Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)
February 1, 2009
Text: Mark 1:21-28

When the devil speaks, it is always for the purpose of deceiving and misleading into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. When the devil speaks it is always for the purpose of confusing and twisting the Word of God in our minds and hearts so that our faith in Jesus Christ is damaged or destroyed. This is the case even when the devil speaks the truth. He only speaks the truth for the sake of the lie. When Satan tempted Jesus, he took Him to the Holy City and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone’” (Matt. 4:6; ESV). True enough. Yet God did not send His Son Jesus Christ into the world, in the flesh, to prove God’s ability to protect Him. The truth, the real truth, the whole truth, is that God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world, in the flesh, to save sinners, to die on the cross for the sins of the whole world. God would give His angels charge to protect Jesus and preserve Him for that very moment when He would be tortured and killed in payment for our sins. That is the real truth, the truth Satan was trying to distort, even, as if it were possible, in the mind of Jesus, by twisting the Word of God. Of course, Jesus puts the matter to rest by speaking the truth of God’s Word without the twisting and distortion, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (v. 7). But notice what we learn about the devil’s tactics here. The devil is capable of making a statement that is quite true, even quoting a Bible verse, and yet he uses that truth to propagate a lie, the lie of unbelief. You see, the truth does not belong in the mouth of the devil, for he is the father of lies (John 8:44).

So it is that Jesus silences the demon in the synagogue. He silences him and exorcises him, casts him out of the man, “Be silent, and come out of him!” (Mark 1:25). Even the unclean spirits must obey Jesus, for He is the Son of God, God in the flesh, the second person of the Holy Trinity. And God is God even of the devil and his evil angels. But why does Jesus silence this demon so abruptly when the demon has spoken the truth, the ultimate truth in fact, a truth that even Jesus’ disciples don’t quite get, and a truth that the people in the synagogue certainly don’t understand? The demon declares, “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (v. 24). True. Very true. The demon recognizes what is hidden from human eyes. Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world, and He has come to destroy the works of the devil and his demons, and finally to destroy the devil and his demons eternally in hell. But remember that when a demon speaks, even when he speaks the truth… in fact, even when he speaks the ultimate truth, confessing that Jesus is the Holy One of God, he is speaking the truth only for the sake of twisting it and distorting it in the minds of the people. How so in this case? Well, to answer that question, we need back up a bit and set the context.

As was the custom in the synagogue, Jesus, the visiting Rabbi, was invited to speak on the appointed biblical text. He was asked to give the lesson, to preach the sermon, so to speak. But what amazed the people is that He did not speak like their scribes, who never taught with their own authority, but droned on and on about what their teacher’s teacher’s teacher said so as to prove the authority of the point they were making. Now, a little of this isn’t so bad I suppose. We do this when we quote Martin Luther or the Lutheran Confessions or one of the Church fathers. But the whole sermon of the scribes was really not about the living and dynamic Word of God. It was about the traditions of the fathers. Not so with Jesus. Jesus cuts right to the heart of what the text is saying. We don’t know precisely what He preached that day in the synagogue, but we certainly know what the underlying message was. It is the same as it is in every Christian sermon today. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (v. 14). That is really the sum and substance of all Christian preaching, the kerygma it is called in theology, the Greek Word for proclamation. Jesus brings His own authority to His preaching, and it is all the authority of God Himself. When the people hear Jesus preach, they have an encounter with the living God. And in that encounter the living God speaks into the hearts and minds of His hearers repentance and faith, sorrow over sin and belief in Jesus Christ. Jesus doesn’t have to establish the authority of His preaching based on what the fathers of old once said. Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is the authority. And the people are amazed.

Jesus’ preaching is a full frontal assault on the devil and his work. The devil must fight back, must at all costs try to preserve the lie, the lie of unbelief, the lie that God does not love sinners, that sinners do not need God, that sinners can be their own gods. And so the devil sends one of his minions to co-opt a poor man of whom he takes possession in a sort of sick and twisted imitation of the incarnation, and that poor demon-possessed man bursts in on the synagogue service to challenge Jesus face to face. He’s trying to confuse and bring into doubt the authoritative teaching of Jesus. The devil is sly. He knows that the best setting for the Word of God is one of order and peace. St. Paul says as much: “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace… But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:33, 40), thus the liturgy, an orderly setting for the Word of God. Now imagine that someone should burst through the doors of this church this morning in the middle of my sermon and challenge my preaching. What would be the result? Chaos! Disruption! And if that man said something that was, of itself, quite true, but used that truth to twist and distort the Word of God, someone here today might be led to doubt. This is precisely what the demon is aiming for in our text. He cannot leave the authoritative Word of Jesus unchallenged. At the very least he must disrupt that preaching, so that somehow he can keep it from giving life to someone in the synagogue. At most he would like to use the truth that Jesus is the Holy One of God to lead the people astray. For the demon knew that if he let the cat out of the bag that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the people would try to make Him into a political Savior. They did not yet understand that the Messiah was come to save them, not from the Romans, but from the kingdom of the devil and sin. The demon was trying to preempt the earthly ministry of Jesus. He was trying to disrupt, confuse, and lead into doubt. And Jesus has none of it. God speaks with a mouth of flesh, “Be silent, and come out of him!” (Mark 1:25). The demon must obey. “And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him” (v. 26). What the demon said was quite true. Jesus had come to destroy the devil and his demons and all their works and ways. Thus by the power of His Word He drives the demon away. Again, the people are amazed, and so they question among themselves, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (v. 27).

Jesus speaks His authoritative Word to you today, and mark my words, the devil will not leave that unchallenged. He will seek to twist and distort the Word of God in your hearts and minds. He will even quote Bible verses through the mouths and writings of false teachers who claim to be Christian, but are not. He will use some well-meaning, sincere people to do it. He will speak enough truth to catch your ears. You cannot trust everything that claims to be Christian. Wolves come in sheep’s clothing and Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (Matt. 7:15; 2 Cor. 11:14). And so it is not enough, beloved… it may even be dangerous, in fact, to go pick up the latest best seller at the Christian bookstore and think that you have received from it the true, living Word of God just because it quotes Bible verses. But, dear Christians, when you come here, to the Church of Christ, you hear the very voice of Jesus in His living and active Word. You receive His gifts in the Supper. Here, in the Church, is where you come for a saving encounter with the living God. Here He commands every demon to be silent. Here He casts away every demon that would prey upon your soul. He who died for you, He who lives for you, He who forgives all your sins will not suffer you to be lost. He loves you. And so His authoritative Word speaks to you and implants in you the kerygma, repentance and belief in the Gospel that Jesus came to save sinners, that Jesus came to save you. What is this?! Amazing! The unclean spirits still obey Jesus. And His Word even brings died-in-the-wool sinners to faith, life, and salvation.

When Jesus spoke His authoritative Word to the people in the synagogue and sent the demon packing, they didn’t keep it a secret. Mark writes that “at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee” (v. 28). Jesus has today spoken His Word of life into you and driven away the devil and all his demons. Don’t keep this a secret. Go and tell it to your neighbors in Dorr and Wayland and Hopkins and Allegan and Caledonia and Kentwood and Jenison and Hudsonville and everywhere you live and bring them here, where they can hear the voice of Jesus, have the demons cast away from them, and come to living faith in their Savior. And you come, too, every chance you get. Because here you are given the truth, pure and unadulterated. Here you hear the voice of Jesus Christ Himself and feast on His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Here, in the arms of Jesus, the devil cannot harm you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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