Good morning. This past Wednesday was the first day of the Epiphany season. Epiphany means “manifestation” or “appearance”. When Jesus began His ministry at the age of 30, few knew who He was. As Jesus interacted with the people, teaching, preaching and performing miracles, many came to know Him as the Savior sent from God. The one who would take their sins away.
This year our Epiphany messages come from Mark’s gospel. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It has been described as a collection of “snapshots” of Jesus. Jesus the healer. Jesus the teacher. Jesus the miracle worker, and so on.
We’re going to use this idea of “Mark’s Snapshots” to help focus our minds to see Jesus. This is what I want you to do. As you listen to our readings from Mark, imagine that Mark is actually sitting beside you in the pew. He’s got a shoebox full of old photographs, and with each one he shows you he says, “This is Jesus.”
Once you can see that reading’s “Snapshot of Jesus” in your mind, take the visualization one step further. Find yourself in the picture. If this is Jesus, where am I?
AN AUTHORITATIVE TEACHER
In Jesus’ day, when the Jews couldn’t get to the Temple in Jerusalem, they worshipped in local worship halls called “synagogues”.
The ancient synagogue was remarkably like our church building. It had a main open space where people could gather. It had windows. Opposite the entrance of the synagogue there was an indentation in the wall where there was a box, which looked somewhat like this altar. In this box the scrolls of the Old Testament were stored. There was even a raised platform and podium, much like our pulpit, where these scrolls could be laid out and read to the people.
The worship that took place in the ancient synagogue was also similar to our worship. In fact, you could say that our worship has descended from the synagogue. Synagogue worship had three basic parts. There were prayers spoken back and forth by the congregation and the synagogue leader. There were readings from the Bible. There was a message meant to help everyone understand God’s Word.
In our first snapshot from Mark’s gospel, Jesus steps up to the podium at the synagogue in Capernaum.
21They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.
When Jesus stepped down from the podium in the synagogue of Capernaum, the people were stunned. This Jesus, who had grown up some 20 miles away in Nazareth, had just knocked their socks off. It says very simply,
“The people were AMAZED at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had AUTHORITY, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1:22 NIV).
There are two parts of a good teacher. First, a teacher has to know what he’s talking about. Second, he has to be able to communicate that knowledge effectively. In other words, he has to have the truth to speak, and the words to speak it so it can be understood.
The problem with the scribes (called “the teachers of the law” here) was that they didn’t know the truth. They had God’s Word, but they didn’t understand it.
The Savior from sin was not part of THEIR message. They twisted the promised Savior of the Old Testament into some political figure.
The intimidating Law of God was also not part of their message. They had dumbed down God’s standards so that it was possible for them to believe they had lived lives worthy of heaven. In their storm of manmade doctrines, the true meaning of God’s Word was lost to these teachers.
This is why jaws dropped when Jesus spoke. It wasn’t just because He was a brilliant communicator. The congregation at Capernaum was stunned because Jesus spoke something that the scribes had lost. He spoke the simple truth of God’s Word. And this truth RANG TRUE in the ears of the people.
This is the snapshot of Jesus that I see. I see Jesus, standing with one hand on the open scroll of some Old Testament book. His other hand raised in the air gesturing His point home. On His face is an expression that is both intense and joyful at the same time. He is teaching them the Father’s truth, with the Father’s own words (John 14:24). He speaks of damning sin and salvation through faith in the Christ.
This is Jesus. A brilliant teacher to be sure. But a teacher whose authority came from the fact that His message was God’s message.
So, what about me? Where am I in this picture? Well, let me tell you a story. The other day I was discussing the way we worship with an organist (neither of ours), and the conversation fell on the sermon. I expressed that while the sermon may not be the jewel of the worship service around which everything else is built, but it’s still pretty important (spoken like a true pastor, right?). And my friend said to me, “You know, I’ve always cherished the confession and absolution more than the sermon. I’m a terrible sinner. And to know that my God has taken my sins away, well, I NEED that. As for the sermon, it’s often tainted by one sinful man’s opinion.”
In first Peter it says…
“If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God…” (1 Peter 4:11 NIV).
