One Little Word!

4th Sunday after Epiphany


Mark 1:21–28

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately 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? I know who you are--the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.


There’s an old saying, “A dog is man’s best friend.” You know that’s true. That’s unless you are a delivery person. As some of you know I use to deliver soft water. You know one of those guys like the Culligan Man.  I didn’t like getting chased or stopped or cornered by man’s best friend.

On one of my routes, there was a dog that was so viscous it would charge at me every time I showed up. Barking and foaming at the mouth trying to eat me alive. It didn’t bother me, though, because that dog was on a heavy chain. As long as I stayed more than 8 feet away from the anchor of that chain, I was safe. All the dog could do was bark and bare its teeth. It couldn’t hurt me. Revelation 20:2 tells us that the devil is bound. He’s chained up, already defeated by Jesus Christ. By the way Jesus has broken your chains of sin and set you free. The devil is already defeated. Luther once commented that the devil is like a dog on a chain. Because of Jesus’ victory over sin, death and devil, the evil one cannot harm you. He’ll still try though!

The devil is known as “the Accuser,” and he can accuse you all he wants. As a chained dog bark ferociously, he’ll howl and scream to scare you. He’ll whine and charm you trying to look so hurt yet adorable. The fact is: talking is about all he can do. Because you are among those redeemed by Jesus, the devil can do you no permanent harm. All you need to do is stay clear of his circle. All you need to do is stay away from the chained-up, barking dog. The only way the devil can harm you is if you’re foolish enough to wander into that circle where his chain permits him to go. That sound easy doesn’t it? It should be, but here’s the problem: you’re no match for the devil. Sometimes, he’ll whine act like a cute little puppy who wants some attention how could he possibly hurt you? He’ll play the part of the defeated one; and since he’s already beaten and bound, you have nothing to fear, right?

He’ll whisper, “You don’t have to worry about sin. It’s not going to hurt you. Don’t you see its beauty? It’s okay to dwell on it. After all that’s appreciation not lust, go ahead if that’s what makes you feel happy. Remember I’m chained up what can I do. So go ahead and indulge yourself just a bit.”

“Has God granted you some successes? Maybe a long life, financial success, good health, faithful family, good friends, a nice home, whatever it may be. Congratulations,” whispers the evil one; “you deserve to feel proud about what you’ve done. So, enjoy the glory, take the credit. Sure, the Lord warns against pride, but I’m bound,” says Satan. “What can I do?”

“Wow,” he whines. “Not only did the Lord defeat me, but He sure made you smart. In fact, He made you smart enough to see through some of those parts of the Bible that are just too miraculous to have happened. You’re intelligent enough that you don’t have to buy into all of the Sunday-school fairytale miracle stuff. It’s not like that changes the fact that I’m chained up. What can I do?”

Here’s another of his gambits: “You’re a go-getter, aren’t you? You want to get things done, more than others. Go ahead, then, and do what you want to do. If that means that you’ve got to ignore others—like spouse or kids or parents or friends in need, you’ve got to make that choice. Don’t let their neediness hold you back.” They’re always time to make it later. 

“Look,” he whines. “God sure has given you a lot of stuff, while He keeps me poor on a short leash. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that the more stuff you have, then the further you are from me and closer to God? Make it a priority to get more stuff. Make materialism a way of life. Hey, I’m in chains. What am I going to do to you?”

See how this works? He sounds like a whipped puppy, but be aware. A little lust is an oxymoron: lust always wants to feed itself more. Pride is the same way: it always wants to get prouder—and the prouder of yourself you become, the less need you see to confess your sin. Many intelligent people have decided they know better than God, and have outsmarted themselves out of heaven. Ambition becomes a god that must be served, and greed is an idol, as well.

Each one of these sins starts small—a wandering eye, a desire for just a little bit more. Each one lures you in. That’s the strategy of the chained dog. He often baits you in, a little at a time, the whipped puppy. Pretty soon, though, you’ve wandered closer and closer and soon you’re inside the circle. It may feel like the dog is licking your face, but he’s still the hound of hell.

Now, here’s where the devil is particularly cunning: he tempts you this way in the name of “Christian freedom.” He manipulates you to say, “I can indulge in this sin or that a little because I’ve been set free from sin. It can’t hurt me. In fact, I’m going to do this or that in order to prove to myself that I’m not saved by my perfect life. I’m free to act any way I wish.” But that is not Christian freedom: Jesus didn’t set you free to do whatever you want. As our epistle touches on today, He set you free from sin, not to serve self. He set you free to serve others, not to use your freedom in service to self. This false idea is one of Satan’s greatest triumphs today: many believe that they can be a Christian and still continue a worldly way of life. If that is you, repent; for you are not free from sin, no matter how free you may feel.

Of course, the devil doesn’t always whine. Sometimes, he barks to terrorize and to move your focus from the cross to things of this world. He will bay and howl and seek to tell you that God must hate you and so you should run away from the Lord. Or he will tell you that the Lord must not care, so you might as well give up on that faith-thing. He’ll whisper all sorts of distractions and worries that you’ll decide you just don’t have time for daily Bible reading, regular church attendance, giving offerings or receiving the means of grace. He’ll seek to make you feel sorry for yourself, convincing you that you’ve had such a rough time that you deserve to indulge in one of your favorite sins to make yourself feel better. Then he’ll tell you that repentance isn’t necessary, because you needed the break from being so self-righteous.

