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“Missing the Point”

Luke 4:31-44
Bob DeGray
February 3, 2019

Key Sentence

The merciful authority of Jesus points us to the person of Jesus.


I. Authority in teaching (Luke 4:31-32)
II. Authority over demons (Luke 4:33-36, 41)
III. Authority over disease (Luke 4:37-40)
IV. Authority over demons (Luke 4:41)
IV. Authority in preaching (Luke 4:42-44)


So Gail and I flew to New Jersey last week to visit her parents. We landed at Newark International Airport and took the Airtrain to pick up a rental car. When we got off at the rental car station, we found the platform full of people, police and Airtrain agents, directing us down a narrow aisle to the escalators. We walked past an important looking man speaking to a small crowd, including reporters. He said something was “unacceptable.” As we descended the escalator Gail mouthed ‘who is it?’ to the Airtrain agent, and she mouthed back ‘the governor.’ And we believed it. There was no reason not to believe the testimony of an eye-witness. We did confirm it later with a Google search. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy was there to encourage funding for improvements to the train system, which is apparently old and broken down often. But everything in the situation pointed to it’s authenticity: the line of police cars out the window, the heavily armed state police, the cluster of reporters, the authoritative tone. What would have been foolish would have been to discount the situation, not admit something significant was happening.

All of this leads to today’s text in Luke. Jesus was announced, conceived, born, and grew in Luke 1 and 2. John the Baptist prepared the way for his ministry in Luke 3, and Jesus was baptized. In Luke 4 he was tempted in the desert. Later, as Murry showed, he shared his messianic claim at the synagogue in Nazareth. But only now, Luke 4:31-44 does he really begin to describe ministry. Luke wants us to see that it’s a ministry of utter authority, all kinds of authority that pointed to the significance of Jesus. Yet most of the people who saw them persisted in missing the point. Let’s not do that. Let’s let the authority of Jesus point us to the person of Jesus, the merciful, Holy, Son of God.

As I looked at this text it seemed structured as a chiasmus. That’s a fancy word for a passage that follows a series of steps to a central point, then backs out of that progression the same way. In this case each step is one of authority: he has authority in teaching, authority over demons, and authority over disease. Then we see again his authority over demons, and finally authority in preaching. Despite these demonstrations explicitly pointing to Jesus, the people of Galilee miss the point. Let’s not do that. Let’s embrace Jesus in Luke 4.

We begin with his authority in teaching. Luke 4, 31 and 32: And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.

Luke already mentioned Capernaum in verse 23 as a center of miraculous activity in Jesus’ ministry. But Luke has not described that ministry, possibly because he wanted the key inaugural moment at the synagogue in Nazareth to precede those descriptions. Nazareth was near the high point of Galilee, at 1200 feet, while Capernaum was down on the northeast corner of the lake itself, 600 feet below sea level. We’ll see in verse 33 that he was teaching in the synagogue, just as he had in Nazareth. There is, in fact, a remarkable ruin of a synagogue in Capernaum. Archaeologists believe this third century structure was built over an older one, quite possibly the one where Jesus preached.

We’re not told what Jesus taught here, but the way Luke puts it together we’re justified in assuming it was like his teaching in Nazareth – that he had come to preach the good news prophesied, and that the good news was fulfilled in Him. The result? Verse 32 “They were astonished at his teaching.” The Greek for "astonished" literally means "to strike with panic or shock." They were "struck with amazement." Kent Hughes says, “thunderstruck in their souls!”

Why? Verse 32 "Because his word possessed authority," or as the parallel in Mark has it, “because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law" Jewish teachers, Hughes says, were “in bondage to quotation marks.” For example, R. Elieser affirmed in the Talmud: "I have never in my life said a thing which I did not hear from my teachers." Their teaching was a chain of references, petty, legalistic, joyless, weightless and boring.

