Jesus plunges into his active ministry in Galilee, and it’s no mistake that Mark begins the story with an exorcism. Mark tells the story of Jesus with a kind of breathless enthusiasm. The language is short, sharp and shocking. Jesus immediately does this and suddenly does that.
He recruits the first four disciples by the Sea of Galilee and suddenly he’s off. There’s no stopping him. They went to Capernaum. You can visit the ruins of Capernaum today in a little settlement on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. They’ve found the ruins of an ancient synagogue there and a the ruins of a house the call Peter’s house. The place names are important because they remind us that this is not some sort of fairy tale. These are real people who lived in a real village in a real place in a real time in history.
You can hear Peter telling the story in the background. Mark’s recounting it to us. Jesus went into the synagogue to teach. The synagogue was the local place for the Jews to meet for Scripture based worship. They sang psalms, followed the readings and heard teaching from the rabbis from the readings. The temple in Jerusalem was the only place they could offer sacrifices to God.
Jesus gets up to teach and does so with authority. What does this mean? Not only that he knew what he was talking about, but he spoke the word as if he was the Word. In this first chapter Mark establishes this important and astounding truth: Jesus has such authority that the people are astonished. They’re shocked. They’re amazed. It’s as if the Scriptures are alive in him. He not only expounds the Scripture. He lives the Scripture. He seems to BE the Scripture.
Jesus’ authority is exercised in four ways: to teach the truth, to take control over evil, to heal the sick and to forgive sins.
The first exercise of his authority is to confront a demon. Right up front we see what Jesus’ real mission is: in many different ways he is going to continue the battle with Satan that he began in the desert. Mark gives us the warrior Jesus. No gentle Jesus meek and mild with a little lambkin on his shoulder. Instead, right from the start he is wading into battle. I’m thinking of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings wielding his sword left and right relentlessly lopping off orc heads.
Stop and look. The demon possessed person is in the synagogue! He’s not running around foaming at the mouth, vomiting nails, turning a green color and walking up walls. He’s in the synagogue with all the other religious people being a good boy. Don’t imagine that the church has no demon possessed people in it. It’s the same today. The demon doesn’t mind if his host behaves like a nice goody goody little Christian. What better place to hide than in an outwardly respectable religious person?
But when they are confronted with Jesus Christ they know him and he knows them. Then there’s trouble.
“What have you to do with us?” “Us” There was more than one son of Satan in the man. The question is disrespectful and scornful. The demon hates Jesus. Let’s be frank. The demon not only hates Jesus. He wants Jesus dead. So Jesus commands him to be quiet and expels him.
Why is the exorcism linked with the story of Jesus teaching in the synagogue? Because the authority to cast out the demons is the same authority by which Jesus teaches the truth. The people know the two are linked. They are amazed both at his ability to teach with authority and to cast out evil.
Did you see the link? The truth of the faith is light and life. A lie is of the devil and the devil is the father of lies. Teaching the truth with authority is a work of God. Lying, manipulating, deceiving, being wishy washy about the truth, being too scared to speak the truth. All of that is linked with the work of the devil. Do you want to overcome the devil in your life? Speak the truth. Do the truth. Be fearless. Do not compromise. Suddenly everybody is buzzing about this man who not only teaches the truth but seems to BE the truth.
Then Jesus goes to Peter’s house (only remember he’s still called “Simon” at this point. He gets the name “Peter” later) Once again we hear Peter telling the story in the background. Peter has a mother-in-law? That means Peter the first pope was married! We could write a treatise on married priests, but we won’t go there. The point is that right after Jesus exercises his authority in teaching and exorcism he shows his authority with a healing.
The ancients considered sickness to be linked with sin and evil. If you were sick you were suffering from sin and evil in the largest sense. Jesus is taking authority not only over the lies of Satan by teaching with authority and not only over the demons with exorcisms, but also over the evil of sickness.
Once the words gets around Peter-Mark tells us that as a result of the exorcism and the healing at Peter’s house the crowds started to arrive. It’s evening. Nice detail. It’s getting late. Everyone wanted deliverance from evil and healing of their illnesses. Boom! Jesus is suddenly huge in Galilee. People are jamming the doorways. Something big is going on here.
One last detail: he did not permit the demons to speak because they knew him. This is what the scholars call the Messianic Secret. Jesus does not let the demons identify him. He does not for several reasons. He does not want them to be the ones to witness to his identity. They’re filth. They’re naming him is only done through blasphemy, rage and hatred. Secondly, if he lets them speak the truth of who he is they might also speak other things about him which are not true. He knows he is dealing with slippery liars. Better to not let liars speak at all. They must shut up. Thirdly, Jesus does not want his identity blurted out because people must come to a deeper understanding of who he is by their own experience. His divinity is hidden in his humanity. He lies low.
Suddenly he’s famous and we’ll see that he constantly eludes the fame and the adoring crowd.
He’s on the move. The battle against evil has been engaged and we’ll see him in Mark’s gospel always on the move–battling at every turn–Jesus the Warrior King.