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Dear Friends in Christ,
As Jesus began his public ministry he faced the challenge of communicating who he was. Just like today, many were more focused on physical things than spiritual things. Even Peter had to be reprimanded by Jesus for giving in to that temptation, just as we often do. Among those who were religious, there were all kinds of conflicting ideas about the Messiah and what he would do when he came, as is still the case today in regard to his second coming. Today, the apostle Mark lets us look and listen in as Jesus lets it be known who he is.
Soon after Jesus walked by the fishing boats of Peter, Andrew, James and John and called them to follow him and become his full-time disciples, it was time to go to church. It was the Sabbath and Jesus, as the perfect Son of God, kept the Sabbath perfectly. Since he was in Capernaum he attended the Sabbath service in the synagogue there. Those in charge of the worship service must have given Jesus the opportunity to read a portion of the Scripture that was appointed for that day and explain it to the people.
As the people listened to what Jesus was saying to them we are told that they were amazed. What was it that amazed them about the teaching of Jesus? Was it that he was a very charismatic speaker? Was it that he made use of props and object lessons? It’s telling that the Holy Spirit doesn’t tell us what Jesus’ sounded like or exactly what he did when he when he taught. Those things aren’t important. The important thing, the thing we are told was amazing to the people in the Synagogue at Capernaum was this: The people were amazed at his teaching, because he was teaching them as one who has authority and not as the experts in the law.
The thing that distinguished the teaching of Jesus from what they were used to, was that Jesus taught with authority. If you read some of the Jewish commentaries, you quickly learn the difference. You will find that the experts in the law loved to quote this Rabbi and that Rabbi and talk about all the different things that a certain passage might mean, and all the different ways different people throughout history have understood it. But then they would let it up to you to decide which of the possibilities they presented seemed most likely.
You find a lot of the same thing in the church today. People are told that there is no such thing as absolute truth and that, after reading a passage of Scripture, whatever they feel it means to them is fine, because each person can have their own truth and their own interpretation. They are even told that if their idea contradicts something else the Bible says in another place, that’s OK. But it’s not OK. Jesus taught with authority. For example, he didn’t say there are many ways to God, whatever you feel is the right way is fine. He said I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me. That’s teaching with authority. That’s what we still need today, even though our sinful nature bristles at such authority.
As the people in the Synagogue at Capernaum were marveling at the authoritative way in which Jesus was teaching, something else amazing happened. A man who was present at the service, maybe someone they knew well, a member of their congregation, suddenly showed himself to be possessed by a demon. The demon no longer hid himself but spoke through this man, 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!
Now that was something to be amazed at! These people witnessed what was an obvious demon possession. As we read it today we are still amazed at the audacity of Satan and his demons. Satan and his demons were not afraid to publically take on Jesus. Satan and his demons know who Jesus is. They are not afraid to try to do their work even among a gathering of believers, even in a Christian school, even in a Christian congregation. This fact ought not just to amaze us, but to remind us how powerful and devious Satan is. We dare never let down our guard, even as we are gathered in worship.
We might wonder why this demon would speak out in this situation, and even give witness to what was true. Jesus is the Holy One of God. Why would he say what was true, isn’t Satan the father of lies, with lying being his native language?
Certainly, the demon knew he was in trouble. He knew Jesus would know that he was present. He knew Jesus had come to destroy the devil’s work. Think about how he chooses his words. He calls Jesus not the Messiah, but the Holy One of God. He asks if the Holy One of God has come to destroy him and his fellow demons. Do you hear a familiar Satanic refrain in those words? How can the Holy One be responsible for destroying something? How can a loving God allow evil? How can a loving God send anyone to hell? Did God really say you will die if you eat the forbidden fruit? That can’t be right. God would never do such a thing, it just wouldn’t be loving.
Satan is the Father of lies, but he is willing to misuse the truth for his own purposes. He doesn’t fight fair. He is filled with furry because he knows his time is short. He is prowling around like a roaring lion even at church and in the classrooms and hallways of Christian schools, looking for someone to devour. The great power and audacity of Satan is something that amazes us; but be even more amazed at the power and authority of Jesus.
Jesus rebuked the spirit, saying, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions, and after crying out with a loud voice, it came out of him. Everyone was so amazed that they began to discuss this with each other. They said, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands the unclean spirits, and they obey him!”
As powerful as Satan and his demons are, Jesus is more powerful. They have to submit to him. All he has to do to control them is speak a word and they have no choice but to obey him. No hocus pocus, no long incantations, incense or Holy Water. Just a word. As Luther wrote, “he’s judged, the deed is done, one little word can fell him.”
During the Epiphany season we watch as Jesus shows us who he is. At the Synagogue in Capernaum he shows by his words and works that he is the Holy One of God to whom all authority in heaven and earth is given. As true man he walked the earth and kept God’s law perfectly for us by keeping the Sabbath as God commanded. We often look at worship as a “have to.” Jesus not only kept the Sabbath law outwardly, but he always worshiped gladly. He wanted to be about his Father’s business. When he taught in the Synagogues, he spoke with authority and proclaimed clearly and powerfully, “This is what God says.” As the one who remained the holy one of God all his life he could go to the cross and take upon himself the punishment we deserve for all the times we have not wanted to submit to the authority of God’s word, and for all the times we have worshiped out of obligation instead of joy and thankfulness for all God has done for us.
In the Synagogue in Capernaum Jesus revealed himself as the one, the Holy One of God, who has power over Satan, who really did come to destroy the devil’s work. He accomplished the destruction of Satan’s work not just by performing exorcisms and commanding demons to leave those they had possessed physically, but in a much more important way. By his perfect life and his innocent death he has destroyed Satan’s power to accuse us and to demand that God punish us forever. Because Jesus is the Holy One of God who not only suffered and died but rose from the dead, Satan’s accusations fall on deaf ears. Jesus descended into Hell and proclaimed his victory over Satan and now is sitting at the right hand of God interceding for us. Any time Satan is successful at leading us into sin, anytime we fall and give in to temptation and Satan runs off to God demanding that we be punished, Jesus is right there, speaking with authority, “I have paid for those sins.”
As you picture yourself in the Synagogue at Capernaum, as you imagine yourself being there, be amazed at the power and audacity of Satan. See that he will stop at nothing to try to get as many as possible to spend eternity with him in Hell. Remember to always be on guard against him and his temptations. But be even more amazed at the power and authority of Jesus. He is the Holy one of God. What he says is God’s truth. He came to destroy the devil’s work and he accomplished his mission by living and dying in our place. He has risen from the dead and continues to use his power and authority to limit the devil’s power with his word until the day comes when he will deliver us from the evil one and take us to be with him forever in heaven.
Jesus is the Holy One of God, our Savior.