But when Jesus spoke, it was just the opposite. There were few quotation marks. His style was, "You have heard that it was said...But I tell you." He preached God's Word, not just about God's Word. His preaching of the Law and the Prophets was clear and simple. Moreover, Jesus spoke with authority because he was in fact the Son of God, as Luke has been at pains to show us. He had authority. And finally, his preaching had authority because it was empowered by the anointing of the Holy Spirit He had received. Jesus spoke the words that the Spirit used to strike, to astonish the hearts of his listeners. His words still have this authority today, the authority of God’s very word to us and the authority of the Spirit’s sword, striking us deeply and to the heart that we might respond to them. The authority of Jesus brings us to the person of Jesus, his heart.

His authority, Luke shows us, was not just to amaze or astonish, but also had power, even over the demonic. Verses 33 to 36 In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34“Ha! 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.”

35But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” When the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out, having done him no harm. 36They were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!”

In that synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. And the demon can speak with the man’s voice. He cries out in a way that clearly points to the person and work of Jesus, though the crowd will for the most part miss the point “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.”

Jesus is confronted by demonic activity during the first public ministry described by Luke. As Walter Liefeld says “the "good news of the kingdom of God" Jesus was proclaiming signaled an attack on the forces of evil…. A holy war is being launched and, as verse 34 suggests, the demons know it.” The demon gives a strangled cry of displeasure, "Ha!" and the question "What do you want with us?" is a rhetorical question. meaning, "Don't meddle with me" or "Leave me alone." The evil spirit wanted Jesus to go away. The next phrase, also stated as a question, "Have you come to destroy us?" is really a shout of defiance: "You have come to destroy us!" It was an instinctive cry of dread. The demon knew Jesus could destroy or eternally condemn him. Then came a dramatic final cry: "I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" The demon was not trying to ingratiate itself with Christ. but was frantically attempting to bring the Lord under his power. It was widely believed that the exact knowledge of another’s name brought mastery or control over him.

This was a desperate attempt to subdue Christ. But it was not inaccurate. Holy One is one of his names. It’s a title, used fifty times of God in the Old Testament, the Holy One of Israel. But in Luke 1 the Angel Gabriel called Jesus ‘the holy one.’ And here the demon gives this name to Jesus. Jesus is being recognized as God. He is being called deity. But why do the demons know this? In the gospels, when a demon speaks, he almost always identifies Jesus by some important title of recognition. The Son of God, the Holy one of God, the Son of David. They know who Jesus is. For a long time the only persons who do recognize him are these demons - and he repeatedly tells them to be quiet. Yet in another sense they were left free to say this by God. He allowed them to speak, and it can only be so that they would be a witness to this Son of God, to point to his deity, his power and his authority. Jesus did not want to be recognized as a political messiah, he didn’t want his followers thinking about thrones or earthly power. But he did want them to see what Peter eventually saw, that he was the Christ, the son of the Living God. And the first people who pointed to that, after God himself, were these demons.

We next see that Jesus has the power, he has the authority to master the demons. There is never a hint in the Gospels that a demon can stand up to him. Jesus, in his usual simplicity, just tells the demon to be quiet, and to come out. The demon complies, without even injuring the man he had possessed. These few verses, like many others in the Gospels, reveal to us a key understanding of the war we’re involved in. There is an enemy, Satan, and he does have forces, demons, who still today seek the harm of God’s people. We don’t want to turn a blind eye to that power or take it lightly. But even the demons know that Jesus has ultimate, effortless authority over them. When we cry out to the one who is with us, through the Spirit living within us, every demon is routed, blown out like a match in a hurricane. I don’t believe we get to order demons around the way he did, but I believe he still orders demons around with infinite power, and we get to cry out to him. He loves us, hears us, protects us.

The people of Capernaum recognized this authority, though they didn’t recognize the one it pointed to. And they were all amazed - there’s that term again, thunderstruck - and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” There are positive aspects to the crowd’s response. They clearly connect his teaching to his power over the demon. They say “what is this word?” The same powerful word that taught with authority is now effortlessly deployed against the forces of the evil one, here called “unclean spirits.” But unlike the demons, they do not link the power of Jesus to the person of Jesus. They wonder what word can have this authority. The demon recognized it was Jesus of Nazareth who had this authority, that he was the Holy One of God. May it be so for us, that the power and authority of Jesus would draw us to the person of Jesus.

In fact this was not just a ministry of power and authority, but one of mercy. Over and over in the Gospels we are told that Jesus had compassion on the people he ministered to, whether in teaching, healing or driving out demons. Certainly for this man, cruelly possessed by the demon, the freedom Jesus gave him was a wonderful mercy, a rescue from oppression, as promised in the ministry theme passage in Isaiah 61 that Murry preached on.

Luke goes on to show us Jesus’ mercy in his authority to heal. Verses 37-40: And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region. 4And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. 39And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them. 40Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them.

After casting out the evil spirit in the synagogue, Jesus went to Simon’s home. He must have already had some relationship with Simon, though this is the first time he’s mentioned in Luke. This is another clue that Jesus had already spent time in Capernaum. He goes there as the Sabbath is ending, probably to eat and sleep. But he finds Simon's mother-in-law sick with a high fever. Notice that Simon had a mother-in-law, which implies he had a wife. The only other mention of her is in 1st Corinthians, where Paul says that some of the Apostles, including Peter, Cephas, travel with their believing wives. Notice also that Luke describes this as a high fever. Luke was a physician. It would be significant to him that she had a particular kind of fever. In fact, what he implies is that this was something really serious, even life-threatening.

Jesus, coming into the house, and finding her there, does something that was to become characteristic of his ministry. He heals her. In this particular case, he heals by rebuking the fever, just as he rebuked the demon a few hours before. This could mean that this fever had been brought on by Satan, but more likely it means that Jesus didn't always make the distinction between demonic and natural causes of suffering. Later he even rebukes the forces of nature - the wind and the waves. All things were under his power and subject to his decree.

Jesus heals her fever, and immediately she gets up and begins to serve them. I love that response on her part. One minute she is sick and in bed, suffering, and the next minute she is up, and chooses to serve them. There is no evidence that Jesus commanded her to serve him, no implication he healed her so she could get dinner on the table, but this is the response of a grateful heart to the Lord's loving kindness. This is why we serve. We aren’t under compulsion, we aren’t under law. We are joyfully liberated and joyfully healed people who free serve in response to what the Lord has done for us.

Jesus was known for this healing mercy. That same evening, at sunset, the people began to bring their sick to Jesus. It had been a Sabbath day. The people had been restricted in travel and in carrying burdens. But with sunset, the new day began in Jewish reckoning, so the people came out, bringing to him those with all kinds of sicknesses. And laying his hands on them, he heals them. By his simple touch, filled with the power of God, filled with authority, filled with compassion, Jesus rescues from sickness. As R. Kent Hughes says “Jesus' method, [laying on of hands,] radically new, was symbolic of the outflow of divine power. Moreover, here it conveyed divine tenderness to the needy.” In this outpouring of Christ's power, all history was meant to see that his kingdom authority is not an impersonal force. It is unequaled power to be sure, but it was personally and lovingly administered in Jesus' tender hands.

That’s the point for us. Jesus still has absolute power to do anything needed in our lives, from simple provision to miraculous release, rescue and healing. And that power is still exercised with tenderness and compassion. That’s the ministry of Jesus. I’ve listed before the verses in the Gospels that explicitly identify Jesus’ compassion. What’s fascinating is that his areas of compassion and his areas of authority directly overlap. In Mark 6 he had compassion and began to teach them, as he does here. In Matthew 14 he had compassion and began to heal them as he does here. In Mark 9 he had compassion and cast out a demon, as he does here. The Gospel writers make it clear we have a Savior infinite in power and authority but expressing that power in compassion.

As we quickly reverse the progression, Luke reinforces that Jesus has authority over the demonic, and authority in his preaching. Verse 41 Demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

There we go again. The people may not know who Jesus is, but the demons do. Remember the demon in the synagogue already pointed to Jesus of Nazareth as the Holy One of God. Now we find two more titles in the demon’s cries. “You are the Son of God.” The last time we heard that was the voice of the Father himself at the baptism. And the demons “knew he was the Christ.” The angel had proclaimed to the shepherds that the baby in the manger was “Christ the Lord.” Simeon had waited and had finally seen “the Lord’s Christ.” The demons know this as well, but it’s not until Luke 9 that Simon Peter gets it. “Who do you say that I am?” “The Christ of God.” For now only the demons are pointing to Jesus and he’s hushing them because the people are missing the point. They see his authority, but they don’t see his person, his rescue.

