Jesus at Work
Luke 4:31 – 44
Jesus at Work
Which miracle would you choose?
I wonder if you can engage your imagination for a moment and consider, when Jesus walked the earth, if it were up to you, what miracles would Jesus perform?
Yes, we’re in the realms of the hypothetical, don’t let that worry you, but if you were put in charge of mapping out Jesus’ ministry, of what he was going to do where, and particularly, what miracles he was going to perform, what would you choose?
The things that Jesus does, achieve particular goals, they communicate particular things,
So what miracles would you have Jesus accomplish?
Because there’s a spectrum of things that people want Jesus to do, isn’t there? The hugely significant, healing someone with a terminal illness, through to the other end;, people who pray for a car park close to the shops.
What would you have Jesus do?
Or change the question slightly,
Put yourself in Luke’s shoes, writing this history, which miracles of Jesus do you choose to record?
Here, at the outset of Jesus’ ministry, how do you want to get the ball rolling? Which of the miraculous things that Jesus does, is going to be one that kicks off, your historical account?
We know that Luke and the other authors of the New Testament have had to be selective. They haven’t included everything that Jesus did. In fact, the Apostle John, comments quite candidly, at the very end of his account of Jesus’ life, Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
It’s quite an extraordinary comment, don’t you think?!
But the point is, the authors have been selective.
There’s lots of stuff they’ve had to leave out, and so the bits that have made it in, they obviously think are important.
Today in Luke 4, we come to the first of Jesus’ miracles that Luke records.
And so we want to be asking, Why has Jesus done these things, what is he trying to communicate or demonstrate?
And then why has Luke recorded them, what does he want us to see and understand?
What do we learn about our world,
So let’s take a look.
5 time in Luke’s gospel, he tells us that Jesus heals someone on the Sabbath, a Saturday, and this one here is obviously the first.
The Sabbath was a day of rest, enshrined by God in the 10 Commandments, and the wider Old Testament Law.
On the seventh day God had rested from his work of creation, and so he commanded that his people rest from their work.
But by the time of Jesus, heaps of other additional rules had been added by the religious lawyers, and so even today, on the Sabbath observant Jewish people won’t flick a light switch, or press the button at a pedestrian crossing.
Now the fact that this happens on the Sabbath doesn’t really factor into the story here, it becomes a much bigger issue with the later healings, but let’s just notice, ready for later, that Jesus demonstrates that his understanding of the function of the Sabbath, its purpose for the people of God, is different to the prevailing religious view of his day.
Jesus teaches with authority
Now, as has been Jesus’ pattern, he teaches the people from the Scriptures, he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he taught the people
And as the eye-witnesses keep telling us, verse 32, They were amazed at his teaching, why, because his words had authority.
The scholars and teachers of the day taught , tradition. “This is what the teachers in days gone by have said.”
If you wanted to know what a particular part of the Bible says, the scribe or rabbi would turn to what other teachers had said, about that part of the Bible.
A sermon, tended to be just a great long string of quotations from long-dead scholars.
One of the most famous Rabbis of the first Century AD was a man named Eliezer ben Hurcanus, and right around this time, Rabbi Eliezer declared “I have never in my life said a thing which I did not hear from my teachers.”
Well, Luke doesn’t give us the content of Jesus’ teaching here, but we get it in other places, and Jesus doesn’t teach like that.
He doesn’t say, what others have said, about God’s Word. He opens the Scriptures and explains them to people.
“It says this,
It means that,
It’s fulfilled , today”, as we saw earlier in chapter 4.
Luke wants his us, to come away with a sense of the impact that Jesus and his message had on people.
Luke uses that word logos, you might have come across, it means word, but it can also mean a message.
See he could have said Jesus’ teaching had authority, but instead he chooses this way of saying it;, his word had authority.
Jesus doesn’t need to rely on tradition, his word itself, was enough.
And if we’re familiar with how the story progresses, in the book of Acts, Luke’s volume 2, Luke tells us that the word spread, the word grew. Which is not surprising ., because like I said last week, Luke likes to draw the parallels, between Jesus’ ministry on the one hand, and then the church’s ministry on the other, because he sees that just as a continuation of Jesus’ own ministry.
So Luke keeps dragging our attention back to Jesus’ word, his message, and the impact that this has on people.
