The story doesn’t stop. “Immediately” we are brought into more depth and clarity of what this king’s purpose is. He goes into the synagogue and begins to teach those who have gathered there. Only his teaching is different. There’s a peculiar authority behind Jesus’ words, such that no one has heard anything like Jesus before. Some of us are drawn to the novel or “viral” ideas; others of us are suspect of such things. But this is something altogether and categorically different. This is not novel, and it is more than familiar. The original meaning and connotation of “authority” is “of original stuff.” Jesus is teaching from original, not derived, authority. This means that just as Jesus has claimed our allegiances in terms of vocation, occupation, life-pursuit and even family devotion, he is now calling forth our allegiances of intellectual faculties, ideals, philosophies and epistemological certainties (or “how we know what we know.”).
Jesus is a demanding king. But one who is of the “original stuff” has every right to do so. That’s why the religious leaders would soon conspire against Jesus. No one could trump them in their teaching and philosophical ideals. But Jesus comes on the scene and takes away their right to judge him. Their authority was of a derivative, lame-duck variety; Jesus’ was of the original, authoritative-king kind.
Before we can catch a breath, another “immediately” falls upon us. This time a demon possessed man walks into the synagogue while Jesus is teaching. What is interesting is that Jesus did not seek this man out. Instead, he sought out Jesus. The man – under the control of the demon – cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have your come to destroy us?” Nothing up to this point has prepared us for such an indictment. Is this just a random story, or does it have something to do with why Jesus – the new king – has come?
The next line out of the man’s mouth is instructive. He seems to know something about Jesus; he calls him “the Holy One of God.” We haven’t heard Jesus called this before, so we can also assume that maybe this demon has an “inside track” on Jesus’ purpose. He has just emerged from the wilderness having conquered Satan’s attack. Now we hear about Jesus “destroying” demons.
Some of us may want to dismiss this as “simple-minded”, ancient cultural sensibilities. The thought of “demon possession” finds no comfortable place in today’s academic or intellectual climate. But dismissing evil and even an enemy such as Satan or his minions proves too easy. How else might we explain not just personal evil (done both by us and to us), or psychological evil (the intricate webbing together of our inner-impulses, environmental inputs and less than clear distinctions between our thoughts, feelings and actions), but systemic or structural evil? Think of the countless individual people, who would otherwise have no malicious intent or hatred toward anyone, not only act complicity but even conspire with systems of evil – such as everyday white citizens in an apartheid/”Jim Crow” culture, or the Rwandan or Balkan genocide of the 1990’s. These situation can’t be reduced to just a level of individual choices, though no one would take away their individual responsibility to act. There is more to our dilemma than just making bad decisions.
If we presuppose that a good, benevolent being exists (whether you wish to call this being God or “first cause”, etc), then we should not be shocked or surprised that there is also an enemy, or antagonist, to this being. When Jesus enters into history, it seems these evil forces begin to sense that their time may be up. With a simple word, the man is dispossessed of the demon. There was no special incantation. There was no intricate reciting of certain words after each other. It should be noted that these were common tactics when dealing with demoniacs – there is in fact an entire papyri scrolls devoted to such a thing. Just a word of rebuke, and the demon heeds. This is truly authoritative activity couple with authoritative teaching.
This authoritative king who has come exorcises that which once oppressed this man. Jesus of Nazareth, the “Holy One of God”, threatens all that once kept us under in darkness, bondage, and oppression. This king who demands our total allegiance (and dare I say submission?) is the one who commands demons to leave, and they do.
All that threatened us in this world – all the evil, oppression, and sin which brings nothing but death, destruction and dysfunction, both done to us and by us – now submits to Jesus Christ.
Jesus had joined in a struggle against the forces of evil and destruction…Jesus came to be the human bridge across which people could climb to safety. And if, in the process, he himself paid with his own life the price of this saving authority, a human bridge with outstretched arms carrying people from death to life, that was simply part of the integrity of his action. The demons had their final shriek at him as he hung on the cross, challenging and mocking for the last time the validity of his authority. On the cross he completed the healing work he began that day in the synagogue. (N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone, 12)
What we learn from the episode in the synagogue is that everybody will have a master. As Bob Dylan prophetically sang:
You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody. (“You Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan)
The king is on a rescue mission, and he enlists his followers to join him in it. This is good news! Who do we want as our master – someone who keeps us in the dark, oppresses us, leads us into war, crime, poverty, injustice and ultimately death? Or someone who comes and speaks a word of healing to a man who lost all control over his very self? Someone who comes to do for us what we could not do for ourselves?
The gospel isn’t advice: It’s the good news that you don’t need to earn your way to God; Jesus has already done it for you. And it’s a gift that you receive by sheer grace—through God’s thoroughly unmerited favor. If you seize that gift and keep holding on to it, then Jesus’s call won’t draw you into fanaticism or moderation. You will be passionate to make Jesus your absolute goal and priority, to orbit around him; yet when you meet somebody with a different set of priorities, a different faith, you won’t assume that they’re inferior to you. You’ll actually seek to serve them rather than oppress them. Why? Because the gospel is not about choosing to follow advice, it’s about being called to follow a King. Not just someone with the power and authority to tell you what needs to be done—but someone with the power and authority to do what needs to be done, and then to offer it to you as good news. (Tim Keller, 18.)
How will you respond?
Tim Keller, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Kindle edition: here)