Driving Out the Darkness
Text: Mark 1:21-28
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s a misconception that once Jesus arrives it’s smooth sailing from then on. The usual assumption is that once someone starts believing in Jesus, or when He shows up in a place or in someone’s life, everything becomes calm and easy and comfortable. It’s actually more often than not quite the opposite. The Apostles quickly learned that following their Lord had a cost attached to it. They were imprisoned, beaten, and even martyred for their faith. Christians in every age of world history have found that becoming a believer usually means that they’ll be separated from others: their culture, even at times their family and friends. When Christianity shows up in lands that have not heard the Gospel, the old religions are threatened and lash out violently. Even during the life of Christ, we see that when He shows up somewhere, it stirs things up—dark and ungodly things. When Jesus arrives in Capernaum—or anywhere—preaching and teaching the truth of God, it exposes all that is opposed to God and the Truth. It’s like turning on a light and watching cockroaches scatter or flipping over a rock and seeing all that’s crawling underneath when the sunlight hits the previously dark soil.
That’s how it happened in our Gospel reading this morning. Jesus arrives in Capernaum and right away He goes to the synagogue to teach the Word of God. It’s then, while He’s explaining the words of the Law and Prophets, teaching them about the coming kingdom of God, that a man is exposed as having an unclean spirit. We’ve heard nothing about this possessed man before. There is no prologue explaining how everyone knew he was tormented by a demon, as we read in other accounts of unclean spirits tormenting people. But all it takes is Jesus’ presence and Word and suddenly the unclean spirit is exposed. It has nowhere to hide now that the Light of light has come. So it always goes in this fallen world—darkness is often well-hidden, camouflaged and living right under our noses, or even within us, with no indication until the Light shines and it’s revealed in stark, harsh tones.
When the unclean spirit is confronted with the holiness of the Savior, it reacts violently. It’s a cornered animal that begins to snarl and lash out. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Notice the unclean spirit jumps right to destruction. This is all it knows. It only knows winning and losing, the strong destroying the weak, the annihilation of enemies. It only knows power and destruction as forms of victory.
Are we not influenced by this zero-sum thinking of hell’s minions? Think about how interactions play out. Someone proves someone else wrong, or gives a convincing argument for their side in a debate and it’s said that they “destroyed” someone, or “devastated” them. It’s not enough to simply win an argument or a debate or race or election. The opponent, the other side, must also be mocked, denigrated, demonized, and humiliated as well. Disagreement is not permissible; instead anyone who doesn’t express everything the way we think they should is labeled and treated as an enemy.
And it’s not just those people out there. It’s in our hearts too. We play up the divide between ourselves and others. We let the other side be demonized in our minds, in our hearts. We drink the destructive attitudes that the unclean spirit demonstrates here. Think about when your own darkness or uncleanness is exposed, or even hinted at. What’s your reaction? Defensiveness? Denial? Do you start rallying the troops to your own cause because it’s going to lead to fight, because it must lead to a fight? When it’s suggested—by a friend, family member, fellow believer, pastor, even Scripture—that there’s a better way than the way you’re walking, don’t we assume the worst about the person who said it, imagining wicked motives, assuming they’re out to get us or simply being mean? We have also swallowed the lie of destroy-or-be-destroyed.
But Jesus knows a yet more perfect way. He will not meet this unclean spirit on its hellish terms. He won’t play its destructive games. Nor will He permit its poisonous words to infect those present at the scene. He has not come to destroy. The Holy One has come to save.
In order to do this, He first muzzles the demon. “Be silent, and come out of him!” No more lies, no more twisting of half-truths. No more terrorizing this man’s heart, body, and mind. Jesus shows that He has not come to destroy, but to redeem. He’s come to heal. And that begins by casting out this unclean spirit. He doesn’t negotiate with it. He doesn’t reason with it. There’s no moving monologue or mystical incantation. Nor is there any destruction. It’s just His simple Word. Be silent and come out.
There is a word of warning and a word of hope here. The warning here is to not resist the Word and teaching of Jesus. You might hear things you don’t like in His teaching, in the Scriptures. You might hear things you don’t understand. You’ll certainly hear things you wish weren’t so. But do not use that as an opportunity to reject Him or assume things wrongly about Him. Do not use it to side with those who set themselves against Jesus, who think He’s come to ruin your good time or make you miserable. He has not come to destroy, but to save. But for those who continue to fight Him, who want a battle with Him, who think only in these destroy-or-be-destroyed terms, even when it comes to the Son of God—they will be cast out—not destroyed as they imagine, but sent away deep into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. So we are warned not to despise the Word of Jesus, simple as it may appear. You may want great signs instead of a simple Word. You might want evidence and proofs of power, glory, might. But as we see here, the Word is enough. It’s enough to get the victory over the darkness. It’s enough to save a man. It’s enough to save you.
The word of hope in this reading is connected to that simple truth. Jesus has not come to destroy you. He has come to redeem you, to rescue you, with His simple and pure Word. He’s come to save you from darkness, from hell, from sin, from damage, from destruction, from lies, from death; yes, even from yourself. He does all this through His Word. He rescues you with the Word of forgiveness, spoken here at the beginning of the service. He does it with the Word woven into the water of Baptism, when He brought life and light to you, casting out what was unclean and raising you to new life in Him. He does it through the Word made flesh, delivered to you in body and blood. It’s His Word that saves, that overcomes evil, that restores and heals.
So hear that simple, saving Word. Stand in His bodily presence. Even if the shadows are revealed by His light, even if they’re in your heart and mind and soul, He’ll send them away. The Holy One has arrived to deliver you from all evil. In the name of Jesus, who drives out the darkness. Amen.