Text: Luke 4:31-44
Date: Epiphany IV + 1/31/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
In Jesus Christ God came down from heaven to earth, to His world broken by sin, death and the devil, in order to fix it, to heal it, to restore it, to redeem it, to save and renew it. He came not only to “take us to heaven to live with Him there,” but to restore the creation itself to reflect His glory. To do this took nothing short of God Himself taking on our human flesh, the Creator becoming one with His creation, human flesh and blood with feet planted firmly on the ground. We confess this so clearly in the Nicene Creed, first by confessing the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God who was “begotten, not made.” As God Himself, “of one substance with the Father,” He is the eternal Creator, by whom “all things were made.” It is only as you get to the second part of that second article of the Creed that we confess and talk about the second Person of the Trinity as the incarnate God named Jesus. “Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven…and was made man.” The Son of God “was made man.” As a man He never gave up his divine nature or ceased to be the Son of God. He only “humbled Himself” to live under God’s Law as a man, empowered for His work only by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God; the same Spirit and Word that has been given to us.
In Nazareth, in His inaugural sermon in the synagogue, we heard His call document read and His acceptance of the task, “to proclaim good news to the poor…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” (Lk. 4:18-19). All of those words describe His chief work of “release,” to release the creation of the grip of sin and death, to forgive, to recreate. At first His hometown people were pleased at His gracious words. But as soon as He began to point out their refusal to recognize Him for Who He really is, they turned on Him and drove Him out of town.
Today’s Gospel reading describes what happened next, in rapid succession, the effect of His preaching in Galilee—the exorcism of an unclean demon from a man, the rebuking and removal of a fever from the apostle Peter’s mother-in-law, and the healing and delivering of many with sickness and demons in the surrounding region. In each and all of these vignettes at least two important points are made. First, the power and authority of Jesus’ word, and secondly, His identity as the incarnate Son of God.
How broken is the world when even among God’s people gathered for worship in the synagogue there would be “a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon” among them? What was he doing there, anyway? Where the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity it repels Satan and drives him away. Maybe, like so many otherwise Christian churches through various periods of history and even today, the preaching of God’s Word had become overlaid or even replaced with the opinions of men or with things that seem more relevant or popular like current events or movements in society rather than God’s Law and Gospel, preaching sin and grace, faith and salvation. So when the pure Word of God Himself suddenly was heard in that synagogue, it shook loose this spirit of an unclean demon in this man and made him cry out with a loud voice. In Greek it’s a crazy little word, “ea,” which is simply translated, “Ha!” Then, confronted by the Word of Truth, the demon is compelled to speak the truth, “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.”
First, how many demons are speaking here? The voice talks about “us,” and then in one breath speaks in the singular, “I know who you are.”
There are many demons under their prince, Satan. Next, they know that there is a place of everlasting punishment prepared by God just for them (Mt. 25:41) called Hell and their time is short. It is said that knowing the name of your adversary gives you a certain power over them. Therefore, it was “fightin’ words” when the demon said to Jesus, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” The demons know Jesus’ identity. But so many people are so slow to know and believe who Jesus really is, because the only saving knowledge of Jesus is by faith. “God’s Holy One” designates Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah.
Then Jesus speaks. He opens His mouth, takes a breath and commands, “Be silent and come out of him!” And with but a word of command the demon comes out. “What is this word?” the people ask in amazement. “For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And it is the same, mighty, powerful word of Jesus that does what He says, as when He says to you today, “Do not be afraid,” “I forgive you all your sins,” “I baptize you, you are mine,” “Take, eat and drink, this is my body and blood,” “Peace be with you.” He says it and, with the saying, gives just what He says. That’s why we do not tire or grow weary of the preaching of God’s Word, of speaking and proclaiming the beautiful, solid, trustworthy pure doctrine of the Bible, for it, and nothing else, and no other word is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).
This is what is going on among so many churches today, even in our own synodical fellowship. And it’s really easy to tell if there are demons sleeping there or if the power of God’s Word is active. For you can hear and identify a sermon or a liturgy that rightly speaks and divides the Law and Gospel of God’s Word, that talks more about what God has done, is doing and will do rather than what you “should,” “could,” or “ought” to do; or whether you are hearing some other message like merely self-help advice or something other than calling out and identifying sin and death and then proclaiming the work of Christ on the cross that defeated sin and death and the blessed assurance of the forgiveness of sin and new life mediated and applied by the means of grace, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, Holy Absolution.
Luke says Jesus “rebuked” the demon. He uses the same word, then, when he reports how Jesus stood over Simon Peter’s mother-in-law “and rebuked the fever, and it left her.” Which is worse? Demon possession or a fever? Never mind! There are many signs and symptoms of the brokenness of sin bent on destroying God’s good gift of life. Over each and all of these Jesus has come to save us. It is all based, of course, on His actual obedience to God’s Law and His actual act of dying on the cross. But the benefit of His Holy life and His sacred death are then applied to everyone who have faith in Him by the speaking and hearing and receiving of God’s Mighty Word. The great Martin Franzmann hymn says it in the words, “Thy strong Word bespeaks us righteous” (LSB 578:3). That’s all it takes; the speaking of the Word, the applying of the promise, and faith that hears and believes His Mighty Word.
To the unclean demon Jesus simply uttered the word of command. To Simon’s mother-in-law, Jesus stood over her and spoke a word of healing. To many, then, who were sick with various diseases “he laid his hands on each of them.” In each and all of these situations it was the word of Christ, delivered in various ways that had the power to deliver from the brokenness of sin.
Today, this same Jesus, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is the Lord who speaks release to you; release from the judgment and condemnation and deadly effect of all your sin; release from the power of the devil; and newness of life as St. Paul said of all who are baptized into Christ, “in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). The Christian faith and life is not just a dead orthodox doctrine that sits on a book shelf, but a walk, an activity, a life that is truly new, leaving behind the old, dead ways of the world, walking in the light, the resurrection light of eternal life with God. In the words of the new hymn by Kathleen Thomerson,
I want to walk as a child of the light.
I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world.
The star of my life is Jesus.
In Him there is no darkness at all.
The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God.
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus. (LSB 411)