I came across a list this past week entitled “24 Things About To Become Extinct In America.”
It is an interesting list, and some of the things the list mentions – things that are going extinct – are things like the Yellow Pages, newspaper classified ads, movie rental stores, phone landlines, VCRs, Ham radio, answering machines, incandescent light bulbs, cameras that use film, personal checks and drive-in theaters. I guess like the buggy whip of a hundred years ago, these things are seeing the end of their usefulness to us – as they are being replaced by newer technologies, and things that just work better and easier.
Now we can take issue with whether the demise of some of these items is good or bad. But there are a couple of items on the list that I did not mention – like the hand-written letter, the honey bee, and the Ash tree – whose extinction – should they happen – well – will not be so good. But like some of those other things – when things are no longer needed – then perhaps they should go the way of the buggy whip.
Now I really do want to talk to you today about Jesus today. More to the point – I want to talk to you about Jesus as an agent of change – that there are just some things in life that Jesus would like to see become extinct. And for our purposes today – let’s call it “the Jesus Effect.”
In today’s Gospel reading we meet Jesus in the town of Capernaum. Capernaum was a small fishing village on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. The remains of this town are still there, and you can see it if you ever have the opportunity to visit Israel. You can visit the ruins of what many believe to be Peter’s house there – and just a few hundred feet away – you can visit the ruins of a synagogue that was built anywhere from 200 to 400 years after the time of Jesus – but most likely it sits on the site of the synagogue where we find Jesus teaching in today’s Gospel reading from Mark.
So here’s the story. As Jesus is teaching – we read that suddenly – a man with an unclean spirit comes into the synagogue. Now quite frankly, Bible scholars today question just what the Gospel writers – like Mark in today’s reading – just what they mean when they mention unclean spirits. People in those days believed in demonic possession, and some today suggest that this was just a way for people of that day to describe certain physical or mental or emotional illnesses that they just didn’t understand.
Now as far as I know – I have never witnessed or experienced what some might call actual demonic possession – in other words – situations where people are actually possessed by a demon. Certainly not the kind that the movies show us anyway. If you’re old enough to remember the movie, “The Exorcist” then you know what I mean. But on the other hand, I cannot say that demonic possession does not exist in the world simply because I have never witnessed it. I have read about it, but that’s about it.
But what I find interesting in today’s account of the encounter that Jesus has with this man who has an unclean spirit – is that Jesus holds a conversation with the man – but it is not the man who is speaking – but the demon who possesses him who speaks. Listen!
"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." 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching — with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him."
Interesting isn’t it? This reading is still right at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel – Chapter 1. Before any human being – including any of the disciples – before anyone other than the voice of God the Father at the baptism of Jesus identifies who Jesus is – and remember that at the baptism of Jesus the Father calls Jesus “My beloved Son,” – but before anyone else identifies who Jesus is – it is the demons who recognize Jesus as the “Holy One of God.”
Now, no matter what the man’s situation may have been – whatever it was it was not good – but the effect on the man in this encounter with Jesus – is that he is changed. The demon is cast out. The man is healed, and made whole again.
And once again we are told something of who Jesus is. This episode in the life of Jesus reveals to us something of who Jesus is. Number one, the unclean spirit identifies for us that Jesus is the Holy One of God. And number two, we learn – and this is so important – we learn that the powers of darkness cannot stand up to Jesus. So #1, we learn that Jesus is the Holy One of God, and #2, we learn that the powers of darkness cannot stand up to Jesus.
I offer this to you as an example of what I want to call the Jesus effect. You might even say that what we’re talking about here is that Jesus is an agent of extinction. In other words, it was time for this unclean spirit to be gone – to become extinct.
So what does this mean for us? Well, wouldn’t it be wonderful for us – and the people we live with – the people we love and who love us – wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could make certain behaviors and attitudes become extinct? Quite frankly – we do wrestle with the powers of darkness in our lives. Call them demons – unclean spirits – OR call them destructive habits – lousy attitudes – you know… stinkin’ thinkin’ – or a self-centered, me first way of living. In other words – sin – and remember that the definition of sin is the self turned in on the self.
Folks – whatever it is – you put a name on your own demon – but whatever it is, there’s not a one of us here today who doesn’t need to have an encounter with Jesus – the Holy One of God – not a one who isn’t in need of the Jesus effect. This is especially true for those of us who are caught in the grip of an evil that we just are powerless to overcome by ourselves.
Look again at our Gospel reading. Look again at how the people react to what Jesus has done. “What is this? A new teaching and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”
The key word here is authority. No one else has ever lived who spoke with the authority with which Christ spoke. There has never been another like him. And since this is true – since Jesus is the Holy One of God – and if his teachings are the foundation upon which we build our lives – shouldn’t that fact be reflected in how we live?
Let me share with you a story. “A certain Army man had been a heavy drinker for 35 years. For all those years he had been angry – angry at everyone and everything. Finally, he encountered Christ and his whole life changed.
“He was speaking once before a group of medical people. He told them of his personality change, how he was now sober as he once had been drunk; considerate as he once had been severe; concerned for others as once he had been selfish and self-serving.
“A psychiatrist, who believed that personalities are so firmly set in early life that no one can change, protested to the Colonel that at his age a person could not have such a radical transformation.
“‘Well,’ replied the Colonel, ‘that may be true. But I am under new management – I answer to another authority – the highest and truest there is.”
So who’s authority are you under today? Your own? Your own authority? If so, then how’s that working for you?
Folks – what are your best demons? And believe me, I’m not here to beat up on anyone today. But what are your best demons? We all have them – including myself. Some sin – something that needs to become extinct – and which only Jesus can handle for us. What is it? Anger? Bitterness? Strife? Envy? A complaining spirit? A critical nature? What is it that has a hold on you and you really want to get rid of it? To name it – or them – for what it is or what they are and how they bring suffering – either to you or someone you love – is half the battle. Putting a name on your demon is half the battle. So put a name on it. And then turn it over to Jesus. Ask him to take it away – to teach you how to replace it with something that builds up rather than this thing that tears down. The thing that needs to become extinct.
Because I’m here to tell you today that Christ's teaching – and Christ’s authority – have the power to transform us. Just ask the demon-possessed man. Ask the Apostle Paul. Ask Martin Luther, or any man or woman who names the name of Christ.
True change comes when you and I address our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Surrendering our hearts and lives to Him. Not always easy, I know. But it starts when we name the demon. It continues when we turn it over to Jesus. And then turn our attention to our relationship with God. Worship. Prayer. Scripture reading. Being connected in fellowship with other Christians. These are the tools we have that draw us closer to God.
But ultimately it comes down to trusting Christ to be the change agent we need. To do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And when you see transformation in your life – and others see that change in you – then you will know that you have been touched by Jesus. Then you will know that you have been touched by the Jesus Effect.
The Scriptures tell us this eternal truth. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If God is for you, then who – or what – can be against you? And since God is for you – then that must mean that God is with you. It’s the Jesus Effect. And that – my friends – that changes everything.