By Paul Koch –
There is a certain and definite uneasiness that comes with the sound of silence. When no one is speaking, when all distractions are removed, when you are left with just your own thoughts and feelings, you will find a desire to fill the silence with something. Almost anything. TV’s become background noise though no one is watching, people play music on the radio or busy themselves with some activity that takes their minds away from the silence. We may long to get away from it all, to escape to the mountains or a warm beach, to be away from the distractions and noise. But even there we find comfort in sounds, not silence. It is the sound of the waves hitting the beach instead of the cars on the freeway, or the sound of birds chirping and unseen critters scurrying along the path instead of planes flying overhead. When we gather here in our Lord’s house and take a few moments of silence before we confess our transgressions, it can seem like an eternity; but it’s only about 4 or 5 seconds long. We don’t like silence. We are uncomfortable with it.
I think this harkens to something deep within us. The ability to fill the silence is a fundamental act of control. All we need to do is move or speak or sing or turn on the TV and we’ve exercised some control over the situation. Now sure, it might not be much, but it is something and we need that little something in our lives. In fact, when we actually endure the silence as a group we do so only because of outside social pressures. When we are silent before confession or when you’re at some event and they take a moment of silence to honor someone who has died, you go along with it only because everyone else is, and you are usually happy when it’s over. Have you ever experienced one of those moments that linger a little too long? It’s like torture. You want to break the silence. You want to take back some control.
So, what then is happening in our text today from Mark 1? Well, we find that our Lord has arrived in Capernaum and goes immediately into the synagogue there and begins to teach. His teaching, we should note, hits the hearers as peculiar, different from other teachings. He teaches as one who has authority, and not as the scribes and this authority is about to be challenged. For in that synagogue there was a man with an unclean spirit and he rises up against our Lord saying, “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.” The voice of the demon is like one who about to lose control. He calls our Lord by name. He wants to demonstrate that he has some authority in this situation. And what does our Lord do? He silences him. “Be silent!” He says, “and come out of him!”
There is fear in this silence. There is shock and amazement as the people witness what Christ does. And you are reminded here that the one who teaches with authority, the one who silences the demons can reduce you to silence as well. You resist it of, course. You hear the accusation of your God concerning your life, how you live and what drives your passion and desires, and you want to be anything but silent. You speak out, perhaps make excuses or point the finger at others, fill the silence with anything but the judgment of God. You say, “Lord I did my best, I really tried honestly I did. But your laws are too hard, they aren’t very popular in this day and age. Look I’m at least better than those people over there.” And we fill the silence before our God with our words and actions, the constant noise of our lives that might get us off the hook, or at least make us feel better in the short term.
But your Lord will have none of it. If you try and avoid the judgment by declaring your good intentions he silences those as well, declaring that you have still fallen short of the glory of God. If you point to the very best things you’ve done in your life, the sacrificial actions that you have willingly undergone he will declare that all the works of man are but filthy rags. He doesn’t let you talk your way out of condemnation. He doesn’t allow you to fill the silence with your own words. Rather He systematically reduces it all to silence. Like the nervous demons in Capernaum you have nowhere to escape, nowhere to run. Everything is stripped away until there is only one thing that remains, only one way through the condemnation. And that one thing is not your voice or your action or your desire. In fact, that one thing is not controlled by you at all. It is a Word outside of you. A Word of hope and life and promise. It is the Word made flesh your Lord Jesus Christ.
This one who silences the demons, and silences you in your sin then speaks something new to you. Something that you could not provide for yourself. Being reduced to silence Christ then speaks of his deeds, his actions, his words. The Word of God himself fills your silence with the story of his birth, the miracle of the incarnation. He speaks about how he who knew no sin became sin itself in order to pay the price for your transgressions. He speaks boldly about his sorrow and great anguish as he endures the hatred of those he came to save. He speaks about the taunts, the mocking, the spitting and the wounding. He speaks into your silence how he tasted the absence of the Father and cried out from a cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He speaks about a love that surpasses all your understanding a love that consumes his life so that you might live.
And then for a moment the speaking stops, and silence falls as the tomb is closed. But the Word of God was not done speaking. No, he rose from the dead to proclaim victory for you who are left afraid in the silence, victory for those who cling the Word alone. And he continues to speak to this day. He speaks in the water of your baptism declaring you to be the children of God. He speaks into your sin riddled confession declaring that you are forgiven all of your sin. He speaks into your doubt and your loneliness and declares, “Take eat this is my body, given for you.”
And as the people of Capernaum were figuring out all those years ago, so now you know full well. This Word that speaks does not speak as others do. Not as the scribes or Pharisees or great teachers of the law. No, this Word speaks with authority. Authority to drive out demons, heal the sick and bring sight to the blind. Authority to take your sins upon himself and proclaim your salvation in the courts of heaven.
We then live our lives together in the confidence and assurance that we are what he has declared. He is the authoritative Word, the final say, and he has said that in him you are free, you are forgiven, you are the children of God. And so, you are. And a whole new life then opens before you. You are not defined by your fears, you are not consumed by the works of the evil one, you are not forsaken to the silence. No, you are a people now of the Word, his Word, The Word. The only Word that speaks truth in the silence of God’s judgment, the only Word that shines the light of truth into the darkness.
This is why we gather together. This is why we need one another. This is why we support the work of the church, why we care for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Not because we want to fill the silence with our own doings but because we can speak again and again the only word that matters. We gather so that the silence will be filled by Christ alone. A Word of truth, and light and life for you.