21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
In 1 Corinthians 12:27, the Apostle Paul made a statement that has revolutionary implications for the very idea of “church” and specifically for what the Church is supposed to be and do. In 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
This image, the image of the Church as “the body of Christ,” also immediately changes how we read the gospels. If the Church is the body of Christ, that means that Mark’s gospel is suddenly transformed from a history to an example, an example of what we must do. In other words, the Church, as the body of Christ, must watch what Christ did in His body and continue those movements and motions.
This is why Mark 1:21-28 is so very important. It is important because it shows us what Christ in His body did immediately after calling His first disciples to follow Him. These verses therefore record the very first things that the disciples of Jesus could emulate in their imitation of Him. Put yet another way, the actions of Jesus in these verses constitute, in Mark’s gospel, the first actions His disciples would have deserved and therefore the ideational content of what it meant for Jesus to say, “follow me.”
Jesus is a missionary and thereby demonstrates the reaching love of God for lost humanity.
Compellingly, the first thing Jesus’ disciples observed Him do was go.
21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching.
“And they went…” Forgetting for a moment where He went. For now, let us simply notice that He went. Jesus did not form a commune. He formed a traveling band of disciples. He was not stationary. He did not wait for people to come to Him. He did not put the burden of movement on the world. He came to the world and, in it, He went to the lost.
More than that, He went first to the synagogue, the religious establishment. He went, Mark tells us, “and was teaching.” Thus, Christ was a missionary. Jesus went and He spoke. Christ is a missionary because God is a missionary.
“For God so loved the world that He gave…” (John 3:16a)
Our God is the sending, going, calling, speaking, teaching God. He is a pursuing, reaching God.
On May 5, 2016, Israel Today published an article entitled, “Israeli Man Sues God for Treating Him Unfairly.” It reads:
A resident of the northern Israel port city of Haifa this week turned to the courts to seek a restraining order against God.
The man said that he had turned repeatedly to the police over the past three years, and on several occasions police were sent to his home to examine the complaint.
According to the suit, God has been treating the man unkindly.
The court protocols made note of the fact that the defendant, God, failed to appear at the proceedings.
In his decision, Judge Ihsan Kanaan called the request delusional, and said that the plaintiff clearly needs help, but not from the courts.
It is a fascinating idea, taking out a restraining order against God. To see somebody actually attempt this is indeed humorous, but, truth be told, this gentleman has simply done openly what many Christians think seriously. There are many both within and outside of the Church who would like to have God around when they want Him. But a God who is always there, pursuing you and acting, and moving towards you, is quite a terrifying thought to the natural heart of man. In truth, we have a kind of spiritual claustrophobia when it comes to God. We would like Him at our beck and call…but not too close. It brings to mind Colonel Korn’s relationship with the chaplain in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.
It was Colonel Korn who had mapped out this way of life for the chaplain…Another good reason was the fact that having the chaplain around Headquarters all the time made the other officers uncomfortable. It was one thing to maintain liaison with the Lord, and they were all in favor of that; it was something else, though, to have Him hanging around twenty-four hours a day.
This, too, is an accurate depiction of what man wants, but if Mark’s description of Jesus’ initial missionary activities tells us anything, it tells us that we have a moving, reaching, loving God who pursues us in love.
Thus, if we are His body, we must do the same. We too must send, yes, but also go. We are the missionary that God has sent.
Jesus has authority and thereby demonstrates His sovereign rule.
It is also important to note the strong emphasis on authority in our text. We find these references at the beginning and end of our text in reference to Jesus’ teaching and His ministry of exorcism respectively.
22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.
27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
Twice those in the synagogue marveled at the authority of Jesus. This authority in teaching was quite different from the sermons of the scribes who essentially marshaled copious references to the competing views of scholars and wise men ancient and modern in their sermons on a given text. The scribes were, to some extent, cataloguers, experts on the debates surrounding doctrines. They quoted others. They appealed to the authority of others.
Not so, Jesus. Jesus speaks of His own authority, “and not as the scribes.” “What is this,” they ask in amazement, “a new teaching with authority!” Furthermore, as we will see, the demons themselves had to submit to the authority of Jesus.
Christ went and Christ spoke but Christ did not speak as other men. Christ spoke authoritatively! Ronald Kernaghan aptly observed this about the teaching of Jesus:
Jesus’ teaching was much more than collection of novel or encouraging ideas. It was an exercise of power…Jesus’ preaching and teaching were not inspirational in the typical sense of that word. He did not dispense hopeful thoughts. His sermons and teachings were expositions of power. They were confrontational, and when he spoke, something happened. Contemporary preachers might do well to reflect on Mark’s portrayal of Jesus.
Kernaghan is correct to encourage preachers to consider the authoritative teaching of Christ, the boldness of Christ, the confrontation of Christ with the powers of darkness. How very unlike so much modern preaching this is!
We modern preachers are ever and always tempted to entertain, to smooth out and lessen possible offense with a perpetual tone of uncertainty through the consisting hedging of our bets when boldness is required. Preachers should reflect the authority of Christ when they faithfully preach the word of Christ.
So, too, should we all submit ourselves the word of God as revealed in the Scriptures. I ask you: when you read your Bible do you do so with an eye toward the authority of Christ? When faced with life’s questions and life’s challenges, do you consult the words of Jesus in the Bible and then submit yourself to these? In other words, does Christ have authority over you?
He must, dear Church! He must! We must bow before the authoritative word of Christ, seeing it as the very Word of God, for truly the word of Christ is the word of God.
Jesus is a destroyer and thereby demonstrates His intention to free us from all destructive forces.
Most dramatically, what we see in this text is Christ the destroyer of evil.
23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.
