Sermon for Septuagesima Sunday, January 28th, 2018
The Lessons: Ps. 111; Deut. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
The Text: Mark 1:21-28
Topic: The Lord Jesus Christ uproots the evil within.
What impressed the congregation of the synagogue at Capernaum when Jesus first taught there on the Sabbath day was that he taught with authority, unlike the scribes. For the scribes were interpreters of the Torah, the Pentateuch, and they explained the meaning of the Law for the people and added many rules which were intended as applications of the Jewish Law to every part of life. They never spoke on their own authority, but quoted the opinions of the legal experts on many matters, just as Bible commentators today refer to other commentaries and scholars. But when Jesus taught and expounded God’s word he spoke with authority, like the prophets of old. But more amazing to the people than this was the fact that Jesus Christ has authority over the demon spirits, so that they are compelled to obey him, and come out of those whom they are oppressing.
If the crowds were amazed at Jesus Christ’s authority over demons, what authority did the scribes and Pharisees have? Exorcism, or the casting out of demons, was known in Jesus’ day, but demons did not normally reveal their presence when the scribes were teaching, since they did not come face to face with any significant spiritual authority. However, the demons could not stand to be in the presence of the Son of God, since He is the only one who can punish demons everlastingly by sending to hell. Observe carefully what the man oppressed by a demon says to Jesus in the synagogue:
Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.
(Mark 1:24, KJV)
The demons are compelled to acknowledge Jesus for who he is – not only Jesus of Nazareth, but the Holy One of God, “the Holy One of God” being a term for the Son of God. The question “Art thou come to destroy us?” shows their extreme fear of God’s eternal power over them. Perhaps they planned to stir up trouble and rejection of Jesus by making the statement that Jesus is the Holy One of God. To prevent such trouble from arising at that point, Jesus commands the demon to be silent and to come out of the man. After convulsing him, the demon comes out, to the amazement of the people.
THE RELEVANCE OF THIS INCIDENT
The Revised Common Lectionary’s choice of this reading for a Sunday Gospel lesson fits the theme of Epiphany, that is, God’s revelation through His Son Jesus, and it demonstrates God’s power over demons and every form of evil. It is also a significant lesson for Septuagesima Sunday, the beginning of the pre-Lenten season, when we begin to focus on our spiritual warfare against the sin and evil in ourselves and in the world.
Some people maintain that demons belong to a pre-Christian primitive world, and that they do not exist today. But if that were true, Christians would not have been called to wage spiritual warfare against them in Ephesians 6:10-20, nor would our Lord have had to face the temptations of Satan himself. Besides that, the prevalence of so many forms of evil in so-called civilized society today is surely testimony to their existence and malevolent activity. Belief that demons exist and are active does not negate the role of psychiatric care and treatment. Nor does such a belief excuse any of us from moral responsibility for our own sins. Rather, we must all the more readily confess before God the sins of which we are guilty, that none of them may take such hold of us that a demon gains the right to oppress us. It is easy enough even for non-Christians to believe in angels, but when it comes to demons, many conveniently dismiss them as irrelevant and meaningless in a scientific world. Yet the atrocities committed by dictators such as Hitler, Stalin and Lenin, as well as genocide campaigns in various parts of the world, demonstrate both the depravity of sinful man and the power of demons to motivate leaders and nations to commit monstrous acts against mankind.
COME TO JESUS
The very thing that neither Satan nor his demons want to do is to come into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. For this reason, we must make every effort to spend time in the presence of the Lord, for Satan will try his utmost to dissuade us from doing this. Therefore, we must be diligent and persistent in prayer, praise, intercession and petition, and so draw close to the Lord. For it is in the Lord’s presence that we are cleansed and healed of sin and every oppressive evil power, since the Lord intends to sanctify each one of us wholly.
Here is how one soldier’s singing of a hymn literally saved him from death:
Ira Sankey was traveling on a steamer in the Delaware River when he was recognized by some passengers who had seen his picture in the newspaper and knew he was associated with evangelist D. L. Moody. When they asked him to sing one of his own compositions, Sankey said he preferred the hymn by William Bradbury, “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.”
He suggested that everyone join in the singing. One of the stanzas begins, “We are thine, do thou befriend us; be the guardian of our way.”
When he finished, a man stepped out of the shadows and asked, “Were you in the army, Mr. Sankey?”
“Yes, I joined up in 1860.”
“Did you do guard duty at night in Maryland, about 1862?”
“Yes, I did.”
“I was in the Confederate Army,” said the stranger. “I saw you one night at Sharpsburg. I had you in my gun sight as you stood in the light of the full moon. Then just as I was about to pull the trigger, you began to sing. It was the same hymn you sang tonight. I couldn’t shoot you.”
— Kenneth R. Hendren, “In the Gun Sights, Men of Integrity (April 17, 2001)
Knowing no demon can endure the presence of God, the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, let us make every effort daily to abide in his presence by our love and obedience, and by prayer, praise, and Bible reading, so that we may find healing and deliverance from all evil!