It’s a Sabbath day in Capernaum, so where would you expect to find Jesus? Of course – in the synagogue. Where else? The synagogue was the “congregating place.” That’s what the word “synagogue” means, a place to gather. We say, “congregation.” Every sabbath Jesus went to the congregation. Even “Super Bowl Saturday” (if there had been such a thing), you would have found Jesus in the synagogue.
The sabbath was a holy day. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. You shall sanctify the holy day.” That meant no work – a nice meal, some rest, lots of Word of God, but no work. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.” Sabbath, shabbat, means “rest.” Slaves work seven days a week without rest; God’s free people worked six and rested on the seventh.
Rest didn’t mean sleeping in until the pregame show. Nor did it mean getting out the golf clubs for a quick morning round. Rest meant worship, gladly hearing and learning the Word of God. For the Israelites, rest began on Friday evening with a nice meal with undiluted wine, then sleep, then a day full of the Word in the synagogue. Now of course, the sabbath law was fulfilled in Christ and doesn’t apply to us in the form of a day. The Christian congregation is not a synagogue and Sunday is not a sabbath. What was a law in the OT, punishable by the death penalty for sabbath breakers), is now a free thing in the new. But it does say something about the depth of our sinful nature when God has to make a law about rest.
Jesus is our sabbath, our rest. When we deal with Jesus, it’s not work but gift, pure rest. And if we’re rest-less, then perhaps it’s because we don’t rest enough in the Word, and we don’t seek our rest where “two or three are congregated” and Jesus promises to be there for them, to give them rest.
Jesus taught the folks there in the synagogue at Capernaum. That’s what went on in the synagogue – teaching from the Torah and prayers. And Jesus, newly baptized and ordained, would be seen as the new rabbi on the block. What would He say? The people were all ears.
What Jesus said amazed the people. He taught as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. Their teachers would credential themselves by their teachers, in an apostolic succession to Moses. They would say, “I was taught by rabbi so-and-so who was taught by rabbi so-and-so” on down the line all the way back to Moses, and you know it didn’t get bigger than Moses. Our equivalent today is lots of degree paper on the wall, which may prove you’re smart but doesn’t prove you’re right.
Jesus taught on His own authority: “You have heard it said, but I say to you…” That was different. That kind of teaching the people hadn’t heard before, not since Moses and the prophets. Jesus’ teaching came with the full blast authority of the Lord Himself. He spoke as the Lord Himself, because that’s who He is – the Lord. He was the Prophet of whom Moses spoke in Deuteronomy, the One who would have the words of God in His mouth. To hear Jesus was to hear it straight from the mouth of God Himself. His words were God’s words; His teaching God’s teaching, and He didn’t need a bunch of degrees hanging on the wall.
The people were amazed. The people had never heard anything like it before. Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus was teaching, but we can assume that it had to do with sin, forgiveness, and the kingdom that had come with His coming. In other words, pretty much the same stuff you hear every Sunday, or at least are supposed to hear if the preaching is running on all cylinders. Now maybe that’s not what you came to hear, or even want to hear, but that’s what God wants to be heard – repentance and forgiveness in the name of Jesus. Certainly the devil doesn’t want that kind of preaching going on.
There was a man in the Capernaum congregation with an unclean spirit, a demon. I don’t know how common demon possession was, but it seems that the devils were putting in overtime during Jesus’ ministry. You can be sure that wherever the doctrine of Christ is being taught, the devil and his demons will be hard at work. There’s nothing the devil despises more than the preaching of Christ crucified for sinners. You can preach social justice and morality until you’re blue in the face and the devil couldn’t care less. But preach Christ, and all sorts of trouble will start.
A man jumps up in the middle of Jesus’ sermon and shouts, “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.” Disorder is always the way of the devils. God is a God of order. He creates and keeps everything in order. The devil prefers disorder, disruption, chaos. Lots of hollering and jumping around.
Notice how the demons know who Jesus is, and they even speak the truth about Jesus. He’s the Holy One of God come to destroy the works of the devil. Right on every front. But this truth is a crooked truth, meant to distract, to short-circuit Calvary, to get Jesus off His baptismal road to the cross, to leak the little secret with some advance publicity.
