January 31st 2021 Homily on Mark 1:21-28 by Pastor Galen
The Beginning of Jesus’s Public Ministry
Over the past few weeks we’ve begun journeying with Jesus through the Gospel of Mark, as Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the river Jordan, and then endured a time of testing and temptation in the wilderness. When Jesus began his public ministry he began by proclaiming “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15).
Jesus then began calling disciples to join him in his mission. He walked by the Sea of Galilee and called Simon and Andrew, and James and John — fishermen who were right in the midst of casting their nets into the sea. But they immediately left their nets behind to follow him.
Now here in verse 21 of Mark chapter 1, we see Jesus going to Capernaum, a small fishing village on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. And on the Sabbath day, the day of worship, he went into the synagogue and began teaching.
This might strike us as odd for a couple of reasons. First, up until this point Jesus has been preaching outdoors, and so we might wonder why he is going into a synagogue to preach. And secondly, it might seem strange that he could just walk into a place of worship and begin teaching.
But synagogues were not just places of worship, they were also community centers, and places for prayer and Bible study and discussion of the Scriptures. It was not uncommon for local synagogue leaders to invite visiting teachers to give lectures, especially on the Sabbath day. By this time, Jesus had established himself as a traveling teacher, or rabbi, and most likely the local religious leaders were curious to hear his perspective on the Scriptures.
The Authority of Jesus
But when they heard Jesus teach, Mark tells us that “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22).
The scribes in those days were highly trained scholars and interpreters of both legal and religious. Scribes were the people who copied documents by hand (since there were no printers or photocopiers in those days), and they did a fair amount of translation work as well. Because they were some of the few literate and highly educated people in a typical village, they were often tasked with translating and teaching the Scriptures.
But apparently they were not known for their authoritative teaching. Perhaps they focused too narrowly on trying to decipher just the right conjugation of verbs when translating documents, or perhaps they were so focused on the technicalities of the law that they failed to show how the Scriptures were relevant to everyday people’s lives. Either way, it was instantly recognizable among all who were present that day that Jesus’s teaching was different. “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
Freedom from Oppression and Sin
But the scholars who were present in the synagogue that day were not the only ones who recognized the authority of Jesus.
Mark tells us,
Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him (Mark 1:23-26).
This must have been a rather frightening but awe-inspiring experience for those who were there in the synagogue that day. To us, demon possession might conjure images in our minds from movies such as The Exorcist (which, full disclosure, I’ve never seen) or movies about supernatural creatures such as werewolves or vampires.
No doubt there are probably some among us who do not believe in the existence of demons and who might want to explain this story away as a first-century attempt to describe a case of mental illness or an epileptic seizure.
But the timing of this event is what is intriguing to me here, because the authority of Jesus had just been established. The people present that day recognized the power in Jesus’s preaching, and the authority of his teaching. And then right away, immediately, the forces of evil begin to manifest themselves in their midst.
Most likely this man had sat in the synagogue many times before, and listened to the teachings of the scribes and elders. Perhaps he had even participated in discussions of the text, or had simply sat, quietly listening. But, in the same way that impurities are rise to the surface when silver or gold are subjected to intense heat, something about the power and authority of Jesus’s teaching caused the evil that had been buried deep inside of him to come spewing forth.
Silencing the Voice of Evil
Now interestingly enough, the words that came out of this man’s mouth were technically true. The demon was correct that Jesus was from Nazareth, and that he was and is the Holy One of God. And yet, Jesus commanded the demon inside this man to be quiet. Even before commanding the demon to come out, he silenced the voice of evil.
Euthymius, a Christian writing in the 4th and 5th centuries, explained it this way. He said that Jesus was teaching us never to believe demons, “even when they say what is ostensibly true. For since they love falsehood and are most hostile to us, they never speak the truth except to deceive. They make use of the truth as a kind of bait.”
Although the words coming out of the man’s mouth were true, they were inherently deceptive, intended to cause fear and panic among those listening to Jesus teaching that day. The demon wanted the people to think that Jesus was someone to be feared — that he had come to destroy them. The demon was manipulating the truth to cause chaos and distraction, to cause the people to be afraid of the One who had actually come to rescue them from the stronghold of the Enemy.
But Jesus wouldn’t have it. He wouldn’t allow the demon to even speak another word. He silenced the voice of evil, and commanded the demon to come out of the man. And in so doing, Jesus freed this man from the stronghold that the demon had over his life.
And all the people were 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’” (Mark 1:27-28). Already here in Mark 1 we see Jesus using his power and authority to break down the strongholds of the Enemy, to free people from bondage and slavery to sin, and to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom through word and deed.
Silencing the voices of evil in our midst
We live in a day and age where most of us have never encountered demonic possession of this sort. We may hear stories of this happening in other parts of the world, but most of us have never seen this for ourselves. And because of that, many of us might be skeptical that this sort of demonic possession still happens today.
But I think that something that we probably can all agree on is the very real presence and existence of evil in our world today. We see and hear things that happen in our world that we know are just wrong, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we realize how easy it is for evil to gain a foothold in our lives as well.
Now I want to reassure you, that if you have given your life to Christ, then you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you. And from my understanding of the Scriptures, when we have the Spirit of the Living God living inside of us, we do not have to worry about this type of demonic possession overtaking our lives. That’s what we see here in Mark 1 — even the demons flee when they encounter the presence of Jesus! So we can put aside our fears, and rest in the authority and power of God.
And I believe that’s the first takeaway for us today! If we have the power of the Holy Spirit living inside of us, we do not have to fear the Enemy. If you’re listening or watching today and you’ve never given your life over to Christ, send us a message — myself or any of the church leaders would love to pray with you and share with you how you can do that today.
Secondly, we need to actively find ways to silence the voice of the Enemy in our lives. Some of us live with doubts, and fears, depression, and anxiety. It feels like you have a constant voice in your mind telling you to be afraid, or to worry. Some people might just tell you to pray more, but I would also say to consider seeking out a Christian counselor or therapist. There’s no shame in going to counseling or therapy. And if they’re good, they’ll be able to tell you whether you actually need therapy or not! (I have a good relationship with several Christian licensed professional counselors in the area, so let me know if you need a referral!)
Maybe depression or anxiety is not what you struggle with, but I think all of us need to find ways to shut out the noise. There are so many voices that try to distract us and pull us away from God today. If you’ve heard me preach very often you know that I love talking about “hearing from God.” But before we can hear from God, we need to turn off the noise and the chaos that is all around us.
For some of us, that might mean taking a break from social media, or turning off the TV or radio for a certain part of the day. Getting out in nature, going to a park and talking a walk in silence and solitude. You might try Christian meditation, which is meditating on a word or phrase from Scripture for a few minutes at a time. We need to find ways to turn off and shut out the voices that try to pull us away from God.
And lastly, we need to make sure that we’re careful about the pieces of news that we share and pass along to other people. Right now there’s a lot of wacky conspiracy theories out there, a lot of people actively trying to spread misinformation. Sometimes the things we hear might even be technically true or partially true, but we need to think before we share them with others. Will this actually be helpful to them? Will this cause them to trust God more, or will it cause them to hate or turn against God?
And so this morning, let’s remember and take hold of the authority that we have in Jesus. Let’s turn off and shut off the voices of the Enemy. Let’s praise and worship Jesus for who He is. Let’s give Him our all, our whole selves, and let’s not give the enemy even a foothold in our lives.
Let us pray.