The Word with Power and Authority
|Jesus Rebukes the Unclean Spirit in the Synagogue by James Tissot|
The text for today is our Gospel, Luke 4:31-44, which has already been read.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s the Sabbath in Capernaum, and where do we find Jesus? He’s in the synagogue—the synagogue was the “congregating place” for God’s people. That’s what the word “synagogue” means—“a place to gather.” We say “congregation.” This was nothing new. Take a look at the gospels. Every Sabbath that is mentioned (except for the one between Good Friday and Easter where He was fulfilling the Sabbath in Himself), we see Jesus going to the congregation. If He’s in Jerusalem for the festivals, He goes to the temple—to the house of the Lord—for prayers and sacrifices and the hearing of God’s Word. Every other Sabbath we find Him in the synagogue with the believers in that particular town.
All of this was in obedience to God’s command to His people, Israel: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. You shall sanctify the holy day.” The Sabbath was a holy day, a day set apart for the Lord. That meant no work. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” Sabbath, Shabbat, means “rest.” Slaves work seven days a week without rest; God’s free people worked six and rested on the seventh.
Rest didn’t mean sleeping in. Nor did it mean getting out the golf clubs for a quick morning round. Rest meant worship—gladly hearing and learning the Word of God. For the Israelites, rest began on Friday evening with a nice meal with undiluted wine, then sleep, then a day full of the Word in the synagogue.
Now, of course, the Sabbath law has been fulfilled in Christ and doesn’t apply to us the way it did to the people of Israel. Sunday is not the same as Sabbath. What was law in the Old Testament (punishable by the death penalty for Sabbath breakers) is now a matter of Christian freedom.
But doesn’t it say something about the depth of our sinful nature when God has to make a law about rest, when God has to command us to hear and listen to His life-giving Word? Jesus is the fulfillment of the Sabbath. He is our Sabbath rest. And if we’re “rest”-less, then perhaps it’s because we don’t rest enough in the Word, and we don’t seek our rest where “two or three are gathered,” where Jesus promises to be there with us—in preaching, the breaking of the Bread, and prayers.
Fresh from the rejection of His hometown, Jesus comes to the synagogue in Capernaum, and begins to teach. The people were all ears. What Jesus says amazes the people. He teaches as one who has authority: “You have heard it said, but I say to you…” That is different. Jesus’ teaching comes with the full blast authority of the Lord Himself. He speaks as the Lord Himself, because that’s who He is—the Lord. To hear Jesus is to hear it straight from the mouth of God Himself. And the Incarnate Word speaks the Word with power and authority.
Luke doesn’t tell us specifically what Jesus was teaching on this particular day, but he does let us hear Jesus’ own summary of it. To those who would have kept Him from leaving, Jesus says, “I must preach the Good News of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well” (Luke 4:43).
What is this Good News? Last week we heard Jesus say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And He added: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
What did Jesus preach about? Himself and His kingdom. Good News to the poor in spirit; liberty to the captives of sin, death, and the devil; recovery of sight to the spiritually blind. Jesus preaches about sin, forgiveness, and the kingdom that has come with His coming. In other words, pretty much the same message you hear every Sunday.
You can be sure that wherever the doctrine of Christ is being taught, the devil and his demons will be hard at work. You can preach social justice and morality until you’re blue in the face and the devil couldn’t care less. But preach Christ, His message of repentance and forgiveness, and all sorts of hell break loose. And so, an unnamed man with an unclean spirit jumps up in the middle of Jesus’ sermon and shouts: “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.”
Notice how the demons know who Jesus is, and they even speak the truth about Jesus. He’s the Holy One of God come to destroy the works of the devil. Right on every front. But this truth is a crooked truth, meant to distract, to short-circuit Calvary, to get Jesus off His baptismal road to the cross, to leak the secret with some unwanted advance publicity. Jesus is trying to bring His hearers along slowly, shaping their hearing and reshaping their expectations. But the devil wants to imprint his own image of “messiah” in the people’s minds. As marketing specialists or political strategists might phrase it: he wants to be the one who “frames the message.” Get people to think of Jesus in terms of power and politics so they forget about this cross and death and resurrection stuff.
Satan has no problem with you believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, as long as it diverts your attention from the cross and body and blood, death and resurrection. The devil loves “spiritualities” and “religions,” cross-less, bloodless gospels that are really no Gospel at all.
For that reason, I seriously doubt that Satan is too concerned about most of the Christianity you see on TV. The kind that talks about God giving you an easy and prosperous life if you only believe. The kind that avoids talk of sin and judgment but emphasizes the power of positive thinking. The kind that focuses on electing the right kind of people so we can set up our own kingdom here on earth. That kind of religion doesn’t bother the devil in the least.
And I’m sure the devil takes a certain amount of glee in seeing theaters and basketball arenas full of people congregating to hear words that will scratch their itching ears. For even though much of what those preachers say is true, practical, it is not the Truth that sets you free. They are false prophets, hirelings, wolves in sheep’s clothing—and even though their practical advice may offer a better life now, it will not bring you eternal life. You don't need every day a Friday; you need Good Friday!
