Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany (B) 2012

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Mark 1:24
Theme: Confronting Evil

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The love of God is never stingy. But it does not come cheaply either. A low appraisal of sin’s power and the undervaluing of divine wrath lead inevitably to the illusion of cheap grace: God as a hapless benefactor. When the perceived danger is low the seeking of rescue correlates accordingly. It is against this delusion that the Holy Spirit labours. Christ comes to confront evil within and without.

In his gospel account Mark begins unfolding the public ministry of Jesus. He describes Jesus’ teaching as authoritative. This is immediately supported by the demonstration of His power over evil spirits. Christ came to end Satan’s stranglehold. Objective spiritual evil is not widely accepted in our post-modern age. Skeptics try to explain all immoralities or tragedies as failures of the human race to make the right decisions, or attribute them to our vulnerability to the chaotic laws of nature. In doing so they seek to deny the existence of an intelligent and active spiritual realm. Evil is an objective reality because God designates it as such.

In one sense it seems ironic that some cosmologists propose that life-supporting planets and alien creatures exist somewhere in the universe, but dismiss the existence of angelic or demonic beings as nothing more than medieval myth. But such are the contradictions of the human will bent on denying God His place. The Psalmist describes the intent of the wicked in this way, “There is no fear of God before his eyes. For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.”1 And this is the root of the issue: recognizing the power of sin. When we think too highly of ourselves we are loathe to believing we would be condemned for our transgressions. Yet none can escape the judgment of God. On the other hand, Satan would gladly have us loathe ourselves to such an extent that we despair of any hope from God. Honest repentance admits both of these opposing possibilities. The Pharisee must have his or her spiritual ego crushed while the despondent soul should not give up on God’s mercy.

Christians know the death and resurrection of Christ was more than a miraculous breach of the laws of nature or some nifty magical trick. His sacrifice also robbed Satan of his power to condemn. The query of the evil spirit to Jesus seems to indicate that he knows the game has changed. Recognizing Christ immediately as the “Holy One of God”2 he wants to know Jesus’ intentions. The incident of Jesus exorcizing these demons is not an isolated incident. It is part of the great plan of redemption culminating with the cross and to be fully consummated at the Second Coming. The crucifixion achieves the exorcism of humanity. But this also happens piece-meal as the gospel confronts the dominion of Satan in the unbelieving world. Jesus said regarding the progress of the gospel, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”3 That is, Satan was being driven out and his work destroyed.

Such is the power of God’s Word. What a paradox and miracle that that Word still comes to us through fallible human vessels. God is serious about the ambassadors He sends. He says today, “If anyone does not listen to My words that the prophet speaks in My name, I myself will call him to account. But a prophet who presumes to speak in My name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”4 Two essential truths are evident here. Firstly, those who reject the messengers of God who bear His truth are actually rejecting God Himself. He will judge accordingly. Secondly, the one called to publicly witness to the Lord’s word is under strict responsibility to be faithful. No personal license to spread ideas or opinions is permissible. Condemnation will be harsh. Our Lutheran understanding of this biblical teaching is evident in the way the Office of the Ministry is carried out. The pastor says, “On behalf of my Lord Jesus Christ and by His command, I forgive you all your sins…”5 He is called to do this publicly on behalf of the congregation.

The ranks of the baptized increase, the faithful are nourished by Christ’s body and blood, the faint of heart are strengthened, the apathetic are inspired, those with doubts are gifted with faith, the spiritually ill find healing all through contact with the word of truth. God has designed us to be dependent on Him. Christ has redeemed us to be in fellowship with Him. The venue for this is the gathering of God’s people to participate in the blessings He offers.

Dear friends, it is not the mission of the church to accommodate every idea or opinion. God has entrusted her with the truth that changes peoples’ lives. Those who are new to the faith need the stability that comes with standing the test and trial of time. Christianity has never been the venue for self-directed spiritual therapy (some modern examples excepted). It has never sought to facilitate an environment where the uninitiated are urged to construct their own ideas about Christ, truth, and how it may apply to them. Consider the sign that was posted outside a horse-riding stable: We have fast horses for folks who like to ride fast. We have slow horses for folks who ride slow. We have big horses for big folks, and we have little horses for little folks. And for those who have never ridden horses before, we have horses that have never been ridden.

The church that has never “been ridden” is the church that hasn’t been submitted to bearing the cross. Not surprisingly the unsuspecting will be in for a wild ride. On the contrary the presence of the church should tame the chaos, falsehood, and anarchy of the world. The Scripture says, “Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”6 Again “The word of God is living and active…it penetrates…”7 The world desperately needs this truth and desperately needs to know the church will stand with integrity on its creed.

Today the evil spirits responded to Christ’s presence saying, “Have You come to destroy us? I know who you are- the Holy One of God!”8 Jesus soon silenced him and released the stricken man from his bondage. Christ stood face to face, toe to toe with sin, Satan and death. His crucifixion is the price of our freedom. His resurrection is the guarantee of our victory. Your baptism attests that He has made you part of His kingdom. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
29 January 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Psalm 36:1-2
2 Mark 1:24
3 Luke 10:18
4 Deuteronomy 18:19-20
5 LHS p.7
6 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
7 Hebrews 4:12
8 Mark 1:24