Okay. Let’s get this out of the way, right off the bat. Today is the Sunday we’ve all been waiting for. It’s been called the game with the largest television audience of any other broadcast sport. The players appear to be healthy and in shape for the challenge. The weather is cooperating. And I’m ready to make my prediction. I’m sure that, by now, you all have figured out that I’m referring to . . . “the Greatest Show on Grass,” the FBR (Phoenix) Open at the TPC of Scottsdale, Arizona! What? What football game? Anyway, Scottsdale, sunny and 74 is better than Tampa Bay, mostly sunny and 69, and certainly better than here, cloudy and 32.
On a higher plain, however, this Sunday gets to the dramatic action of the story of Christ we’ve been waiting for. So far He has been born as a baby, passively received baptism by John and quietly called certain men to follow Him. Today he astonishes people with his teaching and casts out a screaming demon from a man.
“They went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” We’ve all seen or heard various kinds of teachers. Some seem so bored about what they’re teaching, “inspiring” is not a word that enters your minds. On the other hand, I always think of dear Reverend, Doctor, Professor Kenneth Korby of blessed memory. He was a sometime professor at Valparaiso University, then a fellow parish pastor when I was starting out in the Chicago area. Whether it was as a lecturer at the annual Institute of Liturgical Studies or as a participant in discussions at our regular pastoral circuit conferences, it seemed that every and any time Ken Korby spoke listeners instinctively picked up their pens to try to capture his impressive and amazing insights and commentary! He just had a way of putting things in clear perspective. I suppose Jesus’ teaching was something like that. How different from the teachers of the Law who merely gave their opinions about Scripture and tradition but did not teach authoritative, objective and definitive doctrine! The scribes’ teaching only seemed to raise questions about religion, leaving the people to supply their own opinions for answers. How many so-called Bible studies have you attended where the only “insight” was the question, “what does this passage mean to you?”
But here came one who not only seemed to know what he was talking about, but somehow made “religion” suddenly sound like a very real and necessary, interesting and important part of life. How many have been made to think that “religion” is, rather, just a little additive to life designed merely to enhance family, business or community relationships and reputations? Jesus taught as one who had authority. He challenged the peoples’ minds and souls with the claims of the living and mighty Word of the God who created heaven and earth and who formed for himself a people of promise and hope in his plan of salvation. The people could not walk away from that synagogue that day and live their lives as before. Something happened to them. He taught them as one who had authority.
How much authority was then demonstrated as a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” The very devil whom He had already defeated in His desert temptations would stalk Jesus all the way to the Cross. And to this day, in his warring madness, he is intent on taking down as many with him as he can before his ultimate, inevitable demise.
That it was the devil and his minions is clear as he spoke directly through this poor man’s voice, speaking at first in the plural, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” They know Jesus means their undoing as they yell at the top of the man’s lungs, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”
Stop there a moment and ask yourself, or ask someone else: do you know who Jesus was? Do you know who Jesus is? Speaking to people who think only knowing about Jesus is good enough, St. James writes in the New Testament, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). So the Bible makes clear that God is interested in something more than that people merely know about Him. The devil knows about Jesus. Rather, God is interested in people getting to know Him as children know a loving Father. That knowing is what “faith” and trust is all about.
Immediately Jesus said to the demon, “Be silent.” The Greek word literally means to “muzzle it!” The unclean spirit obeyed and, while not “saying” anything, nevertheless shrieked with a loud voice, shaking the man violently and coming out of him. The first miraculous sign in Mark’s gospel is Jesus driving an evil spirit out of a man.
The people watching were left only with a question. “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Was this the “fame” that spread quickly throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee? Faith in a miracle worker is not yet true, saving faith. It is only as we hear his preaching and teaching, and believe that his obedience to God, even to the giving of His life on the Cross, and His mighty resurrection from the dead, that by His death and resurrection, our sin and its wages of death have been cancelled and we have God’s gift of salvation—that’s what true, saving faith is all about.
As it was in Capernaum so it is today. Jesus is present with His people gathered in His name. Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” He is present in His Church in the preaching of the Word. And just as Jesus spoke with authority through His own mouth, so today, He speaks with authority through the mouths of His preachers, called and ordained and sent to preach in His name.
Called and ordained preachers do not (or certainly ought not) speak like scribes or teachers of the Law giving merely human opinions or multiple doctrinal options from which the human ego may choose. Preachers preach certain doctrine because certain doctrine creates certain faith.
The chief reason we have a fellowship of congregations called The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is to insure the teaching of the true doctrine of Christ. The first objective of Synod is stated in our handbook, “to conserve and promote the unity of the true faith.” In other days this was taken for granted. In our day we would do well to pay attention to the all-important role of agreement in pure doctrine and true faith. Besides the Bible our Lutheran confessions do not speak like the scribes. They do not raise questions and leave the hearers to pick and choose their own answers. They speak with authority. They speak with certainty.
Jesus taught with authority and still speaks with authority in His Church. And as it was in the day of Jesus’ earthly ministry so in our day, the old sin nature does not much like this authoritative, clear, definitive doctrine. Ours is an age of choice. You want cafeteria religion where you can pick and choose your own doctrine. What was once the certain authoritative words of Jesus is now replaced with human opinion. This is the teaching of the scribes. It destroys the unity of faith. It turns faith into doubt. And it’s just plain boring!
Jesus taught and His Church teaches with authority. But it does so not to bully and belittle. It does so not because we delight in arguing over the correctness of doctrine. The bottom line is pastoral and practical. We believe, teach, and confess authoritative doctrine so that you might be certain of the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of eternal life.
Your faith hangs not on the thin, flimsy wire of human opinion. Your faith hangs on the sure, certain and firm words of Jesus who says, “Whoever believes in me shall never die” (Jn. 11:25-26), “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (Jn. 6:37), “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk. 16:16).
This is the Good News that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, spread quickly after the Day of Pentecost. And today the need is as great as ever for there are still people who have not heard. We pray today that the Spirit may continue to use us and our witness that many may hear and believe and be saved.