Mark 1:21-28 / Epiphany 4B / 29 January 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen.” Deut. 18:15-20
Moses foretold the coming of Christ. Even before the Israelites set foot on the soil promised to Abraham, Moses spoke of a Coming One, a Prophet who would speak the Word as Moses had spoken. The people didn’t want to deal with God directly. They said, “We don’t want to hear the voice of the Lord anymore, or see this great fire. It’s killing us. You go, Moses. You talk to God and tell us what He said. We can’t take the sound of His voice anymore. It’s killing us.”
God agreed. As much as we’d like to think that we can deal directly with God and avoid the middle man, we can’t and God won’t. It’s the hubris of the old Adam who thinks we’re still on those cozy and comfortable terms when God walked with man in the cool of the garden. But those days are long gone. No one may look on God and live. No one may hear the voice of God directly. All these notions we have about seeing God in His glory and dealing with God directly and not needing an intermediary – those are nothing else than the deluded pietism of our sinful nature calling the shots, telling God how to be God for us.
Moses stood between God and the people as a mediator, a go-between. He would go up to the mountain to talk with God, and then he would return to speak what he had heard. He actually returned glowing, kind of like a glow in the dark watch that absorbs the energy of the sunlight and then glows for a while. Moses would return from the mountain with this weird, unearthly glow that had to be covered up as it faded. Deal directly with God? Who would want to?
Moses was not the only one. God had His go-betweens, His agents, His instrumentalities, the means through which He spoke – the priests and high priest of the tabernacle, the teachers of Torah, the prophets who spoke in God’s Name. The voice of God was always heard as a human voice, the voice of Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, all the other prophets the Lord sent. God put His Word into their mouths, so that when the people heard them, they were hearing God Himself, as though God Himself were there speaking to them. No one may ascend to see or hear God, but He descends to us, He causes His Word to dwell among us, He puts His Word into our ears in very human terms. That’s the way God works. It’s the way He’s always worked, always through means and never directly.
But couldn’t we just go up the mountain for ourselves? Couldn’t we just have our little “shine, Jesus, shine” moment? Couldn’t we just get a peak at the glory? No. Not good for us. We’d be toast. Moses wanted a glimpse, but God hid HIm in a cave as He passed by. Isaiah saw the Lord enthroned in glory and thought he was as good as dead. St. John saw the glorified Christ in his vision on the island of Patmos and he also thought he was as good as dead. No, you want God to work through means. You want Him to speak in human terms, in a human voice. You want Him to come hiddenly and humbly and gently, in ways you can receive and hear.
The stakes are high. To speak the truth in God’s name means the hearers must listen. To speak lies in God’s name means the speaker must die.
Jesus is the Prophet of whom Moses was speaking. He arose from among God’s people. An Israelite. He spoke the words of God, what He had been given by the Father who sent Him. He is the Word of God in the flesh. The Father testified at His Baptism saying, “This is my beloved Son.” He testified again on the mountain of transfiguration when He said, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.” Hear His words, they are the very words of God Himself.
Those words come with authority, the authority of the Father who sent the Son, the authority of the Lord Himself. When Jesus taught in the synagogue, the people were amazed at what they heard. There was something different about this Jesus. He didn’t teach the way the other rabbis taught. They always referred to Rabbi So and So who was taught by Rabbi So and So, etc. all the way back to Moses, and of course Moses was the greatest there was. Kind of an “apostolic succession” going all the way back to Moses. And somehow that credentialed their teaching and guaranteed that it was true, kind of the way a bunch of framed diplomas on the wall are supposed to mean that the person whose name is on them knows a thing or two.
Jesus didn’t teach that way. He taught “as one who had authority.” He said things like, “You’ve heard it said by the teachers of old…but I say to you.” And that perked up people’s ears because no one around at time dared to simply speak on his own authority. It’s like writing a paper with no footnotes as though all the ideas were your own.
Jesus had been wowing the teachers since he was a young boy at the age of 12 in the temple, answering the questions of the teachers with such depth and insight that they wondered out loud where He got all this wisdom. And it was the same in the synagogue at Capernaum. To hear Him speak was to hear the very Word of God, with authority, and not just a man’s interpretation or opinion.
That authority also came with power. That Sabbath day in the synagogue, a man stood up in the middle of Jesus’ sermon and yelled out in a loud voice, “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.” Now that wasn’t the man speaking, but a demon, an unclean spirit who had taken possession of the man. I suppose, in our skeptical age, we might say the man was crazy and we would have had the ushers firmly show him to the door.