This is what I want to do when I speak to you, God’s people. I want to speak the words of God, not one sinful man’s opinion.
So, if Mark’s snapshot shows Jesus the brilliant teacher, I want to be the student sitting at His feet. Reaching out every word and concept. Listening diligently so that I may know HIS MESSAGE accurately, so that I too may speak with the Father’s authority.
Mark gives us another snapshot of Jesus here. Verse 23.
ENEMY OF ALL DARKNESS
Mark 1:23-28 (NIV)
23Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24“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!”
25“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27The 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.”
First they were amazed by Jesus’ teaching. Then by His command over demons.
There are a number of occurrences of demon possession throughout the ministry of Jesus. It appears that demon possession was more common at that time.
The reliable information we have about demon possession comes from Biblical accounts. First of all, we know that the evil spirits were once good angels, created to serve God. They chose to rebel against God with Satan as their leader. Though we are unsure about the full extent of their abilities, we know these fallen angels are far more powerful than any manmade weapon.
We know that sometimes one or more demons enter into the body of a human being and seized control. The demon possessed person may then begin to act crazy, becoming dangerously strong and violent. Their habits become strange and inhuman. One group of demons that Jesus drove out of a man had caused that man to stop wearing clothes, and to live in burial caves among moldering corpses. There he passed the time by purposefully injuring himself in painful ways.
The presence of a demon may cause the possessed person to lose physical abilities like speaking, hearing or seeing. When the demon is driven out, these senses are restored. Understand that this wasn’t some silly superstition cooked up by simple people to explain illnesses that they didn’t understand. The Biblical accounts draw a distinct line between people who were sick and diseased and those who had physical problems BECAUSE of demon possession.
It appears that demons were not easily driven out once they had taken control of a person. But at the command of Jesus, demons had to obey.
Jesus was teaching the Word of God in the synagogue of Capernaum. Boldly a demon raised his stolen voice to yell angrily at Jesus. This demon knew very well what those around him have yet to comprehend. This Jesus was the Holy One of God. The Savior. He had come to destroy the Devil’s work. He had come to set sinners free from sin and hell by His selfless sacrifice.
Jesus responds to the Demon’s angry voice with a stern face and imposing tone. He simply commands that the Demon do two things. Shut up and get out. And this ancient fallen angels, this powerful spirit of darkness is gone. No Hollywood fight scene. No magical incantation. A simple word of command from Jesus.
This is the snapshot of Jesus that I see. Jesus stands as a warrior. A gunslinger. A soldier. He stands as the enemy of all darkness. But His power doesn’t come from muscle, or lead or atomic bomb. His power is in the Word He speaks. And this first mighty miracle in Capernaum testified also, saying, Pay attention. This warrior speaks God’s truth, and God’s power is with Him also.
So, what about us? Where are we in this picture? Well, we’re like the man who yelled out at Jesus. We were held captive by sin. We were faithless and hopeless. There was no way we could remove the darkness that lived in us. But the Word of Jesus has set us free. He tells us that we deserve hell because of our sins, but He also tells us that He suffered that hell in our place. On the cross. Our sentence has been served. And like the Demon who had to listen to Jesus’ voice, our hearts have heard this Good News with relief.
Now you might have noticed that I didn’t read the last verse yet. Verse 28.
What Capernaum Didn’t See
Mark 1:28 (NIV)
28News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
The people of Capernaum were surprised and amazed at the way Jesus taught. They were astonished when they witnessed the power His Word had over an evil spirit. The word spread quickly across the countryside about what Jesus had done in Capernaum. But the snapshot that remained in the minds of the people had a hole where Jesus was.
They remembered His powerful speaking, but not His message. They remembered His command of demons, but not what that fact pointed to. They were amazed by Him, but they did not believe in Him. They did trust their Savior.
Later in His ministry, Jesus had harsh words for Capernaum. Matthew 11, verse 23.
“23And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:23-24 NIV).
When you see Jesus, don’t just see the powerful teacher. Don’t just see the enemy of demons. See the Savior who died in your place to erase your sins forever. See the Savior who reaches out His hand to take yours. To begin and continue a conversation with your heart. To begin and continue a friendship with you. This is Jesus.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.