Sermon based on Mark 1:21-28 for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Dear Christians who stand in Christ: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
We often have great interest in what goes on behind the scenes. Perhaps the latest blockbuster movie has such great action sequences that we want to find out how they did it. What new technology or innovative directing was required to bring our favourite scenes to life on the big screen? Oftentimes in business and politics, we hear of a big announcement of a new partnership of former rivals or competitors and we wonder what happened behind the scenes? Who ingeniously put aside differences and made the seemingly impossible deal happen? Besides what we know publically, we are often curious to know what happened behind the curtains to make something a reality.
Our Gospel reading gives us a behind the scenes glimpse. On the surface, it may not have seemed like much at first: another rabbi teaching in one of the many synagogues. But when those in the synagogue heard this rabbi speak, they recognized that He is no regular rabbi. He speaks with authority, and not as their other teachers. None of the other teachers said what we heard Jesus say last week, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mk 1:15). Jesus teaches the Scriptures with authority because He is the reigning King and the Scriptures speak concerning Him! (Jn 5:39) Jesus also showed His authority in calling the fishermen to follow Him which we also heard last week. If you don’t think this is a sign of authority, then go by various places of work and business and tell people to drop everything and follow you and see how well it works out. Behind the scenes, we know that Jesus is God and thus of course He has authority that no other teacher has.
And then Jesus has a confrontation with a man in the synagogue. To those in the synagogue, this man was just another listener, quite probably even a familiar face often seen listening to teachers in the synagogue. He cried out, “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.” The observers were undoubtedly wondering what this man was talking about, at least until Jesus responded and cast the unclean spirit out of the man. Then, upon the words of Jesus, the unclean spirit convulsed the man, game a demonic shriek and departed as Jesus commanded. This is astonishing and amazing to these observers. This teacher who teaches with authority even has the authority to command unseen spirits!
We have more behind the scenes information here also. In Ephesians 6 we hear that our fight is not against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) We know that our fight is not with each other. Our fight is not against our neighbour who sins against us. Our fight is not even with the earthly enemies and persecutors of the Church. Our fight is with our adversary the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Pt. 5:8). Our fight is with his demons and unclean spirits that would tempt us and lure us into sin. Our fight is against our own sinful nature which wants to be lured into sin.
In our Collect of the Day we prayed, “Almighty God, You know we live in the midst of so many dangers that in our frailty we cannot stand upright.” We confess that in this fight that we have against the spiritual forces of evil we cannot stand. When we are tempted, we fall. When the unclean spirits of anger, lust, greed, and doubt work behind the scenes we don’t just jump in with both feet, we dive into sin head first. We do not do God’s will. Every opportunity that presents itself, we are always looking out for what is best for me, myself, and I. We are frail. We cannot stand upright.
But Christ our Lord stands. He who has authority is on our side. He whom the demons must obey speaks to us and for us. Although we are too weak to stand and face the devil, Jesus did stand and face him. Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness and never fell. Jesus squared off with the devil on Good Friday. The devil maybe even thought he won because Jesus died. But Jesus showed Himself victorious over the devil. Jesus rose on Easter Sunday and showed that the devil is powerless against Him.
That’s all well and good, but what does it mean for me? What does it mean for me who cannot stand upright? What does it mean for me who has fallen headlong into sin and wickedness? What does it mean for me because I’m frail and when I try to stand, I not only fall but I knock over my brother next to me as well? It may be shocking to hear in your weakness, but Jesus’ victory was for you.
If you could stand on your own, Jesus would not have had to come. If you could do better if given more chances, Jesus would not have had to keep the Law for you. If you could avoid sin by trying harder, Jesus would not have taken the punishment of all your sins onto Himself and died your death. This is the very message of the Gospel: your sins are forgiven on account of Jesus.
This is what our Introit based on Psalm 32 is talking about: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Jesus’ blood has covered our sins. That’s why He died; He died to forgive our transgressions. Our sins are no longer counted against us. We who are too weak to stand have One who stood in our place. We who are too frail to do what is right have had our sins covered.
In your Baptism you were washed; your sins were covered. The witnesses and observers at your Baptism did not see this happen. All they saw was water poured over your head. But from Scripture we know what happened behind the scenes. Behind the scenes, according to the promise of God, you received the forgiveness of sins and were rescued from death and the devil. You were rescued from the devil. For this reason, the devil has no accusations to throw at you. He cannot claim you as his own because you belong to Christ. And as weak as you are, it’s not your strength that matters. All that matters is the strength of Jesus, who holds you. And He is the one who has authority. His Word sends demons scrambling in fear. His Word casts out unclean spirits. His Word keeps the devil’s forces in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until Judgment Day (Jude 6).
Much of this happens behind the scenes and we cannot see it. But Scripture gives us glimpses of it and tells us it is so. These sneak peeks behind the scenes help us stand, because we stand not in ourselves, but in Christ. We have won the victory over sin, death, and the devil – not in ourselves, but in Christ.
We probably should have sung A Mighty Fortress Is Our God today instead of last week, but let me leave you with the third verse:
Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill; They shall not overpow’r us.
This world’s prince may still Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none. He’s judged the deed is done;
One little word can fell him. (LSB 656) Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.