Sermons, Uncategorized

Authority Issues

“Christ Preaching at Capernaum” by Maurycy Gottlieb

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“They went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath [Jesus] entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

When you mention the word “authority,” it’s likely you’ll have to qualify what you mean. Depending upon the audience’s background—and the current context—“authority” may have an extremely negative connotation. It may suggest oppression by a dictatorial governmental official, an overbearing boss, or an abusive parent. In that setting, an “authority” is a ruler—a ruler who uses you for his own advantage. And so, it’s no wonder that many of us have authority issues.

But there are good authorities as well—ones who use their authority for the benefit of others instead of themselves. This use of authority is seen as beneficial and orderly for society. Good parents, good teachers, good bosses, and good governmental officials—ones who develop trust in the people of their charge.

Jesus exercised good authority. Like other good authority figures, Jesus didn’t seek authority; it was given to Him (Matthew 28:18). In His state of humiliation, Jesus submitted Himself to the will of the Father, using His Father’s authority for the good—for the salvation—of all mankind. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus demonstrates His authority by His teaching and power over demons.

The scene is familiar. Jesus enters the city of Capernaum, a place where He lived for some time. Its situation on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and at the intersection of several important trade routes made Capernaum an ideal base for carrying the Gospel into the regions of Galilee and beyond. Besides, Capernaum was also the home of Zebedee and his sons, James and John, and the home of Peter, whose mother-in-law was living with him.

On the Sabbath following their selection to become fishers of men, Peter, James, John, and Andrew, together with Jesus, attended the synagogue service. Since synagogues had no resident ordained ministers, the rulers of the synagogue would invite some rabbi or scribe present to teach the lessons. So, it happened that Jesus was often invited to address the congregations.

The synagogue served mostly as a place of the Word. Whereas the temple was mainly a place of worship and sacrifice, the service of the synagogue would consist of prayer, reading Scripture, and an exposition of the Word. Therefore, the synagogue was the ideal place for the true Word, Jesus, to reveal Himself.

What Jesus’ specific message was on this Sabbath, Mark does not tell us; he does tell us about the impression His preaching made on the worshipers. They were amazed, for Jesus did not teach as the scribes did.

The scribes extracted rules and regulations from the Torah for almost any situation. Generation after generation of scribe passed down this oral law, which was committed to memory. Since they were the experts of this unwritten code, they were also the ones judging individual cases. They were considered the final authority on interpretation of God’s Word, particularly regarding moral living.

Jesus wasn’t preaching about endless circumstances for choosing the right behavior, but rather sin and grace. His message wasn’t “What should I do?” but rather “What has God done for me—because of what I’ve done and left undone?” Jesus was boldly preaching contrition and faith, the full counsel of God. He simply told them how it is—on no less authority than God Himself. This wasn’t just some new teaching, but a dusting off of timeless teaching. It was a teaching that through the coming of the Messiah, forgiveness would be won for helpless man. Jesus is the final authority. He is the one who in word and deed reveals to us the undeserved love of God for sinners incorporated in His own person. Through Him and His Word, God’s authority issues. His, is the final Word.

But this refreshing message of good news isn’t always received with joy and amazement, is it? Often, we see, even in quite different settings, the rejection of the good. Because of our sinful nature, we all have authority issues. We all want to have the final say, to be our own god. And the sinful world and Satan are all too eager to help us toward this deadly end.

“And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “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’” (Mark 1:23-24).

At this crucial moment in Jesus’ ministry, why should there be a demon-possessed man showing up in the synagogue, that gathering place of God’s people? We might expect a holy, secure setting for Jesus’ teaching. Yet, this is the beginning of His ministry, a beginning that recalls Genesis 3 and the unanticipated appearance of Satan in the paradise of the Garden of Eden. It has been said where God builds a cathedral, Satan sets up a chapel next door.

It is not at all surprising that Satan, despite his recent defeat in the wilderness, was not ready to let such a message and such a preacher go unchallenged. It was the devil who caused this man in that synagogue to cry out against Jesus, for it is clear that this man was not speaking for himself. He could not of himself have known what he said about Christ.

However, Satan and the evil spirit that possessed this man knew who Jesus of Nazareth was and what His purpose was. They knew He was the Son of God and that He had come to destroy Satan’s hold over mankind. With his words Satan revealed himself wiser than many modern theologians. This knowledge did him no spiritual good; it only filled him with fear and trembling. He knew that He faced hell and the Gospel was not meant for him.

