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LSB Epiphany 4B Sermon – Mark 1:21-28

February 2, 2015

February 1, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“That guy really knows what he’s talking about.” People say that when they hear a lecturer or a commentator or possibly a friend speak about a subject. If the speaker has an expertise in the field, the audience considers that listening to them is beneficial. The speaker’s knowledge about their field impresses those who hear. The audience learns from the presentation. That is particularly so when an author talks about the characters that she created for her novel or if an inventor presents the machine that he developed and built. An authority exists in such people.

When Jesus speaks in Capernaum, the reaction is very similar. “That guy really knows what he’s talking about,” says the crowd. Or as the Gospel Writer put it: “And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” This wasn’t the first time that the worshipers had heard someone comment about the Scriptures. But the worshipers in the synagogue notice the difference with Jesus. He doesn’t speak to them like the other teachers of the Scriptures did. And when that happens, they are astonished.

But as you heard in the Gospel Reading, the astonishment doesn’t end there. It continues as Jesus encounters a man with an unclean spirit. You heard how Jesus dealt with that: “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.” What reaction did that cause for the worshippers? They not only recognize that Jesus knew what He was talking about, but more: “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.’”

The incident in Capernaum’s synagogue is not a random event. Jesus goes there with the purpose of revealing His identity. He goes to the town with the intent to show His authority. And Jesus accomplishes that purpose by what He says and does. The reaction of astonishment and amazement shown by worshipers in Capernaum is the intended result: “And at once His fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” Jesus’ desires the people of Galilee to know that He is present among them, that One who carries the LORD’s authority is in their midst.

As Jesus performs these actions in Capernaum, He begins to fulfill the prophetic statement made to the Israelites all the way back at the time of Moses. Near the end of the Exodus into Canaan, the LORD had made a promise. Moses told it to the people: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers….” And when he gave the details of this promise, Moses recounted what the LORD specifically said: “And I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” 

The LORD’s giving of words to a prophet granted authority to that prophet. This is why the people were to listen to the prophet: “Whoever will not listen to My words that he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.” The LORD’s giving of words also bound the prophet to the LORD. Any severance of that would lead to the prophet’s demise: “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.” 

Jesus had the LORD’s words placed in His mouth. Jesus notes this at other times, including in His dialogue with the Pharisees in the Temple that John records: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing on My own authority, but speak just as the Father taught Me.” Jesus mentions the words that He speaks are from His Father. He carries that authority.

But with Jesus, this arrangement is elevated and enhanced from the basic LORD-prophet order. There is another detail that was revealed in the Capernaum synagogue. When Jesus encountered the man with the unclean spirit, a statement was made about Jesus: “I know who You are—the Holy One of God.” Jesus’ identity as the Holy One of God, the LORD’s Messiah, the Promised Servant is more than just being a prophet who speaks the LORD’s words. Jesus is the One whom the Scriptures talk about. He is the subject of the Scriptures. Even more, since Jesus is the Eternal God incarnate, He is the author or the cause behind the Scriptures. Or to speak as the prologue of John’s Gospel does, Jesus is the LORD’s Word in the flesh, a bodily Scripture. When that is understood, then it may be astonishing and amazing to hear Jesus speak with authority, but it should not astonish and amaze that Jesus has such authority.

This is why Jesus really knows what He’s talking about in Capernaum. It is why Jesus’ command to expel the unclean spirit must be obeyed. But take this incident out of ancient Galilee. The identity of Jesus is why His statements, His words, carry an authority over you. The declaration that the LORD gave concerning the Prophet that He would raise up is binding on you: “Whoever will not listen to My words that he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.” When Jesus’ words are spoken and heard, it is an encounter with divine authority. And the reaction or result is twofold: (a) reception of those words and heeding what is said or (b) rejection of the statements and rebellion against them.

The LORD’s desire is that you hear what Jesus says and have the reaction like the people of Capernaum did: astonishment and amazement that are given in recognition of the authority that Jesus carries. This is the reaction of belief that the living and active divine word elicits. It leads you to the conclusion that Jesus really knows what He’s talking about concerning you. He knows what He’s talking about when your actions are evaluated against the divine standard of righteousness. He knows about your innate selfish desires, your thoughts that conjure up all sorts of ways to abuse the creation that He has made, your proclivities to dominate and manipulate fellow people, your balking at being under anyone else’s authority. This is what the living and active word of God exposes, as it is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

But Jesus also really knows what He’s talking about when He speaks about Himself and His work. He is the One who carries out the Father’s merciful and gracious will for you. He provides the way to the Father. He supplies righteousness that you don’t possess on your own. He has the ability to lay down His life and take it up again. He atones for your sin by doing so. He can give the promise of resurrection to those who believe in Him. You are led to believe this as the living and active word of God is heard which gives the testimony: “there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exists, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”

Jesus also really knows what He’s talking about when He establishes the way for you to receive the salvation that He provides. That is why you come here to receive the preaching of the Gospel, the words of absolution, the baptism that regenerates, the meal that recalls Jesus’ sacrificial death. You do so, because you believe that Jesus’ authority is present in these things. You believe the promise that He makes that forgiveness, life, and salvation are in these.

And Jesus really knows what He’s talking about when He gives you a way of life to follow. Your being a disciple of Jesus is an acceptance that what Jesus teaches is true and that it is actually beneficial to you. Reflect on what you heard during the last two Sundays, as we commemorated the Confession of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul. The acceptance that what Jesus says is true and beneficial leads you to carry out what He says: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” That acceptance leads you to give up ownership of your lives and be under Jesus’ authority because of the promise that is made for His disciples: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for My name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”

All of this is connected. Its nexus is in the recognition of the authority that Jesus possesses. It is part of the astonishment and amazement that the Spirit works in you as He calls you to believe in the gospel that Jesus preached. You hold the same faith that the psalmist did: “The works of [the LORD’s] hands are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to His people; He has commanded His covenant forever. Holy and awesome is His name! The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.” The Spirit-wrought enlightenment brings this about in you. So you believe the Scriptures that speak about Jesus. You trust the statements that Jesus makes. You hold to the life of discipleship that Jesus assigns to you. And you obtain the benefit of Jesus’ words that accomplish what they say.

This is the result for you as you receive what has been revealed about Jesus. He teaches you as One who has authority. He exercises that authority for your benefit. Jesus really knows what He’s talking about. The content and subject of the Scriptures—the testimony about Jesus—has become what you believe. So you listen to the LORD’s word that was placed in Jesus’ mouth. Even more, you listen to the LORD’s Word who became incarnate and had a mouth that spoke for you. And believing Him, you have life in His name.

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

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