Sermon from Sunday, January 28, 2024
Speaker: Rev. Michael Cloud
Scripture: Mark 1:21-28
Our scripture reading this morning comes from the gospel of Mark chapter one versus 21-28. Hear these words.
They went to Capernaum when the Sabbath came. He entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, not as describes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried 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. But Jesus rebuked him, saying, Be silent and come out of him. And the unclean spirit convulsing him and crying with a loud voice came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another. What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him. At once, his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
You remember the days when people used to have mentors. Maybe you are a part of that. Maybe you’ve just heard about that as this urban legend. You know, there’s somebody that possesses a quality that you find desirable or a skill you judge to be a necessary component for success in whatever field you’re in. And you want to come under that person and learn everything you can from them. I mean, I’ve heard of people who move across the country, even the world, because that’s where the person they want to learn from was located. And dedication like that, it can seem kind of extreme, but if it really is the right teacher, the best teacher, and you have an opportunity to become their student. Well, that makes total sense. I mean, do we still do that across the professions, this whole mentor thing? When you go through the Pastoral Process and Methodist Church, they assign you a mentor. And this is another pastor who’s been doing ministry a while that the new pastor can check in with. They help you get your feet wet by making sure you don’t drown in your first couple of years of ministry.
But long before I went to seminary and set off on the track to becoming an ordained elder, I knew God was calling me to pastor and preach and teach the gospel. So I didn’t wait around for the boxes to get checked off or the paperwork to get filled out before I began trying to consume as much knowledge as I could. Just kind of that was that passion and that hunger that God had placed on my heart. And hey, we live in the Internet world today, right? They’ll have to travel so far. And so even before I really began to know to know how to tease out the details of theology and doctrine, and before I knew exactly what I was looking at or looking for that made these preachers great, I just wanted to find as many great teachers and preachers as I could. Some of that was about learning as much as I could, but some of that was about immersing myself in the style, the feel, the flow of great teachers and preachers. And as I began to dive deeper into the lives of some of these men, discover like, okay, well, who did they learn from? Who did they listen to? They all started to reveal an interesting truth as they talked about their journey. They all said something like, You know, when you first start out, you sound like who you listen to sound like who you’ve been listening to, even if you aren’t trying to consciously imitate that person. If you’ve consumed yourself with their teaching and their example, your preaching is going to resemble their style, their speaking rhythms, their mannerisms. Good, bad. Right? Wrong. For better or worse, we become an imitation of the teacher we are following. And in our Wednesday night Bible study that I’m doing in the dust of the rabbi, we’re learning that that is exactly what it means to be a disciple. A disciple is a person who completely consumes themselves with the teachings of their rabbi, a disciple, someone who has a fire and a passion to not only learn from their rabbi, but to learn to be like them.
And so while the preaching imitation may or may not be a conscious choice, a disciple is a student who is consciously and intentionally learning to imitate their teacher. And the best way to do that is to completely immerse your life in theirs. So the disciples don’t follow Jesus around for three years because there weren’t any schools that they could all go to for 8 hours a day, five days a week. That was, in fact, one of the very core functions of the synagogue. They all stand in an hour passage this morning. They follow him around to learn the way Jesus lived out what he was teaching. And you’ll notice in our passage this morning, it opens by saying they went to Capernaum, who’s they? Well, in the verses just before this, Jesus is called Andrew, Peter, James and John to be His disciples. He’ll get to the others. But so far we’ve got those, those gentlemen. And when the Sabbath arrives, they follow him into the synagogue. Now she’s as Begin’s teaching everyone who has gathered in the synagogue for the Sabbath lesson. Just like you’ve gathered here today for the Sunday lesson. They were astounded by his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, not as the scribes see, describes the teachers, including the rabbis. They were not allowed to teach of their own authority. They were only allowed to teach what their rabbi had taught them. See the imitation going on. And we don’t know exactly what Jesus is teaching here at this particular moment, but whatever it is, Jesus is bringing a truth like they have never heard before. He’s bringing in that fire. No? Okay.
His words carry a different kind, a new kind of authority. And as Jesus is teaching, a man with an unclean spirit comes in and he starts to confront Jesus. And so Jesus has to rebuke the unclean spirit and cast that out of the man. And here’s where it gets interesting. Stick with me. Okay. Fast forward with me to chapter six of Mark, and we see Jesus sending out his disciples, all 12 of them, with the authority to cast out demons. Okay. I don’t know where you’re about to go with this pastor, but what first pass we think that’s that’s the connection right between this authorities here. Okay. Andrew, Peter, James, John, They’re present for this moment in the synagogue. They get a firsthand lesson about the scope of Jesus’s authority. And if a disciple is supposed to be learning from trying to live like his rabbi, then this event gives them some foundation of confidence that Jesus does have the authority to cast out demons. Therefore, where we can have some kind of assurance that his provisions are going to hold true and he sends us out with this same type of authority. But as we turn the page to Mark Chapter nine, Peter, James and John, they’re coming down from the mountain with Jesus after the Transfiguration. And we learn that Andrew, the other eight disciples, they’ve been trying to cast out an evil spirit from a boy. You remember the story with me. They can’t do it. And do you remember what Jesus says when they ask him why he didn’t work this time? Jesus tells them that this kind cannot come out except by prayer and fasting. Mark says prayer. Matthew says prayer and fasting. And so I want you to hold on to that, right? I want you to remember this moment. I must circle back to it a little bit later: prayer and fasting.
