Fourth Sunday of Epiphany: Mark 1:21-28; Exorcism and Discipleship, part II

Here is my audio of my sermon on Mark 1:21-28.

People of God, the action-centered gospel of St. Mark continues to bring out the unsavory manifestations of demons. The gospel of Mark introduces us to the forces of evil incarnated in Satan himself. As I alluded to last week, Jesus is going to confront a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue. The demonic forces are coming out to meet the Holy One of Israel. The presence of Jesus draws these demons out. They realize that their territory is being threatened by his presence. They realize that they are going to be crushed. The coming of Jesus is a dramatic blow to Satan’s plans. Throughout the gospels there will be many encounters with evil. In the wilderness testing, we saw the first of the many battles Jesus will have with the evil one. These battles symbolize the promise of a cosmic battle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, as told in Genesis 3:15. Good vs. Evil; Purity vs. Impurity; Blameless vs. Demonic.[1]

Last week we read and heard that Jesus began his assembling of a new race of proclaimers. From verses 14-20, Jesus is gathering his army. He does not call soldiers or trained Jewish leaders, rather he calls fishermen. He called Simon, Andrew, James and John. These men were effectually called to serve this new leader. But discipleship is not cheap. These first disciples abandoned everything that they had and followed after Christ. It is not that their tasks were unimportant in the kingdom, but rather that they were called to a greater job in the kingdom; that of establishing the foundation of the kingdom of Christ. They would be fishers of men. These were unimportant men in the community, but their role is to signal a transition in redemptive history. These are men of the sea. Their livelihood comes from the sea, but now they are going to preach the message of the kingdom of God in the land. They are going to echo John the Baptist. They are going to cry out: Repent and believe in the gospel!

Their first official task begins in verse 21:

“And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching.”

Capernaum is the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.[2] It is the center of Jesus’ preaching and healing activity.[3] Notice that Jesus is now bringing along his four fishermen. Jesus began fighting the devil in the wilderness, but now the wilderness comes to the synagogue. And what we see is that the synagogue does not turn out to be an absurd place for battle. It is actually the place for battle, since the faith has been so corrupted. Jesus once again will triumph over Satan’s underlings, but Jesus is not going to triumph, but with his growing army. You need to understand that the synagogue model provides for a free speech environment. So, if someone wants to read the Bible, and share an exhortation, and something like it, they need simply to stand and do so. That is to say, what Jesus does is not strange; what is strange and unique is the manner in which his message is delivered.

Matthew Henry says that “Christ…did not preach as the scribes, who expounded the law of Moses by rote, as a school-boy says his lesson, but were neither acquainted…nor affected with it; it came not from the heart, and therefore came not with authority. But Christ taught as one that had authority, as one that knew the mind of God, and was commissioned to declare it.”[4] Jesus was not continuing the scribal tradition; rather, he was presenting with sovereign authority the message of a true prophet. When Jesus spoke there was no time “for debate nor theoretical reflection.”[5] When Jesus speaks men can no longer remain in their comfort zone. We see this in verse 22:

“And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”

He must be teaching something radically different to receive such a response from the people. Indeed Jesus is teaching about the overthrowing of their false teachings and the coming of His Kingdom. Who were the scribes? The scribes were the grammarians of the day, the γραμματεύς (grammateus) skilled in Jewish law and interpreters of the Scriptures. And Jesus comes along and the people answer: “He speaks with more authority than our leaders.”[6] The faithful proclamation of the gospel of God is a terror to those who despise God. This is very similar to the modern sentiment, which says: “As long as I am not confronted; as long as I am not called to do anything, then I can tolerate this person or preacher.” Much of the modern church has gone from proclamation to opinion? from authority to what Marva Dawn called, “the dumbing down of worship?”[7] But there is no dumbing down in Christ’s message. This faithful proclamation offends the weak, but also the demons, as Mark writes:

“And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “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.”’[8]

Jesus is establishing his authority in his teaching ministry. The teaching of Messiah leads to the eruption, the emergence of satanic manifestations. When Jesus was in the wilderness, he confronted Satan. You would think that the synagogue would be the last place Satan would visit. Even in the synagogue Satan manifests Himself through a man. This is not a man that is mentally ill; this is a man possessed by an evil spirit. The man knows exactly who Jesus is and he appears to know his agenda, because in verse 24 he cries: “Have you come to destroy us?” To destroy us? Why is he speaking in the plural? As R.T. France has written: “This particular demon speaks…on behalf of the whole threatened fraternity.”[9]This demon is speaking for the satanic hosts. They know that their time is short.

We cannot overlook that this unclean spirit is found in the synagogue. This is significant to grasp. The worship of the people of God has been corrupted over the centuries. It has been traditionalized; corrupted by religious leaders that have taken their word as more authoritative than God’s. What Jesus is doing in the synagogue is not just a random exorcism, rather it is part of his ministry. Jesus’ work is to exorcise; to draw out the unclean spirits, so he may show them that their works are coming to an end.

Let me draw your attention to this phrase used by the demoniac in verse 25. He addresses Jesus as “the holy One of God.” This is not just a random title; it is a very specific title. Throughout the gospel, those who are very sick, and near death, address Jesus is different ways. They address him as “Lord,” “Teacher,” “Master,” and “Son of David.”[10]But the demoniacs address Jesus more specifically. They do not address him in a general fashion—as many who are seeking Jesus’ help—but they acknowledge that Jesus is the divine Son of God. What does this mean? It means that the demons have superior knowledge. The demons know more about Jesus than Arius. What the demons are doing is trying to control Jesus by addressing him with precision. One way to gain control over someone in the ancient world was by demonstrating knowledge of your enemies. This is what is behind this declaration.

