Sermons

With Authority

January 28, 2024 Speaker: Ray Lorthioir Series: Sermons 2024

Passage: Mark 1:21–26

Sermon 1-28-24

Pastor Ray Lorthioir

Trinity Lutheran Church

W. Hempstead, NY

Based on the Gospel lesson for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Mark 1:21-28

 

With Authority

Whenever we read Scripture we’re looking into times, places and cultures that are not our own. For this reason, it can seem like looking into a fictional world — like watching Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Game of Thrones or any other fictional series. So, why will people bother to watch these things if they’re fictional? Entertainment, of course, is one reason. However, none of these stories would be entertaining if they didn’t ring true about the general human experience on earth, including imagination itself.

Within the long ages of history reported in Scripture, there is a great deal of human drama. There are godly people and wicked people. They come into conflict with one another. There is no drama in any present media that is not foreshadowed in some way by what we can read in Scripture.

And when everything is said and done, Scripture answers all the big questions of this life. Why does everything exist in the first place? What is life? What is death? Is there anything beyond death? Why does every specie reproduce? What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? Why do we age? Why do we have to work in order to eat? Why must we compete? Why is so much in life difficult? Who gets to define good and evil? Why does catastrophe and disaster exist? Are there extra dimensions into which we cannot enter? Do these extra dimensions have inhabitants? If so, do they have anything to do with us? Is there someone to whom we are all ultimately responsible for our life actions? These and many more questions are answered in Scripture.

The problem for many people today is the same one that has existed from the beginning. Many dislike the narrative given in Scripture. We’d rather have our own concepts of reality. Therefore, we make our own gods and our own religions, just like our ancestors have done from time immemorial. Sorry, atheists. Even your atheism qualifies as a religion, since it provides a narrative for all the above questions and more.

Scripture argues that while we can make up any narrative about life that we choose, there is only one true narrative. All the others are false. This is another reason we don’t like Scripture. Even if we like some of its narrative and answers to life’s questions, we want to be able to add and subtract from it as we please. But, the result of that is what’s known as false doctrine — false interpretations and understandings about existence and life. 

Thus, St. Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” And also in 2 Peter 2:1-3, “1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them — bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” Saint Paul even says in 2 Corinthians 11:4, “For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”

So Scripture weaves a certain picture and pattern of existence. It does the same for human existence on this planet. Even though time, language and culture has changed drastically, humanity has not. The same questions are still in our midst. The same needs of life are with us. So are the same temptations and many of the same delights. Therefore, this central question remains. Whose understanding of life will we live by? Whose way of life will we follow? Who will be the one we trust to tell us the truth about life?

Jesus of Nazareth spent the first thirty years of His life cloaked in obscurity as an ordinary skilled day laborer from the village of Nazareth. Other than the strange things that had happened at His birth and when He was twelve, no one had any reason to see Him as anything but a typical Galilean peasant. That’s why many in Jesus’ home town took offense at Him when He made a visit home after He had exploded on the scene. After Jesus taught in the Nazareth synagogue, we read in Mark 6:2-3, “2. . . ‘Where did this man get these things?’ they [the townspeople] asked. ‘What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! 3 Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.” Where, indeed, did Jesus get His abilities? Where did He get His teachings? That’s a question that has to be answered by everyone.

This morning’s Gospel lesson shows us how Jesus exploded on the scene. First, we read in Mark 1:21-22, “21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.”

Teachers of the Law gave their opinions on the Law in guarded fashion. This is because their opinions could be criticized by other teachers of the Law. I’ll tell you that as a pastor I’m always aware that any mistake I make in teaching or preaching can be criticized by my theological peers.

However, it’s clear that Jesus didn’t feel any pressure at all from the great theologians of His day. He taught as though He was the giver of the Law. That’s clear from His teachings, parables and controversies with Jewish spiritual leaders. And it raises an important question. Did He teach this way because He’s the One who gave the Law?

This morning’s first lesson tells what Moses said to Israel in the final years of his life. Deuteronomy 18:15-16, “15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, ‘Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.’”