But Jesus wouldn’t take it anymore. Even though what the demon said was true, it certainly was no endorsement. It was like having Adolf Hitler as your character witness. Besides, Jesus was not yet ready to proclaim openly that He was the Messiah. Most of His audience would have read political aims into that word. So, Jesus shut him up. Literally, in the Greek, He “muzzled him.” Jesus says three little Greek words—that’s all it took to vanquish the wicked one. No magic show—no long incantation—just three words: Be silent and come out!

“The unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 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’” (Mark 1:26-27). This is what Satan and his angels most despise: to be put in their place, to be reminded that they never had, and never will have, ultimate authority. They can never be God. Jesus is God.

So, it’s a nice story and all, Jesus speaks with authority and casts out a demon, but “What has this to do with us?” you may be asking.   

I would like to go back and have you to listen more closely to the language of the unclean spirit. The spirit confronts Jesus and cries out, “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.” Notice how it speaks in the plural: “us.” Mark clearly tells us the spirit is singular (it is “an unclean spirit”). Yet, the spirit speaks in the plural: “What have You to do with us?”

This could be a case where the spirit is one of many, like the situation of the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:9). Or it could be the spirit is speaking of a realm of uncleanness. Or it could be the spirit is intentionally seeking to deceive Jesus, presenting itself as many when it is only one. I wonder, however, if the spirit could be making a bolder claim. Is it possible the unclean spirit is claiming the people in the synagogue as its own? This unclean spirit already has laid claim to this man. The man is described as, “in the unclean spirit,” and the spirit is later able to convulse him. Is it possible the unclean spirit sees things differently than we do?

We look at the synagogue and see God’s people gathering in worship. The spirit, however, sees uncleanness and lays claim to all which is unclean as its own. God’s people have gathered in worship while there is a war going on, and this war has two opponents: The Kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God. There is no middle ground. You are either Satan’s or you are God’s.

When the spirit first appears in the story, Mark makes it sound like there may be a middle ground. “And immediately, there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit.” The synagogue belongs neither to God nor to Satan but to the people of Capernaum. The spirit then makes a claim. Its claim is that all the people gathered in worship are the spirit’s. They are unclean and cannot be in the presence of the “holy One of God.” What does God have to do with those who are unclean? Nothing. So, the spirit cries out and reveals that the people of Capernaum, gathered in worship, are under the threat of being claimed by Satan.

But then Jesus reveals who He truly is. He is more than a man from Nazareth. He is more than a prophet like Moses. He is more than a teacher with authority. He is the cosmic Christ. This is His synagogue, and these are His people. His rule is over all things, visible and invisible. His power is without equal. He has come into this world to fight against Satan and to defeat him. He will set free all the people Satan claims as His own.

How are the unclean made clean? How are the captives set free? By the gracious work of Jesus, bearing the curse of our uncleanness on the cross that He might rise and bring the blessing of God’s holiness to us in His authoritative Word.

For almost a year now, we have been experiencing the disruptive effects of COVID. One of the things that has happened is it has changed how we view our ability to gather in worship. I fear some have found worship to not be so essential. But many others have begun to see why being able to gather for worship is truly a gift. Mark’s Gospel this morning takes us one step further. He reveals the divine gift of worship. We are Christ’s Church. The One we worship is the One who has come to rescue us from the power of Satan. We live in the midst of a battle. Satan seeks to lay claim on our lives. But for us fights the valiant one: Jesus. The cosmic Christ who has come today claims us as His own.

Jesus’ authoritative teaching and power over the unclean spirits create an immediate stir among those beholding Him in the early days of His ministry in Galilee. Today, we often see the same thing. People continue to be interested in and even amazed by Jesus’ teaching, and yet many fail to depend on Him for life and salvation. By the power of His authoritative Word and Spirit, however, others are indeed brought into saving faith and life.

As He promised, the Lord our God has raised up “a prophet” like Moses, namely Jesus, our brother in the flesh. “To Him you shall listen,” because the Word of the Lord is “in His mouth” (Deut. 18:15–18). Indeed, He is more than a prophet and more than a scribe of the Scriptures; He is the incarnate Word, and He speaks “a new teaching with authority” (Mark 1:22, 27). He enters “the synagogue” of His Church and provides true Sabbath rest, using His authority to silence and cast out “even the unclean spirits” (Mark 1:21–27). By His Word of the cross, He removes the accusations of the Law and of the devil, and He cleanses our consciences before God the Father.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Declare How Much God Has Done for You

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The Swine Driven into the Sea
“The Swine Driven into the Sea” by James Tissot

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Binding the Strong Man and Plundering His House

“Jesus Heals a Mute-Possessed Man” by James I. Tissot

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“But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house” (Mark 3:27).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

There are only two religions in the world. While such a statement may seem naïve to some, it should not sound so strange to you. For when the facade of this world is torn away, all that remains are two spiritual kingdoms: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the evil one—Satan. The kingdom of God is founded on Jesus, the Way and the Truth and the Life. The kingdom of the devil is founded on a lie. His is a fallen and condemned kingdom without any hope of return to its splendor.[i] But that does not mean the devil is no longer dangerous and deadly.

