January 21, 2018
We’re moving on today in the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Most scholars believe this was the first of the Gospels to be written, and that Mark was likely a colleague of Peter.
Remember also that each of the Gospel writers had their particular reason for writing. Matthew, for example, was written to a Jewish audience, attempting to prove that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in their scriptures. There are many Old Testament references in his book.
Mark was written to be seen as an eye-witness account. It’s almost like somebody was writing a “news story” about Jesus. He gives a lot of little details the others do not. And Mark’s purpose for writing is to show that Jesus is the Son of God. And we’ll get a sense of that in our story for today.
So, at this point in Mark, Jesus has begun his public ministry. He has been baptized by John in the Jordan. And he has chosen some of his disciples by the Sea of Galilee.
Now his little “entourage” enters the city of Capernaum. If you look on one of those maps in the back of your Bible, you’ll find that Capernaum is on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, around 20 miles northeast of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. (Which is just north of Easton, I believe!)
Just to put that into context, many scholars believe that Capernaum became Jesus’ base of operations, his “adopted home town.” We know he spend a lot of time there over the three years of his ministry!
This then, is an account of the first time he went to the synagogue in Capernaum, and actually taught the people. I don’t think there’s any reason to think he didn’t go there before. But this is the time he first took on his newly established role as a rabbi! Do you remember that? We talked about that last week. We can’t forget that Jesus was seen as a rabbi. Many of the things he did and said in the Gospels were very rabbinical in nature. Teaching in the synagogue was one of them. The word “rabbi” is almost synonymous with the word “teacher.” Those words were often used interchangeably in the Gospels.
So here we have Jesus on his first “teaching gig.” And he really starts things off with a bang! The first thing we read about is the reaction of the people. It says, “They were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one with authority, and not as the scribes.” Now, I believe that meant more than just the fact that he taught with the “authority of” a rabbi. (Remember that whole “Jesus the rabbi” thing!) This was about him having some kind of special, spiritual authority. It was something that was not only noticeable, but astonishing! I kind of wish we had some of his words here! Maybe we’d get more of a sense of that. But that’s what I believe.
Well, the other thing that happens here puts an exclamation point on this story! Jesus encounters this man with an “unclean spirit.” He is a man who’s possessed by a demon of some kind. And under that influence, the man cries out to Jesus. And I want you to hear these words again. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? We know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
I’ve mentioned before, that throughout the Gospel of Mark, the identity of Jesus as Messiah, was not revealed all at once. There was a certain “timing” Jesus was concerned about, in revealing who he was. Some scholars have referred to that as “The Messianic secret” of Mark’s Gospel. Think about it, when people discovered who he was, Jesus often told them to “say nothing about it.” And of course, what did they do? They went out and told everybody! But in all of that sense of timing, there is one group that always knew the identity of Jesus as the Messiah, and that was the demons! Being part of the spiritual realm, they always knew Jesus was the Son of God! We see that here for the first time.
So Jesus commands this demon to come out of the man. And one of the things we see here is that Jesus always has the “authority” – the power – over the spiritual realm! And that wasn’t lost on those people, either! The demon leaves the man and the people are even more astonished! “What is this?” they asked, “With authority, he commands event the unclean spirits, and they obey him!” There’s that word again – authority! This shows his authority even more!
So then, as Mark tells us, “At once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” It was crazy! People were tweeting about him. They were posting comments on FaceBook. They were sending pictures on their smartphones… Ok maybe they weren’t. But they would have, wouldn’t they?! It is hard to imagine how we spread information before we had all the latest things like that. But they did. Mark says his fame spread “at once!” And Jesus’ ministry began to grow, and it soon was bigger than we might even picture it!
So then, this is a great story, but what does it mean to us? Well, I think one of the biggest things it does for us is this. Like the story of God’s voice being heard at his baptism, we can know through this story, that Jesus is who he said he is. He is the Son of God, as Mark is trying to tell us! That’s so important! That’s what makes us Christians! We are followers of the Christ – the Messiah. And that Messiah is Jesus. We say “Jesus Christ” as though “Christ” is his last name. It’s not! “Christ” is his title. Technically, we should say “Jesus the Christ.”
So, like renewing our baptismal vows – our commitment to Jesus – here at the beginning of the year, we can also renew our faith that he is the Messiah. Because, we doubt that sometime, don’t we? Certainly there are many people in our world who call that into question. There are many who deny the “deity” of Jesus – that he is God. But we doubt that on our own sometimes. We all do. We sometimes doubt that God even exists, or that Jesus is his son.
So then, it’s good to read these stories! It’s good to see how the people were astonished by the teaching of this new rabbi! There was something about him! He spoke with an authority they had never heard before. He demonstrated the authority he had in the spiritual realm. This story shows us all of that! And so may we renew our faith in Jesus, again, as we start a new year. May we look forward to the year ahead, knowing that we follow Jesus, the Messiah. May we know, indeed, that he is who he said he is!
Eternal God, we thank you that you have come here yourself to live among us, to know of our joys and our sorrows, to support us in all of the difficult times of our lives. Help us to know that you walk beside us every day, and that through your Son, we can know your grace and peace. Help us to grow in the certainty of all these things this coming year. For we pray in our Messiah’s name, Amen.