There’s about to be some stuff that’s quite amazing, that people have never seen before, and really, are never going to see again, And yet Luke is determined that we understand that above all else, it was Jesus’ message,
What he said about God and his kingdom and his message, that people were amazed at.
See even down in verse 36, after Jesus casts out this impure spirit, All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are!
Jesus’ words are unlike any others’.
And so we come to this first miracle.
In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, 34 “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
What do we learn from Jesus’ miracles here?
So, like I said, our task is to learn something from what’s recorded for us. So what are we supposed to take away from Jesus’ interactions with these evil spirits here and in verse 41, and from the many healings that he performs?
There is a real spiritual realm, including evil spiritual powers
Firstly, and it may seem very obvious to you, Luke teaches us the reality of a spiritual realm, and a spiritual realm that includes, personal forces of evil.
There’s this double identification that Luke gives us, the man is possessed by a demon, an impure spirit.
In our society, the idea of a spiritual realm is kind of laughed off, or explained away.
Of course, go down to the Body, Mind and Psychic expo one weekend, or read the community notice board in any local shopping centre, and you’ll see that plenty of people believe in the spiritual realm, and not just its existence, but people are convinced that it impacts us.
But broadly speaking, our society is much happier to relegate the concept of the spiritual realm and evil spiritual powers to some time back there in a pre-scientific age, and we prefer to explain things wholly materially.
Now, there’s no doubt that in ages past there was much superstition associated with spiritual things, and that sometimes spiritual explanations were given to things that today we might say can be explained better by an understanding of mental illness or something like that.
But to discount the spiritual realities entirely would be a mistake, for clearly Jesus, creator of the world, he didn’t only learn about mental illness in the post-enlightenment era!
Clearly Jesus knew that he was engaging with the spiritual realm when he addresses this impure spirit.
If we insist that there is no spiritual reality, then we’re saying “Jesus is a liar.” OK? We’ve got to understand that that’s the logical and necessary extension of denying the reality of the spiritual realm.
When I read Luke’s gospel,
When I read the rest of the New Testament,
When I read the other historians, nothing about the picture of Jesus I’m presented with, leads me to the conclusion that he’s a liar, that he’s going to solve this man’s problem, which, clearly he does, doesn’t he? But I’m not convinced from the history that Jesus is going to solve this man’s terrible problem, and then attribute the cause to something else, to something that doesn’t exist.
The facts about Jesus, force me to consider the reality of the spiritual forces that he identifies as the source of this man’s suffering. “Come out of him!”, Jesus says to the impure spirit.
This first miracle of Jesus that Luke records, compels us to consider the reality of the spiritual realm.
This is something we can learn from our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, and even our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, who are much more aware of this reality.
But of course not everything is explained by saying it’s demon possession. Luke tells us that this man was possessed by a demon, an impure spirit,
Jesus speaks to the spirit,
The spirit responds to Jesus,
The Spirit then threw the man down before them all, verse 35, and came out
There’s plenty of evidence in this case, that Jesus is dealing with the forces of evil, but it’s not always the case.
There’s quite a lot of interaction between Jesus and people described as possessed by demons during his earthly ministry,
But surprisingly little said about demon possession before Jesus’ incarnation,
And surprisingly little said about demon possession after Jesus’ incarnation.
The Bible doesn’t explain everything by saying “spiritual forces are interfering directly in the lives of humans”,
But we don’t want to discount that possibility out of hand.
Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah
The second thing we see from Jesus’ interaction with these evil spirits, notice there are more of them in the next section,
We see an absolute identification of Jesus of Nazareth, as king, the Messiah.
See what this first demon says in verse 34, Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!
Then down in verse 41, these many demons were shouting, , “You are the Son of God!” But he, Jesus, rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.
Over the years, various people have tried to say, no such person as Jesus of Nazareth ever walked the earth.
Of course the problem with that theory, is that every scholar in every university history department around the world knows that it’s absolutely false!
There is no doubt about the existence of this Jesus among people who know and understand the history. Which is why, when Richard Dawkins, for example, wants to push his theory that Jesus never existed, he can’t find a professor of history, or an expert archaeologist to make his point, he has to trot out statements from a Professor of German, who has a theory about whether or not Jesus existed.
