Have you read “The Lord of the Rings” or seen the movies based on the book? “The Lord of the Rings” deals with the fate of Middle Earth. In particular, there’s a kingdom of Middle Earth called Gondor in which the fate of the whole earth rests. This kingdom awaits the arrival of the rightful king to rule on the throne. Until the promised king returns, Gondor is ruled by a steward – a guardian – who is to look after the kingdom. So, the people wait.
Finally, after many long ages, the rightful king Aragorn comes. But, first he is not recognized as the king by everyone, even though he is the promised king. To most people’s eyes, he appears to be just a ranger from the north, a scruffy man who doesn’t look kingly. But, after battling the evil of Mordor and destroying it, Aragorn finally claims the throne of Gondor as his own. Then, there is no longer any need for a steward or guardian, because the king himself has arrived, and he has come with his authority as king.
J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of Lord of the Rings, once said that he didn’t write the book as an allegory. That is, he didn’t purposely create the book to be an allegorical tale of the Christian faith, world events, or anything else. Instead, he said that he wrote the book as a history, because he felt that in history lies real truth. So, the Lord of the Rings is a parallel history of sorts, telling of the fall of man, the introduction of evil in the world, the promise of the king, and the coming of the king veiled in humble flesh, and then the final return of the king to rule over all things as evil is defeated and finally cast out.
This history is truth, and we see it in God’s revelation to us in the Bible, from Old Testament through New Testament, from Genesis through Revelation. We see in the Bible Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, the introduction of evil into this “middle earth” – the age between creation and redemption – and God’s promise that a savior would come, a king who would exercise God’s reign directly over His creation.
But, it would be many long ages before the king would arrive. So, in the mean-time, the Lord sent guardians. He raised up judges, prophets, and even earthly kings to lead His people Israel. He instituted civil authority on the earth to promote justice and punish evil. But, all these were, and are, simply guardians, stewards governing the people in the stead of the true, almighty King who was coming.
And, then, after long ages of men, the true king arrived. The one promised long ago to save the race of men had come, but people did not recognize him. He appeared to just be a humble man from the north, from Nazareth in Galilee. The text from Mark today tells of this king as he goes to the city of Capernaum with his newly called disciples and entered the synagogue on the Sabbath to teach (Mark 1:21-28). And the people “were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” Jesus didn’t teach as a steward or as a guardian, but as the true, rightful, almighty King. Luke writes in his Gospel that Jesus’ hearers were astonished, because Jesus’ “word possessed authority” (Luke 4:32).
Throughout the Gospels, you continually see people being astonished at Jesus’ teaching, because he speaks with authority. He doesn’t say things like, “it is written,” or “it is said;” no, he says, “I say.” You see this clearly later in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus introduces each proclamation with, “You have heard that it was said… but I say to you…” Jesus speaks a word that is his own, a word enfleshed with his authority as God.
Jesus is not a steward and not just another prophet. In all those long ages from Adam and Eve onward, the prophets spoke for God on His behalf. They didn’t speak under their own authority. Likewise, the scribes in Jesus’ time would speak for God; they would expound upon the Scriptures and teach the people what God had said. Yet, the prophets and scribes were not perfect, they were sinful men. But, here comes Jesus, teaching directly the Word of God in all its force and authority. For he is God in the flesh, the perfect King of Kings, and his word possesses authority.
And because his word possesses authority, he has power over all things, because he is the incarnate Word of God through whom all things were created. His Word does what He says, and accomplishes the purposes for which He was sent (cf. Isaiah 55:11). So, when he encounters the man with the unclean spirit in the synagogue, even the spirit knows who Jesus is. And Jesus, with his authoritative word, casts out the unclean spirit. This further amazes the people, for Jesus has brought a “new teaching with authority” and “commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
Jesus is the Holy One of God, and even Satan and his demons know who Jesus is (cf. James 2:19). Would that the rest of the world did as well! Many in the world look at Jesus as just a man, just a “ranger from the north,” and do not recognize that he is the promised king, who is returning. Yet, even the demons believe and shudder, as St. James says. The unclean spirits also “believe in God;” they are “spiritual.” This should be a warning to us not to separate God from Jesus. It’s only through Jesus that we know God’s grace and mercy. For Jesus is the King of Kings, He has come with all his authority as God to cleanse his creation.
He has already begun this cleansing process of sanctification. He gathers together his people, washes them clean of their sins, and then works to sanctify you. This group of people is the Church, God’s people Israel. And he has done this to you. He has cleansed you of unclean spirits that once held you captive to death, baptizing you into His Spirit instead and into the life that he brings.
The older baptismal rites of the Church included an exorcism in order to cast out the unclean spirit before the baptized person received the gift of the Holy Spirit. It reflects Jesus’ discussion in Luke 11 where he talks about the unclean spirit being expelled from a person, and the need for a new Spirit to take its place. God gives you this new Spirit in your Baptism, the Holy Spirit who dwells in you in order to make you God’s child, His cherished possession.
So, you have come to know the one true God through Him who is also God. Christ has brought you to faith and made you an heir of the promise, and you have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit as he rebirthed you. And, what Christ has begun in the Church is a forerunner of what he will do to all creation when he returns.
For in the Church we see what Christ will do to all the world when he returns. He came once to deal with sin through his death and resurrection. He will come again to finish what he started on his cross and in his empty tomb. He is coming again to fully cleanse and restore all things. You have already been cleansed and restored to God, but live in a world now that is not fully cleansed or restored. The evil of Mordor is still out there, prowling this world. Yet, you are cleansing agents in this fallen, sinful, death-ridden world, helping to preserve it and better it until Christ returns to fully cleanse and restore it. That’s what the Church looks forward to, the return of the king.
For when Christ returns and he is revealed to all as the rightful king of all creation, then all the world will be the Church only; His people will inherit the promised land of the restored creation which has had all sin, death, and evil removed, like weeds removed from a garden. And the Church will be perfected on that day, just as Christ is perfect. Because Christ is the King of all. He is ruler of all. He is both Lord over the Church and Lord over all creation. Amen, come Lord Jesus, Amen.
(Image: Christ preaching at Capernaum, By Maurycy Gottlieb, 1878/1879, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1712661