This weekend's Bible lesson, for this Fourth Weekend after the Epiphany, is Mark 1:21-28:
21They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.A few thoughts...
v. 21: (1) Capernaum, according to Mark, became the center of Jesus' ministry in the Galileean region.
(2) It was Jesus' habit to go to synagogue for worship on the sabbath day. As Jesus put it, He came not to ab0lish the Old Testament law, but to fulfill it. The Ten Commandments' call to "remember the sabbath, to keep it holy" has not been revoked even today. While people may be forced to work on days of worship, we are still called to set aside time to allow God's Word to come to us and to praise God. This is one reason our congregation, like many others, offers Saturday, as well as Sunday, worship opportunities.
v. 22: (1) There was a custom in those days of asking visiting teachers of Scripture to share a reflection on the Old Testament with the people assembled for worship in the synagogue.
(2) Jesus had "authority" (the word in the Greek is exousia), not like the Scribes. The Scribes were experts in the content and the application of God's Word. Jesus often condemns them for using the Old Testament Scriptures to hamstring people in rigid rules which had the effect, deliberately or not, of enhancing the Scribes' power. It's the same thing that happens any time a professional clergy class presumes to claim that it has a monopoly on God.
None of this is to say that the function of the scribe was illegitimate. To this day, we need our scribes. The faith and the lives of everyone in the Church are enriched by those who delve more deeply into the Scriptures and help us to know God better.
But whether the Scribes studied and shared God's Word impudently or humbly, their authority was inferior to that of Jesus. Jesus' authority was original because He was God. The scribes' authority was derived from the Word God imparts in the Scriptures.
Even today, lower level scribes like me must say, "This is what I think God's Word means. But I could be wrong. And I'm not better than anybody else."
v. 23: "Unclean" means just what we might imagine: without purity. The man with the unclean spirit enters a holy assembly and confronts the pure and holy Savior of the world.
v. 24: (1) I believe that the "us" for whom the demon speaks is all the demons.
(2) Demons always recognize Who Jesus is. They know their enemy.
v. 25: Jesus commands the demon to be quiet. The reason for this, I suppose, is that one must come to identify Jesus as the Savior-Messiah by faith.
Besides, Jesus maintains "the messianic secret" throughout His ministry. While Jesus willingly affirms those who worship Him as Lord, God, Savior, and Christ, He never initiates such overt identification, even in the Gospel of John.
And even to those who make such confessions, like Peter, Jesus gives instructions to remain silent until His entire ministry has been fulfilled. It's only after Jesus' death and resurrection that we see His Lordship over death and life, understand that His Kingdom isn't of this world, and see that we too must endure death before the final fulfillment of His promise of life.
Until we become acquainted with these realities, we might be tempted to see Jesus as a cosmic kewpie doll, a pushover king who will do our bidding, no matter how selfish and self-aggrandizing it may be. "When Christ calls a man," the martyred opponent of Nazi Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said, "He bids him come and die."
The crowds who riotously welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday all believed that Jesus would be a pushover king who would give them all they wanted. As the week wore on and they realized that Jesus had no intention of leading a revolt against the Romans who occupied Jerusalem and Judea, they became disenchanted with Jesus. This is why they asked the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to release a rebel terrorist, Barabbas, instead of Jesus. They had come to the conclusion that Jesus was, in the words of Rick Warren, more concerned with their "character" than their "comfort."
The good news of Jesus is good news. But, as someone has said, before it can comfort us, it must first make us miserable. It does this in several ways:
- Showing us the gap between our sinfulness and God's holiness, even the gap between our own standards of goodness and our performance.
- Showing us that there is no way we can ever be good enough to earn God's forgiveness or Jesus' good grace.
- Showing us that the only way to reconciliation with God is complete surrender to God and helpless acceptance of Jesus' offer of free help. This is what the Bible means when it talks about "dying to self": Dying to a self-driven life and accepting a God-crafted life.
v. 26: The unclean spirit tries to resist, but can't. I think of the line in A Mighty Fortress is Our God where Luther says of the devil, "one little word subdues him." By that, Luther means, one word from Christ.
v. 27: Jesus' act of power is seen as a "teaching" about Him, although in the end, none of the worshipers at the synagogue confess Him as Lord.
I hope to write more later...