Satan is the father of lies and can become whatever we desire him to be. He represents himself as an angel of light to those who will receive him as an angel; he represents himself as an ancestor to those who seek to speak to the dead; he represents himself as demonic to those attracted to the occult; and he represents himself as science to those who would deny God’s activity in the world.

Yet, whatever his appearance, Satan’s strategy is always the same. It is a strategy of pride and despair that curves an individual’s focus inward into oneself, to one’s works or abilities, deficits or inabilities, independence or helplessness, false hope or irrational fear. Thus, all false religions are about the work of the individual, but the Christian religion is about the work of another: our Savior Jesus Christ—the One who first binds the strong man and then plunders his house.

Jesus returns to His home in Capernaum after a lengthy campaign in which he preached the coming of the kingdom of God, healed people of their illnesses and injuries, and cast out many demons. He had appointed the Twelve as apostles, sending them out with the authority to preach and to cast out demons, too. They are all in desperate need of food and rest. But no sooner is Jesus’ presence known than crowds gather, so that He and His disciples cannot even find time to eat.

That’s when Jesus’ family says, “Enough! It’s time for an intervention!” And they gather either to talk some sense into Him or to restrain Him forcibly. Perhaps, they mean well, but their actions and attitude, at the very least, reveal they do not believe in Him as the promised Savior. Nor do they understand the necessity of His using every possible opportunity of sharing His message.

Lacking any other logical explanation, they say, “He is out of His mind.” Their assessment of Him explains the relationship between the two different stories sandwiched together in this text. In the New Testament, to be out of one’s mind and to be demon possessed, while entirely different, are sometimes seen together. In John 10:20, Jesus’ opponents say of Him: “He has a demon and is insane; why listen to Him?” Jesus’ family seems to fear that Jesus is oppressed by a demon.

If the family members have serious misgivings, the teachers of the law go all out in seeking to undermine Christ’s influence. The opportunity is given them, according to Matthew 12:22, when a demon-possessed man who is blind and mute is brought to Christ and He heals him. Lest the people now believe in Christ, the scribes speak up and say, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons He casts out the demons.” Beelzebul, meaning “lord of flies” and mocking the name of a Philistine idol, was a popular name for Satan.

There is more than a bit of disingenuousness on the part of the scribes. As the religious teachers of Israel, they should recognize by this time what is taking place: Jesus is fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament. Unbelief is irrational and bullheaded. The evidence is before them. They’ve seen Jesus thwart Satan by casting out many demons, but they still charge Him with serving the devil because they aren’t willing to believe He is their Savior.

Jesus first appeals to their common sense: “How can Satan cast out Satan?”

Since the fall, Satan may be properly understood as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31). At the same time, his authority is only what God allows. Jesus’ point is that Satan cannot be divided against himself and yet retain some measure of power on earth. Casting out demons from their established places is a frontal assault on Satan’s toehold on earth. Satan is shrewd. He would never agree to this.

Jesus continues with His logical exposure of their argument. A kingdom divided, caught up in a civil war, won’t stand. The example of a divided family repeats the point made in the previous verse but is even more pointed given the current division of Jesus’ own family. If the kingdom example is too far from His hearers’ experience, certainly everyone can relate to a divided house.

Having dispatched their arguments, Jesus offers an alternative explanation of His actions: “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.”

While referring to Satan as the “strong man,” this comparison doesn’t mean he has true authority over the world. It speaks to our perception rather than the spiritual truth. Satan is a usurper and con-man. He claims ownership of the world, just as he promised to give all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus if He would only bow down to him. But, the devil is no match for the stronger man, Jesus Christ.

In the ministry and work of Jesus, Satan has met his end, his reign of terror is over.  Each demon cast out is another limb of the strong man being bound. Each man delivered from a demon is Satan’s former prize plundered and taken away.

