Called to Cleanse

Text: Mark 1:21-28
Date: Epiphany IV + 1/28/18
At the beginning of the Epiphany season it is a time of “epiphany,” that is, revealing the Savior who has come, born at Christmas and grown up in Nazareth. After His baptism by John in the Jordan St. Mark gets right down to business telling us of Jesus’ calling His first disciples to follow Him and become fishers of men, and then the beginning of His ministry of preaching, teaching and healing. He told us, “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mk1:14-15).
After calling His first disciples Jesus immediately began teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum. Mark doesn’t tell us what He was teaching. But let us assume that it was as He began, teaching about the kingdom, the reign and rule of God that was beginning right before their very eyes. That’s what He meant by saying, “The time is fulfilled.” Mark tells us the initial reaction of the people as being “astonished,” “for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”
Now the scribes had authority to teach the scriptures. And maybe there were a few outstanding teachers among them. But not many. Have you ever heard a boring preacher? Now a person can label a preacher “boring” for a few different reasons. It may be your own fault, after all, having so little knowledge of the Bible that the sermon may strike you as strange, unrelated religious claims. If you think a preacher is only putting out his own spin on things then you may well question why you ought to listen to him and not another. Or maybe he is monotone or lacking in eye contact, meaningful gestures, or insightful turns of phrase. The problem with the scribes seems to be that they felt they had to justify their teaching by footnotes, that is, referring to past authorities and writings all the time. But there was an even bigger difference.
The bigger difference is that the preaching of the scribes was always about only the promise of a coming Messiah, if indeed they didn’t get completely sidetracked on more minor issues. When Jesus came on the scene He came and spoke as the actual fulfillment of the promise, the actual beginning of the reign and rule of God, and the beginning of a new creation. Recall His initial sermon in Nazareth:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. (Lk 4:18-22).
Not everyone, however, was pleased to hear His preaching. “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out….” It is interesting that St. Mark labels him an “unclean spirit” rather than an “evil spirit.” It was both. For where Satan is in charge there is all manner of evil and uncleanness at hand. To call something clean or unclean in the Bible is usually to identify something or someone as either on God’s side or against Him. Animals were divided between clean and unclean in the Old Testament. Various sacrifices were associated with repentance and faith or recovery from an illness like leprosy, the leper commanded to cover his mouth and warn people saying, “unclean, unclean.” I personally like Leviticus 13:40 that says, “If a man’s hair falls out from his head, he is bald; he is clean”!
Sometimes in the Old Testament it has to do with the forgiveness of sins. We still pray Psalm 51, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps 51). The New Testament speaks of the forgiveness of sin when it says, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1); “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7); and, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9).
The unclean spirit is the enemy of Christ and he knows it. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” he cries out. “Have you come to destroy us?” They know their end. “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” At that Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” Recall that Jesus had already “bound the strongman” as Mark wrote, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man” (Mk 3:27). He already gained victory over the devil in His initial wilderness temptations. Though what the spirit said was true, Jesus is the Holy One of God, no one can come to that saving faith except by the Holy Spirit. Let not the enemy do our task of evangelism for us!
After the unclean spirit convulsed the man and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him. It is not unusual that evil opposition cries out with a loud voice! Everyone was amazed drawing the conclusion that they had just witnessed something new. And they had. The fulfillment of the kingdom, the reign and rule of God came to disarm and condemn the devil and accuser of us all. Then would the Lamb of God cover, forgive, take away and cleanse us from all sin welcoming us into His everlasting kingdom of liberty and life.
This morning He comes again, with His body and blood, to cleanse you from your sin, to guard you against all evil and everything unclean, to cleanse you and to make you His new creation.