Creekside Church
Sermon of January 31, 2021

"I Know Who You Are"
Mark 1:21-28

Rosanna McFadden


Good morning! Some of you will remember that for the past few weeks and the next two, I will be preaching from the gospel of Mark -- the first chapter of Mark. I want to give a shout out to Joe Kohler who texted me last Sunday and said he was going to read the entire first chapter of Mark on his own. I got another text message on Monday to let me know that he’d done it. I appreciate Joe for checking out these readings on his own -- maybe some others of you have done the same. I’d like to hear about it if you have.

Just as a review, because Mark goes through this material pretty quickly: Mark’s gospel begins with the appearance of John the Baptist, Jesus is baptized and a voice from heaven declared that he is God’s Son, the Beloved. The Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness where he is tempted. John the Baptist is arrested, Jesus begins proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God in the region of Galilee, he goes to the sea of Galilee where he sees some fisherman, he calls to them and they immediately follow him, Jesus sees another group of fisherman and calls them and they leave their father sitting in the boat and follow Jesus. There is a kind of breathless quality to the gospel of Mark: Jesus is immediately going here and doing this and the narrative clicks right along without a lot of description or commentary. Why did Simon and Andrew leave immediately? How did Zebedee feel when his sons walked off and left him in the boat with the hired men? Mark goes into none of those details.

Of course, there’s a lot which biblical scholars and more casual devotional readers can surmise from any gospel account, because of what’s there and what isn’t there. We can also compare Mark’s gospel to the other three: we know that Mark was the earliest and the shortest. What do Matthew and Luke add? What does John leave out altogether? How is the chronology different? How is Mark’s culture and worldview different from our own, and how does that effect the way he tells the story? What is the point of including this particular story at all?

So let’s go back for a review of a Galilee far far away. This is the region where Jesus spent his childhood and young adulthood -- at least from age 6 to age 30 or so. Nazareth is a little town down in the southwest, and the Jordan River where John was baptizing flows south along the eastern edge of the region. Scholars believe that from there, Jesus went south toward the Dead Sea and into the Judean wilderness for forty days of fasting, before he returned to Nazareth to begin his ministry.

We know that he crossed back to the Sea of Galilee, went along the western shore and called fisherman Simon and Andrew and Zebedee’s boys James and John. Today’s text tells us that Jesus and his brand new disciples went from there to Capernaum, which is up on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. And today, in verses 21-28, we get Mark’s account of the first miracle which Jesus performs. It’s a healing, sort of, but there are more layers to the story than that. The other gospels have different versions of Jesus’ first miracle, and they relate to what each writer feels is most important about Jesus and his ministry. We find a clue as to what is important in this gospel by the connection Mark makes in this short passage between Jesus’ teaching and Jesus’ healing: Jesus and the disciples go to synagogue, where Jesus teaches -- that is, he interprets holy writings from the Old Testament. The people are amazed because Jesus teaches with such authority, not like the professional scribes they’re used to. I hesitate to draw any contemporary parallels here -- but if you’ve heard preaching that is inspired and sincere and resonates with your intellect and in your heart, I imagine that is the kind of teaching that Jesus did and which amazed the crowd with its authority. And then, a demon speaks up and says, “What are you doing here, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are! You are the Holy One of God.”

There is so much to unpack with that, but here’s where I’ll start: this statement, “I know who you are.” Such a potent thing to say, especially in the ancient world, where knowing someone’s name, or their real identity, gave you power over them. This is why the name YHWH is not written in the Hebrew texts: YHWH is a set of unpronounceable initials; it could not be spoken aloud, and the Holy One is referred as the Lord, or other titles. This is why one of the Ten Commandments is Do not take the name of the Lord in vain. Your name carries a part of your identity which if given away carelessly could give your enemies power over you. This demon knows who the teacher is, and calls him Jesus of Nazareth, but the goes on to identify him as the Holy One of God. But Jesus is the one with the power here: he commands the demon to be silent and leave the man it was inhabiting: and the demon obeys. And the people are again amazed -- a new teaching! With authority! He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him. Jesus not only has authority to teach the Word of God, he has power and authority over the forces of evil.

I have to say, I do not have a world view constructed around angels and demons, or any embodied forces of good and evil. I’m reminded of the two young boys who were on their way out of Sunday School and one said to the other, “Do you believe in the Devil?” and his friend said, “Naa . . . the Devil’s like Santa Claus; it’s really your father.” I absolutely believe in the existence of evil -- anyone who knows anything about human history or human nature would be crazy not to -- but I’m not sure that evil has to be embodied in a supernatural creature in order to be evil. I also believe that the power of Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God is greater and more enduring than any evil we encounter, in whatever form. I think this is the point of this story from Mark: it is important to Mark to establish Jesus’ power and authority from the very beginning of his ministry. For the powers of evil to recognize Jesus and name him-- I know who you are -- they have to be beings who have awareness and can speak.

Here is where it gets really interesting, though. Throughout the gospel of Mark, the demons recognize Jesus as the Holy One and know who he is, but the humans don’t. The fishermen followed Jesus, but he never tells them he’s the Son of God, and they never identify him as such on their own. The people in the synagogue are amazed by Jesus’ authority in teaching and his authority over unclean spirits, and they are very happy to be healed, but they don’t identify Jesus as the Holy One, the Son of God. Only the demons do that -- and Jesus commands them to be silent. There’s a saying in the entertainment industry, “Any publicity is good publicity,” or “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Jesus apparently does not subscribe to this point of view. He doesn’t want his ministry to spread by word of mouth through the supernatural world, even by demons who have been vanquished by his power. You can understand why Jesus wouldn’t want testimonials from demons -- he’s afraid of exactly what happens later in Mark 3:22, when the religious authorities say, “The only reason he can cast our demons is because he’s possessed by the king of demons!” and Jesus says, “Really? Does it make any sense for a demon to cast out demons?” If this sounds a little bit like middle school bullying to you, I think it probably felt that way to Jesus, too.

So the question I’d pose to you today is this: are you as smart as the demons? Do you recognize Jesus of Nazareth for who he really is: not just a gifted teacher and powerful exorcist, but the Holy One, the Son of God? Are you able to testify on Jesus’ behalf as someone who not only recognizes his power, but has been changed for good? Mark challenges some of my assumptions about recognition and authority. And frankly, reassures me by the example of the fisherman who have enough faith to leave their nets and follow Jesus even if they’re not sure what they’re getting into. The demons know; the fishermen don’t. Discipleship is not knowing who Jesus is -- Satan knows who Jesus is. Discipleship is being willing to follow where Jesus goes: to commit our lives to becoming more like Christ. May the power of Christ go before us, behind us, above us, and beneath us. Amen


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