Sermon – Who Speaks for God?
Deut. 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Cor. 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
Grace and Peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There are always perilous times during history. During the time of our reading, the Jews had attempted to overthrow the Romans. It was a total defeat for them and it included the destruction of their temple, which was devastating. They now wondered where to go from here; and what their world was going to look like once they got there! During times like this, they would look for someone to lead them; for God to speak through a prophet, perhaps, to tell them what to do next.
This began way back in the time of Moses in Exodus, where we read that when the Israelites received the law from Moses after he met with God on the mountain; they were afraid of this close encounter with God. They begged Moses to continue to speak with God and become their “mediator” of sorts. This began the tradition of prophets being “selected by God” to speak to God’s people. Prophets answer only to God, not any other authority, so they are free to speak the truth. The Israelites were used to those who “spoke for God. And they were brought up knowing that “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; You shall heed such a prophet.” (Deut. 18:15). They knew God would send a Messiah, at some time in the future, and would look for Him in every prophet or person who brought God’s Word to them. John the Baptist was thought to be the Messiah. In fact, he was asked by religious authorities, “Are you the Messiah?’. He answered “I am not!” and later added, “But He is the one who comes after me, and I am not worthy to untie his sandals.” So the Israelites knew the Messiah was coming soon.
Prophets were plentiful at this time. In fact, kings could have hundreds of them at their beck and call. Prophets would be thought of like pastors, because they would interpret the word of God to their people. The issue was in knowing who was the “real deal,” and who was looking for their own gain. This is a hard call even today. There are prophets on street corners predicting the “end of the world”; there are those who cry “repent” from pulpits; there are TV evangelists and internet personalities who preach all kinds of messages… both good and harmful. I also saw on CNN a story about a Colorado-based online Pastor who got caught running a three-million-dollar crypto scan, and said when caught, “I might have misheard God!” There are also those who truly seek the truth and preach the truth as God has revealed it to them. Needless to say, it is hard to know who is who… who speaks for God… and who speaks for their own gratification or privilege or power? The only way to know is when the words or proclamations become true and turn out to be correct. If we had the gift of hindsight, we would be able to determine this. But we don’t and the Israelites didn’t either. So we all question and listen and learn and try our best to discern who IS truthful. And who, indeed, is speaking for God.
Just as in the meme from the movie “A Few Good Men,” sometimes we CAN”T handle the truth. It is too hard, it is not always pleasing, and it can reveal things better left unsaid or unseen. But in Mark’s Gospel, we hear Jesus speaking a New Truth and we know who our Messiah is… his voice is as familiar as a shepherd is to his flock. Our Messiah is Jesus, the Holy One of God. We can, today, now see many things through our gift of hindsight… but the people of Capernaum did not have this to rely on. So, as stated, they listen, learn and try to discern the truth. And it seems that they have found this in Jesus!
And what they hear amazes them! As Jesus addresses the crowd, they hear someone who indeed speaks with great authority, and with words that free them from old rituals and laws piled upon laws. He speaks more of love, and how all can show that love to others. And how it is more important and pleasing to God to spend our time helping and serving others. His words were simple and yet people were astounded and mesmerized by Him. They were seeing the “new truth” with “new eyes.” As Mark says, Jesus was one “who taught with authority and amazed them with his words.” When we say that Jesus spoke “a new thing” — we do not mean that he spoke new words, or different words from God. What he did do is to bring to the people a “new way” of interpreting and implementing God’s Word — as God gave it to us! This involved proclaiming God’s goodness and care, and encouraging all to give the same to each other. No more being tied down to old traditions that took more out of people than they gave. Instead, God’s Word was meant to bring understanding for how our world could be. It was to bring joy and hope. This was Good News to God’s people, at this time when they feared what would come next. It gave them hope and encouraged them to “keep the faith” and know that God was always with them.
How much today do we also need to hear this message? Our world today seems to be turned upside down. There is so much cruelty and dishonesty and heartbreak, all throughout the world. We have leaders who tell us one thing and do another. We have elections that not everyone trusts. We put our hope into so much, only to find it devoured by a “false prophet” or the world itself. We have news coming at us, so fast and furious, that our heads spin with it all. But when we read a Psalm like Psalm 111, we find the hope. The Psalmist tells us that God is the Truth. His works are known by all, and his deeds have also made Him renown. He provides food for body and soul, and keeps His Covenant with His people. He is faithful and always just and trustworthy. He sent us our redemption (through Jesus) and is our hope for all eternity. And in Isaiah, we hear the words: “Do not remember the former things, or do not consider the things of old. I am about to do a NEW THING; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43: 18-19). And while this excites us, God understands that new things can be scary and hard to hold onto. Even when “the old things” are not working anymore. We hear this today from our own church leaders. Churches are having a hard time capturing the hearts of people. Churches need again “a new thing.” As long as the message stays the same, the Word of God heard for the People of God….a “new thing” can become a “good thing” and capture attention and create belief and harvest hope once again.
So, back to Mark, where we see and hear about a crowd listening to Jesus. We can hear Jesus’s voice… determined, yearning to capture attention, speaking clear and in a way that can be understood. It is “new,” this understanding that the crowd now has; the words Jesus speaks are of things that are known to them, to things that make sense in the world they live in, and in things that begin a belief that “there is a Way… there is Hope… God wants that for us!” Jesus himself had to trust in it all, and know that God would be with Him, and would vindicate Him – and in that, he never wavered. In fact, it becomes the bedrock of His teaching.
While Jesus is speaking, He hears a challenge in the crowd. We know that Jesus’s ministry will often face these challenges. A man, possessed, challenges Jesus by saying, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” One wonders if the “us,” the unclean spirit spoke about, meant the demons or the religious authorities standing by. These same authorities who will eventually destroy Jesus with the same questions. Jesus challenges back, shows no fear, and says “Be SILENT and come out of him!” And when the “unclean spirit” comes out, all in that room knew Jesus spoke and commanded with authority and confidence. And in this one moment, the previous order has been disturbed, and all who are there know it. This exorcism by Jesus only cements the authority that began with His teaching. Between it all... His “teaching with authority” and… this exorcism — Jesus becomes someone that many will look for to give them hope, healing, and deliverance. BUT, he also becomes a target for religious leaders and government authorities to watch. The journey to the cross has begun. The Cross — where our true salvation begins, and where Jesus becomes the Messiah for all. His authority and His “Kingdom Come” continues to invite us to imagine a different world… and to strive to make that world happen… one person and one action at a time. Amen.