Epiphany 4b, (February 2, 2015)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
TITLE: “Cleansed by the Authority of Jesus”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Mark chapter one.
Spiritual warfare is something we don’t talk about much as Lutherans. Images tend to come up of either some weird movie about exorcisms, or some charismatic TV preacher wacking someone on the head, or of something else that I can’t even imagine.
The Bible, however, has a lot to say about spiritual warfare. Probably the most familiar verses are the ones from Ephesians six:
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)
For Jesus as well as for St. Paul and the whole Church, spiritual warfare is real, very real. It is serious business.
Now for us, spiritual warfare does not normally come in the form of an obvious demon possession, like we have in our Gospel this morning. No, today I would say spiritual warfare comes more in the form of the battle of the conscience. Our conscience is that voice of the heart that God gave at creation, it is your tie to the perfect will of God. It is the barometer that senses your pressure with God and with the world around you. And it was damaged, oh so very damaged by the fall into sin. Today by nature your conscience, left to its own devices, well, it works, but a lot more like an old Ford Pinto than the perfectly tuned instrument which God created.
And so there is a battle at work, a battle for your soul. Satan seeks to overthrow you by violating and damaging your conscience. He wants control of you, because, well, because he is a liar and a murderer from the beginning. He stands condemned, and quite frankly he wants you in hell with him. It is a battle, a war, and you are the battleground.
So let’s get to our text from St. Mark, and hear how Jesus does battle for you. We are still near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, shortly after He has called the disciples. They are in Capernaum, in Galilee in the North. Not far from home for him. While they are there in Capernaum, Jesus immediately goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He goes and teaches in the synagogue. He is a Rabbi, after all.
They were astonished at Jesus, because He taught as one who had authority, not as one of the scribes. In other words, Jesus taught like He knew what He was saying. He is the Word made flesh, after all. So when the Word preaches the Word, well, He’s going to know His stuff.
But there was one person in particular who was offended, not astonished, at Jesus’ teaching. A man with an unclean spirit. In other words, he is possessed by a demon. And this unclean demon makes this man unclean, and tarnishes his conscience.
But the demon cannot bear to be in the presence of the Holy One of Israel. The holiness of God cannot bear to be with such unholiness. It is in conflict, at war. And so this demon knows what is at stake. What is at stake is the man’s very soul. The demon, who is unnamed, does not want the name of Jesus to be in his presence. That will mess up everything.
Think of it this way. Why is it that some are no comfortable being in church? Why is it that some cannot be settled here, cannot handle a place dedicated to God and His mercy? For all of us, a holy place like this highlights the war that is within us all. Your sin wants to gain mastery over you, and being in God’s presence, well, that rather messes up Satan’s plan doesn’t it.
In our episode of Jesus’ life, the demon can’t seem to keep his mouth shut. The demon-filled-man cries 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.”” (Mark 1:24 ESV)
The answer, of course, is yes. Jesus comes into the world to destroy the devil, the sinful world and even our own sinful nature. He comes to do battle, and He will wage that war all the way to His own death on the cross. But Jesus does not engage in dialog with Satan. He does not argue with him or the like. satan is the enemy.
One Lutheran pastor from the twentieth century commented on this reality as follows,
“Every pastor knows, or should know, that there are cases, when a discussion is impossible and the only answer to a question can be that ‘Begone, Satan!’ which Jesus spoke not only to the devil (Matthew 4.10), but also to his faithful confessor, Simon Peter (Matthew 16.23). Not every question can be settled by means of a friendly discussion. It is necessary to remember this in an age which has a superstitious belief in dialog as the infallible means of setting everything. There are questions raised by the devil to destroy the Church of Christ.” (Hermann Sasse, On the Ordination of Women)
The result of all this is that Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, comes to save you. He comes to save you by doing battle with Satan. His weapon is Himself. And our weapon is this same battle.
The devil loves to prick your conscience. He loves to fling the Law at you and to convince you that God doesn’t love you, that you are unclean and that you deserve nothing but death and hell. And your answer, beloved, is that Christ has covered you with His own blood. The book of Hebrews puts it this way: “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22 ESV)
You are clean. The devil has no power over you. You cannot be possessed of such evil spirits, because the Spirit of Christ dwells in you by the power of your Baptism. Jesus commands the unclean spirits, and they obey Him, because He is their Lord.
Today you come into the presence of the Holy God, into His holy temple, the temple of His Son’s Body and Blood. But you come into this great and mighty place with a clean conscience, whole and undefiled. This is not your doing. It is His doing, and His alone.
This is your hope, dearly baptized. Trust in His authority, for it is from God the Father alone. Trust in His Word, for it is what forgives you all your sins. Trust in His Body and Blood, for it cleanses you from all sin.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.