There once was a dare devil tightrope walker who went to Niagra Falls to demonstrate his skills. He had a cable stretched across the falls and announced the day of his demonstration. After a large crowd had gathered he asked the crowd, “How many of you believe I can walk across this cable without falling.” The crowd went wild with cheers of faith. And so the dare devil tightrope walker walked across and back again to the cheers of the anxious crowd. Now, the show was not over yet, but I want to leave you at this point for a moment.
This morning the Gospel writer Mark brings us to Capernaum and he brings us there on a Sabbath day. You might remember that the Sabbath day was the seventh day of the week, the day in which the Lord rested from all His work of creation and the day which He gave as a day of rest, which is what Sabbath means, rest, not Saturday. If you have been following along each Sunday, our reading for today follows “immediately” after our reading from last Sunday. You may also notice that Mark likes to use the word, “immediately.” This morning we continue to follow along in Mark’s account as he tells us about another day in the life of Jesus. He tells us that Jesus was going about His everyday life, doing the things that He usually did. In other words, Jesus was in the usual “habit” of attending worship. It was the Sabbath day and Jesus went into the synagogue to worship.
It was the custom, in those days, to allow visiting pastors (rabbis as they are called) to participate in the worship service by invitation of the synagogue leaders and so they asked and Jesus takes advantage of being asked to preach. So, at the Sabbath morning worship service Jesus gets up to read from the Old Testament scroll and then He sat down to proclaim the Word to the people. Mark tells us that the people were “astonished at His teaching.” They were astonished because He simply proclaimed the truth to them. This should not surprise us, after all, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus does not teach as the other teachers of the law. Their usual way of teaching, that is, the way the other teachers taught was to quote other experts and the traditions of the elders. In other words, the authority of the other teachers was the authority of other experts and the traditions of the elders. When Jesus spoke, He did not quote anyone as “proof” of what He was saying, He simply proclaimed to them the Word of God, which is the truth. We might also be reminded that Jesus did not have to quote anyone because He was simply speaking His Word, the Word He gave His prophets and Scripture writers to write.
“And immediately,” our text says, as He is in the middle of His “sermon,” Jesus is confronted by a man who is possessed by an evil spirit. The evil spirit recognizes and acknowledges Jesus as God, however, this is not faith, that is true saving faith. This is simply an acknowledgment of a fact. In His Epistle, James puts it this way, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19). There is a difference between acknowledging a fact and having faith in someone or something. The evil spirit does not have faith in Jesus, he simply acknowledges the truth that He is God. The evil spirit proclaims the truth about who Jesus is. He says, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebukes the devil, sternly and He casts him out of the man. As an aside, I think it is interesting that the evil spirits know who Jesus is, yet the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law will not acknowledge who He is.
Mark then tells us, “[The people] were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him’” (Mark 1:27). The lay people did not have any difficulty in recognizing Jesus’ and that His teaching is with authority. They understood the signs and wonders they were seeing. They understood and acknowledged who Jesus is. And as a result, the people spread out everywhere to share this good news with others.
Getting back to our dare devil tightrope walker. After walking across the cable and back he again addresses the crowd. This time he puts a wheelbarrow on the cable and he asks the crowd, “Do you believe I can walk across this cable and back pushing this wheelbarrow?” And the crowd goes wild with cheers of faith. So, again, the dare devil tightrope walker walks across the cable and back, this time pushing the wheelbarrow, and the anxious crowd cheers. But again, I want to leave you at this point for a moment.
Mark shares with us one day in the life of Jesus. How does that compare to one day in our life? I would pray that our usual “habit” is to attend divine service and by “usual habit” I do mean every Sunday. I do understand that in our world today we have to define such things as “regular divine service” attendance. For some that means twice a year (usually Christmas and Easter, but that is regular in a sort of way). For some, “regular attendance at divine service” means once a month or twice a month. However, I believe that the Third Commandment defines “regular divine service” attendance to mean every opportunity we have. I believe this also means taking personal responsibility and not having to have others remind or cajole us to be in attendance. And of course, I understand that we no longer attend divine service on the seventh day of the week, but in participation of Jesus resurrection we now attend divine service on the first day of the week, on Sunday. Each Sunday is, for us Christians, our Sabbath, our day of rest and a mini Easter celebration.
