4th Sunday after Epiphany – B LSB #’s 761, 783, 707
Text – Mark 1:23-24
And immediately 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.”
WHAT HAVE YOU TO DO WITH US?
Just leave me alone!!! Ever said those words? There are times when it feels as if our “oppressor” is about to destroy us, & we need some space. That “oppressor” may be a little brother or sister who just wants to be with their hero. It might be parents who seemingly have to be involved with every decision you make.
On a submarine that feeling came with each trip that lasted more than a month or so. You get about to the halfway point & you don’t want anyone to talk to you ever again.
Just leave me alone!!! All of you can relate to that feeling. Maybe it’s been about religion. Maybe it was about school. It might have been personality differences or fear of not measuring up, fear of being ridiculed. In the Gospel lesson for this morning, it’s about good vs. evil, & death vs. life. “What do you want with us, Jeeeeesus of Nazareth?”
Have you ever wanted Jesus to just leave you alone? That’s an uncomfortable question to be answering truthfully, especially in church, surrounded by fellow Christians, with the pastor right up front. But I’m going to press the point. I want you to be uncomfortable. Have you ever had too much religion? Have you been up to here with it?
Can you sense the truth at the core of those questions? You have a sinful nature & it hates religion as well as the Son of God. To deny that is to deceive yourself. We are sinful from conception. We have not followed Jesus joyfully or trustingly. Our thoughts have been for ourselves, not for others. “Just leave me alone. What do You want with me, Jesus?”
Romans 8:7, “The sinful mind hates God.” e;cqra is the Greek word used by Paul & it
even sounds hateful! But that’s not what we’re talking about when we say, “I just hate it when that happens.” e;cqra means active & intentional hatred. It’s the kind that leads to death by murder. It’s the kind that chops the body into pieces & feeds it to the neighbor’s dog! That’s e;cqra & Paul says it is our disposition towards God, or at least part of our disposition.
An evil spirit cried out, “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us?” And that is why it’s difficult to truly admit our sin here in church, here in front of our fellow Christians, in front of a pastor, because we are afraid of being destroyed. That’s what made you uncomfortable earlier in the sermon. The truth causes anxiety for sinners.
You have been up to here with religion & your sinful mind does want to kill God, because you want to take His place. Each of us would like to be in absolute control of the things that matter most. That’s what being impatient is all about – ‘wanting control.’ When you’re impatient with your children, or with your parents, it’s because you want to be God.
Our soul relates well to the words of that evil spirit, & that’s the frightening part. We understand those words all too well. We live them every day, & we run from them, hoping no one will notice. You heard the same theme in the OT reading, “Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.” (Deuteronomy 18:16b ESV)
Death, destruction & damnation hound us all. Our sinful nature fears them rightly, because Jesus Christ did come to destroy that sinful nature. “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”
He wants death for the rebellious old Adam within, & as long as that old Adam is alive, our existence will be one of anxiety & impatience. We will constantly be looking for space to avoid the damning holiness of God. It’s natural for you to have had it up to here with religion because its purpose is the death of your sinful nature. Like the demon possessed man, part of you also cries out, “What have You to do with me, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy me?” That aspect of religion makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. Part of that discomfort comes from a lack of understanding &a lack of faith.
For Christians, the death of our sinful nature is a blessed thing. But it doesn’t first arrive on the day of our physical death. Rather that death is a process which began already with our baptism & continues throughout each day of this life.
That 100% Saint, 100% Sinner paradox is not easy to live with. It pulls us in two opposing directions. The good we want to do - we don’t, & the evil we do not want to do - that we keep on doing. Part of you wishes it could be nice to your younger siblings, & part of you even wants your parents to be involved in the decisions you make.
But another part wants to be God. That old Adam would murder Him if it had the chance. That’s a disturbing thought to really consider, or meditate on. You may never have seriously considered yourself as a murderer, but that’s because we don’t like to think that we are at fault. Our sinful nature always finds someone else to blame.
It’s like Gollum in a Lord of the Rings movie: “Master hates us. He cannot be trusted. He tricked us. Master does not love us.” Did you catch how master is the subject of each statement? Obviously, Master is to blame! The same battle goes on within you & me. “What have You to do with us?” can be our cry of unbelief. You have come to destroy us.
Yet, that is also the cry of the believer, “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” Master does love you. Master is good to you. Master knows your name. Your Saintly nature loves, & wants to know, God’s will. Those two opposing natures are constantly at war within us – to shape our perception of reality & to control our actions.
