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Fourth Sunday after Epiphany “Who’s In Charge Here?”
January 31, 2021 Mark 1:21-28
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Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,

From Mark 1:27, in responding to Jesus, people said, “A new teaching with authority!” The issue of authority is pretty important to us, too. On March 30th, 1981, something happened on that day which caused some chaos, & a mix-up of authority. On that day, assassin John Hinckley Jr shot the newly elected president Ronald Reagan. While Reagan was in surgery, vice president Geo.H.W.Bush was on an airplane without secure communication. There was some panic, & reporters clamored for information about ‘who was in charge.’
In the White House press room, Secretary of State, Alexander Haig said this: “Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president and the secretary of state, in that order; and should the president decide he wants to transfer the helm to the vice president, he will do so. As of now, I am in control here, in the White House.”
Those could’ve been reassuring words; someone was taking charge. The trouble was, Haig was wrong; he was not the next in the line of succession, the House Speaker was; and then comes the Senate ‘president’(pro-tem), and then maybe the Sec.of.State. No matter what Haig insisted, he was not in charge of the federal gov’t.

It’s important to have someone in charge. In times of confusion & chaos, a nation needs the one in authority to answer questions & make decisions. Likewise with us, when something goes wrong in a store or with a product, we not satisfied talking to the person at the checkout stand. We want to talk to the owner//manager; *what can an employee do? We want the person in charge to settle things, one way or the other.
When Jesus visited the synagogue in Capernaum, He taught & acted with authority;
the kind that surprised & impressed them. The people acknowledged it, welcomed it, & publicized it. You & I have also come to experience & accept Jesus’ authority = thanks to the help of the HSp. Each time we come here we learn a little more about His power & good influence on the things in our lives. That makes us want to publicize the things we believe about our Lord and our Savior.
Now, Mark notes twice that the people recognized Jesus’ authority and welcomed it. He was different than what they were used to. Jesus was teaching as the one who actually knew things firsthand, & not like one who was just passing on information from someone else.
And Jesus was clear & direct with the demon that day, & in no time flat that poor possessed man was helped & safe. That showed everyone who was in charge. WE are also impressed when we open the Scriptures and listen to Jesus speak = His words & teachings & actions still astonish us; & we might wonder why that is. It’s good for us to understand that it’s for the same reason as back then in the temple. We are also amazed at His teaching because He speaks AS God, & not just as one who knows about God.

We all like teachers who are clear & direct & knowledgeable; who draw from the source of truth & wisdom, and who instruct & explain things to us. That’s good, but still not as good as God Himself speaking & explaining things to us. An illustration of this difference is this:
I can tell you that, in the beginning, God spoke & created the heavens & the earth, and everything in them. That IS true; I believe that, & I teach it so that you will believe it too.
But that truth is even more powerful upon you when we turn to Genesis 1 and read such words as this: “And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” That’s direct from the mouth of the Lord Almighty.

The people back then had never heard someone teach with that kind of direct authority. This is how The Living Bible translates vs.22 for us: “The congregation was surprised at His sermon because He spoke as an authority, and didn’t try to prove His points by quoting others = quite unlike what they were used to hearing.”

