This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Mark 1:21-39
Dear friends in Christ,
It’s a Sunday morning. And just imagine that Jesus comes to church. He walks into the building and a few elders recognize him. They go to the council room and say, “Hey, Jesus of Nazareth is here. I’ve heard he’s a good preacher. Let’s ask him to address the congregation at some point in the worship service today.” That’s close to what is happening in Mark 1:21. Mark doesn’t give us all those details but just says, “They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.”
It’s the Jewish Sabbath. In the fishing village of Capernaum, shortly after calling the first four disciples to be fishers of men, Jesus goes with them to the Sabbath worship service. Normal tradition would be that he requests or is requested to read from the holy Scriptures and explain the meaning of the passage because he is a respected rabbi.
On the occasion recorded here in Mark 1, something about Jesus makes him stand out from other preachers! And do you know what that something is, children? What about the adults? What makes the people sit on the edge of their seats? Or stand on their tippie-toes since the people often stood for the reading from God’s word? What made Jesus different from other rabbis?
It’s his authority, isn’t it! Mark writes, “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” Today our Father in heaven is inviting us to consider what gave Jesus that authority. How did that authority show itself? And what kind of response does Jesus’ authority call for?
Jesus’ Authority Confirmed by Handling the Word
Think, first of all, about this: Jesus’ authority is confirmed by his handling of the word of God. There’s a right way and a wrong way to handle God’s word. Other rabbis or teachers of the law often spent a lot of time quoting the interpretations of earlier rabbis. They focussed on what the law said you could or couldn’t do and tried to prove that their view on things was the one the people must observe.
Even though both the Old Testament and the New Testament teach us that sinners of both eras are saved by grace through faith, it seems like we easily fall into focussing on the outward observance of the law only. And then, like the rabbis around the time of Jesus, we end up teaching laws without grace and the message has no power or authority.
One commentator called this “pettifogging.” Just think about it: petti refers to small things. And fogging refers to reducing clarity, like when you have to drive on a foggy night. So pettifogging is about clouding up the truth by focussing on petty laws. A lawyer whose methods are petty, underhanded, or deceptive is a pettifogger.
Now, rabbis did not intentionally set out to cloud people’s lives with petty laws yet that happens when we focus only on human traditions. But Jesus came on the scene with the highest regard for the word of God, including the law, and so rather than repeating some stagnant code preached by an earlier rabbi, Jesus told people the truth of what God had been saying to them for centuries in the Old Testament era already and applied that to their current situation.
Rather than wasting time on trivialities as the teachers of the law did, Jesus preached matters of great significance, matters of life and death and eternity. The teachers of the law, on the other hand, simply rambled on and on. Jesus preached clearly and passionately about the importance of following God with your whole heart. For the teachers of the law, it seemed that living by the code was all about keeping up appearances for people. Jesus used illustrations of everyday life—about farming, sickness and travelling on dangerous roads—that brought the message home to the people. The scribes simply repeated old traditions in speeches that were as dry as dust. And, finally, Jesus preached with love in his heart for the people he spoke to. But the other teachers? Mark tells us in chapter 12, “They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers”.
Mark gives us just one reason for Jesus’ superior teaching: he taught with authority. The power of his message comes from the fact that he tells people what God wants them to know. He speaks the mind and heart of God, for what else can the Son of God do? Jesus fully understands the Old Testament Scriptures. He understands that true children of God seek to obey the law but always in spirit, not in the letter and not just outwardly which is simply for the praise of men.
That’s a reminder to all of us today too. As preachers, parents, teachers and as Christians who want to share the gospel with others, repeating dead traditions that borrow from fallible sources will not further the cause of God’s kingdom. A message with authority is one that speaks the heart of God… it is full of the truth found in both the Old and New Testaments and is conveyed with love and passion for the hearer. It calls us to walk with God in a living relationship—a covenant—rather than appeasing him or putting on a show for others by keeping a never-ending list of manmade rules.
You know what, young people? The most amazing part of this story in vv.21-29 is this: Jesus is in the synagogue where people have been gathering to listen to rabbis for years. And v.23 describes one member as “…a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit.” He was part of their synagogue, a regular member. He wasn’t a visitor. This wasn’t his first time “in church.” But here’s the thing: this appears to be the first time that the evil spirit was worked up by the preaching that occurred in that synagogue!
