Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Jesus ordered the spirit, "Be quiet, and come out of the man!" The evil spirit shook the man hard, gave a loud scream, and came out of him. The people were all so amazed that they started saying to one another, "What is this? Is it some kind of new teaching? This man has authority to give orders to the evil spirits, and they obey him!"
There have been numerous studies done and books written on the differences between men and women and as you read these you can’t help but chuckle as you see how these differences play out in real life. Research has shown that women speak about 6,000-8,000 words a day and men about 2,000-4,000. Of course that’s a generalisation but there seems to be some validity in this and it shows at the end of the day. When a man comes home from work, he’s uttered his 2,000-4,000 words for the day but depending on what his wife has been doing during the day she has still a lot to go and the rest you know from experience.
Words are such an important part of life. We are flooded with words - words from the radio, from the TV, from the phone, from fellow workers, from sales people, from neighbours, from noisy children. We are surrounded by words on paper, on the screens of computers and mobile phones, on billboards, pinup boards, signposts and screens.
We are so bombarded with words some days that we try to muzzle the sender of those words. “Turn that TV off!” “Stop talking for a while and let’s have some peace and quiet!” Children complain, “Stop talking, mum, and let’s go home”.
You think about it. There aren't too many of our waking hours when we aren't surrounded by words. So after an entire week of words, we are exhausted. What is more, the words we hear tell us about drownings, ships sinking, death, grief, suffering, natural disasters, fear, threats and people behaving badly. We long for peace and quiet. Then we come here into this church to be bombarded with more words. We even celebrate the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. And today we focus our attention on the words Jesus used to fight a battle as he engaged the power of evil.
So at the end of a long week, after hearing nearly 700,000 words from others and the media, you and I gather to hear the words of Jesus Christ. His words speak to our battered ears, battered minds, and battered lives. His words speak calmly and directly, equipping and encouraging us for another week of noisy living.
This year our Gospel readings mostly come from the Gospel of Mark. Mark especially emphasises Jesus’ battle with evil. There are instances of Jesus casting out evil spirits and driving out demons. And the weapon Jesus uses in his battle against evil is his word. He unleashes his word whenever the forces of evil attempt to sabotage the health and wholeness that God intends for us. One such victim of evil's sabotage was a man with a tormented mind. Our text says he was a man with an evil spirit.
The scene of this
battle between Jesus and evil was in a synagogue.
The time was a quiet Sabbath.
The place was a sleepy town tucked away on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus had been teaching in the synagogue in words that were straight and direct and loaded with power. Those who listened were amazed because it seemed as if God was talking directly to them through this man’s words.
As they were listening intently, all quiet as the teacher spoke to them, a wild man, tormented by an evil spirit, burst into the synagogue and screamed at the top of his voice, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? I know who you are – you are God's holy messenger. Have you come to destroy us?”
Jesus’ words and actions in reply were a resounding “Yes!” He was ready to do battle with evil. With authority Jesus spoke the words, “Be quiet! Come out of the man!”
And with a shrill agonizing cry the evil spirit came out of the man, shaking him violently. This loud scream must have reverberated throughout the synagogue, and the worshippers must have cowered in fear at the sight and the sound such was the intensity of the struggle between Jesus and evil. The shriek was an indication of the magnitude of the victory that Jesus had that day over evil.
The Gospel writer highlights that with just his word – God's Word – he has power and authority over evil in this world. The forces of evil seek to cripple, distort and destroy human life and yet a simple word from Jesus can command this evil, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” Martin Luther said it well in the Reformation battle hymn, “One little word can fell him”. One word from God can cause the downfall of the Evil One.
In that startling moment in the synagogue those people present began to realise that Jesus was announcing in the clearest possible way that he has authority over evil in this world. They marvelled at how Jesus gave an order to evil spirits and they obeyed him. Jesus is the conqueror over all evil that paralyzes human life and makes us less than what God has created us to be.
This event is sometimes passed over as unimportant for us in these times or irrelevant. But you and I need to hear this incident preserved for us by Mark again and again. That is why we gather here after a week of depressing and defeating words to hear still more words. The difference is that these words we are hearing are the words of power, words of hope, words of authority and words of a loving Saviour.
They are the words of Jesus Christ. We gather here on a Sunday to hear the words of a Saviour who frees us from the power of all evil that tries to overwhelm us. I say this with the strongest emphasis I can give - the words of Christ are as powerful today against evil as they were that day in the synagogue. Whenever evil seeks to distort and destroy our lives, the words of Christ have power to free us.
So when evil
whispers in your ear,
“It’s no use, you can’t do it, give up!” we turn to the words of Scripture, and there we hear the words of St Paul thunder in our ears, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”(Phil 4:13).
When evil whispers
“You’re alone, there’s no one who cares for you, and no one who will stand by you”, Christ's word assures us, “I will be with you always, to the end of the age” (Mathew 28:20).
When evil whispers
“You’re a failure, no one can possibly love a person like you”, the word of the Lord empowers us to carry on. “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20), we are told. “The mountains and hills may crumble, but my love for you will never end” (Isaiah 54:10).
When evil whispers
“There is no hope and no help or comfort in the face of sickness and grief, a word comes from Christ,
“I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and they know me.” “I will never forget you! I have written your name on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15).
When evil whispers in your ear,
“You’re going to die and that will be end of you" and terror strikes your heart, Jesus comes with a word,
“Don’t worried and upset. Trust me. I have gone to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-4). “All those who live and believe in me will never die” (John 11:26).
When evil whispers
in your ear,
“Why bother with the church. I don’t need them; they don’t need me.”
Jesus says with authority, “If anyone wants to come with me, he must forget himself, take up his cross every day, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). In other words, being a disciple is not easy; it’s not about being comfortable, but about giving myself for the sake of everyone else just like Jesus. Opting out was a choice Jesus considered but in the end was not an option.
When evil whispers
in your ear,
“There is no point in praying, don’t waste your time. You have better things to do”. The word of the Lord comes to us with authority, “When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I will listen” (Jer 29:12).
When Jesus spoke that day in the synagogue demons fled. When words from God are spoken with power and authority into the everyday circumstances of our lives things happen – sins are forgiven, strength is given to resist temptation, comfort and assurance are given in times of grief, hope and patience and strength are given to see our way through an illness or accident. When Jesus speaks, things happen.
I'm sure you say in your prayers as I do in mine, “Lord, there are dangers and doubts and troubles that surround me. I wonder if I will ever survive them all.” Whether we are pastors, teachers, executives, or tradies we all face times when we wonder whether the problems in our lives are more than we can bear. We aren't sure if we have the strength or the will to carry on. Where do we turn? What do we do?
We ask as King Zedekiah asked Jeremiah, “Is there any word from the Lord” (Jer 37:17) for our situation.
And God's answer to that cry is a resounding “Yes!” There is a word. Jesus Christ is the word that comes into our lives and defeats the powers of darkness that distort our lives. He can turn back the tide of evil that comes against us.
So when trouble comes into our lives, and we reach the point when we don't know where to turn, or how we will survive this crisis, we cling to the strong word of Christ. It has power and authority. It supports and holds us up through the worst situations. Listen with a renewed freshness to the powerful words of Jesus and like the people in the synagogue, we too will be amazed.
© Pastor Vince
29th January 2012