January 31, 2021 – “Astonishing”
Our New Testament lesson today is a story from very early in Jesus’ ministry.
It was soon after His baptism by John in the Jordan River.
Jesus had made a fishing village on the northern shore of Lake Galilee His base of operation. It was there in Capernaum, while He was teaching on a Sabbath that the people were highly impressed with the way He made the Scriptures come alive.
Everything in Mark’s Gospel happens quickly, so during the lesson a man passed with an evil spirit interrupted Jesus. But Jesus exhibited his mastery over the spirit right there on the spot.
Whether or not we accept that evil spirits like those that Hollywood makes movies of exist…I imagine we all would agree that evil exists in the world.
However, we worship a power and presence that is greater than all the brokenness around us and within us. Today, we will celebrate all that is possible in Christ.
Come and worship this day. Bring with you all your joys and sorrows.
Jesus will offer us hope.
Come and worship this day believing in the power of God through Jesus Christ.
Jesus will bring us healing.
Come and worship this day feeling the presence of God.
Jesus will teach us new ways to live.
In our Scripture lesson two weeks ago, the question Nathaniel asked Philip was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
The correct answer, of course is; “Yes! Something wonderful came from Nazareth…His name is Jesus.”
We used Nathaniel’s question to ask of ourselves, “Can anything good come out of West Tulsa?” And again the correct answer is, “Yes! Something very good can come from here.”
The reason that is true is because while we may think that we are among the “ordinary” in the world, and although we might think we are called to nothing more than mediocrity. The real truth is: God considers us a “work in progress.”
We have been in God’s perpetual care and have been living out God’s plan for us, for our whole lives!
The Good News we found in that week’s message is that we are better than we think we are, and better than we deserve to be.
Why? Because at the very bottom of God’s work in the world is the indisputable fact that we are created, made, formed, in the image of goodness itself.
That is what it means, that is how one translates being created in the image of God: It means to be created in the image of goodness itself.
We are faced with another question this week. It is the question the demon asked Jesus in the Capernaum synagogue, “What do You have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”
That question could also be our question: “What business do You have with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”
Every week during this sermon series called, “Follow Me!” we have seen that following Jesus is about our transformation. The reality is that following Jesus means that changes have to take place in our lives.
Following Jesus requires that we put our complete trust in Him. It means that as His disciples, we have to put our personal desires, goals, and wills on hold in order to replace those things with what Jesus wants to do in us and through us.
“What business do You have with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” is a question that is afraid of change. It is a question to a greater power than ourselves.
At the end of the day, it is a question of surrender, and then of transformation.
Whether it was the demon in the man in the synagogue, or it is us asking, “What business is it of yours what we do with our lives, Jesus? Have you come to destroy us?”
The question within the question is more selfish:
“Have you come to destroy our lifestyle, destroy our image of ourselves, our self-confidence, our self-dependence?”
Have you ever noticed that the demonic spirits Jesus encountered always identified themselves in the plural?
The thing is, the brokenness of the human spirit is not one, clean, single break. Our brokenness is a fracturing into hundreds of splinters. The demons that inhabit us are rightly named “Legion.”
The journey of transformation we are on isn’t easy. But, Jesus didn’t come to destroy us. He came to make us better. When we set aside the burdens that weigh us down and hold us back, when we hand over the reins of our lives to Jesus, He leads us to wholeness.
When we invite Jesus into our lives, into our hearts, there is a lot of “unclean” space that needs to be swept out. But, by the grace of Jesus, the more bad behaviors and wrong beliefs that He cleans out, the more room there is for the presence of the divine in our hearts, minds, and bodies.
“What authority do you have to do that, Jesus?”
Well, Mark’s Gospel tells us in today’s scripture, “The people were all so amazed that they debated and questioned each other, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits (demons), and they obey Him.’” (Mark 1: 27 AMP)
The demon gives us insight to where Jesus gets His authority. The unclean spirit that Jesus commanded to come out of the man said, “I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”
The worshippers in the synagogue where Jesus was teaching were amazed and astonished at the authority that Jesus taught God’s Word with, and at His authority over evil spirits.
The Greek word that Mark uses here for “authority” speaks of supernatural power and authority.
In our culture a particular seminary professor might be considered an authority of Apostle Paul’s letters. What that means is that the professor specializes in and has a high degree of knowledge of that subject.
But, “supernatural authority.” That’s authority on a much higher level.
In the first part of today’s text, Mark shows that Jesus teaches with a unique authority that is unlike and even surpasses the authority of any other Bible interpreter.
The other part of the story is an exorcism. Both parts of the story make the same point: Jesus is the only one who has God-given authority, dominion, controlling power over the highest earthly authorities, AND ALL supernatural authorities.
There is NOTHING that is NOT under the jurisdiction of Jesus Christ.
So, regardless of what we are going through, no matter what struggles or temptations we face; Jesus has divine-authority over it. As Apostle Paul testified:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor heigh, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 NRSV)
Mark wrote in verse 27 that the people “were astonished at His teaching because, unlike the scribes, He was teaching them as one having authority.”
Jesus spoke as though He knew the mind of God, because He was God. No other person could claim to know what God REALLY meant when He told us to keep the Sabbath holy, or any other commandment.
So the rabbis and scribes defined the boundaries, they taught the minimum things a person has to do to be within God’s graces.
