Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)
January 31, 2021
Text: Mark 1:21-28
The battle is closer to you than you think. There is a battle being waged between God and the devil, the angels and the demons, and you are the contested territory. It is a battle for your body, your mind, your heart, and your soul. The devil knows his condemnation is final. His defeat has already been accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But he is not going down without a fight. If God loves these precious humans so much that He gives His only Son to become one of them and suffer the shame and torture of the cross to save them, then devil is intent to drag as many people down to hell with him as he can. It is the only vengeance he can take. And if he can deceive Christians, if he can deceive you, and bring you down with him to the fire and sulfur of the bottomless pit of damnation, then that is the ultimate trophy.
So the battle rages. It is all around you. It is within you. You are torn between two factions. Your sinful nature is pulled toward the forces of hell, with whom the sympathies of your flesh lie. But you are baptized into Christ, and the new creation that daily emerges from the baptismal waters and arises to live in Christ, is pulled toward Christ. The devil hates this. So he whispers his seductive temptations into your ear. He shoots his deadly arrows directly at your heart and your mind. This liar, and the father of lies, wields even truth as a weapon, so that he speaks enough truth that you think he is being rather reasonable, so that when he speaks a bent truth, you hardly notice. You buy the lie. You give yourself to it. You sin. You don’t even realize the source is the evil one. Because, for the most part, you live your life blissfully ignorant of the battle that is raging all around you and within you. You go about your daily routine, unaware of the spiritual reality to which your eyes have been blinded: Angels and demons, this world’s prince scowling fierce as he will, and Christ, the Valiant One, who fights for us, whom God Himself elected, who holds the field forever.
Beloved, you will not win this battle with any might of yours. Only Christ can win. He is your mighty fortress, your help and protection, who shields you under the pierced wings of His outstretched arms. You are only safe when you dwell in His Word, in His Baptism, in His Supper. Luther says that the devil “is a liar, to lead the heart astray from God’s Word and to blind it, so that you cannot feel your distress or come to Christ. He is a murderer, who cannot bear to see you live one single hour. 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,” to take refuge in Christ, the Savior.
The people in the Synagogue, who otherwise were much more in tune with the spiritual realities of the world than you are, were nonetheless blissfully unaware that there was a man in their very midst possessed by an unclean spirit. The guy is a Church member! But somewhere along the line he has fallen into secret unbelief, the oppression, and eventually the possession of the demonic. Outwardly, his life may very well have been quite respectable. But inwardly he had given himself over to the darkness.
Now Jesus came on that particular Sabbath, teaching in the Capernaum synagogue. (By the way, you can see the remnants of that synagogue, or at least the synagogue built on top of it. You can search “Capernaum Synagogue” online, and see images of this very building from our text, as well as a Church built over what is believed to be Peter’s house, where our Lord healed Peter’s mother-in-law. That is our Holy Gospel for next week [Mark 1:29-39].) Now, the people in the Synagogue, just like you, are gathered for the Divine Service, mostly unaware of the battle that is raging all around them. But they are about to catch a glimpse. Jesus is teaching them with authority, and not as their scribes (Mark 1:22). And now He is about to give a demonstration of that authority. The Word of Jesus Christ brings out the demons. The man with the unclean spirit bristles at the preaching of the Gospel. It is sheer torture to him. And the unclean spirit himself is tortured with the knowledge of who this is who is preaching. This is the Christ. This is Messiah. This is the Savior of the world, and the Judge of the demons. So the spirit, taking control of the man’s very mouth, cries 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” (v. 24; ESV).
