Thursday, February 09, 2012

Mark 1:21–28

Mark 1:21–28 (ESV): Jesus Heals a Man with an Unclean Spirit


This passage takes place on the Sabbath. Jesus enters the synagogue and teaches the people, who are astonished at this teaching because he seems to have authority—unlike the scribes. But while he is still teaching a man with an unclean spirit stands up and cries out at him:

“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.” (verse 24 (ESV))
Rather than acknowledging that the unclean spirit is correct, and that he is indeed the Holy one of God—which, I’ll be honest, I had sort of expected him to do when I first read this passage—Jesus rebukes the spirit, and tells it to be silent and come out of the man. The spirit does so, with a final loud cry for good measure, and the people are amazed by all of this. Not only does this man teach with authority, he even has authority over demons—he tells one to come out, and it obeys him! So because of this Jesus’ fame spreads throughout the region.


I don’t have a specific source for this, but when it says that Jesus taught “as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (verse 22 (ESV)), this isn’t just a slam on the scribes; it’s really a reflection of the scribes’ entire manner of teaching. They wouldn’t (or couldn’t?) simply open up the Scriptures and tell the people what those Scriptures meant; instead they would be passing on the traditions of other Jewish scholars who had come before. “When Isaiah says such and such, this tradition says that what he meant was this, while this other tradition says that what he meant was that” type of a thing. But Jesus has no need to cite anyone else, nor does he need to temper his opinions with those of others; Jesus knows what the Scriptures mean—he wrote them, after all!—so he can simply say to the people, “When Isaiah says such and such this is what it means…”

I’m not saying that it’s wrong for modern-day preachers to cite the teachings of others, and temper their own opinions with the opinions of others. In fact there are some passages of the Bible that are very contentious and/or confusing, and I think it’s not only acceptable but proper for a preacher to call these types of controversies out to people. But that’s because there are some things that we, as humans, don’t yet understand. Jesus, on the other hand, though he was fully human was also fully God, and didn’t have the same limitations in preaching that we have. It doesn’t matter how confusing or how contentious any piece of Scripture is, Jesus knows what it means and knows how it should apply to each of us. This is, of course, obvious to us, but it wouldn’t have been as obvious to the people in the synagogue in this story.

I mentioned above something that I’d wondered when I first read this passage (why Jesus didn’t acknowledge that the unclean spirit was correct about him being the Holy One of God), but there’s another aspect that I still wonder about. Check out the relevant passage:

But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. (verses 25–26 (ESV))
It’s a minor point, perhaps, but Jesus tells the spirit to be silent, but the spirit cries out with a loud voice as it’s coming out of the man. How was the spirit able to cry out after being commanded by the Son of God to be silent? This might be an area where understanding the Greek might help; maybe when Jesus says “be silent” it doesn’t mean “noiseless” but just “don’t speak,” so crying out isn’t part of that. I have a feeling that if Jesus were to tell me to be silent I wouldn’t be able to conjure up the ability to make a single peep…

But of course that’s not the point of this passage, the point of this passage is Jesus’ authority. He teaches the Scriptures with authority—he is, if you’ll pardon the pun, the author of those Scriptures, so he has the right and the ability to teach them authoritatively—and even has the authority to command a demon to leave a man, leaving the demon no ability to argue or disobey.

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