4th Sunday after the Epiphany
January 28, 2018
“Who’s In Charge Here?”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is the Gospel lesson previously read from Mark chapter 1.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The phone rang on a Monday morning just like it does a dozen times or so every day. It was our oldest daughter Emily – at the time still in high school – and it was obvious that she was shaken up. “Dad,” she said, “one of my friends died in a fire last night.” I called the high school and they confirmed my fears; one of the students – 4 people in a family of 6 – had perished in an early-morning house fire. I immediately drove to the local school. What I encountered was overwhelming grief; kids crying and hugging each other in the hallways, teachers wandered around trying to help the best they could amid their own sorrow. I looked for someone in charge so that I and the other area clergy could help, but no one seemed to be in charge other than the monumental sense of sadness. I did the best I could talking with students. By lunch the school was mostly an empty shell. Grief had overcome the day; everyone had given up and gone home.
When something tragic like this happens, we often wonder who is in charge here. Not always literally, but figuratively…spiritually. Is evil stronger than good? Doesn’t God have the power – the authority – to stop these tragedies? What kind of evil causes 13 children to eat only one rationed meal a day and shower just once a year while being beaten, choked and shackled to their beds? How does that happen? The confusion and pain leaves us with more anger and anxiety than answers. When life begins to crumble or implode around or because of your family, friends, job, finances and so many others, we are left picking up pieces and wondering who really has authority here.
Jesus has authority. Like other good authority figures, Jesus didn’t seek authority; authority was given to him (Matthew 28:18). In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus showed the world his authority; he proves his authority through word and deed. He is ultimately and ALWAYS in charge.
The synagogue was the ideal place for the true authoritative Word, Jesus, to reveal himself with authority for God’s people. Previously the people of God had been mislead; the religious leaders in authority had abused the flock and abandoned God spiritually in favor of their lists of “do and do nots” for the people. Jesus enters the synagogue to teach with authority and then display that very same authority.
A man in the synagogue who was possessed by an unclean or evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!’ Notice his words: “What do you want with us?” It’s like saying, “What are you doing here?” Obviously, the demon had quite enjoyed having the place to himself; just goes to show that evil can be at work even in God’s house. But Jesus wouldn’t allow it any longer. It was time for the demon to relinquish his authority and yield to the true authority.
Now, just a bit about demons if I may. Hollywood has done the Church a great disservice by their portrayal of demons and demonic forces in movies and on TV making them seem so over the top and so absurd that a rational person would question their existence. The greatest trick that Satan ever pulled was to get man to doubt God goodness, and at the same time, and then deflect his involvement (Genesis 3)! It was a pretty good trick…with damning consequences for you and I. as the people of God, we get our theology from scripture, not from a screen. The reality is that demons are quite real, and in the presence of God and his authority they shudder (James 2:19) and panic.
So Jesus shuts the unclean spirit up. Literally in the Greek, he “muzzles him” like an ox. As I like to translate it, Jesus told the demon to “zip it!” Like we saw last week, when Jesus speaks – “follow me” – there is a reaction. The unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of the man. Now THAT’S authority!
God’s Word has final authority even in our world where ultimate and absolute truth and authority are questioned. God’s Word not only has authority, but it also has the ability to restore. It restored that man who was freed from Satan. God’s authoritative Word restores. Even when homes burn and people die, the authority of God does not change. God is still in charge, and using that authority, he restores. He speaks to you and all those who hurt and grieve. He says, “I forgive you,” and “I love you; I sent My own Son to save you.” God’s grace keeps pace with everything you face. Jesus’ ultimate word of restoration came from the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30), as Jesus restores our relationship with God through His sacrificial death and resurrection.
Words of authority from the mouth of God defeated Satan at the synagogue, in the desert, on the cross, and at the tomb. But it doesn’t – it NEVER – stopped there. To the faithful, God says “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b ESV). There are times when you feel he isn’t there or in charge: the kids are driving you nuts, the sickness is rampant, the days are too long, your spouse infuriates you, the pain is too great, the loneliness is too miserable, the bills are too many. God’s delays are not always denials or defenselessness. It’s an answer of “not right now, and so trust me. Learn from me. Grow in your faith.”
My friends, don’t give up or give in to your sadness or troubles or problems. God is there. He is in control. He has authority in, over, and through your life. He rules in your heart and life with grace and peace and mercy and forgiveness and love; things that Satan will NEVER show you. God is in charge here over grief, over sadness, over sin, over fire, over physical death, and even over the very forces of Satan so that you might have an eternal existence with him where his authority will reign not only today and tomorrow, but for all eternity. If God can cast out demons, restore sight to the blind, make the lame walk, cleanse leper, and cause the deaf to hear again (Luke 7:22), just imagine how he can AND WILL exert his divine authority in your life.