Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Straightaway with Power — to Save.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Dear Fellow Baptized into Christ:

The season is Epiphany, that time of the church year that encompasses Jesus' entire public ministry from the time of his Baptism in the Jordan by John until his holy, innocent suffering and death in Jerusalem. Epiphany is a season that focuses our eyes upon Christ as the Light of the world, the revelation of God's good favor to the nations.
And so the great epiphany hymn (the lead-off hymn in the epiphany section of our hymnal), "Songs of Thankfulness and Praise," recounts the many and various ways in which Christ manifested himself and his redeeming mission to the nations drawn to the very glory of Israel hidden in this carpenter's son from the back woods of Nazareth.
In this season of Epiphany we place our ears and our hearts under the Word of God to listen to the ways Jesus was revealed to us: in the star that guided the magi to the infant king's manger; in the thunderous pronouncement by our heavenly Father at Jesus' baptism; and, as our Gospel this morning reveals: manifest in miraculous healings of not only physical illness, but as Saint Mark would want us to take to heart, manifest most importantly in the rescue from the forces of evil that ensnare and helplessly chain us to a life of misery and slavery to the powers of darkness and evil.
Hear again as the Word of God Incarnate comes with power to redeem all languishing under the load of the devil, the world and their own sinful nature.
The Holy Gospel According to Saint Mark, the first chapter:
And they [Jesus and the disciples he had just called] went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. (Mark 1:21-22 ESV)
In the Gospel narrative of Saint Mark, we see Jesus wasting no time in bringing all of salvation history to it's fulfillment. "And immediately" characterizes Jesus as he comes to a fallen humanity to fulfill Moses and the Prophets and establish redemption as the Messiah — as the very Son of God. With the inauguration of Jesus' public ministry through the water of the Jordan, the hand of the Baptist, and the Word of God from heaven, the wheels of redemption are set in motion. The disciples are called straightaway; the unadulterated Word of God is preached without delay; the suffering are speedily healed; repentant sinners are given the undeserved gifts of forgiveness and restored as children of God and heirs of heaven right then and there.
Jesus didn't have time for small talk and five hour pre-game shows. Our Lord didn't have the luxury of getting around to things next year or next month or next week. The time of salvation in the person and work of the Messiah had come, and with Jesus' anointing as Messiah, there could be no time outs, no half-time show, no commercial break, no delay of game. Jesus marched into Capernaum and straightaway entered the synagogue on the Sabbath to immediately do what he had been called to do: preach and teach and heal as he resolutely made his "without delay," "without hesitation," "straightaway" walk to Jerusalem, and the Cross that awaited him there.
That was the sum and substance of Jesus' life-giving teaching in that synagogue in Capermaum that Sabbath, and that continues to be the life-giving content of all God-pleasing preaching and teaching this day — this Super Bowl Sunday — and every day — until that day when Christ will come to judge the living and the dead.
That's what made Jesus' teaching on that day completely different than the ramblings of the scribes. Jesus did not have any need to quote the unending and often contradictory opinions of those who presented themselves as religious experts. Jesus had no need of wasting the time of those sick and dying in their sin with a litany of lecturing on religious etiquette of the day. Christ didn't need the permission or the blessing of Moses or the prophets (or the pharisees or the scribes — the interpreters of Moses and the prophets) as he spoke to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Christ did not come to interpret and give some opinion on the Word of God. Those in the synagogue that day were bowled over by Jesus' teaching simply because the divine Word of God was made manifest right in their midst. Jesus did not justify his words by pointing to the opinions of the world's religious experts. Unlike the scribes, Jesus proclaimed that Moses and the prophets pointed to him. The scribes came to justify their own opinions through Moses and the Prophets. Jesus came and announced that Moses and the Prophets are justified through him.
"And they were astonished at the authority of his teaching."
That's what happens when God's people are fed a steady diet of the rambling opinions of religious leaders who justify themselves by quoting anyone and everyone — but refuse to preach the One to whom Moses and the Prophets ultimately point: the Word of God incarnate, the one true Son of God, the one true Suffering Servant of God, the one true Light of Heaven and sinless Lamb of God who alone can take away the sin of the world.