The reason we come to divine service, and notice I call it divine service and not worship, because to call it worship implies that we are there to do something for God because He needs something from us. No, we come to divine service because of our need so the reason we come to divine service is first and foremost to be given the good gifts and blessing which our Lord has ready to give to us. At divine service we are reminded of our Baptism through the invocation, and through the Benediction; we confess our sins and hear God’s Word of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven.” At divine service we hear the Word of God through which we are given His good gifts and blessings. We are given the opportunity to respond to all that He has done with our prayers, our hymns of praise, our first fruits, our tithes and our offerings. Through the Word of God and His Sacraments we are given the most important thing we need, forgiveness of sin. Through the Word of God and His Sacraments we are strengthened in our faith and we are kept in faith until Christ comes again. When we absent ourselves from these means of grace, that is gift refusal, just like the illustration with the crayons a few weeks ago. When we absent ourselves from these means, we take ourselves away from the means of grace so that we are unable to be given all God’s good gifts and blessings. Which eventually could lead to a loss of faith, even a loss of eternal life.
Not just on Sundays, but every day we are confronted with sin and temptation. Not necessarily are we confronted with someone who is demon possessed, but we are confronted with the temptations of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Daily we are tempted to deny Christ. Daily we are tempted to shun God’s good gifts and blessings.
In one sense we might be thankful that we are tempted by the devil. That shows that we do not yet belong to him. You see, the devil recognizes that we belong to Christ and that is why He tempts us as he does. If you are not suffering from temptation, then I would encourage you to be wary, because the devil might already have you.
We must also confess that sometimes we do fall for the lies of the devil and we do sin. Sometimes we may even waiver and have doubts about our faith. We may even question our faith. Is our faith saving faith, or is our faith like the faith of the devil? Do we simply acknowledge Jesus, or do we actually believe in Jesus? Do we put our complete trust in Jesus for our forgiveness and salvation?
Someone shared this nice illustration with me: Imagine calling a plumber to repair a leak. The plumber arrives. You describe the problem. He explains what needs to be done and that his rate is $80 an hour. “Fine, go ahead and repair the leak,” you say. To your shock, the plumber says, “I don’t actually do the repair work. I simply tell how it can be done. I’m a believer in the pure science of plumbing, not in its practical application. That will be $80.” Ridiculous you think? How much more tragic it is to claim to be a Christian who knows about Jesus, but does not believe in His sacrifice of His life on the cross for us. How tragic to claim to know Jesus and yet to not believe in His giving His life for ours.
Which brings us back to our dare devil tightrope walker. A third time he addresses the crowd. This time he asks the crowd, “How many of you believe that I can walk across this cable and back while pushing someone in this wheelbarrow?” Again, the crowd goes wild with faith and anticipation that the man can do it. But this time, after quieting the crowd the man asks the question, “Who will ride in the wheelbarrow?” The silence is deafening as no one volunteers, because no one has that amount of faith. You see, saving faith is God’s gift to us of putting us into Jesus’ wheelbarrow. It is complete trust in Him and His work for us on the cross, alone.
Very much like the Capernaums, we are amazed as we recognize the authority of Jesus and very much like the Capernaums, that is why we cling to Him. We show our faith in this, that we do live lives of faith, we do live as priests in the priesthood of all believers, we do live as Christians in our vocations so that others see our faith and give glory to God. We show our faith in our desire and in our attendance as often as offered in divine service and Bible class, in our having personal and family devotions, in our being where the gifts of God are distributed and in our being given the gifts God has to give. We show our faith in our doing the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do, with His motivation and help, of course, and especially as we share this good news with others. We share the good news as we invite others to “come and see” our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and to “come follow Him.”
It is rather amazing that in our world, so many people acknowledge the fact that there is a god. Some even acknowledge that there was a person, Jesus. But even more amazing is the fact that too many people fail to believe, that is they fail to put their complete trust in Jesus, alone, for their salvation, instead, opting to put their trust in the god or gods they have created, thinking all gods to be the same and putting their trust in their own good works. My prayer for each one of you is that the Holy Spirit will continue to work through His Word to strengthen and keep you in faith in Jesus alone for your salvation. My prayer for each one of you is that the Holy Spirit would then continue to stir in you a desire to have the usual habit of divine service attendance until Christ comes again. And when Christ comes again my prayer is that He will gather you and me with all the saints so that together we might stand before the Lord and say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.