January 28, 2018
Text: Mark 1:21-28
“In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets. But now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son” (LSB 238; Heb. 1:1-2a). When Moses was about to die, the Children of Israel were faced with a crisis. Who, now, would speak to them for God. Moses, remember, had received spectacular and direct revelation from God on Mount Sinai. It was Moses who received the Covenant. It was Moses who twice brought down the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. It was Moses whose face used to shine with the radiance of God’s glory, so that he had to wear a veil lest the people be overawed by the reflection of divine radiance and view its fading brightness in between meetings. It was Moses who spoke with God in the Tent of Meeting like a familiar friend. Moses is the prophet of the Old Testament par excellence. But Moses cannot enter the Promised Land. For he sinned at the waters of Meribah, not just speaking to the rock, as the LORD had commanded him, but striking it and taking credit for giving water to the people. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Moses will see the Land from a distance. And Moses will die. And who now will speak the Word of the LORD? Perhaps we don’t quite understand the desperation of the question. The Holy Scriptures have just begun to be recorded. Moses is the only author of them at this point. How will the Israelites know where to go and what to do and how to proceed with the conquest of the Promised Land? How will they know how to be faithful to YHWH? Who will speak for God, and so speak faith into their minds and hearts and souls?
The crisis demands a Divine Promise, and God does not disappoint. Another Prophet is coming to Israel, from Israel, One like unto Moses, but greater than Moses. It is to Him you shall listen. God’s Word will be in His mouth. As it happens, He will be the Word of God in the flesh. He will be the incarnate speech of the Father, the revelation of God to sinful man. And so it is that when our Lord Jesus begins His earthly ministry, we find Him in the synagogue teaching… teaching the Word of God. Jesus is THE Preacher, as we heard last week. And Jesus is THE Prophet. He is the Teacher of Israel and of the Church. And He is the content of the preaching, the prophecy, and the teaching. Jesus teaches the Word of God, and when He does so, He does so with authority. He does not speculate or cite other authorities, as the Scribes of the people do. He speaks the Word with a directness that can only come from the mouth of its Author. The people are astonished, for in the teaching of Jesus they come face to face with Divine Truth, Truth with a capital T. This must have been what it was like to sit at the feet of Moses in his day. Indeed, even better than sitting at the feet of Moses. For Moses spoke the Word of God as God’s familiar friend. Jesus speaks the Word of God as God.
And when He speaks, stuff happens. The hidden demons are exposed and scatter. It’s like the old game where you go to the dump at night and flip on the flood lights. The rats scatter every which way. Jesus speaks, and suddenly unclean spirits are crying out. Don’t you wonder whether anyone had any idea this good, synagogue going man had an unclean spirit? This may help explain to us why we don’t see physical demon-possession on any sort of grand scale here in the 21st Century West. Of course, it’s true, as C. S. Lewis said, the devil works best among us super-enlightened moderns by convincing us he doesn’t exist. But he’s there. Oh, he’s there. And so are his minions. Just because we don’t see them, that doesn’t mean they are not very, very real. What happens, though, when Jesus comes into the synagogue and opens His mouth, is that the flood light of God’s Word exposes the spiritual pests. They have nowhere to hide.
The man with the unclean spirit cries out, and now there is this strange dialog wherein the demon actually confesses the truth about Jesus, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24; ESV), and Jesus shuts him up. What is going on with that? A couple of things, at least. For one, when a demon speaks, even when he speaks the truth, he is speaking it in order to deceive. The Gospel spoken by demons is not the Gospel. It is a coopting of the Gospel in service to the lie.
So also (and this may sound strange upon first hearing), Jesus does not want His fame to spread too quickly at this critical point in His ministry, nor does He want it to spread for the wrong reasons. There is a danger with every miracle, every healing, every exorcism, that Jesus will be seen as a magician or miracle peddler, rather than what He is, the Son of God. The news that spreads about Him tends to quite miss the point of what it is He’s doing. The miracles are signs of who He is and the salvation He comes to bring. And if His fame spreads too fast, He will quickly attract the attention of the Jewish and Roman leaders. He has come to die just the right death at just the right moment under just the right circumstances and for just the right reason. All things must work according to God’s plan. The demon’s confession is actually an attempt to hinder or thwart the saving mission of Jesus.
