Mark 1:21-28: The Purpose of Coming to Church

When we come to church, each of us seeks something.  It’s like other areas in our lives.  I go to Harter House to get groceries.  I go to the gas station to get gas for my car.  So, what do you expect to get when you come to Church?

But specifically, what do you expect to get from the preaching you hear week in and week out?  That’s important, because Jesus commanded His Apostles to preach.  Preaching isn’t just something that we’ve chosen to do in the Church; it’s one of Christ’s enduring mandates.  Preaching is to go on in Christ’s Church until Jesus returns on the Last Day.

So then, what do you seek from the sermon each week?  Do you want from the sermon what Jesus wants to give you?  Jesus tells us the purpose of preaching.  He says that preaching is to bring you to repent of your sins and, then from there, into the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47).  That’s what Jesus wants for you from each sermon.  But is that what you want?

Our lives are not that much different from the lives of the people in our Gospel reading for today.  We hear about the miracle of Jesus healing the demon-possessed man.  But there’s more in the text than only the miracle.  There’s a deep richness in the Gospel reading for today.

Today, we often see church as a voluntary association and the preaching at church as a motivational speech.  But such thinking keeps us from valuing what took place in our Gospel reading.  For Christ’s Church is not simply a voluntary meeting with a motivational speech or two.  She is inherently different.  Much more takes place in the Divine Service then simply dispensing information.

Jesus entered the synagogue to teach on the Sabbath, and the Greek text says, “He struck them with force by His teaching.”  Jesus’ teaching that day didn’t just amaze them.  They didn’t sit back and scratch their chins and, with a shake of the head, say, “He’s a good speaker.  He makes sense.”  No, what Jesus taught that day hit them like a car crashing into a brick wall.  Life as they knew it had changed.

Jesus’ teaching differed from what they were used to.  They were used to scribes getting up and droning on and on about their opinions and worthless human laws and customs.  Perhaps, it’s not much different from what we see in some churches when pastors get up, tell a series of stories, and share with you their opinions.

We may like that.  Such preaching does not confront us.  Such preaching may make us feel warm and fuzzy.  Such preaching may make us laugh.  But such is not the Word of God.

Jesus spoke with authority.  He spoke holy words in the synagogue that day.  He probably even connected the events of the Old Testament to Himself as the Fulfiller of the Old Testament.  We see from our Gospel reading that such preaching is enough.  Jesus preached in the synagogue with authority, and “there was a man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit and it shrieked.”

That what’s the true preaching of God’s Word does: It makes evil shriek.  You should feel uncomfortable when you hear God’s Law confront you.  Why?  You’ve messed up.  You need to come clean and admit that.  You need to tell God you’re not holy and righteous enough.  You need to tell God only He’s holy and righteous enough.

Yes, the living word of God confronts and challenges evil, even the evil lurking in you.  It’s that simple.  That’s why demons and Satan cannot stand to hear faithful preaching.  That’s why your sinful nature would much prefer to hear preaching that entertains and doesn’t convict you of your sin.

The powerful teachings of Jesus caused the demon cry out in anger, anguish, and hate.  That’s how your sinful nature feels when God’s Word confronts your sin.  Your sinful nature wants to shriek.  You sinful nature may even want nothing more to do with the messenger, the one called to preach to you such a hard truth.

After the demon had shrieked, it said, “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.”

When the demon said, “What have you to do with us,” it sounded as if many demons controlled the man.  Yet, our text only speaks of one unclean spirit.  So, what did the demon mean by the word, “us”?

When the demon said “us,” he was talking about himself and the other hearers in the synagogue.  “What have you to do with us?  Have you come to destroy us?”  For Satan sows doubt in us to question God’s authority, purposes, and teachings.

The demon that day took truth and twisted it to confuse others.  The demon called Jesus the destroyer.  Now that is true for the demons and Satan.  Jesus had come to destroy the gates of hell.  Yet, the demon took that ounce of truth and made it sound like Jesus came to destroy everything, including the people in the synagogue.  The demon couldn’t stand Jesus’ preaching.  It’s the same with you: your sinful nature also hates the preaching of Jesus.

At times, some will accuse faithful pastors of bringing ruin to the Church.  But faithful pastors do not seek to destroy the church, but to uproot error.  Faithful pastors must call sin what it is.  Faithful pastors must also point out what is false, not to destroy the Church, but to help overcome sin.  Why?  So the Church may be healthy and grow in Christ and His love.

Jesus did come to destroy the gates of hell, but not because He didn’t love.  Jesus loves His creation, so much that He had to destroy Satan and evil, so His love could overflow to the nations.

So, why did Jesus command the demon to be silent?  Why?  The demon used the holy name of God in a way that contradicted who Jesus is and what He does.  Jesus Christ is the Savior who came to bring life to the world.  The demon used the name of Jesus, which brings life, but he used it in a way that spoke of Jesus as the destroyer, contradicting who the real Jesus is.  That’s why Jesus commanded the demon to come out of the man, and the man was healed.

When the Word of God is preached in its truth and purity, then the gates of hell are overcome through the blood of Jesus.  Today, the victory is complete.  Jesus died and rose from the dead, and so we have new life.  Yet, Satan and his demons still roam this earth bringing havoc where they may.

