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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The Authoritative Christ Comes to God's People with Freedom
Text:Mark 1:21-28 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 97:1-3
Psalm 32:1,2,4
Psalm 45:1-3
Hymn 41
Psalm 93

Reading: Revelation 20
Text: Mark 1:21-28
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ Jesus,

Whenever we pick up the Bible to read it or study it, there are always a number of dangers that come with that. One of them is a tendency for us to flatten out what we read. When this happens, we miss important details and we end up misunderstanding God’s Word or missing its riches. For instance, in our text we read about the Lord Jesus going to the synagogue to teach on the Sabbath. We read this and we imagine that it might be something like us going to the mall or the grocery store – in other words, nothing remarkable. So, we quickly read over it. Big deal: Jesus went to the synagogue, so what?

By taking that attitude, we’re missing the big picture of what’s going on here. After all, what was a synagogue? The Romans didn’t have synagogues, neither did the Greeks or the Egyptians or anybody else. Only the Jews had synagogues. Synagogues were found in many Jewish towns and villages. They were also found in places outside of Palestine where there were significant populations of Jews. The synagogue was a building where Jews would gather for worship. If they lived in Jerusalem, they might go to the temple, but because not everyone lived there, synagogues sprang up. During worship at the synagogue, prayers would be offered, psalms would be sung or chanted and there would be the reading and the teaching of Scripture. Jewish synagogues existed for the worship and education of God’s people.

When the Lord Jesus went to the synagogue in Capernaum, this was something special. We can be sure that he’d been to various synagogues before this – after all, he was a 30 year old Jewish man. But now he was no longer coming as someone sitting in the benches. He was now coming to the synagogue in his office as the Messiah. The Messiah promised in the Old Testament is coming to God’s covenant people as they’re gathered in worship. This isn’t just about Jesus going to be with his people, his fellow Galileans – this text is about the promised Christ coming to God’s people – the people with whom God had been working for hundreds of years.

We need to have a sense of historical consciousness to understand what’s really happening in our text. We need to remind ourselves that God promised in Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. We need to be reminded that this is part of the fulfillment of that promise – a promise that would lead to freedom. We also need to note the timing of what happens here: it’s on the Sabbath. There were synagogue services every day, but Christ chose to act on the Sabbath. When we look back in the Old Testament, the Sabbath is the day to celebrate freedom from Egypt’s slavery. Remember what Moses says in Deuteronomy 5 when he reminds the people of the Ten Commandments. When he comes to the fourth commandment, he says, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” The Sabbath too is about freedom! Freedom, then, is the air that this passage breathes.

In our text, the Lord Jesus comes with authority and he brings freedom to the synagogue. We could say that this passage is about the day that God himself came to the synagogue in Capernaum. So, I’ve summed up the text with this theme: The authoritative Christ comes to God’s people with freedom. We’ll consider the freedom in his teaching and then freedom in his driving out an evil spirit.

Verse 21 tells us that Jesus and his four disciples (Simon, Andrew, James and John), went to Capernaum. They had been on the shores of the Sea of Galilee somewhere and now they made their way to the town of Capernaum -- which is also located on that lake. As we’ve already noted, this happened on the Sabbath day, not a detail that we should miss. Mark tells us that Christ went into the synagogue and he began to teach. There’s not a lot of detail here and that should intrigue us. Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus was teaching. The emphasis here is not on the content. If we’re really curious, we could guess that he was teaching something similar to what we heard him saying last week about the kingdom of God. But that would just be a guess. We really need to focus on what Mark draws to our attention and that’s the power of his teaching.

The people were awe struck. His teaching wasn’t like anything they’d ever heard before. Why? Because he taught them with authority. He didn’t teach them like the Jewish scribes and rabbis. You see, the Jewish scribes and rabbis, the normal synagogue teachers had a totally different approach. When they taught, it was always with an appeal to the authority of someone else. They would say things like, “Moses said this…” or “Rabbi so-and-so said that…” – but they would never teach and say, “But I say…” There always had to be an appeal to a higher authority.

But Christ was different. He was teaching as one who had the right to say things on his own authority. He was teaching as one who knew what he was talking about to be certain. He was not offering his opinions or the opinions of anyone else – he came across as the expert. He came across as though he was speaking on God’s behalf. The prophets of the Old Testament used to speak like that. But in the time of Jesus, prophecy had all but fallen silent – John was the exception. When the rabbis and scribes taught, they could not speak with direct authority. But Christ could and he did!

When he spoke in this way, it reflected the fact that he had been commissioned by God to teach and preach. God had authorized him to climb behind the synagogue pulpit and speak with certainty and confidence. A few verses previous, in verse 14, we’re told that he was heralding the good news of God. Here again we see him speaking in his role as a herald – doing it powerfully and in a way that struck awe into people, people who’d never heard this kind of preaching and teaching before.