You can’t argue with the history and the evidence!
So then some people have turned their attention to trying to say that, “OK, so Jesus lived, but he was nothing special. He was just a teacher, a wandering rabbi, and he got himself mixed up with the wrong crowd, and got executed. And it was only much later”, this argument goes, in the second or third century, that people started attributing to Jesus, claims that he was the Son of God,
That he was the Messiah,
That he could do miracles, etc etc.”
So there was Jesus of Nazareth, but nobody thought he was God,
Nobody thought he was the Messiah until much much much later.
But once again, we’ve got a problem with the history, haven’t we?
Here’s Luke’s account of Jesus’ life, written down in about 62 AD, and we can fairly confident in the timing because of other events like the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD which would impact what’s going on here.
And so here, in Jesus’ lifetime, and written down within 30 years or so of Jesus’ lifetime, Jesus of Nazareth is identified as, the Holy One of God,
the Son of God!
And Luke tells us, these demons knew he was the Messiah.
Existing in the spiritual realm as these evil spirits do, they recognise something about Jesus that it takes most others, specifically the disciples, a long time to figure out.
But right back here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, these claims are being made about him.
There was a belief in the ancient world that knowing someone’s name, or the name of a spiritual being, gave you power over that being.
Think of the Fairy Tale Rumpelstiltskin, the Miller’s daughter is saved by this strange man, but when she reneges on the deal she made to give him her first born child, he gives her an out, if she can call him by name. And sure enough, she discovers his name, and, depending on which version of the story you read, Rumpelstiltskin either flees never to be heard from again, or falls into a chasm, or tears himself into pieces!
And sure enough, there was a report on the BBC in January about some recent research that traced that story back more than 4000 years. The idea of being able to have power over someone by using their name, was a superstition in Jesus’ day.
Maybe that’s why these evil spirits make such a point of calling Jesus by name and title.
And Jesus won’t let them speak, but it’s not because, they’ve got him beat, if they utter his name, his kryptonite, but, verse 41, because they knew he was the Messiah
There was such a collective expectation around the Messiah, and Jesus didn’t want that nationalistic fervour to distract from what he knew the work of the Messiah to be.
If the people try and make him king, he’s not going to be able to do, what he knows he’s come to do.
Right here at the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry, we see we cannot separate, the Jesus of history, Jesus the man, from the claims that Jesus is the Son of God, and the Messiah, God’s long-promised king.
Of course, this is also further evidence that what Jesus encounters here is not better explained by mental illness or something. These demons know stuff that nobody else seems to have figured out yet!
For everything that is wrong with them, they are evil, yes, absolutely, but they perceive spiritual realities, in a way that the human characters in this episode haven’t.
Which should all serve to make us cautious.
That is, it’s obviously possible to know stuff about Jesus, and yet, what, be allied against him.
It’s possible to understand that Jesus is the Son of God,
To know that he’s the Christ,
To realise that he’s the sinless, holy one of God, and yet need to be fearful of him, because he’s your enemy.
See, knowledge about Jesus, unaccompanied by faith in Jesus, is flawed, and faulty.
Don’t ever think that on that day when you die, that you’re going to stroll up to the Pearly Gates, and Saint Peter will direct you to a little desk, with a pencil and a piece of paper, so that you can the entrance exam!
You know, 10 multiple choice questions, “What do you know about Jesus?”
Is he A, the Messiah,
B, the Son of God, and so on and so on.
Now, of course, none of us are thinking it’s going to be like that, but there may be moments, when we imagine, when we confuse, knowledge about Jesus, for saving faith in Jesus.
Jesus’ interaction with these demons warns us not to satisfy ourselves with knowledge about Jesus, when what Jesus calls us to, is relationship and trust.
Jesus opposes and defeats the spiritual powers
And so that kind of leads into the third observation from Jesus’ miracles here, and that is that Jesus is completely and utterly opposed to these evil spiritual forces, and he defeats them.
These evil spirits clearly understand that Jesus turning up is bad news for them, don’t they?
If you have an ESV Bible, you’ll see that instead of verse 34 starting with go away, the word there is just translated ha! H. A. Exclamation mark!
