“I know who you are- the Holy One of God!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this fourth Sunday after the Epiphany of our Lord is from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, think back with me to the Gospel lesson we heard last week. We heard then the powerful words of our Lord: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; Repent and believe in the Gospel!” The kingdom of God had come to this earth in the bodily frame of the Son of God, the time had been fulfilled for our salvation, the time had been fulfilled for the breaking of our bonds- “repent and believe in the Gospel!” The first act of Jesus, then, is to call some followers. His Church will be built in seeming weakness, poor fishermen will be His prophets, the ones to carry His message to the ends of the earth. “And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” For Simon and Andrew, James and John, the journey had just begun, and it was a journey like no other they had ever traveled. If they did not know this already, they would find out when Jesus took them to their synagogue on the Sabbath.
“And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath, He entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at His teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” Jesus wasted no time, but came to the worship service of His people, the home congregation of His four disciples, and began to teach. For Jesus was the prophet who was to come, the prophet promised by Moses in our Old Testament lesson: “The Lord said to me…‘I will raise up for them a prophet from among their brothers. And I will put my words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command them.’” Jesus taught with the very authority given by God, He spoke as the embodiment of the kingdom of God on our fallen earth. He had the right and ability to speak from God and about God because this one in their midst was God Himself, God in the flesh. And this authority was recognized immediately by the gathered hearers. “And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”
While Jesus spoke with the authority of God Himself, the scribes spoke only from their own human authority. Jesus explained the Law in their hearing, He spoke of how it came to fulfillment in His becoming man. The scribes proclaimed their own interpretations and applications, they interpreted the Law for their own sakes. We too think that we can explain away the Law, we are constantly looking for loopholes to excuse our behavior. Jesus sharpened God’s Law so that no one could think of themselves as free from it. The scribes arranged things so that they could not be accused of breaking any rule. We ourselves live in a society where God’s Law has no more teeth, we too often explain His clear regulations away. Christians too often join with the scribes in picking and choosing which laws still apply, and which we no longer have to keep. Jesus fully kept the Law, not falling in any aspect. The scribes imagined that they kept the Law, but they were deluding themselves. Our own sinful nature attempts to explain away sin, we imagine that we can please God through our keeping of the Law. You, me, and the scribes too often are mired in Satan’s lies, thinking that we can somehow keep the Law or avoid it altogether.
Satan deceives in these more subtle ways, but often he comes forth with a roar. “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit.” Wherever the kingdom of God is being established, wherever Christ is proclaiming with authority the Word of God, Satan’s minions are stirred up. They will oppose Him at every moment of His life, just as they oppose all those who follow Him. Our world, and sadly the Church as well tries to believe that Satan does not exist, but I think we have all felt His temptations, we know what it is like to be under spiritual attack. He is constantly working to separate us from God, to make us doubt our faith, to lead us into sin. Our enemy is persistant, he is terrifying, and he is real.
But we have a much greater Savior. For Jesus came into this world to do battle with Satan, to take on the powers of darkness on our behalf. Into the place of worship, into the midst of God’s chosen people, an agent of the evil one came. And he came bearing a challenge. “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are- the Holy One of God!’” The unclean spirit knew who Jesus was, in fact, he knew better than all those assembled in the synagogue that day. The unclean spirit knew that it was unclean, it knew that it was making its host unclean. But it knew more than that. It knew that this Jesus of Nazareth was the clean one, the Holy One of God, the one sent by God to rid the earth of Satan’s domination, the one sent to make clean what was filthy with sin. It knew the vast difference between unclean spirits and this carpenter from Galilee. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” The unclean spirit ran up against the agent of cleansing in this world, the one one who was truly clean and holy, because this one was God in the flesh. It knew who Jesus was, and in arrogance it snarled at Him, “Have you come to destroy us?”
Jesus’ answer is ‘Yes!’ Faced with the powers of darkness, with the terrifying sudden appearance of Satan’s soldier, Jesus, the Holy One of God, the clean one, did not back down. “But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’” Jesus, the one bearing the very authority of God, spoke and His Word did what it said. “And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.” Jesus took on Satan once again in single combat, casting him aside with the power and authority of His Word. For the rule of Satan was coming to an end, his power was crumbling and his hold over humanity was about to be broken. Jesus came into the world to take Satan head on and defeat him, to ruin him, to send him to hell where he belongs. By tempting Adam and Eve to fall into sin, Satan poisoned this world, he made it filthy with sin. But Jesus, the Holy One of God, came to restore this sick world, to be the agent of cleansing. And He started by throwing down one of Satan’s soldiers, cleansing the man in the synagogue. But the greatest act of cleansing was yet to come, and it would come through the influence of Satan himself. For the lord of darkness would influence sinful men to kill Jesus, to hang Him on a cross as a criminal. But in that act of humiliation, of seeming defeat, Satan was the one who was defeated. For on the cross, the shed blood of Jesus cleansed the world of sin, it released all creation, you and me from the bondage of Satan. By dying Christ granted life to us all and threw down Satan forever.
Having been confronted with both the teaching of Jesus and His defeat of the followers of Satan, the people realize what has come into their midst. “And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey Him!” Jesus was revealed, He was ‘Epiphanied’ on that day as the Prophet that Moses promised, as the one with the authority of God, as the Holy One of God. “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers- it is to Him you shall listen.” He has the authority to teach the things of God, and He has the authority to cleanse the earth of Satan’s domination. And so, at the great Epiphany on the cross, Jesus will be revealed as the One with the authority to defeat Satan for us, as the one whose blood cleanses you and me from our sin. His blood was shed to deliver you from the bondage of Satan, He defeated Satan when you were unable to. His blood was shed to wash you clean, to make you and me who were conceived and born in sin, conceived and born unclean, new and clean before God.
On resurrection day, Jesus was ‘Epiphanied’ as the one who had triumphed over sin, Satan and death. And because He triumphed over our foes, we too triumph over them. Satan is still prowling, but he is defeated, the lion has no more fangs. He will still accuse us of our sins, he will still try to convince us that God does not love us, he still tries to tear us away from our Savior. But when his attacks come near, we face them with the power of Jesus and with the very tools that He gave us, the Word that He proclaimed to us. We take on Satan with the confidence that the crucified and risen one fights with us, that we do not stand alone. We put Satan in his place with the Word, we tell Him to return to hell where he belongs. Like Jesus, we are armed with the Word, the same Word that makes us clean now is our weapon against the evil one.
Like any victory, the news of Jesus’ exorcism traveled fast. “And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” This message did not travel on its own, but instead it needed messengers to speak it. We too are heralds of the victory that has been won, we proclaim Satan’s defeat right to his face and then to every person we come into contact with. To every person who is bowed down with sin, every person afflicted with the fiery darts of our enemy, we proclaim Christ’s victory on Calvary’s cross and Easter’s empty tomb. This message, the message of the blood that has cleansed us, is for all people, and so it must go to them. We are the conduits of His Word, we are the heralds of His victory. May the Lord assure us of this victory whenever Satan attacks, giving us the confidence that we have been cleansed and forgiven, and will stand before God’s throne to all eternity, Amen.