Mark 1:21-28 “They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!’ ‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.’ News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.”
The Lord Jesus is setting out to make fishermen ‘fishers of men’, and he begins this task immediately. He takes Peter, Andrew, James and John to stay with him in nearby Capernaum. “He who walks with the wise grows wise” (Provs. 13:20). On the Sabbath they accompany him to the local synagogue. Jesus would have adhered to the tradition of standing up to read a passage from the Scriptures to the assembly, and then sitting down to instruct them. As the service progressed the congregation were overwhelmed by the words of Jesus and his works, and we shall look at each of them in turn.
1. THE CONGREGATION WAS OVERWHELMED BY THE WORDS OF JESUS.
Mark tells us that as he spoke his words had an extraordinary effect upon the congregation, in fact we are told, “The people were amazed at his teaching” (v.22). This strong word means that these folk were at panic stations – in a synagogue, of all places, listening to a sermon! The word would be used to describe the response of people on an ocean liner when it started to sink. The evangelists use the word to describe the response of the disciples going to a graveyard at dawn and seeing a sepulchre open and the body missing. It is that sense of horror and shock which here was running through a Sabbath congregation. They got goose-flesh; the hairs on the back of their necks were standing on end. It was an absolutely scary experience. That is what Mark wants us to grasp. There had never been a Sabbath day like this in the entire lives of this congregation. They had left their homes in Capernaum that morning and walked through the lanes and streets entering the building never anticipating what an unforgettable experience lay before them. You must realise that there was no ‘feel-good’ factor here. It was not the sense of pleasant shock which an audience has watching a stage ‘magician’ or seeing a ghost film. People feel safe in those circumstances because they know they are confronting fantasy. No one felt safe in Capernaum that morning because they knew they were meeting reality. They were disturbed, Mark tells us. Wherever do you find in the Bible people encountering God and feeling good about it? They’re always disconcerted by their experience, deeply troubled, convicted of their sin, falling on their faces, asking the Lord to go away, longing for it to end. They are certainly not laughing inanely like the receptors of the so-called ‘Toronto blessing.’
In a recent book that helpfully brings together Al Martin’s thoughts on preaching (“My Heart for Thy Cause”, Brian Borgman, Mentor, Fearn, 2002) Ted Donnelly remembers an incident in 1990 at the South-Eastern Reformed Baptist Family Conference in the William Jennings Bryan College, in Dayton, Tennessee (op cit, p.10). Al Martin was preaching in the main auditorium and the congregation were completely absorbed by what they were hearing. Then towards the end of the sermon, all the lights in the place went out. Al Martin continued to speak and to finish his message. That has happened to other preachers, of course, and I think it might also have happened while I was preaching, even on more than one occasion, but never for the reason the lights went out in the summer of 1990 in the main auditorium of the William Jennings Bryan College. A trigger mechanism, a kind of sensor, had been connected to the main light switch which caused the lights to be extinguished when no one was detected as being in the room. In other words, if there was no movement at all for a certain period of time – say, a quarter of an hour – then automatically the lights went off. The engineers had calculated that it wouldn’t be possible for people to sit motionless for that period of time, and the instruments were calibrated accordingly. So here was a congregation hushed, benumbed and attentive, gripped by the message preached, minute after minute, and then . . . plunged into darkness. However, when Al Martin finished his sermon, he said, “Let us pray . . .”, many in the congregation shifted in their seats, leaned forward and bowed their heads . . . and that movement brought all the lights on again.
There are tales of the Welsh pulpit of the power of oratory, for example, of a certain preacher speaking so intensely of the archer who drew a bow at venture that the congregation parted to allow the depicted arrow to whiz through their midst. We are cautious about those tales; how many such Victorian stories are pious exaggerations and evangelical folklore? But that incident in Tennessee actually took place a dozen years ago, and I tell you about it as it illustrates the impact the word of God can make even today in a society satiated with sensory experiences.
However, when Jesus spoke in the synagogue at Capernaum the response was on a different level. The whole congregation entered an anguish of spirit and perplexity that they had not known before. You remember what Luke tells us about Jesus’ preaching, that he had “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (Lk. 4:14), and this amazement was created by the Holy Ghost.