That’s why the demons were always trumpeting that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus was trying to bring His hearers along slowly, shaping their hearing and reshaping their expectations. But the devil wanted to get the image of “messiah” in the people’s minds. Get them to think of Jesus in terms of power and politics. Push on their messianic buttons and get them riled up. Forget about this cross and death and resurrection. Let’s talk about glory and power and revolt. The more people thought of Jesus as a Messiah in their own terms, the less they would hear the Gospel.
The demons would have loved to stop Mark’s gospel at chapter 1, so we could close up the book and never get to chapter 16 and Jesus’ death and resurrection. He would love to have you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God without all this stuff about cross, and body and blood, and death and resurrection. The devil loves “spiritualities” and cross-less, bloodless gospels that are really no Gospel at all. You remember Peter, who confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. And then Jesus began to teach them what it meant for Him to be the Christ, how He must suffer and on the third day rise from the dead. And Peter, meaning well, said, “Lord, that must never happen to you.” But Jesus rebuked Peter. Those weren’t God’s words, those were the devil’s words. It must happen. The Christ must suffer, die, and rise or there is no salvation for the world.
I seriously doubt that the devil much cares about the Christianity you see on TV which talks about God doing you favors, and God giving you an easy and prosperous life if you only believe. What the devil hates and what he tries to mess up is faith that trusts Jesus for forgiveness, faith that looks to Jesus crucified and sees life, faith that suffers all things for Jesus’ sake knowing that Christ has conquered and in Him we conquer too.
In Mark, Jesus’ being the Christ, the Messiah, is a secret, hidden until the end, when He hangs dead in the darkness on the cross and a Gentile soldier blurts out, “Truly, this was the son of God.” And then no one silences him. Why? Because hanging there on the cross, Jesus is the most Son of God, most Holy One of God. This is why He came, this is why He was baptized, this is why He set His face to Jerusalem. This is how the kingdom of God comes to us – by His dying and rising. And until that happens, until the world sees Him dead on a cross, they will not understand what it means for Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God. And neither will we. We will always try to reshape Jesus into something else.
With a word, Jesus silences the disruptive demon and restores order to the liturgy of the syndagogue.. “Be silent. Come out of him,” Jesus says. And the demon obeys. He must. He has no choice. He must obey the Word. It’s the same word, by the way, that Jesus uses to still the chaotic storm, the wind and the waves. “Be silent.” Literally, “shut up.” This is the creative Word speaking, and the creature must obey.
I’m always amazed with how easily Jesus deals with the demons. Just a word, nothing more. And though the demon makes a circus side-show of convulsing the man and shrieking, in the end it must submit to the Word of Jesus because Jesus is Lord even of the devil and His demons. That’s why the Luther, in the Large Catechism, calls the devil “God’s devil.”
Now that’s authority! This was not simply persuasive preaching with PowerPoint. Nope. This is a word that cuts through the darkness, that casts out the demons, the changes water into wine, that calms the wind and stills the saves, that cleanses the leper, and lifts the paralyzed man from his bed. It’s a Word that declares with the authority of God that Baptism is your personal rebirth in Christ, that the bread of the Supper is His Body given for you, the wine of His Supper is His blood shed for you. By His Word your sins are forgiven, you are saints in Christ. By His Word He will raise you from the dead.
This is Capernaum for you. Your congregation. A synagogue of the baptized, gathered to hear the Word spoken on Christ’s authority. “I forgive you all of your sins.” Spoken into the darkness of your sins, silencing the demons, bringing salvation, healing, and life. We need to hear this authoritative Word from the One to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given. We need to hear it spoken against our sin, against the devil, the world, and our own flesh – justifying us, declaring us to be righteous, forgiven, holy in Christ.
Don’t let the demons drag you down. The devil will try his best – creating unrest in the world, destroying homes and marriages, making mischief in our churches, distracting us, throwing us off the good news to another gospel. He drives us to doubt and despair. Luther threw ink bottles and passed gas at him. Today we either take him too seriously and too lightly. Don’t kid yourself in our modern sophistication. The devil stalks around like a roaring lion, Peter says, looking for someone to devour. He wants you. He wants to get between you and Jesus. He wants to keep you way from the Word and your congregation. Resist him by standing firm in the faith, in the doctrine of Christ. He can harm us none. He’s already judged, the deed is done. One little word can fell him, when that little word comes with the authority of Jesus, who died and rose to save you.
In the name of Jesus,