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The Badge of Christ

Mark 1:21-28

The Rev. Jon Roberts

1 February

2015

Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

21 And they went into Caper′na-um; and immediately on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately 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, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 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.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

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Christ with arms folded, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1657-61

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
Those who act accordingly have a good understanding.[1]

Not everyone understands this saying, and so they lack in wisdom. Truth be told, there are two types of people in the world. Those who know what they’re talking about and those who think they know what they’re talking about. May God help us all if that second fellow carries a badge without the fear of the Lord.

Not too long ago, a DEA officer stopped at a ranch in Texas, and talked with an old rancher. He told the rancher, “I need to inspect your ranch for illegally grown marijuana.” The rancher said, “Okay, but don’t go in that field over there…”, as he pointed out the location. The DEA officer verbally exploded saying, “Mister, I have the authority of the Federal Government with me!” Reaching into his rear pants pocket, he removed his badge and proudly displayed it to the rancher. “See this badge?! This badge means I am allowed to go wherever I wish…. on any land! No questions asked or answers given! Have I made myself clear…do you understand?!” The rancher nodded politely, apologized, and went about his chores. A short time later, the old rancher heard loud screams, looked up, and saw the DEA officer running for his life, being chased by the rancher’s big Santa Gertrudis bull. With every step the bull was gaining ground on the officer, and it seemed likely that he’d sure enough get gored before he reached safety. The officer was clearly terrified. The rancher threw down his tools, ran to the fence, and yelled at the top of his lungs… “Your badge; why don’t you show him your BADGE!”

Whoever has the fear of the Lord speaks with authority, regardless of whether or not they carry a badge. The world is certainly full of those who are bullish not wanting anyone to trespass into their field. These people are generally self-serving. They attribute their successes to their own credit. They feel they are allowed to go wherever they wish. Sound familiar?

These are the types of people inherited by Moses in the Old Testament reading and by Paul in the New Testament. They became a little arrogant with the freedom to make rules. Moses was dealing with the Hebrew people of the Exodus. They were debating over what foods were clean and unclean as well as setting up a new royal authority.[2] They began wielding their badges and questioning God rather than fearing Him. God told Moses that He would call upon a prophet from the people to get them back to the beginning of wisdom. Paul was dealing with the people of Corinth, hundreds of years later and even accused them of being “Puffed up.”[3] They were allured by the diversity of pagan knowledge. The more knowledge one had the more they were empowered. Several were falling into the hands of the polygamists who adhered to the God of that culture that made it unclean to eat meat. The cow was sacred, no doubt an import from an eastern religion. The followers of Christ in that church were torn. They did business with these people who worshiped other Gods. They were involved as neighbors and friends with those who made sacrifice to their idols. To be a God-fearing, monotheist person was criticized as being one who is narrow minded and stupid. The pressures were great and many wielded their badges. Whenever the badge of secularism and paganism gets waved around, it is always in the form of those who dare to trespass against the wisdom of God. They no longer fear Him nor His commands.

When God told us to rest on the Sabbath, He meant it. When God told us to take no other Gods but Him, He meant it. When God told us not to commit adultery, murder, steal or covet, He meant it. When mankind violates God’s commands it is doomed. You can see there is a historical pattern here. Hard times, leads to dependency on God, formation of religion, and then casual backsliding, accepting other Gods and finally a socialized form of governance and eventually atheism. Doubting God exists, denying His commands and not tolerating His warnings is no different than that one fella with a badge who was being chased by the bull. We have been warned by God that if we deny His Son, Jesus, then we will not live. Perhaps there is living today, but there will be no tomorrow if we have not the fear of the Lord.

In the Gospel, Jesus speaks with authority.[4] His knowledge and handling of the text of Isaiah put him in the rabbinical seat of honor and he gained the respect of the Scribes. He was not there for that reason. At this time in his earthly ministry, Jesus was known from the miracle at Cana and that he was baptized by John. It wasn’t until he came into the synagogue, read the lesson and then…was met by the man with the unclean spirit, that his name traveled quickly. The Messianic secret was being revealed. The man with an unclean spirit in this text was a distraction to the Church community. Mostly ostracized, he was off-limits. No one dared to challenge him nor address him. Whether he was mentally deranged or simply hard to handle, Jesus went directly to him and said, “Come out.” What was it about his message that cleaned this man’s spirit? Was it evidence of the man or the culture in which he lived? Was it his own doing that made him unclean or all the unwise people around him? It’s so easy to point the finger at the man, puffed up by arrogance perhaps but it could be the Church and its leaders commanded to speak in truth no longer spoke with the authority given by God. How sad. Jesus acted accordingly and spoke simply, directly and truthfully. He knew that this man was considered untouchable and therefore unclean and what did he do? With a loud voice, in the middle of the sanctuary he cried out, “Be silent and come out of him.” The man fell down and convulsed as the badge of God was shown. Jesus was given the authority to inspect every field of every soul. He would not yield to the bull in this one. He stared it down.

Today, perhaps there are those of us who think this is simply a story of long ago, but it is very real for us. How many times has God come to you and said, “Be silent and come out.” Break away and be released from the things that trap you. Your pride, your anger, your envy, your lust, your gluttony, your sloth and coveting. The one who speaks with authority has shown you his badge. In the form of the cross we find the fear of the Lord. As one who doesn’t want to lose you he acted accordingly.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

[1] Psalm 111:10
[2] Deuteronomy 18:15-20
[3] 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
[4] Mark 1:21-28

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