Sunday, January 28, 2018

Confrontation with Evil

January 28, 2018 –– 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 18:15–20 / Psalm 95 / 1 Corinthians 7:32–35 / Mark 1:21–28
Confrontation with Evil

In popular terminology Christian Faith is supernatural. Christian Faith encompasses a “spirit-world” and believes that the Creator God is actively involved in every nuance of what is called “natural”––from microbes to galaxies far, far away. This visible world that we mostly take for granted is actually a spiritual battleground. The Christian apologist C. S. Lewis once wrote: “There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan.” That is not to say the battle between good and evil is equal. Christianity condemns dualism: the idea that that good and evil are in eternal conflict. The creature, Satan, is in rebellion against the Creator God, but Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God the Father, entered our world to lead us into the security and life of God’s forever kingdom.

Mark started his Gospel by identifying what it is: the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark had come to believe that a man, Jesus from Nazareth, was unlike any other person. Mark's Gospel was written to tell why it is right to believe that the man Jesus was God's promised Messiah and God's divine Son.

Jesus came declaring the presence of a new kingdom. We don’t usually think about “kingdoms” (that word is not very contemporary), but we do understand what it means to live in a world where power is a big deal. We understand implications of authority. The message of Jesus was that the kingdom of God had come in power. The actions of Jesus were designed to show that the kingdom of God had come with authority. But with Jesus, the words “power” and “authority” do not point to what we normally would expect.

If we had been there to hear and see the man known as Jesus, we would have seen…. a peasant Galilean accompanied by a rag-muffin type of following. So what caused people to realize that with Jesus and the kingdom he proclaimed there was a distinctive power and authority? By all external observations he was an ordinary man, even a nobody. But when he talked, people were amazed. When he acted, people were astounded. And as he talked and acted, people could not help but be attracted.

When Jesus spoke in the synagogue that day it was not a boring “talk.” Jesus spoke with authority. There was something that made a person see beyond a simple Galilean peasant. There was life in what he spoke. There was a freshness and a reality and a power.

Yet words alone can be manipulated to be deceptive. Jesus' verbal authority was challenged on the spot. In the synagogue was a man who was under the control of a demonic spirit. An onlooker would have seen the man get to his feet, but it was the evil spirit using the man's vocal chords which did the speaking: 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! In his first letter John says, The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work (3:8). This demon knew exactly what was happening, and it was reacting. Satan fights back when his territory is invaded and challenged. Sometimes when we feel down and it seems nothing is going right, there is a possibility that evil itself is attacking us.

Here is where Jesus proved the authority behind his words. His talk of the kingdom of God was not mere talk. So Jesus spoke again, and it was a command to the demon. The verb there is simply, Shut up. Sometimes we need to tell the powers of hell to shut up. We can do that in the authority of Jesus Christ.

Not only did Jesus tell the demon to shut up, he made it come out and leave the man: The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. Hear St. John again: The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. The meaning was clear to the people in the synagogue: A new teaching––and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.

We live in a culture that until recently has scoffed the supernatural. Many still think a rational, "scientific" explanation can be found for everything. There is also a fresh interest in spiritualism (which often turns to the occult). As C. S. Lewis so clearly stated, we live each day in confrontation with evil. Our Christian faith has real ramifications. We are called to embrace what is true and good and beautiful and turn away from all that is false and harmful and ugly. When we do that, there will often be reaction––and some of it will not be pleasant because evil fights back.

We need to know and understand that Jesus has authority over evil spirits. We follow the One who has the true authority in this world. We belong to the King who has given us citizenship in his kingdom and gives all who belong to him the gift of his Spirit.

With apostolic authority, Mark invites us to believe that God's kingdom has come, and Jesus is the King. This is our Christian Faith.

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