So, Jesus didn’t try to display some ‘form of authority’ by quoting other authorities. This was what the teachers-of-the-Law did back then; they taught by quoting important people from the past. It’s a common practice in our day. Teachers cite their favorite authors & experts to prove their point on ‘climate change’, or the best ‘economic recovery strategy’. (the trouble is, we don’t know if those people are experts)
But Jesus didn’t need to quote other authorities; He just spoke as the authority. To display authority, a person will have conviction, is sincere & relevant, and direct. But Jesus had more than those things. He spoke & acted like He was God.
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Another reaction from the people was that Jesus was saying & doing something ‘new’; it appeared to them to be a new teaching. Of course, it wasn’t ‘new’, but it was different than what they were used to. Jesus didn’t bring a new religion. He was teaching them about /God’s grace, /and God-given faith, /and about the God-sent Messiah; these were teachings as old as the promise made to Adam & Eve. But because of imperfect teachers, or false teachers,
these ancient promises & truths had become obscured == kind of like algae & stain & barnacles on the bottom of a ship. Sometimes, God’s teaching was not clear because man’s rules & ideas had been attached to that Word. When Jesus’ came teaching the clear & untainted Word of God, it was quite impressive. It even made sense to ordinary, unschooled people.
They were used to hearing rules; Jesus talked about the mercy & grace of God.
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The other main part in Mark’s account of this event in the temple is the presence of an unclean spirit. Just as it is today, when Jesus’ teaching is presented with authority, there is always a challenge to that authority by the forces of unbelief. We know that. *What happens when you tell someone that the world was created in 6 natural, 24 hr.days ? Or that homosexual behavior is ‘perverted’, or marriage means one man & one woman? == there’ll be opposition. The truths of God will be opposed in this rebellious world.
It may surprise us that there was an evil spirit, a demon, there in the synagogue. It’s a reminder to us that we should not superstitiously think that there is some ‘holy place’ we can go to escape the devil’s influence, or the world’s evil temptations. Even in Christian ‘safe spaces’, /sin, /the crooked ideas of the world, /& the devil’s schemes are always a threat; even in church and among church people. And since we are taught that the enemy of God & God’s people is /the devil, /the world, /& the sinful human nature, then we can expect those enemies to be working hardest -not among unbelievers- but among Christians. When we think about it, it shouldn’t surprise us that there was an unclean spirit there that day, opposing the Holy One of God.
From the beginning of His ministry-work, the devil stood in opposition to Christ & His kingdom. Satan knew that Jesus’ mission was to battle & defeat all the forces of darkness, and to free mankind from the power & condemnation of sin. Because of our sinful nature, evil forces have a lot of power over us; but The One who has been given all authority from above has promised to defeat that power. To demonstrate that spiritual authority, Jesus rebuked & cast out demons by His word.
When criticized for this, Jesus said in Luke 11:20, “If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then (it means) the kingdom of God has come among you.” This is also true in our day. By the Word of God, and the present authority of the risen Son of God, God’s kingdom IS among US. The church building doesn’t protect us from evil; but rather, we ARE safe from all evil because Jesus is with us by His Word & Spirit. Every time we do a Baptism, Jesus performs an ‘exorcism’ of evil powers, casting out a sinful nature. When the HSp is given into a person, all the unclean spirits must leave. This idea that your Baptism was an exorcism is a great & comforting teaching for us, and for our children. Jesus is still casting out unclean spirits today.
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It’s also interesting for us to note the knowledge this DEMON had about God, without having any faith or trust in God. Knowledge & faith are two different things. And this is one reason we Baptize our infants & young children; to bring them under the promised authority & influence of the Holy Spirit & faith, even before they gain any knowledge of who God is, and of the forgiveness that Jesus accomplished for us at the cross. They don’t first need to ‘confess’ Him; God first needs to bless & ‘grace’ them, & give them His spiritual new-birth.
So, as this demon knows who Jesus is, that knowledge is not enough without God’s gift of faith. This demon even confesses that Jesus is both man & God; both Jesus from Nazareth and the Holy One of God. But that knowledge does not save; only grace & faith saves.
Likewise, a person might know all kinds of ‘facts’ about God from Scripture, maybe they’ve even read the Bible -cover to cover- 50 times & can quote Bible verses, just like Satan did to Jesus. But they still might not trust in the forgiving, saving work of Jesus for themselves.
Trust or believing is a gift from God by the HSp. As you & I have been brought into that faith by the gospel, and that faith & HSp has come upon us thru God’s Baptism of us,
so we are saved in Christ Jesus; our sins are forgiven, and heaven is waiting for us. Jesus has ‘exorcised’ and exercised His authority over us, and has called us into His grace, and given us His promise == and we believe Him.
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Finally, we also see this difference between knowledge and faith among the PEOPLE
that day. The people hear Jesus’ teaching, they experience His authority with God’s truth, and also see His power over the enemies of God’s kingdom, BUT they don’t fall to their knees and worship Him as God that day.
They were impressed, but they did not believe. Later in the gospels, we learn that there were /some who would confess Him as God & Lord, and worship Him; /many would walk away, shaking their heads, /and others, who had worldly authority, would arrange for His death.
We might wonder how people could be so impressed with Jesus -in person- and not believe in Him. This reminds us that it is part of our old sinful nature to resist God, to hide from Him, & close our ears to His Word of repentance & forgiveness. Seeing this resistance & unbelief reminds us to be thankful that God has made Himself known to us so that we DO confess Him & believe His promises; we trust His will for our lives, and we serve in His kingdom. This is a most wonderful & humbling grace given to us, which not everyone has.

But that does not mean that there’s no hope for them. As long as they live, there is that same hope for their souls, and we have the privilege to display this Christian faith & trust.
We can encourage them to take another look at Jesus, listen to His Word, and notice His authority. They don’t have to have a degree in theology to believe in Him; knowledge is not the same as faith. But faith does come by hearing, and hearing comes thru the Word of God.
As we share the gospel with others, a small but positive response is a wonderful thing, and a simple childlike faith is pleasing to God. There will be plenty of room for more learning & understanding, for growing in wisdom & maturity in the whole life of a Christian. But we will welcome anyone who wants to know more about Jesus of Nazareth as the Holy One of God.

So, *who’s in charge? When people’s lives are troubled, and they’re looking for someone in authority to speak comfort to them, you & I know where to turn. We turn their attention to the words & actions of Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy One of God; who, loud & clear, shows Himself as The One in Charge of this life, & of our salvation.
Amen