I like a good kung-fu movie. I’m always amazed at how quickly hands and feet are able to move, how artistically fluid two masters of martial arts can be. It’s like a high stakes dance between good and evil. It’s thrilling.
However, when the faithful Jews of Jesus’ day showed up to their weekly sabbath synagogue service in Mark 1:21–28, I doubt they expected to see a fight scene take place. I’m sure they thought it would be much the same as every other sabbath service: some teaching, some worship, some prayer, some fellowship. But not on this day. Because on this day there’s a new teacher in their midst. A rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth.
When Jesus spoke, there was a noticeable difference between his teaching and the teachings of their normal Bible teachers, the scribes. Jesus taught with authority; they didn’t. And as he continues to teach and act with authority, those scribes are going to feel threatened; their animosity and hatred for Jesus will become more explosive throughout his ministry. Spoiler alert: it’s a fight scene in the making.
For now, though, that fight is still simmering. As it does, another fight walks in the doors. A man with an unclean spirit shouts out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” It gets lost in the English translation, but what this unclean spirit is essentially saying is: “why are you encroaching on our territory? Couldn’t you have left things as they were, you in your space and us in ours?” What we’ve got here is a boundary dispute. Dark forces have made their way into the world ever since the time of Adam and Eve and now Jesus shows up to redraw the boundary lines.
Jesus makes quick work of the unclean spirit, casting it out of the man. And by doing so, it’s as if he’s declaring the answer to the demon’s question in spectacular fashion. “Have you come to destroy us?” Yes; that is exactly what Jesus has come to do. The old authorities of the world will no longer have ultimate hold over people’s lives. Instead, Jesus is going to unleash His Holy Spirit anywhere and everywhere, so that what belongs to God might be reconciled back to Him.
But the spirit does not go quietly. Even in defeat, the demon rages against the loss of ground it once held. I think this is a good description of where we often find ourselves. Jesus has won, yet evil is still part of our world and our lives. We welcome the life Jesus has come to give, yet we still struggle with a darkness that can cripple and oppress. For the moment, this is inevitable.
And yet, as this story makes clear, Jesus is stronger. No matter what chaos overwhelms our days, Jesus can bring peace and order. He is the Holy One of God and nothing stands outside his authority for those who believe.
Joshua Gorenflo and his wife, Kya, are ministers at Kenai Fellowship, Mile 8.5 on the Kenai Spur Highway. Worship is 11 a.m. on Sundays. Streamed live at kenaifellowship.com.