A conservative Christian in another denomination told me his church found that younger people today would listen patiently and intently as you talked about sin, death, judgment, Christ, and salvation. However, when you asked them what they thought about this, they'd just shrug. That resonated with me. The things of the Faith are momentous having eternal consequences but with most they have no immediacy. 3 times the word euthus is in our text. "And after they entered into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He did enter into the synagogueAnd immediately was in their synagogue a person in an unclean spiritAnd did go out the report of Him immediately everywhere." Immediacy is a theme of our text and Jesus' life. How about yours?
With Jesus there is immediacy in going to church. Notice they, plural, entered Capernaum, but He, singular, entered the synagogue. Lk. 4:16 says, "Jesus went to Nazarethand on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom." I don't know why it doesn't move lay people that the retired pastors I've known always go to church and Bible class. You can sidestep Jesus' custom because He's God in flesh and blood; He must be about His Father's business and house, but pastors are sinners just like you, know the Bible better than you, the catechism too, but they still go to church even when they don't "have" to. During these fretful times, this is not swipe at those who attend online rather than in person. I've worshipped at home online. It too is going to church. No, I'm speaking to those of you who think you have a choice each week to go or not.
Immediately Jesus goes to church and He goes like He belongs there. No excuse like it wasn't His home church; He was just passing through. If you go to church only when you're at home, you train your kids to do that too. They go to church when they're home, and stay away from the Lord's House when at college, in the military, in a job away from home. And you show if you think you belong there by your pronouns: if you refer to what "they" are doing or say to me what "you" are doing at church rather than "we" or "us", you have distance not immediacy with your church
This joke about stewardship can illustrate Jesus' relationship with the church compared to ours. Note it's a small c; I'm not talking Holy Christian Church. I'm talking visible, local church. Bags of old money are being carried to the furnace to be burned. The 20-dollar bill says, "I've had a great life. I've gone to movies, festivals, restaurants, on vacation; all the best places." The 1-dollar bill replies, "Not me. For me it's been to church, to church, to church." Jesus, the least in the kingdom of heaven, is the dollar. But with Him it was of great value to keep on going.
The 2nd point of immediacy with Jesus is revealing unclean spirits. I was surprised when I dug into this point. After 40 years of referring to demons, evil spirits, fallen angels, which are all the same thing, I find out that the Holy Spirit's preferred term is unclean spirit. Dr. Luke speaks of evil spirits 3 places (Lk. 7:21; 8:2; Acts 19: 13-16). Matthew and Mark only refer to them as unclean. John's Gospel doesn't mention unclean or evil spirits but Revelation has unclean spirits 3 times. The concept of unclean is used of foods in Acts 10 as a synonym for common or profane. Eph. 5:5 says, we are to know with certainty that "no sexually immoral or unclean person has an inheritance in heaven." 1 Cor. 7:14 has the unclean concept with the family saying that a believing spouse makes it so children with an unbeliever are not unclean. And 2 Cor. 6:17 is an OT quote about fellowship: separate from unbelief and stop touching what is unclean.
Greek dictionaries agree: Unclean either means ceremonially or morally. There's a whole Bible class here, but for now think of the Devil, Satan as an unclean, dirty, filthy spirit. And picture the one in our text as either male or female. The Greek is "a person". This unclean spirit could've been there for years. Defiling this person secretly maybe in deed, maybe in word, but certainly in thought. Make a distinction between the person and the unclean spirit; the Holy Ghost and Jesus do. The person's voice cries out, but Jesus speaks to the unclean spirit, "Put a muzzle on it" (literally), and commands it, "Come out."
So this man or woman suffered in silence until Jesus showed up. The text tells you: Jesus taught them with authority. He said, "Thus says the Lord." Not, "In my opinion", "Allow me to suggest", or, "I know you've been mistreated by the church for years. I'm sorry. Give Me a chance to do better." When dealing with unclean spirits and that is any spirit other than the Holy Spirit any sort of sympathy empowers and emboldens them. It doesn't expose them. Here's the equation: no authority, no power, no immediacy, no problem. Believe me: I am more than capable of preaching just this way. I can leave you the impression that you can live in your sins, resisting the Holy Spirit's demand you forsake your sins, and still be a Christian. But that's not the only way I can fail. I can preach the Gospel conditionally: if you will do this, stop that, or start this, then you can walk out of here forgiven.
