Jesus Unfiltered – A Shocking Service (Mark 1:21-28)
It was a Sunday I’ll never forget.
As I came into the sanctuary a few minutes early, people were sprinkled throughout the room, waiting for the second service to start.
I didn’t notice anything unusual at first, but then I heard something. It was a man’s voice. I looked to the front and there was a man I’d never seen before standing behind the podium speaking into the live microphone.
At first I was disoriented (who is this guy?), but in an instant, raging alarm bells began blaring in my head as the man started spewing profanity and mockery. People began heading for the exits as shock and panic swept through the room.
I shot to the front and joined several other men who quickly surrounded the stranger. We soon realized he was higher than a kite. He kept insisting he had something to say to the congregation, and he wouldn’t want to take “no” for an answer. By God’s grace, we were able to get him off the platform and out of the building without incident to find the help he needed.
Those present that day will never forget that shocking interruption to a routine Sunday morning.
Today we’re going to attend a seaside service with Jesus that was every bit as shocking as the one I just described.
Following John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus entered Galilee and began preaching.
The time has come, Jesus said. The kingdom of God is near (1:15). He then abruptly appeared by the Sea of Galilee and called a group of unsuspecting fishermen to be his disciples.
One of the first places he took them was to a Synagogue in a fishing village tucked along the shore of Galilee. That’s where we find him in today’s text – Mark 1:21-18.
21a – They went to Capernaum.
With his followers in tow (see also 1:29), Jesus went to the fishing village of Capernaum. Although he’s from Nazareth, for much of his ministry, Capernaum became Jesus’ base of operations. In fact, Matthew calls Capernaum his own town (Matt 9:1). Obviously, he spent a great deal of time there.
Located on the NW shore of Galilee, Capernaum was a prosperous fishing town. Built on a major Roman road (Via Maris), it was an important commercial town with a half-mile long, eight-foot high seawall. Piers jutted out from the wall into the water giving boats easy access to the city.
Capernaum also happened to be the home of the four fishermen now following Jesus (1:29).
21b – And when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.
As was his custom, on Saturday (Sabbath), Jesus and his followers went to the local synagogue where Jesus began to teach. The ruins of this particular synagogue are still standing, close by the shore of Galilee.
The Jewish system of synagogues developed during the Babylonian captivity in the fifth century, BC. Prior to their exile, there was only one place for Jews to worship, the temple in Jerusalem. But after the temple was destroyed, people began meeting together in small gatherings in local towns and villages. The Greek term translated synagogue actually means, gathering or assembly.
Unlike the temple in Jerusalem, where animal sacrifices were made by priests, Jewish synagogues were assembly halls where the Torah was read and expounded.
On this particular day, Jesus was the designated teacher.
It didn’t take long for people to realize there was something different about this new teacher. It wasn’t his dress – the way he looked, that made him stand out. It was the way he spoke.
22 – The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one with authority, not as the teachers of the law.
Unlike the teachers of the law, Jesus’ taught with authority. His piercing words came with conviction, clarity, and unwavering confidence.
He spoke as one commissioned by God and endowed with the Spirit, a stark contrast to the musings of the teachers of the law. Scribes were the primary teachers at that time, tracing their heritage back to the scribe Ezra, who read the Scriptures and explained it to the people after they returned from Babylonian exile (Ezra 7:10 & Nehemiah 8:4-8).
Jesus’ teaching was qualitatively different from theirs.
As he explained the biblical text with clarity and authority, it was unlike anything the people had heard before. They were amazed by what they heard, shocked even. It was so different they said it was a new teaching (27). But it wasn’t the content that was new. It was the way he taught. It was who was doing the teaching.
His authority derived from the fact that he clearly spoke for God rather than merely about God.
As one commentator put it, The scribes simply make theological pronouncements (2:6-7; 9:11; 12:35); Jesus comes with the authority of God to dismantle the tyranny of Satan (Garland). A huge difference.
As listeners sat with rapt attention to this new teacher, a man suddenly jumped to his feet and started screaming.
23-24 – Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘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!
Unbeknown to the people apparently, one of the worshippers that day was demonized. The man was possessed by an evil or unclean spirit.
What do you want with us, the demon asks Jesus. Have you come to destroy us? The demon clearly sees Jesus as a threat, recognizing him as the Spirit-anointed one who has come to break the rule and reign of Satan. I know who you are. You are Jesus of Nazareth…the Holy One of God.
Mark has been explaining to his readers who Jesus is. He is the beloved Son of God, in whom the Father is well pleased (1:11). But now we learn that even demons know who he is (1:24; 3:11). Perhaps that’s why this spirit interrupted the service. It was a violent rebellious reaction to the authoritative teaching of the Son of God. Perhaps the spirit thought it could gain the upper hand by calling Jesus out and identifying him first. But Jesus doesn’t want demons disclosing his identity to people.
25 – Be quiet! Jesus said sternly. Come out of him!
With that rebuking command, Jesus silences and expels the demon from the man.
You might wonder why Jesus would want to stop the demon from telling people who he is. But the demon’s identification of him would likely only mislead people. So Jesus silences and subdues the unclean spirit with divine power and authority. But the spirit didn’t go quietly. They rarely do.
26 – The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. This was no faint whimper. This was a blood-curdling scream. It takes me back to the chills running down my spine when I heard the vulgar language spewing from the pulpit that day. Adrenaline was coursing through my body.
