Reading Time: 4 mins

Gospel: Mark 1:21-28 (Epiphany 4: Series B)

Reading Time: 4 mins

Wonder at the God who speaks and at the actual words He speaks. Be willing to walk away with a limp as well as a blessing.

I have a pastoral problem with the season of Epiphany. Maybe it is more of a personal dilemma and a professional hazard. You see, I believe God has called me through His Church to speak His Word of forgiveness on His behalf.

Some Sundays, I say it like this: “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Other Sundays, I say it like this: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

By His authority, in the stead and by the command of Jesus, I speak in God’s own name and with God’s own authority. In a very real and beautiful sense, I get to speak for Jesus. I do not just teach about Jesus and/or simply reveal the historical words and works of Jesus. Rather, I declare and announce the present-day reality of what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do. It is an incredible joy and a most holy office.

But I have a pastoral problem with the season of Epiphany (again, probably more of a personal dilemma and a professional hazard). You see, I am so used to “revealing” Jesus to others, and “speaking for” Jesus to others, that I sometimes find it difficult to encounter the living Christ as He is revealed to me, both in Scripture and by my fellow believers. I often read His Word primarily to find what it says to others, rather than what He is saying to me.

I wonder if this is something my parishioners experience in their own way. Many of the people in my pews have been gathering here for worship and the study of God’s Word for literal decades. They know the text. They know the miracles. They know the sayings. They know the events of the life of our Lord, and this is to be celebrated! Such knowledge is often the result of faithfully attending to the sacred Scriptures among the communion of the saints for season after season.

“And they were astonished at His teaching” (Mark 1:21). I found myself almost jealous of the crowds at Capernaum. They heard our Lord and marveled. He did not teach like the rest. He did not talk like the others. There was an “authority” here, and they were astonished.

I do not know what they heard. I do not know if they had anything like saving faith. Contextually, it seems likely they probably had no idea about the real identity and mission of Jesus. It is a great grace of God that the fuller narrative has been revealed to us, and it is a continued grace of God how the saving work of Jesus is revealed through us.

It is a great grace of God that the fuller narrative has been revealed to us, and it is a continued grace of God how the saving work of Jesus is revealed through us.

But the people in the crowd in Capernaum were astonished at His teaching. They marveled at Jesus’ authority. They did not have to be the authority. They did not need to explain it, defend it, apply it, or hold anyone accountable to it. Jesus said what He said. They heard it. They were astonished at it.

I have been a pastor for fifteen years and married for eighteen. I am embarrassed to admit that I am more often amazed and surprised by my wife than I am by my Lord. I do not always know what she is going to say, but I know just what Jesus says. Even if I knew exactly what my wife would say in a situation, I doubt very much she would appreciate me mouthing the words along with her as she says them. Yet, it is sometimes a point of pride that I have memorized and can recite so many of the words of Jesus.

I am not saying we should not study and learn. I am a big fan of memorizing Scripture. Also, I do not think we need some fresh revelation beyond Scripture in order to hold our attention or keep things interesting. But I do find myself explaining Jesus’ words more often than I am astonished at them. I share Jesus’ words with others more than I am personally and existentially surprised at Jesus’ words.

I do not know how common this feeling is among pastors, but if you share some of my sentiments here, I suspect your congregation might benefit from hearing it. The call to hold God’s Word “sacred and gladly hear and learn it” is not just about the people in the pews or the pastor preparing his sermon. The Third Commandment is not just intended to get people to go to church. It is about the gift which is God’s living Word.

You might give your people permission to wonder, especially those most familiar with the Word. To wonder does not mean “it is all subjective” or “we cannot know anything.” To be astonished at the words and works of Jesus does not mean we abandon our confession of faith or drown in a sea of uncertainty. Instead, we can embrace the tension.

Give your people permission to be both bold and humble as they hear and handle the Word of God. They can stand with great conviction, even as they sit at the feet of their Lord and listen. They can both confess and ask questions. They can experience the living voice of Christ, not just figure out how to explain what He means to others.

Give your people permission to be both bold and humble as they hear and handle the Word of God.

His Word is authoritative. It is true. It does accomplish His purposes. His Word drives out demons (1:25). His Word cleanses lepers (1:42). His Word forgives sins (2:5)!

As Christians, we can be confident in the promises of Scripture and humble before the Word of the Lord. As a pastor, I can be confused by Jesus and wonder at His Word, even as I declare with absolute confidence the Gospel He has given (and commanded!) me to declare, in His name and with His very authority.

I (and you) speak for Jesus when and where and what He calls us to speak. But we are not Jesus. I am not Jesus. You are not Jesus. We do not have to fully comprehend the mind of our Lord in order to be faithful messengers.

Wrestle with the Word. Not just to translate and look up parallel passages and organize a sermon’s worth of ideas, but wrestle with it like Jacob wrestled with God. Wonder at the God who speaks and at the actual words He speaks. Be willing to walk away with a limp as well as a blessing. The darkness and joy of such wondering and wrestling will not only enliven your preaching, but it will bring life to your very soul.

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Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out out 1517’s resources on Mark 1:21-28.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 1:21-28.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 1:21-28.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!