Sunday School – 28January2024



Our text for today …

Mark 1:21-28 (NRSV)    

21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.  22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.   

23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, ‘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.’   

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’   26 And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.   

27 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.’  

28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.   


WHAT IS THE MAIN TAKEAWAY FOR YOU?  What should we take away?


Mark 1:21-28 (NRSV)    

21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.  22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.   

  • They = Simon, Andrew, James and John, as well as Jesus (Mark 1:16-20)
  • Capernaum = on the NW shore of the Sea of Galilee [which, according to Google … is located 214 meters below sea level; it is the lowest freshwater lake on ​Earth and the second-lowest lake in the world (after the Dead Sea)]. 
  • He taught as one having authority =
    • Examples:  Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44 …
    • Where did Jesus get His authority from?  Notice Matthew 17:4-5
  • not as the scribes = Scribes usually taught by quoting rabbis … Jesus taught by quoting God OR speaking as God. (He was the Word of God.)

23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit24 and he cried out, ‘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.’   

  • What do you understand an “unclean spirit” to be?
  • What do you think a “man with an unclean spirit” would be doing?
  • Why would he be in (or allowed to be in) the synagogue?
  • Do you believe there are persons with unclean spirits still around today?
  • Do you believe there might be some IN churches?
  • What do you notice about the pronouns used in reference to the man?

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’   26 And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.   

  • What about this passage stands out for you?
  • Do you see anything as noteworthy?
  • What do you think about the way Jesus got the unclean spirit to leave the man?
  • What do you believe happened to the man after the unclean spirit left him?

27 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.’  

  • What do you think amazed the people?
  • Do you think Jesus was the only exorcist in the area?  See Matthew 12:27 and Acts 19:11-17.


28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.   

  •  What do you think Jesus became famous for?  
  • What do you think happened at that synagogue the following sabbath?




Mark 1:21-22     

So they came into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath day Jesus went into the Synagogue and began to teach; and they were completely astonished at the way he taught, for he taught them like one who had personal authority, and not as the experts in the law did.

Mark’s story unfolds in a series of logical and natural steps.  Jesus recognized, in the emergence of John, God’s call to action.  He was baptized and received God’s seal of approval and God’s equipment for his task.  He was tested by the devil and chose the method he would use and the way he would take.  He chose his men that he might have a little circle of kindred spirits and that he might write his message upon them.  And now he had to make a deliberate launching of his campaign.  If a man had a message from God to give, the natural place to which he would turn would be the church where God’s people met together.  That is precisely what Jesus did.  He began his campaign in the synagogue.

There are certain basic differences between the synagogue and the church as we know it today.

(a) The synagogue was primarily a teaching institution.  The synagogue service consisted of only three things — prayer, the reading of God’s word, and the exposition of it.  There was no music, no singing and no sacrifice.  It may be said that the Temple was the place of worship and sacrifice; the synagogue was the place of teaching and instruction.  The synagogue was by far the more influential, for there was only one Temple.  But the law laid it down that wherever there were ten Jewish families there must be a synagogue, and, therefore, wherever there was a colony of Jews, there was a synagogue.  If a man had a new message to preach, the synagogue was the obvious place in which to preach it.

(b) The synagogue provided an opportunity to deliver such a message.  The synagogue had certain officials.  There was the Ruler of the synagogue.  He was responsible for the administration of the affairs of the synagogue and for the arrangements for its services.  There were the distributors of alms.  Daily a collection was taken in cash and in kind from those who could afford to give.  It was then distributed to the poor; the very poorest were given food for fourteen meals per week.  There was the Chazzan.  He is the man whom the King James Version describes as the minister.  He was responsible for the taking out and storing away of the sacred rolls on which scripture was written; for the cleaning of the synagogue; for the blowing of the blasts on the silver trumpet which told people that the Sabbath had come; for the elementary education of the children of the community.  One thing the synagogue had not and that was a permanent preacher or teacher.  When the people met at the synagogue service it was open to the Ruler to call on any competent person to give the address and the exposition.  There was no professional ministry whatsoever.  That is why Jesus was able to open his campaign in the synagogues.  The opposition had not yet stiffened into hostility.  He was known to be a man with a message; and for that very reason the synagogue of every community provided him with a pulpit from which to instruct and to appeal to men.

