Sermon: Mark 1:21-28
Epiphany 4 - January 28, 2018 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
It might just be that I’m getting older, and maybe a little cynical, but it seems to me that there are getting to be fewer and fewer programs and people that are worth listening to. This coming week on sports broadcasts we’ll hear lots of interviews with coaches and players of the teams competing in the Super Bowl. They’ll be asked what their strategy is to win the game, and they’ll all say something like they have to concentrate on doing a good job and focus on the goal of winning. I obviously won’t be playing in the Super Bowl, but I could give those somewhat meaningless answers as well.
Or if you listen to the news, whether on TV, radio, internet, or social media, liberal politicians and commentators will complain about conservatives and call them horrible names, and conservative politicians and commentators will criticize liberals as the worst ever. After a while it all sounds the same with neither side really quite stating all the truth.
It really is getting to be a rare privilege to listen to someone or read a book or article by an author who is really insightful, truthful, honest, and has something worth saying. It’s getting harder to find someone worth listening to.
The people in the town of Capernaum in Galilee about 2000 years ago were in a similar situation. They listened to Roman officials, not because they wanted to or that the officials had such good things to say. They listened because they had too. The people of Capernaum listened to the religious teachers of the law who apparently yammered on about lots of rules and regulations from the Law of Moses as well as endless applications of those laws. But they didn’t have anyone who spoke to their hearts with some authority and wisdom, that is, until Jesus came to town. When Jesus came to Capernaum the people had
SOMEONE WORTH LISTENING TO
Jesus grew up in the town of Nazareth in the middle of Galilee. But when he began his ministry he moved the center of his Galilean ministry to the town of Capernaum about twenty miles away. Capernaum was a fishing town on the Sea of Galilee.
It was the Sabbath day, and Jesus went into the synagogue to teach the word of God. It was a regular custom of Jesus to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Luke in his gospel tells us that Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth “as was his custom.” In New Testament terms we would say that Jesus was an every Sunday church attender. And we can certainly say that Jesus went each Sabbath to the synagogue not just because of the Sabbath law, what we call the third commandment, but because he wanted to worship God the Father and teach his word.
I went to the eye doctor this week. I’ve known him for a number of years. He’s an every Sunday church attender. And he made the comment that at his church the average age of people is getting older and older and fewer young people are attending. He said that younger people in the congregation say they’re Christians but they don’t want to attend what they call an organized church.
Lots of people use that excuse. They think it’s kind of enlightened thinking as if they just hold their faith in their heart but don’t attend church because of all the hypocrisy, sin, or infighting. They’ll even say Jesus was a traveling country preacher who didn’t get involved in the organized church. But that’s where they’re very wrong. Jesus very much involved himself in the organized church or religion of his day. He was raised in the synagogue, went to synagogue on the Sabbath, and went to the temple in Jerusalem. And he participated in organized Judaism in spite of the fact that there was lots of hypocrisy, lots of sin, and lots of power struggles. He did because it was in the synagogues the word of God was read, faithful people worshiped God, and sacrifices were offered at the temple. That’s why Jesus was an every Sabbath attender. It’s why you and all our members should be every Sunday attenders.
One Sabbath early in his ministry Jesus went to the synagogue in Capernaum. He began to teach the word of God. If we could go back in time we might be a little surprised to see similarities between our worship service and that in the synagogue. I’m sure they sang or chanted some psalms, their hymns. They said prayers, and they read from Law and the Prophets. And then one of the rabbis would expound on one of the readings. He preached a sermon. That’s what Jesus did on this particular Sabbath.
And on this Sabbath when the people left the synagogue, after listening to Jesus’ sermon, they would have said to one another, “That sure was a good sermon today.” We read in our text, “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.”
The teachers of the law in the old King James Version were referred to as the scribes. They were highly educated religious men committed with the task of copying the Old Testament scriptures and also teaching those scriptures to the people. We can be thankful for these teachers of the law or scribes for copying the scriptures and, I’m sure, in many cases faithfully teaching the Old Testament scriptures. But in Jesus’ day many of them had fallen into rather meaningless teaching of the word of God with lots of repetition and pointless applications.
But on this Sabbath the people very clearly noticed a difference. They noticed so much difference between Jesus and the teachers of the law that they were amazed. Jesus spoke with authority. He was someone worth listening to.
Do you think Jesus is worth listening to? You obviously do. I assume you wouldn’t be here today if you didn’t think Jesus was worth listening to, that he speaks in the Bible with authority. But why would we say Jesus speaks with authority? We would say that Jesus speaks with authority because he speaks to us the word of God. In our Old Testament reading today Moses told the people of Israel about 1400 years before Jesus that God would one day send them a very special Prophet, a Prophet even more important than Moses. And Moses told them to listen to him. That was a way of telling them that this Prophet was worth listening to, he would speak with the authority of God, it was necessary to listen to him.
Two weeks from today, on the last Sunday of the Epiphany season, Transfiguration Sunday, in the gospel reading God the Father will say of Jesus, “This is my Son whom I love. Listen to him.” In our worship service, like the synagogue service, we read the scriptures too. They read from the Law and the Prophets. We read the Old Testament, the Epistle, and the Gospel. But what do we do different when we read the gospel? We stand up. We stand up in special respect for the words about Jesus and the words that Jesus himself speaks. All of scripture is worth listening too. That’s an understatement. Jesus’ is someone who is especially worth listening to.
And why? Why is Jesus so worth listening to? On a particularly difficult day in his ministry Jesus noticed that many of his disciples and followers were beginning to turn away from him because they didn’t like what he was teaching. Jesus turned to his twelve disciples and asked, “Are you going to leave me too?” It was the disciple Peter who spoke up for the others: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
That’s why Jesus is worth listening to. He came to this world to tell us about the forgiveness of our sins. He would give his life on the cross to atone for our sins and the sins of the whole world. He would rise again from the dead to show us that our sins really are forgiven. There could be no more important message or truth that you and I could listen to. That’s why Moses told the people of Israel to listen to the Prophet who would one day come to them. That’s why on Transfiguration Sunday God the Father will say, “Listen to my Son.” That’s why once a week we have a worship service, a church service, just like the weekly synagogue service, so that you and I can come and listen to Jesus, listen to someone worth listening to, listen to someone who speaks the very word of God.
During this synagogue service in Capernaum something amazing happened. A man with an evil spirit came into the service. The evil spirit that possessed him said, “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!” How interesting that even the devil and his angels know who Jesus is. They know he is the holy Son of God and are forced to publicly acknowledge that truth and face God’s eternal judgment. But there will be no salvation for them. Jesus didn’t come to save them. He came to save you and me.
Jesus commanded the evil spirit, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” And the evil spirit was forced to come out of the man. Imagine witnessing this terrifying and amazing event. “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching - and with authority.’” These people not only knew that Jesus had come from God and therefore was worth listening to. They also witnessed and felt the authority and power of Jesus’ words. Even the demons of hell have to obey him.
What about you? Do you think Jesus is worth listening to? You certainly will say yes because you know that’s the right answer. You know and believe that Jesus is the Son of God. You know and believe that Jesus is your Savior. That makes him far more than worth listening to. It’s an unimaginable privilege to listen to Jesus.
And like the people of Capernaum, rejoice and be amazed that Jesus speaks to you with authority. He’s not this week’s sports hero. He’s not a politician. He’s not an actor reciting words written for him. His words are truth. His words are authority. His words are power. His words are forgiveness. His words are eternal salvation. His words have authority to forgive our sins and comfort our hearts. No other words ever written or spoken can do that. But Jesus’ words can. His words are the very words of God. And he is worth listening to. Amen.