January 29, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“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.’”
Strange happenings were afoot at the Capernaum synagogue. That is what the Gospel Writer tells us this day. It all started with the appearance of Jesus and His entourage. Jesus and His first disciples—Andrew and Peter, James and John—showed up in Capernaum: “And they went to Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath [Jesus] entered the synagogue and was teaching.” That was not atypical. It had happened before. Every Sabbath, the people of Capernaum would gather together to hear the words what the Lord had put in the mouth of the prophets. So it was described in the Torah: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to My words that he shall speak in My name, I myself will require it of him.”
For centuries, the Lord had raised up prophets: Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and so on. Each of them was given words, divine words, to speak. The words carried the Lord’s authority, since He had authored them. Their divine speech revealed the Lord’s will, the Lord’s character, the Lord’s promise. And the people were duty bound to hear and heed them. Through the generations, prophets were added to the list. And when the prophets stopped being raised, the people read, reread, and retained the divine words that they had spoken. That is what took place each Sabbath in the synagogue. The Law and the Prophets were read in the hearing of the people, even in the Galilean town of Capernaum.
But on this Sabbath Day, the hearing of the Lord’s words was different. That is what the people note after hearing Jesus speak to them: “And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” Jesus’ teaching was strange, unique, unusual. What was different about it? Was it that Jesus taught them something diametrically opposed to the teachings previously received in Capernaum? Some may think that, but that isn’t what the Gospel Writer records for us. No, the difference was that “He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”
This statement concerning authority is important to note. It reveals something about Jesus’ identity. He spoke to them as a prophet, one who had the Lord’s words put directly into His mouth. Jesus was not simply a person who had committed the Law and the Prophets to memory and good give commentary on them. That was the skill of the scribes—a good, right, and salutary skill indeed. But Jesus was greater than they were. Instead of speaking about the Lord’s word, Jesus spoke the Lord’s word. Or even more accurately, Jesus was the Lord’s Word speaking. This Jesus is the Incarnate Word of the Lord. Jesus didn’t have the Lord’s words put into His mouth, like the prophets of old; Jesus was the Lord’s Word with a mouth. And He opened it and spoke. When that happened, the people took notice of Jesus’ authority.
Then the strange happenings in the Capernaum synagogue continued with another demonstration of Jesus’ authority. Mark tells us: “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.’” Now the synagogue became a venue where divine authority encountered the evil and demonic. The man with the unclean spirit is drawn to this battlefield. And the unclean spirit knows what is present there. Its questions reveal the divide between it and Jesus, His superior ability to destroy it, His identity as the Lord’s Promised Messiah.
What happens in the synagogue shows that the unclean spirit’s assessment of Jesus is correct: “But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.” Jesus’ actions display His authority. He gives the command, and the unclean spirit must obey. His word is spoken, and the evil and demonic are overcome. What comes out of Jesus’ mouth is divine and carries all the characteristics of deity, including power over all creatures. He exercises the authority that belongs to God whom the apostle describes: “there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” And when this one Lord Jesus Christ speaks, all are compelled to obey.
Observing this strange happening, the people of Capernaum realize what has taken place: “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.’ And at once His fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” What Jesus does in the synagogue makes everyone take notice. His words and works show that the Lord is present in their midst. It is the way that Jesus’ deity is revealed.
What took place in ancient Capernaum also happens here, where the Lord again makes His authority present. Words are spoken here, but not just any words. Divine words are spoken, words that declare the Lord’s will, the Lord’s character, the Lord’s promise to you. They are put in the mouths of the prophet’s sons, those commissioned by Jesus to speak to you. And what these divine words state come to pass.
What the Lord declared about His prophets of old applies to those whom He commissions in this age: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to My words that he shall speak in My name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.” Divine promises are revealed—both positive and negative. For those who will not heed the divine words that are spoken, punishment awaits. For those who try to substitute human or pagan words in place of the divine, destruction looms. But for those who do hear and believe the divine words, salvation is given.
So what are those words spoken to you? They are the Law of God that reveals His will for your life read from this lectern. Divine instructions for your lives are taught to you. They are the Gospel of God—the good news of salvation that comes through what Jesus, the Incarnate Word of the Lord, has accomplished by His dying and rising again—that is proclaimed to you from this pulpit. Divine favor for your salvation is granted to you. The words spoken reveal what Jesus of Nazareth has to do with you: not that the Holy One of God has come to destroy you, but to save you.
In many and various ways, the words that carry divine authority for your benefit are spoken in your hearing: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The unclean spirit is cast out of you and a clean spirit created by those divine words at baptism. “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Guilt is removed from you by those divine words of absolution. “The true body of Christ given for you; the true blood of Christ shed for you.” The medicine of immortality is dispensed to you by those divine words at the Lord’s Supper. “The Lord be with you…. The peace of the Lord be with you always.” An eternal truce is declared to you by those divine words of peace. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” Blessing is extended to you by those divine words of benediction.
They are not uncommanded words that people presume to speak. They are not words spoken in the name of other gods. No, all of them are words the Lord puts into mouths to be declared to you. They are new teaching with authority. They are words for you to hear, for they bring divine blessing to you: forgiveness, life, and salvation that Jesus has authorized to be distributed to you.
You are called to be the audience of this divine speech. You are to hear and receive it, so that it acts upon your heart, soul, and mind. That is what the Lord desires for you. He desires for you to be helped by His authority—the power that He wields against the evil and demonic, the ability that He has to give life in this age and the next. Guided by the divine words of instruction, your earthly lives conform to His will. Hearing and believing the words of forgiveness, you are restored to everlasting life. This is the strange, unique, and unusual happening that takes place in this synagogue, this house of gathering of the Lord’s people. It is different than the other speaking that takes place in the world. For here you have a teaching with authority that comes from the One whom all must obey.
What came out of the mouth of the Incarnate Word of the Lord has been declared to you. Since you have listened and believed the divine words spoken, you are now the Lord’s people. You are those who have received His favor. You are those who are spoken to by Him, hearing the voice of the Lord through those who have His words in their mouths. Receiving the blessing that this divine speech you have heard brings to you, you are compelled to speak of the Lord, so that His fame will spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Harrisburg: “He sent redemption to His people; He has commanded His covenant forever. Holy and awesome is His name! The fear of the Lord is beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”
+ In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.