An Attitude Adjustment
Whether you are a child, employee, or soldier, if you're told you need an attitude adjustment that's not usually a good thing. However, if you're a pilot coming in on a foggy night to land, an attitude adjustment could save you from crashing and burning.
You're coming in for a crash if you don't believe demons, evil spirits, or unclean spirits exist. You're on your way to a wreck if you think only what you can see or science tells you is there can impact you, influence you, hurt you. Then again you're in for a crash if you think demons, devils, unclean, evil spirits are unstoppable. Yes, they exist; yes, there are great numbers of them. Yes, they have great power just as the Bible tells you. But you need an attitude adjustment if you think you're at their mercy.
This can go the other way too. You believe that demonic spirits are real, but you think you can play with them. Ouija boards, psychics, tarot cards, Horoscopes are just party games. They say, "For Entertainment Only," so how much harm could they really do? Think about this. What does God the Son make a point of giving His apostles before sending them out? Authority over evil spirits.
You need an attitude adjustment if you think you can play with any aspect of the demonic and not get burned, and you need one if you think you have the authority or ability to stop them on your own. Remember the 7 sons of Sceva who tried to cast out an evil spirit "in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches?" Acts 19 reports, "(One day) the evil spirit answered them, Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?' Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all."
Authority over unclean spirits isn't natural for us. We have broken God's laws and deserve its punishments, so we have no authority on our own over devils. We're no less fallen than they. It's a different matter with Jesus. As True God, He always had authority over them, but as True Man He had to win it. He won it by taking away the 2 things devils hold us in bondage with: God's Law and our sins. He took God's law from over our heads by fulfilling it in our place, and He paid for our sins with His own blood.
Next time you're heading for a crash despairing of the devil's power adjust your attitude. Jesus as a Man won authority over the evilest, uncleanest, meanest devils and He gives that authority to men. He gives us Baptism which rescues from sin, death and the devil. He gives us Absolution which forgives sins that demons say can never be forgiven. He gives us Communion where Jesus does what no demon can do. He physically enters our time and space with His good gifts and Spirit.
You need an attitude adjustment toward demons and towards anointing oil. You're heading for a crash landing if you think this needs to be added to the Divine Service. I see this more and more: Lutheran churches having services where they anoint the sick or emotionally disturbed with olive oil. Roman Catholics have anointed for centuries. Pentecostals for the century or so they've existed. Rome regards it as a sacrament; the Pentecostals regard it as a miracle. What's the correct view of our text so we can straighten up and fly right?
First, Jesus didn't tell the disciples to do this. Second, Mark doesn't use the sacred or ceremonial word for anointing with oil (khrio); neither does James 5 by the way. This is the ordinary word for applying oil to anything rather than the sacred and religious word (Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, 136-137). What the apostles did was neither ceremonial, sacramental, phenomenal, nor unusual. It was medicinal. It's what the Good Samaritan did to the injured man. We apply antiseptic; they applied oil. The text doesn't say they healed people by anointing them with oil. No it says, "Theyanointed many sick people and they healed."
There are conservative Lutheran scholars who maintain the apostles did anoint with oil to heal people, but they go on to say we have no idea what exactly they did or said. Even the Catholic sacrament doesn't claim or even ask for healing. The rite says, "Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 378). Whether you think the anointing in our text was medicinal, phenomenal, or sacramental, one thing you have to admit it was incidental.
The following is all one sentence in the Greek. "And going out they did preach that they should repent, and many demons they were casting out and they were anointing with oil many of the infirm, and they were healing." The main verb here is "preach" the exorcising, anointing, and healing were incidental things that accompanied the main thing. When a pastor is called to your hospital room, sick room, or death bed, he may do things that make you more comfortable or cheer you up, but that's not why he's there. He's there to preach repentance; he's there to forgive your sins.
