Epiphany 4 – Series B (February 1, 2015)
Deut. 18:15-20; Mark 1:21-28
The traveling rabbi enters the seaside village of Capernaum. Four of his fisherman followers accompany him. Just before this he had invited these sun-baked, calloused, rugged men to learn from him. He had great plans for them to be “fishers of men.” His authoritative call impelled them to leave their business behind and travel with him and sit at his feet.
Now it is the Sabbath. The day to set aside all work so that you can go to the synagogue and let God’s Word do its work in you. The traveling rabbi enters the synagogue in Capernaum to teach, and the people are astonished at his teaching. Like the fishermen-followers of Jesus, they noted that his teaching was with authority, not like the scribes they were accustomed to hearing from.
A recent commentary on this text says that Mark’s language here gives the sense that Jesus was “exuding” authority. How did Jesus exude authority?
First, let’s consider how people exude authority today. In the office, you dress for success. Wear a suit and a power tie. Stand up straight, no matter how tall or short you are. Look confident. Make eye contact. Use a clear, direct, commanding voice. On the football field, you send the Legion of Boom out to crush Tom Brady and the Patriot’s offense (I promise, that is my only Super Bowl reference today).
How did Jesus exude authority? Was there something about his appearance? Probably not. The prophet Isaiah described the coming Messiah this way: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is. 53:2). Other than his appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration, his divine presence was not noticeable. He looked like an ordinary human being. Yet he taught with authority, and “not as the scribes,” Mark states. In other words, he spoke his own words and never quoted other rabbis, as would have been the custom of other teachers in those days.
Jesus is the “prophet” promised in today’s reading from Deuteronomy 18. As they prepared to enter the Promised Land after their wilderness wanderings, Moses says to the 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 – just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’” Back at Sinai, the people had heard the fearful thunder and flashes of lightning and smoking mountain and they were terrified. When God speaks unveiled, fear and terror strike sinful human beings. No one can stand before his glory and live. Even in the Old Testament, when God spoke, it appears that he veiled himself in some way, sometimes as the Angel of the Lord, once as a burning bush, at other times as pillar of cloud or fire.
And so, God promised one final prophet to come of whom he said, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” “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.” At the Mount of Transfiguration, this is exactly what the voice from heaven said. Surrounded by Moses and Elijah, two of the great prophets of the Old Testament, God the Father said “This is my beloved Son … listen to him” (Mark 9:7). Jesus is that prophet like Moses … but more than a prophet, of course: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th’ incarnate Deity,” to quote a famous Christmas hymn. He is the very Son of God who speaks the words his Father gave him, the authoritative words we listen to in the Scriptures today.
The authority of Jesus is challenged by demonic forces. Here in our reading, it is challenged in the synagogue, no less. The very place where God’s Word was read and explained. Other than our Lord’s temptation a few verses earlier, this is the first place where opposition to Jesus’ teaching arises. The man with unclean spirit cries out, “What have you to do with us?” That is to say, “We have nothing in common with you!”
We gather here, safe and snug in our pews, and look out at the evil in the world today. We forget that here in the Church is where opposition to Jesus and his teaching begins. The devil attends church, too, you know. Now, his opposition is not as obvious as in our text, where demons cry out with loud voices. It’s much more subtle. False teaching and false teachers infect our ranks. The devil wants us to doubt and question the truthfulness and authority of the Scriptures. He also loves to cause division … division between fellow Christians, and division over the teachings of the Scriptures. Both are a poor witness to the unity that Christ desires for his Church.
You and I are also tempted to ask, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” Our sinful nature is moved to say that we have nothing in common with Jesus. God’s judgment and wrath convict us, like that terrifying voice from Sinai, and we ask, “Have you come to destroy us?” We fail to hear and believe the words of Jesus which teach us, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Jesus has plenty in common with us. Hebrews 2 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery … Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:14-17). The sinless Son of God came to share in flesh and blood with you in order to be the perfect atoning sacrifice for your sins and mine. He came to call all of us back into God’s kingdom by faith in him. God had said through Moses that the prophet who presumes to speak a word that he was not commanded to speak should be put to death. And the great divine prophet Jesus came, speaking nothing but truth in the name of the Father, and was unjustly put to death on a cross … a death he endured willingly, lovingly, so that you and I might be given life eternal.
Jesus did not come to destroy us, but came instead to destroy the evil forces arrayed against him and against his redeemed people. He muzzled the demon in our text and cast him out, a preview of the day in which the devil and all that is opposed to God will be eternally silenced and cast into outer darkness. 1 John 3:5 says that Jesus “appeared in order to take away sins,” and then verse 8 says, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” And Jesus said that on the Last Day, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace” (Matt. 13:41-42).
The authority that Jesus displayed is the authority of his Word. With a word he created the world. With a word he silences demons and casts them out. The one who ordered all things comes to destroy the one who brought disorder. The unclean spirit is cast out by the one bearing the clean Spirit, given to him at the Jordan. At the font, you were given the clean Spirit. Now, you can sing, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your free Spirit.” The Holy Spirit cleanses you, forgives you, brings you in and keeps you in God’s kingdom. He makes you a new creation now and keeps you ready and watchful for the day when Jesus returns in glory and the new creation will come in all its fullness.
The night before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed to his Father, “Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:2-3). And then, before his ascension, he told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” by baptizing and teaching them in the authoritative name of the Triune God. Jesus silences the demons, but he sends forth his Church, cleansed and redeemed, filled with his clean Spirit, to boldly declare him as the Holy One of God. Trust his authoritative Word today that gives what it says … the forgiveness of sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.