Sunday, January 28, 2018
"What is this? A new teaching with authority! He command unclean spirits, and they obey Him."
Jesus and His disciples are in Capernaum. Capernaum was a fishing town located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was a fairly large city of about ten thousand people and was on a major trade route. Jesus made Capernaum His home when He started His public ministry.
Our story today takes place on the Sabbath. Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people are amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. While He was teaching, a man in the synagogue who, Mark tells us, “was possessed by an unclean spirit,” cried out, “What do You want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are - the Holy One of God!”
What in the world is an “unclean spirit?” Is this the ancient world’s way of dealing with people with mental illness? Perhaps. This certainly sounds like a man who’s emotionally troubled. He doesn’t really sound angry or evil. He’s not threatening to shoot everyone in the synagogue as a deranged person might do today. He’s only asking Jesus what His motive was as He stood in the synagogue that day. Notice that the man recognizes that Jesus is sent by God. As such, Jesus would indeed be a threat to anyone with an unclean spirit.
Obviously, people believed in evil spirits and demons. This story today is, for all intense and purposes a form of exorcism, the driving out of demons. If you’re not aware, The Lutheran Church abolished exorcism by 1600. Not long after, Calvinists renounced the practice and it applied only for Jesus’ day.
We don’t put talk much about evil spirits or demons today, though Hollywood has made quite bit of profit from it. I remember being scared by the movie The Exorcist. I think it had 5 sequels, which tells me that it pays handsomely to frighten people. But exorcism has a small following in our culture. It’s like the graffiti someone saw on a wall: “Forget to pay your exorcist . . . and you will be repossessed.”
Some people say that the interest in the occult and witchcraft is a sign of our society’s hunger for the supernatural. I’m not so sure. I think maybe people are simply looking for a cheap thrill. What do we even understand about demon possession. Notice however, Jesus took the man seriously. He saw a man in front of him who needed help and, quite naturally, He helped him.
Be quiet! Jesus said, come out of him! The evil spirit shook him violently and came out of him with a shriek. And the people were all so amazed that they asked each other, What is this? A new teaching and with authority! He even gives orders to unclean spirits and they obey Him. News about Him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
And no wonder, anyone with that kind of authority is going to attract attention. Where did that authority come from?
Jesus’ authority came, first of all, from His relationship with His Father. The teachers of the law in Jesus’ time didn’t speak with their own authority. They usually started their statements with something like There’s a saying that, or Rabbi Such-and-Such has said that.
Even the prophets started their pronouncements with; thus says the Lord. But Jesus said simply, I say to you. How could Jesus do that and have people take Him at His word? It was because of His relationship with the Father.
It’s like the when I was teaching confirmation a few years ago and I asked a question to which the correct answer was “Jesus.” One girl quickly answered “God!” I gently suggested she try again. Another girl piped up, “Jesus!” When I congratulated the second girl on the correct answer, the first girl said in a huff, Yeah. That’s what I meant, but I call Him God for short. This, of course, was the primary source of Jesus’ authority. He and His Father were one.
The primary source of Jesus’ authority, His relationship with His Father. Jesus’ authority also came from His genuine commitment to serving people. It made no difference who they were or what their need was, Jesus was there to serve. Of course, the people there were amazed at the change Jesus made in this man, but engaging with the man in the first place, a nobody, an obviously troubled spirit, an outcast impressed them just as much. When He made a difference in this man’s life, it gave them the confidence that He could make a difference in their lives too. Jesus healed them and gave them hope. He still gives hope to people today.
This authority also comes from His willingness to do whatever is necessary to accomplish that which He was sent to accomplish. Any leader who is willing to give their all is going to gain the respect of their followers, and certainly that was true of Christ. That’s what the cross is all about.
A platoon of American soldiers were stranded on one side of a mine field. The commander came up with a plan: one man would walk across the mine field, leaving clear footprints for others to follow. If this first man hit a mine, then another man would walk across the field in his footsteps, until finally someone had cleared a path for all the other soldiers. The young soldiers agreed to the plan. But which one would be chosen to walk the field first? To their surprise, the commander began walking across the field. As their leader, he insisted on risking his life for the sake of his men. The commander crossed the field safely. All the soldiers made it across the field following closely in his footsteps.
If you were a soldier in that commander’s company, wouldn’t his willingness to give his all cause you to respect him, listen to him, follow him? Remember that if you are ever in a position of leadership, whether it is in your work, or your community, or just in your family. Why should people follow you if they know you’re not really committed to the task at hand?
Of course, Jesus was willing to do whatever was necessary to accomplish what His Father had sent Him to do. His authority came from His relationship with the Father. His authority came from His genuine commitment to serving people. And His authority came from His willingness to do whatever it took, even sacrificing His own life, to accomplish that for which He was sent.
But there’s one more reason for Christ’s authority that’s important to us today. It’s the continuing influence He has in our world two thousand years after His death and resurrection. No one who has ever lived has had the influence on human society that Christ has had. The early church felt his influence, of course.
When the plague hit ancient Rome, Christians had surprisingly high survival rates. Why? It’s because most Roman citizens would remove any person showing signs of this disease from their house. But because Christians had no fear of death, they nursed their sick instead of throwing them out on the streets. Therefore, many Christians survived the plague. Why did Christians not fear death? Because Jesus taught them that He is the resurrection and the life and therefore death had no hold over them. He also taught them to love one another. That’s how people knew they were Christians, by their love. Many Christians survived the plague. One of the sources of Christ’s authority through the ages has been His influence on those who follow Him.
Socrates taught for forty years, Plato for fifty, Aristotle for forty, and Jesus for only three. Yet the influence of Christ’s three‑year ministry overshadows the impact left by the combined 130 years of teaching from these men who were among the greatest of all philosophers. Jesus painted no pictures; yet the finest paintings of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci received their inspiration from Him. Jesus wrote no poetry; but Dante, Milton, and scores of the world’s greatest poets were inspired by Him. Jesus composed no music; still Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Bach, and Mendelssohn reached their highest perfection of melody in the hymns, symphonies, and oratorios they composed in His praise. Every sphere of human greatness has been enriched by this humble Carpenter of Nazareth.
His unique contribution to the human race is the salvation of the soul! Philosophy couldn’t accomplish that. Neither art, nor literature, nor music. Only Jesus Christ can break the chains of sin and Satan. He alone can speak peace to the human heart, strengthen the weak, and give life to those who are spiritually dead. Jesus is the perfect example and proven leader for Christians to imitate and serve.
That’s authority. No one has ever lived who had the authority Jesus had. It came from His relationship with His Father, it came from His genuine commitment to serving people, it came from His willingness to do whatever it took including giving His own life, and it comes from His continuing influence to this day. And that’s why I have the authority to say to you today, Jesus Christ is our Savior and Lord.