The particular interest of these verses is that they tell us what elements of Jesus’ preaching impressed the congregation. Have you spotted what it was in the actual verbal presentation of Christ that men found so arresting? It was not his love, nor his humour, nor his accessibility, but that the Lord Jesus was clothed in authority as he spoke to them: “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority” (v.22). Again it is repeated a little later: “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority!” (v. 27). You find this same response at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, in the very last verse of Matthew 7. The disciples had heard that extraordinary message which had blown them away, but what struck them most of all about it was that “he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matt. 7:29). There was this majesty and imperiousness in how he spoke to them. The newness of the teaching we can understand. Christ told these people that they were no longer living in days of hope and promise but of fulfilment. “The time has come,” he told them. “Today these Scriptures have been fulfilled in your ears. The kingdom of God is near.” Our question today is what was it that was remarkable about the authority of Jesus Christ? There would have been a number of different elements.
i] JESUS WAS UTTERLY ORIGINAL IN WHAT HE SAID.
The customary preachers in the synagogue were content to rehearse the views and opinions of other men. They would quote what the ancients had said. They would remind the people of the beliefs of the famous historic rabbis like Hillel and Eleazar. That was the ethos of synagogue preaching. The speakers were generally Pharisees, afraid of one another – as followers of any legal system are. They were also in bondage to quotation marks, and for thirty years Jesus had been listening to that kind of preaching every single Sabbath. Little wonder he was scathing when he denounced the Pharisees. Jesus himself had suffered under their ministry: never good news on a Sabbath: no declaration of the mighty works of God. The Pharisees were the self-appointed and scrupulous guardians of a culture’s religious traditions that had been copied down on papyrus scrolls. Of course every cult leader of the last 200 years has been like those rabbis in composing sacred writings, claiming to have got them from God, and throwing in a few absolutely binding legalities. That is a cult, and the whole movement is built upon that. So the Pharisees followed the rabbinical schools and really laid those traditions on the people’s consciences every single Sabbath day. Religion consisted of obeying those traditions.
The Scriptures deliver you from all of that; they are spirit and they are life. Fear of men destroys a preacher’s freshness and authority. I can think of one tight little denomination, and how the ministers in it are so afraid of one another that their monthly magazine consists solely of extracts from the ancients. I picked up one and saw that it was all like that, but that there was some correspondence referred to. I thought I would find there one living writer at least, but no, it was a couple of letters of Samuel Rutherford. Fearful men hide behind their traditions, but the age requires leaders to use the wisdom and gifts God has given to them to teach the eternal message of the Bible, and boldly challenge the unbelief of the 21st century.
So the synagogue preachers hid behind the different rabbis: “On the one hand Rabbi So and so says this. On the other hand Rabbi So and so says that.” That was a congregation’s fare in every synagogue all over Israel when Jesus began his ministry. But even the Old Testament prophets were conscious that they had received their message from God. They’d brought from him the word which they gave to the people, and they prefaced their preaching with the phrase, “Thus saith the Lord!” So they too were conscious of the derivedness and secondariness of their messages.
When Christ sat down and began to teach the congregation in the Capernaum synagogue he was utterly different from all of that. His originality was striking. Jesus never quoted a single rabbi. He did not shelter his opinions behind anyone else’s. He never based his appeals on the fact that the majority of the ancients agreed with him. He never even said, “Thus saith the Lord” when he made a statement – though he would quote from Scripture and tell the congregation, “It is written,” and, “The Scripture cannot be broken.” Rather the Lord Jesus said, “But I say unto you . . .” He was content to put his own teaching over against that of the rabbis. He chose to speak, not in God’s name, but to speak magisterially in his own name and on his own authority. Sometime he would pause and preface what he was going to say with the familiar words, “Verily verily I say unto you.” That is translated in the NIV by the words, “I tell you the truth . . .” That would underline a most important utterance. Then Christ would legislate on the independent basis of his own status and insights. He tells us today on that basis that he is the Lord of the Sabbath, and also that he has authority to forgive sins. He pronounces on the viability of oaths, the basis for divorce, the inspiration of Scripture, what is true prayer, how people may inherit eternal life. He does so constantly and simply in his own name. He sets that great “But I . . .” over against all the rabbinical debates and arguments. He will correct tradition simply on the basis of his own authority. The rabbis taught by authority; Jesus taught with authority.
ii] JESUS APPLIED THE WORD TO THE CONGREGATION.