When Jesus did teach in the synagogue the whole method and atmosphere of his teaching was like a new revelation.  He did not teach like the scribes, the experts in the law.  Who were these scribes?

To the Jews the most sacred thing in the world was the Torah, the Law.  The core of the law is the Ten Commandments, but the Law was taken to mean the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, as they are called.  To the Jews this Law was completely divine.  It had, so they believed, been given direct by God to Moses.  It was absolutely holy and absolutely binding. They said, “He who says that the Torah is not from God has not part in the future world.”  “He who says that Moses wrote even one verse of his own knowledge is a denier and despiser of the word of God.”

If the Torah is so divine, two things emerge.

  • First, it must be the supreme rule of faith and life; and
  • second, it must contain everything necessary to guide and to direct life.

If that be so the Torah demands two things.

  • First, it must obviously be given the most careful and meticulous study.
  • Second, the Torah is expressed in great, wide principles; but, if it contains direction and guidance for all life, what is in it implicitly must be brought out. The great laws must become rules and regulations — so their argument ran.

To give this study and to supply this development a class of scholars arose.  These were the Scribes, the experts in the law.  The title of the greatest of them was Rabbi.  The scribes had three duties.

(i) They set themselves, out of the great moral principles of the Torah, to extract rules and regulations for every possible situation in life.  Obviously this was a task that was endless.  Jewish religion began with the great moral laws; it ended with an infinity of rules and regulations.  It began as religion; it ended as legalism.

(ii) It was the task of the scribes to transmit and to teach this law and its developments.  These deduced and extracted rules and regulations were never written down; they are known as the Oral Law.  Although never written down they were considered to be even more binding than the written law.  From generation to generation of scribes they were taught and committed to memory.  A good student had a memory which was like “a well lined with lime which loses not one drop.”

(iii) The scribes had the duty of giving judgment in individual cases; and, in the nature of things, practically every individual case must have produced a new law.

Wherein did Jesus’ teaching differ so much from the teaching of the Scribes?  He taught with personal authorityNo Scribe ever gave a decision on his own.  He would always begin, “There is a teaching that…” and would then quote aR his authorities.  If he made a statement he would buttress it with this, that and the next quotation from the great legal masters of the past.  The last thing he ever gave was an independent judgment.  How different was Jesus!  When he spoke, he spoke as if he needed no authority beyond himselfHe spoke with utter independence.  He cited no authorities and quoted no experts.  He spoke with the finality of the voice of God.  To the people it was like a breeze from heaven to hear someone speak like that.  The terrific, positive certainty of Jesus was the very antithesis of the careful quotations of the Scribes.  The note of personal authority rang out — and that is a note which captures the ear of every man.



Mk. 1:23-28

There was in the synagogue a man in the grip of an unclean spirit. Immediately he broke into a shout. “What have we to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth?” he said. “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are you are The Holy One of God.” Jesus spoke sternly to him. “Be silent,” he said, “and come out of him.” When the unclean spirit had convulsed the man and had cried with a great cry it came out of him. They were all so astonished that they kept asking each other, “What is this? This is a new kind of teaching. He gives his orders with authority even to unclean spirits and they obey him.” And immediately the report about Jesus went out everywhere over the whole surrounding district of Galilee.

If Jesus’ words had amazed the people in the synagogue, his deeds left them thunderstruck.  In the synagogue there was a man in the grip of an unclean spirit.  He created a disturbance and Jesus healed him.

All through the gospels we keep meeting people who had unclean spirits and who were possessed by demons or devils.  What lies behind this?

The Jews, and indeed the whole ancient world, believed strongly in demons and devils.  As Harnack put it, “The whole world and the circumambient atmosphere were filled with devils; not merely idolatry, but every phase and form of life was ruled by them.  They sat on thrones, they hovered around cradles.  The earth was literally a hell.”

Dr. A. Rendle Short cites a fact which shows the intensity with which the ancient world believed in demons.  In many ancient cemeteries skulls were found which had been trepanned.  That is to say, a hole had been bored in the skull.  In one cemetery, out of one hundred and twenty skulls, six had been trepanned.  With the limited surgical technique available that was no small operation. Further, it was clear from the bone growth that the trepanning had been done during life.  It was also clear that the hole in the skull was too small to be of any physical or surgical value; and it is known that the removed disc of bone was often worn as an amulet round the neck.  The reason for the trepanning was to allow the demon to escape from the body of the man.  If primitive surgeons were prepared to undertake that operation, and if men were prepared to undergo it, the belief in demon-possession must have been intensely real.

