Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the living Christ, Amen. Our gospel reading from Mark begins with these words “They went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching.” Who are they who went into Capernaum, and why might they be there? Mark tells us that Jesus has left his hometown of Nazareth, he’s been baptized in the Jordan river, he’s been tempted in the wilderness by Satan, he then traveled to the Sea of Galilee, and we know from our gospel reading last Sunday that Jesus then called James, John, Andrew, and Simon, also known to us as Peter, to drop their nets and follow him, and that’s exactly what they did. These four fishermen worked the Sea of Galilee and made their homes on the north shore in Capernaum. They’ve been in the synagogue before. This time they entered with a fifth person, a guest, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the first place they followed him, a place they had been before, but now brothers and sisters, listen to these words of truth and life recorded in the third chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Peter and John have indeed followed Jesus for over three years. They have learned and witnessed so much during their time with the son of God. They have witnessed his death and resurrection, and now we find them in Jerusalem. I begin at verse 3. “Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. 12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.” It was Jesus, the Author of Life, who did this beautiful thing at the beautiful gate, making a lame man strong, giving him perfect health. It is the same Author of Life who speaks to us with authority in the healing and restoration of the man afflicted with an unclean spirit in Capernaum. Yes, the Author of Life has authority, the authority to rebuke and heal. This Authority utterly astounded people at the portico of Solomon, on the eastern side of the temple’s outer court in Jerusalem. The same Authority amazed the people gathered at the synagogue in Capernaum. To most it was just another day by the sea of Galilee, just another Sabbath day in Capernaum located about 40 miles or so to the north and east of our Lord’s hometown in Nazareth. Some of you know, this is where our Lord spent most of his time during his earthly ministry, a second home if you will. James, John, Peter, and Andrew show up at the synagogue, but this time they have a guest, and that guest is Christ, and something unusual took place. That day worship was interrupted by a man with an unclean spirit crying out. He interrupted the guest teacher, Jesus, in the middle of his message. In my 40 years of ministry, there have been more than a few interruptions, disruptions during worship. A fire alarm going off in the middle of a sermon due to bad sensors, and usually a baby crying, a toddler making a fuss, but once a brother in Christ with a hearing problem said in a loud voice to his wife while I was preaching “How long is this sermon going to last?” I could see the people bouncing up and down around him trying to control the urge to laugh as you just did so I said “About another 5 minutes Bob” and kept right on preaching, but these interruptions are nothing like, nothing like what took place in Capernaum that Sabbath day. The people were understandably amazed by what they witnessed in this exchange between Jesus and the man with an unclean spirit, because the people in Capernaum had never witnessed anyone like Christ before. How could they? There’s no one else like him. Jesus spoke with an authority none of their scribes had ever demonstrated, for how could they? Those scribes were mere mortals at first busying themselves with a laborious task of making copies of the Hebrew scriptures on scrolls, and then over time not just making copies of God’s word the Law, but then becoming interpreters and teachers of the Law and that’s why sometimes you see the scribes being referred to as scribes in the word of our Lord. The people at Capernaum we’re rightfully amazed and astounded by Jesus. What is this? What have we just witnessed? What is this authority that we’ve never seen before? And it is the unclean spirit who provides the answer. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? I know who you are–the Holy One of God.” The Author of Life had power over the unclean spirit, who knew he was not just a gifted rabbi, or some extraordinary scribe had come to visit that day. The unclean spirit spoke the truth about Jesus, the one with authority, “you are the Holy One of God” and the unclean spirit asked “Have you come to destroy us?” The answer to that question is a wondrous and mighty yes. The Holy One of God comes to destroy the power of every unclean spirit, and the power of the evil one, for it is written Genesis 3, the Author of Life will bruise your head. Romans 16, the Holy One of God will crush Satan under your feet. Yes, the unclean spirit rightly identified Jesus as the Holy One of God, while the people, gathered in the synagogue, wondered who he might be or where he got such authority and power, and yet even though the unclean spirit rightly identified Jesus, it did not confess him as Lord and Savior. For it’s one thing to know about Jesus. It’s another thing to know him as Lord and Savior, and worship him in spirit and truth. And the ability to worship the Lord rightly is not something we can do on our own. Even as in a moment we confess our faith through the words of the Nicene creed, we cannot take credit for coming to such knowledge and faith in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, for we know well what the Catechism teaches I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlighten me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. Brothers and sisters God has called you, the Lord of life has enlightened you, the Holy Spirit has sanctified you in making the faithful confession, and God keeps you in the true faith, he forgives you all your sins, he gives you eternal life, and none of this is by your own doing, and none of this is by a so-called personal decision to invite Jesus into your heart. Why would Christ want to take up residence in my sinful heart or your own? Who are we to think that we have the authority to tell the Author of Life where he should be, or the power to tell him where he cannot go, without our invitation? The Author of Life fulfills the promise we hear from the prophet Ezekiel, chapter 36, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Thanks be to God it is Christ who has given you a new heart. It is Jesus who has made a decision for you, and that decision is to die the death that you deserve, to take your sins unto himself, to make the unrighteous righteous, to cleanse you through the power of his innocent and holy blood. The Author of Life declares to us his power in those familiar words to the eleven disciples gathered Galilee, in Matthew 28, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.” The Author of Life has authority, all authority, authority over you, authority for you, authority for your blessing and benefit. This is grace upon grace. The unclean spirit, yes, rightly identified Jesus, but had no faith in him, no trust in him, no love for him. You do and this is not your own doing, for God has brought you to faith, God has delivered you from darkness to light, God has changed you from being enemies of Christ to those he now calls his friends. The same Jesus who did a beautiful thing at the beautiful gate in Jerusalem, who did an amazing thing in the healing of a man with an unclean spirit, meets you today, right here, right now, in his Word, in the sacrament of Holy Communion, that declares you forgiven of your sins, all of them, even those you may have been trying to keep secret from others for years. For the one with authority knows you and knows everything about you. The one with authority did not come to negotiate for your release from this imprisonment, from your bondage to sin and death. The Holy One of God did not take on human form to sit down and make a deal with the devil. The word did not become flesh, become one of us in order to seek out some political peace treaty with the one who wants you dead. He did not come to bargain with the prince of darkness, no, he came to win your freedom from sin and death completely, to defeat the evil one, to crush him under foot, not to bargain with, but to banish this liar, this father of lies. In his presence, the demons can only cry out and shriek in fear, but by his grace and mercy we sing his praise in faith, hope, and love. One of the many beautiful, precious things about our Lutheran tradition, is our Lutheran hymnody. Our Lutheran hymns have such solid theological words, the text. The words of our hymns, do they not teach the faith, do they not draw us closer to Christ, do they not proclaim the truth of God’s holy word, and sometimes our hymns are not just hymnic but prayerful. So, I’m going to ask you to do something now. Please turn in your worship books again to hymn 541. Would you be so kind? And 541, I know we just sang it together, but I’d like for us this morning to pray it together, and we will pray this antiphonally so boys and men we will read verses one and three and then girls, sisters in Christ, you will read verses two and four, and then we’ll all pray verse 5 together in unison. So, men let us begin. (Please listen to the copyrighted words in the sermon recording).
May the peace which far surpasses all human understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord this day and until we see the Savior face to face. Amen.