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Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, January 31, 2021

Where's the Proof?

Text: Mark 1:21–28

One of my pet peeves is false advertising. It’s rampant in this country both in business and politics. Businesses and those in government often make claims that they know are not true and really don’t seem to care. I once went into a Hardee’s and ordered one of their new hamburgers that I had seen advertised which had a bunch of other stuff on it. I knew it was probably not good for me, but I wanted to try it. I told the girl behind the counter that I wanted one that looked just like the picture I was seeing on the wall behind her. When it came out, I wasn’t even sure I had received the same sandwich. I was really disappointed, and she seemed indifferent and was probably disappointed at working there herself.

L’Oreal advertised a face cream next to an exceptionally beautiful model and was sued in the UK because the model didn’t look as great in real life, and they discovered there was excessive photoshopping. Skecher’s was sued because they used models like Kim Kardashian in their ad indicating that you only had to tie your shoes to lose weight. Reebok was sued because they essentially claimed that if you wore their EasyTone shoes you would automatically lose weight, so why go to the gym.

When Listerine claimed to be the cure-all since 1921, as a remedy from colds and sore throats, as well as an after-shave tonic. The FTC fined them $10 million dollars in 1975 and told them to knock it off. For me, the two best ones were in old ads:

1. “Dr. Batty’s Asthma Cigarettes, For the Temporary Relief of Asthma. It also effectively treats Asthma, Hay Fever, Foul Breath, All diseases of the Throat, Head Colds, Canker sores, Bronchial Irritations.” Apparently, enough people believed it because they did quite well.

2. In 1951 Pall Mall had an ad showing Santa Claus looking all fat and happy smoking a Pall Mall. The ad read “Guard Against Throat Scratch - enjoy smooth smoking.”

Advertising is big business but truth in advertising has become more of a problem. There are some companies that have effectively established their brand. You recognize their logo or theme song, “Like a Good Neighbor State Farm is There” or “You’re in Good Hands with Allstate” or “Have It Your Way at Burger King.” They have done their jobs well. However, brand recognition only means that the consumer will likely be willing to take a look at what is offered, but it also means that the product or service must meet the expectations.

The area of brand recognition is also something that churches have been looking at for many years, but it often has been modeled after what the church shopper wanted in a church. In other words, it was consumer-driven instead of the church offering what the person really needed whether he/she knew it or not. Sin, repentance and the absolute need to bow down before our God who is holy and to be feared is considered bad for business. Jonathan Edwards' famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is frowned upon as a negative representation of God.

For many years the Willow Creek Community Church outside of Chicago was the largest church in America. They had an average attendance of 35,000 each week. In 2007 Christianity Today did an article on something that Willow Creek had come to realize.

At that time few would have disagreed that Willow Creek Community Church had been one of the most influential churches in America over the previous thirty years. Willow, through its association, had promoted a vision of church that is big, programmatic and comprehensive. This vision had been heavily influenced by the methods of secular business.

In 2007, James Twitchell wrote a book entitled, Shopping for God - How Christianity Went From In Your Heart To in Your Face. He wrote that outside Bill Hybels’ (the lead pastor of Willow Creek) office hangs a poster that says: “What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry—church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage—has impacted every evangelical church in the country. I used to receive invitations to participate in workshops and simulcasts in order to model our church in Roanoke after Willow Creek. Then something really surprising happened.

The leaders of Willow Creek reportedly announced in 2007, “We made a mistake.”

In 2007 Hybels published a new book entitled, Reveal: Where Are You? It was based on a several-years-long study that revealed that providing programs and activities for the people at Willow Creek did not mean that they grew in their faith in Christ, it just meant that they were busy.

They realized that the emphasis should have been on how to develop a daily relationship with Jesus that included Bible study, prayer and praise. Instead of offering programs they should have been teaching what it meant to have an authentic, spirit-filled relationship with Jesus Christ.

If we are to have a brand it must include this as of first importance. Without the presence and authority of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit moving within a ministry it will not accomplish the ministry of reconciliation with God and the transformation of lives from death to life. They found out that being seeker-friendly was not the recipe for a healthy church, the Gospel message was.

Our gospel reading this morning from Mark 1:21–28 gives us the perfect example of what happened when Jesus showed up in power. Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath where traditionally there was not a regular teacher, but they had what was termed “the freedom of the synagogue.” Any religious leader could come and teach or read from a teaching. It doesn’t say what Jesus was teaching, but it does tell the effect that it had on the listeners. Normally, scribes would come and quote various rabbis on different subjects, but Jesus taught boldly as one who had authority because he did. He wasn’t quoting others, but as the Son of God he knew what he was talking about because he intimately knew the one that he was proclaiming.

You can usually tell whether or not someone is a true follower of Christ by the way they talk about him. It’s amazing how different it is when you actually know the one you are talking about, instead of repeating what someone else said.

The people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching because it was so much different from the usual uninspired reading of the scribes. Jesus spoke as the one who had authority given to him by the Father because he was submitted to the Father.