But Jesus took the opposite approach. Instead of focusing on minimums, He focused on maximums, speaking about the God-designed reasons for the law.
As the author of God’s word, Jesus was the ONLY one who could explain its true intention. This is exactly what was going on when Jesus walked with the two travelers on the road to Emmaus. After Jesus left them they said to each other,
“Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32 HCSB)
A little story will help explain how Jesus’ teaching is different from the scribes and rabbis of His day:
One day an impatient Gentile asked Rabbi Hillel to explain the entire Torah while standing on one foot. (Keep in mind, the Torah includes the first five books of the Old Testament)
Rabbi Hillel’s response was brilliant: “Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole Torah and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”
A person could repeat the rabbi’s summary of the law while standing on one foot, right? Anyone who followed his teaching could achieve a minimum standard of conduct. They’d be safely with the boundaries of the Torah.
Put simply, he advised: “Do not do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you.”
But, 40 years later, when pretty much the same question was asked to Jesus, He answered, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
By flipping Hillel’s formula, Jesus compels us to focus on the maximum, as He points out the actual goal of following God’s will. It’s a subtle difference between the two, but it is revolutionary.
Most of us can find it in our power to avoid being hateful. But it sure can be hard to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves!
Think about how this might play out in our lives:
When there’s a snowstorm…
Rabbi Hillel says: “Shovel your sidewalk so no one will slip and hurt themselves.”
Jesus says: “Shovel your sidewalk, and then shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk too.”
When you are suffering financial difficulty:
Rabbi Hillel says: “Don’t steal.”
Rabbi Jesus says: “Look around to see who’s worse off than you and find a way to help.”
When someone annoys you:
Hillel says: “Don’t bad-mouth that person.”
Jesus says: “Find something kind to say to that person.”
If someone forces you to go one mile:
Hillel says: “Go with him.”
Jesus says: “Go with him two miles.”
As Jesus transforms us into thinking more His way than our own, we begin to see that He isn’t handing out a list of tougher rules and regulations. His goal isn’t to make us run harder and jump higher. Jesus is saying, “Don’t live by the minimum!”
Don’t say to yourself, “As long as I don’t kill anyone, I can be furious with them.”
He’s teaching us that if we really want to be a part of God’s redemptive kingdom on earth, we shouldn’t be asking what’s the least we can do; we should be asking HOW MUCH we can do to focus our aim on loving God more passionately.
This is how we expel the negative attitudes, hurts, habits, and unclean spirits within us, and within our culture.
Ask NOT the least you can do, ask what you can do for the least of these.
When we focus our aim on loving God and loving our neighbor, we are allowing Christ to exercise His supernatural authority over every part of our lives…and that is the ultimate goal of of what the Bible teaches.
Here’s how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are at work in believer’s lives:
God’s love is what frees us from the rigidity and legalism that weighs us down.
Because of Christ’s enabling grace, love becomes the main thing that is at the center of everything we do and say.
And God’s Spirit is what enables us to pattern our lives after Christ Jesus.
What does the life of a person who passionately pursues God’s love look like? It’s astonishing how many forms that can take, but here’s the story of what it looks like in one man, a Vietnamese Christian named Tong Phuc (Phu).
He is a middle age building contractor living in a country with one of the highest abortion rates on earth.
A few years ago Phu decided to buy a plot of land in which he could bury the tiny bodies of unborn children, because he felt their tragedy so deeply.
Doctors, neighbors, even his wife thought he was crazy. They asked why anyone would spend their savings to purchase a cemetery.
But Phu’s determination to honor these unborn children produced an unexpected result. When people began to hear about what he was doing, women who had undergone abortions began visiting the cemetery to pray and burn incense.
Time spent int he cemetery of unborn children became part of their healing process and a Buddhist society was exposed to the grace of Jesus Christ.
They had no way of knowing which of the 7,000 graves held their own child, but they came.
Phu spoke to the women, urging them to tell others who were considering an abortion to talk with him first. Now he and his family have sheltered several women with unwanted pregnancies.
At the point the Associated Press published the Vietnamese man’s story in 2008, 60 babies had been born and 27 of those babies had gone home with their mothers.
“I will continue to do this job until the last breathe of my life,” he says. “I will encourage my children to take over to help other people who are under-privileged after I am gone.”
You can’t manufacture the kind of passion so evident in this man’s act of compassion. It MUST be inspired by a super-natural authority.
“What business do You have with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”
Well, that’s the Good News:
Only the One who came with the God-given supernatural authority to “bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” (Luke 4:18) can compel a person to respond to a need with so much generosity as Tong Phuc (Pho) in Vietnam did.
What business does Jesus of Nazareth have to do with us?
He wants to clean up our act…He wants to set us free…He comes to us and says, “Follow me!”
Psalm 111:1-10 NRSV
Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant. He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.
Mark 1:21-28 HCSB
Then they went into Capernaum, and right away He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and began to teach. They were astonished at His teaching because, unlike the scribes, He was teaching them as one having authority. Just then a man with an unclean spirit was in their synagogue. He cried out, “What do You have to do with us, Jesus — Nazarene? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are — the Holy One of God! ” But Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet, and come out of him! ” And the unclean spirit convulsed him, shouted with a loud voice, and came out of him. Then they were all amazed, so they began to argue with one another, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” News about Him then spread throughout the entire vicinity of Galilee.