Sermon 4: Teaching the People and Casting out Demons
Text: Mark 1:21-28 – And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath day, He entered into the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at His doctrine: for He taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes. And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, “Let us alone! What do we have to do with you, you Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know you, who you are, the Holy One of God.”
And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Hold your peace, and come out of him.” And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him. And they were all amazed, insomuch that they asked among themselves, saying, “What is this thing? What new doctrine is this? For He even commands the unclean spirits with authority, and they obey Him!” And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee.
The King, Jesus of Nazareth, overcame a forty-day battle with Satan. Afterwards, He began preaching that people needed to repent—to change their loyalties from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God, which was very near. He called His first disciples, four men who were ready to join the kingdom and follow their King wherever He would lead them. But Jesus didn’t stop there; His mission of calling souls to join His side had only just begun.
In the remainder of chapter one, Mark presents Jesus as an authoritative King, a caring King, but most importantly, a powerful King.
The Text, part 1 – Authority in Teaching (Mark 1:21-22)
(21) They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath Day, He entered into the synagogue and taught.
Jesus and the two sets of brothers (Andrew and Simon, James and John) went to Capernaum, which was most likely the nearest town, and was also where Andrew and Simon lived. We’re not told what Jesus did between His arrival in Capernaum and the Sabbath Day (remember, Mark’s readers were interested in action), but we are told that once the Sabbath Day came, He made a point to be at the synagogue (which, in today’s language, would be the “weekly worship service” for the Jews).
The synagogue in Capernaum was “a beautiful structure, built of white limestone, show[ing] by its architectural features that it was built in the time of the Herods” (McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel, p 271). And it was built by an officer of the Roman army—a Gentile. Mark doesn’t mention this fact, but Luke does (Luke 7:1-5). The first recorded synagogue sermon in Mark’s gospel written to a Roman audience, was preached in a synagogue built by a Roman Centurion.
The synagogues, according to most biblical historians, arose out of necessity while the Jews were captives in Babylon. They had no access to the temple (for it was destroyed), and so these “meeting places” sprung up in various Jewish settlements where they could meet and devote time to learning God’s word each Sabbath. Even after they returned from captivity, they continued to have synagogues (the Greek word being a compound of three words literally meaning the “coming-together-place”). Jesus’ frequent visits to these synagogues showed that God approved of the set-up. During the synagogue gatherings each Sabbath, they would pray, read the Scripture and hear a portion expounded to them. It’s almost as though the synagogues were part of God’s plan to prepare the Jews for the worship assemblies of the church.
It was into this gathering of devoted Jews that the King went that Sabbath Day and taught.
(22) And they were astonished at His teaching: for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
This is the same reaction that the people had after hearing the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 7:28-29). Their astonishment wasn’t necessarily at the content of the message (we’re not told by Mark what He taught), but at the way in which He taught it. He taught them with authority.
Don’t let this escape your notice, Mark is presenting Jesus as the King, spreading the word about His Kingdom—announcing that the Kingdom of Darkness is going to be overthrown. His teaching in the synagogue would have absolutely included a discussion of this topic. The King has gone to the people, in person, and is making the case for them to prepare themselves for His Kingdom. People aren’t going to follow a weak leader, and Jesus was absolutely not weak—He taught them as one who had authority.
They were used to the teachings of the scribes. These scribes were known for their teaching style of “probably” and “maybe,” and “it could be…” That is, they were rarely firm on any matter of doctrine or practice, often quoting competing rabbis and leaving it up to the people to decide which one they liked best. Not Jesus, though. He taught them with authority: “This is how it is,” and as He so often did, He would have proven it from Scripture. And don’t forget that He called His first disciples (the two sets of brothers) with an authoritative, “Come!” (Mark 1:17).
The Text, part 2 – Authority over Demons (Mark 1:23-28)
Jesus presented Himself as one who should be heeded by means of His message and delivery. Next, He proceeds to prove that the Kingdom of God is at hand (and thus, He should be heeded) by His authority over the demonic world.
(23) There was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit
To put this in modern language, he was demon-possessed. The word “unclean” literally means impure or defiled. Some believe that these demons are fallen angels that God permitted to torment mankind. I tend to agree more with Alexander Campbell, who made a pretty convincing case that the “unclean spirits” or “demons” (“devils,” KJV) were the souls of those wicked men who died in the flood (but that’s a completely different lesson).
