We learn from John’s Gospel that after performing his first miracle in Cana of Galilee, Jesus, together with his mother and brothers, moved to Capernaum. It is good for us to look at maps of ancient Israel from time to time. When we do so we know that Galilee was the most northern province of Israel, and Capernaum was situated on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum was also the home of Simon Peter, and the two brothers James and John. So, it features prominently in the Gospels.
The setting of today’s text from Mark is the local synagogue. Jewish worshipers would gather on the Sabbath to teach and learn God’s Word. As was the custom, visiting teachers were often invited to speak by invitation of the synagogue leaders. And that is the how Jesus was able to able to teach in this particular synagogue even though he wasn’t the “pastor” or the leader of the congregation. In other words, it wouldn’t have surprised the congregation to have a visiting Rabbi.
What was surprising was the manner in which he taught. Mark writes: “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (v. 22). Whether that means the scribes were simply boring in their teaching, or whether it means that the content of their teaching was full of Levitical minutiae and human opinion (probably both), when Jesus began to speak, the people immediately noticed an authoritative difference. Mark writes that they were “astonished”. The commentator Lenski translates, “and dumbfounded were they at his teaching.” Every eye and ear were fixed on him in rapt attention. There was a weightiness to the words he said. It’s as if God, himself, was speaking, which, of course, he was. The people were spellbound and convinced in their hearts that what he was saying was true.
Now, surely, you’ve also experienced this in worship. You’ve noticed that what the preacher is saying has a divine weightiness to it—that it is not just human opinion, but rather there is a higher authority behind what he says, so that suddenly so much of the rest of your life seems trivial. Because you realize that right now in this place and context, God is speaking. And you say to yourself, “This is absolutely true.” Yes, what the experts say on TV or on YouTube may be intriguing, but Gospel preaching is in an entirely different category. There is power here. There is authority behind this message. God, himself, speaks through the preacher’s mouth.
Now, I want to say that this is true whenever God’s Word is correctly spoken. It doesn’t matter whether it is a mother explaining a Bible story to her children, a friend consoling another friend with the love of Jesus, or the pastor preaching from the pulpit. The man does not make the message. The message is weighty all by itself. It’s heavy. It doesn’t just fly in one ear and shoot out the other. It actually stays with the person, and over time it forces one to deal with it. To meditate on it. To THINK it through so that you either embrace it or reject it.
So, don’t ever say, “It doesn’t do any good to speak God’s Word.” Yes, it does. So use it! Encourage each other with it. Admonish the backslider with it. Remind one another with it. We don’t want to preach down others—you know, constantly lecturing—but we do need calmly to say what God says and allow the person to wrestle with it. For God is the authority. Not you.
Well, we need to keep going.
So, the people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching. They were also amazed at what happened next. Mark writes, “Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘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?’” (v. 23).
Demon possession is a real thing. The most foolish thought you could ever entertain is that the devil is not real. That is exactly what he wants! The reason that Western society has arrived where it has in terms of its over-emphasis on man-made science, is because it has completely rejected the supernatural. The average American doesn’t believe in the existence of the devil. The average Christian doesn’t take the devil seriously. Because we are so secular due to “millions of years”, but that is another topic for another day.
So, the devil is real. And he is very much involved in your life, much more than you realize! The reason this text is so wonderful for our secular mindset is because it shows the devil for who he is. He is your adversary. His only desire is to hurt and destroy. Your enemy is not the unbeliever or the immoral people of society. It is not the other political party. It is the devil and his ideas that control so much of this world. Because you realize here that the enemy is not the man who is demon possessed. It is the demon who is controlling him. So too with us. Paul reminds us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark word and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). He’s talking about the devil and his demons.
Now, people will laugh at that, but it’s no laughing matter. If you decide to open your eyes the reality of true evil in this world, you will be forced to admit that the devil is real, evil is real, and it is more ugly and more frightening than most people care to admit. Which is why Paul follows up Ephesians 6:12 with v. 13, “Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” And that is where I want to move our attention now.
I want us to move our attention away from the devil and onto Jesus. That is what Mark’s Gospel does. For it clearly shows that Jesus has power over the devil. The people in the synagogue don’t have power over the devil. They cannot cast him out. The man himself doesn’t have power over the devil. So, why would you think that you can handle the devil yourself? Why would you ever think that the devil isn’t going to mess with you? Why would you ever allow yourself to stray from Jesus and his words, when it is clear that only Jesus and his Word have the authority to drive out the devil from our lives? Do you see how ignorant we are to the realities that attack us every-single day?
Oh, but the devil knows who Jesus is. “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (v. 24). Notice that even the devil must confess Jesus for who he really is. “Every knee will bow” before Him. The unclean spirit understands this. “Have you come to destroy us?” he asks. Well, quite frankly “Yes”. Jesus has come to destroy the work of the devil (1 John 3:8). And the beautiful thing about the Gospels is that they show us this. The Gospels don’t just teach it; they show it. For they show Jesus as a real person and the devil as a real enemy. But that Jesus has power over the devil, so he drives him out of the man. “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. Come out of him!” The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” Again, the devil only seeks to hurt and harm. Even in coming out of the man he shakes him “violently” and tries to destroy him. So why would you ever think that he doesn’t try to do the same thing as you.
He tries to destroy your marriage. He tries to destroy your children’s faith. He tries to destroy Biblical preaching and the freedom to worship in this world. What is the Christian’s response to this? To create a new political party? No. To vote in the right person to save us from the devil? No. Read Ephesians 6. The weapon the Christian church uses in this world is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
That is the only weapon capable of going on the offensive against the devil. So, let’s not ever get confused as a Christian congregation. Because it is so clear in these verses from Mark that the words of Jesus are what drive out the demon! He says, “Be quiet!”, and he says, “Come out of him!” And the demon must obey! But then notice the people’s reaction to this. Verse 27, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.”
Loved ones, he does the same thing today. He operates no differently. It is not different for you in the year 2021 than it was for the men and women of the New Testament. The supernatural is still real. The miracles of Jesus still happen. The power of Jesus is still in his Word.
So, we need to use that Word in our fight against Satan, whether that be our fight against Satan’s personal attacks, his attacks on our loved ones, or his attacks on society. We use the Word. The most powerful offense that the Christian can engage in today is coming to church, coming to Bible study, partaking of Holy Communion. Do you inwardly laugh? Well, if so, then you still don’t get it.
You see, Jesus fights our battles. Jesus drives out the devil. You and I are not capable nor are we smart enough to fight this battle any other way. Politics will never solve the world’s problems. I’ m not saying they are not important. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be involved in them. We all have our civic duties.
What I am saying is that while we live in the kingdom of this world, as Christians we do not belong to it. We belong to the kingdom of heaven. And therefore, as Christians, we understand that the devil is our greatest adversary—not the person who disagrees with you—and that Word of God drives the devil out from among us, from among our loved ones, away from our homes and communities.
So, what do we do? Well, like the congregation at the synagogue that Sabbath, we listen, we believe, and then we share this Word with others. Verse 28: “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” Amen.