Let Christ’s authority through his Word
make you a man/woman of courage.
A sermon preached on Mark 1:21-28 by Pastor Jonathan Werre at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, on January 31, 2021.
Conservatively guessing, 95% of what the average person believes is based on authority. That is to say, we believe things because someone we think is trustworthy told them to us. The average American who has never actually seen a germ or an atom or the evolutionary process believes in germs and atoms and evolution, because scientists say so. The average American who never saw Columbus standing on the shores of North America nevertheless believe that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue and reached North America because historians say so.
But that is changing, isn’t it. Do you, these days, trust what the news outlets tell you about the election or immigration or Black Lives Matter? Do you trust what scientists say about climate change? Do you trust what the CDC says about the coronavirus and all the urging to get the vaccine?
In this age of confusion and doubt, one thing gets lost very quickly, in fact, two things get waylaid. Truth and courage. Because there is a direct link between Truth and courage. If you would like to become an even stronger man/woman of courage, I invite you to let Christ’s authority through his Word give you the Truth and through that Truth give you courage.
To understand how that works, let’s first consider the “what” of this event. Then let’s consider the “so what” of this event.
Here’s the what: The event that is going to be a catalyst for our courage happened in about 30 AD in a town in Israel named Capernaum. Jesus had just begun his ministry and he went into a synagogue—which is interesting all by itself since this whole form of worship was entirely man-made. God in the OT Scriptures had established worship at the temple in Jerusalem, only in the temple. But after the Babylonian army came in 586 BC and destroyed Jerusalem, and the temple, and hauled nearly all the survivors back to Babylon, it was impossible to worship at the temple. So the religious leaders invented this thing called “a synagogue.” Their rule was that every town that had at least 10 married Jewish men could start a synagogue for weekly worship. The religious leaders changed not the doctrine but the format of worship, and yet Jesus does not say, “What are you religious leaders doing with worship?” He instead utilized it himself. That’s interesting.
And who shows up at this worship service? A devil. Isn’t that interesting. A devil showed up to church. Over half of our own church members do not show up either physically or livestream on any given Sunday, but the devil does. On the last day our Lord will condemn everyone who neglected worship and the Word and thus lost their faith. He will say, “Even Satan showed up for church—and you didn’t? What is wrong with you?”
And this devil has been listening when he’s in church. He knows some theology. “He 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!’” And he was right. Jesus had come to destroy them. And he was the Holy One of God. What he said was doctrinally correct.
But Jesus told him to put a muzzle on it (that’s what the Greek word literally means). Why? After all, if what the demon said was theologically correct, why muzzle him? Because this demon did not have the right to teach the Word of God. No one has the right to teach the Word of God or start a Bible Class or teach a Sunday School class or preach a sermon—no one has that right because the Bible is GOD’S Word, not ours. He decides who gets to teach it and who doesn’t. But rather than speak to us directly himself, he has decided to speak through his Church. And that is why we are to wait until our church asks us to teach the Word of God in a Bible class or Lutheran Elementary School or ECC or Sunday School.
But aren’t we supposed to share our faith with others? Yes, you, an individual believer, have that privilege and holy obligation of love to do that, as it says in I Timothy (3:15), “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” But that is a different thing than teaching a Bible class or Sunday School class, isn’t it. Now, when it comes to you, one individual, sharing the Word of God with another individual, we have to ask ourselves, when was the last time I did that? Shared something from the Word of God with another Christian? Or perhaps even more importantly, shared something from the Word of God with someone who is not a Christian? If this demon has done it more times than we have in the recent past, that is not good. This, too, requires the forgiveness of our Savior.