And you might think, “How can the same word be translated either as ‘go away’ or ‘Ha!’?”! And the answer is that because it’s a strange little exclamation that really can mean anything! This is the only time this word is used in the Bible, and it’s an interjection, perhaps this even happens while Jesus is preaching in the synagogue.
I’ve always imagined that this bit unfolded at morning tea after the synagogue service was finished, but this man might actually be crying out, interrupting while Jesus is teaching.
This is the word you say, when someone jabs you with a pin, OK? We could re-enact Luke 4, I’ve got a pin here, does anyone want to be jabbed?! No probably not!
When I was a kid growing up, in my family, if someone hurt themselves, we’d say to anyone else who was there, “Did you learn any new words?”!
Do you get the sense of painful interjection and exclamation!
“Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?
This demon recognises that Jesus of Nazareth is absolutely opposed to his kind.
Again, when I was a kid, in Darwin, there were cockroaches , everywhere. If you went outside at night, or into a dark room, you could hear the scritch scratching of countless cockroaches, but as soon as you turned on the light, all you’d see is this quick blur, as they all scattered!
They’d flee for their lives, before the light,
Driven away, by the light.
That’s kind of the picture of these demons and evil spirits here. It’s not voluntary, of course, they’re not fleeing of their own accord, but they are driven away by the light,
They flee, before Jesus, as he drives them out.
They are absolutely powerless to stand against him.
Like with the question of Jesus’ identity, the fact that these impure spirits exist in a spiritual realm, seem to give them a supernatural insight into Jesus’ mission and purpose.
See the question in verse 34, have you come to destroy us?
Now he can’t mean, “Have you come from Nazareth?”
Jesus wouldn’t have needed to walk the 60 kilometres from Nazareth to Capernaum in order to defeat the forces of evil.
No, have you come must mean have you come from heaven to destroy us?
This evil spirit understands at least something of Jesus’ whole mission and purpose. The reason the Son of God appeared, the Apostle John says, was to destroy the works of the devil.
The Holy one of God, came from heaven, to destroy the works of the devil,
To break Satan’s power,
To crush those spiritual forces at work in the world, which enslave people, as in this case here, and to which people enslave themselves.
Jesus tells the spirits to be quiet,
He rebukes them,
He will not even let them speak.
There are no spells or incantations which were popular ways of trying to exercise power over the spiritual realm in Jesus’ day. It’s all done with his word.
All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!”
We mustn’t ever think, that the battle between Jesus and Satan, is like some evenly matched prize fight that drags on and on, and could go either way.
So in 1893, two boxers Andy Bowen and Jack Burke competed in what became the longest ever fight in boxing history. They were so evenly matched, that they fought for 111 rounds, with the referee winding up the match at 4 AM the next morning when neither fighter had the energy to come out of their corner. And after all that, the match was ruled a no contest.
Do you see how far that is, from this picture of Jesus versus Satan?
Satan and his agents are utterly powerless before Jesus. They can do nothing but be absolutely obedient, knowing that all these spiritual forces are ultimately going to be destroyed.
And this is a foretaste, of what happens through the rest of Jesus’ ministry.
The New Testament speaks of Jesus’ death and resurrection as his triumph over Satan. In Galatians, for example, the Apostle Paul describes how Jesus’ death in our place, Jesus living the perfect life that we couldn’t, and dying the death that we should have, in doing that, Jesus rescues us from evil.
He says to the Colossians, that Jesus disarmed the evil powers and authorities, and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross
Be assured, that the forces of evil, as destructive as they may appear,
As frightening as we might think they are,
They are powerless before Jesus.
The work that is begun here, points us towards, and is completed by, the work of Jesus on the cross.
Jesus restores God’s broken world
So Luke gives us one casting out in detail, and then many others, almost by the way. And he does a similar thing in demonstrating how Jesus brings healing, how he restores God’s broken world.
The headline story, is the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law.
Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon.
Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. 39 So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.
This is Simon who’s also called Peter, who goes on to be one of the leaders of the early church. Capernaum was his home town, and his mother in law is obviously unwell.
Notice that some people, and we don’t know who, obviously think that Jesus is able to do something for her. they asked Jesus to help her, verse 38.
Whoever it is, they’ve seen enough of Jesus, to ask for his help.
They’ve seen enough of what Jesus is capable of, to believe, to have faith, that Jesus can heal her.