Do you sense the importance of that? People had been attending this synagogue for years but the teaching of the rabbis—it seems—had never once awakened the evil spirit in this man. In other words, the devil up until then did not sense any threat coming from the teachers. The devil had nothing to worry about in that synagogue until Jesus comes through the doors because up until then the exposition of the word of God was not taking place. The teachers kept the people in the dark. The teaching was no threat to the kingdom of darkness so the evil spirit never cried out before! But he cries out when Jesus speaks because Jesus’ message is an open threat to Satan’s success in Capernaum.
Just think about that, dear people. When Jesus handles the word of God he does so with authority that awakens an otherwise sleeping church and even an otherwise quiet evil spirit. Is it possible that people in a church today are so concerned about keeping manmade rules that Satan feels no threat? When the gospel is not preached in churches or taught in our homes, the devil rests easy. Indeed, we see here that the authority of Christ is only found in the pure word of God that calls us to repentance and offers grace through faith in Jesus. Jesus’ authority is confirmed by his handling the word of God. That’s something to ponder, don’t you think? Wow. It makes me wonder how we are doing with handling the word of God.
Jesus’ Authority Manifested by Power over Evil
That bring us, secondly, to see Jesus’ authority manifested in his power over evil. You see, the reason the evil spirit cried out is that he recognized Jesus’ authority. But Jesus immediately takes the offensive and exercises or manifests his authority by ordering the evil spirit, "Be quiet!" […and] "Come out of him!"
In this first story of our reading today, as well as in the following two, we see Jesus take charge of evil spirits. Look at verse 26, “The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.”And verse 34: “and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons…” and v.39: “So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.” Jesus took charge of the demons, casting them out.
Can you see that Jesus is indeed victorious over the forces of evil? Without a doubt, the power of evil is real. Satan is real. His demons or evil spirits do his bidding. The Apostle Peter, who apparently played an influential role in training Mark, tells us in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” So we cannot downplay the influence of evil and the reality of Satan and his devils.
But in this story what is most important is that the demon recognizes Jesus as “the Holy One of God!” To be holy is to be set apart. Jesus is different from everyone that came before and he comes to set apart a people for God.
Mark showed us in chapter 1:13 that Jesus had been tempted by Satan in the desert. There already he made it apparent that Satan’s attacks would be useless. The Holy One of God has come to do his Father’s will. He masters the word of God and feeds it back to Satan when tempted, defeating the evil one. And because Jesus is victorious, the forces of evil mount a counter attack but are still put to flight when Jesus comes into town. Time and again Satan and his evil spirits will try to steal the show from Jesus, try to intimidate people and keep them in bondage. You see, young people, Satan does not want us to know that Jesus is the Liberator. That’s why the evil spirit says, according to v.24, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?" Each time the evil spirits appear, Jesus shuts them up and sends them away. He only has to speak, "Be quiet!" […and] "Come out of him!" Then the evil spirits leave like a dog with his tail between his legs—because Jesus has authority even over evil spirits.
Jesus’ Authority Calls Us to Faith
That brings us to our third and final consideration: Jesus’ authority calls disciples to follow him in faith as the Holy One of God.
The synagogue in Capernaum had never seen so much action. The people are treated to a powerful sermon that leaves them hungering for God, it would seem. They hear the difference between the shallow teaching of rules and traditions by their local rabbi versus the truth of God which Jesus brought them. They are invited to covenant with God by acknowledging their own failures in God’s eyes instead of trying to make themselves right with God and keeping up appearances for other people. They need to acknowledge that the demon said that Jesus is the Holy One of God, set apart to set them apart for God.
Needless to say, as we read in the vv.27, “The people were all so amazed...” So amazed! You’d guess that this was a life changing day in Capernaum. You’d think that people followed Jesus wholeheartedly from that day on. These stories make we wonder… what happened in Capernaum in the coming days, weeks, months and years? And what would happen in this community if Jesus came here today and preached the kind of powerful sermon he did in Capernaum, one that made people think about their relationship with God? And if that’s not enough, we’d be able to see Jesus cast an evil spirit out of a man in church—before our very eyes! The fact is that if you read all of Mark and the other gospels too, you realize that Jesus did a whole lot more in Capernaum. He preached sermons, healed the sick and cast out demons many times over. And you have to wonder, who could doubt him after that?