Here was a man who had the freedom to teach with certainty and confidence. He was not dependent on the interpretations or opinions of man. He was free to teach God’s Word exactly the way that God would have it taught.

While we’re not told what it was he taught, we can at least be sure that it was nothing less than the good news he was heralding in verse 14. He came to announce that the light was beginning to shine in the darkness for God’s people. There was hope, there was good news, there was going to be freedom. What the teachers of the law could not bring, Christ had come to bring. They could only give interpretations of the law, Christ came to bring the promise of the gospel and…freedom.

Christ teaches us the same thing and in the same way today. He does so first of all through his written Word. We can read and study our Bibles and hear God’s Word speaking to us the promise of the gospel in an authoritative way. The Jews of Jesus’ day didn’t have Bibles like we have. Many of them memorized Scripture, of course, but there wasn’t the easy access to the whole Bible like we have. We have our Bibles and we can read them. We have God’s promise that his Word is clear and dependable. We have his promise that the Spirit will lead us into all the truth. He does that through the Word. And it is the Word of God and not the opinions and ideas of men. And it is the Word of God which teaches us the promise of the gospel which gives us freedom.

Christ also teaches us today through his Word as it is preached. As we sit under the preaching each Sunday (our day of freedom!), we can hear God’s Word preached and taught with certainty. While there may be certain minor aspects of a text that the minister may be unsure about, there is never any doubt about the main message of God’s Word as it’s preached. After all, we preach Christ. Pastors preach Christ and him crucified and do that with certainty and conviction. We need appeal only to the authority of God’s Word. So through the preaching, the authoritative voice of Christ is still heard. Does that amaze you? The Second Helvetic Confession, one of the Reformation confessions, says that the “Preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.” That’s an amazing statement and it accurately represents what the Bible teaches about preaching. Romans 10:17 is part of a well-known passage that speaks about preaching and says that the message is heard through “the word of Christ.” “Word of Christ” – that can mean the word that speaks about Christ, but it can also mean the word that belongs to Christ. Christ still speaks with authority from the pulpit. He still brings God’s people the promise of the gospel which gives freedom.

Let’s now move on in our text and we come to verse 23. Once again, we need to pay attention to the details. The Holy Spirit tells us here that there was a man in their synagogue. We just need to stop there. What kind of men would you find in a Jewish synagogue? Jewish men, obviously. This man was not some Gentile off the street. This was a man who had been circumcised on the 8th day. He had been raised a Jew. Like us, he was a member of the covenant, a child of God, a recipient of God’s promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Like us, this man had been promised freedom in the one who would crush the head of the serpent.

But for now the serpent had his evil grip on this man. We’re told that he was possessed by an evil spirit. This child of God had been made a slave of the serpent. He said and did things that no normal child of God would do. He was under the thumb of the evil one. What a terrible state to be in! We’re not told how long he’d been like this, nor does it really matter. Even if it had been for merely a day, being in this kind of slavery to an evil spirit is ugly.

The evil spirit took control of this man’s mouth and used it to communicate with Christ. Most Bible translations leave out the first word that’s spoken. It’s sort of an exclamation and we could translate it something like “Ha!” It’s an exclamation of surprise or enormous displeasure. The demon didn’t sound happy to see Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum on that Sabbath.

He goes on to cry 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!” The first question we could ask here is: why does he speak about “us”? Well, that refers to the forces of evil. Demons are part of a larger force – we know that Satan also has angels that follow him. The demon here is afraid of Jesus and what his teaching represents for him and his allies – remember Christ was bringing the good news of freedom! The demon indicates that he knows who he’s up against – the Holy One of God. The people are still trying to sort through who he is, but this evil spirit knows and he says it out loud. He knows that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the one sent to crush the head of his master.

Why does he say it? By having one of the first acknowledgements of Christ’s identity come from a demon, the stage is being set for what happens later in Mark when the Jewish leaders claim that Jesus is on Satan’s side. The evil one wants people to believe that this is the Messiah – everyone knows that the evil one is the father of lies, therefore this cannot be the true Messiah. Sort of a reverse psychology. So when we read these words, we need to remember that Satan is very cunning and deceitful. He’ll even use the truth to advance his agenda of destruction and ultimately, deceit. By having a demon proclaim the truth about Jesus, the game seems to be rigged for Jesus’ defeat.

