“Exclamation Mark: Immediately! Authority! Astonished!” (Mark 1:21-28)

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
January 31, 2021

“Exclamation Mark: Immediately! Authority! Astonished!” (Mark 1:21-28)

The featured gospel in our lectionary this year is the Gospel according to St. Mark. While all four gospels are telling the same story, the story of Jesus, and all four are inspired by the Holy Spirit, each gospel writer tells the Jesus story in his own individual style. And what all readers notice about the way Mark tells the story is the sense of urgency and action he conveys and how the story moves along. Jesus is thrown into conflict right away. We move from one event to another in rapid fashion. Jesus does amazing, astonishing things, displaying powerful authority in his words and his works. Marks tells the story in bold, dramatic fashion. So much so that today I think I’ll call him “Exclamation Mark.” And what jumps out at me in our reading from Mark today are three words that I think could use an exclamation mark, namely, “Immediately! Authority! Astonished!”

Immediately! Authority! Astonished! The pace, the power, and the impact. That’s what we see in the reading today from Mark chapter 1. And each word has meaning for you.

This reading today takes place right at the beginning of Mark’s gospel. Someone has described Mark’s distinctive style like this: “Mark is the gospel of breathless excitement. The narrative is noted for its rapid movement between scenes and for an urgent tone through the miracles and journeys of Jesus.” And we’ve already seen that so far in the verses preceding our text. At the baptism of Jesus: “And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” At the temptation of Jesus: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” When Jesus calls the fishermen Simon and Andrew to be his disciples: “And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Likewise with James and John: “And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”

Now did you hear a certain word jumping out at you as I read that? That’s right, it’s the word “immediately.” Mark uses that word a lot! Four times in the first twenty verses! And three more times in the eight verses of our text today. Bing! Bang! Bong! Immediately Jesus does this! Immediately he does that! Immediately this happens. Immediately that. Rapid movement. Action. Urgency.

The word that Mark likes so much is the Greek word euthys. In the whole New Testament, the word euthys occurs a total of fifty-some times. But over forty of those occurrences are found in Mark! And most of those are in the first seven chapters. So it really stands out here at the start of Jesus’ public ministry. Usually the word is translated as “immediately,” sometimes as “at once.” The effect is to move the story along with some urgency.

So here we find the term three times in our text today: “And immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching.” “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit.” “And at once his fame spread everywhere.”

Now what is immediately, at once, happening here? Jesus is being launched into his messianic ministry right away. And with that, he is being thrown into conflict right away. Immediately, at once, we see Jesus being confronted with forces opposed to him and his coming. And this sets the tone for the gospel as a whole. Tension, conflict, will mark Jesus’ ministry. Whether it is from unclean spirits or from human opponents, Jesus will meet with resistance all the way to the cross. But Jesus is determined to carry out his ministry and fulfill his mission, no matter how fierce the opposition. And all the “immediately’s” in Mark’s gospel emphasize Christ’s determination to accomplish his purpose. And that purpose, dear friends, is to save you, to rescue you from the clutches of the devil and death and the grave. Jesus will not let anything stop him.

So that’s the first exclamation mark in our text today: Immediately! And the second is like unto it: Authority! That word “authority” jumps out at our eyes and ears in this text. Jesus demonstrates amazing, astonishing authority in what he says and does. This power can only come from God.

The words and the works of Jesus carry this divine authority. His teaching and his deeds. His teaching: Jesus was in the synagogue, teaching the true meaning of God’s Word. Jesus speaks like he knows what he’s talking about! And of course, he does! He is the Word of God incarnate. If anyone knows how to expound and interpret the Holy Scriptures, it is Jesus. He literally wrote the book!

So our text says, “He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” How did their scribes teach them? It would sound like this: “Rabbi Joshua said: I have received a tradition from Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, who heard it from his teacher, and his teacher from his teacher,” and so on. They just kept repeating the opinions of other rabbis. But that was not how Jesus taught. Jesus would say, “You have heard that it was said so-and-so; but I say unto you.” Then Jesus would get straight to the point and make clear the intent of God on this or that subject. And people could tell that Jesus’ words carried such weight.

And not only his words, but his works also. Both his teaching and his deeds demonstrate his divine authority. We see this in the incident with the man with the unclean spirit. “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit.” Here is a man in the control of, in the clutches of, an unclean spirit. An unclean spirit is a demonic spirit, and it has this man in its grasp. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Well, actually, yes! Jesus of Nazareth has come to destroy the devil and all his works and all his ways. And this will just be the start. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” The unclean spirit has got this right. And he’s also got this part right: “I know who you are–the Holy One of God.” Yes, that’s true, too. Jesus is indeed the Holy One of God. He is God’s anointed, the Messiah, the Christ. Jesus is the very Son of God come in the flesh, and he has come to rescue mankind from the dominion of the devil.

So that’s what Jesus is going to do right now. No use dialoging with a demon. Out you go! “Be silent, and come out of him!” Which, of course, the unclean spirit has to do. Jesus is in charge here, and he’s exercising his authority like a boss.

Dear friends, Jesus has come to deliver you from the clutches of the devil. You and I were in Satan’s domain. We fell for the devil’s lies just like our parents did in the garden. And so we were headed for hell. “But God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” How? By Jesus taking on our sins and suffering our punishment. In so doing, even as he suffered and died on the cross, Jesus was stomping on the devil’s head and dealing the death blow to Satan’s power. This is real authority that overcame sin and death, as evidenced by Christ’s victorious resurrection.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus uses his authority on your behalf. What he says, goes. When he says you are forgiven, you really are. His words carry authority. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Boom! And so it is! Exclamation mark! “This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” Boom! And so it is! Exclamation mark! You can believe what Jesus says and does. You can stake your life on it. He has that kind of authority.

The people back then who heard his teaching and witnessed his works recognized that Jesus had this astonishing, amazing authority: “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority.” “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” They were astonished! They were amazed! Some twenty times in the Gospel of Mark there is a word like that to describe the reactions that people had to Jesus.

But how about us? Have we lost our ability to be astonished? Has the gospel become humdrum to us? Has the good news become old news? If it has, ponder anew, take in afresh, the wonder of God’s love for us in Christ. Consider what Jesus did for us, by making the all-sufficient sacrifice for our sin, delivering us from death and the devil and eternal damnation. Regard Christ’s glorious resurrection and the prospect of what that will mean for us, namely, our own bodily resurrection when Christ returns. Imagine the eternal life we will enjoy, perfectly whole in body and soul, in a restored creation, in perfect fellowship with our Lord and all the saints. This is pretty outstanding! Understatement of the year! And even now, we have the gift of the Spirit, to keep us in the one true faith, through the means of grace, Word and Sacrament. God is lavish in his gifts!

And now maybe you can understand why “Exclamation Mark,” as I call him–that is, St. Mark the Evangelist–was so jazzed up about telling the Jesus story! “Immediately!” “Authority!” “Astonished!” Simply remarkable!

Published in: on January 30, 2021 at 9:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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