“What is This? Who is This?

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)
“What is This? Who is This?
January 28, 2018

Sermon Text: Mark 1:21-28, Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Peace be unto you from our revealed Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. Amen.

Dearly Beloved of the Lord,

It wasn’t as if they were not told in advance… as if He, Jesus, was not foretold because they were in the very place where the “foretelling” took place, namely in the synagogue. St. Mark tells us,

“And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath [Jesus] entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:21-22)

One of the “precepts,” if you will, of interpreting God’s Word… of coming to know and understand the Bible more and more… is to keep in mind that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” In other words, the more and more that we read Scripture, study Scripture, the more we will understand the same as more and more passages become clear to us by reading other passages, other sections of God’s Word. Clear connections, wonderful connections and insights take place. It is truly remarkable and enlightening.

So, it is frustrating and sad when people tell you that they just do not “get” a lot of the Bible and what it has to say when this is directly connected to how much (or I should say, how little) they read the Bible and take it to heart. How much they delve into it… dive into it… immerse themselves in it… as opposed to just sticking one’s toe or finger into it. What do they expect?

With Jesus in their midst, those present in the synagogue that day in Capernaum were amazed for a number of reasons. One had to do with what our Lord said… the other, with what He did.

Again we read, They were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”

The Greek word for authority used here is ἐξουσία which also includes the aspects of power… influence… carrying great weight. To use the vernacular of today, what Jesus said there in that the synagogue “was powerful stuff.”

But isn’t that true of everything that Christ says… He who is the Word made flesh? The Word by which all things came into being? The Word by which the dead are raised, the blind are given sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear and the mute speak?

The authority of God’s Word by which forgiveness and life eternal are conveyed. The authority of the Word by which devils, demons and unclean spirits are sent fleeing.

This brings us to the second thing which astonished those gathered in the synagogue at Capernaum that Sabbath day. First, Christ’s Words. Second, Christ’s actions. And this in regard to the man with an unclean spirit. A demon who knows all too well who this Jesus of Nazareth is. And what is more, he and all of the other demons (who he alludes to by referring not only to himself… the me, myself and I… but the we and the us) know that they will be dealt with, done away with, deported to where they will spend eternity.

“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.” (Mark 1:24)

Isn’t it interesting that even the demons know, attest and testify … that Jesus is the Holy One of God. The same, by and large, could not be said of those gathered in that synagogue, apart from our Lord’s disciples.

Think about that. Actually… think about a couple of things. That the devil and his demons who possess all unbelievers, know all too well who Jesus of Nazareth is… but not the one’s held captive. Satan has them exactly where he wants them… in a state of ignorance and obstinance… in their own little world that will soon come crashing down… that will soon be destroyed… and them with it… in hell forever.

Another thing to consider is that this synagogue in Capernaum is not unique. There were…and are… other Jewish synagogues and temples as well as… are you ready for this… Christian churches and congregations down through the centuries and even now… today… where unclean spirits dwell.

And if what is running through your mind is the possibility that this could include, does include this congregation, our congregation, our beloved St. Paul’s… you are right. The thing is, those affected, infected and under sin and Satan’s control have little or no clue of the situation or the state of things.

They have convinced themselves otherwise. Oh, for sure, they wear the cloak of spirituality fringed in Christianity with some even sporting a splash of Lutheranism, but not the robe of righteousness.

Those who do wear the robe… those in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells richly… where God’s Word dwells richly… the dangerous and deadly direction of others is all too clear and evident by what they do or do not do.

Their ignorance of God’s Word – all too clear. Their arrogance and obstinance regarding God’s will – all too clear. Their pettiness and selfishness – all too clear. Their lack of love, true love toward God and their neighbor, including their pastor and their fellow congregational members – all too clear.

It is interesting though… this fact… this reality… causes all of us not to look around, but rather, to look within… to take stock of our own lives. Indeed, this fact… reality… keeps us all humble and so very watchful, not of others… but of ourselves. Let’s face it, it keeps us all both on our toes, but more importantly on our knees in repentance asking the Lord to forgive us… asking the Lord to protect us from the wiles of the devil and all unclean spirits.

There are those who say that Satan, that “serpent of old” is alive and well, especially in the visible church. Actually, that is a misnomer.  The truth is, he is alive, but mortally wounded having been crushed by Christ on the cross. But my friends, we must never forget that a venomous snake even with its head cut off… let alone crushed… can, for a little while, deliver its deadly poison if one places themselves in close proximity to the same. Incredibly many do.

But thankfully not us and all who are wise toward God… all who have the mind of Christ… all who walk in the light of His Word… all who live in His glory and grace.

Thanks be to God that what our Lord mercifully, lovingly did for that man in the synagogue, He does for us… He did for us… and this, at our baptism which is truly the greatest of exorcisms – where the devil is sent fleeing as cleansing water, freeing water, regenerating water is poured upon us in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Yes, Words of the highest authority and power.

And then in this baptismal covenant, again and again sin and Satan are sent fleeing and flying away as Christ now dwells richly in our hearts.

My friends, I started out this message saying that all those gathered in that synagogue at Capernaum really should not have been surprised or taken aback regarding Jesus and the power of His Words… the power of His actions.

It wasn’t as if they were not told in advance… as if He, Jesus, was not foretold and yes, right there in that synagogue where was read to them the words of the Prophets including the words of Moses which just happen to be found in today’s Old Testament lesson.

Look at what Moses relays to God’s people. “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” (Deuteronomy 18:15)

And then a little farther down we hear the very words of the Father declaring, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. (Deuteronomy 18:18-19)

God’s Word speaks of none other than Jesus here. He is the Prophet, like Moses but infinitely greater, raised up “from your brothers.” In others words, Jesus Christ the very Son of God is also true Man, born of a woman, born under the Law to redeem all those… all of us… under the Law… under the penalty of death, certain death in hell. It is to Him… to Jesus… who you shall listen, God declares.

And we gladly do. We cannot wait to come here again and again to listen to Jesus… He who has the Words of eternal life. He who tells us we are loved and then shows us this very fact in the greatest of ways… there, on the cross.

He who tells us we are forgiven and then invites us to taste this very fact… to take it into our mouths His precious body and blood given in ransom for our very souls… souls which no unclean spirit can ever again claim, unless we so allow it.

Those gathered in the synagogue that day… in light of what they heard and saw… said, “What is this?”  (Mark 1:27)  Thanks be to God that by His Holy Spirit we know. Thanks be to God that by the Holy Spirit we need not ask, “What is this” or “Who is this?” For we have been enlightened to the same and given the great privilege and honor to learn more and more… to love more and more our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the wonderful Gospel message. Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

“What is This?”  1/28/18  The Rev. Mark H. Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL