The Lutheran Church of the Triune God

4th Sunday after Epiphany                                                                              February 1, 2015

 

Mark 1:21-28                                      Astonishing Teaching

 

Dear fellow redeemed,

When someone stands before you as God's representative, what kind of effect should their

 teaching have on you?  Get ready to be astonished. 

*          I'd like to recite to you what was said to some seminary students twenty-six years ago by

            a certain professor at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. 

*          He said: “I want to talk to you today about . . . losing your faith while you are at

            seminary.  I am not even going to quibble about whether or not this will happen. 

            I am going to assume that it will. 

*          There are a number of ways this will happen, and I don’t want you to be afraid of them.

            Some of the ways you will lose your faith are actually necessary and helpful to the

            process of becoming more deeply rooted in Christianity . . .  

*          You will lose your faith because you have placed your faith in a text [the Bible], and you

            are about to undergo a process in which the text will be dismantled critically before your

            eyes and ears... (Yes) It will appear as if your faith is being ripped out from under you.”[i]

 

The professor who spoke these words, needless to say, had one objective: capture the attention

of naïve impressionable students; impress them with something they've never heard before, brainwash

these young men so that they don't believe any more than their liberal teachers.

1                    But is such teaching truly astonishing?  For one thing the teaching lacks authority, since

            it's based on man's word rather than God's.

  2        It also lacks relevance.  Because of its constant effort to keep up with the times, it must

            constantly change.  And that means what you hear today will be old tomorrow.

  3        And finally, it lacks credibility, since it doesn't deliver in the end.

If you can't trust the Bible, you can't trust Jesus.  If what the Bible says about sin isn't so

            important, then neither is what Jesus says about forgiveness of sin.

*          In the end, man's teaching may capture your attention and impress you for a time.

            But there's nothing really astonishing about it at all.

 

A different story is told concerning the teaching of our Lord.

*          So that we might truly be astonished today, our text reveals that we don’t have to look

            any further than the teaching of Jesus Christ.

 1)        First, it has authority, since it's based on God's Word.

 2)        Secondly, it has relevance, since it produces real results for people.

 3)        And thirdly, it has credibility since it delivers what it promises to deliver.

*          We consider, in the first place the authority of Christ's teaching.

            St. Mark records that the people “were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as

            one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”

*          It was quite a contrast.  The Scribes constantly borrowed from unreliable sources. 

            One would quote another as they spoke in long strings of legal niceties and clever sayings. 

*          When all was said and done, their teaching was nothing more than a reiteration of fancy

            slogans and man-made commands.

*          Following them might make the people feel good for a time.  

            But their teaching lacked authority. 

            It couldn’t provide any real assurance concerning their future and the afterlife.

*          In the end, their teaching offered the people nothing and was therefore unimpressive and

            quite worthless.

 

But Christ’s teaching was different. The people “were astonished at his teaching.”

In him they witnessed someone who spoke with authority.

*          Of course, we might ask whether they knew what gave his teaching authority?

            They probably didn’t.  They were amazed because he was a real teacher. 

            He spoke as though he knew what he was talking about.

*          And so often that’s how it works today. 

            People have the wrong idea about what gives a teaching and a message authority.

*          Like the people in Capernaum, they might be impressed by the teacher’s ability to speak

            with conviction and enthusiasm.

*          But they don’t realize what gives a teaching true authority.

            What makes it truly astonishing, is not its ability to grab our attention. (We’re convinced

            this guy knows what he’s talking about since after all “look at his self-confidence!”)

*          No.  A teaching with true authority is one that can give us confidence since it's based on

            the inspired and inerrant Word of God.

 

That’s why we may speak of Christ’s teaching as Astonishing Teaching.

*          When Jesus taught the people “as one who had authority” he demonstrated that he spoke

            from Scripture; he spoke as though his message was from God, which, of course, it was.

*          And in doing so, Jesus didn’t appeal to other human authorities.  He acted with his own

            authority.   He spoke as the Son of God and quoted no one but the Father.  

 

Of course, there was something else the people found astonishing about Christ's teaching.

His teaching was relevant since it could produce real results for real live individuals.

*          As we return to today’s reading we find Christ expelling an evil spirit.   After witnessing

            the miracle the people asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching with authority.”

*          New meant different. It was different from that of the scribes since it had authority; it

            could effect change in a person.  “He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey

            him.”

*          In other words, his teaching was relevant for individuals who were suffering on account

            of sin, death and the devil. His teaching would provide relief!

 

So what about today?

Can we still say that Christ’s teaching is new; it's relevant for the modern individual?

*          Well, we’d certainly say that it’s new to the one who’s never heard it. 

            For the person who hears for the first time of God’s grace through Christ; that the Lord

            promises forgiveness and eternal life for every believer, that teaching is wonderfully new.

*          But what about the person who’s heard this teaching for years?  Is it still new?

            What about that neighbor who stops attending church since “It’s always the same thing!”

*          Really?! For someone to say such a thing can mean only one of two things. 

            Either they’ve never heard the Gospel, since their pastor doesn't preach it, or they've felt

            no need for the Gospel, and perhaps for some time.

 

On the other hand, if we do hear the Gospel and understand our need for it, its message is new

every time.

*          You may consider, after all, that our life is never the same from one year to the next. 

 1)        Instead of little kid problems, we’re dealing with big kid problems.

 2)        Instead of struggling to pay off those college loans, we’re hoping to avoid going bankrupt.

 3)        Instead of that dealing with that minor arthritis which occasionally flares up, we’re now

            practically disabled and barely able to walk.

*          Christ’s teaching may be the same, but as the years go by, it brings new meaning to us. 