But he can’t do it. And that is because when Jesus speaks, He speaks with all the authority of God, for He is God. And that means that when Jesus speaks, stuff happens. Jesus commands the unclean spirit to “Be silent, and come out of him!” (v. 25). And that is just what happens. Oh, the demon doesn’t leave without putting on a good show. One thing you should know about demons is that if they can’t actually harm you, they’ll do their best to scare you. So the demon convulses the man and comes out with a shriek. But there will be no more demonic preaching of Jesus from that spirit. And he will no longer have that poor man as his mouthpiece. Where Jesus goes and when Jesus speaks, the demons are silenced and put to flight. You see, our God is the God of the devil and the demons, too… much to their horror.
Now, it is true that here in the modern West we don’t see a lot of physical demon possession. We don’t see it… but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Remember the rats hidden at the dump. The fact that they are hidden necessarily means they are there. And just as we know the rats are there by the droppings and the damage they leave behind, so we know the demons are there by the satanic sewage and brokenness they leave in their wake. Now let’s all get uncomfortable and name some specifics, shall we? The power certain substances have over an addict… there’s something more than just chemistry going on there, isn’t there? It may not be physical possession (although it may be), but it is certainly demonic oppression. Depression certainly results from internal brain chemistry and external circumstance, but don’t think that excludes spiritual causes, whispers of hopelessness in your ear, reminders of guilt and temptations to despair. I know those quite intimately. So do some of you. And we know it took the life of a local hero just last week. Like a robber in the woods, the devil falls upon the vulnerable, even Christians, and drives them to do themselves harm (Luther). Men, I’m going to level with you: Pornography is a portal for demons whose aim is to enslave you. If you’re struggling with that, come see me. Come, be absolved, and let’s work together to free you from these chains. Women can also be caught up in it, though more often than not, bawdy novels like Fifty Shades of Objectification and Exploitation are the culprit. As a pastor who has walked with several couples through the wasteland of divorce, let me tell you, no matter what the circumstances, the level of brokenness that results is nothing short of demonic. What is this mass denial of any meaning in gender or marriage but one great big demonic deception? What is abortion but a sacrament of the devil? What is this deranged hatred and, in many cases, persecution of Christians but the infernal raging of the dragon? We could go on, but the point is, if you open your eyes, the evidence of the evil one and his drones are all around us, and even in us. Luther famously said, “If you could see how many knives, darts, and arrows are every moment aimed at you [Ephesians 6:16], you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as possible.”
And there you have the solution to the crisis of the devil’s attacks. This is important. We’re all covered in the detritus left behind by unclean spirits. What’s the answer to this? How do you get clean? Jesus. Be where Jesus is speaking and the demons are silenced and put to flight. Be where Jesus bathes His own, washing away your impurity. Be where Jesus imparts His Spirit, who takes possession of you whole. Where the Holy Spirit is, there is no room for evil spirits. Be where Jesus feeds you with His body and blood. This is the heavenly manna that sustains you during your pilgrimage in this demonic wasteland. This is the bodily presence of Jesus that drives out the devil and his stooges. What is the answer to your depression or addiction or the sins that leave you unclean and broken? It is Jesus. It is Jesus here, in His Word and Sacraments, here in His Church, here for you.
Christians are not immune from the devil’s attacks, but he cannot take possession of us, for we are in Jesus, and we belong to our Father in heaven. Beloved, when you are afflicted (and you will be, because you have a big baptismal target painted on your back), remember this: Jesus still speaks. He speaks for God, and He is God, and He speaks right here and now in His Church. And when He speaks, stuff happens. The evil one is silenced, and he must flee. Your sins are forgiven. For Jesus speaks it so. And you… you have eternal life. For this is the Word of the LORD. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.