Fourth Sunday After The Epiphany

S. Epiphany 4.24 Mark 1:21-28

“And they went into Capernaum, and straight-away, on the Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were struck by his teaching, for he taught as having authority, and not as the scribes…”

As we said last week, everyone who saw or heard Jesus knows straight-away who he is. LORD. God. King. That’s why the first four disciples ask no questions; when he commands them: “Follow me!”. They just… follow.

In case you thought I was speculating, maybe reading something into the text that isn’t there (because it is not something most modern “missional” interpreters find in the text) today’s Gospel makes it crystal clear that everyone knows who Jesus is, straight-away, right off the bat. Even the demons know it, as we see to today—with fear and trembling. Maybe I looked ahead? Maybe I’ve read the whole thing a few times through and know where it’s going?


How come we pretend that it’s difficult to tell who Jesus is? Well, we answered that last week too! Because we’re sinful people! And being in the presence of the Holy God shows our sin in the worst possible light. It’s embarrassing, humiliating. It shows drastic remedies are needed to set us right—like a total tear-down and rebuild. Like death and resurrection. And most of us (Pastor Stoppenhagen excepted) are not too chipper, facing death.

A couple Greek words—poorly translated, again. It’s not that the modern translators don’t know what these words mean—these are simple words! It’s that they don’t want to see what’s right in front of our eyes: that Jesus is God and we are not! No; we’re poor, sick, sinners, charity cases who need saving, so they shade the text in the direction of mere information that we can act upon and thus justify ourselves by treating Jesus as an example instead of as our King and God. Because mere examples leave me in charge, whereas a King leaves me a mere follower and hanger-on.

ευθέως is the first word that gets botched, today. It’s in the first verse: “and they went into Capernaum and ευθέως “immediately” on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue. Except ευθέως is not a temporal adjective indicating speed or quickness, at all. It’s a directional word, literally good-path, straight road, or “straight-away”. It’s not telling you Jesus is rushing around, wired from drinking too much coffee. No. It’s telling you Jesus goes straight to the goal, gets straight to business, straight to the point.

He doesn’t mess around, flatter, or fluff-up.

Modern scholars talk endlessly about “the Messianic Secret” in Mark, as if Jesus telling people to shut-up about him, already, means that he doesn’t want us to know who he is. No! It’s the other way around. Straight-away, he’s in the synagogue showing who he is by his word, his works which leave no question, no mystery for us to solve.

Which leads to the second botched Greek word, εκπλησσω which (imperfect passive form) is literally “struck by” as in “struck by lightning”. In Greek literature, it’s something Zeus does all the time to people with… thunderbolts. See, they weren’t “astonished” (as by a pretty girl in English class ;-)—nah, they’re struck dead by lightning, by a bolt from the blue.

Jesus doesn’t woo, or cajole, or persuade like a Madison Avenue marketing exec. No. Straight-away his lightning bolt strikes everyone who hears him. “Authority” doesn’t quite get the nature of Jesus’ teaching. The Greek εξουσια is, literally, “out of substance” ουσια being the word they use in the Nicene Creed to confess Jesus is one ουσια (substance) with the Father—God from God, Light from Light. I’d say: more than authority, what Jesus displays here is Authorship; like he’s Author of Everything, the One who says… : “Let there be…!” and IT is!

“So, it’s like God’s talking to me directly?” No! Not like.God IS talking to you, here, buster!

Straight-away, as Jesus is beginning his homily, there is a man with an unclean spirit which cries 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!”

And the demon sees not only exactly who Jesus is, but gets straight-away, the point of what Jesus has come to do. He has come to destroy us! Sorry to bury the lede like that, but Pr. Stoppenhagen is right: the Gospel is all about death, every pericope. Jesus has come to destroy us, because sin is slowly destroying us. If we didn’t sin, we wouldn’t die—and we’re all dying all the time, as sinners…

Jesus just comes to hit us with a lightning bolt, a nice, quick, clean kill. Straight-away, straight-up, that’s his goal. The demon is correct.

But, Jesus tells him… “Be muzzled! (like Hannibal Lector 😉 and come out of him!” Which the demon does—with a lot of shouting and shaking. And this amazes the crowd who repeat Jesus is teaching like he’s the Author of Everything; and what should we make of this? Is it safe to be around him? Uh, no! Like Aslan the Lion, safe is the last thing Jesus is. But he’s Good. And that’s key.

The demon only tells you part of the story. Which is why Jesus doesn’t allow the demons or sinful people to preach him, but only his apostles, the ones he’s struck, made happily subservient to his Spirit, speaking only as God’s Spirit prompts…

Because destroying us, is only… step 1. Step 2 is raising us from the dead, free of sin, death, and hell, made-over in the Image of Christ Jesus himself, perfect, holy, powerful, in touch with the ground of Being, sons of God ourselves…

But we prefer, naturally, a milder and less straight-forward process. We’d like a gentle remodel of our “earthly tents”, not a total tear-down and new build. So we sugarcoat. We pretty it up. We turn the Gospel into mere information that we can act on and apply to our earthly dwellings as we see fit. Lipstick on a pig. That is the modern missional “gospel”.

You need better than that. You deserve more. You don’t need lipstick, or a paint job. You need to be struck by lightning, destroyed—quick clean kill—then raised-up new by the LORD of heaven and earth.

“Is this going to hurt?” Well ma’am; I’m afraid it’s not an entirely benign procedure! Of course, it’s going to hurt!—like Eustace turned into a dragon, and Aslan ripping the scales off him with his claws. Love hurts! It leaves a mark…

Just so, Jesus goes for us straight-away, quick as a cat, before we’re ready, before we can think or flee.

“What have you to do with us, Jesus?” Well if you really want to know, you’ll just have to come and see/ his Word and Sacraments revealing wild, free/ the Author of Everything/ giving eternal life to all/ by dying on a tree/ and the unclean spirits go out crying/ as heavenward our ransomed souls go flying… where Peace, surpassing all understanding, guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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