The synagogue congregation had always been asked to consider a passage or theme and to look at it in the light of different interpretations. The preacher and the people weren’t looking at one another, they were both looking at the ‘Thought for Today’. They were all onlookers and outsiders positioning themselves outside the passage like a group of spectators; the teacher of the day was the tour guide. Let me change the analogy: in a situation like that the preacher is like a cameraman. He doesn’t actually participate in the event. You never see him. He stands behind the camera but he enables the TV viewers to see and hear what is happening. He zooms in on the scene to capture and portray the action as fully as he can for the audience. So once again what you have is both the cameraman and the whole audience all looking at a third party, in this case a certain religious theme or passage.
That was not the case when Jesus preached in the synagogue. He read the Scriptures and gave the scroll back to the attendant and sat down to teach, and then we are told this: “The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him” (Lk. 4:20). Jesus was confronting them with the Word. There were just two participants in the building, the preacher and the assembly. The Lord Jesus was a practical preacher. He never preached academically. He was not interested in abstractions. He dealt with the people who were before. He cared nothing for the unfolding of ideas even from the Bible unless he could apply them to the conduct of his hearers. Whenever Jesus spoke to people he said: “but I say unto you . . . woe to you scribes and Pharisees . . . You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again’ . . . I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man . . .” There are hundreds of examples like that of Jesus speaking directly to his hearers by way of encouragement, warning, promise or invitation.
Jesus was not firstly a Bible teacher, or an expository preacher, rather he was God’s herald bringing God’s message to individuals. He did not ‘share’ something with them. He didn’t shrink to that. A sharer is not on the spot. A sharer does not have to manifest by a divine authority that he is God’s messenger or that he has God’s message. How can you hold someone accountable for what he says when he is only “sharing”? We preachers are not called to ‘share’ the gospel but to declare the whole counsel of God. But we are to be always accessible and open to question concerning what we teach. “The idea of ‘sharing’ indicates that what the preacher is saying is incomplete, only a portion of a truth, his portion of a larger group experience. As he is ‘just one’ of a congregation, so too his experience is but a part of the experience of the whole. Clearly, the notion of ‘sharing’ places the preacher in the pulpit and the congregation gathered before him on the same footing” (Jay E. Adams, “Truth Applied”, Wakeman Trust, London, 1990, p.25). Read Jesus’ preaching to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. How different he is from these synagogue speakers. They would open up a debate on the ethics of tricky moral situations in the light of the ten commandments. He would charge their consciences with the demands of the holy law of God.
I have been listening to some cassettes of a certain style of preaching which seems to have swept the evangelical church. Its emphasis is the Bible is a history of redemption (which it is), but it claims to be the one Christian group which is expounding and exegeting Scripture. It takes large sweeps across the biblical landscape, travelling across centuries with ease, but then it will also go into minute details concerning a word or a theme. Often people come to those churches equipped with pen and notebook. The preacher may use an overhead projector and skilfully slip onto the screen his outline, neatly written, sub-point by sub-point. The prime emphasis of this preaching is on knowledge and information. It is an overly-cerebral event. There is no confrontation. There is little application. There is no focus on the affections, to stir people to be broken over their sins or to be moved to love God more. The preacher’s focus, mistakenly, is the intellect and the correct explanation of the passage of the Bible. The danger is that you could learn just as much from that approach by staying at home and reading a commentary. Jesus applied the word to the different needs of the congregation.
