February 1, 2015
There is a place in all of our lives where we must decide for ourselves who Jesus is, and who he will be for us. That moment of decision can only be described in terms of a crisis. Now most of us, I know, would just as soon avoid a crisis. Crises are alarming, they are frightening, and they require decisive and immediate action or response.
When Jesus walked into the synagogue at Capernaum, he created a crisis. No one there in the synagogue that Sabbath day had ever encountered anyone quite like Jesus in their entire lives. They were absolutely amazed and astounded, and completely disturbed by the presence of this man Jesus in their synagogue. Jesus created a crisis in their spirits.
The people in the synagogue had never heard anyone preach and teach the way that Jesus preached and taught. It was stunning. It burned all the way down into the very depths of their souls, and they were greatly alarmed. When Jesus spoke, there was no opportunity for debate or for theoretical reflection. There was no possibility that anyone could disagree with what Jesus was saying, because he spoke with such astounding authority. The people there were powerfully gripped by his words, and powerless to ignore the content of his teaching. They had never in their lives had their hearts so powerfully impacted by any other person’s words.
It is hard for us to imagine, perhaps, a crisis created by words. It is hard for us, perhaps, to imagine the incredible impact that Jesus’ voice had on these listeners in the synagogue at Capernaum, unless of course, Jesus’ words have created the same crisis of astonishment in our own lives.
And the interesting thing here, is that Jesus isn’t preaching and teaching a crisis of impending danger or disaster, or doom, instead he’s raised a crisis of good news. We get a hint of that back in verses 14 and 15: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”’
That’s a crisis of good news, it’s a crisis of invitation. It’s the announcement that with the arrival of Jesus on this earth, that the time is fulfilled, that God’s plan of redemption for all of humanity is coming into play, that now is the time to make the ultimate decision, now is the time to repent and to turn toward the good news of salvation, and to believe it.
That’s a crisis because it changes things. It announces that the time of doing things the old way has now passed away, and that a new era in God’s dealings with humanity has been inaugurated. And maybe it was that realization, along with the absolute authority with which Jesus spoke, that so upset and alarmed and disconcerted the people in the Synagogue.
But as astonished as they are, here in the presence of Jesus, they are not nearly as disturbed and threatened as one other person who is inside of that Synagogue. This man is described in Mark’s Gospel as being afflicted with an unclean spirit. And an unclean spirit is not a good thing to have. This is one of the Biblical terms for someone who is possessed by a demon. I don’t know how evil spirits get in a person. I don’t understand the process, and I don’t know how we would know that a person was afflicted with a demon unless that demon revealed its presence verbally or in some other manner. But this I do know: whenever a demon evidences itself, it always speaks or acts in opposition to the work of God.
And that’s exactly what has happened in our passage this morning. All of the other members of the Synagogue are certainly astounded and amazed at the teaching of Jesus. They recognize that it is different, that it is authoritative, and that it is brand new to their experience. And because it is brand new to their experience, it is troubling to them and challenging to them. Brand new stuff always is. And they’ve obviously got questions. And what with all of the newness around them, its very likely that they’re politely whispering to each other. “What is this? What’s going on? Have you ever heard anyone speak like this before?”
But the man with the unclean spirit is interrupting very loudly. He’s shouting. The evil spirit has so damaged this man that the evil spirit speaks boldly through him. The man appears to have no control over what he is saying. The power of the demon has taken over this man’s entire personality. Now a lot of questions come to mind at this point. Was the man a regular member of the Synagogue, and if so, did the people there know that he was afflicted with an unclean spirit? Had there been previous outbursts? Was the man so desperately struggling with his spiritual life that he found a small measure of comfort just being in the presence of God’s people? We don’t know the answers to these questions. We do know, though, that just like a Christian church, almost anyone was welcome at a Synagogue service. And while we’d never willingly invite a demonic outburst in one of our worship services, I’d like to believe that all persons who are seeking to know the love of God would be welcome here, and that all persons seeking healing for spiritual and physical ailments would be drawn by the Spirit of God into this fellowship.
And so I don’t know how the man came to be in the synagogue, or whether it was the Spirit of God who drove him there, or whether it was the unclean spirit who compelled him to go there to confront Jesus.
But he is pretty wild. There’s plenty of resistance to what Jesus has been teaching, and the unclean spirit voices it with loud ferocity. “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.”
The demonic spirit spells it right out. The powers of darkness have nothing to do with the kingdom of Light. There is nothing in common with Jesus and the spirits of evil. The two stand at opposite poles. The evil spirit recognizes this, and it is afraid. It is afraid for its very existence. It fears, and rightly so, that Jesus has come to destroy it. And interestingly, the unclean spirit knows exactly who Jesus is. The spirit names Jesus. At first the evil spirit identifies Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth.” And then the unclean spirit calls Jesus the “Holy One of God”.
If there was any question as to the true identity of Jesus in the synagogue that day, among the regular members, its all been cleared up now. But it hasn’t exactly been cleared up in the way that Jesus prefers. All beings outside of this earth whether they be angels or demons, know exactly who Jesus is. They all know that Jesus of Nazareth is the Holy One of God. They all know that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, sent to this earth to secure the salvation of all who would believe in him.
But Jesus would rather that the Holy Spirit reveal that truth to us as we encounter him in our lives and as we respond to his teachings. As we listen to Jesus that truth will become plain to us, and it will be a joy to name Jesus as Lord and Savior, Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
But there is no joy in the voice of this unclean spirit. There is only fear. The unclean spirit knows that the presence of Jesus on this earth spells the destruction of all things evil and of all things demonic. The question that the unclean spirit asks is really a statement. The unclean spirit is really saying, “I know who you are and I know that you have come to destroy us. I know that the end of our demonic power is at hand.”
But I wonder, and this is a wonderment for me, could it possibly be that the unclean spirit is loudly voicing it’s fears on behalf of the rest of the congregation? Is the rest of the congregation wondering about the same thing? Are they now frightened to be in the presence of the Holy One of God? Do they now know that change and redirection is going to be required of them; are they discovering or realizing that the old ways are coming to pass and that a new way of relating to God is being inaugurated? I suspect so. I sincerely suspect that they believe that Jesus has come to destroy a few things in their own lives, too; that from this point on things are going to be radically different, and maybe they’re afraid of that.
But before they have time to think about it, Jesus casts the unclean spirit out of the man. Jesus sets the man free from his torment. And Jesus does it with what has so astounded the people in the first place. He does it with his words. He speaks, and the unclean spirit flees.
The teacher is in. The Holy One of God is here. I thought some this week about being astounded by the words of Jesus. And I wondered if that’s one of the emotions that we feel when we read his words and encounter his teaching. Are we amazed, and stunned by the authority with which Jesus speaks to us as individuals, or have we built up enough defenses and resistance to his teachings so that they don’t burn all the way down into the depths of our souls? If that’s the case in our own lives, then maybe Jesus needs to boot out a few things in our lives that keep us from being utterly astounded by what he has to say to us. If we allow Jesus to do that, then we’ll have a fresh experience of this Holy One of God. We’ll repent and believe in the good news. God grant that our souls will be shaken and disturbed, and that we will truly be astounded by the words of the Holy One of God.