But I want to, like, go back. What happened to the authority they were given? Did it lose its effectiveness among the disciples to the degree that it now needs to be supplemented with these other things? Is the authority of Jesus not strong enough to stand on its own power, no matter what it might face? Or is there something else going on here? Something that Jesus knew all his disciples over the next few thousand years would need to understand. So if we look at the way that Mark records this event of Jesus in the synagogue in chapter one, the emphasis is not on what Jesus does with the unclean spirit. Jesus comes into the synagogue. He begins to teach. The people are amazed that He teaches like one who has authority. Jesus drives out the unclean spirit right before their eyes. But the people’s immediate response in verse 27 was, What’s this new kind of teaching with authority? And then they get back to the miracle. Well, he even gives orders to impure spirits, and they obey him. The man with the unclean spirit is an interruption. He’s a side quest. It’s one of those. Okay, hold on, folks. There’s a problem with the microphone. It’s one of those moments. The main emphasis for the people gathered here is not Jesus as exorcist. The people are amazed at Jesus as teacher. Mark is going to refer to Jesus as teacher 34 times in his gospel, almost like he’s trying to make a point.
Now, Mark doesn’t ignore the question of Evil has a place in this world. We don’t even get to finish chapter one before we have to deal with that idea. But Mark dares to bring up the subject so immediately, because for all of us who are struggling with an uneasy, anxious spirit that gnaws at our sanity and dilapidates our quality of life to the point that we have no idea who to follow, what voice to listen to, or where we could possibly find hope in this world.Mark wants us to know that Jesus has a place in this world as well, and where sin came to destroy Jesus, came to rebuild, where sickness came to disrupt, Jesus came to heal, where death came to kill. Jesus came to bring life and where evil came to rule. Jesus comes to reign. You don’t have to go through the struggles of life with doubts about who Christ is and the authority Christ has to save you from any and everything that threatens to undo you. And as it turns out, we aren’t totally left in the dark about what this looks like 2000 years after the fact. Jesus may have left this earth in physical form, but he did not leave us as orphans. Instead, Jesus said that when he returns to the Father, he’s going to ask a father to pour out the Holy Spirit upon us, not just as an advocate and a helper, not only as an assurance that we are indeed a child of God. But on that day, you will realize that I am in my father and that you are in me and that I am in you. So not only do we have a big old book about what Christ taught and the example He set with his life, but we are in a time of salvation history where Christ is in you and Christ is in me.
And just in case there was ever going to be any confusion about what this means or what it looks like, what we’re supposed to do with it, the risen Christ stands before His disciples with the full weight of all the authority in heaven and earth, and He commissions them to do what? What does he send them out to do? Church Perform miracles. So you can build churches and make converts? No. Jesus never told us to do that. The risen Christ stands before his disciples in the flesh one last time, and He bestows upon them the power of his authority until the end of the age. And he says, Go therefore, and make disciples. And people have been modeling their lives after the teachings and example of Christ ever since. It’s why Paul can dare to say in first Corinthians 11 one, be imitators of me as I am of Christ, or, you know, follow my example as I follow the example of Christ. And so Jesus didn’t just leave us with a text. I’m not knocking the text. Texts. Love the text, need the text. But he also left us with a line of teachers filled with the Holy Spirit. And we have been blessed in each generation since to be in the presence of men and women full of the Holy Spirit who live lives worthy to be called imitators of Christ. And sure, we, you know, we stumble around with it a bit at times. Nobody’s ever going to be a perfect imitation of Christ. But it’s all about a dedication to be modeling our lives after our Savior. And as I said, with the different ways our lives can be an imitation of the life of Christ, I think a better way to understand our stumbling around with it isn’t to say that we can’t be a perfect imitation of Jesus. But I wonder if even our weakness isn’t an opportunity to show that Christ is strong, that it’s an example for us to set before one another what it looks like to live with the grace and the mercy of God among us. I mean, you know how it goes, right? You say, Well, this person’s absolutely crushing it here, here and here, but they still haven’t figured it out quite yet there. And they’re okay. Good. You’ve identified a needed area of growth. Now, how would Christ respond to that? How would Christ come alongside that person and lift the burden off of them so that they may continue running the race?
