Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sermon for 29 January 2012, Epiphany 4B

The Rev. Paul J Cain
Mark 1:21-28 (ESV)
With Authority
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, 29 January 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
“In the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” Luther describes our chief enemy in our Christian journey: “The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight; On earth is not his equal…Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us,…This world’s prince may still Scowl fierce as he will” (LSB 656:1, 3). Satan comes “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). (We see him in our rearview mirror.) As tempter, he chases after us, screaming, “Whatever it is you want to do, just do it. Have some anger floating around? Act it out. Have some (sexual) fantasies? Go ahead, full throttle. Have some gossip? Let it fly.” As deceiver, he continues with these words, “There are no limits, no consequences, and no responsibilities. Ready, set, go!” When we give in to these temptations and deceptions, then, as accuser, he plants his foot upon our necks, saying, “Now that you’ve said this, thought this, done this, drank this, smoked this, seen this, God is finished with you…”
But this enemy is defeated by the all-powerful Word of the prophet like Moses whom God sent, Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 18:15). [The devil is defeated by Christ. Singing only the first stanza of “A Mighty Fortress” leaves the devil in charge. Keep singing! By stanza three we confess, “Scowl fierce as he [the devil] will, He can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done; One little word [of God] can fell him.] (Source of original illustration: Concordia Pulpit Resources [modified])
This Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, we grow in Christ by hearing three readings from the Scriptures. The green color of this week and the next two Sundays remind us of this growth. We are given to grow by avoiding false prophets and listening to true prophets who proclaim Jesus Christ alone. Our faith is strengthened and our consciences unburdened when we reject idols and reject human traditions as if they were as authoritative as the Bible, God’s Word. And we are comforted, strange though it may seem, by the demons who shudder yet confess Jesus to be the Holy One of God. And since Jesus has authority over them, we rejoice and have little to fear of the old evil foe.
By this part of Mark, Chapter 1, Jesus has been baptized as our sin-bearing substitute. He has been tempted by the devil himself in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. And Jesus preaches the good news, the Gospel of God. He has called disciples. Next week, He heals Peter’s mother-in-law. (Yes, Peter was married.) And Jesus teaches His own people—with authority!

21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.
Why are the Jews of Capernaum’s synagogue amazed? Jesus taught differently than their usual preachers, the scribes, who quoted famous rabbis in a string of commentaries on the text of the Hebrew Bible, yet said nothing on their own. Jesus taught with authority. He spoke as though He were the author of His teaching, the author of the Old Testament, the very author of life and creation. That’s because He is!
As Americans, we are familiar with the little “c” symbol with a circle around it. That designates copyright ©. When a book is published in England, you will probably read this statement right after the copyright notice: “The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.”
Jesus Christ, by teaching with authority, here asserts His moral right to be the founder and perfecter of creation, the Author and Fulfillment of our faith, He who is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end.
Authority is much different from power. Authority is given, delegated. Power is assumed, abused. You’ve heard of a “power grab,” but there’s no such thing as an “authority grab,” for authority, by definition, is given only by the Author behind it.
Authority comes from that basic word of author. In this Gospel text, Jesus asserts His divine authority over evil spirits.

23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.
Demonic possession is real. Americans don’t see much of it apart from movies or sensational TV news programs, but the devil is actively working in our world today. He’s more subtle in 21st Century western culture. He doesn’t have to be very creative. He can just corrupt, twist, pervert, and distort God’s good gifts. He deceives the world (with “wine, women, and song”). He gives people what they think they want and then turns around and condemns us for even thinking about such things. He promises what he can never deliver and pulls the rug out from under you.
And there, in the Capernaum synagogue itself, is one possessed by a demon. How did this happen? Mark’s word “immediately” may indicate that this man just ran in the back door to confront Jesus. Jesus was and is a threat to the Devil’s master plan for world domination. And he’s more of a threat to you than any cartoon villain or James Bond movie bad guy.
One with the Holy Spirit, a Christian, cannot be possessed because that person is a temple of the Holy Spirit. There is a difference between a believer who is tempted and falls and one who intentionally plans to sin. Both are sins, but one gives more opportunity to Satan. You could compare these two kinds of sin to how our legal system differentiates between manslaughter and premeditated murder. One with the Holy Spirit, a Christian, cannot be possessed while that person is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Yet, if that person’s faith dies, if they reject the Holy Spirit, the spiritual enemies of God will find an empty apartment and a great opportunity to mess somebody up.
We must remember who our enemies are and who they are not. People are not your enemy. They may appear to be. They may act like it. They may even say it. Yet, they are either unwitting pawns of the devil’s plan, or active participants with the deceiver, truly committed to one of his deceptions.
This is why Jesus teaches us disciples to love our human enemies and pray for those who would persecute us. Hope for their salvation is not lost, at least not until their death or Judgment Day, whichever comes first.
23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.
The devil knows His Bible. The demons know who Jesus is. You could say that this text is a preview of the last day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord God. But let there be no confusion. All will bend the knee, but not all will make that confession in faith. Christians will gladly make the good confession. People who rejected Christ and the Lord in this life will “admit” that they were wrong and only grudgingly say that Jesus is Lord. Such ones won’t be saved. Nor will the devil and demons like those Jesus silenced and cast out here in Mark 1. To be the best equipped we can be to know the difference between what is true and what is false, Christians are in the Word. Or, they are weak and vulnerable to spiritual attack. Moses warns you about false prophets and Paul warns you about idolaters as well as the folks who make up religious laws outside of God’s word that would wound your conscience unnecessarily.