Consider the Scriptural account of Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, as an illustration of this aspect of preaching. “After being defeated in battle, Sisera flees to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber, seeking refuge. Jael gives him some milk, covers him with a warm rug, and then dutifully pounds a tent peg through his temple, fastening his skull to the ground (Judg. 4:17). Al Martin says, ‘The preacher must employ the rhetoric which Jael used upon Sisera, putting his nail to the head of the auditor, and driving it sheer and clean through his brain.’ Most preaching today simply takes the tent peg and loosens the dandruff on Sisera’s head, instead of fastening his skull to the ground. If preaching is to be searching and lively in application, it must go beyond shaking a few flakes loose, and get to the real business of fastening the truth firmly into the heads of the listeners. Charles Bridges says, ‘The general sermons, that are preached to everybody, in fact, are preached to nobody.’ The congregation must be made to feel the conviction of sin, deeply and firmly. They must be made to feel the consolation of precious and magnificent promises. They must be made to feel that Christ is for them, that his blood can cleanse from their sins. The tent peg of truth must be driven home if they are to discern feelingly, with judgment day discrimination, whether or not they are among Christ’s sheep. Nothing less than that constitutes biblical preaching.” (Brian Borgman, “My Heart for Thy Cause”, Mentor, Fearn, 2002, p.162).
iii] JESUS WAS TOTALLY GRIPPING IN THE WAY HE SPOKE.
That sounds like a 21st century cliche to me. I am sorry. My point is that there was a persuasiveness and lucidity in the way the Lord spoke. It was utterly fascinating and compelling so that his audiences had to listen even until the sun went down and they realised how hungry they were. We are told that the common people heard him gladly. The teaching was often profound, and even his own disciples, who heard some of these messages many times, did not understand all he said. The messages were constantly provocative and controversial, but as you listened there was something that gripped your attention and you hung on to every word. I remember in September 1958 hearing Dr Lloyd-Jones for the first time at the induction services of Dr Eifion Evans in Memorial Hall in Cardiff. I was still in my teens, but only barely. I had left school that year, university lay before me, and what I heard in that black-suited, great-hymned, word-centred sober service was all very different from what I had come across before. It was as if they had all been a pastiche of this reality. I might have gone through life never having coming across this factualness. I left that meeting believing that I had been to something important, and I did not know why, and had to find out. There was a different dimension to the occasion, and that was all. I could not even tell you what the text was (though I have subsequently learned about from Dr Lloyd-Jones). There have been other occasions when I have heard men preach on whom God’s hand seemed to be resting.
One would expect Capernaum synagogue to buzz from the fact that this was the preaching of Jesus Christ t Son of God, the Word who was made flesh. What an impact his preaching made, and how people who heard him were changed. There is a great example of this impact recorded by John in the seventh chapter of his gospel. The Pharisees were getting disturbed by the numbers of people who were saying that Jesus must be the Messiah. Crowds were arguing like this: “When the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?” (Jn. 7:32). So, on the last and greatest day of the Feast in Jerusalem the Pharisees sent some temple guards to arrest Jesus who was teaching within the very courts of the temple. We are told of the crowds that were present (v.31) and the temple guard would have had to force their way through this dense multitude numbering thousands of people to get at Jesus and arrest him. But no one would have been prepared to give ground; certainly no one would allow any disturbance such as cries of “Make way!” because what Jesus said was gripping. He was preaching on this theme, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scriptures has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (Jn. 7:38). Would you let yourself be pushed about by a couple of bully boys from the country when you had the opportunity of hearing of how living water could flow from you? You’d hold your ground wouldn’t you? All the crowd did, and the temple guard were grounded to a halt and they stayed there, and slowly they were drawn into the words they heard that memorable day. They came under the power of the truths that Jesus was declaring with a loud voice (Jn. 7:37).
Finally the Lord finished speaking, and quietly the crowds dispersed, and the temple guard came to think again of their jobs and why they had been sent there, to have arrested Jesus, but they couldn’t lay hands on him (Jn. 7:44). They returned empty handed to the chief priests and the Pharisees. “Why didn’t you bring him in?” (Jn:7:45) the Pharisees asked. The only thing that guards could say to explain the total failure of their mission was this, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” (Jn. 7:46). The words of Jesus Christ had turned wolves into puppy dogs. When they heard those words the Pharisees were afraid because then it seemed that no one could be safe from the effects of Jesus’ teaching. “You mean he has deceived you also?” (Jn. 7:47) they replied angrily.