How might Jesus reach out his hand and help pull someone up out of the hole? That’s just a little too deep for them to overcome alone. See, when I say that Jesus left us with a line of teachers. Don’t define that word too narrowly and undercut what we just heard Christ say. You are in me, and I am in you. So the pastor may be the teacher and the leader of the church, but it would be the worst height of arrogance for me to think that you have nothing to teach me about what it looks like to follow Jesus. Yes, some of us are going to be teachers and mentors in a more official capacity, but we are all supposed to be leading people to Christ. And one of the examples we have about how to do this in a larger body of believers just like this one. It just so happens to be an example modeled for us in the small groups of early Methodism. You see, with a passion to not only hear from God more clearly, but to follow his leading more faithfully. John and Charles Wesley began meeting with a small group of men to inquire how their souls prosper. And as God began to move mightily during this time and these groups were multiplied exponentially, a core expectation remained among them that each of its members were gathering together in order to attend upon all the ordinances of God. I almost have to feel like I have to say that like the old school preachers, like I tend to pour in all the ordinances of God I don’t know has some weight to it, but I see all over the pages of Scripture, we see that there are certain practices of the faith designed to draw us closer to God in new and deeper ways.
In modern history, we’ve traditionally called these practices spiritual disciplines. And I know don’t email me. We like to we get upset, we get uncomfortable about the word discipline. But these aren’t disciplines to punish us or because we need straightening out. They are given to strengthen us. They are practices that God has given us to do because this is where He promised to continually meet us and to mold us and to remind us of who he is. And it’s certainly true that these aren’t the only places. God moves and reveals himself. He can do that when and ever. However he wants. But why would any of us who say we’re trying to stay in love with God grow in the likeness of Christ? Stop doing the things that God most specifically put before us to do so we could experience the presence of God on a regular basis and in mighty ways. So again, not an exhaustive list I put before you, but here are some of the practices that Doug and I hope to experience with you during Lent and also throughout the year. As you take what happens during Lent and you form small groups together. Was that subtle enough? Okay, I’ll hit it again. Here they are. Bible reading, prayer and fasting. I told you that. Come up, right? I’m not just picking these out of the air. Stewardship. Another word we don’t like. I know, but will all lean into it. Sabbath and service. Bible reading, prayer, fasting, stewardship, Sabbath and service. And before you leave, right? Grace abounds. Grace abounds. I know we’re all in different places in our lives, and sometimes we have something going on in our lives that causes us to approach some of these practices in a different way.
So what do you mean? Well, for instance, you might have a medical condition that precludes you from fasting. Okay, well, you should definitely eat, because I’ll take you to the hospital, but I don’t want to have to. Right. And God doesn’t want that. So let’s also understand that there’s other ways to observe the discipline of fasting besides abstaining from food. And that’s, you know, kind of the point that we actually want to get at. What are some different ways we can approach these practices that we might actually be able to live them out in our lives? And as you go about doing that together in the small groups you have formed, see what I did there? The group’s become a place to share with and encourage one another in all the different ways that God is at work in our lives. I’m looking around to see who is excited and who is terrified. And which one of you think you know you’re wondering, is this even really necessary? I mean, we haven’t been doing this and why start now? So you may not be totally shocked, some of you to here up to here that I grew up in a musical world. And so if you don’t know if you’re new with us or new to me, my dad’s the music minister here at the church, which means I took piano lessons for several years as a child. And it also means later on that I learned to play the guitar and the drums. And in order to learn each of these instruments, yeah, I needed a teacher, but I also needed examples to follow. And so while the sound of great piano music has always been a part of my life, as I started learning guitar and drums, I was given names of great drummers and guitar players, and I was told to listen to them and try to begin to understand how they were doing, what they were doing. And even if it was too complicated for me to pull off as a beginner, it was still necessary because there’s something about the learning process, the growing process that requires us to immerse ourselves in that which we want to become. And before Mark tries to recruit me to play in the band, when somebody is absent, there’s going to be a small problem with that, see, because all this music stuff just kind of came naturally to me because it was a normal part of my life. I never really developed any good habits about practicing. And once I stopped putting what I knew into practice, everything that used to come naturally is now as foreign to me as someone who has never heard a single note. I’ve got a stack of piano trophies somewhere from when I was ten, but 27 years later, I can’t even read the music, let alone play anything. So yes, faith is a gift from God. And when you first began that relationship with Christ, it just makes sense. It fits better than anything has ever fit before, and it just feels so natural because that’s exactly what you were created for.
But that feeling was never meant to be an indication that we don’t have to put in any practice. And so as we go about the work this year of forming up small groups focused on the spiritual disciplines that help us put our faith into practice, I want you to be encouraged. Everyone has something to be taught, but everyone has something to teach. It’s the very heart of how Christ taught us to follow him and make disciples until the end of the age. So who are the people that God is calling you to experience life with this year?
Let’s pray. Holy and righteous God, The works of your hands are faithful and just, and your instructions are trustworthy. They are established forever and ever to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. For you have ordained an everlasting covenant and provided redemption to your people by the wonders of your name. Spread quickly wherever your mighty works are made known, and by all who delight in them and sing praises before you. Amen.