Sin twists & distorts our perception of reality. As Frodo had trouble seeing the truth,
because of the power of the ring, we also have trouble seeing the truth because of the power of sin, death & the devil. Our sinful nature truly believes that Jesus came only to destroy us. For the evil spirits that is true, but not for human beings. As Christians all of us are Saints as well.
In John 3:17, we’re told Jesus came the 1st time not to destroy people, but to save them. He came to save the 100% Saint that is created as the Holy Spirit works through the means of Grace, God’s Word & His Sacraments. Yes Jesus does want death for us, but at the same time life, death to the old Adam & life to the new.
That brings us back to the Saint/Sinner paradox. We are at this very moment dead, but alive – a confusing way to live – a complex teaching to learn – an even more difficult concept to teach. “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” The answer is, “Death and life,” death to the Sinner & life to the Saint.
For example, on the one hand I long to write excellent sermons. On the other hand I hate even the thought of sitting down at the computer. “And the unclean spirit, convulsing him & crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.” (Mark 1:26 ESV) I can almost feel that spirit within me as it stirs against knowing & doing God’s will.
Maybe you feel the same thing when you’re supposed sing at church. And when you’ve had it up to here with religion, or with your parents, or a younger brother or sister, then you are engaged in the same sort of struggle. You want to choose life, but death has its grip on you as well. PAUSE
“Be silent, & come out of him!” Jesus spoke seven words & the demon obeyed. I was helping lead a Bible study at the county jail in North Dakota when the leader of the study tried casting the demons out of the prisoners. He ranted on for about 10 minutes, often at the top of his lungs, but the prisoners were still struggling with sin a week later, a month later & so on. It was a sincere yet absurd attempt at doing what only God has the power to do. When people saw Jesus do it with success, they became very uncomfortable. They were astonished & alarmed. They may not have fully understood who Jesus was, but they well knew an unearthly power had just been unleashed, which they had never before experienced.
The teaching of Jesus came with authority & the people recognized they had just been confronted with an absolute claim upon their soul. Choose life or choose death! There is no space left in which to hide. So they found the presence of Jesus to be a very disturbing one, & when that happens, our sinful nature cries out, “Just leave me alone!”
But at those same moments the new Adam living within begs us, “Repent & believe! Master does love me. Master is good to me. Master knows my name.”
Within you today are the voice of death & the voice of life. Fortunately, there is a difference between the demon & us. You & I struggle with doubt & belief. The demon does not! It believes Jesus is the Holy One of God but has outright rejected Him as Lord.
In times of tragedy, such as massive hurricanes of last summer, you’ll often hear, “Where was God when that was happening?” That question comes from the heart of doubt. It’s the statement of the unclean spirit, “You’ve come to destroy us!” It’s the claim of Gollum, “Master does not love me.” It is our own demand, “Just leave me alone!”
But Jesus of Nazareth does not leave us alone. In fact He is with us always, even to the end of this age. He was with the students at the shooting in Kentucky this past week & He is with their families today. He’s with each of us as we encounter the struggles of our lives, even during the times when we just need some space.
For the people killed by the shooter, who had faith in Jesus Christ, last Tuesday was the day that their sinful nature was eternally destroyed. The mission of Jesus has been completely fulfilled in their lives. But for those of us who still live, by virtue of our baptism, our sinful nature dies a new death every day, every time we receive the body & blood of Christ, & every time the Word of God is rightly preached or taught. Our being made holy is the work of the Holy Spirit, not an unclean spirit, & that work goes on every day of our time here on earth.
For the demon possessed man Jesus broke down the gates of hell to rescue him in fulfillment of the book of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives & freedom to prisoners,” even the prisoners of demons. (Isaiah 61:1)
For God’s children, the Word of Jesus is one of life for children of death, a word of mercy for children of hatred, a word of encouragement among voices of doubt & criticism, a word of light for those lost in darkness, a word of eternity amidst the vanity of this fleeting life.
None of our current fears, selfishness or failures threaten the salvation that our Heavenly Father gives. And the joy of that assurance is what moves His children to serve Jesus of Nazareth. So we live, trying to know & do God’s will, not because it earns anything, but out of gratefulness for the life & the joy that we have already been given.
Lord, we believe. Rescue us from our unbelief. Amen.
They went to Capernaum, & when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue & began to teach. Amen. (Mark 1:21 NIV)
Pastor Dean R. Poellet