Now Jesus rebukes the demon, tells him to be silent. Why? It’s true, isn’t it? Jesus is the Holy One of God. Yes, but remember, demons are always liars. They only wield the truth to further the lie. And what is the lie this demon would have us believe? He pegs the Lord Jesus, not as a Savior, but as a destroyer. “Have you come to destroy us?” Who is the “us”? I suppose there could be more than one demon, as with Legion, but the text only indicates a singular unclean spirit. So in other words, the demon is implying that Jesus has come to destroy him (which is true, on the Last Day, when He sends that demon to eternal torture in the Lake of Fire), and the man he inhabits, as well as the other sinners present in the synagogue. It’s always that same lie on the devil’s part, isn’t it? “Do this sin. It will be really great. Rebel against God. He is holding out on you. Oh, what’s that? You did the sin? You rebelled? I guess there is no saving you now. You cannot be forgiven for that. Jesus has come only to destroy you.” Remember, the devil is your accuser. And so his demons. So even when they speak the truth, they do it to lead you into temptation, and then into despair.
“Be silent, and come out of him!” Jesus commands (v. 25). And the unclean spirit, making a great show of the whole thing (as unclean spirits are wont to do) convulses the man and cries out with a loud voice (v. 26). You can almost hear the demonic shriek. But he comes out. He has to. For that authority with which Jesus teaches the people, is a real authority. It is the authority of God. Jesus is God clothed in human flesh. He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and all that is, visible and invisible. He is the eternal Ruler of the universe. And He is even the God of the devil. When Jesus commands, the devil must obey. The demons must depart. The unclean spirits must flee. The Lord has not come to destroy His people, but to save them… to save you, to deliver you from the powers of darkness, from the prince of this world, and the present evil age.
Once again, the people are amazed. A new thing has happened in their midst. They question among themselves, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (v. 27). Indeed, He teaches with authority. He has authority over unclean spirits. That is what it means that Jesus is Lord. The Lord is the One with the authority. There is a new Lord in town. This is the Lord who received the Holy Spirit at His Baptism in the Jordan, in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. Where the Holy Spirit is, there is no room for unclean spirits. Where the Lord speaks His Holy Words, deploying His Holy Spirit, every evil spirit must depart. And that authority He has over the unclean spirits extends to every affliction that may plague you, beloved.
He has authority over your sin, both your sinful condition, and every sin you’ve ever committed. We live in the midst of so much spiritual yuckiness, the filth of sexual immorality, selfishness, greed, murder, profanity, godlessness. And we buy into some of that. Repent. But Jesus commands it all to go away. He takes it into Himself and makes atonement for it by His blood. And He speaks you forgiven, bespeaks you righteous, speaks His Spirit and life into you.
Death? He has authority over it, including every symptom of death, every illness and injury, every ache and pain and disability. Remember, He is risen. And He will raise you on the Last Day with a body made whole and undefiled, fit for eternity. And not only you. Your loved ones who have died in Christ. He will restore them to you, bodily. He will place them into your aching arms once again, risen, renewed, glorified, whole.
Sorrow, heartache, depression? He has authority over these, too. When He brings you to your eternal consolation in heaven, God will wipe away every tear from your eyes. Mental illness? He renews your mind by His holy Word. Persecution, war, violence? He is your peace. All of these evils have their origin in the evil one. They are carried out by his minions. So the answer is always Christ. Christ crucified for your sins. Christ risen for your justification. Christ seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling all things for you. And though it may appear as though your demonic enemies are triumphing in this world, in the end, you will see things as they really are, and you will reign with Christ in the new heavens and the new earth.
The battle rages all around you, but Jesus is the Stronger One who binds the strong man (Mark 3:27). The serpent is outmatched, his kingdom plundered, and Jesus grinds his head into the dust. So to every unclean spirit that afflicts you, Jesus commands, “Be silent, and come out!” “You cannot have this precious soul for whom I died, and for whom I live. This one belongs to me.” And in this time between His resurrection victory and His coming again for your final redemption, He brings you into the fortress of His Church, where He protects you from all evil and cleanses you from every sin. He binds your wounds, administers the medicine of immortality, and gives you to eat of the Bread of Life. Which is to say, Himself. Here the Lord speaks with divine authority, and the unclean spirits are silenced. They are cast out, and the Holy Spirit enters in. Jesus commands it. And so it is. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 LC V:81-82 (Luther’s Large Catechism with Study Questions [St. Louis: Concordia, 2010) p. 153.