Do You See What They See?
"Do you see what I see?" is a line from a Christmas song, but it's not important whether you see what I see, but do you see what the people of Capernaum and that evil spirit did?
The people saw an amazing teacher before them, do you? Our bulletin insert has the word "amazed" twice, and though the two different Greek words are synonyms, there are nuances in both. The first word has the idea of being struck in the mind. We would say "the people were astonished at Jesus' teaching." The second word comes from a root meaning "to render immovable," so we might say "The people were stunned" at Jesus' teaching and His power over evil spirits.
What astonished and stunned the people was not some new teaching they never had heard. You get that idea the way the insert translates, "What is this? A new teaching and with authority!" There's no "and" in the Greek. The word is "according to" or "with". The people say, "What is this? A teaching new according to or with authority." They answer their own question. Jesus' teaching is new in that it is authoritative. The teachers of that day didn't authoritatively say much. They suggested; they supposed; they were so concerned about teaching the man-made laws and opinions of others that they had difficulty coming to a final conclusion about anything. They taught by the authority of others; Jesus taught with or according to His own authority.
Do you see today what they saw then? Do you see that Jesus still speaks authoritatively today in His Word and Ministry? The Word that Jesus said could not be broken can't be set aside by you, by governments, by "science," by opinion. When the Word says that God created the heavens and the earth, that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, that iron floated, the Red Sea parted, angels guard you, and hell is real, do you see that God means these as authoritative Words for you? In ancient times kings would give fortunes, people would sacrifice everything, just to hear an oracle from the gods, just to know what the gods were thinking about them or what they were doing. Do you ache, long, desire, or even just want to hear from the true God and to know what He thinks about you and your plans?
Do you see what the people of Capernaum saw? They saw before them Jesus speaking as one with authority. Jesus says in Luke 10:16 not just to the apostles but to the first pastors, "He who hears you hears Me." Is that how you hear the Words from this pulpit? And all the Words hang together. People tend to want to dismiss a pastor's words of law as his opinion and hold on to his words of Gospel. Sorry, if my words of Law don't authoritatively condemn you, my words of Gospel can't release you with authority either.
If you see what the Capernanites saw, then you are astonished, stunned that God still speaks with authority on earth today. You hear Him bellowing judgment and condemnation upon all who ignore His Word, break His Word, ridicule His Word. You know that no one will get away with not believing or changing even one jot or tittle of His Word, and knowing this you also know that Jesus still speaks an authoritative Word of Gospel today. His Word of Baptism really does drown your old Adam and give birth to a new redeemed person. His Absolution really does send your sins away. His Communion really does put His Body and Blood on earth once more.
The people saw an amazing teacher before them, do you? The demon saw who Jesus really was, do you? This demon sees He's Jesus of Nazareth and the Holy One of God. This demon sees Jesus is True Man and True God. This demon sees what we sing in Epiphany: Jesus is God in Man made manifest. Jesus is not just a good man, a great teacher, a supreme example. He's God in flesh and blood.
The people didn't see this much. In fact, it took awhile before even Jesus' closest disciples saw this. Sadly most never see it even to this day. John expresses it this way. "Jesus was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him." "Have I been so long among you and still you don't recognize Me?" Jesus will later ask Philip.
Do you see as much as this evil spirit did? The people then didn't. No, they said Jesus couldn't be True God because after all He was True Man. He couldn't be God in flesh and blood because people knew Jesus was born of Mary; they knew He had brothers and sisters; they knew He was trained as a carpenter. Do you see that other gifts to us from God share this same problem? How can baptismal water be a life-giving water rich in grace? How can words from a pastor really lift my sins off of me? How can that Bread be the Body of Jesus and that Wine be His Blood? Evil spirits don't make mistakes like this; they aren't blinded by the human and earthly to the divine and heavenly. They see all the power of God in the Person of Jesus. How about you?
Do you see what the evil spirit sees? Actually you had better see more than he did. The evil spirit only saw part of Jesus' mission; do you see it all? All our popular English translations have the evil spirit asking, "Have you come to destroy us?" I've told you many times in Bible classes that punctuation is not inspired; it came centuries after the Bible was written. Luther took the evil spirit's question as a statement, and I agree. He shrieks, "You have come to destroy us."
The evil spirit is spot on. I John 3:8 couldn't be plainer: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work." And Hebrews 2:14 testifies to this as well: "Since the children have flesh and blood, Jesus too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of deaththat is, the devil."
Do you see this too? Jesus came to destroy the devil and all his angels. Jesus describes Himself as the stronger Man who is able to defeat the strong man and plunder all his goods. This is a cool aspect of Jesus' ministry: Sending demons into pigs and watching them run down the hill to drown themselves; commanding demons to put a muzzle on it and come out; demons unable to stop themselves from running up to Jesus and falling down before Him. But this raw power over demons wasn't all of Jesus' ministry; it wasn't even the main reason Jesus came. Jesus came into the world to save sinners. That was mission number one.
God could've destroyed evil spirits without redeeming anyone. That work of power and might would've been awe inspiring, but God the Son didn't need to take on flesh and blood to do it. You've got to see what a pickle God was in for your sake. Because He loved the world, this fallen world that has so much to disgust even us sinners, He wouldn't just by power and might destroy its god the Devil and his angels. As Hebrews 2 said the Devil did have the power of death over us. What gave him that power was God's authoritative Word. God's Word gave commandments to mankind. It promised grace and every blessing to all that kept them, and judgment, death, and damnation to those who did not.
Haven't you ever been to court or had a disagreement with a company where you were in the right and had the documents to prove it? You pointed to the words that proved you right, that gave you the power to do this or that. That's the Devil. Sure he was damned once he rebelled, but God couldn't cast him out of heaven without taking away any chance for you ever to be in heaven. God's own Word gave the Devil access to heaven as we see in Job 1 and 2 and Revelation 12. The Devil could point to God's own Word and say, "You say they must do this, this, and that too, and if the don't do these things you promise they go to hell with me. Based on your Words I demand they die right now."
God could've swatted the Devil out of heaven with a little finger, but that wouldn't save you or silence the Devil's accusations against you. What was needed was to take the Law out of the Devil's hands both what it commands to be done and its promises of judgment. And God had to do it such a way that both were kept. Surely you've done something like this with a child. He or she was commanded to do something or else, and for one reason or another you didn't want to follow through with the punishment, but to go back on your word would be a bad example. So what did you do? You found a way for the child to keep the command; probably you helped him or her do it.
That's something like God's plan, only His was more radical. He sent His only Son into our flesh and blood. How does Scripture put it? He was born under the Law to redeem them that were under the Law. Though True God Jesus didn't use His divine power to keep the Law. No, to keep it in our place He had to do so as a Man. And He did. The Commandments are fully, perfectly kept for you by Jesus. You aren't to see them hanging over your head as have to's, gotta's, or must's.
But there's still the judgments the Law pronounces against the person who sins even once. They can't be ignored either. They had to be carried out. The Devil had the power of death over any man who broke the law. Though Jesus didn't break the Law, God handed Him over to the suffering and dying we deserve, and He got them in full, all the way to hell itself. Jesus having kept the Law in place of all mankind; having suffered and died in place of all, what leg did the Devil have to stand on? What law can the Devil accuse you of not keeping since Jesus kept them all? What punishment, what judgment, what condemnation can Jesus say you deserve since Jesus already endured them all in your place?
This right here is the teaching you are to see, be astonished at, and stunned by. By all means see what the people and the evil spirit in our text did, but see more. See more than authoritative teaching, more than power to destroy evil spirits, see authority over sins and power to save sinners. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (20120129); Mark 1: 21-28