Before starting this study, take a moment to read Mark 1:21-28. Although I’ll primarily be using the NIV version for the preparation of this study, you can read from whichever version you prefer.
Mark 1:21-28 tells us that early in his earthly ministry, Jesus went to preach in the synagogue. Here, we see that the crowds are listening intently and noting that he is teaching with such authority.
However, a disruption occurs. A man possessed by an impure spirit (a demon) comes into the synagogue and begins screaming at Jesus. Jesus rebukes the spirit and calls it out of the man, who is left free from the spirit’s oppression. The people who witness this marvel at what they’ve just seen.
Teaching with Authority
When we talk about Jesus, we have a tendency to emphasize his humility (as we should). However, we should not forget his authority in the process. Although he subverted expectations by humbling himself to baptism and calling lowly fishermen to be his first followers, he still spoke with authority.
Jesus knew what he was talking about and those in the synagogue that day saw that. I’d give anything to be in that crowd and hear what Jesus had to say. While Mark doesn’t give us the content of his teaching, we know the message Jesus was teaching from the previous verses: “The Kingdom of God is near.”
This passage tells us that the people were amazed that Jesus taught with such authority, unlike the teachers of the law. While it doesn’t explicitly say so, we can assume that the crowd’s amazement when Jesus spoke began stirring hatred in the hearts of the religious elite of Jesus’ day.
In the middle of Jesus’ teaching, a man comes in screaming. He asks what Jesus wants with him. He asks if Jesus is there to destroy him. Then he says something surprising: Jesus is the Holy One of God.
To understand what’s happening here, it’s important to see this story through a first-century lens. In Jesus’ day, naming an opponent was seen as having power over them. This impure spirit came into the place and immediately named Jesus. He didn’t just name his earthly name, but his identity as God’s Son.
The spirit likely thought it held an ace card in its hand. But instead, Jesus commands the spirit to be silent and come out of the man. In an instant, the man was delivered.
It’s important to note that the use of “impure spirit” or “unclean spirit” in the Gospel is not a first-century way of talking about mental illness. Nowhere in Mark do we see Jesus “healing” people oppressed by these spirits. Instead, people are delivered. The spirits leave them.
This is a spiritual showdown between Jesus and the powers of this world. When we see Jesus interact with impure spirits in Mark, it’s important to remember that this is a spiritual battle, not a medical one. We will see plenty of medical healings in the verses to come.
In today’s passage, we see that Jesus isn’t just announcing that the Kingdom of God is near. He’s showing it! He meets a man’s need by delivering that man from the impure spirit possessing him.
While we have the authority to do the same, we may not see demonic oppression like this today. There are certainly stories about demonic possession today, but for the most-part, demonic oppression is more covert and insidious in our culture.
That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from Jesus’ handling of this situation, though. It would have been easy for Jesus to say, “This man is disrupting my teaching. Get him out of here.” Yet instead of removing the man, Jesus delivered him.
The Church has a tendency to silence or remove those who don’t look or act like the rest of the congregation. I’m not talking about people who intentionally and continually undermine the gathering of God’s people – Scripture has a lot to say about preserving the fellowship by removing the willfully unrepentant.
I am talking about the people who need extra love and attention to settle into life in fellowship. Recovering addicts, abuse survivors, the mentally ill. We do a poor job of integrating and involving them in the Church.
I’d like to emphasize, again, that demonic possession and mental illness are not the same thing. However, we can still respond with compassion to those who don’t fit the “mold” when they enter our church doors.
The people in the synagogue were amazed that Jesus delivered this man. What would happen if the world saw the Church radically embrace the broken? What if people were amazed by the love shown by Christ’s body?