When I was a kid growing up in South Dakota, I remember playing in the snow a lot. Sometimes it was sledding or building forts, but quite often it was football.
My brother would come home from school on the holidays, and if there was snow on the ground I’d get suited up and we’d play tackle football out in the white.
Now, most of the time my older brother played down to my level. First he’d kick off the ball by flipping it up in the air above my head, and then he and his friend Tony would get down on their knees, so they were about my height, and then they would “run” after me. If I could avoid their awkward knee-based run - “touchdown”. If not, well, the impact wasn’t SO BAD with all the puffy clothes and snow on the ground.
I remember one time when I got cocky. My mouthing off led someone to deliver a full-speed from-the-feet tackle which hyper-extended my left knee. I was reminded quite quickly that I was just in the sixth grade, and no match for a high-school tackle.
This whole game was possible because my brother and his friends put their full abilities on the shelf for a while, and played down to my level.
When the Son of God became human, he put his God-powers on the shelf. As a child, Jesus grew taller and got smarter just like every other kid. He was here to live like you and me, with all the same pains and temptations, except he would never sin. That way he could offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for us, taking away the punishment for sin that we deserve.
Now, I say that Jesus put his God-powers on the shelf, but that’s not completely accurate. He did read minds, calm storms and heal diseases – in service to others. In other words, Jesus took his God-powers off the shelf to help others.
In our reading for today we’re going to see Jesus do just this. The theme of our mediation is, “Jesus Uses His Godly Authority for the Benefit of the People”.
Mark 1:21-28 (ESV)
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. 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. 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.
This was apparently the first time Jesus taught in the city of Capernaum. This city would become the base of operations for Jesus’ ministry. But this was the first time he sat down to teach in the local synagogue Bible class. His debut was a smash-hit.
Our reading says…
“…they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22 ESV).This leads us to ask, what was so lacking in the way that the scribes taught? And for that matter, who were the Scribes?
In general scribes were people who could read and write, and who, then, made their living through reading and writing. The Scribes that Jesus encountered were men who had studied the Bible extensively. Some of them were literally lawyers. They had such a good knowledge of Old Testament laws that they could serve as law experts in court.
Now, you’d expect that these people would be the first to say, “This Jesus must be the Savior sent from God. He fits all the signs and prophesies!” But they didn’t recognize this. Sadly, though the Scribes worked extensively with the Bible, most of them didn’t have a true faith in God. There were a number of reasons for this.
First of all, the Scribes were sinners just like you and me. The Bible says that spiritual things are a mystery to sinners without the Holy Spirit’s guidance. In 1 Corinthians 2, verse 14 the Bible says…
“14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:14NIV).▬
But the Scribes had even more working against them than their own sinful nature. For a long time they had been piling up their own ideas, interpretations and rules around the Bible. They called these “the traditions of the elders”.
Let me show you what I’m talking about using a story from Jesus’ life. Turn to Matthew 15. There it says…
“1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”▬
3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ r and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ s 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8 “ ‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules” (Matthew 15:1-9 NIV).
It was hard for the Scribes to see the meaning of the Bible through the fog of their long standing traditions. But their love of attention made it even harder. Jesus once said…
“…Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely” (Mark 12:38-40 NIV).The Scribes were sinners. Strike one. They considered their traditions to be just as important than the Bible itself. Strike two. They were in love with popularity and prestige. Strike three.
Just to round out our picture of the average Scribe, let’s hear Jesus one more time. Turn to Matthew 23, verse 13. There Jesus says…
“13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.That was the Scribe.
15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:13-15 NIV).
You can imagine how different it was when Jesus led the Bible Class.
Jesus didn’t have a sinful nature to get in the way of his understanding of the Bible.
Jesus didn’t want attention, he wanted to teach the people the truth of God’s Word.
Jesus spoke the Gospel to the people. The message that forgiveness of sins was not a product of our doing, it was God’s gift.
John 3:16 says…
“…God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 NKJV).A lot of people know this passage, but how many people remember that those are Jesus’ words ABOUT HIMSELF.
Jesus was always pointing people to the law to show them that they couldn’t save themselves through holy living. But Jesus was also constantly directing people to God’s promise of forgiveness which was a gift given through the Messiah.
The Scribes twisted and misinterpreted the Bible either because of their own misunderstanding, or because of their own self-serving intentions. But when Jesus spoke, he spoke the truth, for the good of the people – for the very salvation of their souls.
Now, some people are born talkers. They’re good at it. They can convince people of the most ridiculous things with their smooth words and charming charisma. In other words, they can bluster well enough to give the impression of authority.
But this wasn’t Jesus. He wasn’t just a good talker, and he proved it by what he did in the second half of our sermon reading. Look at verse 23 again. There it says…
Mark 1:23-28 (ESV)
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. 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.
This strange and shocking event at the Capernaum synagogue is a strong reminder that this isn’t just a popularity contest between Jesus and the Scribes. There’s a real war going on here, and the players in this war are more powerful than small town Bible class leaders.
Demons are fallen angels. They were created good, but with free will. And at some point a group of them rebelled against God. They must have thought they could overcome God and take His place. They were wrong. Now they await their final judgment when they will be separated from God and all goodness, forever. Hell was built FOR THEM.
The leader of these fallen angels is Satan, the very being who tempted Adam and Eve in the beginning. In Eden Satan took possession of a snake in order to tempt Eve. Here in Capernaum another demon took possession of a man.
We don’t see demon possession very often today. Oh, I think we could find it close by here if we tried. I would venture to guess that where there are fortune tellers and occult gatherings, demonic activity is not altogether absent. When mediums go in to “trances” I would guess that not all of them are fake.
But the violent, un-looked for demon possession that we see here in the New Testament doesn’t seem to happen much in America. I think that’s because it would validate the Bible and strengthen the faith of Christians if Satan’s forces showed themselves like this. It’s a much better strategy for Satan to lie low, making the Bible look like a fairy-tale to modern man who always believes himself so much wiser than those who came before.
But at the time of Jesus the demons were certainly not lying low. There aren’t many examples of demon possession in the Old Testament. But, at the time of Jesus demon possession was rampant.
Some think that the demons were trying to do what God the Son was doing. He had become human. But all the demons could manage was to take control of the human mind and body for a time.
This is what we find going on in the synagogue while Jesus preached. Someone in the crowd was being used as a vehicle for a demon. He sat listening to everything Jesus said for a while, and then he lashed out at Jesus with angry words.
The demon knew who Jesus was – the Holy One of God.
The demon also expresses opposition to Jesus, and fear. This demon knew what was in store for him someday. Defeat. Hell.
Jesus doesn’t put up with this demon’s outburst for long. He shuts him up immediately and tells him to leave this man alone. With a shriek and a convulsion, the demon forced out by Jesus.
The people were impressed. Not only did Jesus speak with authority, he commanded demons and they listened! Nobody else had exchanges with demons like this! God was obviously at work here. This Jesus was truly a prophet from God. And many of them would soon learn that Jesus was much more than a prophet - he was the Messiah.
Like I said, this story is a good reminder of who our enemies are – powerful spirit beings capable of possessing humans. These spirit beings are not playful, they are vicious. The Bible describes Satan as a hungry lion searching for someone to eat.
Our real enemies are not hunger, poverty or disease - but demons who would manipulate us and destroy our trust in the true God. Demons who would like to cover the Gospel up and take as many people as they can away from God’s loving arms before their time is up.
If it wasn’t for Christ, we would belong to these demons. Sin makes us part of Satan’s group. Only through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross are we rescued from sin’s punishment and Satan’s power.
The apostle Paul says…
“38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NIV).Because Jesus suffered the punishment for each and every one of our sins, he has the authority to say, “You’re forgiven. Be at peace”.
Earlier I said that when God the Son became human, he put his God-powers on the shelf. He only used them for helping others. Keep in mind that before Jesus left this world by rising up into the sky in full view of his disciples, he told them that he would be with them, even to the end of the age. That promise still stands for Christians today.
The God-Man who died for our sins, and who has full authority over the forces of evil, is still with us. Let’s hear his promise once more…
“18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20 NIV).Modern professors say, “We evolved from apes. The Bible is a product of human thought”. But Jesus says, “God created male and female in the beginning. The Bible is God’s Word to mankind.”
Satan says, “You’re a sinner. You’re going to hell unless you save yourself”. But Jesus says, “It’s impossible for sinners to save themselves. That’s why I did it for them.”
We can all say and believe whatever we like. But that doesn’t mean that what we say and believe holds true authority. For true authority we must go to the source, our Creator and Savior.
May our Lord Jesus Christ keep you trusting in his authority, resting your hope for the future on his wisdom and his power.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.