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Epiphany 4 Sermon — Mark 1:21-28 (LSB Epiphany 4B)

February 2, 2009

February 1, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

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!”

Jesus brings amazement to the synagogue at Capernaum. The worshipers are surprised at what they hear and what they see. It is a new experience for them, but not a new experience for Jesus. He had already been a source of amazement earlier in His life. In a similar setting—the Temple at Jerusalem—He had astonished the teachers of the Law with His questions and knowledge. What took place during Jesus’ youth is similar to the event near the beginning of His adult work.

The crowd in the synagogue was “astonished at His teaching, for [Jesus] taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” It is important to note that first, because what the Evangelist says with that sentence explains the entire incident at Capernaum and tells you something essential about Jesus. What the people hear from Jesus’ mouth is different than what they normally heard, even in their synagogue meetings. A different quality exists—an authority—in Jesus’ words.

Though this was new to the people of Capernaum, it was not a new occurrence in Israel’s history. What the synagogue members said could have been spoken about many in the past: Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, all the prophets. Every prophet in the Old Testament spoke “as one who had authority,” because each of them had the word of God placed directly into their mouths, so that they could speak it.

You heard about prophets in the reading from Deuteronomy. The Lord God says about prophets: “The prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name that I have not commanded Him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.” In that statement, it is clear that the Lord God does bring forth people to whom He gives His words to speak. When they do so, according to His command, they speak with authority. But when they don’t or when they speak other things, they are impostors without authority.

Based upon what they hear, the crowd in Capernaum recognizes Jesus as a prophet. They say He speaks with authority. His words make them draw that conclusion. Jesus is properly seen as One who doesn’t give lectures like the scribes or textbook recitations like students, but as the One who fully knows what He says and whose words have power. He is the Author of those words, and as such, His teaching has authority. The crowds’ thoughts about Jesus are correct.

But then there is the other part of the incident at Capernaum: “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And 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.’” This was clearly not a usual Sabbath. The present of a demoniac in the synagogue is quite abnormal. But it does present Jesus with an opportunity to confirm what the people had already begun to think about Him.

What Jesus does with the demoniac shows that He not only “[teaches] as one who had authority,” but acts with that authority, too: “Jesus rebuked him, saying: ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.” Jesus speaks and the demon obeys. The words that come from Jesus’ mouth carry full authority, full power over all beings, visible and invisible. That is part of His identity, just who Jesus is.

As Jesus commands the unclean spirit, the people of Capernaum begin to see exactly who He is. He has first shown His authority by His teaching. Then the unclean spirit says that Jesus is “the Holy One of God.” And finally what Jesus does to that unclean spirit confirms that is true. This is an epiphany—a revelation of Jesus’ identity as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The conclusion that the people of Capernaum reach is meant to be. And their reaction is the desired one: “At once [Jesus’] fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” The people of Israel were to know that Jesus is “the Prophet” that Moses had spoken of many centuries before, to whom every person of God was to hear, believe, and obey.

The issues of Christ’s identity and authority are vitally important for you as well. The reading of an ancient account of events in a rustic Galilean town is relevant for today. It is to confirm what you believe about who Jesus is and what He does. Your faith in Jesus is rooted in the authority that He has as the Son of God. Without that belief in who Jesus is, the Christian faith is worthless. Everything that goes on in this parish would be meaningless. The entire Christian faith is intertwined in the confession that Jesus is the Son of God, that His words are authoritative, and that His actions accomplish salvation.

You are called to be astonished at Jesus’ words and works, to have the same reaction as the members of Capernaum’s synagogue. It is not a reaction of shock or surprise, but of awe and wonder at what the God-Man from Nazareth could do which not one individual in this room could by their own ability. The worshipers knew that they could not teach as Jesus did; in fact, they had never even heard teaching like that. The worshipers knew that they were powerless against unclean spirits, unable to help their fellow citizen. But the words and works of Jesus give them and you an object of faith, something to trust, hope in, and cling to.

The authority that Jesus’ words and works carry is where you put your trust. The incident in Capernaum is important to keep in mind, as you hear of those words and works of Jesus as the Church Year progresses. Reading from the Gospel of Mark, you have already heard the testimony that God the Father gave of His Son at His baptism: “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And now you have heard of the nature of His teaching and what He did in power over the forces of pure evil. But more will be said and done by Jesus, more that will bring up the question asked in Capernaum’s synagogue: “What is this?” You will answer that question: “This is what I believe for my salvation, because Jesus has the authority to say and do these things for me.”

And so you will trust what Jesus says and does. You will believe Jesus when He says: “I have the authority on earth to forgive sins.” You will believe Jesus when He says: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” You will believe the stories that He tells to illustrate what the kingdom of heaven is like. You will believe that “even the winds and the seas obey Him.” You will still believe in Jesus when He says: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” You will believe because Jesus has the authority to say and do all these things as His Father has given Him all the words to speak and laid out the agenda of what to accomplish. It is what He has been given to say and to do for your salvation.

Jesus words and works will astonish. They are nothing like what you experience in this world. They have an authority that is absent in sinful creation. But wherever the testimony about what Jesus said and did is found, there His authority is present. His words and works continue to carry salvation to the world—to present you with the truth that God is righteous and that you are sinful, but also to remove the uncleanness of sin and evil from you. That is what takes place here in this assembly of Christ’s believers, those who continue to listen to the amazing teachings and events of Jesus’ life.

The authority of Christ is present in this assembly, because He has placed it here. The Holy One of God has given the authoritative command: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” That Gospel is Christ’s words and works. And He adds the promise: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” It is a promise that only one with supreme, divine authority can make. But as the Lord God has raised up a Prophet greater than Moses and put all His words in His mouth, and as Jesus is the Word of God Incarnate who has spoken them, the needed authority is there.

The Capernaum worshipers asked: What is this?” You know the answer: It is the redeeming mission of the Lord God for them and for you on display. So Jesus’ fame will spread in your region, in your lives, as you bear witness to His astonishing words and works. Believe them, for through them the Holy One of God gives you salvation by freeing you from your sin and leading you to faith in Him. Believe them, for they compel what is wrong in you to depart. Believe them, for they are the words of eternal life for you and all who listen to Jesus.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


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