Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!
One of the biggest, if not the biggest, issue facing society today is … not plastic straws. Rather, it is truth. More precisely, the truth. It’s not my truth or your truth or a truth, it is the truth. It is the unchanging, stand the test of time, rock solid reliability that you can base knowledge and practice on. When you don’t have the truth, all of society begins to fragment and disintegrate like a shattered table lamp. If you don’t have truth, what do you have? At best, opinion. And you know what they say about opinions. You have 2 Lutherans, 3 opinions! And on the other hand, at worst, you have lies! And with lies come corruption. And with corruption comes more and more sin and iniquity until the darkness swirls and engulfs everything and we have a total crisis of truth and reliability. Who do you trust? What do you trust? We find ourselves on the patio with Pontius Pilate saying “What is truth?” (JN 18:38), as if it can be whatever a person wants it to be.
But golly gee, this isn’t new. You go all the way back to Genesis and encounter Satan, the grand-daddy of lies, spreading falsehoods to Adam and Eve in the Garden. “Did God really say” (3:3) don’t eat of that tree or touch it? And the people fell for it hook line and sinker. They were tempted to doubt the truth. The truth was what God told them. And when they cut and pasted God’s word for those of the serpent, well it’s been a downward spiral ever since. But when it comes to the crisis of the truth, it’s actually a crisis of authority. Who says what is true and what is false? What gives them the right to say it??
This is exactly where we are at today on this 4th Sunday in Epiphany. “21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (MK 1:21-22). Did you catch that critical detail. Jesus taught them as one who had authority, not like the people they were used to listening too. Whenever the scribes and the Rabbis were preaching or teaching, they always had to appeal to the folks who came before them. “Moses said this,”“Rabbi Schmuel said that,” “Scribe so and so said this and that.” It was never “I say this” on my own power and authority. But this is exactly what Jesus does and in so doing He sets Himself apart from all the other teachers in Israel.
If you had siblings growing up, you no doubt remember what happened when Mom and Dad stepped out and left the eldest kid in charge. That first born had the sceptre and throne of Mom and Dad’s authority while they were gone. And lording that power over the other kids was the best, if you happened to be that first born! But if you were the 2nd or 3rd or 21st kid, not so much. Soon the fight would be on. “You’re not the boss of me!” the protest chant would come! And that authority would be challenged relentlessly. Until mom and dad got home and heard all about it. Then the praise would come for the nice, obedient kids who respected big sister’s surrogate authority. But it would a trip behind the woodshed for the defiant little brats who instigated the mutiny! You remember those days, right?!
You ignored your older sibling because she didn’t really have mom and dad’s authority. When Jesus is teaching in the synagogue, what shocks the people is that He does. He speaks as if God Himself were speaking. What kind of person does that!? Is it the height of arrogance? Is it some grifter come to swindle the people like a gimme-all-your-money TV preacher? Or, maybe it is door number 3. Maybe this Jesus actually is Who He appears to be. But how will the people know for sure? The people whispered and continued to be amazed at His teaching with authority!
But look at what happens immediately after this: “23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “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” (MK 1:23-24). Suddenly there is a demon possessed guy in the midst of this amazing teaching. And ironically, the unclean spirit speaks the truth! He identifies Jesus. He tells the crowd that this Jesus of Nazareth has the power and authority even to destroy the demons for He is the Holy One of God! Wow! Just like the people at the synagogue believed Jesus had authority, this supernatural being confirms it!
So Jesus drops the hammer of God on this demon: “25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they 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” (MK 1:25-27). The folks at the synagogue had lots to chat about at the potluck dinner that day, let me tell you! Jesus’ teaching, His word is all we need. But the Lord always backed up His words with action too. It was further proof that He “wasn’t all talk.” This is the chief problem with politicians. They’ll promise you the moon - but do they make good on their word? Do they actually do what they say they will? Most of the time they don’t. They say one thing and do the other. Not so for Jesus. He makes good on His word over and over and over again.
And this is what the season of Epiphany draws our attention too. The revealing of our Messiah, in word and deed. God’s word of forgiveness of sin is not only spoken but it is revealed in our Lord’s cross and empty tomb. The healing nature of the gospel is shown in His healings and exorcisms. The miraculous nature of our Lord’s Kingdom is revealed through the signs and wonders Jesus did throughout His ministry. And as those miracles come to us in the word and water of our Baptism and the Lord’s promise to us in, with and under the bread and wine of holy communion. Our sins are forgiven. Our fallen nature is healed. We who in our sins were empty are now filled with the fullness of God’s amazing grace.
The point is this. Jesus has the authority. In fact, He tells us “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (MT 28:18). This means that His Word to us is truth (JN 17:17). We can trust what He tells us in Bible, for He has revealed His authority in word and deed. And unlike the shifting sand of Canadian culture, His word and promise do not change. Because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8). He is our rock, our mighty fortress and He will continue to be so long after we are no longer on this earth. He is our King of kings to whom every knee will bow. We take His promise and word to heart. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Is 40:8). Amen!