4 Epiphany Proper B4                     
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 1:21-28 Sermon                                             
January 29, 2012

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
246 "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty"
284 "Father Of Mercies, In Thy Word"
416 "O That The Lord Would Guide My Ways"
628 "Shepherd Of Tender Youth"


TEXT (vs. 23-26):  “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. 

            One of the news stories this week has been the results of a jury trial that was held in New Port Richey, Florida.  Back in November of 2010, a woman driving a Jeep lost control of her vehicle.  She went through a fence and into a front yard where a group of girls were playing, where she ran into them.  One girl was seriously injured, and another girl was killed.  The girl that was killed and the one that was injured were part of a set of triplets; the third triplet and an older sister were unharmed.

            It would probably be best to mention their names.  The 5 year-old triplets are Delaney, Gabrielle and Isabella Rossman, and the older sister is Victoria, who is 10.  Delaney was the one who later died, and Gabrielle was the one who sustained serious injuries.  And the woman who hit them, Betty Jo Tagerson was found guilty of vehicular homicide, culpable negligence manslaughter and reckless driving.  She could be spending the next 25 years behind bars.

            This is a horribly tragic story without a doubt, and I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about it.  One of the things that stands out in my mind is the video footage I saw of the court trial.  The girls had to take the witness chair and testify as to what happened.  That also had to be a traumatic experience for them as they not only had to relive those horrible moments all over again, but they had to do so in open court as they responded to the attorneys' questions.

            One of the girls they showed on camera, which I believe was little Gabrielle, took the stand.  The attorney for the defendant showed her a picture of the cartoon character Sponge Bob Squarepants.  The attorney asked her, "Is Sponge Bob real, or make-believe?" 

            The girl gave him this "you've got to be kidding" look, and then told him, "Of course he's make-believe."

            You know why the attorney asked this question.  He wanted to determine if she could tell the difference between reality and fantasy.  Because if he could determine that she didn't know the difference, then he could discredit her testimony.  I know it sounds rather harsh to do this to a little girl, especially one that had gone through what she did, but that's what attorneys have to do for their clients.

            I think that virtually every child realizes like we do that there is no actual living character made out of yellow cellulose that lives in a hollowed out pineapple on the sea floor and works in a fast-food restaurant.  That's in the realm of make-believe, and it is there to be children's entertainment (although I know adults that watch it too).  And we should never under estimate children either.  They have an almost unbelievable grasp on what's reality, and what isn't.

            Well, let's change the scene a bit.  Let's say that you are on the witness chair.  And I hold up this picture, which is some artist's rendition of Satan.  Then I ask you the question:  "Is he real, or make-believe?"   Of course we don't know what he really looks like, so naturally this isn't a real picture.  But that's not what we're talking about.  The question is whether or not Satan is a real existing being, or just an object out of religious superstition and make-believe.

            Now you and I and a lot of other people would say that he is very real.  However, I think you would be honestly surprised at the number of people, even those who claim to be Christian that would say he is make-believe.  For some reason, it is easier for people to believe in the existence of God, than it is to believe in the existence of Satan.

            As we get into our text for today, which is our appointed Gospel lesson, Jesus and his disciples are in the synagogue and he is teaching.  This in itself was an incredible thing, because the people had been used to the scribes and what they had to say.  Even though they were faithful in copying the Scriptures, they really had no grasp as to what they said.  But when Jesus comes on the scene, he is actually teaching.  The people were actually learning something, and not listening to a bunch of meaningless religious rhetoric.

            But amongst the people was a man who was demon possessed.  A demon had actually taken over this man's body, and was speaking.  The demon knew who Jesus was, without a doubt.  He readily identifies him as "The Holy One of God," and he knows that he is powerless against him.  So Jesus drives him out of the man, but not without some resistance.  Even so, he still has to leave; he has no choice.

            When the subject of Satan comes up, demon possession is all part and parcel of the same topic.  Sad to say that even amongst those people who believe that Satan is very active in our world, and that he exercises influence over people, yet they still can't come to grips with this idea of demon possession.  This raises a fair question too. Can someone as powerful as Satan, who has the worldly influence he does, can he or one of his minions actually have the ability to inhabit and take over someone's body?

            The Bible has the answer, which is "yes."  Our Gospel lesson for today is but one example of this.  There are many others as well.

            When it comes to demon possession, the naysayers will often come up with their own answers and rationalizations.  So you'll hear their flimsy diagnoses of epileptic seizures, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, Alzheimer's disease, or any one of a number of things.  Or they'll blame hallucinogenic drugs, drunkenness, or the ingestion of some sort of poison like wormwood.  They'll say anything but demon possession.

            If we look at Matthew chapter 4, verses 23-24, we read the following: "23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them."

            Demon possession is part of a list of various maladies.  You see, the people in that day and age weren't this bunch of superstitious idiots who had no knowledge of medical conditions.  Remember Luke was a physician, so he would have studied the various diseases.  Even though they didn't have all of the advanced technology and research we do today, they still had medical knowledge.  And they definitely knew the difference between a seizure and demon possession.  They didn't have to have things "dumbed down" for them to understand what was going on.