This demon was there with the worshipers, in the same building during their worship! This demon was a representative of the Kingdom of Darkness that Jesus was planning on overthrowing. Let no one for a moment think that Satan doesn’t attempt to get at us even when we are gathered together to worship! Think back to Job 1, where the “sons of God” (followers of God) came together to present themselves before God—and Satan was among them. Think about Nadab and Abihu, offering worship to the Lord—but in a way that Satan wanted done.
Among most ancient cultures (and even many present-day ones), there was a fear of being taken over by an evil spirit. And in the first century, when it was actually happening, that fear increased. Later, Mark will record a demon-possessed man who would roam among the tombs and shattered the chains that they tried to bind him with, cutting himself and crying throughout the nights and days (Mark 5).
(24a) He cried out, saying, “Leave us alone! What do we have to do with you, you Jesus of Nazareth?”
This demon recognized quite clearly that Jesus was different. Most humans, the demons didn’t fear. They could tell the demons “leave that man” and the demons could refuse—or as in the case of the seven sons of Sceva, they could turn on the pseudo-exorcists and attack. But not Jesus. The demon knew who Jesus was, and what He was there for.
Jesus is the King, announcing the establishment of His kingdom, taking citizens out of the Kingdom of Darkness, and now He comes face-to-face (so to speak) with part of the army of darkness. It’s like the King we’ve mentioned before, traveling into enemy territory, telling the citizens that He is about to overthrow their ruler, and now meeting face-to-face with one of the powerful knights of the realm, sword in hand. The knight says to the king, “Get out! You have no business here!” If the king backs down, all of his work is lost, no one will follow him. He has no choice but to engage the knight in battle.
(24b) “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
Depending on the inflection of one’s voice as he reads this passage, it could be read as a combination of fear and pleading, something like in Luke 8:28, where Legion begs Jesus not to torment him. On the other hand, it could also be read in a scoffing tone of voice, the demon chuckling at the thought that this Jesus could hurt him.
Again, imagine that knight, armed with a heavy, sharp sword, facing the king who has been trying to turn the hearts of the citizens to him. He sits atop his horse and scoffs at the king before him, “Have you come to destroy us?” and laughs in derision. “I know who you are.”
The demon identifies Jesus as “the Holy One of God,” or it could also be translated, “God’s Holy One” or “God’s Saint.” For Mark’s readers, this was a reference back to the very first verse, where Jesus is identified as the Anointed One, Son of The God, as well as verse 11, where God spoke from heaven saying, “Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” They would have seen this as the Kingdom of Darkness acknowledging that Jesus is the Son of the God. They also would have seen this as a challenge to Jesus.
(25-26) Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Hold your peace and come out of him.” And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.
There was no long, drawn-out battle between Jesus and this knight of darkness. There was simply Jesus opening His mouth, ordering the demon to be silent, and commanding him to depart. The demon fought against it, trying to harm the man in the process, but his power was pitiful compared to the power of Jesus.
Many have asked, “Why did Jesus tell the demon to be silent when it was proclaiming the truth about Him?” There are multiple reasons for it. First, Satan is a liar, and the father of lies (John 8:44). Thus, when a demon (a servant of Satan) proclaims the truth about Jesus, it can actually have the opposite effect of making people doubt the truth. It’s like people say from time to time when they hear a story, “consider the source.” Basically, you don’t want a chronic liar on your side, because it will make you look bad; the Pharisees could have used this event as evidence that Jesus was in league with Satan (as in Mark 3:22). Second, though the statement from the demon was true, Jesus’ plan did not involve a public declaration to everyone of who He was (the Son of God) at that point.
(27a) They were all amazed.
And why wouldn’t they be? Obviously, they knew that this man had an unclean spirit, and though Mark doesn’t describe for us the way the man had acted before (remember, Mark does very little in the realm of backstories), there must have been an incredible difference before and after Jesus spoke. Before, the man may have been writhing in agony, moaning and crying, having seizures, or any number of other symptoms of his being overwhelmed by the dark knight. After, the man would have been normal, in his right mind, most likely smiling, perhaps even having tears of joy running down his face. The transformation would be amazing for certain!
(27b) they asked among themselves, saying, “What is this thing? What new doctrine is this? For He even commands the unclean spirits with authority, and they do obey Him!”
The devout Jews who gathered at the synagogue were amazed first because Jesus taught with authority, but now they are even more amazed, because His authority is even over the demons. The demon said, “You leave us alone!” And Jesus basically said, “No, you leave.” And then the demon obeyed.
