Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (January 29, 2012)

Wordle: Untitled

"The Authority of Jesus" (Mark 1:21-28)

Wherever Jesus shows up, there Satan comes to oppose him. Luther often quoted a familiar German proverb: “Wherever God has built a church, the devil will have a chapel close by.” This does not mean that Satan worshippers live next door to every church. Seldom will you find “First Church of Satan” on reader boards planted along the boulevard. I have never seen “Satan Saves” flashing in neon-lit letters on a rooftop. The “devil’s chapel” is not so obvious. Satan’s message is not always so blatant. Rather, what that proverb means is that Satan sets up camp nearby, takes the good things of God, and twists them so that you use them in an ungodly way. The devil wants to make you think that the Gospel and Christianity is all about becoming a better person, just trying a little bit harder. And then, he’s got you. Because that type of thinking will cause you to despair when you realize that you simply cannot measure up. Or it will turn you into a self-righteous prig who prays like the Pharisee in Jesus’ story who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11).

You may be at odds with certain people in your life right now. Maybe you even consider them your “enemies.” But they are not your real enemy. The real fight we are engaged in is a spiritual battle. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). There are real unseen forces that are work all around us, all the fallen angels with Satan as their chief. St. Peter writes, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Don’t go looking for someone to show up in red tights with pitchfork in hand. Don’t expect an Oscar-winning “Exorcist”-like performance. He’s much craftier than that. He “disguises himself as an angel of light,” St. Paul tells us (2 Cor. 11:14). The old evil foe is liable to mix in just enough truth with his lies in order to lead you down a path which carries you far away from the worship of the one true God.

Notice where the devil shows up in today’s Gospel lesson. On the Sabbath. The holy day. The day of rest. The day when faithful Jews went to the synagogue to hear God’s Word read. To hear a rabbi preach a sermon about a portion of God’s Word. Who would expect the devil to show up in church, for crying out loud? But wherever Jesus is, Satan is sure to come to oppose him … to wreak havoc, to undo the work of God’s good creation, to create fear and confusion. And he would love to do nothing more than that in our midst, too.

A man with an unclean spirit comes forward and confronts Jesus. The demon says, “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). He spoke the truth. This was Jesus of Nazareth. He came to destroy the work of the devil. And he is indeed the Holy One of God. The unclean spirit from within the man confessed the truth … but in fear, not faith. He thinks, perhaps, that by uttering Jesus’ name and identity that he can gain some kind of magic control over Jesus, as was thought in those days. Jesus will have no demon speak his holy name. And Jesus doesn’t need any magic incantations. His word carries authority. It carries the power to accomplish what it says. “Be silent, and come out of him!” The unclean spirit has no choice but to obey.

The people gathered in the synagogue were amazed at Jesus’ authority. Notice, too, that they were amazed even before the incident with the demon-possessed man. He taught differently than the teachers that they were used to. They were accustomed to hearing citation after citation from this rabbi and that rabbi. Jesus didn’t need to cite anyone. His sermons needed no footnotes. He is THE source. He is the Word of God become flesh. His teaching came with such authority, it was like a smack in the face to the people, they were so astonished.

You and I are gathered in church this morning. Are we amazed at the teaching of Jesus? Are you in awe of the judgment of God over your sins? Are you astonished at the overwhelming mercy of God in Christ Jesus, who became flesh for you, who suffered for you, who shed his blood at the cross for you, who paid the price for your sins and buried them with him in the tomb for you, who rose to life again so that you might experience a resurrected life in spirit now and a resurrected life in both soul and body in eternity? Are you amazed that the God of the universe loves you and forgives your sins?

If not, part of the fault might lie with the preacher. Maybe he hasn’t made it crystal clear to you how desperately in need of a Savior you are and how desperately God loves you that he sent his only Son to be your Savior.

On the other hand, part of the fault might lie with the hearer. Maybe he or she is not being attentive to the holy Word of God. Maybe he or she is looking for spectacular signs and wonders instead of being satisfied with words, water, and bread and wine. Not very spectacular, I’ll grant you that, but chock full of supernatural power when God’s promises are attached to them. Knowing this, we ought to be on the edge of our seats when we come to the Divine Service, leaning forward, waiting with great anticipation to receive the gifts that the Lord has in store for us.

Our Lord gives his authoritative word to his Church and her ministers. “The one who hears you hears me,” Jesus said to his disciples (Luke 10:16). In the upper room after his resurrection, he said to them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” (John 20:23). The Word of Jesus has the power to accomplish what it says … to give life, forgiveness, and salvation, and to cast the devil far away from us.

He cast him away from you when you were baptized. And you’re saying, “No, he didn’t. I was just a sweet, cute, innocent little baby.” No, you weren’t. You were a little sinner, bound for hell, unless claimed by Christ. That’s what we say in the rite of Holy Baptism: “The Word of God also teaches that we are all conceived and born sinful and under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as his own.” That’s what St. Paul says in Colossians 1: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).

The name of Jesus was placed upon you in Holy Baptism. And Satan flees at the Holy Name of Jesus … not as if we are using a magic incantation, but because of the authority of the One who bears that Name. The right use of the Name of Jesus is confessing faith in his Name and telling others about that Name so that they, too, through water and the Word might be transferred from the devil’s domain into the Kingdom of Christ.

Wherever Jesus is, there Satan comes to oppose him. He is the real enemy. But he is a defeated enemy. He can only go as far as God allows him. “Satan, hear this proclamation, ‘I am baptized into Christ!’” Say it out loud. Pray it out loud. Let the devil hear it. Stick it to him. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Resist him in the strength of Christ, because you and I have no power of our own. Be ever vigilant in prayer. Listen, lean forward, come often, run to receive God’s blessing, power, and strength for you in Word and Sacrament.


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