Where did these demons come from?  There were three answers to that question.

  • (i) Some believed that they were as old as creation itself.
  • (ii) Some believed that they were the spirits of wicked men who had died and were still carrying on their malignant work.
  • (iii) Most people connected the demons with the old story in Gen.6:1-8 (compare 2Pet.2:4-5).
      • The Jews elaborated the story in this way.  There were two angels who forsook God and came to this earth because they were attracted by the beauty of mortal women.  Their names were Assael and Shemachsai.  One of them returned to God; the other remained on earth and gratified his lust; and the demons are the children that he begat and their children.

The collective word for demons is mazzikin, which means one who does harm.  So the demons were malignant beings intermediate between God and man who were out to work men harm.

The demons, according to Jewish belief, could eat and drink and beget children.  They were terrifyingly numerous.  There were, according to some, seven and a half millions of them; every man had ten thousand on his right hand and ten thousand on his left.  They lived in unclean places, such as tombs and spots where there was no cleansing water.  They lived in the desert where their howling could be heard — hence the phrase a howling desert.  They were specially dangerous to the lonely traveller, to the woman in child-birth, to the bride and bridegroom, to children who were out after dark, and to those who voyaged at night.  They were specially active in the midday heat and between sunset and sunrise.

There was a demon of blindness and a demon of leprosy and a demon of heart-disease.  They could transfer their malign gifts to men.  For instance, the evil eye which could turn good fortune into bad and in which all believed was given to a man by the demons. They worked along with certain animals — the serpent, the bull, the donkey and the mosquito.  The male demons were known as shedim, and the female as lilin, after Lilith.  The female demons had long hair and were the enemies of children.  That is why children had their guardian angels (Matt.18:10).

It does not matter whether or not we believe in all this; whether it is true or not is beside the point.  The point is that the people in New Testament times did.  We still may use the phrase Poor devil!  That is a relic of the old belief.  When a man believed himself to be possessed he was “conscious of himself and also of another being who constrains and controls him from within.”  That explains why the demon-possessed in Palestine so often cried out when they met Jesus.  They knew that Jesus was believed by some at least to be the Messiah; they knew that the reign of the Messiah was the end of the demons; and the man who believed himself to be possessed spoke as a demon when he came into the presence of Jesus.

There were many exorcists who claimed to be able to cast out demons.  So real was this belief that by A.D. 340 the Christian church actually possessed an Order of Exorcists.  But there was this difference — the ordinary Jewish and pagan exorcist used elaborate incantations and spells and magical ritesJesus, with one word of clear, simple, brief authority, exorcised the demon from a man.  No one had ever seen anything like this before.  The power was not in the spell, the formula, the incantation, the elaborate rite; the power was in Jesus and men were astonished.

What are we to say to all this? Paul Tournier in A Doctor’s Casebook writes, “Doubtless there are many doctors who in their straggle against disease have had, like me, the feeling that they were confronting, not something passive, but a clever and resourceful enemy.”  Dr. Rendle Short comes tentatively to the conclusion that “the happenings in this world, in fact, and its moral disasters, its wars and wickedness, its physical catastrophes, and its sicknesses, may be part of a great warfare due to the interplay of forces such as we see in the book of Job, the malice of the devil on one hand and the restraints imposed by God on the other.”

This is a subject on which we cannot dogmatize.  We may take three different positions.

  • (i) We may relegate the whole matter of demon-possession to the sphere of primitive thought and say that it was a primitive way of accounting for things in the days before man knew any more about men’s bodies and men’s minds.
  • (ii) We may accept the fact of demon-possession as being true in New Testament times and as being still true today.
  • (iii) If we accept the first position we have to explain the attitude and actions of Jesus. Either he knew no more on this matter than the people of his day, and that is a thing we can easily accept for Jesus was not a scientist and did not come to teach science.  Or he knew perfectly well that he could never cure the man in trouble unless he assumed the reality of the disease. It was real to the man and had to be treated as such or it could never be cured.

In the end we come to the conclusion that there are some answers we do not know.





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