What the devil hates is faith that trusts Jesus for forgiveness… faith that looks to Jesus crucified and sees life… faith that suffers all things for Jesus’ sake… faith that knows that Christ has conquered and in Him we conquer, too… faith that listens to and heeds the Word with power and authority.
In Luke, Jesus’ being the Christ, is a secret, hidden until the end when the resurrected Jesus walks with His disciples on the road to Emmaus. There, He begins to explain to them the necessity of His suffering and death. He interprets to them in all the Scriptures, from Moses and all the prophets, all the things concerning Himself. And they finally recognize Him in the breaking of the bread.
Later that night with the whole group gathered in the locked upper room, Jesus opens their minds to understand the Scriptures. He says to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
This is why Jesus came... why He was baptized... why He set His face to Jerusalem... why He preaches... why He casts out demons...why He heals mothers-in-law and those sick of various diseases. It is all leading to His death and resurrection. This is how the kingdom of God comes to us—by His rising and dying. And until that happens, until the world sees Him dead on a cross, they will not know or understand what it means for Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God. And neither will we. We will always try to reshape Jesus into something else.
With a word, Jesus silences the disruptive demon and restores order to the liturgy of the synagogue. “Be silent and come out of him,” Jesus commands. And the demon obeys. He must. He has no choice. He must obey the Word with power and authority. This is not simply persuasive preaching. Nope. This is a Word that cuts through the darkness, casts out demons, changes water into wine, cleanses the leper, and lifts the paralyzed man from his bed. This is a Word that declares with the authority of God that Baptism is your personal rebirth in Christ… that the bread and wine of the Supper is His Body given for you, His blood shed for you. This is a Word by which your sins are forgiven; you are declared saints in Christ. This is a Word that will raise you up from the dead on the Last Day.
You see, Jesus isn’t simply another preacher delivering a sermon, Jesus is the sermon—God’s Word with authority and power in human flesh. He is God’s sermon to the world. He was sent to preach the Good News. It’s the good news that you are pardoned, that your death sentence has been lifted forever. It is good news that gives sight to the blind, that opens the ears of the deaf, that causes the mute to shout out with praise and thanksgiving. It is good news that finds its fulfillment in your hearing, when you hear that God is at peace with you for Jesus’ sake, that your sins are forgiven by His blood, that you are free. Free from the commandments that condemn you—and make no mistake about it, the commandments do condemn you including the ones you think you are keeping.
You are free from the death that dogs you, that even though you die yet do you live in Christ by His power over death. You are free from the darkness and the demons that terrorize this world and may even terrorize you. They must be silent in the presence of Jesus. You are free from the diseases that plague you, all the effects of Adam’s sin, humanity’s sin, your sin. Yes, you get sick; sometimes you get better, sometimes you don’t. One day you’ll die of something. But Jesus has you covered. Nothing can harm you because He has your life in His hands.
This is amazing! This is Good News! Every other religion on earth is a religion of law—you earn God’s favor and your reward by the works that you do. We proclaim a new, completely different Word to this world: You are saved from your sin by the work of Jesus Christ. He has fulfilled the Law on your behalf. He has redeemed you from sin by His death on the cross. He is risen again and freely offers you forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life in His means of grace, by the power and authority of His holy Word.
In your Baptism, the same Jesus who casts out an unclean spirit in Capernaum, cleanses you with water and His Word. He sends the devil packing. “Keep your hands off this little one, because he or she belongs to Me.” No, you won’t have the shrieks and convulsion of the Gospel lesson (although from time to time we do have a good crier), but it happens nonetheless. The devil is just wily enough to sneak away these days and make you think that nothing special has happened. But the Lord speaks His Word with power and authority: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Baptism “works the forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare” (Small Catechism). By Christ’s authority, even little babies are forgiven. They have eternal life.
So do you! Because we declare this same Word with power and authority to you: In the name of Jesus you are forgiven. You come here to this congregating place with a variety of concerns, worries, and problems. Your Old Adam will whisper that the Word that you are forgiven is irritating—it’s an irrelevant waste of time, given all the troubles you have. The devil will make you think that your sins are too big to be forgiven, or that you have no big sins and can get by just fine all on your own. But it is not so. You are a poor, miserable sinner, who sins daily in thought, word, and deed. Repent and believe the Good News!
Jesus Christ lived the perfect life that you do not and cannot live. He died on the cross to take away the sin of the world—and that includes you! He rose again on the third day and ascended into heaven to the Father’s right hand. And yet, He is still with you always, coming to you with His very own body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.
In that Word and Sacrament, the Lord sends the devil scurrying away. He gives you His promise that He will use all things to your good, and that He will deliver you from this sinful world to life everlasting. Through the voice of His called and ordained servant, the Word with authority and power continues to declare to all who believe His Word and promises: You are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AmenClick here for an audio version of this sermon