It is not just a mere man who has come to bring light into the darkness, to meet us in the wilderness, to rescue us from bonds of evil, and erase our shame. Consider the following passage from Mark 1:21-28 for proof:
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.
Perhaps it would help to peer into a literary device that artistically empowers us with understanding of the passage—a device known as a chiastic structure, a structure in which one moves from the opposite ends of the passage towards the middle in order to capture the passage’s primary point. By the way, I could be wrong about this; I have not seen this elsewhere, however, I think it may have merit. In Mark 1:21-28 it plays itself out as follows (note the descriptions attached to each verse number, moving toward the center of the text):
21) Jesus and his story are on the move
22) People are utterly amazed at Jesus’ words
23) A demonized man is revealed
24) Demons challenge Jesus (Confrontation)
24c) Recognition (by demons) of Jesus as God in Flesh (“Holy One of God”)
25) Jesus challenges demons (Confrontation)
26) A demonized man is liberated
27) People are utterly amazed at Jesus’ works
28) Jesus and his story are on the move
If it is not a mere man who is on the scene, then who exactly is it? The center of the passage makes it plain. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. There is no way around this understanding of the moment recorded by Mark. It will help us to recall the overall backdrop to the Gospel of Mark. Remember, the audience to which Mark is writing this historical account is the persecuted church in Rome, Christians who are desperately imploring Mark, their pastor, for assurance that in a world wherein they are being killed off by the Roman authorities, following Jesus is really worthwhile. Mark’s broad answer, amplified even in this one passage, is simple: yes, following Jesus is worthwhile; after all, he is the Almighty God, the Holy One.
Proof of this is scattered throughout the Old Testament with the simple phrase “Holy One.” The demons use this phrase to characterize who Jesus is—they recognize he is the Holy One of God. When through the Old Testament this phrase is used it mostly references Yahweh, the Great God of Israel and Beyond. See for example Isaiah 1:4 or Isaiah 5:24 or Isaiah 12:6; and these are just three of approximately forty references from the ancient Hebrew Scriptures. It is no small thing that when in confrontation with Jesus’ person, position and power, the demons have no recourse but to acknowledge that Jesus is God Almighty.
Of course, this has great implications for the lives of the people swept up in the scene that Mark describes, and for our lives today. Note that God’s intervention into humanity’s mess trumps the best that man can offer. “How?” you ask? One of the reasons that Jesus’ teaching as recorded in Mark 1:22 was so captivating was that it was a radical departure from the professorial reflections of the spiritual elite. The people in the synogogue, and in the greater Hebrew society, were accustomed to (mostly well-meaning) teachers who merely quoted all the ancient rabbis and philosophers. It would be as if we Christians spent all of our time quoting the great luminaries of our age like John Piper or David Platt or Mark Driscoll or Chuck Swindoll—great men, no doubt, with substantive things to say. Yet, were that all we did we would remain spiritually hungry. Into that kind of dynamic Jesus comes along and shares from the heart of his Father in Heaven, and by so doing moves far past the musings of even good men toward a raw presentation of truth that is every bit as refreshing as it is unheard of. The people had not heard teaching like that. God was in their midst sharing his story. This is why, by the way, the teaching of the Word of God is so incredibly important. It is God’s love letter to all of us.
Another implication that cannot be missed is that Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, is not here merely to patronize and play religious games. He is here to confront evil and liberate people in bondage. Indeed, he does not mess around. The moment within the synogogue he is challenged by the demons, embedded as they are within a particular man, Jesus immediately calls them out and sends them away. It is brutal, it is harsh, and it is powerful. While the demons never would have had the upper hand, they certainly did not leave quietly (see Mark 1:26) and that they even spoke up demonstrates their own terror at Jesus and their brazen effort to stand against him. In fact, the phrase found in Mark 1:24, which reads, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”, has at least two important features to it. One is that it is Old Testament confrontation language. Second Samuel 16:10 offers on fine example of this, as does Judges 11:12. Secondly, by calling out Jesus’ name as they do, they are attempting to assert some control over him. Of course, such a tactic fails against Jesus, and he forcefully responds by demanding they muzzle their mouths (the Greek word for being silent here means to “muzzle the mouth”), leave the man, and be gone.
Moreover, this all has huge implications for following Jesus as one of his disciples—whether in the ancient day or today. Because he is indeed “the Holy One of God,” then to follow him is a far bigger deal than if he were a mere prophet or rabbi. What might that mean for you and how you associate yourself with him, and what you value and how you think?
Clearly the demons believed that Jesus is God. Indeed, James 2:19 tells us that “even the demons believe—and shudder!” And yet, there was something about their belief that was not sufficient for them to avoid Jesus’ rebuke. More was required. In the face of Jesus being “the Holy One of God,” something more than mere intellectual or experiential assent is needed. There needs to be a personal surrender toward Jesus, a yielding of one’s will to him. This the demons would not and could not do, but you and I can and must. After all, Jesus is no mere man, but God Almighty who has come to rescue and save.
“Write This Down” is a summary of select teaching moments offered by Pastor Matthew. The preceding summary is from the message “The Holy One of God,” the sixth message from the series entitled “Jesus, God’s Beloved Son,” a study through the Gospel of Mark, presented on the weekend of December 9, 2012, at Bethel Church.