Epiphany 4 – “He Casts Out Unclean Spirits” – Mark 1:21-28 – 2/1/15

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

The four fishermen whom Jesus had just recruited when with Him to Capernaum. Capernaum was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee. As we’ll hear next Sunday, it’s where the brothers, Peter and Andrew lived. The village was large enough to be able to support a Synagogue.

The word “Synagogue” literally means, ‘to gather together.’ The Jews said that you needed at least 10 males to form an official synagogue. Jesus would reduce that to “wherever two or three synagogue together IN MY NAME.” (Mat.18:20) The point is, it’s not how many are in worship that matters but whether or not Jesus is present.

It was the Sabbath day, so Jesus went to Synagogue – of course. That’s what you do on the Sabbath day.

“He was teaching.” The ‘teaching office’ in the Synagogue was held by a Rabbi – just like the teaching office in the Church is held by the pastor. Not everyone is given to teach.

To become a Rabbi was a lot like becoming a pastor. You had to go to seminary for training before being ordained. Jewish men would select a Rabbi to ‘follow.’ And after a few years of following, listening, asking questions, discussing doctrine, if they were ‘qualified,’ they would be ordained to ‘teach.’

We saw Jesus sitting at the feet of the Rabbi’s in the Temple when He was just 12 years old. His mother Mary recalls that He was “listening and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:46-37)

This is the only report in the gospels of Jesus sitting at the feet of the Rabbis, but I doubt that it was a one-time thing. Joseph and Mary were a devout couple and would have brought Jesus to Synagogue every Sabbath.

I’ve thought a bit about this. If there was such a thing as a ‘children’s sermon’ in the Synagogue, I wonder if Jesus participated. We’ve had some pretty precocious children come forward for ‘children’s sermons’ over the years. I think if I was the Rabbi in the Synagogue in Nazareth and Jesus was there, I’d probably just hand him the picture and say, ‘here, tell us about it.’

I can sympathize with the Rabbis at the Temple who were “amazed at his understanding and his answers.” And maybe just a little humbled as well.

Age 12 was probably the age when boys were first permitted to ask the Rabbis questions and discuss doctrine with them. I doubt that this was an isolated episode. I’m sure that every time His parents took Him to Jerusalem, He’d be at the Temple, “listening to the Rabbis, and asking them questions.” And Mary and Joseph would know just where to find Him.

So, when Mark reports that upon entering the Synagogue, “He was teaching,” we know that He has acquired “Rabbi” status. That’s the only way that the ‘ruler of the Synagogue’ would have allowed Him to teach.

There is, of course, a certain ‘awkwardness’ in talking like this. We know that Jesus is the very Word of God and every word of the Scriptures is both from Him and about Him. He doesn’t learn it. He gives it.

But we are also saying that He was instructed in the Scriptures and ‘ordained,’ and given the ‘office’ of ‘teacher.’ There is an awkward ‘paradox’ in this.

But this is the mystery of Jesus Christ. He is fully God and fully Man. He is the divine Son of God, Who was with God in the beginning, Who created the world. And yet Luke writes that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52).

It’s a paradox. And it’s best to just leave it at that. The harder you try to resolve it the further from the truth about Jesus you tend to get.

“He was teaching.” Try to picture it. You come to church one day and instead of the short, bald guy you were expecting, it’s a traveling Rabbi – Jesus of Nazareth. And He preaches about ‘the creation in the beginning,’ or ‘the faith of Abraham,’ or ‘the Exodus of Israel through the Red Sea,’ or ‘the life of David’ like He was there.

What would it have been like to have been in the Synagogue at Capernaum, and Jesus opened the scroll to the same place that we opened into this morning and read from Moses, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen…And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15,18) And rolled up the scroll, and handed it to the attendant and said, “today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

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

It was His ‘AUTHORITY’ that ASTONISHED them.
• “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ BUT I SAY TO YOU that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…”
• “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ BUT I SAY TO YOU that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
• “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ BUT I SAY TO YOU that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
• “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ BUT I SAY TO YOU, Do not take an oath at all…”
(Matthew 5)

Sometimes it’s hard to interpret people’s reactions when you can’t actually see their face. “They were astonished at his teaching…” It could be that they were ‘astonished’ by His wisdom and love. Or it could be that they were ‘astonished’ at His audacity, as it, “who gave you this authority?”
Later on, Jesus would make a visit to his hometown of Nazareth. And on the Sabbath, He was teaching in the Synagogue. And the congregation there was also ASTONISHED at His teaching… and tried to throw Him over a cliff. (Mark 6:6)

There was one parishioner in the congregation that was clearly not ASTONISHED in a positive way.

“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.”

I must admit that I’ve always found it strange that Jesus would find people possessed by ‘unclean spirits’ in a Synagogue of all places. I’d expect this if Jesus went to the bar or the adult book store in Capernaum, but not the Synagogue.

“What have you to do with US, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”

Why did he say, “US”? Was the whole congregation possessed by unclean spirits? Was this the President of the Church Council or the Head Elder who was speaking for everyone?

Next Sunday, we’ll hear St. Mark summarize Jesus’ Galilean tour saying, “And He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” (Mark 1:39). Sounds like the whole Synod was possessed by unclean spirits.

The bible actually identifies several ‘unclean spirits’. They include:
• A spirit of jealousy.
• A spirit of confusion.
• A spirit of divination.
• Elemental spirits of the world.
• The spirit of the anti-christ.

These ‘unclean spirits’ are at work in those whom they possess to produce their own ‘fruits of the spirit.’ The ‘unclean fruits’ of the ‘unclean spirits, include: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” (Galatians 5:20-21).

It’s easy for us to see these ‘unclean spirits’ at work in the world. Their fruits are in abundant supply. But why do we find them right here in the church too?

Isn’t it because we, who come into this Synagogue and belong to it, also live in the world? So it really shouldn’t surprise us that we would bring some of these unclean spirits and their fruit in with us, like fleas on a dog?

“But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.”

That’s why we come here and this is why it’s important for us to be here. Jesus has the AUTHORITY to make the unclean spirits come out of us too. And this is where He does just that.

It all begins with a special bath just for ‘unclean people’ who have ‘unclean spirits.’ All other bathes wash the outside of a person. This one washes the inside of a person and makes the ‘unclean,’ ‘clean.’

Jesus attaches His Word to the water. And by His AUTHORITY, He gives us a new spirit, a clean spirit, the Holy Spirit, who possesses us and works in us to produce His clean fruits in us. The fruits of the clean Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

When we are baptized, we become a changed person. We no longer resist Jesus like the man in the Synagogue did. “Have you come to destroy us?” We willingly confess that we have become possessed by unclean spirits since we’ve been here last, and we have brought them into this place with us. And we WANT Jesus to destroy them.

And so the ‘called and ordained servant of the Lord, and by HIS AUTHORITY,’ casts them out. “I forgive you all of your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And by the AUTHORITY that His Word has, we are set free of our unclean spirits.

Jesus teach us here just as He did in Capernaum. The Scripture readings that we read are HIS WORD to us. In the sermon we hear Him teach us. He teaches us His Law. And we learn that we all fall short and cannot save ourselves. And He teaches us His Gospel. And we learn that we have a gracious God who has sent us His only-begotten Son to bear our sins and be our Savior. And again, we are set free of our unclean spirits.

And then, as though that weren’t enough, He prepares a special meal, just for ‘unclean people.’ He gives us His ‘clean’ or ‘holy’ body and His ‘clean’ or ‘holy’ blood to eat and drink, for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. And again, we are set free of our unclean spirits.

“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.”

His authority really is greater than their authority. The ‘unclean spirits’ have “no dominion over you” as long as Jesus has dominion over you.

So, when we leave this Synagogue, this ‘gathering together,’ and reenter the world, possessed by the clean spirit, the Holy Spirit. We are the Lord’s agents whom He sends into the ‘unclean’ world. He fills our baskets with the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and we are to distribute it to all whom we see throughout the week. And then next Sunday, we come back here with empty baskets, ready to be re-supplied. Through us, He is making an unclean world, clean.

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