Jesus does not humor the demon; he does not enter into a theological discussion with the unclean spirit, rather as Mark says:

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

How does Jesus respond? Jesus rebukes him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” The idea here is one of “muzzling.” In other words, cover your mouth; be quiet. An early church father wrote that: “The devil, because he had deceived Eve with his tongue, is punished by the tongue, that he might not speak.”[11]Jesus is essentially telling the demon that there is no room for two authorities in the synagogue. You can only serve one master: the Messiah or Satan. Jesus does not waste His time arguing with the demon attempting to justify his authority. He tells him to stop talking and come out of this poor man.

He simply utters an authoritative word of command and that settles the issue. As Matthew Henry writes: “Christ has a muzzle for the unclean spirit when he fawns as well as when he barks.”[12] That is one reason the people are astonished. Jesus pronounces his word and the unclean Spirit convulses and cries out and comes out of him. This man is completely overcome by this demon. The demon convulses, meaning that the man’s body is under his control. The demon cries out, meaning that his talking is under the demon’s control. Jesus frees this man from oppression. He frees him completely, body and soul.[13]

In I Samuel 16, David receives an anointing from Samuel and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David. And an evil Spirit came upon Saul that terrorized him.[14] And whenever the Spirit came to terrorize Saul, David would refresh Saul by playing the harp.

In the account of Mark’s gospel, Jesus is the greater David who casts the demons out and who confronts the very source of these powers, Satan himself.

In verse 28, we see that his fame spreads to the neighboring regions of Galilee. The King is coming proclaiming the kingdom of God is at hand. He is examining his house and thus far, it needs a lot of cleaning. At this point in the narrative the people seem receptive to the owner of the house, but soon enough we will find that instead of amazement, the people will say that Jesus himself is possessed by Beelzebub, and they will confront him at every point, even until the point of death. The people will try to cast him out of his own house, but Christ’s mission will triumph when He defeats Satan himself. Then, he will begin this cosmic work of reconstructing, cleaning, and preparing a House where His Name will be exalted forever.

How Now Shall We Then Live?

There is a plethora of exorcism movies out in the market today. There is a growing interest in this topic. What I can say about this trend is that it is a reflection of the culture. It is not that the modern culture has traditionalized the faith, as the Scribes and Pharisees did; it is that they have rejected the faith outright, and so they find an alternative message. Modern philosophy in the media, movies, and literature are more aligned with demonic theology than biblical theology. Our Lord’s response was to rebuke false theology. Sometimes evil comes masqueraded as orthodoxy. What do we need? God’s people need wisdom and discernment. Part of maturity means knowing when to see or not see certain things. Do not frame our liberty in the context of anything-goes. There are limits to our liberty as Christians. Christ has called us to know the times and to be aware of our identity (Mk. 1) as fishers of men.

Some of the men here at Providence have been reading through Tullian Tchividjian’s book Unfashionable. The book argues that the more fashionable we become, the less faithful to our calling we will be. We are not called to be imitators of the world, but rather unfashionable in the world’s eyes. Being unfashionable is not easy. Christian education is unfashionable. Homeschooling is unfashionable. Attending church faithfully is unfashionable. Hospitality is unfashionable. Courtship is unfashionable. Discipline is unfashionable. Respect for authority is unfashionable. Try to espouse these ideas in the public, and you will quickly realize just how unfashionable you are. In fact, this is your calling: to rebuke evil, to turn away from temptation; like our Lord, we are not called to rationalize with sin and the devil.

Demons are prevalent where there is darkness. As possible, avoid the allures of the world; to offer an alternative message however unfashionable it may be. Christians lost the popularity contest the day Jesus was born of a virgin. We are biblical exorcists called to call evil evil; to show no tolerance for immorality and no patience with the heterodoxy of the day that claims a form of Jesus, while denying his authority and power.

Do you want to know what God is doing in the world right now? He is exorcising evil. He is cleaning the world from corruption. He is re-making creation into his own image; cleaning the church from demonic intruders; subverting demonic strategies, and rebuking Satan with the gospel of God. Amen.

 

 

In The Name of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[1] Old Sermon notes on Mark 1.

[2] William Lane, 71.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Matthew Henry, commentary on Mark’s Gospel. See On-line commentary.

[5] Lane, 72.

[6] Old Sermon Notes.

[7] Marva Dawn, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down.

[8] All quotations are taken from the English Standard Version.

[9] R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark. Pg. 103

[10] See Lane’s Commentary, 74.

[11] Bede, Homily on the Gospels 1.8.  From Ancient Christian Commentary on Mark, pg. 23.

[12] Henry, commentary.

[13] Old Sermon notes from 2009.

[14] I Samuel 16:13-23. See Mark Horne’s excellent commentary on Mark.

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Audio, Sermons/Epiphany and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Fourth Sunday of Epiphany: Mark 1:21-28; Exorcism and Discipleship, part II

  1. Pingback: 120201–George Hach’s Journal–Wednesday | George Hach's Blog

  2. Pingback: turn away from evil « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

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