In the synagogue, a demon possessed man confronts the Lord Jesus. It is commonly argued today that the ancient diagnosed mental illness as demon possession in their ignorance. But surely this is a profoundly unjust and arrogant assertion. Not, that is to say, that people then as now did not and do not do this. Tragically, mental illness is sometimes misdiagnosed as demon possession. But the misdiagnosis of something does not mean that the faulty diagnosis does not actually exist in other cases. Truly it does. We see this numerous times throughout the New Testament.
It is a bit painful to watch an insightful Bible commentator like William Barclay struggle with this. After speaking of the ways in which ancient people believed in demons, Barclay concludes, “Now it does not matter whether or not we believe in all this; whether it is true or not is not the point. The point is that the people in New Testament times did.” Well, that is, to put it simply absurd. Of course it matters whether or not the story is true.
The New Testament certainly presents this as true. Jesus was confronted by a demon possessed man. What the demons said to Christ was most interesting.
24 “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.”
What is fascinating to observe is that what the demon said to and of Christ was absolutely true. This is significant for what it means about mere knowledge about Jesus. J.C. Ryle points to the words of the demons as a demonstration of “the uselessness of a mere intellectual knowledge of religion.” “The mere belief of the facts an doctrines of Christianity,” he writes, “will never save our souls. Such belief is no better than the belief of demons.” “You believe that there is one God,” writes James in James 2:19, “Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” In other words, merely knowing something means very little if one does not truly accept and embrace the truth of what one knows.
James Brooks points out that demonic question, “Have you come to destroy us?” “could be an assertion rather than a question: ‘You have come to destroy us!’” Regardless, the demon was correct. Jesus is indeed a destroyer. It is not a title we use often of Christ, but it is accurate. Christ Jesus has come to destroy the evil that threatens to destroy us. That process of destruction has begun and will one day be completed when Christ returns.
Jesus’ first act of destruction can be seen in His authoritative demolition of the demons’ speech. He silences the demon. The demon must yield to Christ’s demand for silence and for evacuation. R.T. France notes that the word Jesus uses in verse 25 for “be silent” is literally the word “muzzle.” Thus, Jesus literally tells the demons to “Be muzzled!” This, France informs us, “is simply a vivid colloquial way of saying ‘Shut up!’”
There is a simplicity about Jesus’ work as an exorcist. It stands in stark contrast to many of the techniques of exorcism in the ancient world. For instance, Josephus tells of an exorcist named Aleazar who would put agitating herbs beneath the nose of possessed people, causing the person afflicted to sneeze and thereby extricate the demon through his nostrils. He would then invoke the name of Solomon and command the demon never to return.
There is none of this in Jesus. There are not gimmicks, no tricks. There is simply the word of power that the devil must obey.
I recall being overwhelmed by this episode when, in high school, I was studying my Bible one morning. I read this passage in which Jesus rebukes the talkative demon and the demon had to shut up and depart the oppressed man. Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, I began to cry, undone by the power and, in truth, simplicity of it. I felt in that moment that all of my attempts to overcome the devil’s wiles were silly when all I needed to do was give Jesus reign and rule in my life so that I might find victory in Him. Truly the authority of Christ is our hope and our salvation!
Christ is the destroyer of the power of the devil. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth,” Jesus said in Matthew 10:34, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Specifically, Jesus said this about the conflict that would arise within families over Him, but it is likewise true of His works of demolition against the powers of darkness. Christ brings a sword against the devil and his demons, and it is a sword that the devil and his demons fear.
It is a powerful thing to see what happened when Jesus went to church (to use our terminology). The very presence of Christ seemed to cause the spiritual forces of darkness to panic and shriek. The presence of Christ in their midst was a presence they had not yet encountered, but a power of which they were aware. But now, in Christ, the power of God and the presence of God had walked into their very midst and His presence marked the beginning of the devil’s end.
This means two very important things, among others. It means that the Church, as the body of Christ, should reflect the power and authority of Christ. This is not a power inherent in the Church. It is a power inherent in Christ and we are His body. Thus, when we speak the word of the gospel we speak the word before which the devil and his legions quake and tremble. It is the word that destroys the strongholds of evil. It is light in the darkness. We are therefore light bearers and truth proclaimers. As the body of Christ, we must do what Christ did in His body.
But this text is also a text of great comfort and joy for the believer. See here the power and majesty and regal sovereignty of Christ. He speaks but a word and the devil flees! “Be muzzled,” Christ commands, and the demons are silent. “Come out of him,” Jesus commands, and the demons flee in terror.
This Jesus – this authoritative, powerful, majestic, sovereign King – is the Jesus who has come to you, the Jesus who calls to you, the Jesus who has opened wide His arms to you. This is Christ! Behold our God! This is the God who created you, who loves you, who forgives you, who restores you, who resurrects you, who causes you to be born again.
This same Jesus who has authority over the devil seeks residence in your life. This means that you have been given the Spirit of freedom and of deliverance, the Spirit of victory over the devil. He may now only harass unless we give him undue sway in our lives. In Christ, we have a greater power.
“Little children,” wrote John in 1 John 4:4, “you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
He is! We see this here in our text and we see this today everywhere men and women and boys and girls yield to Jesus Christ as Lord.
 Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (New York, NY: Everyman’s Library, 1995), p.249-250.
 Ronald J. Kernaghan, Mark. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Ed., Grant R. Osborne. Vol.2 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), p.46-47.
 William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark. The Daily Study Bible. (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1971), p.27.
 J.C. Ryle, Mark. The Crossway Classic Commentaries. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), p.8.
 James A. Brooks, Mark. The New American Commentary. Gen. Ed., David S. Dockery. Vol.23 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1991), p.51.
 R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Gen. Eds., I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), p.105.
 Michael Card, Mark. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), p.37.