They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then 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.”
But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”
And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching–with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. Mark 1:21-28 (NKJV)
I love words. I am addicted to words.
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 neighbors, 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. You think about it. There aren’t too many of our waking hours when we aren’t surrounded by words.
And words have power. I was reminded of this yesterday. One of my favorite “downtime” activities is to play “Words With Friends” on Facebook. Brother Joshua and I were playing yesterday morning, and he made the word, “cry,” and scored 12 points. I was ever so glad that he did, because I really needed that “Y” he used. I played “joy” on top of his “cry” and scored 14 points, then made the observation that “joy” tops “cry,” and stated that there was a sermon right there in front of us. How funny that that little episode has led to this sermon!
Today we focus our attention on the words Jesus used to fight a battle as he engaged the power of evil. The scene of this battle between Jesus and evil was in a synagogue. The time was a quiet Sabbath about 2000 years ago.
The place was a sleepy little backwoods 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?”
Who was this man? We have no clue, but I can imagine his anguish, his loneliness, living on the outskirts of the town, rejected and feared by everyone, made fun of by many, and shunned by all.
To the man’s question, or the unclean spirit’s question, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? I know you are – you are God’s holy messenger. Have you come to destroy us?”
Jesus responded with a resounding “Yes!” With authority, in a no nonsense voice, 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 and contorting him violently. This loud scream must have reverberated throughout the synagogue, echoed around the assembly, and the worshippers must have shrunk back in fear at the sight and the sounds of witnessing such a struggle.
Then, silence. I would imagine that the congregation stood in shocked and amazed stupefaction for a few moments, and the man who had had the demon sat or stood where he was, trying to catch his breath, trying to understand what had just happened, and enjoying a calmness, a silence, a peace, that he had not known before.
All too soon I imagine the silence was broken by the amazed cries, the clapping and cheering of the crowd, as they celebrated and talked about what Jesus had done in front of them. The words they spoke to each other, questioning what they had just seen and heard, must have been spoken quickly, with a sense of wonder: “He said….” or “With just a few words…” or “Did you see? Did you hear???”
“Just a few words….” Mark relates to us that with just his word – God’s Word – Jesus has power and authority over evil in this world. He has power over the forces which seek to cripple, distort and destroy human life. A simple word from Jesus can destroy this evil. Jesus is the conqueror over all the evil that paralyzes human life and makes us less than what God has created us to be.
The words of Jesus Christ: we read them, we gather in our churches to hear them, we listen to the words of a Savior who came to free us from the power of all evil that tries to overwhelm us. The words of Christ are as powerful today against evil as they were that day 2000 years ago 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 in your ear, “You’re alone, there’s no one who cares for you, and no one who will stand by you”, Christ’s words assures us, “I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mathew 28:20).
When evil whispers in your ear, “You’re a failure, no one can possibly love a person like you”, the word of the Lord gives us the strength 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 in your ear, “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 be 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? You don’t need them; they don’t need you.” 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 yourself for the sake of everyone else, just like Jesus did.
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, the 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.
We learn in 1st John 1 that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.” 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, or how to deal with all that stress, we cling to the strong word of Christ. It has power and authority. It supports and holds us up through the worst situations. HE has the power. HE has the authority. HE has the strength. Listen with a renewed freshness to the powerful words of Jesus, listen to His voice, and like the people in the synagogue, we too will be amazed. And we, too will know, that “cry is topped by joy.” Amen.
Prior Beckett is the Prior of the Order of Preachers, Independent in the Unified Old Catholic Church. He and his husband live in South Carolina with their two lovely canine children.