            It’s because our sin - which is a part of our nature - never goes away.

            It simply finds new and perplexing ways to disrupt our life.

*          And that’s why we need to hear again and again that we have a Savior who promises

            to take our sin away. We need Astonishing Teaching which always produces and never

            gets old.

 

The problem with many people, of course, is that they can listen to Jesus’ teaching for years and

years and never come to appreciate the Gospel. 

*          The Gospel may produce real results in someone else, but not in them. 

            Why is that? 

*          Sometimes it's because they’re impressed with the delivery of the sermon, but not with

            the sermon's content.

*          More than likely, that’s what was happening that one day in Capernaum.

            Christ’s teaching produced astonishment, but did it produce faith? 

            It wouldn’t do so until they recognized Jesus for who he was.

*          And clearly, they didn’t at first. Notice the question asked by those astonished by his

            teaching. They don’t ask “who is this?” but “What is this?”

*          They're enthralled not with their Savior's message, but with their Savior's conduct.

 

I’m sure that’s why the evil spirit made his presence known that day.

*          The people may not have known who Christ was and why he had come, but Satan knew.

            “What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?

            I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”

*          It’s interesting. We're reminded that Satan and his fellow evil spirits were the first ones,

            other than the good angels, to know Christ’s true identity. 

            He was the promised Christ who would save sinners by the teaching of the Gospel.

*          And of course that explains the great distraction that day. The evil spirit was hoping get

            the people to make a different association with the title “Holy One of God.” 

            They should think of Jesus not as one who brought the forgiveness of sins.

            They should know Jesus as the destroyer of man. 

*          And they should think of his Gospel as that which destroys our life.

 

And what about today?

Would it surprise you that the same lie is still being proclaimed?

*          Those posing as biblical scholars like to label us who truly love Jesus’ teaching.  We’re

            the radical right who actually believe the Bible to be the verbally inspired Word of God.

*          We’re the ones who’d make Jesus into some kind of fanatic who threatens us with hell for

            being the sinners we are.

            And as for his Father, well, judge for yourself. To save us he has to destroy his own Son!

*          Of course, what do today's liberal theologians offer as an alternative? 

            Stripping the Bible of its authority, they rob Christ's teaching of its relevance, for it can no

            longer talk seriously about sin.

*          Rather than seeing the Bible as containing Astonishing Teaching; teaching which delivers

            us God's forgiveness, they want to perform an autopsy on the Bible.

            Assuming it’s dead, we're to tear it apart to determine why it died; what happened to

            God’s living Word?

 

But the Word of God does live. That’s why Christ came with his Word; his Astonishing Teaching.

*          Not only does it have authority because it's from God; and not only is it relevant because it's

             intended for every sinner, but it's credible because it stands up to every possible assault. 

            It can even survive the assaults of Satan and his helpers.

*          Notice Jesus' reaction when the spirit tries to intimidate him.

            The Lord rebukes him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

            And immediately the spirit comes out of him with a loud voice.

*          It's Astonishing Teaching, and it's teaching Jesus gives us to speak. 

            By giving us the Gospel, Christ has given us the power to silence our enemy.

*          Yes. Christ bled and died for us. But he did so that we’d no longer be threatened with hell.

            And yes, he was destroyed by his Father. But he was also resurrected.

*          Long story short: Satan has no claim whatsoever on the believer.

            The devil must submit to Christ's teaching and be silent!  It's astonishing!

*          The one who delivers us from the devils attacks is the one who delivers to us the Lord's

            forgiveness.  And his Word is the last word.

 

Then again, there’s more at stake here than simply winning an argument.

*          No evil can stand against Christ’s teaching – for one moment.

            The fact that this evil spirit left this man with a shout and without hesitation demonstrates

            the incredible power behind Christ’s teaching.

*          There was no resisting its power. Despite this spirit's effort to go “head to head” with the

            Lord Jesus, he

            quickly learned he had to leave the man.

*          Sometimes we joke about people’s inability to resist something.

 1)        Someone has a hard time resisting a fight. 

            If there’s an argument to be won, they’re right there in the middle of it. 

 2)        Or a driver struggles with the speed limit.

            He sees the open road and just cannot resist.

 3)        Or it has to do with food.  Your weakness is chocolate.

            You bite into one, and then it's another one and another one.

*          Well, it may not be thought of as a laughing matter for the enemies of Christ.

            They simply cannot resist the power of Christ’s Word and teaching. 

            They can’t stop themselves from standing down as the loser.

*          It doesn’t matter where Christ's teaching is taught, his enemies must submit. 

 

True. Christ’s enemies will never admit defeat, and we can never underestimate their power.

*          And so it is with Satan. 

            He'll never willingly give up on his victim until he deprives him of faith in his Savior.

*          Having said that, there’s another power we may never underestimate. 

            And that’s the power of our Savior and his teaching.  

*          It's not simply an amazing story which never gets old. It’s a convincing story which saves.

            Jesus rescued us from the power of sin and Satan and hell!

*          That's what I get to relate to you every Sunday standing before you as God's

            representative!  I'm not here to impress you. 

            I'm here to assure you that you need have no fear of losing your faith!

*          The false teacher of our day may dazzle you with his flattery and charm, but it's only the

            Gospel that gives you God's forgiveness.

*          So listen up, and get ready to be astonished!                                                             Amen.

 

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

                                                                                                                                                Amen.



[i](Jay C. Rochelle, “On Spiritual Life and the Saving and Finding Thereof,” delivered to incoming students, Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago, IL, n.d. Lutheran Partners, JanuaryFebruary 1988, p. 13)