To command the unclean away from you. To put Himself into your death, so no matter where the evil tries to attack you - He is there to protect you. This Commander died for you. This One who terrifies you, He loves you. He gives Himself for you. And yes, He has saved you. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr