Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 August 12, 2018
“Jesus’ Absolute Authority over Evil”
We continue in our brief sermon series from Mark’s Gospel on Jesus’ absolute authority over all things. We saw last week, from Mark 1:16-20, Jesus show Himself in full authority over human will. In weeks to come, God willing, we shall see Jesus supreme over sickness (in Mark 1:29-34) and over natural phenomena (in Mark 4:35-41). Today, in Jesus’ appearance at Capernaum’s synagogue, we Jesus’ absolute authority over evil beings—and evil itself. Let us, then, give our full attention to the reading and preaching of God’s Word in this place this day.
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As we noted last week, Mark—led by the Spirit—unfolds his Gospel narrative at thriller place. Immediately Jesus did one thing, or immediately something else happened. Jesus’ appearance at Capernaum’s synagogue, similarly, occurs immediately on the Sabbath—and it appears God’s Old Testament Church gathered exactly where they should gather on the appointed—yea, commanded—day. Jesus taught that day in the synagogue, likely interpreting the Old Testament with Himself at the center as the long-promised Messiah. The congregation reacts with astonishment to nearly-overwhelming degree. He taught as One with authority—that is, He taught as one with the right and a realm to rule, and He taught without appeal to earlier rabbinic teachers. Hence, He taught not as their experts in the Law. Jesus indeed appears sui generis, or one of a kind, to the congregation—but they soon shall learn how unique Jesus is.
A latecomer arrives at worship—and an unclean spirit indwells this latecomer. The man, controlled by diabolical directive, bursts into the worship service and interrupts the usual order. Then the unclean spirit, not the man, speaks—and his speech reveal that he fears Jesus. The spirit asks, “What have You to do with us?” Implied in this question are statements such as, “Leave us alone,” and, “Don’t stop us from inflicting misery on this man.” Yet this spirit cannot keep its mouth shut—or the man’s mouth shut, if you will—and his speech lengthens.
The unclean spirit next asks, “Have You come to destroy us?” Before we deal with the question, let’s deal with the unclean spirit’s notion of us. Maybe, as in the case of the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20), there is more than one unclean spirit here infesting this poor man. Or, maybe, this unclean spirit refers to the entire demonic host generally. Now let’s look at the unclean spirit’s fear of being destroyed. At some level, the unclean spirit (or spirits) recognize Jesus’ authority to compel obedience. They also recognize His power to thwart their efforts. Also, to their great grief, they acknowledge Jesus’ decree to bring to pass their everlasting ruin and misery in hell. The question of the unclean spirit is not a question seeking a fact, for he knows the fact all too well. It is an expression of fear over what surely must come to pass. The unclean spirit then says, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” He, or they, recognize at a deep level Who Jesus is. Hence, we hear a glorious confession of Who Jesus is and an ascription of praise to His Name—and this, remarkably, from an evil spirit.
Now Jesus deals with the unclean spirit. He commands its silence, and it obeys after crying out—perhaps due to its frustration and pain. Then He commands it to exit the man, and it obeys after convulsing the man—again, perhaps due to its frustration and pain. Note the pattern: Jesus commands an evil being to act or not to act, and the evil being acts or refrains from acting according to Jesus’ command—and that without delay, without challenge, and without excuse. Now that is authority indeed.
The congregation reacts to what they saw and heard that day—to the teaching and to the exorcism. The congregants react with utter amazement, saying, “What is this?” This is akin to the reaction in Luke’s Gospel to Jesus’ healing of the paralytic, “We have seen strange things today” (Luke 5:26). The people that day respond with acknowledgement of Jesus’ authority, and then they acknowledge His power, saying, “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” The final response occurs afterward: the folks attending worship that day spread Jesus’ fame throughout all the surrounding region.
See here this day, dear Christian, the utter authority of Jesus over evil. Jesus exerts complete, unalterable authority over evil entities, evil designs, and evil deeds. At the Cross, Jesus triumphed decisively over these—even spectacularly—and, therefore He reigns over these. Jesus rules over the demonic host by setting bounds they cannot cross. He also overrules them by using their nefarious intents both for His glory and our good—just as Joseph declared to his brothers years after their treachery concerning him, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).
In our world today, some think there is no personal evil. These folks believe that there is no devil, there are no demons, and similarly. Some say that there is no evil at all. They believe that what some call evil is merely misperception, or character flaw, or the necessary result of inadequate education or training. These ideas, alas, play right into the evil one’s hands. Let us do better. Let’s note the existence of evil entities, designs, and deeds. Denial benefits no one on the side of righteousness. Yet let’s neither grieve nor worry unduly about these things and entities. Our God, in Christ, has absolute authority over these, and He exerts that authority both for His own glory and for the good of His covenant people—for the temporal and eternal good of the likes of you and of me, who are in Christ.