In the last few verses we see that Jesus has authority to preach Good News. This is parallel to the authority we saw at the start of the passage, authority in teaching. Verses 42 to 44 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 43but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

Mark tells us that early in the morning Jesus got up and went to a solitary place to pray. But Luke focuses on how the people looked for him. When they discovered he was moving on to other towns, they tried to persuade him not to go. Maybe they thought if they kept him in their village no one would ever get sick, no one would ever be attacked by the enemy, no one would ever suffer. His compassionate ministry would give them reason for such hopes.

In response to this Jesus tells them one of his key purposes in ministry. Verse 43: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” This is the reason that the Spirit has anointed me, that the Father has sent me: that I might preach good news about the kingdom of God, not just to one isolated village, but to all the villages: ultimately, to all of the world. This is the heart of Jesus, that they had missed.

This is also the first time in Luke that Jesus has mentioned the Kingdom of God, This was the central focus of Jesus’ teaching. It was the reality of the kingdom of God, the arrival of the kingdom of God, the behavior of those who were part of God’s kingdom, that preoccupied this teacher. He mentions it thirty-seven times in the Gospel of Luke alone. And what he meant by the kingdom was the present rule of God in the lives of his followers, and the future reign of God over the earth. Luke 17: “Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." The kingdom is within, the rule and reign of God in a life he’s redeemed, then in a community he’s created. But it is also a future kingdom. Matthew 16 “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” A present kingdom where Jesus as Savior reigns over his people’s heart, and they rely on him by faith. A future kingdom where he sets all things right, makes all things new and reigns eternally.

So he left Capernaum, to preach this message in the synagogues of Judea. Judea usually refers to the area around Jerusalem, but occasionally it is used, as here, for the whole region. The focus of these verses is on preaching. It’s not the same word used for teaching back in verse 31, the common Greek word for formal education of the young. The word in verse 44 is kerusson, to proclaim or to act as a herald, blowing the trumpeted about something. This word has been taken up by theologians, used for the core, the central thing Jesus and the early church taught. The only problem is that theologians can never agree on what the kerygma really is. They ought to read these verses, because the word is used in parallel to verse 43, where Jesus says ‘euangelizomai.’ I must evangelize, I must preach the good news, as ESV has it, in the other villages.

The kerygma, the core teaching of Jesus is the good news of the Kingdom of God. That is what he came, with authority, to teach, proclaim and live. That is what made an impact on his hearers at the heart level, unlike the other teachers they had heard who didn’t preach good news, were not anointed by the Holy Spirit.

But I have to tell you as I close that this good news of the Kingdom is not just the saving sacrifice of Jesus that we will remember in a few minutes when we take communion. It is that, but it is not just that. By his sacrifice Jesus saves us from sin, cleanses us and brings us into the Kingdom. He makes us right. But the kingdom makes everything right. All the death, mourning, crying and pain that are part of the fallen world will begin to be put right in the now kingdom’s subjects and in its community, the fellowship of the redeemed. But in the not-yet-kingdom the groaning of creation will be put right. In the not-yet-kingdom disease will be put right. It will be no more. In the not-yet-kingdom oppression, whether human or demonic will be put right. It will utterly cease. In the not-yet-kingdom ignorance will be put right. They will all know the Lord from the greatest to the least. And in the not-yet-kingdom this all too human tendency that we see in Galilee, to see the power and miss the person of Jesus, the heart of Jesus will be put right. We will all know him not as head knowledge but as heart reality.

So the authority of Jesus points to Jesus. His teaching was authoritative. But it’s the teaching, the good news of the Kingdom that’s important, not the authority itself. His dominion over the demonic was authoritative. It shows that he is God. But it is his compassion for the oppressed that is important. His healing was authoritative. Who else could heal with a word, even today? But it is his mercy toward those suffering in a fallen world that is important, and his promise, in word and deed, that one day all will be well. The authority of Jesus testifies to the divine mercy and compassion of his incarnation.