Sermon Jan. 28, 2018

“The Arrogance of Jesus”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Mark 1: 21-28
January 28, 2018

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. ”         Mark 1:25i

There is power here. There is a promise. In these few verses from Mark is embedded the truth of God. But truth is not always tripped over. Sometimes truth requires digging to unearth its beauty and promise. So let us open by examining this section in Mark. I ask you to take this journey of discovery with me – which means everyone needs to grab a Bible.

The cryptic efficiency of the Bible. It’s amazing how much is packed into one verse. So what did you notice in the very first verse we read this morning? (Mark 1:25) This is not a trick question. Just the facts:

  • We are now in Capernaum. Is this significant to the story? I’ll try to find out but if the scholars don’t make a big deal regarding the location, then I’ll assume it is not significant to our understanding.
  • Here’s the big one. This healing took place on the Sabbath. We’ll talk more about this but if you’re a Baptist, you know that such a healing is seen as “work” which is forbidden on the Sabbath. More latter.
  • To make matters worse, Jesus performed this healing while in the Synagogue.

So let’s take these three facts in the order I presented them. First, we are in Capernaum, a fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was fishermen that Jesus first called as disciples. It is also located within Galilee. This is what R. Alan Culpepper tells us:

The identification of Jesus with Galilee is important because Galilee will be the place of the inbreaking of the kingdom through Jesus’ ministry, and at the end of the Gospel the disciples will be instructed to go to Galilee: “There you will see him” (16:7).

I said our second fact found in this one verse from Mark was “the big one.” This healing took place on the Sabbath. Not a problem for us. Seems like the right thing to do, right? But as I said earlier, this was deemed work and not to be performed on this most sacred of days. Indeed, later on in Mark Jesus again is in a synagogue and the chance to heal a man with a withered hand presents itself:

Mark 3:1-6 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

So the stakes are high and note this. This is not the last healing Jesus will do this Sabbath day. After healing the man with an unclean spirit, Jesus goes and does it again. It is still the Sabbath when he heals Peter’s mother-in-law. Not done yet. Still the Sabbath and now crowds are coming to Jesus seeking to be healed in body and in spirit. By performing these healings on the Sabbath, Jesus couldn’t make his authority over the religious order any clearer.

Remember the third detail in Mark 1:25? This healing took place in the Synagogue. In the event that the authorities missed the point, Jesus breaks Sabbath law in the Synagogue. They are sure to see Jesus as an arrogant pretender. And what of Rome? Is Jesus challenging political power, too? Yes and so is the author of Mark. We probably don’t see it, but it’s there. Culpepper, in his commentary on Mark, reminds us that by 9 BC Caesar Augusts and the term “gospel” (good news) were…

closely connected with the acclamations of Caesar Augustus as a divine man who by his victories had inaugurated a new era of peace for all the world. An inscription from Priene1 in Asia Minor links the term “good news” to Augustus, who is also called “savior.” Against this background, Mark 1:1 would have been understood as both the fulfillment of the messianic hopes of Israel and a polemic against the cult of the emperor. Jesus Christ, not the emperor—the crucified, not the enthroned—should be worshiped for overcoming evil and ushering in a new kingdom of peace and deliverance.

Mark is challenging Rome. Oh, the arrogance of Jesus. By the time the first chapter of Mark reaches the 28 verse, Jesus has offended the state, the religious order of his day and Satan.

At the outset of this sermon we said we wanted to discover truth. Here are at least four to consider.

First, Christ will not be contained. I cannot build a wall to fence in the power of Jesus. I may dislike people who have caused me pain. Jesus loves them. I may condemn those who commit atrocious crimes against humanity. Jesus loves them. I may use religion to set up walls of separation between those I see as saved and those I view as damned. Jesus bids them “Come.” I may see God to be here but not there. In Mark the proclamation comes – Jesus breaks through all evil. Jesus will not be contained.

Second, we live in an era where the future seems uncertain. Political tensions rise. The gap between rich and poor widens. Players on the world stage who use evil means to promote their limited vision of the good. The environment may yet be turned against our survival. The politics of the moment seems to value expedience over excellence in governance. The list of woes seems endless and our anxiety grows. Yet we forget. God’s will, like God’s love, cannot be contained. The sovereign One of heaven is sovereign over all. In such times as these remember the words of Paul. Make them your own:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.2

The third truth is that religion is not God. The Church is not God. The faith you have chosen cannot place a claim on truth with a capital “T.” The people in Mark’s day were good folks. Those who attended the synagogue were as upright as I am and those in the third chapter of Mark that plot against Jesus see Christ as a usurper of the Truth. They were not all that different than me. So I ask us all to remember the truth found in Mark. Religion is not God and its followers are not creatures of perfection.

Fourth truth – the demons that possess us cannot finally own us. Christ will triumph over the evil within me. The man with an unclean spirit was sent writhing on the floor and arose made whole. Not even the demons of Satan can withstand the Word of God. For all of us who can confess that an “unclean spirit” lies within us, Christ can crush it.

These are the truths I have found – you cannot contain Christ, God is sovereign over all of history, religion is not God, even the greatest of evil is crushed by the weight of God’s truth. All this in eight verses. Thanks be to God. Let us pray……

1 The Priene Inscription (9 BC)

Since the Providence which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit mankind, sending him as a savior, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance [excelled even our anticipations], surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning for the world of the good tidings [euangeliøn] that came by reason of him [may it therefore be decided that. . . .]”

Eugene Boring et al., eds., Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 169

2 Romans 8:38-39

i Mark 1:21-28

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.  22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.  23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.”  25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”  26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 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.”  28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.