Summary: To be amazed is not the same as being converted.
TEACHING THROUGH HEALING
As we re-read Mark’s Gospel - as we must, from time to time - we find it to be a Gospel of two halves. The first half tells of Jesus’ presentation to the people as an authoritative teacher (Mark 1:21-22), who also happened to use healing (or more explicitly here, exorcism) as a teaching device (Mark 1:27). The hinge between the two halves is the confession of Peter (Mark 8:29), after which the Lord started to prepare His inner circle of disciples for His Passion, Cross and Resurrection - a message which they were slow to receive (Mark 8:31-32; Mark 9:31-32; Mark 10:33-34; Mark 10:45). To a lesser or greater extent, the Cross casts its shadow over the whole narrative.
Timing is important, especially in the face of the heightened Messianic expectations of the people - and more so on account of their mistaken views as to what He had come to accomplish. This is why the unclean spirit was silenced (Mark 1:25). Even Jesus’ disciples were bound to silence (Mark 8:30). Jesus’ identity could not possibly be fully understood until the Cross event was passed - and then the first breakthrough in understanding would come from the unexpected lips of a Roman centurion (Mark 15:39).
It was the Sabbath and Jesus (‘as His custom was’ - cf. Luke 4:16), entered into the synagogue (Mark 1:21). It is good for us to meet together on the Lord’s day, for mutual edification (cf. Hebrews 10:25). But even when that is not possible, we must nurture regular habits of worship (cf. Revelation 1:10).
On this occasion, Jesus taught: “not as the scribes” (whose teaching consisted of tradition, quoting ‘Rabbi so-and-so who said that Rabbi such-and-such said that…’) but “as one that had authority” (Mark 1:22). Jesus’ authority is original, replacing even the ‘Thus says the LORD’ of the older prophets with ‘I say unto you’ (e.g. John 5:24).
Both the Temple and the synagogue were concerned about issues of ceremonial cleanliness. Yet there in the assembly was a man “with an unclean spirit” (Mark 1:23). We are not told the nature of his uncleanness, but it is starkly stated as something incongruous to his surroundings. Amazingly, it would seem, no-one had noticed.
At this point the malevolent spirit cried out. Bad spirits always quake at the presence of “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24), and there was certainly heightened activity in the spiritual realm on account of Jesus’ incarnation. Notice that Jesus did not deny the title, since it was true, but He rebuked the spirit for speaking out of turn (Mark 1:25).
The presence of Christians does trouble the spiritual forces of evil. Everything in their limited armoury is engaged to knock us off balance: if not by persecution, then by division; if not by division then by getting us to believe that they don’t exist. We need to arm up for the fight (Ephesians 6:11-20), recognising our authority (Matthew 16:16-19).
Again the people were astonished: not only at Jesus’ teaching (Mark 1:22), but also on account of His complete authority over contrary spirits (Mark 1:27). They called it a “new” teaching - and there is no doubt that Jesus does teach through healing and exorcism. Yet the message (in this instance) is not in the miracle, but in the One who performed the miracle.
Given the need of men to seek out that which amazes, it is no wonder that Jesus’ fame “spread abroad” so rapidly (Mark 1:28). However, to be amazed is not the same as being converted. The crowds who followed Jesus proved fickle to the last. It is those ‘who endure to the end’ who are ultimately saved (Mark 13:13).