The 4th Sunday after The Epiphany

January 28, 2018


21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath [Jesus] entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 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.” 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.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28 ESV)

We all know the situation of miscommunication. Perhaps someone started to talk to you and you paid attention only to realise they were talking to the person behind you. We all know the situation of overhearing a conversation – one of the secret joys of eavesdropping is hearing about something pertinent and usually personal between the speakers – not meant for the ‘outside’ world. We know that to understand communication we should know who is speaking to whom and understanding comes when we know the relationship between the speakers.

Jesus has made his home base in Capernaum and there he is in the synagogue – not hesitant – the architecture and rituals are familiar to him – and he is teaching differently. He isn’t quoting or referring to this or that rabbi’s opinion but to only one source – the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms – and one interpretation – his own. No citing 5 rabbis or additional writings, no refuting 5 rabbis’ opinions, simply presenting God’s Word – ‘Have you not read?’ and ‘I say to you …’. Now that takes some guts – or arrogance – or delusion – or it is simply the truth that Jesus can present and interpret God’s Word like that because … he is God! He knows what is written and he knows what it is meant to say! Wow, what authority!

But ‘Who is Jesus?’ the people wonder.

Suddenly a man speaks – we don’t know his identity but I’m sure the people did. “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.”

Can you imagine what it would be like to hear this? Destroy?! Who said anything about destroy?! Destroy us?! What? Can Jesus destroy us?! Can you imagine the furrowed brows, the quickly turning of heads to the man – to Jesus – to the man – how does he know what we don’t know?

The man they know. Who is Jesus?

And then Jesus replies, “Be silent, and come out of him!”. The words are a rebuke and they seem demeaning – maybe even insulting – because the ‘be silent’ is really a ‘be muzzled’ – the sort of thing you do to an animal – maybe a baying one – when you shut the mouth. You might say ‘Shut up!’ to your yapping dog that annoys you but should you really say that to a person? And in the synagogue?

Remember the man doesn’t have a t-shirt on saying ‘There is a demon inside’ nor a sign on his forehead saying, ‘I have an unclean spirit’. Why is Jesus speaking like this? Who is Jesus?!

The people thought that understood the speakers – gifted rabbi and local person – but all of a sudden the man convulses, the demon screams as it leaves – and understanding is dawning among the people – the speaker wasn’t the man they knew but a demon and Jesus … well, he has even more authority now – not just how he uses God’s Word but ‘he commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him’!

You do feel like joining the dots for the people, don’t you?!

Who is Jesus? He treats God’s Word as his own and can command the unclean spirits so therefore he must be God. Yes, that is a big step to take – and people can only take that jump by the light of an empty tomb – and Mark – as is all the New Testament – is written by the light of an empty tomb.

Back then it will take longer and people will have various theories about Jesus – who does stir things – forgiving sins, healing on the Sabbath, breaking Sabbath regulations – it’s as if he owns them. And people will try and work out who Jesus is and some will conclude – with almost contempt and insult – maybe even fear – that Jesus is a prince of demons (Mark 3:22)! Who is this Jesus?

The demons know. So does the Devil. The unclean spirit in Capernaum spoke the truth – Jesus is ‘the Holy One of God’ – and sin should fear – as should death – as should the whole unclean world for Jesus has come to destroy them. And here is the mystery – the greatest one of all – that this God – this holy God will come among us in the likeness of sinful flesh, will become sin for us – and will destroy himself – so that you and I – all humanity – indeed all creation – might be freed and live.

We don’t wear t-shirts or labels on our foreheads that reveal us – the us our families know – the us that gives us grief – the us that shames us – the us we struggle with. Yet Jesus knows us – inside and out – I’m not suggesting you have demons inside – but that Jesus is still committed to free people from imprisonment through his death for us and his resurrection. Remember in baptism people die with Christ and rise with him to live. At Holy Communion the communicants proclaim the Lord’s death as they receiving the living Lord’s body and blood in bread and wine – as they receive Jesus who wants them to live with him. Where there is repentance and faith there is life and blessing. Where there is rejection, unbelief, no repentance then there is judgement. Where God’s Word is heard – the Spirit beings Jesus to us and when he speaks the Law we are rightly condemned but he also speaks the Gospel and forgives us. For what? To go out and live trapped sinful lives?! Hardly. Why go back to prison? No, we go out committed to struggle with the us within in the power of Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

Who is Jesus? The Holy One of God – still here – not going away – because he loves us and he wants us to live! There is no miscommunication here! The grave is empty! Jesus is Lord. And life with him is the best way to face this world one day at a time.

Bible References

  • Mark 1:21 - 28