In this first chapter of the gospel, Mark shows that Jesus had authority because he was submitted to the will of God through baptism and he submitted to the leading of the Holy Spirit in going out to the wilderness to be tempted. After that, he began his ministry with boldness as we read in Mark 1:14–15,

Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

This was an incredibly bold claim to make and it had better be attended by more than reading what someone had written. Jesus began his ministry by showing what the power of the kingdom looked like in reality. He came to not only talk about the power of the kingdom but to demonstrate that power.

Consider the effect of his teaching on those in the synagogue. Jesus showed them what it looked like when the Kingdom of God arrived in the power of the word of God. Whatever he was reading from the law, they had certainly heard before. Unlike the scribes he wasn’t merely reading and commenting on the law of God but proclaiming that the kingdom had come. What was the evidence that the kingdom of God had come? He was! He was the revelation that God kept his word and there was something about the power and the message that stirred their hearts, maybe for the first time.

Years ago I was in Kamembe, Rwanda for a week to teach and train pastors. As I approached the meeting room, I heard all of them singing and praising God. When I entered the room, I felt the power of the Holy Spirit and it changed everything for me. We were supposed to teach from 9 am to 5 pm, breaking for lunch and bathroom breaks every few hours. I was already tired from the trip and wondered if I had the energy to teach for that long a period. Those Rwandan brothers in Christ did not have the theological training that I did but they knew how to come to the throne room of God. The time there was life-changing and taught me that the Holy Spirit could do more through me than I could possibly do for myself.

Jesus’ teaching didn’t just stir up the hearts of his listeners, it also caused a reaction within a man with an unclean spirit. What the people noticed as authoritative and exciting had been instantly recognized by the powers of evil. The demons of hell understood the authority that Jesus had over them. I suspect they knew that Satan had failed to tempt Jesus in the wilderness and had been commanded to leave by Jesus. They knew the conflict and both sides recognized one another. They could not help but react to the power and the authority of Jesus as they cry out from within the man, “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.”

They knew the nature of the conflict and they knew it is a battle for survival. The unclean spirit recognized Jesus’ purpose in coming and cries out what he knows to be true: Jesus had come to destroy evil and the spirit affirms his Messianic standing, that he was indeed the Son of God. Jesus commands the spirit to “Be silent and come Out of him,” distinguishing the spirit from the man himself. The result being that the spirit in hateful obedience shakes the man and with a scream comes out of him. The man is instantly set free from the bondage of spiritual darkness.

Mark doesn’t say anything more about the man because his goal in writing the story is to point us to the power and authority of Jesus, the Son of God. Again, the people are blown away by this display of power and authority and they marvel among themselves, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”

This is very instructive as to how we should pray for those unbelievers who hate the word of God and want to destroy anything that resembles faith in Jesus Christ. They are not the enemy and we must recognize that we must pray against the demonic influence over their lives. Jesus set the man free — the demon was the one who had to leave. Hatred of those who are antagonistic to the Gospel only invites demonic forces to have sway over our thinking and blocks us from hearing the life-giving words of freedom and the love of God. Those within Planned Parenthood, many of our government leaders, and others who hate the Gospel are bound by demonic oppression and we should be praying for their deliverance.

The Apostle Paul reminded the church in Ephesus in Ephesians 6:12,

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

In our gospel passage the demons recognized Jesus and they cried out in fear because they knew who he was. If we are submitted to Jesus Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, we have the same authority in Jesus’ name. The difference may be that they knew that Jesus knew who he was. Do they sense the same thing about you? Do you know who you are in Christ?

This question causes me to consider that this man was in the synagogue. Had he been there all along? Did he come often? Could it be that there had never been a reason for the unclean spirit within him to react because the power and authority of God had never shown up in their midst before? No wonder Jesus’ fame spread all around the region. The promised one who came to bring freedom from death and bondage had arrived to set up His kingdom here on earth. There had to be an awareness or awakening inside of everyone who heard and saw his glory. That awareness was from the Spirit and it called out for them to notice and respond to the presence of God.

If you carefully study the Gospel of Mark, you will notice that unlike the other gospel writers he doesn’t focus on the details of events themselves but on their meaning. He was writing to show that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God who came to fight a struggle to the death against the power of evil in every form and that his authority assures his victory.

In the gospel accounts we learn that Jesus overcame every adversity that we could be confronted with including sickness and even death. Those things are a present reality in this world but if we are in Christ, they are not our master, they have no authority over us spiritually even though they can at times take a toll on our bodies.

The greatest danger can be the spiritual warfare that sneaks up on us because we have forgotten the authority that we have in Jesus' name. Often sickness is simply a result of living in a fallen world where things wear out and that is certainly true of our bodies. I’m very aware of that, but it is never helpful to conclude that the reason for illness both physically or mentally is the direct result of demonic activity. However, Satan will often come against us when our bodies are weakened by illness in the hopes of taking our focus off the presence of Jesus and weaken us spiritually. We must be wise to his schemes and in those moments of physical weakness or pain call out to the one who loves us and is able to save and restore.