However, we must also keep in mind what Martin Luther once said: “Even the devil is God’s devil.” Satan believed he was gaining the upper hand on Jesus by having this demon proclaim the truth about him. But even the devil is God’s devil. That’s to say that the devil is in God’s hand and under God’s sovereignty. God would use even the cunning of Satan to advance his agenda of freedom for the captives! Because Christ’s redemptive work could only progress with the opposition of the Jewish leaders. Part of his humiliation, what led to his death on a cross, was this strategy of Satan in having a demon proclaim him as the promised Messiah. So, in a sense we can say that God put the gospel in the mouth of this demon. The devil said “check,” but God said “checkmate.” That thought should strike us with awe and send us to our knees. What a God we worship!

The demon is allowed to say this much and then no more. Christ rebukes him and tells him to be quiet. Christ doesn’t want any more such testimony from this demon. He not only shuts him up, but also does something remarkable for the child of God in whom this demon was living. He frees him. He exorcizes this demon. He doesn’t do it with some elaborate ceremony or ritual, but simply with his words: “Come out of him!” Note again that the devil is God’s devil. This demon has no choice but to obey. And so he does come out of the man. The man was shook violently and there was a loud shriek and the demon went away.

On that Sabbath day at the synagogue in Capernaum, a covenant child of God was freed by Jesus the Messiah. Brothers and sisters, stand in awe of your Saviour! He has the power to speak and demons must obey him. He comes to bring freedom and life to those who have been robbed of it, whether by Satan, the world, or their own sinful flesh. He is our Saviour!

That child of God had been held captive by an evil spirit. That thought makes us ask all kinds of questions about the presence of evil spirits and demons today and whether, for instance, children of God today can be possessed by demons. Here I have to say that I don’t have the answers. Maybe someday I will, but right now I don’t. I can only preach to you what we can know for certain. We can know for certain that our Saviour has definitively crushed the head of the serpent. He did that on the cross. We can know for certain what we read in Revelation 20. From there and elsewhere in Scripture, we can know for certain that Satan is on God’s chain. He can do nothing apart from God’s sovereignty. We can know for certain that God’s sovereignty is exercised in love for us. We can know for certain what we read in Romans 8:38, that neither angels nor demons can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Those are things that we can know for certain. When there are uncertainties, we interpret them in the light of what we know for sure. We have to cling to what we know for sure. And above all, we cling to Christ the liberator.

Verse 27 tells us that the people were amazed at what happened. They were amazed at his teaching and what he did with this demon. You could say they were amazed at what he taught the demon – namely, he taught him that the demon is subject to him. Christ is the one who has authority. When he speaks to the evil spirits, they must unfailingly obey. Never before had the people of Israel seen a teacher like this! It’s no wonder that his reputation quickly spread far and wide throughout Galilee.

Note that their amazement and his reputation does not necessarily translate into belief. You don’t have to look much further ahead than chapter 2 to find that it didn’t take long for stiff opposition to begin against Christ. The man who’d had the demon was obviously under Satan’s grip – the rest of the people were also under his spell, though it was much more subtle. This was the defining time in the history of the world and the battle was well underway. Satan was going to do everything he possibly could to destroy the work of the Redeemer. He would use every strategy in his playbook, subtle and not-so-subtle. But in the end, nothing can stop God and his anointed one.

This gives us hope for today and the future. It’s true that God’s redemptive plans for the freedom of his people have not yet been entirely fulfilled in history. They are not fulfilled with you personally – he is still bringing you forward and making the freedom you have in Christ a reality every day in your sanctification. Nothing will stop him from doing this for you! God’s redemptive plans are also not fulfilled on the larger scale of all his people. He is still bringing them collectively forward, bringing more people to freedom in Christ, bringing more people out of the kingdom of darkness and into his marvellous light. Nothing will stop him from doing this for his chosen ones. Our text and indeed the whole Bible is a testimony to God’s power in the past. And his power in the past, combined with his unchangeable character and his promise for the future, gives us reason for hope. Finally, at the end of the age, we will receive what has been promised. We will receive the final Sabbath rest, our glorious eternal freedom from sin and death – all those wonderful blessings that Christ has won for us.

Our text puts Christ the liberator squarely before our eyes! Why? So that we would entrust ourselves more and more to him. So that we would praise him more and more and live for him in thankfulness and love. So that we would eagerly wait for the day when the Man of God’s own choosing will win the final battle and we will be free forever. Even so, Maranatha, come Lord Jesus. AMEN.

For Further Reflection and Discussion

[this can be inserted into your liturgy sheet or church bulletin]

1. Is it significant (also for us today) that the events in our text took placeon the Sabbath? If not, why not? If so, how?
2. What was the background of the man who was possessed and why is this important?
3. How did the Jewish scribes and rabbis teach? How was Jesus' teaching different? Does he still teach the same way today?
4. Why did we read Revelation 20? What comfort do we receive from that passage?
5. Is demon-possession something that still occurs today? Could it still occur among God's people? Whatever your answer may be, how does this passage speak to it?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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