Evil Rears Its Ugly Head

 This is the sermon I preached last Sunday, 1/28/24 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text  was Mark 1:21-28.


In today’s gospel, we see the kingdom of God on the move. Where King Jesus is, there is the kingdom. Where we are, with Christ in our lives, is the kingdom. 

One thing that stands out to me in this reading is, how can there be a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue where Jesus is teaching? Isn’t that supposed to be a safe place where worshipers would not encounter evil? His shouting out to Jesus was so disruptive. Where are the ushers when you need them?

We don’t have much experience in our daily lives with demons. However, if you talk with missionaries, they likely have knowledge in this area. For us, the best definition of a demon or unclean spirit is, “…anything that has power that is not of God” (Eric Fistler and Robb McCoy, pulpitfiction.com). It’s all about the source of power and authority. 

One would think that a sanctuary would be a safe place to be. It wasn’t for the people in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. Bible study in the sanctuary of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC, was not a safe place to be as congregants and the pastor were killed. Closer to us is the example of the quiet and peace of the Chautauqua Institution being shattered as speaker Salman Rushdie was attacked. Don’t tell me evil isn’t real today.

We have the people’s reaction to Jesus’ teaching recorded before and after Jesus’ encounter with the demon. Prior to the confrontation, the people were “astounded” (v. 22) and that’s before they saw anything happen. Jesus’ teaching contrasted so powerfully with that of the scribes, who were well-respected, knowledgeable, teachers in that day. 

However, they also were part of Jesus‘ opposition and later the early church’s. The issue between Jesus and the scribes is not how they teach, but who represents the authority of God. Who is speaking for God? Full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus speaks as the king of the ages, appointed by God. This authority is a “willingness or right that has everything to do with seeing justice served” (Graves).

After the miracle, the people were amazed, and they added that “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (v. 27). “Astounded” and “amazed,” are two different words in English and in New Testament Greek.  The differences may be slight, but they are there. 

Unclean in scripture means ritually impure in comparison to the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Holy One in contrast to the unholy spirit possessing the man. The spirit is reacting to Jesus’ teaching. That’s when all hell and all heaven breaks loose. 

The unclean spirit demonstrates how public honor, reputation and status worked in Jesus’ day. It begins by using public information to show that it knows who Jesus is. “I know who you are (socially) Jesus of Nazareth.” But then the spirit reveals information that is not public knowledge, that which is known only in the spiritual realm. “I know who you are (spiritually)—the Holy One of God.” It is this spiritual status that is the source of Jesus’ authority. The demons had a better idea of who Jesus was than many humans. 

“Have you come to destroy us?” (V. 24). Why the change from the singular to the plural? This spirit represents every manifestation of evil: sickness, sin, death and the whole kingdom of evil. Jesus is encountering the entire demonic world. The demons know they are already defeated. Jesus commands them with a simple word, and they are gone. Jesus restores the man to his community. Here we see that the final victory of God over demonic evil is already present in Jesus’ ministry. And yet, there is still evil at work in the world. It is the case of experiencing the now, but not yet of the fullness of God’s kingdom.

What is Jesus’ new teaching? What is new is the authority behind Jesus’ words. Things happen when Jesus speaks and teaches. His word is powerful. In this case, Jesus’ word freed a man who had been enslaved by a demon. 

God stands steadfastly against all forces that are keeping you, as God’s people, down as well. God is opposed to anything and everything that robs you of abundant life. God will do battle with those who seek to rob you of joy, meaning and purpose. God is committed to doing this for you and for all God’s children (Lose). And today, I can’t help but think of those surrounded by war in so many places—without homes, wounded inside and out—without homes and nowhere they can possibly go. Somehow, some way Jesus reaches out to them, loves them and restores them. 

There is a song the praise band has sung that illustrates what God is calling us to. Think about these words this week and see how God speaks to you:

God put a million, million doors in the world

For His love to walk through

One of those doors is you

I said God put a million, million doors in the world

For His love to walk through

One of those doors is you.

We bring the kingdom come…

With every act of love

Jesus, help us carry You

Alive in us, Your light shines through

With every act of love

We bring the kingdom come 

(Jason Gray).




David Ewart, holytextures.com

Mike Graves, Ofelia Ortega, in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1

David Lose, Epiphany 4B-Against the Robbers, davidlose.com

Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels




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