Many years ago Teresa and I were driving through Stillwater, Minnesota, when we turned a corner and there, right in front of the car, a police officer was rolling around on the ground, fighting with a man who was desperately trying to overpower him. That startling scene still plays out in my mind. It was outrageous.
I think the scene was similar in the synagogue that day, the man falling to the ground, shaking and convulsing uncontrollably, screaming at the top of his lungs as the spirit is overpowered by Jesus. Luke points out, thankfully, that the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him (Luke 4:35). That’s good to hear. As we’ll see going forward, this type of scenario played out repeatedly during Jesus’ ministry (e.g. 1:34; 3:12; 9:26).
Between the authority of his teaching and the dramatic spiritual showdown, the people were shaken to the core.
27 – The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him’.
Mark emphasizes all – literally everyone was astonished by what they witnessed, by the authority & power he demonstrated over the spirit realm. Twice Mark mentions how the people were amazed by what they saw & heard (22, 27). This becomes a common response to Jesus’ ministry going forward.
- Mark 6:2 – When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, & many who heard him were amazed.
- Mark 7:37 – People were overwhelmed with amazement.
- Mark 10:26 – The disciples were even more amazed…
- Mark 11:18 – … the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
Little wonder news of this new teacher spread quickly.
28 – News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
I’m sure the people present never forgot what they heard and saw that day, like the experience I had that Sunday years ago. They couldn’t help but talk about what they witnessed that day.
So, what can we take away from this shocking seaside service? Let me offer three takeaways.
Takeaway #1 — Don’t be fooled into thinking dramatic displays of Jesus’ power & authority automatically result in faith & obedience.
People sometimes say they’d believe in God if he’d just stop hiding and show himself, if he’d write his name in the clouds or perform some other miracle. Then everyone would believe. You ever think that way? That if God wanted you to know and believe in him, he should perform some kind of miracles or sign. Then you would believe.
But is that true? What happened to people in the service that day? What about the city of Capernaum, Jesus’ home town? Surely they all became followers of Jesus.
I mean, good grief, Jesus was there in the flesh. It was his own town. He preached there, taught there, healed people there; cast out demons. There must’ve been revival meetings every night, no more boring synagogue services! Surely, the whole village became fanatical followers of Jesus…
In fact, tragically, Jesus reserved one of his strongest indictments against Capernaum because of their failure to believe in him despite all the miracles he performed there.
And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you (Matthew 11:23-24).
In Luke 16, Jesus describes a scene from the afterlife. Across a great chasm, an unnamed rich man can see a beggar named Lazarus standing beside Abraham, receiving comfort, while he is in great torment. Wanting to spare his five living brothers his same fate, he begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn them. Listen to Abraham’s reply.
‘I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ (Luke 16:27-31).
The truth is, if you don’t want to believe, no amount of evidence will convince you.
Oh my friend, Jesus has come to set prisoners free. Today is the day of salvation. Open your heart. Put your faith and trust in him.
Takeaway #2 — Don’t be surprised when you face opposition and adversity.
Ever wonder what the four fishermen thought of what they witnessed that day? Like, wow, this isn’t what I signed up for. Who is this guy? He sure provokes antagonism. Our boats aren’t far down the shoreline, maybe we should rethink this whole thing.
Here’s the thing, the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8). Jesus came to push back the darkness. Those who follow him are called to do the same. As Christ-followers, we are involved in a war, my friends. This world is a battleground, not a playground.
As you reach out to share and show Jesus’ transforming love to your neighbors, when you display Spirit-empowered radical hospitality to people around you, you are pushing back the darkness with the light of Jesus’ love. Don’t be surprised, then, when there is push-back, when you face spiritual opposition & adversity. The devil will throw all kinds of adversity at you to distract you & derail you, if possible. Believe me, I know all about that. But we don’t have to fear.
The good news is that greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4)! In Christ, we too have authority over unseen evil forces. In Christ, we have the ultimate victory, though the devil will do everything possible to convince you otherwise.
So stand firm, my friend. Don’t fear. Put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). Press on. Persevere. Fight the good fight.
Takeaway #3 — Don’t remain in bondage when freedom is within reach.
The authority of Jesus is shocking in this incident, not merely as a display of his splendor, but as a power of redemption for captives.
Did you notice Mark gives no biographical information on the demonized man? That’s by design. His focus is on the authority of Jesus and on the response of the congregation that day. But think about the man possessed by the unclean spirit. He wasn’t just amazed by what took place, like everyone else.
He was delivered, set free! Kingdom authority was no abstraction to him. It was tangible, real, and powerful. Jesus broke his chains that day.
That man represents all of us, anyone and everyone who is held captive to sin and Satan. Jesus’ authority over the strong man – Satan (3:27) is demonstrated by binding him so he can pillage his home – the dominion of darkness. Friends, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus Christ.
He has authority over whatever is binding you, whatever is overpowering you. He has the power to break every chain. Jesus is the bondage breaker.
Will you come to him today in your brokenness and bondage to be set free?
Read more about finding light and freedom through Jesus here.
Now to the one who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:15b-16).
Blog post adapted from the message by the same name delivered on Sunday, October 10, 2021.
The NIV Application Commentary, David E. Garland.
The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series: The Gospel According to Mark, James R. Edwards.
Believer’s Church Commentary: Mark, Elmer A. Martens & Willard M. Swartley, editors.
Let’s Study Mark, Sinclair B. Ferguson.
Reformed Expository Commentary: Luke, Volume 1: Chapters 1-12.
The Harmony of the Gospels, Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry.