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A Demon Goes to Church! (Mark 1. 21-28)

02 Feb

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Photo by jdurham on Morgue File.

The next pericope we come to in Mark’s gospel is the healing of a man with an unclean spirit (i.e. demon). It is, in our vernacular, an exorcism. It is quite an enlightening passage. I preached from this text a couple of weeks ago. Here is the encounter as recorded for us by Mark:

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. (Mk. 1.21-28)

This is a fascinating pericope to me. First, let us set the context for this encounter. The geographical context for the event is the Galilean town of Capernaum. Capernaum plays a rather significant role in the life and ministry of Christ. Capernaum was located on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was located several miles (approximately 30-40 miles) northeast of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Capernaum became a second-home for Jesus and something of an outpost for his ministry.

The literary context of the pericope, as we have mentioned in the previous posts, is the demonstration of Jesus’ authority. In fact, in this passage, Mark will speak directly to his authority more than once.

The immediate context is the Sabbath. Jesus had returned to Capernaum and on the Sabbath, as any good Jewish man would do, he went to the synagogue there. Jesus, as was his custom, went into the synagogue and began teaching. Wouldn’t it have been amazing to have sat and listened to Jesus teach?!

Mark explicitly states that those who heard Jesus teach were astonished at his teaching. In a word of commentary, a word I’m sure the scribes of the day would have found offensive, was that Jesus taught them with authority, not like the scribes. (A similar statement is made in Matthew’s gospel, after the Sermon on the Mount, Mt. 7.28-29.)

A question here worth considering is what made Jesus’ teaching so different from the scribes? After all, the scribes were experts on the Hebrew Bible. They studied it, memorized it and meditated on it constantly. They were the leading experts of their day. They were the divines, the PhD’s of theology, the professors who were well-respected and admired for their knowledge, wisdom and insight of the scriptures. Yet, the people react to Jesus with astonishment and amazement. To put it in our own vernacular, they were floored!

Here was a man who taught the Hebrew scriptures, not only with great knowledge and familiarity (something the scribes would have had as well) but with authority. He taught with a commanding presence. When the people heard him teach, they were moved by the power of his teaching. Again, to our original question, why did Jesus have such authority? What set him apart in this regard from the well-qualified and able scribes? We will leave that as food for thought!

Now, Mark throws us a curve ball. So far, nothing too extraordinary has happened. Jesus is in Capernaum, check. Jesus goes to the synagogue on Sabbath, check. Jesus taught the people in the synagogue, check. The people are moved by the authority of his teaching, check. And then, the curve ball is thrown, causing our knees to buckle.

There, in the synagogue that day, was a man who was possessed by an unclean spirit: a demon. To put it in our day and time: on Sunday morning at 11:00 AM, in the morning worship service at the local Baptist church, a man sits on the fifth pew, on the right side, damper and well-behaved and possessed by a demon!

Now, I have given this a good bit of thought. I have thought, if I were a demon, what would I do in this circumstance? Yes, I know it is a rather odd train of thought to go down, but I have done it nonetheless. I think I would have nudged the man I was possessing (or however it would work) and make him hit the door for the bathroom. In other words, I would have (literally I suppose!) gotten the devil out of Dodge! Or, to be more accurate, gotten the devil out of the synagogue!

Out of all the options I have thought about, the one I would not do, under any circumstance (again, if I were the demon in question) would bring undue (i.e. any!) attention to myself in the presence of Jesus!

I would have been as quiet and well-mannered as a church mouse (or is it a synagogue mouse?!). I would be thinking, to paraphrase a classic movie: of all the synagogues in the all the towns, in all the world, he walks into mine!

But, that is not what this demon does. Maybe he was compelled to speak by Jesus’ presence or, perhaps, he/it just wasn’t very bright! Instead of being quiet and praying (okay, maybe that’s not the right word!) not to be noticed, he speaks out, directly to Jesus!

I cannot envision any scenario, under any circumstance where this could possibly go well for this demon!

Mark tells us, and he cried out. The he here is not the man so much, but rather the demon. The demon cried out, through the man, and addressed Jesus directly. And, I must give props here, he spoke some pretty good theology!

There is some debate about what the demon was trying to do here; but, for our purposes, it is interesting to note the demon gets it right! Jesus, by his authority, had the power to destroy any and all demons. He was and is the Holy One of God.

Jesus was not in the mood to exchange words with a demon. Jesus quickly rebuked the demon and commanded him to come out of the man. After a few inconsequential theatrics, the demon obeys and is exorcised from the man.

Again, the people’s response is the same as it was in the beginning of the pericope: they were amazed by Jesus’ authority.

There seems to be a chiastic structure to this pericope, as I demonstrate below:

A. Geographical Location: Capernaum (v.21)

B. Crowd Amazed by Jesus: His Teaching (v.22)

C. The Action of the Demon (vv.23-24)

D. Jesus’ Authority Demonstrated: Exorcised Demon (v.25)

C¹. The Action of the Demon (v.26)

B¹. Crowd Amazed by Jesus: His Command Over the Demon (v.27)

A¹. Geographical Location: Region of Galilee (v.28)

As the chiastic structure shows, the authority of Christ over demonic forces is at the center of the pericope. It is the whole point, demonstrating yet another dimension of Jesus’ authority. We have discussed in some detail in previous posts the authority of Jesus, as Mark has presented it to us in the early verses of chapter one. Here Mark adds another dimension: demonic powers.

The response of those who observed this healing is similar to the disciples’ response to Jesus calming the storm (Mk. 4.41). Mark is steadily painting the picture that there is nothing outside of Jesus’ authority. This is a truth picked up in the epistles in the NT.

Lessons Gleaned from this Pericope:

  1. You never know who may be sitting beside you in church on Sunday morning! While tongue-in-cheek, this is a truth. As you read the gospel accounts (and much of the rest of the NT) it is amazing how many demonic forces are encountered and vanquished. Yet, in our modern times it seems demons are a thing of folklore. I wonder what the answer is to this?
  2. Jesus’ authority has no bounds. He is sovereign over all things. There is nothing, not even demonic powers, that lie outside of his sovereignty and authority. This is a great comfort to believers. There is nothing we face in life that falls outside of his sovereignty. While this often times can lead to questions, especially questions of theodicy, the truth remains.
  3. When was the last time we were amazed by Jesus? When was the last time we sat in awe of his authority? His power? His passion? Have we become too familiar with him? Have we become dulled to his greatness?
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