And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and he taught.
If you wanted to find Jesus on a Sabbath day you went to the synagogue. The Sabbath was a holiday, a holy day. “Observe the Sabbath by keeping it holy.” Deuteronomy said that keeping it holy meant no work. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” The Hebrew word Shabbat means “rest.” When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, they worked seven days a week without rest. Slaves work seven days, but the Lord’s people got a day off.
God himself rested on the seventh day. “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” God rested. We rest. And when we don’t rest from our work, are we trying to be God in place of God?
Rest didn’t mean sleeping in until the pregame show started. Nor did it mean gassing up the Winnebago to play in the desert or breaking out the golf clubs. Rest meant rest from work in order to worship. Worship means hearing God’s Word. “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and his word but hold it sacred, gladly hear and learn it.” Hearing the word is not work. Neither is it play. Hearing the Word is rest in the fullest sense of the word. God’s rest. “Come to me all who are heavily burdened,” said Jesus, “and I will give you rest.” If we are restless is it because we are looking for rest in all the wrong places?
To the synagogue in Capernaum Jesus goes with his four new friends – Peter and Andrew, James and John. Jesus is having a holiday, a holy day, teaching Torah. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. What distinguished Jesus from the scribes is that he didn’t use credentials. No footnotes! A scribe credentialed his teaching by his teacher. “I was taught by rabbi so-and-so, who was taught by rabbi so-and-so, and on and on back to Moses.” A scribe’s teaching was only as good as his ordination papers proving that his teachers went back to Moses.
Not so with Jesus. “You have heard it said to the people long ago, but I say to you….” Such teaching the people had not heard since Moses and the prophets. Jesus’ teaching came with the full blast authority of the Lord, and there is no higher authority than the Lord, not even Moses. To hear Jesus is to hear it straight from God. His words are God’s words. His teaching, God’s teaching.
His teaching astounded the people. The Greek word for teaching here is didache, the Latin doctrina, the English “doctrine.” Not just amazing grace, but amazing doctrine. Some misguidedly think that doctrine is a dirty word. “The Bible unites; doctrine divides” and “We teach no doctrine but the Bible.” Sounds like straight stuff from the Lord. The trouble with that way of thinking is that the Bible is doctrine and was written for the purpose of teaching doctrine. And so if you aren’t teaching doctrine then you aren’t teaching the Bible.
Now we aren’t told precisely what Jesus was teaching that day in the synagogue in Capernaum that so amazed the people. St. Mark doesn’t provide a transcript, but he did give us the basic outline, which we heard last week. “Repent and believe the good news of God,” Jesus said. Repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The Law applied lawfully and the Gospel applied evangelically is the doctrine that Jesus taught which amazed the people.
Where the doctrine of Christ is, there the devil and his demons are sure to be working their mischief. There is nothing the devil despises more than doctrine. There is nothing more dangerous to the devil and his demons than for people to know what they believe about Christ and why. Immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried 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.”
The order of the synagogue service was disrupted. In the synagogue only one teacher spoke at a time, while the others listened. But the demons are disruptive, shouting things out, interrupting Jesus, drawing attention to themselves with their words of false praise, upsetting the order. Where order is disrupted, you can be sure that the devil is at work.
The congregation at Corinth had a problem with order in the liturgy, people speaking in tongues, everyone speaking at once and out of turn, and nothing coherent being spoken. The apostle Paul didn’t have the Corinthians check their tongues at the door, but he did remind them that everything in the church must be done decently and according to order. “For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.” Only a few were to speak, and then only those to whom it was given to speak, and the rest were to listen. Better five coherent words of instruction, says the apostle, than ten thousand words of gibberish. Hence, the Liturgy.
You can always tell an unclean spirit from the Holy Spirit by the lack of order. Dr. Luther said that even if he were to hear error preached from the pulpit, he would not interrupt the preacher, nor would he make a public spectacle, but would go to him privately. So convinced was Luther of this that even knowing the truth, he would not dare to preach where he had not been called. “No good would possibly come of it.” The devils delight in stirring up chaos in the church, often under the guise of praise.
The devil saves his greatest mischief for inside the church, closest to the Word and sacraments, where Christ and the forgiveness of sins are. He even sounds religious while he’s at it. “I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” It sounds like pious praise but it’s really devilish distraction. The devil disguises himself as an angel of light and his ministers as servants of righteousness, says St. Paul. Wolves in sheep’s clothing, complete with deceptive signs and wonders that look so much like the real thing.
