JESUS CAN REALLY HELP US!
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.22. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 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.”25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. Mark 1:21-28
Because Jesus and the Scriptures take seriously Satan and the unclean spirits, we do not dismiss them. We believe that Jesus in his death on the cross defeated Satan and his army of evil spirits. When we were baptized into Jesus Christ, God sent His Spirit into our lives. Throughout our lives, we continue to grow in our understanding of what happened in that moment when the Word was spoken and the water was poured. One way of looking at our Baptism is seeing it as that moment when the unclean spirit was driven out of us. Yet Satan keeps on sending unclean spirits into our lives to try to make us center our lives in on ourselves. There is a power struggle going on in all of us who belong to Jesus. The good news is that Jesus lives within us and he is a greater power. He has authority that no one else ever had. He is right here now to drive out the unclean spirits that still hang around us and to give us the help we need for our deepest needs. May we all believe more deeply that Jesus can really help us in all our troubles and problems, and may we put our full trust in him.
In last Sunday’s Gospel lesson we heard how Jesus began his ministry in Galilee. There he preached the Gospel of God, and called some fisherman to be his disciples. In today’s Gospel lesson we are told that they went to Capernaum, a village on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee where Simon Peter lived. And on the Sabbath day, Jesus went into the synagogue in Capernaum and began to teach. Outwardly he appeared like any other rabbi, and he teaches in the same manner as they do. He had a band of students around him. He reads the Scripture, sits down and then expounds his message. But Jesus comes across in a much different way than the scribes.
The scribes were the professional lawyers. They were found in every village throughout Palestine. Their main business was the teaching and interpreting of the law. The scribes would tell the people what Moses said, and then repeat the opinions of many of their predecessors as to what Moses meant. Jesus was not an officially trained rabbi. Even so, he would have been widely tolerated if he had just founded a school and had stuck to debating opinions.
But Jesus speaks out of his own personal experience with the Heavenly Father. He did not tell people what others said about God because He knew the truth about God. He said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel." The people were astonished because his teaching was marked by such authority. His message was no mere opinion. There was a divine authority behind it. "They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes."
The kingdom is the Spirit of God breaking forth again in the world through the word and the person of Jesus Christ. The gospel was that God himself was in the midst of his people and would restore to himself all who believed in the Son. The people could sense the power in Jesus and in his teaching.
And this authority was not confined to his teaching. It was also seen in his actions, and particularly in his dealings with the forces of evil. ”Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit.” This man’s personality was so disabled that the unclean spirit had taken the place of the person and spoke through him on behalf of all unclean spirits. It happens in our world today when, for example, such a spirit takes over a person so that all that person’s expressions are lies and more lies to cover up the first lies. It is not the Spirit of God that teaches us to tell lies. The unclean spirits do.
The unclean spirit said to Jesus, ”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 unclean spirit not only recognizes the fact of Jesus’ authority, but with supernatural insight, he understands it. Jesus is the Holy One of God who has come to destroy all unclean spirits and to set up God’s kingdom. It was widely believed at that time that if one knew a person’s true identity and could utter his name, he could gain a magic power over him. This "confession" of the unclean spirit is best understood as a desperate but fruitless attempt to get control of Jesus or to make him harmless.
It is the power of God that works in Jesus and a mere word from Jesus will be sufficient. “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” Jesus comes from God with a power that gets right at the heart of that man’s problem. This is no aspirin religion here; no band aids that simply cover over the symptoms and leaves the problems untouched.
Jesus diagnoses this man’s problem for what it really is and gets at the root of it. He calls out the unclean evil spirit and sets the man free. Some people are so disabled that evil spirits actually speak out of them. Everything they say is a distortion meant to manipulate others to serve their ends. When a person lives as if he were the center of everything, it is an unclean spirit who is in control. The evil spirits are those powers at work both within and without that conspire against us to turn us away from trusting in God.
Sometimes we can notice it in others when we say, "What’s gotten into you?" Or after realizing what we have said or done to someone else, we may say of ourselves, "I don’t know what’s come over me.” And we really know that there is nothing we can do about it. Like the man in the synagogue, we seem to be a pawn in the hands of alien forces that exercise a power over us that we cannot overcome by ourselves. Our problem is that we often fail to turn to God in all our needs. We lack the very thing that prayer and trust in God would provide. But Jesus is here for us, the holy one of God, the more powerful one. He is the kind of teacher we need, and his word has authority. He is the one who gets at the root of our problems also, and does something that really helps.
God did not intend that his good creation should go so wide of the goal that he had set for his creation when he put us in his world. He determined to redeem and to rescue his creation. He sent his own Son equipped with his own authority and empowered to get at the heart of our problems and to do something about it. In his baptism Jesus identified with us at every point in our lives. He was not overcome by the problems he faced. He did not give in. He endured even to his death on the cross where he faced Satan and defeated him. And on the third day the Father raised him in victory. Out of that tomb Christ brought us a new power, a power that brings life out of death, a power that defeats the powers of evil at their own game. Jesus speaks the gospel to us when he says, I have freed you.
In Jesus Christ we receive the power that overcomes the evil spirits within our lives and all around us. He helps us to get right in our hearts. He helps us to overcome those behaviors that so often defeat us. God understands our human situation. He is always at every moment prepared to help us. Our exorcism took place in our baptism when the unclean spirit was told to be quiet and to come out of us. In our baptism Jesus Christ lined himself up on our side in the battle against evil. In the forgiveness of sins, God gives us a new beginning.
When we come together for worship, we are reaching out to God for help to meet and to defeat those problems inspired by evil. God Himself comes right now into our very midst. Jesus not only says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,” but he also promises, “I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) The Holy One with God’s own authority is in our very midst. He offers us bread and invites us to “Take and eat, this is my body” and He give us the Cup and says, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” In faith let us reach out to him and be helped and healed. His power is available to each of us right now. Jesus can really help us! Let the people of God say “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”