4th Sunday after Epiphany – January 28, 2018
They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23Just 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!” 26The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. 27The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” 28News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28)
“Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” What is the devil capable of? Our initial answer might simply be “anything.” It certainly seems so. The devil is willing to go to any lengths to work against the Lord, against his word, and against us. He will use whatever means necessary to accomplish that purpose. He uses distraction. He uses deception. And, on rare occasions, he uses direct attacks.
At times, the devil uses the distractions of this world to lure believers away from the Lord. In that way, the devil operates like an angler fish. The angler fish is a deepwater, monstrous-looking fish that dangles a light in front of its mouth. The light lures its prey in. By the time the fish realize the light is a trap it is too late. The angler fish has gobbled them up.
The distractions around us don’t appear venomous or dangerous. That’s by design. The devil wants to slowly distract us into desiring the temporary things of this world. Once we’ve placed our faith as a lower priority the devil pounces.
At other times, Satan uses deception by blending into the background, so that we forget him entirely. In this way he acts like a giant octopus, hiding so well that it remains unseen. By blending into the background, a giant octopus can grab hold of any unsuspecting sea animal, from small fish to sharks.
This type of deception through camouflage might just be Satan’s most effective tactic. More and more the world around us calls the devil “a myth” or “something made up.” Over the years the devil has slowly blended into the background. The French poet Charles Baudelaire put it best: “the finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.”
But there is a third tactic of the devil. It may not be the most effective, but it certainly is the most frightening. There are times when the devil puts aside his deceptions and distractions and directly attacks.
There is Satan’s rebellion in heaven against the Lord; his attack on Job and Job’s family; his work through the witch at Endor; and his fight against the Archangel Michael. But these all happened in the Old Testament. Now in the New Testament Jesus, the very Son of God, had arrived and begun his ministry. While the devil had tried different tactics to trip Jesus up, none of them worked.
So Satan dispenses with the camouflage. There are no more tricks. Instead, the devil declares all-out war. And the battlefield is the last one we would expect: the Synagogue.
“[Jesus and his disciples] went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” Jesus had begun his ministry. His disciples were with him. Fittingly, he goes to worship on the Sabbath and begins to teach in the synagogue in the town of Capernaum.
While the people had heard Jesus teach before, they were not prepared for what would happen next. “Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘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!’”
While the man was yelling at Jesus, the crowd must have been wondering the same thing we are. How did a demon-possessed man get into their church?
Perhaps the better question would be “Why is a demon-possessed man in our church?” It is the last place we would expect the devil and his demons.
But again, that’s the point. The devil works his hardest here. Those not here, those not listening to God’s Word, are already making other things their priorities. They are already distracted. The devil is at work here and now, trying to pull our thoughts and our hearts away to something else. Here he does it quietly from behind the scenes. He is appealing to our sinful nature and its desires.
All too often he has been successful. We have been distracted by what isn’t important from what really is important. We have been lulled into sleep, forgetting our enemy, the devil, is constantly trying to tempt us. We forget that he is “filled with fury.”
It was that fury that stood before Jesus in the synagogue on that Sabbath. Notice that when false doctrine is taught the devil is quiet. But when Jesus speaks the truth of the gospel, the devil is on the attack. And what an attack it is.
The devil actually tells the truth! Jesus is “The Holy One of God.” But he doesn’t need the backing of the devil and his demons for people to know that. The devil was waging an all-out attack of confusion right there in the synagogue.
Then the demon asks the question: “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” On that day, in that synagogue in the city of Capernaum, Jesus answers that question both for the demons and for you and me.
For the demon the answer was swift and simple. “‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” Such is the power of God over the devil and his evil angels. It is easy for us to forget that our Lord has complete power even over our enemy, the devil.
The devil knows this. He knows he has been defeated by Jesus. He knows that Jesus’ death on the cross crushed his serpent head, just as God prophesied to him in the Garden of Eden. And he knows he is running out of time. “He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.”
Now it’s our turn to ask the question. “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” Thanks be to God that his answer to us is the exact opposite from the devil’s. “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The devil still prowls around churches, looking to distract, looking to pull away. He wants you to fall. He wants you to fail. But remember that your enemy is defeated. Jesus also continues to stand in the midst of the sanctuary, speaking to us by his word, strengthening us through his gospel in word and sacrament.
The people were right when they said about Jesus: “He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” Jesus continues to protect you today. He helps you fix our eyes on him, casting aside the devils deceptions and distractions. And now he points us ahead to the heaven he has won for us.
“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb.” Amen.