Words, words, words. We are constantly bombarded by them — from Social Media, email and text messages, our phones, TV and movies. And now you’re reading words from me!
Have you ever wondered why words are so powerful? Words on the tongue of the comedian can make us laugh; but words on the lips of the cynic can cut down and demolish. The words, ‘I love you,’ bring the thrill of joy and hope to couples in love. But the words, ‘We’ve done all we can,’ from the medical specialist in times of sickness, grip us with fear and a sense of impending loss.
Emily Dickinson wrote this of words: A word is dead / When it is said / Some say; I say it just / Begins to live / That day.
Authority. Come with me to Mark 1, verses 21and 22: They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, Jesus (he) entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
Jesus regularly attended the church of his day – the Jerusalem temple or the local synagogue in towns and villages. Mark tells us that Jesus began his public ministry in the town of Capernaum, on the northern shore of Lake Galilee.
We can begin to picture the scene. Jesus was the guest speaker that day in the local synagogue. As he spoke everyone sat up and listened, for he taught with authority.
People could see that he wasn’t like their usual speakers – the scribes. The scribes, so dependent on the authority of others, were diffident and cautious, ambiguous and lacking clarity.
But Jesus was different. He spoke as one who knew first-hand what he was talking about. He spoke with a personal command of his subject. He spoke with clarity as he talked of God and humanity, of righteousness and hope. His hearers were stunned. They’d never heard anything like it before. And not surprisingly he caused a stir.
But there was another facet to Jesus’ words. In verse 23 we read: Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?’
Mark doesn’t hesitate to record this voice of protest. Jesus’ words didn’t necessarily bring harmony and peace. Opposition came from a demon-possessed man who, up until that moment, had been happy to be in the congregation! But that day was different. This demon-possessed man was confronted with a greater power and he knew it: ‘I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’
While some will dismiss Mark’s assessment as myth, saying it doesn’t fit with modern psychiatry, we can note that medical science today suggests that some psychotic behaviour occurs for organic reasons – brain tumors, drug addiction, or even genetic factors.
Indeed, in the same way that we bring prayer and medicine to bear on cancer, we can bring prayer and psychiatry together when a person is mentally ill.
What is clear however, is that there are some mentally and emotionally sick people today who are, like this man, in the grip of alien forces. And whether we regard these forces as real or imaginary, they are irresistible – as irresistible as the impulse that drove that man to call out that day.
Sometimes mentally disturbed people are aware of supernatural realities in a way that most people are not. This man recognized Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Not even the disciples had woken up to this.
Power. Consider Jesus’ response in verse 25: But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’
Be silent is literally, be muzzled or, colloquially, ‘Shut up!’ Jesus wouldn’t accept the compulsory testimony to his divinity given by evil powers. Rather, he wants our voluntary recognition that he is both God and man. And so, he ordered the spirit to be quiet and to come out of the man.
And notice what happened: And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. The spirit obeyed.
There’s only one word for that: power. Power of the kind we have never seen – not even in churches today that claim they have the power to heal. Mark’s focused report here powerfully conveys God’s authority, energy and vitality evident in Jesus’ word.
Amazement. They 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.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee (Mark 1:27f).
Jesus’ words and actions were unprecedented. They confirmed what the crowds had begun to suspect – that he was invested with a unique authority.
Jesus was not only a powerful speaker. He commanded extraordinary authority with his words. Indeed, as Mark’s Gospel unfolds, we are invited to see that into our world of darkness and despair a light of hope has come.
It awakens us to the reality that Jesus can’t be ignored. The voices around us may try to shut him up, but he will have the final say. Everyone needs to treat him seriously.
Why is it then that we are so often silent about our faith? Isn’t it true that often we are afraid – afraid of what others will think of us? Afraid of what it might mean for our job? Afraid that the word of the gospel will not work?
We need to remember the power of words in God’s hands. He has used words to reveal himself to us. It is the combination of words and the work of His Spirit that changes and transforms lives.