Would you believe the people of Capernaum doubted him? Matthew 11:20 tells us about a time when “…Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.” He says woe to Korazin and Bethsaida. Then we read, “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.24But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."
Ouch! Jesus seems to be saying that the vast majority of people in Capernaum weren’t really changed even though Jesus performed many signs before their eyes. They marvel and are amazed for a while. But they soon return to living under the illusion of their own righteousness. They don’t heed the heart of Jesus’ message to repent of their sins. They don’t see why they need to. They carry on believing their rabbis who tell them to keep the traditions. So they reject Jesus and God’s grace. And he tells them that it won’t be good for them on judgement day.
So what does this means for us, dear friends? Well, it means that the problem with sin is not so much that the world out there is so big and bad. It’s not that we even have to fear the power of evil spirits because Jesus clearly shows that he has them under control too. As Paul said in the comforting words of Romans 8: 38 and following, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In other words, all powers are subject to Christ. He has all things under control and his people can rest assured in that reality.
Therefore the question relates to our hearts. Do we know and trust Jesus? Or are we stubbornly depending on our ability to live up to human standards to make us right with God? Oh, dear people, our stubborn hearts need a real encounter with Jesus. We must acknowledge Jesus as the Holy One of God. He separated himself from his glory in heaven by coming to earth in order to lift us up out of our sin. He took on the powers of evil and by his victory over sin and hell, he has received all authority in heaven and on earth.
But do we respond to his authority with faith? The majority of the people in Capernaum were astounded at Jesus’ message and his power to cast out the evil spirit and heal the sick. But it did not turn to faith. Jesus’ “woe to Capernaum” indicates that eventually the people returned to their normal way of life. They continued to trust in doing things their own way and living by the code of the rabbis, instead of leaning on Jesus.
I guess that is evidence that legalism is the easiest religion there is. People like the simplicity of being told, “Just do A…B…and C… and this is your reward.” That’s what makes many cults and false religions attractive to people. If you do this for the cause of Allah, you’ll get a paradise with 70 virgins all to yourself. That’s a common pattern. But that’s exactly what Jesus doesn’t do. He doesn’t give a list of dos or don’ts that God will reward you for with salvation. He undoes the legalism of the teachers of the law. All he requires is repentance and faith. Turn away from your sin and turn to him. Don’t let your stubborn heart keep you in bondage to your sin and thinking that you can do okay without a relationship to Jesus. Don’t fall into the trap that the people of Capernaum fell into.
Praise God! There’s nothing else to do except repent of your sin and follow Jesus. Acknowledge him as the Holy One of God who saves us from our sin and makes us holy too.
Prayer of Response:
Dear Father in heaven, open our eyes by the power of the Holy Spirit to see Jesus. Help us to see our desperate need for the salvation he has won for us. Thank you, Jesus, for your complete victory over sin and Satan for us. Grant us humble hearts to repent of our sin and truly follow you with joy and confidence.
Order of Worship
We Gather to Praise Our God
Welcome and Announcements
*We Greet One Another
*Gathering Song: “Draw Me Close to You” OR “Blessed Assurance: Jesus Is Mine”PsH#490
*Call to Worship: Psalm 92 responsively
*Prayer for God’s Greeting, “May God’s grace, mercy and peace be ours, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen”
*Songs of Praise: “Let Us Adore” OR “God Himself Is with Us” PsH#244
“Who Am I?” OR “My Soul Finds Rest in God Alone” PsH#62
Rededicating Our Lives to the Lord
Prayer of Confession
God’s Word of Forgiveness: Psalm 130: 7-8
God’s Will for Our Lives: Romans 12: 1-3
* Song: “Blessed Are Those Who Heed” PsH#119:4,5,6
We Hear the Word of God
Prayer for the WordChildren’s Message
Scripture: Mark 1:21-39
Sermon: “Evil Encounters”
We Bring our Prayers & Gifts to God
* Song: “10000 Reasons” OR “Christian, Do You Struggle” PsH#575
We Leave with God's Blessing
* Prayer for God’s Blessing, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.”
* Closing Song: “Everlasting God” OR “Praised Be the Father” PsH#582