Mark 1:21-28
Trust the One with The Truth

How do we stay on the side of truth and God instead of falling into the trap of lies and Lucifer?  Watch what happens in today’s Gospel account from Mark 1:21-28, and “trust the one with the truth.”  January 28, 2018.

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The devil is out to get you.  For many here today that’s not breaking news.  A few of you can even recite 1 Peter chapter five, “The devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pt 5:6).  But just so we are clear, that’s not going to change or go away until the trumpet of God blasts the signal for the end of all.  Satan really, really wants to get you, which means he’s going to be as tricky as he can, trying to get you to think that what God says is not true.  So, when the Son of God took on human flesh and carried out his ministry to crush the devil’s power, Satan worked overtime to counter Jesus’ efforts.  One of his tactics was demon possession.  An evil spirit or spirits would take up residence inside a person and take over their thoughts, their psyche, their attitude, their behaviors, and then when Jesus came to a town to speak, the devil wanted to speak, too, through the one possessed.

What does all of that have to do with your “today” and your “tomorrow”?  A lot, because even though cases of demon possession are rare today, that does not mean we can let our guard down and figure that the devil can’t get at us.  Complacency is one of his favorite tools so that we brush him off as some sort of cartoon character standing at the door to a furnace room with long red underwear, horns, and a pitchfork.  How do we stay on the side of truth and God instead of falling into the trap of lies and Lucifer?  Watch what happens in today’s Gospel account, and “trust the one with the truth.”

Experts in Old Testament laws and a group of self-proclaimed religious leaders called Pharisees did most of the teaching among the Israelites in Jesus’ day.  They used a rambling style, hitting whatever religious topic came to mind on any given Sabbath.  They loved to discourse on trivial matters related to God’s rules and regulations, even adding a few hundred picky ones of their own.  “God commands, ‘No work on the Sabbath day!’  So if you want to go for a walk, you can go as far as the synagogue, but no farther.  Any more than a mile or two is work, and that’s a sin.  If a bug crawls across your dinner table on the Sabbath day, you can sweep it onto the floor, but don’t squish it.  That would be work, and that’s a sin.  God commands all Israelites to give ten percent of their income to him, and we are here to help you figure out how to do that.  When you pick figs, set aside every tenth fig.  It belongs to the Lord.  When you want to add sesame seeds to your bagels, sort out every tenth seed.  It belongs to the Lord.”  When the time came for retelling and explaining Bible history, their imaginations ran wild.  “Forget what God promised Abraham.  Let us tell you about Abraham’s uncle’s brother’s cousin.  Oooo!  Was he ever a piece of work!”  All of that was part of Satan’s plan to deceive people, pulling them away from truth to lies.

When Jesus spoke, it was different.  He did not ramble on and on.  He got right to the point and cut into people’s souls with his words.  He did not discuss trivial matters.  He delivered big news about life and death, sin and forgiveness, heaven and hell.  He did not make up fanciful fables.  He proclaimed God’s truth, truth that touched people’s souls from his heart full of compassion and love.  “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.”

To illustrate how his truth had a greater impact than Satan’s lies, let’s say you were an engineer working for the state department and sent to North Korea for inspection of their rare earth mines and their ability to process ore to uranium for weapons of mass destruction.  U.S. intelligence learned that the North Koreans had decided to wipe you out.  RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) were aimed at your hotel.  Cell phone frequencies were jammed in the section of the city where you were staying, so a messenger came to your door and said, “I certainly like the hotel’s décor, don’t you?  And the outfit your wearing looks comfortable and stylish.  By the way, do you think you have enough insurance to cover your flight home in case of disaster?  I could sell you a very reasonable policy.  Here’s my card.  Call me if you feel like it.”  Another messenger banged on the neighbor’s door.  He called out, “The North Koreans are planning an assault on this building.  Come with me.  I will take you to a shelter, and I can get you a flight home for free!”  One of those messages will have an impact!

The people of Capernaum could tell right away that Jesus was a different kind of teacher.  It wasn’t so much how he spoke but what he spoke.  His words cracked the crusty shell of greedy tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus.  His words hooked the hearts of fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James, and John and propelled them into service.  His words turned a sinful woman of the street into a sincere worshiper of the Savior who gladly washed his feet with her tears because Jesus spoke the truth.  They trusted the one with the truth.

The devil leans into your ears and mine and whispers, “Another appeal for special offerings at church?  Let someone else worry about that.”  “Another sermon about witnessing?  Let someone else do that.”  “All the Bible is true, but that passage about keeping the marriage bed pure doesn’t apply to you.”  Lies!  Has Jesus’ truth cracked your greedy shell, hooked you into following him, turned your life and mine away from sin?  That’s what baptism is for, Jesus’ truth linked with water to tear us out of the camp of the devil and settle us in the mansions of God’s love.  That’s what the Lord’s Supper is for, Jesus’ truth in his own body and blood linked with bread and wine to assure us of his personal hug, “I forgive you.  Here!  Internalize my love.”  That’s what worship is for, Jesus’ truth read from the lectern, explained from the pulpit, and sung from the balcony or pews, chiseling the self-righteousness out of your heart and mine and molding a quiet chamber so that he can live in us.  Trust the one with the truth.

The Old Testament law experts and self-righteous Pharisees liked to put on a show of piety.  “Lord, I thank you that I am not a sinful slob like these other people, and today I’m going to take time from my busy schedule to pray to you.  So you better listen, or I won’t favor you tomorrow with the privilege of listening to me.”  They looked down their noses at lowly sinners, turned their backs on the spiritual needs of people caught in sin, and avoided non-Israelite people as much as they avoided lepers.  They talked a big game about keeping God’s laws, but their actions didn’t match their words.

When Jesus went into action, he did not boast about his own goodness even though he’s the best there is.  He put his goodness on the line to satisfy God’s demands and gave that goodness to us.  He did not look down his nose at the lowly but sat down with them at meals, fed them, healed them, and lifted them up.  He did not turn his back on people caught in sin but turned his face toward them with a forgiving smile.  He did not avoid non-Israelites but went out of his way to care for the spiritual needs of a Samaritan woman working at a well, a Roman soldier with a sick servant, and a Syrian woman with a demonized daughter.  Time and again, he demonstrated his mercy for all.  Jesus’ actions matched his words.  He practiced what he preached, and his actions had a powerful impact.

You know, of course, that when actions don’t match words, you lose credibility.  A dad who tosses God’s name into the beginning of every other sentence and treats his wife like cheap merchandise will likely hear his little boy pasting God’s name onto his sentences and treating his sister like dirt.  When Dad looks at the boy and says, “Do as I say, not as I do,” he shouldn’t be surprised that that slides in one ear and out the other.  Jesus’ actions backed up his words.  Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure 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!”  “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly.  “Come out of him!”  The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.  Jesus didn’t need that kind of advertising.  Since the devil is the father of lies, a demon shouting, “You are the Holy One of God,” might have been true but would cause others to think, “If a demon is speaking, it must be a lie.”  So, he cast out the demon with a word, like a snap of his finger or a flick of his wrist.

Can you sense the excitement of the people of Capernaum?  Have you “been there”?  “What is this?  A new teaching – and with authority!  He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him”?  Jesus promises, “I will answer your prayers,” and he does.  “Dear Lord, help my wife get through her surgery.”  He did.  He says, “I will keep you soul safe,” and he does.  Snowy roads, slip-sliding on the road but we make it home, yet sometimes not.  Recently a Lutheran pastor of our church body skidded on ice in his truck and was slammed into by a semi.  His wife, children, and church members surely are sad to lose him, but they know that his soul remains safe with Jesus in heaven.  Jesus says, “I have taken your sins away,” and he did!  The troubled soul asked, “Pastor, I’m afraid my faith is not good enough.”  I asked, “Do you know you’re a sinner?”  “Yes.”  “Do you know that Jesus paid for all your sins?”  “Yes.”  “Then your faith is good enough.  Heaven’s doors are open for you.”  Trust the one with the truth.

The Epiphany season of the church year is set between the sweet, gentle days of Christmas and the intensity of Lent.  The Scripture readings and Gospel accounts of Epiphany broaden our view from a Babe in the barnyard of Bethlehem to the worker of worldwide wonders.  They steady us with the majesty and mercy of our amazing Messiah for the rocky roads of Lent when we repent of falling for Satan’s tricks.  Go forward today with your head held high, your shoulders back, and a spring in your step.  The devil won’t get you when you trust the one with the truth.       Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on January 28, 2018