Mark’s readers couldn’t help but be surprised by this exchange between Jesus and the demon. Like the people in Capernaum, they would have been amazed, wondering just how powerful this Jesus must be. In the mythological stories of the Greek and Roman gods, there were always long, drawn-out battles, epic battles between the gods which sometimes lasted for years. Yet this Son of the God won this battle by speaking a single sentence, a simple sentence. It’s hard to place ourselves in their position, understanding it from their point of view, but what you’re reading right now in Mark is a description of sheer power.
Jesus, the King, had been promising that the Kingdom of God was “at hand,” and if there was any doubt as to His message, this absolute victory over one of Satan’s evil knights silenced them.
(28) Immediately His fame spread throughout all the region round about Galilee.
The people in Capernaum told their friends and family about Jesus, they in turn told others, and Jesus because very famous very quickly in that area. And how could He not be? Imagine that a doctor moves here, and he has the ability to genuinely cure cancer in one day—without chemotherapy, without surgery, without any of that stuff. He heals a person who everyone knows is suffering horribly from that awful disease—it’s gone completely, and the person who before was weak and frail from this cancer is now healthy and energetic. And not only that, people watched as this doctor did it. Word would spread very quickly, and thousands of people would be pounding at his door begging to be healed in the same way. It would be a very big deal. This is what happened to Jesus after He healed this demon-possessed man (see verse 32).
Mark records this miracle of Jesus to show his readers (both then and now) that God’s Kingdom was indeed coming, and clearly had the power to overthrow the Kingdom of Darkness.
Jesus Attended Worship Services, Do You?
Do not let this point escape your notice. On the Sabbath Day, the day in which the Jews gathered together to study God’s word, to pray, to read the Scripture, and to hear a lesson from God’s word, Jesus was there in the synagogue with them. To put it in modern language, Jesus “went to church.” We can learn a lesson from that. Jesus attended the worship services, and so should we. And if you keep reading the gospel accounts, you’ll see that Jesus was frequently found in the synagogue on the Sabbath. It wasn’t an isolated incident.
When Jesus died on the cross and was raised again, establishing His eternal Kingdom on the Day of Pentecost, He did away with the Old Testament Law. From that point forward, the Lord’s Day, the day when citizens of the heavenly kingdom meet together in worship, is on the first day of the week. It is a day to honor our King, remember His death, and celebrate each week the day that He came out of that grave, victorious over the king of Darkness. Our King thought assembling for worship was important—do you?
Demons Confess Jesus, Do You?
Regardless of the motivation behind the demon saying “I know you, who you are, you’re the Holy One of God,” the fact remains that the demon openly acknowledged Jesus before others. Still, how many people claim to know Jesus, claim to follow Jesus, claim to serve Jesus, yet outside of the church building, they never mention Him? Can we really claim to be a follower of Jesus if the demons themselves do a better job of confessing Him than we do? James says “the demons also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19). The King says, “If you confess me before men, I will confess you before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). How good of a job are you doing at confessing Jesus?
Jesus is the Authority.
Sad, so very sad is the fact that people who claim to follow Jesus Christ and who want the salvation He has to offer reject His very words when it comes to obtaining it. Jesus is the authority. He taught with authority, and in fact, He made the statement, “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Since Jesus is the one with “all authority,” why don’t people simply follow it?
For example, Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). It’s not that hard of a statement, yet there are those who say good, religious Jews will be saved today without a belief in Jesus.
Jesus, the King with all authority, said that “repentance” was to be preached “in his name [that is, by His authority] among all nations” (Luke 24:47). But, how often do we hear the cry of “faith only!”? My friends, if it’s “faith only,” then there’s no need to repent, and Jesus’ authority means nothing!
The Lord and Savior of the world said that we must acknowledge Him as the Christ. It is that very fact upon which His whole kingdom is based (Matthew 16:15-19). He does not admit anyone as citizen in His Kingdom who does not acknowledge Him as King.
The Conqueror of demons said plain as can be, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). And yet those people claiming to be His friends deny the very thing which He said, denying that obedience to the King’s command to be baptized has anything to do with being a part of His kingdom.
The great Hero who overthrew the Kingdom of Darkness gave the order: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
This great King loves you and wants you to be saved. But you’ve got to make the decision to obey His commands. Won’t you do that today?
-Bradley S. Cobb