The Israelites had been terrified when they saw the divine glory of Yahweh on Mount Sinai. Like all sinners of all times, we also would be terrified if the Holy One were to appear before us in His naked, righteous, divine majesty. For we are unrighteous by nature, unable to stand before perfect goodness without condemnation, guilt and terror. Therefore, Yahweh made Moses stand between Him and the Israelites. Moses was a prophet, God’s mouthpiece to the people. He was also priest, the one who appealed the spiritual needs of Israel to Yahweh, especially the need for the forgiveness of their sins.

But Moses was no ordinary prophet. In an incident where Moses’ brother and sister criticized Moses, Yahweh answered their criticism with these words in Numbers 12:6-8, “6. . . ‘When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. 7 But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. 8 With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles. . . .’”

If you look at all the dreams and visions found in the prophetic books of the Old Testament, it’s all quite confusing. It’s hard to know what the dreams and visions mean. On the other hand, the Torah, the five books of Moses, are quite clear. They clearly tell you, “do this,” but “don’t do this.” Therefore, when Moses prophesied that Yahweh would raise up a prophet like Him in the future, it’s clear this prophet also will have a direct pipeline to God. To hear the prophet speak will be hearing God speak. This is precisely the effect people were experiencing when they heard Jesus teach.

Furthermore, Moses said in Deuteronomy 18:17-19, “17 The LORD said to me: ‘What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.’” From these words, it’s clear that the prophet predicted by Moses will have that direct pipeline to Yahweh. It will be so direct that anyone who refuses to listen to the prophet will be called to account by Yahweh Himself.

When John the Baptist suddenly appeared on the radar the Jewish leadership sent emissaries out to him with questions. As we read in John 1:21, “21. . . ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He [John] answered, ‘No.’” It’s clear from this exchange that the people of Jesus’ time knew about the prophet Moses had promised would come. Some were wondering if John was the prophet. Of course, John pointed them to Jesus. So, is Jesus The Prophet promised by Moses? Countless tens of thousands over the centuries have answered “yes” to that question. Look into what Jesus taught and did, then decide for yourself.

So, the first thing that startled people when Jesus appeared on the scene was that He not only could teach them with greater wisdom than anyone they had ever heard, He dared to teach them with authority as if He were more than The Prophet, namely as if He were Yahweh.

But there was more. If Jesus is Yahweh, the Son, incarnate in human flesh, then He had to show Himself capable of doing things that only Yahweh can do. Thus, we continue reading in today’s Gospel lesson. Mark 1:23-26, “23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!’ 25 ‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.”

Jesus always refused the testimony of evil spirits. That’s why He shut them up. The only testimony He would accept was the testimony of His fellow human beings. 

But what is the origin of evil spirits? Even though the Old Testament acknowledges that pagans consulted with such spirits through mediums and wizards, it doesn’t say anything about the spirits. I only know of one person in the Old Testament who was tormented by an evil spirit. That’s Saul, the first king of Israel.

For the origin of evil spirits we have to turn to an apocryphal book known as First Enoch. We’re told in 1Enoch that when a group of watchers — the sons of God mentioned in Genesis 6:4 — came to Mount Hermon, they conspired to sin against Yahweh and took human wives and somehow impregnated them. The resulting offspring were strange hybrids who caused much trouble on earth. When one of these hybrids died, their spirits being of heavenly origin nevertheless were confined to earth because they were also of humanity. It’s hard to know if this correct because this book has not been deemed authoritative Scripture. However, whatever the origin of evil spirits, they were definitely present in Jesus’ time. He dealt with them. We know from Jesus’ own words that there were definitely Jewish groups that performed exorcisms in His time as well. And this ministry of deliverance from evil spirits has persisted down to the present.

Within the first months of my ministry at Trinity, an 18 year old man came to me one night complaining of interference in his mind. He had wanted to do well academically but there was always something disabling his power to think straight. People called him stupid. He thought he was stupid. With his girlfriend also present, I prayed for him. Suddenly he spoke to me in a different voice. The voice challenged me. It challenged my prayer. It claimed ownership over the young man. In the Name of Jesus I challenged that voice. We became locked in spiritual struggle. I called in reinforcements – other members of the congregation who would know how to help. Hours later the voice finally yielded and departed. The young man was back to himself.