So the dog barks and whines and wheedles. Examine yourself: do any of those scenarios above describe you? Do little sins lead to bigger ones? Do trials and afflictions leave you in doubt of God’s love? Do you look to indulge in a favorite sin here or there, figuring it will be all right since you can be forgiven anyway?

Romans 3:10 says: “There is none righteous, not even one.” The devil will outsmart you every time. If you resist his temptations to an outburst of sin, he’ll make you sinfully proud of your resistance.

So if you ever question your sinfulness or need for a Savior, or if you ever believe you’ve got some sort of strength or resistance to sin in yourself, consider this: the devil is completely, thoroughly defeated for eternity. He’s got no power left to back up his words. Yet every day, you’re still no match for him. Every day, you still sin and sin much. There is no excuse.

You need a Savior. Thanks be to God, you hear of your Savior in today’s Gospel lesson.

Jesus arrives in Capernaum and teaches in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. Among those in the synagogue is a man with an unclean spirit—demon-possessed. There’s not much that this demon seems afraid of: it’s willing to go into a synagogue, and it apparently fears neither scribes nor people. The possessed man certainly has no power over it. But Jesus’ presence is something else. There is no confusion on the part of the unclean spirit—it knows exactly who Jesus is, and it wants nothing to do with Him and His holiness. “Let us alone!” it cries. “What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”

It’s the stuff of horror movies, except that this story is true. It’s a terrifying thing when the devil shows his true colors.

But this unclean spirit is no match for Jesus. He simply rebukes the demon by speaking: “Be quiet, and come out of him!” It has no choice. It flees. The people are amazed: “What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” The unclean spirit has no fear of the scribes, but it flees from the Son of God immediately. Simply by speaking this new doctrine, Jesus sends that little devil running.

It’s a good question: what is this? What new doctrine is this? Here it is: Jesus has gone to the cross and suffered the judgment for your sins. He’s suffered God’s punishment—hell—that was meant for you, because of your sinfulness. Because He has done so, the devil is disarmed. Without Jesus’ death and resurrection, the devil could squeal, “All who sin cannot enter heaven, and so they belong with me in hell. They’re to be judged with me for eternity.” But Jesus declares, “Not so, devil! They will not be judged for their sin, because I’ve already been judged for their sin. You can accuse them all you want, and you can shriek about their guilt; but I’ve already born their sin and guilt to the cross. You’ve no power or authority to condemn My people.”

You’re no match for the devil. But Jesus has defeated him, once for all; and Jesus shares that victory with you. He does so just as He does with the possessed man in today’s text: He speaks this new doctrine to you. He says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” There, He puts His name on you. He sets you free from the devil and makes you His own. He declares, “Here in this Sacrament, I wash your sins away. If your sins are gone, there is nothing left for the devil to accuse you. Heaven is yours.” Oh, be sure: when you were baptized, the devil was sent scurrying away. You may be no match for him, but he is no match for Jesus, who has marked you with His own name.

Jesus speaks His new, devil-defying doctrine to you in Holy Absolution: “I forgive you all of your sins.” As long as Old Adam clings to you, you’re still going to sin; and Satan will use each one of these sins to say, “Some follower of Jesus you are. Obviously, you’re not good enough to get to heaven. I guess you’re still mine.” Not so! With the Absolution, Jesus says, “You’re not righteous enough to get to heaven, but I’m righteous enough—and I have died for all of your sins. Therefore, I declare to you once again. Heaven is yours and not hell.”

And where the devil seeks to destroy you in both soul and body, Jesus gives you His body and blood— which was crucified for your offenses and raised for your justification according to Romans 4:25. “This is My body and blood,” Jesus declares, “given for you—into death and judgment and, and now given to you, for the forgiveness of sins. Because I have suffered hell for you, heaven is yours.”

Make no mistake about it: you’ll be tempted and vexed by the devil’s barks. Don’t rely on your moral strength or intellectual prowess or commitment to resist him, for you cannot. Instead, rejoice in Christ your Savior. When tempted, confess that you are tempted. Read the Lord’s Word and meditate upon His promises. Memorize Scripture; fill your mind with God’s Word against the devil’s whispers. And when you sin, do not say, “I will do a better job resisting next time.” No, confess your sin to your Savior, and rejoice that He forgives you and strengthens your faith.

You’re no match for the devil, but Jesus is. Remember what we sang this morning:

No strength of ours can match his might. We would be lost, rejected. But now a champion comes to fight, Whom God Himself elected. You ask who this may be? The Lord of hosts is He, Christ Jesus, mighty Lord, God’s only Son, adored. He holds the field victorious.

The devil is beaten, bound and chained; for according to the Hymn One Little Word subdues him. That one little word is the Word made flesh. It is Jesus Christ who has defeated him. The evil one has no power but to bark and tempt, to whisper and to vex.

Therefore, you have no excuse for sin, for the giving in to the temptation of a powerless foe. But you do, and this only shows how weak and lost in sin you truly are.

But Christ has defeated the devil, suffering the judgment and hell for your sin. He is your salvation, because He shares this victory with you. He saves you by speaking His new doctrine which defies sin, death and devil in order to give you grace and life. And so that you may be all the more certain, hear His new doctrine for you once again: “You are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the (T) Holy Spirit.” For Jesus sake and in Jesus name, Amen and amen!

Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen!