January 6, 2019: Demon Busters

Pastor Steve Mechem

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Mark 1:21-28 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
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.

One word to describe Jesus:

Those of us in a non-Pentecostal, or non-charismatic church traditions tend not to focus on Jesus the Healer. Don’t misunderstand. We love a good healing story, but we tend to focus on the healing rather than the healer, we focus on the unique people who are healed or the weird circumstances surrounding their healing, but we tend to play it as a one-off, a specific incident, a unique situation, whereas the gospels are full of healing stories. A full third of the gospel of Mark consists of healing and miracle accounts.

It is my intention to use the next several weeks, until Palm Sunday, to Peruse the healing stories in the Gospel of Mark.

With our modern scientific sensibilities, we downplay the supernatural acts of miraculous healing and exorcism, but in the first century, folks who could heal or run off demons were popular and plentiful.

According to Reza Aslan, Author of Zealot,

“It did not take long for the people of Capernaum to realize what they had in their midst. Jesus was surely not the first exorcist to walk the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In first century Palestine, professional wonder-worker was a vocation as well established as that of woodworker or mason and far better paid. Galilee, especially abounded with charismatic fantasts claiming to channel the divine for a nominal fee. Yet from the perspective of the Galileans, what set Jesus apart from his fellow exorcists and healers is that he seemed to be providing his services free of charge. That first exorcism in the Capernaum synagogue may have shocked the rabbis and elders who saw in it “a new kind of teaching” – the gospels say a slew of scribes began descending upon the city immediately afterwords to see for themselves the challenge posted to their authority by this simple present. But for the people of Capernaum what mattered was not so much the source of Jesus healings. What mattered was the cost. By evening, word had reached all of Capernaum about the free healer in their city.”

Jesus was one, among many, healers in Galilee in the first century, but not only did he heal without requiring payment, he did it as a part of a bigger ministry.

Again, according to Aslan,
“There is something unique and distinctive about Jesus’ miraculous actions in the gospels. It is not simply that Jesus’ work is free of charge, or that his healings do not always employ a magician’s methods. It is that Jesus’ miracles are not intended as an end in themselves. Rather his actions serve a pedagogical purpose as they are a means of conveying a very specific message.”

-A message of hope, of love, of grace, of wholeness, of an in-breaking Kingdom.

Interestingly, sources that mention Jesus apart from the New Testament that come from the first and second century often define Jesus as a healer, or a miracle worker, or a wonder worker. Even those sources that deny The Lordship of Jesus still recognize his healing and wonder working prowess.

In early. non-biblical sources, Jesus is referred to as a healer, the crucified miracle worker, and the doer of wonderful works.

And this first healing is a doozy.

It is Saturday, The Sabbath, quite possibly just one week from Jesus debut performance in his home city of Nazareth. There, Jesus had proclaimed that the scripture from Isaiah promising that the good news would be preached to the poor, that the blind would see, that prisoners would be pardoned, that the oppressed would be vindicated, and that the Jubilee year of the Lord would commence, were fulfilled in him. The crowd in the congregation, amazed and incensed at Jesus’ bravado, sought to throw him off a cliff just outside the synagogue. Jesus got away.

So now, Jesus is 50 miles northeast in the seaside village of Capernaum. He is in the synagogue teaching. And his preaching is powerful and good Folks are amazed. And responsive. Jesus doesn’t sound anything like the usual synagogue preachers.

He is vibrant,
his words draw pictures that his audience understands,

They are spell bound.

But, then there is a commotion in the congregation.

A voice,

The voice of one challenging Jesus.

It comes from a man in the crowd-
a man that many in the crowd know. He has a reputation. Folks have been concerned about his erratic behavior for some time. People believe that he is possessed by an unfriendly spirit, a demon.

In fact, as a rule, this man is not allowed in town, and certainly not allowed in the synagogue, but somehow, here he is.

His voice is strange, it is hard to explain, guttural and pained.
“Who are you? I know who you are, are you here to destroy us?”

All eyes turn toward the man who is shaking visibly and in tears.

Jesus stops speaking for a moment, looks at the man, and says, “Shut up and leave.”

But instead of the man shutting up and getting up to leave, he has a seizure, screams loudly, and throws up violently.

After a moment, the man is calm, appears dazed. He stays on the ground as members of the synagogue stare at each other in amazement.

‘Wow,’ congregants mutter. “This guy not only moves us but moves demons as well.”

Jesus returns to preaching, the crowd is energized. It takes them a moment to turn their attention back to Jesus. But when they do, they are hooked on his every word.

As Jesus finishes preaching, the congregation to begins to move out. So much conversation takes place between exiting members as they speak of the one who spoke so wonderfully and as they talked of the healing of the man in their midst who was possessed by a demon.

Now there’s an idea with which we struggle with today. Possessed by a demon?

Do demons really exist? Do they actually possess people? That was the common understanding in the first century. And a common understanding and horror movies today. And a tag line for Flip Wilson who loved to say, “the devil made me do it.”

In times past, all sorts of illnesses that people could not understand, epilepsy, narcolepsy, mental illnesses were defined as demon possession. And since, there was no help for people with these now diagnosable and treatable issues, they were outcast, and defined as undesirable and untouchable..

Well, of course, we have a name for all of those things now, so we dismiss the idea of demons and evil incarnated in and through people.

But, perhaps we are too dismissive of things we don’t understand.

For sure, this story of healing in a synagogue in Capernaum, traveled like wildfire. Jesus became popular in a minute, and the entire region of Galilee began to buzz with the news that a new preacher, healer, teacher, had come.

They knew he preached phenomenal sermons, but he showed in his actions a grace and kindness to even those that are continually left out and left behind.

And Jesus ongoing call to us is to “come and follow him” and to love others as he loves them. We join Jesus as healer in our words and our actions as we reach out to those around us in love and grace.