They still stand up to contradict who Jesus is when faithful pastors preach that Word.  That’s why some congregations have removed faithful pastors from their calls.  After all, if the pastor is not doing what we want, then we’ll find someone who will.  When that happens, we no longer have the Church of Christ, but instead, mob rule.  Indeed, the old, sinful Adam in me and you cannot stand the faithful preaching of Christ.

So, why are you supposed to be here?  You come to meet Jesus.  You aren’t here only for me to remind you of what Jesus once did.  That’s only part of the reason you are here.  You also come to meet Jesus in His holy Word–right here and now, in the present tense–because He gives you what you need through the preaching of Christ crucified.  You are like the man healed in our Gospel reading.  Jesus is continually healing you and forgiving you of your sins through the hearing of the Gospel.

Every time you hear the faithful preaching of Christ crucified for the life of the world, every time you hear that Jesus has died for you, the Holy Spirit brings you healing and strength.  The pulpit, like the baptismal font and altar, has a mystery attached to it.  That mystery is Jesus Christ.

Why a mystery?  The pulpit is the place for hearers to hear a word from Jesus.  The pulpit stands as a place of distinction and authority; that’s because it is Jesus who speaks through the mouth of the pastor.  That’s the mystery.  The mystery is that God can use a sinful man to preach life and salvation.

Hebrews 4:12 proclaims this truth so clearly for us.  “The word of God is alive and active.  Sharper than any two-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow.  It judges the thoughts and designs of the heart.”  This is not just any word, but the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ Himself.

The Word, the teaching of Jesus, exposes Satan and his lies, uncovering his deception and deceit.  Even more, such preaching brings life and peace to those who want to spend an eternity with Jesus.  In Christ, we find more than peace; we find eternal peace!  When we find joy in faithful preaching, it changes us and fills us once more with Christ.  And the Christian continually yearns for more.

Whenever you hear the life-creating Word of Jesus, you are home.  For through such preaching, God the Holy Spirit brings to you, here and now, all that Jesus lived, died, and rose to give you.  Yes, Jesus loves you even despite your sins and human frailties.

Yes, you do come to Church to receive something.  You come to hear these words: Go in peace.  Jesus loves you.  God forgives you.  Death has been swallowed up in victory, in the cross of Christ.  The peace of Jesus is now your peace.  Amen.

 

Comments

  1. Don Drouin says:

    You wrote: “So, why are you supposed to be here? You come to meet Jesus.” and “The pulpit is the place for hearers to hear a word from Jesus. The pulpit stands as a place of distinction and authority; that’s because it is Jesus who speaks through the mouth of the pastor. That’s the mystery. The mystery is that God can use a sinful man to preach life and salvation.”
    I’m always at a loss for words when my neighbor says: “I’m a Christian, but I don’t see a need to go to church. After all isn’t God everywhere and can’t I be with Him here instead of at church?” “Or, “My salvation doesn’t depend on my church attendance but on my faith.” What you wrote above helps. Perhaps from that I can come up with a simple, declarative statement that would “[strike] them with force.” emphasizing the “mystery” you spoke about.
    Thanks…………..Don.

    • Don,

      The idea that God is everywhere is correct, but incomplete. Yes, God is everywhere, but He is not everywhere for you. The “for you” part becomes real in the Divine Service, where the reality of where Christ says He comes to you becomes real.

      Here’s what Alvin Barry, a previous president of the LCMS had to say on this topic:

      Lutheran worship puts the focus squarely on Jesus Christ, who is present for us and with us through his Word & Sacraments.

      Lutheran worship is therefore Christ-centered, not man-centered. When we are gathered for worship, we are not contemplating some far-off Christ or meditating on abstract concepts, or pondering various principles for living. Neither are we in church to be amused or entertained.

      Christ is living and active among us, right where he has promised to be in his Word & Sacraments. Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 18:20).

      When he gathers us around his Word & Sacraments, he fulfills this promise to us once again — “What About… Lutheran Worship,” A.L. Barry, L.C.M.S. 2000.

    • Don,

      About the comment, “My salvation doesn’t depend on my church attendance but on my faith,” perhaps this may help.

      Scripture calls the Church the Bride of Christ (Eph 5:25-27; 2 Cor 11:2-3; Rev 9:7, 21:9). Relating the truth that the Church is the Bride of Christ is like saying, “My marriage doesn’t depend on being with my wife but on my love.” But what does one who loves His wife do? He spends time with her. He shows her his love. He lives out his love for her by being with her–not by finding excuses not to be with her.

      Those who have been brought into the Church, the Bride of Christ, delight in being where their Groom (Jesus) comes to them to shower them with His love and gifts. And yes, this takes place in Church, where the enduring mandates of Christ become real for His Bride. In the Divine Service, Christ’s Bride receives:

      – Baptism (Matthew 28:19-20)
      – Teaching (Matthew 28:19-20)
      – Preaching (Luke 24:47)
      – Absolution (John 20:23)
      – The Lord’s Supper (Matt, Mark, Luke, and 1 Cor)

      Receiving the reality of Christ’s presence and His forgiveness through the means He instituted does not happen in abstract. They are not simply received “in the heart.” One’s faith receives them for real where Jesus comes for real to deliver them.

      What is most sad about the statement, “My salvation doesn’t depend on my church attendance but on my faith,” when it is used to rationalize not coming to church, is that such a statement does not come from faith but unbelief. Faith brings one to be with Christ. It’s that simple. Faith does not make excuses to stay away from Jesus and the gifts He delivers in His Divine Service. That is but unbelief masquerading as faith.