Now it seems to me that one consequence of the reality of Jesus’ gripping words is this, that the great antidote to doubt and uncertainties that arise in our own hearts centres upon the Bible. For example, we’re to make sure that we never miss any opportunity of hearing the preaching of the word of God. It doesn’t really matter what denominational label may be attached to the church let’s make sure that we hear the best biblical preaching we can from whatever pulpit we can find it. Let us get food for our souls each Sunday. It also means that we make a habit of going back constantly to the Bible, and exposing ourselves to the words of Christ given to us in the gospels. As T.C.Hammond would say to new converts, “Read the Bible in great dollops!” Let the cogency of the Lord’s own personality, the self-attesting quality of his teaching, make its own impression on our souls.
Before the great Christian leader, Augustine, was converted he was brought to a place of despair. He had drunk deeply of all that the world had to offer but his heart was restless. One day as he was lying in his garden in this condition some children from the garden next door began to play a game together – we think it was skipping – and one of them began to chant, “Telle! Lege! Telle! Lege!” Which in English were the words, “Take! Read! Take! Read!” Augustine heard the words over the garden wall, and they were drummed into his mind and conscience by the Spirit of God. He got up and went indoors, found and opened the New Testament and by what he read Augustine cast himself on the grace of God in Jesus Christ. I am saying that you must hear the word of God as often as you can, and come face to face with it each day, and there you will meet in the depth of your own soul the unique personality of the Lord Jesus.
iv] JESUS WAS CONFIDENT OF THE RELEVANCE OF WHAT HE SAID TO EVERY ONE OF HIS HEARERS.
At the close of the Sermon on the Mount our Lord tells a simple story of two men building two different houses. One sets to with a relish and the house shoots up. The builder has moved in before his friends even realised that he was moving to a new house. The second man was far more thorough. He took a long time to lay a foundation, making sure that he went down to the bedrock before he started building the walls. Finally, he was in his new house too, but his neighbour had been in for months and his garden was full of vegetables. Then one night a fearful storm blew, and the rain and hail poured down, and the two houses were battered by gale force winds. The walls were severely buffeted – it was a real test of the building skills of those rivals – and half way through the night the house that had gone up so quickly came down even more quickly. The children sing, “And the walls came tumbling down.” The house came crashing to the ground and was washed away by the flooded river. The other house which was earthed in the rock withstood all the buffetings of the gales and was still standing by the morning. The Lord Jesus told his hearers that that house, standing so firm, was like a life built on the rock of his own words. Such a house will certainly stand. The Lord Jesus could look through the millennia to our own century, and he could see the storms that would beat on our lives, of Darwinism, and Marxism, and Freudianism, and materialism, and existentialism, and post modernism, and pleasure loving, and philosophical speculation. These winds and waves would beat constantly on the foundations he had laid. But our Lord was absolutely confident that every human life that sought to set its foundations on his teaching would stand. Here is a little Chr istian girl, and the gates of hell want to destroy her, but as long as she stands on the life of Jesus she is safe. Here are a newly married Christian couple, and as long as they say, “But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord” that house will stand.
The Lord Jesus was utterly convinced of that. His teaching was relevant to every single person who heard him. In the synagogue of Capernaum before him there would be a cross-section of personalities and ages, rich and poor, intelligent and not so very smart. The Lord Jesus had something to say of life-changing and life-enriching importance to every one of them. The Lord was convinced of that. If I spoke to you this morning on politics, or literature, or sport, or humanitarian activity some of you would find some of it interesting but many of you would find the talk irrelevant. However, when I tell you of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, then the words are relevant to all of you, to the youngest and to those who have rarely been in our chapel before today, because Jesus Christ is your God. He sustains you moment by moment. He is your Judge. Hear about him! There is no more up-to-date message than this. Every other message has a date stamp, but the Lord Jesus speaks now to everyone and he says, “I am . . .I am . . . ” never “I was.”
