A deep shadow lies on the hills of Galilee behind, while only the tops of the Gentile hills to the east are still in bright light as the diverse crowd gathers in Capernaum’s richly appointed synagogue for the Sabbath service. Among those gathering that fateful evening is a teacher and his four freshly gathered followers, just up from the shores of the lake, and still smelling of fish. A ripple of conversation passes through the benches circling the hall. They will have a guest speaker today in this rabbi from Nazareth.
21And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath [Jesus] entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.
Fresh upon the calling of the disciples … later that same day in fact … Jesus moves immediately into His work as the Messiah. And what is that first order of business? Church. The Word of God and prayer! Nothing is more important, nothing else comes first, either for Jesus or His disciples! Why? Because this is where the authority of God lies – in His Word. This is where the power of God works – through His Word. This is where it all begins, and ends – in God’s Word. And that Word in the Flesh proclaiming the coming of God’s kingdom.
Sometimes we are jaded in our thinking about God’s Word, and its power to change our lives. Sometimes we are tempted to put the services of God’s House low on the list of priorities of all that needs to get done. Sometimes it all seems just so familiar and ordinary. But nothing could be further from the truth. When the people of Capernaum began listening to the Words of Jesus they were Amazed! The force and the meaning of Jesus’ Words strike their very senses! As Jesus begins to speak the fussing and fidgeting die down and the room’s attention becomes more and more focused. By the end, there is not a single sound or movement in the place. The gathered congregation is dumbfounded, awe-struck. Reeling with the weight and import of what they have just heard.
It was not like anything else they had ever heard before! There was no appeal to human authority, neither did Jesus resort to subtle logical distinction, legal niceties, witticisms, or clever sayings as other rabbi’s did. He didn’t speak about God. He spoke with something more. He spoke ‘with authority’; and His message came straight from the very heart and mind of the Father. His message came from his own inner being, and from Scripture. It is not something you will hear anywhere else in this world, or from any other teacher or authority. But the day’s amazement isn’t over yet, for Jesus backs up the authority of those divine Words with the authority of His actions!
23And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24“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.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.
Here again, we might be so jaded as to be unmoved by the sight before us. We of the rational and scientific age understand what the superstitious savages of yesteryear never could. But Devil-possession wasn’t just illness, affliction or some kind of abnormality. It is clear from verse 27 that the people somehow knew that it was devil-possession. Jesus is never one to play along for the sake of other people’s delusions. He only deals in what is real and there was something very terrible about it all. They didn’t wonder whether it was or wasn’t devil-possession. They knew.
But why so many instances of demon possession then but not now? we are tempted to ask. Surely that proves something! Yes it does. It shows that in the wilderness, and with the calling of His followers, Jesus had proclaimed the battle at hand. All the devil’s forces recognize Jesus and know that in Him they are under attack. Thus we see so many demonic confrontations in the Gospels – they are taking their stand, they are causing as much confusion and disorder as they can …
And so the cry of “God’s Holy One” which occurs only here and in the mouth of Peter in John 6:69. But the difference is tremendous. Peter used the same term, acknowledging that Jesus is the Saviour of men. satan uses this demoniac as his missionary to picture Jesus as the destroyer of men. The word “us” was meant to be heard by all those gaping in the synagogue. Whatever Jesus’ presence and words meant, it meant destruction of their way of life! Can anything be more diabolical than to picture Jesus as the enemy of mankind? Jesus doesn’t need or want the testimony of devils, and you know it is not offered for any good. This devil is using the title with a meaning quite the opposite of what it really means. So with a single word Jesus displays for one and all His perfect authority.
The demoniac shrieked. Jesus sternly rebuked and forbade. And without a further word the confrontation is over. Isn’t it remarkable that through it all Jesus says nothing of Himself? The demon announces Jesus as “The Holy One of God” but Jesus forbade him to say more. Jesus did not come saying: “I am the Son of God, the Son of man, the Messiah, the Christ.” But by His words and deeds Jesus caused people to come to that conclusion. Mark uses this as the first miracle of the many recorded in his Gospel. It fits most perfectly the theme of this first half of his Gospel, Jesus proving himself to be the Christ, God’s Son, by His mighty teaching and deeds.
And what’s more, the destruction of this demon is a microcosm of all Jesus’ earthly mission to destroy all that is dark. He has come to destroy all sickness and suffering, bringing healing of body, soul and spirit. He has come to destroy the devil’s kingdom (Lk 10:17-19; 11:20-22) for His kingdom is now at hand. He has come to destroy death (1 Cor. 15:26) by swallowing it up forever. He has come to destroy not the Law, but the curse of the Law. And he will do it by fulfilling the whole of the Law and becoming that very curse for us! (Mtt 5:17)
27And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
The people who were amazed before at mere words are now astonished almost to the point of holy terror! What they have just witnessed is not humanly possible. What they have seen defies all their senses. It is beyond processing. What just happened? What will this mean for everything from now on? How will our lives change? How will our World change?
The revelation their hearts and minds and eyes were still having trouble grasping, was a story that the synagogue could not contain either. They might not fully understand what it all meant, but they knew it was important, and so for the third time in this short passage things happen quickly. First, Jesus went immediately to the Synagogue; next the reaction, on the part of the demon-possessed, to Jesus’ preaching was immediate. And lastly here, Jesus’ fame – the news of this new authority – spread immediately and quite far.
That is the power, the authority, of God’s Word. Whether preaching in the flesh at the synagogue of Capernaum, or received through the preaching and the sacraments of this little Lutheran church on the shores of a lake half-a-world away. There is nothing else like it in all the world. There is no other authority to change hearts and lives as He does. There is no hurt or evil, even here and now, that He cannot destroy with a Word. There is no life so broken that He cannot restore with the Words of His precious Gospel! And that is why it all begins and ends right here. In Church. Where people are still amazed and astonished by Christ!