Listening to God’s word

21They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out,24“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!”

25“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” 28News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

29As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. 31So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

32That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33The whole town gathered at the door, 34and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

Mark 1:21-34

Jesus delivers from demon spiritsEvery so often, someone appears who really surprises you. Maybe it’s a singer, who seems to have the perfect blend of song and voice. Sometimes it’s an actor, who delivers a performance so scintillating, so authentic, that you really believe they are who they are portraying. Just occasionally, I read a book so outstanding that I feel myself drawn into it, living in its pages, and desperately hoping it’s never going to end. Of course, it always does. I always have to return to my real life. Even the singer and the actor sometimes disappoint: the singer releases an album so undeniably bad that you wonder why you ever liked them in the first place (remember Robbie Williams?), or the actor appears in a series of films that are complete turkeys and you begin to forget that once upon a time you thought they were the best thing on the screen.

In this mile of our marathon, we encounter someone who simply amazes everyone around him. He teaches, he heals, he expels demons, and people are amazed by what they see. He is like nothing they have ever seen before. Here is someone who takes everyone around him completely by surprise.

When we meet Jesus at the beginning of this passage, he is right at the very start of his ministry. The first place he decides to visit, after being tempted in the desert, and choosing his disciples, is the synagogue. The synagogue was not quite like a church, in that it was a teaching centre for the Jewish people; worship and sacrifice would have taken place in the temple. A synagogue would not have had a full time, paid teacher, but Jews who lived in the area would “take to the pulpit,” so to speak, if they felt that they had something to share. Usually, these preachers would back up everything they said with scripture – this was the source of their authority. Jesus, however, teaches in a way they have never heard before; he taught with passion and captivated his audience, but what they noticed most of all was that Jesus taught as if he, himself, had authority. We, of course, have the benefit here, because we know how the story ends; we know who Jesus is. For the people in the synagogue, however, Jesus was an unknown quantity. They recognized just how good a teacher he was, and, as Mark tells us, were “astonished” by what they heard. Here, then, is someone who surprised and amazed those who heard him.

The people gathered in the synagogue were not just amazed by Jesus’ teaching, however. Jesus is taunted by an evil spirit who recognises exactly who he is – the Holy One of God. But Jesus has already shown that he has power over Satan in the wilderness, and there is nothing that the devil or his followers can do to stop him as he seeks to spread the Kingdom of God. Jesus manages to subdue the spirit with just his words. People would have been used to bizarre sorcerers claiming to be able to draw out evil spirits, but this would usually be accompanied by strange chanting and rituals. Jesus needs none of that – he simply tells the spirit to be silent, and come out of the man, and it does exactly that. If the people were astonished by Jesus’ teaching, they must really have been quite shocked by this latest development, and many would no doubt have been left pondering who, exactly, this man was.

Many people over the years have considered Jesus to be a great showman, who attracted attention through his strange acts and miracles. Next in our passage, however, we see an example of Jesus not playing to the crowd, but healing Simon’s mother-in-law in the privacy of her own home. The disciples had not spent a great deal of time with Jesus by this point, yet they invited him into their home, and told him of their concerns about this woman. Jesus, showing great compassion, simply took her by the hand and lifted her up, and she was cured. Again, people would have been used to itinerant teachers and healers, but even by those standards Jesus was someone quite special; there was no chanting, no weird potion – he simply touched her, and she was healed. The disciples must have been constantly surprised by the actions of this man – and, indeed, the consequences of his actions.

News clearly spread very fast in first century Palestine. By the evening, news had got out that Jesus had the power to cast out demons and heal the sick, and Mark says that the “whole city” was gathered at the door of Simon and Andrew’s house – not just a few, but huge numbers of people. Jesus, no doubt fairly tired by this point, nevertheless showed great compassion, and healed the sick and cast out demons from many of those who had gathered at the door. Yet again, the demons recognize who Jesus is, but he commands them not to tell anyone; the time would come when Jesus identity would become clear, but at this point he was just beginning his ministry and had much more still to do.

Mark continues his Gospel account in the way he began – at breakneck speed, showing us just some of the amazing things Jesus did. What I find most fascinating in this passage is not so much the fact that Jesus had the power to heal and expel demons, although clearly they are amazing feats, but the way he chose to begin his ministry in a synagogue. His primary concern is to preach the word of God, and to tell God’s people how they should respond to God’s love for them. How important it is, then, that we listen to God’s word and learn from it. If Jesus saw such importance in telling people’s God’s word, perhaps we should make sure that we’re listening.

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