Jesus just tells the demon to “shut up and come out of him.” And he does, albeit with an impressive show of convulsions and lots of screaming and yelling. Now you have to admit that this is pretty impressive, and I’m sure they were talking about it on the way home. In fact, the people were asking each other, “What is this? A new teaching with authority, such authority that He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him!”
He’s the devil’s Lord too, and the demons have no choice in the matter. When Jesus says, “Shut up!” they do. He doesn’t want them preaching who He is. Even though what they say is true, it is truth in service of the Lie. Jesus is the Holy One of God, this is true. But He knows and the devil knows that this can be used in all the wrong ways by people who want to exploit Jesus for their own purposes and power. Jesus is the Holy One of God come to die. He is the Holy One of God come to do battle with Death and Sin and devil. He is the Holy One of God who not only drives the demons from people but who casts out the devil from this world.
Jesus’ death on the cross is the exorcism of the world. It has all the same marks of an exorcism. You might even picture it this way: Jesus was going around collecting all the unclean spirits, as well as all the diseases, the maladies, the death everything and drawing them all into Himself so He could take them into His death.
Which brings us to you and me. As unsophisticated as it may sound to our ears, the devil is still alive and well today, a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. He’s on a leash now and restrained, but that doesn’t mean he still can’t work great mischief. And the greatest mischief he can work is unbelief, doubt, despair. He’s the one who says, “I know who you are, and you can’t possibly be a Christian. I know who the Holy One of God is and you’re definitely not holy.”
That’s the devil’s best work. He’s in the doubt business. He’ll use anything to create doubt – your reason, your conscience, sickness, adversity, evil. He’s like the kid who subversively starts fights on the playground and then runs to the principle to report all the fighting that’s going on. He loves to play games with your conscience, your inner critic, reminding you of how much of a religious failure you are. And it’s all largely true, just as it was true that Jesus is the Holy One of God. But in the devil’s mouth, even the truth becomes a lie.
You are a sinner. Yes, this is true. The Law of God tells you this clearly, and so that you don’t miss it, the Law even magnifies your sin. But that doesn’t mean you are not holy. The devil hates paradox, by the way, and loves to make you decide. Which is it? A or B? Are you a sinner or a saint? Are you a child of Adam or of God? Come on, one or the other, you can’t be both, that’s nonsense. That’s devil talk.
The good news is “one little word can fell him.” In this morning’s text, the word is “shut up.” I know you parents want your kids to be polite and not say that, but the devil doesn’t deserve politeness. Luther did lots of impolite things to the devil, including tossing inkwells at him, though far more effective was the ink Luther put to paper proclaiming Christ against the devil.
We are engaged in a war on terror, a spiritual war on the powers and principalities and forces of darkness. It’s not a battle for the world. Christ is Lord. It’s a battle for your soul, your life, your faith. Christ has claimed in Baptism and the devil hates that and will stop at nothing to drive you from Christ, keep you from His Word, get some distance between you and the Lord’s Supper, estrange you from the company of believers, isolate you in your feelings and guilt and shame. There is nothing more vulnerable to a wolf than an isolated, straying sheep.
The devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. “Resist him,” Peter says. He is resistible. Resist him. How? “Standing firm in the faith.” Not resting on your believing, but standing on the faith that is built on Jesus Christ, on the solid rock of His death and resurrection, on the forgiveness of sins by His blood, on the certainty of salvation in Baptism, on the assurance of forgiveness in His Body and Blood. Resist him, for he is quite resistible. One little word can fell him, when that word is the Word of God that comes with the authority of the Father.
“As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority, I forgive you all of your sins.” What does this mean? It means that when the called servants of Christ, your pastors, deal with you by Christ’s command, that is as valid and certain as if Christ Himself were speaking to you. This is God’s great “shut up” to the devil, to your trouble conscience, to the Law that condemns you rightly for your sins.
So the next time you are troubled by the devil, by the world, by your own conscience and you begin to doubt your holiness in Christ, you just tell them all to shut up in the name of Jesus and go away. Jesus Christ is Lord, the Holy One of God, and He says you are forgiven and holy and justified. That’s a Word you can count on. That’s a Word you can die with. That’s a Word with authority.
In the name of Jesus,