I wonder, to what extent our faith in Jesus is a reflection of that.
Does, what we’ve seen, and heard, and understood of Jesus, drive us to him, for what we need?
Notice the same sort of language here as when Jesus encounters the forces of evil, Jesus rebuked the fever and it left her.
This is not to say there’s a particular evil spirit behind this illness,
But the language of rebuke carries the sense of “this isn’t how things ought to be.”
Jesus is saying “this is out of place,
This is what happens when there’s sin in the world,
And this isn’t what life in God’s kingdom is going to be like, So let me give you a little taste of what life in God’s kingdom is going to be like.”
he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.
Some people have got a little antsy at times, due to the fact that the first thing this woman does is to wait on Jesus and the others, as if Jesus only healed her so someone would give him his lunch!
No, the point is it’s instant,
Immediately she goes back to what she would otherwise have been doing with guests in her house.
And that specific example is followed by many many other healings.
At sunset, that is, the Sabbath finishes when the sun goes down, so people are free to travel, and bring friends and family, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.
Jesus provides a taste of the Kingdom of God
If you’ve ever looked sickness in the face, either for yourself, or with someone you love,
If you are burdened, daily, with the pain and suffering of bodies that wear out,
If the insidious grip of cancer or some other illness has reached into your family, and it’s made you cry out, It’s made you think, “Surely life’s not supposed to be like this”,
Jesus knows exactly how you feel,
And Jesus agrees with you.
And Jesus does something about it.
If you’ve ever been confronted by the reality of evil, those , seemingly doing the bidding of Satan;, tearing down,
Dividing, And haven’t we all been confronted by that? Whether it’s at a distance, in the news headlines, or up close and personal when people hurt us, or hurt those we love,
When we get a glimpse of the reality of evil and think, “things shouldn’t be like this”,
Jesus knows exactly how you feel,
Jesus agrees with you,
And Jesus does something about it.
What Jesus does here in Capernaum, it gives us, and those present at the time, a little foretaste of life in the Kingdom of God, a sample of what life is going to be like, when Jesus establishes God’s rule, visibly and permanently.
See, these are the previews, the appetizers! They prepare us, they get us ready for what Jesus is going to do, but these are just temporary.
Peter’s mother-in-law would have got sick again, and she did die.
There were other evil spirits wreaking havoc on people’s lives.
But Jesus can’t stay here and sort out all the problems. he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
44 And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
Jesus’ work isn’t finished until he has preached the good news of the kingdom of God, and brought about the kingdom of God through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
And we still wait for those aspects of the kingdom which we don’t yet see, but which we’re given a taste of here, we wait for them to become the normal reality;
For sin and evil to be done away with,
For sickness to be but a dim memory.
We still struggle with these things now, as those in Capernaum continued to do so after Jesus left them.
But we’ve been given the taste.
So which miracles would you choose?
We began with the question, “which miracle would you choose?”
What would you want to communicate about Jesus?,
Well clearly Luke’s chosen 2 types hasn’t he?
And he’s chosen them for a reason.
He wants us to know something of what the Kingdom of God is like,
He wants us to know what kind of Messiah Jesus is,
He wants us to , have a sense, of the power and authority that Jesus wields, just by his words.
We’re confronted in this section, by a powerful Jesus, aren’t we? We can’t escape that fact.
The idea of Jesus as a of good luck charm, who we just kind of whip out every now and then when we need a bit of extra help, that’s utterly incompatible with the picture of Jesus presented here, isn’t it?
See Luke tells us of these miracles, because he wants us to imagine, What if we were there?
What if we saw Jesus, face to face with the forces of evil, defeating them a hundred to nothing?
What if we saw Jesus heal a woman, immediately and completely, with just a word?
What kind of response to Jesus would that , necessarily generate within us?
I was checking the geography this week, Nazareth and Capernaum, and I came across a blog post of someone who was going to hike the tourist trail between these 2 towns.
Their opening line in the post was, Although I am not religious, religion itself is one of my greatest interests.
Now don’t worry about the language we might not describe ourselves as religious, but that kind of standing back, detached interest in Jesus, is the very thing we’re warned against here, isn’t it?
Even the evil spirits know who Jesus is,
But they will not taste the benefits of the Kingdom of God that he brings.