            Likewise, Jesus knew exactly what he was dealing with.  Remember who Jesus is!  He is the sinless Son of God!  He is true God!  He has understanding way beyond any human comprehension.  There's no way he could have ever wrongly diagnosed demon possession.  Jesus never made any mistakes in anything. 

            If we start reading at about chapter 8 in Matthew, we read that there were many who were demon possessed that came to him.  Then Jesus heals two men who were possessed by many demons, and winds up sending the demons into a herd of pigs.  Then there was the demon-possessed man who was blind and mute.  And we can't forget the daughter of the Canaanite woman who was also possessed by a demon.  And the list goes on.

            The Gospels are absolutely full of accounts where Jesus is dealing square on with the forces of Satan and his demons!  And he comes out the winner every time.

             I guess this brings us down to the question of the day.  Does demon possession still happen today?  Are there people out there who are suffering in the same way people were back in Jesus' day?  I know that there are.  Even though we don't encounter blatant examples in our lives, there are still accounts of this happening.  Remember we can never under-estimate the devil.  He will do everything he can to claim as many followers as possible, even if it means inhabiting and taking control of a person's physical body.

            To be perfectly honest about it, I think that Satan has many other things in his arsenal that might be more effective than demon possession.  It almost seems that various elements of society are warring against Christianity, while kowtowing to every other heathen religion imaginable.  When Islam is attacked, everybody gets up in arms, and death threats are made.  When Christianity is attacked, we sort of shrug our shoulders and say, "Okay, what else is new?"  Christianity is attacked all the time, because Satan knows it is the one true religion, above all others.  Satan knows that it is the Christian who will inhabit the mansions of heaven, and he will stop at nothing to prevent that from happening.

            One of the most effective weapons that Satan has in his arsenal is a lackadaisical attitude.  We tend to forget that Satan is trying to get hold of us, and so we sort of sit back and don't pay him any mind.  When we under-estimate the devil, then we are playing right into his hand.

            One of our sister congregations in Houston, Texas, Memorial Lutheran Church, had the following made-up story in their August 2011 newsletter, and I'd like to share it with you this morning.  Even though it's fictional, there's still a great message here.  

            Two of God's junior angels were being assigned to keep watch over two churches.  Their angelic supervisor took them to see where they were being assigned by God.  When they came to the first church there they saw one lazy-looking devil, who was reclining on the steeple of the church.  This was where one of the angels was assigned. The supervising angel led them on to the second church; and when they arrived there the two junior angels were surprised to see the whole exterior of the church seething with devils all howling and hammering on the building. The junior angel assigned to this church lamented to his supervisor: "Oh, why have I been assigned this church rather than the other?  This church seems to have some pretty big problems.  Look at all those demons attacking it."  The supervising angel smiled at him and said, "You have it all wrong. This church faithfully proclaims Christ as the only Saviour from sin and is constantly preaching our Master's truth.  The other church is lazy and preaches what people want to hear, rather than the Master's truth. Our enemy doesn't have much to do there. Your brother angel has his work cut out for him there."

            Demons don't spend a lot of time attacking people who are already on their way to hell.  Instead, they focus their attack on those congregations who faithfully proclaim the salvation of Jesus Christ.

            So we can't under-estimate the devil; however we can't under-estimate our Saviour either.  If we look at 1 Peter 3, we read the following in verses 18-19:  18For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison..."

            In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is shown to have authority, and that isn't something to be taken lightly.  This is ultimate power through the Word, and we know what the famous hymn says:  "One little Word shall fell him."

            This is what we see happening in that passage from 1 Peter that I just read.  Jesus was crucified and put to death; but then he was made alive by the Spirit.  In that period between Good Friday and Easter, Jesus descended into hell and led a victory march.  The Apostle Paul describes this in Colossians chapter 2, verse 15:  "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."  That describes the ultimate and final defeat over Satan.  We cannot ever under-estimate our Saviour.

            Jesus defeated Satan for us because he loves us.  He came to this world to redeem us and to heal us.  He came so that Satan would be defeated in our lives.  He rendered him powerless so that heaven's gates would always be open for us.  When we, through faith accept the work Jesus has done on our behalf, then we know that our Saviour has the ultimate power in our lives.

            So is the devil real, or make-believe?  If he was make-believe, then Jesus would have had no real reason to suffer and die on the cross.  If he was make-believe, then we would have no need for a Saviour of any kind.  God would simply take us into heaven when we die, irrespective of our faith. 

            We can be assured however that the devil is very real, and we dare not ever under-estimate what he can do and the trouble he can cause.  He is just as active today as he ever was.  When we under-estimate him and let our guard down, that gives him an open invitation to wreak havoc in our lives.  We can see that happening all around us.

            So don't under-estimate your Saviour either, and what he can do for you through faith alone.  Through faith, his defeat of Satan is our victory.  Christ came with authority in his teaching and his action.  And when we look to him through the Word, then we are armed with whatever we need to sustain us in this life, and lead us into the life to come.