It took some additional ministry, but the young man rejoiced in the relief he was experiencing. He went on to do very well in college. He became a strong believer. Where that man is today and how he is presently doing, I don’t know. We lost contact long ago when he moved off the Island. Nevertheless, I will always remember the incident.

It may be possible to explain what happened that night in some other way. However, as far as I’m concerned, I know I had faced off with some kind of perverted spirit that enjoyed tormenting this young man. That spirit had been forced to flee in the Name of Jesus, the risen Son of God. The young man obtained the freedom he sought.

There were other dimensions to the story. The young man told me of strange happenings that would go on in his home, typical of what is called a poltergeist. The family were all aware of this. And so, I remember praying over the home and property with his parents. I believe there was relief from this situation. But it’s thirty nine years ago and I don’t remember.  Appropriately, their home was on Elm Street.

On that note, over the years, I’ve discovered that this community has more than its fair share of spiritual irregularities in homes. The latest incident took place two years ago when a distraught Orthodox Jewish woman actually dared to enter a Christian sanctuary during our service one Sunday. To the usher she complained of poltergeist activity in her home. I knew nothing about this because I was conducting service. But some people were called out of service who took her downstairs and handled it. By the time service ended, she had left. I found out about the whole incident from those who had ministered to her. There’s never been any further contact. So we don’t know if the family found relief. All the woman left was a first name, and that probably was an alias. Nevertheless, Carol and I continue to pray for her and her family that they may find relief in the Name of Jesus. 

About a decade ago Newsday republished a 1962 special edition that gives the histories of Nassau County’s communities. One of the things written about West Hempstead was that Native Americans from all over the area would come here to pow wow. This probably went on for centuries before the English colonized Long Island. Therefore, I’m not surprised that all that worship of pagan gods has left some kind of spiritual residue here.

Indeed, Carol and I pray daily over the property, that whatever pagan worship may have occurred in this area in the past will have no effect in the present. We do this because over the years we’ve occasionally experienced irregular things. And Christians don’t have to live with that stuff. We have the Name of Jesus.

We’re told in Philippians 2:8-11, “8 And being found in appearance as a man, he [Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This means that every creature and spirit that Yahweh has created — even if they’ve become disobedient, like evil spirits — have to bow the knee and confess that the God/man Jesus is now master of all Yahweh’s created order. Therefore, Christian believers in Messiah Jesus, the Son of God, have been given the privilege of ordering evil spirits to leave by using the all-powerful Name of Jesus against them.

Now, notice. At the beginning we noted that Scripture has a narrative of what this world is like and what it’s all about. Scripture distinctly says that we’re not alone in this universe. The prophets of the Old Testament were shown that the creation is populated with various types of spiritual beings — Cherubim, Seraphim, and Sons of God, to name a few.

We, of course, are also spiritual beings. But humans are spiritual beings meant to live in physical bodies. This was proven by Jesus Himself. He was raised from the dead in a physical human body. It’s one of the new immortal bodies that all who have faith in Jesus are scheduled to get upon the resurrection of the dead. But Jesus was clearly raised in a human body that is now at the right hand of God. On the great Day of the Lord, Jesus will return to earth in that body to judge all who have ever lived here. In the meantime through His command, believers can participate in His living body and blood through the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

In conclusion, just as we have forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in the powerful Name of Jesus, so we also have deliverance from the devil and all other disobedient beings. Dealing with disobedient spirits is not pleasant. But it’s a reality and it’s occasionally necessary. With the increasing number of people in this culture devoted to the new age, the occult, mysticism, addictions of various kinds, atheism and other kinds of radical rebellion against our Creator, dealing with such spirits may become more than occasionally necessary. We’ll see. However, Yahweh has graciously given His people a great Name of authority over them all — the Name of Jesus. In the Name of Jesus the Apostles and those who came after them also set people free from torment by evil spirits. This authority has always remained in Christ’s Church. That’s the good news for any who may suffer from this unfortunate situation in the present time. Praise the Name of Jesus. Amen.

All Bible quotes are from the NIV.

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