The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany January 29, 2017
Text: Mark 1:21-28 revised 3-year series B 17:1990
Theme: When Man Fails, Christ Prevails.
Quite often it’s much easier to know what to do than it is to actually do it.
The other night I was making supper. I was stir frying meat and vegetables. Everything was just about ready. All I needed was to add the sauce. It came in a glass jar. Easy, right? Just open the jar, pour it in, and voila – finished. Supper would be ready. But when I tried to open the jar I couldn’t get the lid off. I knew what had to be done – simply twist the lid. But my ability fell short. I suppose that I could have broken the jar, but who wants shards of glass in their food? Fortunately, we had a jar opener that helped me get it off. Often, it’s easier to know what to do than it is to actually do it.
Don’t you often find that to be true in your life of faith, too? As Christians it’s not that we don’t know what we are to do. It’s right here in God’s Word. God tells us how to live our lives and conduct them to His glory and the welfare of His kingdom. We know what to do, but the doing of it falls short. We fail. What do you do when human strength falls short and we fail?
I. He speaks with divine authority to soothe our hearts.
You know, it’s been that way from the beginning; spiritually man fails on his own. He fails to meet the requirements of God, even though he knows what to do.
Think of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They knew what to do; God’s requirement was laid out clearly. He told them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the Garden. In the day that they did, they would die. Clear and simple! Adam and Eve knew what to do. Did they do it?
Perhaps they thought in themselves that they could do it. But they didn’t count on Satan’s temptations. He convinced them and they let their eyes grow big with desire to know things that God knew. Their resolve weakened; man’s strength failed. Love for God was replaced with a lust for things not given them.
Think of it. Even at the time of creation when man was perfect, made in the image of God, he failed. It’s been that way ever since.
So it is that Christ entered our world to do what we couldn’t. Thank God! For when man fails, Christ prevails. And here He came in our text to begin doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. It happened at the very start of His earthly ministry as He grabbed peoples’ attention to see who He was and to understand what He could do for them.
When the Sabbath Day came, he went into the synagogue in Capernaum to teach. We’re not told what He said, but Mark shares with us the effect His teaching had on the people. They were amazed, held spell-bound by His words, for He spoke with divine authority and they felt it in their hearts.
I wonder what that was like. Could you imagine what it would be like coming to church today and seeing none other than the Lord Jesus standing here? That would be awesome. But I don’t think it would be so much the sight that would grab your attention as much as His preaching. The Son of God who knows all things and has the ability to do all things would be speaking to you. What a difference that would be! Authority, divine authority in speaking caught peoples’ attention.
Israel’s teachers fell short of that. They were all about “human traditions and rules taught by men” (7:7f). Their teaching left souls empty – laws, customs, traditions, ceremonies, derived from the teachings they received from their forefathers. But Christ spoke the words of God, divinely authorized in heaven. He spoke with divine authority to soothe their hearts.
We call that “authority” the Gospel. It’s the message that what we could not buy, earn, or obtain on our own, God gives as through Christ. That Gospel soothes our spirits when disobedience saddens us. It comforts our souls when sin frightens us. It floods darkened hearts with heaven’s peace when Satan accuses us. That’s the message they heard, and it had a noticeable effect. They were amazed in Jesus’ presence. Wow, what that must have been like!
You, too, hear Him in the Gospel. When you hear the Bible say, “Your sins are forgiven,” (Mt.9:6) it is true for Christ speaks with divine authority to all who look to Him in faith. When you hear, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Ac.16:31), it is true for Christ speaks with divine authority and accomplished it when He died on the cross. When He says, “My God will provide all your needs according to His glorious riches” (Phlp.4:19), it is true for Christ speaks with divine authority to promise it. Whenever the Gospel is faithfully proclaimed, you hear the Lord Jesus speaking. And what a treat it is to hear!
Man’s strength and words may fail, but Christ prevails as He speaks with divine authority to soothe our hearts.
II. He acts with divine authority to free our souls.
But Satan seeks to rob us of the comfort that flows from Jesus’ words. He seeks to confuse and cause us once more to fall. It’s what he tried to do next in our text.
In the middle of this euphoria that gripped the people at Jesus’ teaching, a man possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”
It’s not surprising that the devil took hold of this man at that very moment. Jesus was in the middle of His teaching which for the first time had brought wonderful hope to people who felt lost in sin. Isn’t that just like Satan, trying to destroy what is good? Remember how he destroyed Adam and Eve with doubt about God’s goodness? The same is true here. When good had finally come to help the people where they fell short of God, the devil tried to undermine it and take it away again. But Christ would not allow it for He came to save us by destroying the works of the devil (1Jn.3:8). With a word of rebuke and a show of authority, he drove out the devil. Jesus acted with divine authority to free a man’s soul.
Words were good; but Jesus did more. He acted on man’s behalf. He did that in the greatest way possible when He took our place on the cross to overcome sin, death, and the power of the devil in us. No man could redeem us and bring us back to God. But Christ, as true God, could. Even the devils recognize Him to be the Holy One of God with power and say so. But they refuse to believe in Him so Jesus silences them even as He did here. But He muzzled them even more when He later died on the cross to save us. Christ acted with divine power to free our souls.
He spoke and He acted when man’s abilities failed. He is in control and our hope rests in Him.
So it is that the less our hope is fixed on us and the more firmly it is fixed on Christ, the more immoveable He makes us. There is no greater authority than His. He will not leave you without help; He will not depart without His kindness resting on you. God grant us the comfort this epiphany truth gives, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.