You're heading for at least a hard landing and perhaps a crash unless an attitude adjustment occurs here. Jesus didn't come into this fallen world; didn't descend into the mess we had made so that we could be happy and healthy. If He did, than He failed miserably. He did not give His life so we could live in this fallen world longer, but so we might live forever in a perfect world. It's true; Jesus bore our sorrows and our sicknesses in His Body on the cross, but He did this as due payment for our sins. He never promised that we wouldn't have sorrows and sicknesses in our body; in fact He said the opposite. What He promised is our body and soul would be redeemed and forgiven in time and restored in eternity.
This text serves as an attitude adjustment towards demons, towards anointing with oil, and towards preaching. You are coming in for a crash if "preach" is a bad word to you. If you're attitude is, "Don't preach at me," go your way. Jesus doesn't lead sheep with a rope, and He doesn't drive them into church. Even if you do manage to end up in church every now and again, you're still heading for a crash if the preaching makes no sense to you. That's how the Lord says He sounds to those who've rejected Him. Isaiah 28 covers this: "You don't even listen-- all you hear is senseless sound after senseless sound. So, the Lord will speak to his people in strange sounds and foreign languages. He promised you perfect peace and rest, but you refused to listen. Now his message to you will be senseless sound after senseless sound. Then you will fall backwards, injured and trapped."
Pull up now. The word translated "preached" is really the word "heralded." You know what a herald was? He was an envoy of the king. He was sent from the king into the kingdom with the king's message. The herald had no authority to change the message. He must only say what the king had given him to say. Imagine watching a Robin Hood movie, and the herald shows up in the village and says, "In my opinion," or "I suggest to you," Or, "Could it be that the king means?" That's not what heralds did, is it? No they proclaimed only the message they were given.
So what message did Jesus send out the apostles with? We know by what Mark tells us they said. They went out and heralded that people should repent. When the Bible tells you something like this it is summarizing. The apostles were not like the crazy guy carrying a placard that says, "Repent." They didn't go out and herald just the words, "Thou shalt repent." They went out an heralded what people should repent of and where they should repent to. They were to repent of who and what they are and repent to Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I can make their message even more concise and herald like. They went out heralding what heralds for centuries have. "The King is dead; long live the King." That's right; Jesus the perfect King died. Laden with the guilt of all men; under the wrath God justly has against sinners, Jesus was taken to the cross. You know how mad you get at yourself sometime for a sinful thing you said or did? You know how you will pound your head in frustration and anger at yourself for being so incredibly sinful? That's the anger with which God pounded the nails into His only beloved Son. Rather than punish you, the Father punished King Jesus to death. The King is dead.
But that's not the end of the message. You stop there and you will crash and burn eternally. The King is dead; long live the King. I herald the king is dead because the message I'm given to herald is Christ and Him crucified. The Baptism I'm given to herald is a baptism into the King's death. At the Meal I'm given to celebrate I'm to herald it as a proclamation of His death until He returns.
So the King is dead; yet, long live the King. King Jesus was raised from the dead by the Father showing that He accepted His death as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. But what does it matter if a whole world of sins are paid for unless you believe your sins were paid for, your guilt atoned for? Unless you see that the risen Jesus heralds your forgiveness, your life, your salvation, you'll crash land in the gloom and doom of Good Friday. And that's not the reason King Jesus sent the apostles out into the world or me to you. I herald His death so His life might live in you. I herald a Baptism into His death so you might walk about in His new life. I herald Christ crucified so that you might live in the forgiveness He bought. I herald His death at His Supper so you might receive His Body as Bread and His Blood as Wine for everlasting life.
If a pilot adjusts his attitude enough, the plane not only comes out of a dive but climbs above the storm to blue skies. It's amazing that at one in the same time and place both conditions exist, and attitude determines which one you're in. And what determines attitude? Our feelings, our health, our wealth? No, Jesus' gifts: Authority over demons, repentance, and a herald proclaiming the King's death and resurrection. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost (20090726); Mark 6: 7-13