So when Jesus spoke in the synagogue in Capernaum the congregation was in a state of shock as they listened. They had never heard anything so fresh and original, so cogent and relevant applied to everyone of them. That was the authority of Jesus Christ’s words.
2. THE CONGREGATION WAS OVERWHELMED BY THE WORKS OF JESUS.
Then something happened in the synagogue service. Its peace was shattered: “Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!’ ‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” (vv. 23-26). It is the same synagogue service. It is the same Jesus speaking. It is the same record preserved by Mark – who owes it largely to the memories of Simon Peter who was there on that occasion. But no longer is it merely the thoughtful description of the impact that the powerful oratory of the Lord had on a congregation. Men and women, do you see that we are being made aware of the reality of a supernatural world where the power of the evil one is such that he can ‘possess’ a man, and that spirit can cry out and speak through a man, and shake him violently, and leave him with a shriek when this same Jesus commands him, “Come out of him!” ?
Is this relevant at all to our world? Have we to become a little shame-faced and apologetic for what we read here? Do you think we can discount the reality of an immense network of spiritual wickedness active in our world? Let us think about our world for a moment. Let me remind you of two realties:
1] The first is the fascination our neighbours have in communicating with the dead. I am not talking to you now about the West Indies and the widespread involvement with voodoo there. I am not talking about the witchdoctors and ancestral spirits that haunt Africa, and Southern and Central America, and Mexico. I am talking about the fascination in scientific secular post-modern Britain with the dead. On the Internet no less than 563 UK-based ‘certified and registered mediums’ are listed, each of them ready to help anyone who wants to make contact with ‘the spirit people’. For ten pounds, or twenty pounds you can have a personal consultation and it is claimed that a dead spirit will speak to you and say some perplexing things. There are many more mediums than those advertising on the list, and if five people a day would visit them all then that would mean that around a million people a year from Great Britain will make contact with ‘the spirit people’ this year. That is one depressing reality.
2] There is a second fact that should sober us all and give us cause to pause before we dismiss what we read concerning this man possessed by an evil spirit. There is the presence of awful explosions of horror all over the world. Remember how in Sierra Leone’s civil war how one band of rebel soldiers hacked off the hands of thousands of young men and women believed to be sympathetic with the other side. A year ago there was one horrible incident connected to 9/11. There was a Wall Street Journal reporter named Daniel Pearl, an American Jew, a pleasant and generously minded young man, not married long. His wife was expecting their first baby. As a journalist he was captured in Pakistan during the freeing of Afghanistan from the Taleban. You remember what happened to him? They decapitated him, and they filmed the execution, and they released it on video, circulating it through the bazaars and madrasas. They have distributed his dying worldwide via the Internet. People look at it in their homes! What unthinkable wickedness! Then you ask me if this incident in the opening chapter of the gospel of Mark of an evil spirit possessing a man is relevant to us today? I say overwhelmingly so.
It is saying to us that this is a supernatural world, created by God, in which evil powers are active. Principally their activity is to blind men’s eyes so that they cannot see how great Christ is, but occasionally they explode into frustrated hatred and cruelty against the truth. I want to say briefly three or four things about this incident.
i] IT IS POSSIBLE TO KNOW MUCH ABOUT CHRIST WITHOUT BEING JOINED TO HIM BY FAITH.
This spirit knew the preacher. He knew his name, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Did the devil actually think that there might be some demonic advantage in saying the name ‘Jesus’. He thought he could get control over him in that way – “‘from Nazareth’ – yes, we know where you live”. He knew Jesus’ identity, “I know who you are the Holy One of God” (v. 24). Christ was the one anointed with the Holy Spirit. He had come to the synagogue in the power of the Spirit that Sabbath. The demoniac knew the correct formula to use when addressing Jesus. His understanding was far deeper than anyone else in the congregation – think of it! The most knowledgeable person there that day was a demoniac! He had that faith; but it was the faith of demons. It was not trust. It lacked any love or hope. We can know very much about Jesus Christ. We may know all the answers to the catechism, and have memorised chunks of the Bible, and can discuss the finer points of theology but be no better than the demons.
ii] IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE FOR A DEMON AND THE SON OF GOD TO REMAIN AT PEACE IN ONE ASSEMBLY.