"And they were astonished at the authority of his teaching."
Finally, here was the Word of God right in their midst, the Word of God that creates and sustains and calls forth faith in Christ and the power of his gracious, redeeming Word.
And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. (Mark 1:23-26 ESV)
The congregation is left speechless by the clear Word of Christ as his teaching begins to illuminate darkened minds and hearts. And immediately, suddenly, without warning, Jesus' saving Word is met with the word of a representative of all who would fight against God and the Kingdom of Grace and Salvation he has sent Christ to eternally establish.
"This is our territory." the unclean spirit announces. "This is our arena." "We know that God has set you apart to do his holy work. But we will not let you go unchallenged. Have you come to engage us in battle? Have you come to lay claim to this sin-infested world and these sin-infected people? Tell us — what exactly are you are up to? Explain yourself!"
But Jesus will have no part in justifying his calling and mission to his opponents — to the devil, the world or our own sinful nature. The Son of God did not come to justify himself, but that through him, those oppressed with sin and the forces of evil might be rescued from the dungeon of darkness and death.
He will be the one to order what is to be said, and what is to be silenced. And with the authority of almighty God, Jesus immediately puts a muzzle on the tongue of the unclean spirit. There will be no appeal or pleading. No debate. No deal-making. Just an authoritative command: "Be silent and come out of him!"
And, as we already know, the Word of God has the power to do what it commands. "Be silent. Come out of him. Depart. Release him. Let him go. He is now mine."
Yes, the devil and his minions are real. The forces of evil are great. But, thanks be to God, the grace of Christ to defend his own is even greater.
And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. (Mark 1:26 ESV)
You could have heard a pin drop in that synagogue in Capernaum that Sabbath as the sunshine through the doors illuminated the dust in the air and the now motionless man freed from the control of a oppressive spirit — a demon opposed to everything Christ had been sent to be and do.
And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. (Mark 1:27-28 ESV)
"What is this?" indeed. A sure and certain Word come straight from God with all the authority of heaven itself.

Are you tired of listening to the religious experts of the world with their endless opinions on what you should or shouldn't do to earn God's favor while you languish under the forces that oppress and enslave you?
Are you sick of trying another five-step program to challenge your old sinful nature and get control over your doubts and fears and rebellion to what you know is God's good and gracious will?
Are you at your wit's end when it comes to living the double life of behaving like the perfect Christian but secretly knowing that your heart and mind and soul is far from the holiness and righteousness almighty God requires?
Are you waving the white flag of surrender after hearing the severity of the Law Moses has brought down from the mountain, engraved on tablets of stone by the very finger of God?
Then listen with the ears and heart of faith as Moses announces:
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen." (Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV)
Listen to the one to whom Moses points. Listen to the one who is the Torah of God, the Wisdom of God, the one who fulfilled perfectly the Ten Commandments — for Moses and the prophets and the congregation gathered in Capernaum on that Sabbath — and the congregation gathered here this morning.
Christ has come without delay to wash you with his Word in, with and under water, as he commands through the mouth of the pastor:
"Depart you unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Receive the sign of the holy cross both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified."
Christ has come without delay to manifest his great mercy — as he forgives you all of your sins and strengthens God-given faith in, with and under the bread and wine of his holy Supper.
Christ has come without delay, just as Moses has said, to show his great mercy to all oppressed by the kingdom of darkness and death, showing his power in delivering us from evil.
Christ has not come to debate or babysit or entertain you. He has come to take upon himself your sin and wretchedness, to free you from your chains, and cover you with the white robe of his perfect righteousness.
Receive him and his redeeming Word as he comes this day. Put your trust solely upon him as you and all his saints await the day of his final epiphany — the glorious day when he will manifest himself to all, calling all who believe into his eternal presence, into that eternal Sabbath rest.
May we ever be prepared for his appearing, as we join the saints in heaven and on earth and pray, "Come Lord Jesus. Come without delay. Come quickly and speak your mighty Word — your gracious Word — and save us."