How many times have I said: there is a perfect storm of unbelief between pastor and people? Your Old Adam which is in bed with unclean spirits doesn't what to hear real Law or real Gospel, and my Old Adam equally at home with unclean spirits doesn't want to preach it. You're itching ears wanted to be scratched and I know where and I'm only too willing to do it. But immediately this unclean spirit speaks better than we think. He or she correctly confesses who Jesus is. The unclean spirit recognizes who Jesus is even when He is wrapped in flesh and blood. Likewise, unclean spirits recognize Jesus in the Water of Baptism, in the Bread and Wine of Communion, and in God's Word whether read or spoken by a sinful person. Jesus really is of Nazareth. He is true Man born of the Virgin from Nazareth, and He's true God, the Holy One of God. And the unclean spirit speaks the truth about what Jesus came to do. There's no reason its question can't be translated as a statement. "You've come to destroy us."
That's what 1 Jn. 3:8 says, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work." Now, if the crowd knows when he or she says, "You've come to destroy us" it's an unclean spirit speaking, all well and good. But if at that point, they don't, then the "us" the unclean spirit speaks of destroying is all the people in church. Unclean spirits of lust, greed, worry, fear, sadness tell you if they die, you die. Your sins and sinfulness are who you are. They lie. Sin and sinfulness belong to fallen human nature not human nature. If they belonged to human nature, how could God the Son take in on and remain the Holy One of God? No, your sin and sinfulness have corrupted, bankrupted, and would enslave you, but they are not you once you've been Baptized into Christ, been forgiven in Jesus' name. Then you're the New Man Paul says has been created in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24). Jesus didn't just come to destroy the works of the Devil but to redeem fallen man by living the life we can't and dying the death we should. Having redeemed us He would recreate us.
Who Jesus is and what He does causes immediate results. Slow obedience is no obedience. Delayed obedience is disobedience. I couldn't find the original author of these saying. I can find it repeated on many non-Lutheran websites. Does that mean it's false? No it means: handle the concept with care. Jesus produces a reaction in everyone who meets Him, but not everyone meets Him. The unclean spirits all do because they aren't blinded by His flesh and blood or even by His weak, humble state while keeping the Law for us and suffering in our place. Other people were blinded: Remember the people at Nazareth? They confessed that words of grace poured out of Jesus' mouth but were blinded because wasn't He Joseph's son, Mary's boy? Didn't they know his brothers and sisters who were quite ordinary?
That's what that conservative Christian was noting. People would politely and at length listen to the Gospel that's the word he used and still easily shrug it off as of no immediacy. Were they really meeting Jesus? Were they meeting the Almighty God in flesh and blood, the judge of the living and the dead? Since I don't know exactly what the conservative Christian said, he could've been mixing Law and Gospel, speaking a doable law and a conditional Gospel. I don't know. I do know I too have had people shrug off the Jesus I preached or spoken of as accurately as I knew how.
Each time you come here, each time you hear or read a sermon, Jesus is confronting you immediately. He is exposing that your sins and sinfulness will carry you to hell. You have no defense against this because God's Law is written in your heart. It too accuses and convicts you, and the fact that you look for ways to excuse your sins or promise to make up for them, prove your guilt. Each time God's Word confronts you whether in Bible, hymn, person, or memory, the Word made Flesh is standing in front of you, not only convicting you of every sin you've ever done, thought, spoke, but opening His arms saying, "Come to me with your heavy burdens and your filthy uncleanness and I will give you rest and washing.
Ah but those people in Capernaum saw a miracle. True, but note they say "He even gives orders to unclean spirits and they obey them." What they first resonated to was His "new teaching with authority." The real miracle is that anyone believes His teaching: that the one and only God gave up His one and only Son to redeem a world of ungodly sinners; that by means of Water and Word unclean sinners could be reborn into clean lives; that His Word can send your sins away from you forever; that He is present in Body and Blood on your altar, in your time, to cleanse your body and soul from filthy sinfulness. And miracles certainly happen: Years of sins and guilts fall off. Broken hearts are comforted. The Devil of despair is driven out. And immediately the people of God respond by singing for a clean heart, a right Spirit, and a free Spirit. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (20210131); Mark 1:21-29