Faith vs History (Mark 1)
1. In a synagogue in Capernaum one Sabbath day, two men were there. Two men surrounded by a congregation of faith-filled saints. Two men with spirits on them. One with an evil spirit. One with the Spirit of God. These two men became the center of attention. The tension between the two was so thick it seemed that it had taken on flesh and sat as a third person in the midst of the assembly. The tension was between faith and historical fact. The faith of most in attendance came face-to-face with the one true faith. It's the classic and current opposition between faith and simple historical fact. The exterior force of a single question blurted out in the midst of the assembly sent everything into an uproar.
2. "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?" the evil spirit screamed. "Have you come to destroy us?" (v24) This outburst intensified the already growing tension between speaker and audience. It was one of those times where the speaker was saying just enough to be interesting but barely enough to classify him as sane. Everyone in the room was astonished at the speaker's teaching. It wasn't that this was their first time in the synagogue and just hadn't heard much of this before. It was the way He spoke. He wasn't like the rest of the speakers who taught what had been handed down to them in rabbinical school. He spoke as if He had some authority over the message. That it was His own message. Everyone in the synagogue waited with bated breath to hear what He would say next. The outburst cut everything short.
3. The evil spirit's outburst became a grand showing of this tension between faith and fact. The evil spirit had made a statement of historical fact. He was referencing the fact that he wasn't on Jesus' good side. It was a half-truth on the demon's part. Sure, the demon said the truth, but you have to consider the source. This is an unclean spirit speaking these words. That automatically makes it a half-truth. The truthfulness of the demon's statement? "I know who you are--the Holy One of God" (v24). What a great word to say about the one who had come down from Heaven to save mankind! But that's a problem. The demon giving a confession of Jesus as Lord is the same demon cast out of Heaven with Satan because they didn't want to follow God anymore. The demon is not displaying faith? He is displaying his knowledge of history. He knows who Jesus is. And he understands that his testimony could sink any chance of true faith and belief in Jesus. Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, "Be silent, and come out of him" (v25). Jesus knew what the demon really wanted. The demon wanted to plant a seed of doubt among everyone listening to Jesus. How often Satan and his minions are in the assembly of God's people! They plant doubt and discord among brothers and sisters in the faith. Seeking to discredit Jesus and His representatives at every chance with half-truths based on just enough fact to work against the truth. Nothing's changed in two thousand years. Jesus is still speaking to His people and the demons are right in the midst, trying to derail the Gospel train and force it to lose all its passengers.
4. But Jesus and true faith will not be outdone. Jesus cast out the evil spirit and banished it back to its place of torment. I believe it was probably best said by the Venerable Bede in his comments on this text, "It was appropriate, since death first entered into the world through the devil's envy, that the healing medicine of salvation should first operate against him," and, "The devil, because he had deceived Eve with his tongue, is punished by the tongue, that he might not speak" (Exposition on the Gospel of Mark 1.1.25). The beginning of Jesus' healing ministry would be the binding of the demonic powers at work in the world. The ministry that would be completed with the destruction of the power of death, hell and Satan began that Sabbath in Capernaum. The Savior of the world had come into the world to rescue sinners from their power. Jesus is the one of whom we sang, "Praise the One who breaks the darkness with a liberating light; praise the One who frees the pris'ners, ... healing ev'ry dread disease" (LSB #849.1). Through His death on the Cross, He has overcome the power of evil in the world. Just as He cast out the demon that Sabbath day, so He has cast out the guilt of your sin by being crucified. He has released you for the burden of the sins you've committed. He did this because He loves you. He did this because He considers you very special. He did this because His Gospel is the liberation from Satan's tyranny. Whether it's physical possession by a demon or possession by your own guilt, Jesus has cast it out from you.
5. No wonder everyone in Capernaum said, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him" (v27). Jesus is the one who broke through the darkness of this world and shown with His Light so that all may receive salvation. Salvation that comes by faith and not plain historical fact. As St. Paul said in our Epistle reading, "'All of us possess knowledge.' This 'knowledge' puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, but he does not yet know as he ought to know" (1 Corinthians 8:1-2). Where Paul would consider "knowledge" bad, he would agree with the psalmist who said, "The fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding" (Psalm 111:10). Knowledge, in itself, is a good blessing from God, but it does not rely on faith. Wisdom is the marriage of knowledge and faith because it is only by faith that we may truly fear God. We may only get this wisdom by listening to the "new teaching with authority" (v27). Jesus' new teaching isn't anything new. Not now. Not in Capernaum. It was God fulfilling what He had spoken through Moses: "YHWH your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers--it is to Him you shall listen ... I will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him" (Deuteronomy 18:15-18). Jesus has broken through the devil's darkness and has enlightened you through the Holy Spirit with the faith to believe in Him. He has come to show that "Full of splendor and majesty is His work, and His righteousness endures forever" (Psalm 111:3). His righteousness endures past even death so that we may inherit everlasting life through faith. May you be amazed and astonished by His great work for you. Amen.