Discerning the Spirit

Reading: Mark 1.21-28

Are you a leader? Or a follower? How do you see yourself?

I suppose that for all of us there are points of our life where we are one or the other. But it is probably true to say that most people in the world are, by and large, followers. More than we care to admit we are ruled by the attitudes, ideas, beliefs, habits, musical tastes, fashions… of others. Most people wouldn't dare to be different unless a good number of others are "being different" too!

In itself there is nothing wrong with being a follower. We were made to be followers. There is something within us that is meant to look up to and listen to and emulate and follow… God. He is the Creator and made us that way. God meant us to become mature people too who can be responsible and think and work things out and make good decisions - but always in a relation with him.

The problem with the human race is that we have thought we could have absolute freedom, an absolute independence even from our Creator. But it has never worked out. In our grab for the leadership of our own lives, we have ended up followers after all.

Think again about that scene in the Garden of Eden. "Come on! Just eat some! It won't hurt you! Find out for yourself! Grow up! You'll be like God! You'll know good and bad for yourself!"

Can't you see in the situation all the plausible enticements of any other more modern temptation? Might it not be the pressure mates to take that first alcoholic drink? Or to smoke pot? Or to try sex?…

O yes, we are followers all right! Just be careful who you follow in this world. Above all, learn all over again what it means to put your trust in Jesus - to follow God. He made us with an ability to think and he means us to use it. But we choose to put our trust in him.

I came across an interesting story about Calvin Coolidge who was President of USA in the 1920's. On one occasion he invited some friends from Vermont to dine at the White House. They were worried about their table manners, so they decided to do everything their host did. All went well until coffee was served. Coolidge poured his into the saucer. The guests did the same. The President added sugar and cream. So did the visitors. Then Coolidge leaned over and placed his saucer on the floor for the cat!


Mark has been writing about how Jesus called four fishermen to follow him. "At once they left their nets and went with him" (v.18).

And now Jesus and his four disciples has moved into Capernaum. They go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day and Jesus begins to teach. "The people who heard him were amazed at the way he taught, for he wasn't like the teachers of the Law; instead, he taught with authority" (v.22).

The teaching of the Scribes was always like a discussion between all the great teachers of the past. The teaching of Jesus was direct and challenging. His words were compelling. The people were amazed.

But then a man with an evil spirit comes into the synagogue and screams out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Are you here to destroy us? I know who you are - you are God's holy messenger!" (v.24)

As we read the gospels, it seems that there was an intensifying of demonic activity because of the physical presence of Jesus. The man's cry reveals that the demon world was already admitting defeat. Donald Guthrie notes, "There are no recorded instances where evil spirits showed no fear of Jesus or refused to submit to him. Their description of Jesus as the Holy One of God is a remarkable assertion of his purity of character… It is evident that Jesus was not disposed to accept testimony from such a source. He earlier rejected the devil's offer at the temptation, and he would not at this time accept any 'favour' from one of the devil's agents" (Jesus the Messiah, p.74).

"Be quiet, and come out of the man!" (v.25) After shaking the man hard, the evil spirit gives a loud scream, and comes out of him - he is healed.

Again, we are told, the people are amazed - "What is this? Is it some kind of new teaching? This man has authority to give orders to the evil spirits, and they obey him!" (v.27)

The crowd has no real understanding of what this exchange is all about. First they are amazed at Jesus' teaching - he teaches with authority. Again, they are amazed, but they fail to ask the question, "Who is this?" Rather, "What is this? Is this some kind of new teaching? This man has authority…"


The crowd - then and now - is always willing for impressive teaching and for miraculous signs. They love to be amazed - and entertained. This is why Jesus again and again moved on when people started coming after him because of the miracles he performed. He wasn't the roving miracle-worker. He knew what was in people. For all their fascination, they would finally turn elsewhere and have him crucified.

But who is Jesus? And what is his rightful claim on my life? Is he someone more than to be amazed at? Is he someone to be followed? someone whose personality and life is to shape and control my personality and life?

I came across this testimony of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was discussing Christ with Henri Bertrand, an officer who faithfully accompanied him into exile but did not believe in the deity of Jesus. The former emperor of France said to Bertrand: "I know men, and I tell you that Jesus Christ was not a mere man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between him and the founders of empires and the gods of their religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and the forms of pagan worship the distance of infinity. Everything in Christ astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, and his will confounds me. He commands us to believe and gives no reason besides his own inspiring claim, 'I am God.' Between him and others in this world there is no possible comparison. He is truly a Being by himself. His sentiments, the truths which he announced, and his manner of life are unexplainable. Philosophers who try to solve the mysteries of the universe by their empty dissertations are fools! Christ... speaks with authority. The closer I come, the more carefully I examine him; everything is above me... and has a grandeur which overpowers.... I search in vain in history to find one similar to Jesus or anything which can approach the Gospel he preached. Everything about him is extraordinary!"

Who is this Jesus? The evil spirit knew - and trembled. Jesus healed the man. The crowd was fascinated, amazed - "What is this?" They needed to move from fascination to following.

And who are you following? I am not asking who impresses you, who fascinates you, who amazes you, but who are you following?

We love to think of ourselves as strong and independent people, but all of us are followers all right! We just need to be careful who we follow in this world. More than anything else, we need to learn all over again what it means to put our trust in Jesus - to follow God. We recognise in Jesus an authority found nowhere else, but we need to choose to put our trust in him as our Saviour and to submit ourselves to him as our Lord.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 2 February 1997
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, 1992.

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