On the other hand, often people downplay the existence of evil spirits because of the overemphasis of some. Demonic forces are a serious reality, and we must be aware that they are all around us but that the power of Christ has authority over them. It isn’t our power but the power of Christ.

The demons of Hell tremble at the name of Jesus because they know the authority and power behind it. We should also be moved to praise and worship in the name of Jesus, the name above all names. It is the one name that no one can be neutral about. The name of Jesus always causes a reaction within the believer who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but it also causes a reaction within the spirit that resides within the unbeliever as well.

A very sobering point in the gospel story is that even though the people were amazed by the authority of Jesus’ teaching and the authority that he demonstrated over the unclean spirit, the Gospel reveals that most of them would not ultimately be willing to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord. All the gospel accounts show that the crowds were willing to follow Jesus as long as he held their attention with miracles because they believed that he was Messiah who had come to conquer Rome and establish Israel as the people of God like in the time of King David. Once they realized that he wasn’t what they were expecting, most decided that they weren’t interested in what he was offering, and they turned against him. They didn’t like his brand.

Jesus had come to bring the Kingdom of God in all its power and glory, but it would come over a long period of time. In the meantime, there would be much work to do to establish that kingdom and that was also not to their liking. They wanted a messiah that promised immediate victory over their current enemy, Rome, but they soon found out that Jesus had come to set them free from the real enemy, sin and death.

They still didn’t like his brand and most people today don’t either. They want a god from their own imaginations who conforms to their desires and wants. Like children demanding what they want, while the good parent offers what they need.

Moses had promised that a prophet like him would one day show up and they should listen and obey him. He also warned about others who showed up claiming to be the messiah but were not. He told them how they would know the real from the counterfeit. In our Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy 18:18–19, Moses prophesies,

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.

Jesus showed up as the fulfillment of what Moses had foretold over 2,600 years earlier. The sign of a true prophet would be that what they prophesy actually comes to pass and the sign of a false prophet is when what they foretell does not come to pass. Moses was proven a prophet when Jesus fulfilled what he had foretold, and Jesus showed himself the true prophet when he foretold that he would be betrayed, crucified, and would rise again on the third day. He showed himself the true prophet when he promised that he would send back the Holy Spirit for those who surrendered to him in repentance and faith. This allows us to know that he is the true prophet who one day would return in power and glory to restore all things.

In the meantime, the Spirit would anoint and empower the believer to continue the work that Jesus began, and that included moving in the same power and authority that Jesus demonstrated in Mark 1:21–28. In the Book of Acts and in the Epistles, we see that the disciples and the Apostles moved in the same power and authority that Jesus did and that was their brand. The church grew in power and numerically because the Apostles didn’t dumb down the message or change it to become culturally relevant but stayed true to the purity and integrity of the gospel message. They soon found out that those who remain faithful to the Word and Spirit will do so at a great cost, as we found out years ago. We lost property and money because like in the time of Jesus, and for believers down throughout history, many did not like our commitment to the Word of God and its authority. Willow Creek found out that being seeker-sensitive did not grow the church spiritually even though they looked amazingly successful in the eyes of everyone.

So, what is our brand to be? We must be those who devote ourselves and our resources to the building of the Kingdom of God, here on earth. There is only one way for us to accomplish it and that is through being faithful to the proclamation of the Word of God as our authority and the pursuit of the Holy Spirit as our power, strength and wisdom. In the current situation within our country, we may have to pay a significant price for following Jesus Christ and publicly proclaiming his Lordship. What an honor that would be. When God gives us a message against those in authority, we must be willing and able to react in faith and obedience to God, no matter the consequences. However, we must not act in hatred and arrogance and make sure that our words are indeed from the Lord.

We must be a people who are in constant communion with God who is our source of strength, wisdom, and power. We must be followers of Jesus Christ above all else and be devoted to prayer and faithful obedience to God’s word.

Last October we started a series entitled, “Behold Your God - Rethinking God Biblically.” We finished it two weeks ago and last week started Part Two, “Behold Your God - The Weight of Majesty.” Most everyone who went through the first class felt it was life-changing because the focus was on what God says about himself in the Bible as opposed to what people often assume about him. We are starting Part One again on Wednesday, February 24th, at 1 pm at the church. I encourage you to invest the time in taking this class.

We want to be a church whose brand is revealing the authority of God’s Word and the manifestations of the power of God’s Spirit. We want to model our Lord in his ministry on earth and declare that he is the only hope for all men and women and that he alone is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. That is who we are, and we must be intentional about proclaiming it. Whether or not people agree with what we stand for, let there be no mistake as to what it is. We stand to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father and we are those who follow him faithfully. Let us be bold in proclaiming that and invite others to come along, joining us with us on our journey.

There is a great deal of hopelessness and fear in our world today. Jesus Christ is the only solution for us as individuals, for our church, our country and the world.

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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