27 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.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
The amazement of Jesus’ own people here is threefold. First, they recognized a new teaching. It was in full harmony with everything they had heard from what we know as the Old Testament. In fact, Jesus’ teaching was a better explanation of the histories, writings, and prophets than what their scribes had taught. Second, Jesus taught with authority. They were amazed at Jesus exercising the moral authority of authorship. He preached as if He had written the Bible Himself! No surprise to us in that regard. And Third, Jesus demonstrates His authorship over all creation by commanding demons and making them obey. The Creator has spoken. Again. Exorcism of demons reveals that Jesus is God: “God in man [is] made manifest.”
Jesus withstood the temptations of the old evil foe. He responded to temptation with God’s Word. That’s why we memorize it when we are young and study it in depth until we die. Respond to temptations with God’s own Word of warning against those sins. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Give in, and he’ll tempt you more. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Flee people, places, and situations where you are led into temptation. That may mean some significant life changes at home, work, or school. The cost of being a disciple is high, yet nothing compares with the value of the free gift of salvation you are given in Christ Jesus.
The devil, the deceiver, has many allies in this world. Sometimes good people, out of fear, do nothing and are his unwitting accomplices. Often, people like his message at least, and in one moment of weakness do something bad. They turn and seek forgiveness, and receive it from God in Christ, but still face the consequences of their sin in this life. And there are the select few who know exactly who the devil is and what he’s all about and would rather “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” The ultimate deception of this old evil foe is to convince you that God does not exist, that Jesus was a mere man, that all Christians are hypocrites, that the Bible is a human book, that Christianity is a sham, or at least no different from every other religion on the planet, and that your time would be better off on Sunday mornings in making money, being with your family somewhere else, shopping, or watching or playing sports—all instead of receiving God’s good gifts in Christ.
Do not fall for the lies of the devil as accuser. He was a liar from the beginning, ever since he rebelled against God’s authority and was cast out of heaven. Hell was invented for him and his demonic followers, yet human beings who follow him or reject the Lord end up there, too. It is perfectly OK for you to tell the devil to go back to where he belongs. The “h” word isn’t a bad word then. “Devil, begone in the holy name of Jesus Christ. He loves me and died for me. He atoned for my sins. Therefore your accusations are false and hollow. They have no power over me. And neither do you. God accepts and chooses me to be His own. I am baptized into Christ. And I am forgiven because of Jesus Christ. Get behind me, satan!”
With Authority, Jesus also taught us to pray. Second-generation Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz described the last three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer as three short prayers against the devil in the past, the present, and the future. When you are tempted, pray. And pray the Lord’s Prayer against the devil. You could say that this sermon’s conclusion is actually a prayer. These next thoughts are paraphrases of Chemnitz’s book on the Lord’s Prayer.
Forgive us our trespasses. The devil deceived us in the past. Forgive us, Lord.
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lord, help us to forgive others as you have already forgiven us. Help us to forgive from our hearts those who have hurt us in the past. Purge us of hard feelings and grudges. Do not allow us to feel that we are superior or more holy than others based on our own righteousness, but instead rejoice that all Christians are covered in Jesus’ righteousness, holiness, and purity. Help us to forgive others with the forgiveness you pour out on us.
And lead us not into temptation. O Lord, you tempt no one. Save us from every trial, temptation and tribulation we will face today. Let your holy angels watch over us so that the old satanic foe may have no power over us. Keep him away from us and keep us away from him.
But deliver us from evil. O God, our help in ages past and hope for years to come, protect us, our loved ones, and all Christians from the evil of our own sinful flesh, the influence of the fallen world, and the evil one. Deliver us from future sin, save us today, and forgive us for our past sins. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.