But not every spirit is the Holy Spirit, and not all pious-sounding praise comes from God. “Holy One of God” Jesus surely is, but not in the way the demons proclaimed him. The devil’s desire was, and still is, to separate Christ from the cross. To short-circuit Calvary. To “let the cat out of the bag” ahead of time. To prematurely let out the secret about who Jesus was and why he had come before his hour of glory, before his being handed over to be crucified and his rising from the dead.
That’s what lies behind the devil’s temptation of Jesus to turn stones into bread to feed himself, to jump off the top of the temple, to worship him in exchange for the glory of the kingdoms of the earth. The devil’s temptation was for Jesus to be a power and glory Christ, an end-justifies-the-means kind of Christ, instead of a crucified Christ.
Peter himself unwittingly stepped into Satan’s shoes trying to keep Christ from the cross. Jesus had told his disciples that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” Peter wanted no such crucified Christ. He took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. “That must never happen to you.” But Jesus turned and rebuked Peter instead. That was not God’s talk but the devil’s talk. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
In St. Mark, only when Jesus hangs dead on the cross does he permit himself publicly to be called the Son of God. And then it is by a Gentile soldier. On the cross Jesus is the most Son of God, most Holy One of God, for us and for our salvation.
With a word, Jesus silences the demon in the synagogue. “Be quiet.” It’s the same word he used to silence the wind and the waves that threatened to swallow up the disciples’ little boat during a storm on the sea of Galilee. “Be quiet. Come out of him.” Jesus sounds a bit like someone scolding a puppy for having chewed up the curtains. The demons are no threat to him. A few little words is all it takes to bring them into line.
Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us.
We tremble not, we fear no ill, they shall not overpower us.
This world’s prince may still, scowl fierce as he will.
He can harm us none;
He’s judged the deed is done.
One little word can fell him.
The littleness of that word that fells the devil accents the authority that lies behind it – Jesus’ authority. He doesn’t need many words, or impressive exorcisms, or displays of power. The only frightful thing in the synagogue was when the unclean spirit caused the poor man to convulse and scream. Forget what you might have picked up from movies likeThe Exorcist. It only goes like that in Hollywood, on TV, and in publications targeted for “inquiring minds who want to know.” The description in St. Mark is more like a little child throwing a temper tantrum in the grocery store. In the end the demons must obey the word of Jesus. Jesus is Lord even over the devil and his demons.
Such authority astounded the people in the synagogue even more. What is this? A new teaching, with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him. There is a hint of fear and awe. Where the people once feared the demons, now they feared the Lord, and in the fear of the Lord there is the beginning of wisdom and the end of all fear because the Lord is greater than the demons.
This was not simply persuasive preaching. This was a doctrine that silences the demons. And if even the demons obey his word, what is there left that Jesus cannot do with his word? Change water into wine. Calm the wind and the waves, cleanse the leper, lift a paralyzed man from his bed, raise the dead, forgive sins, declare sinners to be saints.
His word makes simple water a holy water, Holy Baptism, the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. His word makes simple bread and wine his own body and blood given and shed on Calvary. His word works faith in us and delivers to us forgiveness and life. It is a word that comes with the full authority of Jesus, the One to whom alone has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, who exercised the authority given him by giving his life in exchange for the world, for us, and for you.
His word comes backed with his cross. The cross is Jesus’ authority in action. When he casts out demons with his word, it is already in view of his death on the cross by which he achieved the final victory over sin, death, and the devil. Whenever and wherever Jesus’ word is heard, it is in view of his death, by which he won the victory for us.
It means for us that the word of forgiveness that the Lord speaks to his church today through his called and ordained servants of the Word can be heard with the full authority of the crucified and risen Christ. When we hear the words “I forgive you all of your sins,” those words come to us fully authorized by the One who died and rose again for our sins. It is not the pastor’s “I” but Christ’s. Not the pastor’s word, but Christ’s word. Not the pastor’s forgiveness, but Christ’s. It is not the pastor’s authority to forgive but Christ’s. Nor is it the pastor’s doctrine, or Holy Trinity’s doctrine, our even Lutheran doctrine, but Christ’s doctrine, his teaching, his voice, his Word that is to be heard and that of no other.
Such an amazing Word. Such an amazing doctrine! It silences the demons. It brings joy to God’s people, and shortly, his body and his blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. You have his word on it.