Christ shows how authoritative his Word is when he says to the demon, “Come out of him!” And the demon obeys. The greatest source of evil in the universe, worse than all the drug dealers and tyrants and terrorists and torturers and child traffickers put together. The greatest source of evil in the universe and he gets knocked flat on his back by three words “Come out of him!” (3 words in the Greek)
Although the demon doesn’t leave the man willingly. It says, “The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” The devil does not leave willingly. And so we see that it is much more difficult to get Satan to leave once he’s gotten inside of us than it is to resist him and keep him outside of us in the first place. And you know what window he tries to sneak into our minds and hearts, like a cat, like a lion? The window he sneaks into us through is our feelings and our thoughts. Which is why, as I was reminded once again in a paper at our pastors’ conference on Monday/Tuesday, use of alcohol and illegal drugs and some legal drugs is often a way Satan gets us to lower our guard. Those substances can give Satan a door into our emotions and thoughts rather than having to climb through a window.
“The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” But the point is—the demon came out of him. Jesus won. With words. Not fists. Not with superior fire-power. But with words. His Word. This is how his ministry began and this is how his ministry would end. For on the cross he would defeat Satan once-and-for-all with words. He would shout, “It is finished!”, as he hung on the cross, as he finished the work of making peace between us sinners and a holy God, just like the Christmas angels had said. And three days later he would rise to prove that not only had he defeated Satan, and sin, he had also defeated death for us. Not even death can hold us, for Christ has promised to raise believers on the Last Day and give them eternal life.
Which brings us to part 2 of this sermon, the “so what.” We just heard the “what”, the event of what happened one Saturday morning in a synagogue in a town called Capernaum. But what’s the “so what”?
The “so what” is all about courage. When you live in an age of confusion and of serious doubt of authority so that we wonder, “Can I trust what the media is saying? What your president is saying? What scientists are saying? What my company leadership is saying?, what we need is to become men and women of courage. Christ’s authority to give us the Truth through his Word gives you that courage.
Jesus, it says, “taught as one who had authority, and not as the teachers of the law.” He was able to teach that way not simply because he was Jesus, the Son of God, but because he was right. He spoke truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That gives certainty. And certainty gives courage.
Certainty is that feeling of pushing our foot through the mud of doubts and maybe’s and then finally finding some solid, rock-bottom reality. That’s what we find when we study the Scriptures—rock solid reality. This desire for certainty is even part of our heritage–the Lutheran Reformation was, more than anything else, about certainty—how can I be certain of where I stand with God? How can I be certain of going to heaven?
The answer is Christ and his Word. You can be certain of everything God says in his Word, for, as it so often says in our Lutheran Confessions, God cannot lie and his Word cannot deceive. This is the Word that teaches us of Christ and all he did to make things right between us sinners and a holy God. This is the Word that teaches us of Christ and all he did by his death and resurrection to guarantee our salvation. And while there will always be churches and pastors that get it wrong and make it all so confusing—after all, does not Satan, that father of lies, hang around churches, as we see in our text? Satan may lead many to teach and preach false doctrine. But that does not change the fact that the Bible is clear. It is the truth. And truth gives certainty. And certainty gives courage.
Now, courage does not give you all the answers. Courage does not make us experts on Covid or climate change. Courage does not ensure a smooth life. But courage does gives us what we need for the facing of life. For the facing of pandemics, of isolation, of job stress, of depression. Courage does give us what we need in facing the hard decisions of life: Should we pull the plug? Should I call the police on my abusive spouse? Should I get married or stay single? Courage gives us what we need when we have to go head-to-head with our feelings of wanting to lash out at someone, or our feelings of wanting to bed someone who is not ours by marriage, or feelings of guilt for being a bad mom or dad or Christian. Courage for the facing of every hour. Even our last one. For when you have the truth of God’s Word, a God who cannot lie and his Word cannot deceive, you know you will turn out to be the winner in the end. Because, when the dust settles, the truth is that Christ and his kingdom will stand victorious over Satan, over the world, over every evil. And you who believe and are baptized will be standing right beside him. Because what happened in that synagogue 2000 years was just a small example of what Christ had come to do in a very big and very permanent way…and did. Amen.