Worship Theme: The Savior Calls Us to the Privilege of Living under His Authority

Sermon Theme: Stand in Awe of Your Savior

If the account from Mark 1:21-28 shows us anything it’s that Jesus doesn’t just have authority; he is Authority. “Stand in awe of your Savior.” He speaks with authority. He works with power, and he does it for you. January 28, 2024.

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It was just another Sabbath. So, the faithful of Capernaum made their Saturday stroll to the synagogue – but not more than 1,000 paces of walking, mind you. They didn’t burden themselves with unnecessary outward baggage, but made sure not to carry more than the weight of a few pressed figs – otherwise that was work, so said the rabbi. If a bug landed on their robe, they could brush it but not crush it, lest they break Sabbath. It was just another Sabbath, until it wasn’t. It was just another day of rest, until Rest from God himself arrived. It was just another Sabbath, until Jesus showed up. And you heard how that turned out, didn’t you? Jaws dropped at his teaching, demons came out screaming, and the report of his fame went far-reaching. Into the very structured synagogue service of prayer, blessing, and Scripture stepped God himself to bring his ruling and reigning activity even to these people, even to this place, and everyone was amazed. Are you waiting for something jaw-dropping like that to bust you out of the routine of what goes on here on Sunday morning? You might know this about the liturgy we use – in the blue hymnal those orders are titled “The Service: Setting I,” etc. and they’re all built from the same basic framework of what we used in the 1993 red hymnal, and the 1941 Lutheran Hymnal, both on page 15, The Common Service. In our modern times, could there be anything worse than being “common”? In a world that wants to innovate and re-create, it seems we have set ourselves up for failure! How will we ever be real, relevant, and relational enough for the newcomer or edifying and clarifying for the long-timer when it's all so predictable? You’ve been to church a few times. You know what’s coming next, you can go through it in your sleep. Invocation, confession, and absolution, kyrie, Glory to God in the highest, Prayer of the Day, First Reading, Psalm, Second Reading, Alleluia, Stand for the gospel, here’s a sermon, stand for the creed, sit for the prayer, and on and on it goes. It seems so routine, because we’re inclined to look only at the surface, and we fail to see what’s really going on here. In other words, it all seems like just another church service, that is, until Jesus shows up. I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to Capernaum.

Jesus and his freshly minted four disciples head to their home-base, Capernaum, and these former-fishermen now turned people-catchers were about to catch a glimpse of what this following after Jesus was all about. 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 didn’t need to quote the teachers of old or cite his sources, because Jesus is the Teacher and ultimate Source of it all. Can you even imagine?! Jesus proclaims the truth of God as the Truth of God himself; Jesus preaches the Word of God as the Word of God made flesh. You can almost imagine Jesus commenting on the Scriptures and putting his toes on the line of saying, “Folks, let me tell you what I meant when I wrote that 700 years ago…” Mark’s gospel doesn’t give us the word-for-word transcript of what Jesus spoke that day in the synagogue, but that’s alright, because we heard it last week, “Repent and believe the gospel…the kingdom of God has come near.” The ruling and reigning activity of God has come near and, in fact, is here, right now – and even more, all of it is wrapped up, embodied, and standing before you in Jesus of Nazareth. Turns out, the kingdom of God isn’t something the gospel points to; it’s what the gospel gives. Do you see what made Jesus’ teaching so amazing? He wasn’t quibbling over the Law, about how many steps you could take on Saturday or how much weight you could carry before it constituted “work.” Instead, he got busy proclaiming the good news of the rule and reign of God that had come near in him. He was serious about what he said and what he taught had power as though it had hands and feet of its own to walk right up to those people listening and shake them awake to the new reality that was dawning right in front of them. God is up to something here, people; and his name is Jesus!

The amazement of the congregation notwithstanding, not everyone was happy about the new age dawning. 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!” Isn’t that something: the demons know who Jesus is; the crowds of people all around him aren’t so sure, but the legions of hell know that this One has come to undo their master’s work. “Have you come to destroy us?” Yes, in fact, I have. Just a few verses ago in Mark 1, Jesus was baptized by John (remember that one – heaven torn open, a voice from the cloud, the Spirit descending like a dove), and filled with the Holy Spirit. Now as he steps out into his public ministry, he is immediately confronted by anti-God, anti-Christ forces. Poke the devil in the eye and he’ll poke back; and there wasn’t any bigger poke in the devil’s eye than Jesus born in the flesh from the Virgin Mary. Confrontation was inevitable. So, what happens when Jesus goes toe to toe with the old evil foe? Satan is silenced. The devil’s power is undone. The prisoners are set free, and the good news is preached to the poor. There’s no more future potential and promise of what the Messiah would do someday – someday the blind will see, the lame will leap, and the dead will live again – oh no, it’s now. It’s happening. It’s here, as Jesus’ words do what they say. “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. With Jesus, words and actions don’t come apart, as is so often the case with us. Rather, when Jesus speaks, things happen. Life breaks open, chains are loosed, dungeon doors are flung wide, and slaves who are captive to sin, death, and the devil are set free. You’ll notice that the demon didn’t cry out until Jesus started talking, which might lead us to assume that the devil was largely OK with what passed for worship in the synagogue – laws, legalism, burdens that no one could carry – forcing people into one of two damnable ditches: the false pious pride of the Pharisees or the abject despair of the hopeless sinners. They were all so busy straining at gnats and swallowing camels, that they missed the Christ at the center of their Scriptures, until the Christ himself brought his powerful Word and they were awestruck.

Speaking of two damnable ditches, they’re still around, you know. The people in Capernaum were amazed, literally, struck out of their senses at Jesus. This was a full-on, control/alt/delete hard reset: “What did he just say?!” Meanwhile, we’ve heard it all before. Do you ever find that you don’t stand in awe of your Savior because you’re tempted to think it’s all too familiar, and you’re ready to move onto something new? The forgiveness of sins rings a bit hollow because you don’t think you have all that many sins to forgive – certainly not as many as some other people I could mention. Or maybe we don’t stand in awe of our Savior because we’re too busy standing in awe of all the wrong things. You don’t like that guy’s style. You think the folks down the street have more impressive programming. It’s scary how quickly it happens – even in pursuit of apparently pious goals – I swap out my Spirit-given awe of a God who speaks to me in Christ and trade that for a self-defined, personally constructed idea about how the church should be, built entirely on my preferences and not on the Christ who speaks. And then there’s the other side – when we confuse the authority of Jesus with the noise of the devil. The devil just makes noise, and noise is no substitute for having authority, but people frequently confuse the two. And sometimes, oftentimes, we listen to the devil’s noise, simply because he’s so accurate when he accuses us. Crowding out any possibility of a pious thought, the devil spews his noisy lies into your ear, convincing you that you are all alone, that your lot is hopeless just like you feared, that your eternal destruction is inevitable. If this account from Mark 1 shows us anything it’s that Jesus doesn’t just have authority; he is Authority. And he aims it in the direction of others – giving the wisdom and promise of God in his teaching; lifting the burden of sin with his preaching; and freeing those held captive by the devil by sending Satan packing and setting up shop in their new heart. Jesus is the Authority, and he uses it for you.

When the devil was making noise, Jesus silenced him. “I know who you are…” “Be quiet!” Jesus doesn’t need the honest testimony of dishonest demons. So, Jesus shut the demon’s mouth, just like he’ll shut the devil’s mouth when he tries to accuse you on the Last Day; that liar doesn’t get to talk, because Jesus is the Authority, and his is the final word. The devil just makes noise, but Jesus makes a promise. “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. Just glance through the opening chapters of Mark’s gospel, and it is so action packed (preaching, teaching, calling, healing, driving) it’s as though the gospel writer shot Jesus out of a cannon; he’s in such a hurry to head in only one direction, and that’s not toward regional fame or national adulation. His fame spread, and it would’ve been easy as it would’ve been tempting for Jesus to walk the pleasant path of popularity, adored by the masses. But Jesus didn’t do that. Instead, he opted for the lonely way of the cross, where the crowds of adoring fans dismantled into an angry mob that clamored for his death. The broad acceptance Jesus received early in his ministry found its ultimate conclusion as he died alone on the cross, rejected even by God his Father, so you never would be. The One with all authority, even authority to call on legions of angels to come to his aid and the power to come down from the cross and squash those mockers had a greater power still – the power not to. Alive again forever, he brings the rule and reign of God to its perfect fulfillment and is intent to deliver it to you.

Epiphany isn’t just looking in the past at when Jesus pulled back the curtain and revealed himself as the Son of God and Savior of the world; Epiphany is a present, ongoing, every-day-exploration of how Jesus still reveals himself as the One who speaks with authority and works with power for you. And here you are on a Sunday morning. You have been baptized, gospeled, and epiphanied to see what’s really going on here, in this place, at this time. Your eyes have been fixed by the cross and empty tomb. Your presence here is not a common, familiar, totally-missable, unimportant waste of time. Rather your presence here is met with Jesus’ presence here. You don’t need information – the demons had that. You don’t need advice – the teachers of the law dealt that in spades. You need a promise, and even more, One who delivers on his promise every time. Here comes Jesus, the Unburdener of every burdened conscience, the Untroubler of every troubled heart, because he is the Unsinner of every one of your sins. It’s just another church service, until Jesus shows up. Look again at what happens here as Jesus lives to deliver his gifts to you. He’s there, swimming in the water of your Baptism, just like he promised. Approach with reverent awe, because Jesus is going to come and sit on this altar and give himself to you for the forgiveness of your sins. I hope you were listening, but just in case, another won’t hurt, hear the blood-heavy breath of Christ’s word of absolution: As a called servant of Christ and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins.

They say familiarity breeds contempt…or maybe it creates depth. Think through why we do what we do here, and realize that Jesus is the One doing the doing. From the three-year-old singing Kyrie to the five-year-olds confessing the faith in words that have been passed down to them for nearly two thousand years in the words of the Creed; everyone from babbling toddlers to people whose minds have been robbed to the point that they might not remember their own name, praying the Our Father, the very words Christ gave his Church to pray. Stand in awe of your Savior’s authority, and even more, in awe of what he chooses to do with it: to send the devil packing, to lay his authority down on the cross only to take it up again in glory, to forgive your sins, to make you God’s child, to work all things in your life to serve his ultimate purpose for you – to see you standing next to him in glory. Stand in awe of your Savior. He speaks with authority. He works with power, and he does it for you. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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