How did this binding take place? It was not a power encounter. Jesus first did what Adam in the Old Testament Reading had failed to do. He stood the test when tempted all alone in the wilderness. Then, on the cross, He was made to be sin for us and God poured out all His judgment for sin upon Him. He “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

How complete is this justification? In the language of prophetic authority, Jesus makes one of the most sweeping statements of absolution in Scripture, “Truly, I say to you, all sin will be forgiven the children of man.” The phrase translated “children of man” means “all humanity.” All are included. Jesus assures repentant sinners that no sin exists that God will not forgive.

Except one. “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin.” This is the unpardonable sin.

Jesus’ answer is simple logic, and His opponents should recognize its truth, but they have set their hearts against Jesus and, in this case, against the work of the Spirit of God. When people deliberately identify Christ with Satan and speak of His work as satanic, the Holy Spirit can no longer do His work in their hearts, the work of bringing them to faith in Jesus as their Savior.

Those who refuse to recognize Jesus as God’s Son and acknowledge His works as signs of the Holy Spirit remain under the dominion of Satan. But Jesus has overcome Satan and brought freedom to those formerly imprisoned. Those baptized into Christ have received not only Him, but His promised Holy Spirit.

At this point in the story, Jesus’ family members arrive and are standing outside. Their position gives more than a description of their physical location. They are outside the circle of those who have come to Jesus in their need and are seated around Him. They send for Jesus in order to seize Him. Note the irony. People who barely know Jesus are seated next to Him, eagerly listening, while His family is outside trying to get close enough to make Him stop.

“Your mother and Your brothers are outside, seeking You,” He is told. But Jesus responds with another rhetorical question. “Who are My mother and My brothers?” As the question lingers in their minds, and as He looks around at the listening crowd, Jesus answers, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus is not despising family ties and their importance. Families are a wonderful gift from God. But one’s relationship to God and His family of faith is even more important, since they form an eternal communion. In the kingdom of God, the Church, there is something more important than human relationships.

Jesus graciously elevates those who have been rejected by their families as He was and those who have left families to follow Him to the level of His family. Even the once demonized are assured that they now belong to the very family of Jesus. The only criteria is that the person does God’s will.

What is the will of God? Is it the law as such, the Ten Commandments? Then none of us would qualify, nor any of Jesus’ own apostles. The will of God is that will as expressed in Jesus Christ and His redemptive work. “God’s will is that by His grace we repent and believe, turn from our sins, and by faith receive His pardon in Christ Jesus. His will is our regeneration… our restoration to childhood and heirship… We do this will of God when we let Jesus work all this in us and bestow all this upon us.”[ii] .

Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is the one who is able to bind the strong man, enter his house, and plunder his goods. This, Jesus has done. You and I were captives of the devil, prisoners in his house of sin and death, unable to free ourselves. But Jesus came on a rescue mission to seek and save us and pull us out of Satan’s grasp. Jesus’ spectacular casting out of demons shows His compassion for people and His authority over Satan. It indicates what Jesus is in the process of doing, in entering Satan’s house and plundering his goods.

But the strange thing is, Jesus demonstrates His greater power by way of weakness. He allows Himself to be taken captive, arrested and beaten as a prisoner, and nailed to a cross as a common criminal. Strength through weakness. Using the work of sinful man and Satan to accomplish His holy purpose—your salvation.

By bearing the accusations, by taking the curse laid on sinners upon Himself, namely, death under God’s judgment, Jesus would take away that card from the accuser’s hand. The devil’s accusations and condemnation are null and void. For Christ’s sake you are declared righteous, holy, and blameless. All your sins have been forgiven by the blood of Christ. Jesus is pleading your case for you in heaven. The devil’s taunts and threats go nowhere. When Christ cried out, “It is finished,” the devil’s reign was over. Then Christ descended into hell to proclaim His victory even there, His triumph over Satan’s realm.

Risen on the third day and ascended into heaven at the Father’s right hand, Jesus comes to us in His means of grace, His Word and Sacrament, just as He has promised to be with us always to the end of the age.

In Holy Baptism, Christ binds the strong man, plunders Satan’s house, and brings more brothers and sisters into His kingdom. Baptized into Christ, you are rescued from death and the devil, given eternal salvation, and adopted as a beloved child of God, a co-heir of Christ.

In Holy Communion, the family meal, the Lord invites you and your brothers and sisters in Christ, to receive His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

In His Word, Jesus speaks His absolution and peace. He lays His hand on your shoulder and says, “Fear not, I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Go in peace. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Robert H. Bennett, Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare in America [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016] 9-10)

[ii] (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel [Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1946], 161).