When the Lord Jesus Christ had preached as he did, that man possessed by an evil spirit had to shout out. How many years he had been attending that synagogue and nothing was ever said or done to make him break the peace or be dealt with. But when the Saviour had spoken there that day there was this outburst. The Christian church has put a premium on peace. It deplores theological controversy. It wants the appointed Archbishop of Canterbury to come into office without any voices raised. If there is protest, “What bad taste! How juvenile! How immature!” It wants to dismiss those rowdy men as ‘fundamentalists’ so that it doesn’t have to listen to what they’re saying. Give them a label and switch them off. It insists on peace, because it believes all opinions are equally valid. Jesus’ point of view and the devil’s point of view, both on the same level. But the demons don’t think like that. They speaks of ‘you’ and ‘us’: “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” There was a great divide between them. Both the Son of God and the demon could not go on remaining in that body of people, and with a shriek the demon left the man and that assembly.
The simultaneous presence, within one body, of the Holy One of God and an evil spirit is impossible. It is like the naked flame of God’s holiness and the combustible fumes that come from the bottomless pit. They cannot exist together without a fearful explosion. When Christ comes in the evil one goes out and can never return while Christ dwells with us and sups with us.
iii] HOW SWIFTLY CHRIST BANISHES THE DEMON.
Jesus does not touch the man. There is no laying hands on him. There are no spells, no incantations. There is no technique, no symbolic act, no jiggery pokery, no sprinkling with holy water, no agonising, no rolling on the floor in prayer. There is in fact no prayer. “One little word shall fell him,” says Luther. There is only the word. There is simply a stern Saviour who says to the demon, “Be quiet!” It is the same command that later he uses to silence the storm on the lake. “Come out of him,” Jesus adds, and the demon cannot say petulantly, “Shan’t!” When the Son of God commands, the world is created, the dead rise, and devils fear and fly. “The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek” (v.26). What was this violent shaking? Was it his last savage hug? Or his final cruelty? Or the painful wrenching free from someone he had thought would be in the pit with him for ever? Or was it his rage? Whatever that frustrated final act might have been the man was delivered by a word from Jesus.
So we Christians are encouraged to resist the devil, in anticipation of our being bothered by him in our daily lives. Resist him, and we are promised that he will flee from us. We don’t need Martin Luther’s inkpot to thrown at him to drive him away. Luther himself recognised that when he wrote these famous words:
“And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure;
One little word shall fell him.” (Martin Luther, 1529)
iv] CHRIST IS THE DESTROYER OF EVIL.
Christ is not the condemner, “for God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved” (Jn. 3:17). The devil is condemned already: “Christ shall bruise your head” God said to him in Eden. But the Holy One of God is the destroyer of evil, and the demon knew it. The apostle John was there in Capernaum that day and many years later he wrote his first letter and said, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (I Jn. 3:8). He had come to confront the devil and strip him of his power. Of course! There must be a fight to the death against evil and the devil’s work. So what of your evil? Where is it today? Where is your own evil? It can be in just one place. It can be in you, or it can be upon Christ on the cross of Golgotha. What a way for Christ to destroy evil, to absorb it into his own body and soul, and stand as the substitute in the Father’s destruction. There on the cross God is destroying sin and Satan. Is your evil there, or is it still in you? The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is prepared to take it from you this day and to impute it to his blessed Son and destroy it there. Your evil dealt with completely so that it is no more. All gone! All destroyed in the cosmic incinerator of Golgotha. That is the sinner’s hope, that this great prophet who spoke to men, and showed his kingly power in triumphing over sin and Satan has become our great High Priest and dealt with our evil in his royal death.
10th November 2002 GEOFF THOMAS