Jesus Drives Out an Impure Spirit
Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
This is a really early story in the teaching of Jesus. In fact, it is in the first chapter of the book of Mark, not long after he calls the first disciples. He went into the synagogue in Capernaum, which later we believe was to become his home town.
We are not told what he taught there, just that he did so with authority. I would assume that it was in line with what he later said was his mission, to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
So he began to teach, and with authority, and then a very unexpected thing happened. All hell broke loose. In a very literal way.
“Just then” Mark writes. “Just then” seems to be a favourite phrase of Marks, used to show something happening at once, to show the action racing on without a break, immediately, suddenly.
“Just then” a man possessed with an impure spirit cries out. The demons have recognised who Jesus is in his teaching.
Now hang on a minute: Does it strike you as strange where this man who was possessed by an impure spirit was? I would expect him to be in the vilest places, the darkest, most evil dungeons and sewers and caves? Raging around in a cemetery like the man possessed by a Legion of demons in the region of the Gerasenes, 4 chapters later in Mark’s Gospel.
But he was in the synagogue! The place of the worship of the very God who was his greatest enemy. And it seems that he was quite happy there until Jesus came along. I wonder how long he had been there? A demon, regularly in the house of God?
Some people in churches talk about wanting to go out and be involved in Spiritual warfare, casting out demons and evil spirits. They want to go out looking wherever they might find them. And by the way, let me tell you that I would advise against that. It is a dangerous thing to do unless you know what you are doing.
But this story tells you a little about how evil works, doesn’t it? If you want to find demons and darkness and evil (although I don’t know why you would) stay in the church. It will come to you. Isn’t that the way Satan works, he has the most to fear when people get close to God, and so he has the most to gain in dragging them away? Little wonder then, that this evil spirit was in the synagogue.
It’s the same reason why when things go wrong in a church, when selfishness or an overly critical or negative spirit creeps in, or fights start, I tend to thank God. Because it means that we are doing something effective for the Kingdom and someone is trying to stop us. Satan doesn’t bother us when we are not being effective for Christ, does he? It is the closer we get to God, as individuals, or as a church, that we most strongly feel like we are being dragged away.
Anyway, back to the demon in the synagogue:
I wonder how many teachings ABOUT God this impure or unclean spirit had heard. But none of that teaching seemed to bother him. The Rabbis used to quote and re-quote things other Rabbis had said before. But Jesus was different. Here was the living Word of God himself, and his words had an effect immediately, “Just then”. (As Mark says)
What a great lesson for those who would preach a message in a church. Pastors, Lay Preachers, in the Lutheran Church preach sermons, messages based only on the word of God. Our Sermons are based on readings from Holy Scripture, not poems or books or fond wishes or thoughts. Because they are the word of God only inasmuch as they are based on the Word of God. And they therefore carry his authority.
And they are not just ABOUT the word of God. A person talking about the word of God has no more authority than just that one person, which is really none at all. So our sermons are not just a history lesson, not just an analysis of the literary form. They are meant to DO something.
Think for a moment about the authority of the word of God. I have shared before the difference between me telling an R.E. class in a primary school to be quiet, and the principal sticking her head around the door into the classroom and telling the kids to be quiet. If I have any authority at all, it is only what she gives me. The kids know there are no consequences if they don’t do what I say, I have no power, and they know it. They do have a little more to fear though from the principal of their school if they do the wrong thing. And even though it feels like losing, sometimes the only way to get some discipline is to “borrow” some of that authority, and threaten to send the kids to sit outside the principals office, or to actually do so now and then, so they know you are not bluffing.
It is even more so with God. How much more authority could there be than to say “Let there be light” and a universe begins to spring into being? He didn’t flick a switch or mix a solution of chemicals, he spoke a word. Bam! Light! Day, Night, planets, sea and land, plants and animals and then us!
At times we see Jesus do miracles using mud and spit and other things, but do you realise there was never a silent miracle? Never once did Jesus not speak a word. The woman in the crowd in Mark 5 touched his robe, and knew she was healed, but Jesus then spoke to her and said: Go in peace and be freed from your suffering. Always his powerful word. “Even the wind and waves obey him” the disciples said.
God’s word always does what it says. So when you hear proclaimed “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, and “the wages of sin is death”, this word preached and proclaimed to you is meant to kill you with the law, to kill off any illusion that we have that we are okay on our own.
And when you hear “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins” you can be assured that they are forgiven. By the same authority by which the world was made, your sins are forgiven. You are made alive with the gospel, the good news of the forgiveness of sins and the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Not because I say so, (which would mean nothing,) but because we use the words of Christ himself, the words which as we can see, the demons even know and run from.
The word which does what it says.
This word of God is our safety. It is, As Martin Luther called God himself: “A mighty fortress”, as it carries all the authority of our mighty God.
Rest safe in that peace, and in that word, and in Jesus Christ himself, the word made flesh, and in his mighty power. He is our authority. Thanks be to God!