This Sunday the lectionary invites us to ponder a time when Jesus commanded an unclean spirit to leave a man. The text is in the first chapter of the gospel according to Mark, in verses 21 to 28 (Mark 1:21-28).
Mark begins his account of the life of Jesus by speaking of John Baptist, a fiery preacher. Jesus and others recognized John as the messenger God promised about 700 years earlier through the Prophet Isaiah.
The messenger was to announce the coming of Jesus. John did more than that. He got people to admit their failures, their sins.
We’re not told what formula of confession John used. Did they whisper in his ears? Did they speak in public? We don’t know.
But we do know that John called people to repentance: to stop doing some things; to start doing other things; to change direction. We know because Mark tells us so in the first six verses of his gospel.
We know John attracted vast crowds. Mark says, in verse 5:
“And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”
John told them that soon, very soon, another would come. Another who was worthy of much more honour than himself. Another beside whom he was nothing. Another who would baptize them “with the Holy Spirit.”
Mark tells us that Jesus too came to John to be baptized, to be dunked in the river Jordan. And that as soon as he came out of the water, the clouds parted, the Spirit descended on him “like a dove,” and God pronounced the words “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
And immediately, the Spirit “drove” Jesus into the wilderness, where he remained for forty days, being tempted by Satan. Mark adds that Jesus was with the wild animals, and angels ministered to him.
Mark doesn’t say how Jesus was tempted by Satan. The other gospel-writers tell us more. You can read what they wrote in the fourth chapter of either the gospel according to Matthew or according to Luke. They tell us Satan tried to get Jesus to obey him rather than God.
Mark then speaks of the arrest of John. He says John’s arrest triggered Jesus to begin proclaiming the good news of God, to begin preaching the kingdom of God, to begin collecting disciples. I discussed this last week, under the title “I will make you fishers of men.”
By this point, Mark has introduced John as the messenger prophesied by Isaiah. He’s outlined the activity of the Spirit and of Satan. And he’s spoken of Jesus preaching and calling people to become his kingdom companions.
What Mark speaks of next is what the lectionary calls us to ponder. It’s about the first exercise of power by Jesus.
It happens in Capernaum. In a synagogue. On a sabbath day, the day of rest and worship for Jews.
There was the usual service in the synagogue. Jesus taught. With authority – which means he unhesitatingly applied the scriptures to the events of the day. He didn’t do what the scribes did. He didn’t constantly quote the interpretations of great teachers of the past.
Unlike the scribes, Jesus spoke with confidence. He spoke as one who had power. His speech exuded so much power. So much that an “unclean spirit” – which means an evil spirit, a minion of Satan – which had occupied a man who was there, instantly saw who Jesus was. The spirit 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.”
Note this. In Mark’s account, an evil spirit is the first to speak words which express recognition of Jesus. It addressed Jesus by name, calling him “Jesus of Nazareth.” It went further. It said Jesus was actually hiding his own true identity; it says he’s actually “the Holy One of God.”
Jesus, the great liberator from oppression, instantly freed the man from the spirit. He said to the spirit, “Be silent, and come out of him!” It obeyed.
Mark will tell us many more stories of Jesus casting evil spirits out of people.
Recall three things.
First, recall that at Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended upon him.
Second, recall that after his baptism, Jesus had an encounter with Satan. We know from Matthew and Luke that Satan controls the world. We know this because he offered Jesus’ the position of king, in exchange for Jesus kneeling down before him and worshipping him.
Third, recall that during his temptation, Jesus was with wild animals, and was protected from them by angels.
Now reflect on this. In Mark’s account, the first public response to the preaching of Jesus is by an evil spirit. The evil spirit saw what the first disciples and the people in that synagogue apparently failed to see. The evil spirit worried and said: “have you come to destroy us?”
The evil spirits’ boss, Satan, wanted to trade with Jesus. He offered Jesus an easy way to be king of the whole world. He offered Jesus comfort, safety, affluence. In exchange, he asked Jesus to close his eyes and ears to the evils he, Satan, promotes.
Jesus said no, no, no.
The evil spirit got it. The old kingdom, the kingdom of evil and oppression, will be dismantled by Jesus. The new kingdom, of justice and flourishing, will be established by Jesus. Mark will tell us all about it. We will see it in the weeks ahead.
Martin Luther neatly harvests the practical meaning, for us, of what the evil spirit saw in Jesus. Luther, as it were, wrote a note to Satan, to “Mr Devil.” He wrote:
“Mr Devil, hear this. [Christ] has abrogated the law, damned sin, abolished death, and destroyed hell. And he is your devil, you devil, because he has captured and conquered you, so that you cannot harm me any longer nor anyone else who believes in him.” 
A new king is in town. He frees from oppression and creates conditions of flourishing. He’s working at it. He’s calling, challenging, recruiting. Are you in? Or are you out?
Peace be with you.
 D. Martin Luthers Werke. Weimar: Böhlau, 1883–1993, 40,1.276,27–32; Luther’s Works. Saint Louis/Philadelphia: Concordia/Fortress, 1958–86, 26.162. Cited in The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology.