|Luke #14 The Voice of Authority
The Voice of Authority
Reading: Luke 4:31-44
Introduction: I'm one of those people who have never gone in much for the real scary books and movie--too many nightmares when I was a kid. I remember having to walk out on the movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea when I was a child because it was just too scary. I'm not a fan, therefore of the Steven King books and movies like some are. Not a fan of the Friday the Thirteenth movies, have only seen excerpts of movies like the Exorcist or Alien. And yet, movies and television and modern writers have shaped my images of demons, like most of your images, more than by scripture. There are still other movies, other books, like Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness, movies like Ghostbusters that give us images of black or green slimy gargoyle-type figures that float around terrorizing people. We all know that such movies and books are fiction--they are unreal. With the possible exception of the claim this week that the Buffalo Bills are like Jason, demons and demonized people don't exist. You do hear stories from time to time that make you wonder about haunted houses and the spirit world. But at best, we all plead agnosticism with regard to such stories. We don't know. But we do know that somehow, whatever was happening in the days of scripture is not what's happening today.
You see, we all live in a world in which, for several centuries now, demons have been imaginative, not real. Demons have no place in a scientific worldview where natural law prevails and where we understand psychological and physical disorders as just that. In the first century, everyone living around the Mediterranean believed there was a spirit world that corresponded to the physical world. That spirit world of the heavens was filled with principalities and powers. The gods had their minions--the demons. Demons could be for humans or against them. The evil demons could surround people and even possess them, causing them mental and physical--but never moral--harm. That is, people possessed by demons were not in their right mind; they would sometimes act in ways harmful to themselves. The demons could take over the personality of the body they inhabited. But demon possessed people did not harm others; they did not act immorally; they were only a danger to themselves. It was not just a Jewish belief at the time of Jesus; it was a worldview, a way of understanding certain kinds of disorders in the lives of people.
Our study in Luke this morning brings us face to face with the gap between our own worldview and that of the first century when Jesus lived and Scripture was written. Remember that in Luke's story, Jesus has come from being tempted by Satan in the wilderness, where Satan was a very real presence--he was personified. There Satan had tempted Jesus to use power in ways that ultimately would be self-serving and Satan-worshipping if Jesus succumbed, but he did not. Jesus would not seek to be god himself--he came to serve God and worship God. When Satan left to await a more opportune time, Jesus came in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, being glorified by all. Then he went to his hometown of Nazareth, where he also preached in the synagogue. There he read from the scroll of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty the oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." But in Nazareth it was not the acceptable year of the Lord, for no prophet is acceptable in his own country. Rather than seeing and hearing the Lord's anointed one, the Lord's Messiah, all that these people could hear was Joseph's son, and soon they not only did not like his words, they were so incensed that they tried to kill him. But because it was not his time yet, he mysteriously slipped through the crowd trying to kill him and moved on to other places.
Today's reading could have been entitled "A Day in the Life of Jesus" because Luke presents a series of four episodes which appear to take place in a 24 hour period in and around Capernaum. It is the Sabbath, with Jesus once more teaching the people, but in Capernaum his words are not simply the gracious words of Joseph's son. Here people are astonished at his teaching because his word has authority. You need to know the difference here between how Jesus would have spoken and how the Rabbi's typically taught. Jewish teachers taught by telling stories of what other Rabbi's had said about a particular text or problem. After reading from Scripture, they would comment on the text by telling the various opinions of famous teachers from the past. What separated Jesus was that he simply told people what the text meant. His word was with authority--people understood immediately how different his teaching was because there were no other opinions, no other voices but his own, and his answers had power.
It is the context of Jesus speaking with authority and with power that we hear the outcry of one in the synagogue who is possessed by what Luke calls "an unclean spirit." In the third scene of our reading, these unclean spirits will be called demons. The person speaks in the plural, thus indicating that multiple spirits are occupying a single person. But what is amazing is that the demons, in contrast to the hometown folks of Nazareth, recognize precisely who Jesus is. "Have you come to destroy us?" they say. They recognize his power and their own vulnerability in his presence. Jesus did not go looking for them, but they are confessional before him! "I know who you are, the Holy One of God." In the third scene other demons identify Jesus as the Son of God. In each case Jesus silences their testimony because, even though it is true, it is from bad witnesses. Luke will demonstrate the same concern in Acts when Paul is followed around by a demon-possessed girl whose testimony is true, but she is not a credible witness. Here in Luke four, the testimony is true, but when it comes from unreliable sources, it is better silenced than given voice. Note also that there is no direct link in these stories between Satan, who tempted Jesus but left for a more opportune time--and unclean spirits or demons that obviously have no power to tempt and even are powerless before Jesus. We often think of demons as Satan's minions but that does not seem to be how they are presented here. They are evil, certainly, but evil in the sense that sickness and disease are evil. So Jesus speaks not just words of authority but also words of power. That power not only silences demons but also forces them to depart from the body of the person they inhabit, leaving the person unharmed. The audience is even more amazed at this and says, "What is this Word? What authority and power he has that he commands unclean spirits and they come out.”
Jesus then moves on and we are introduced to Simon when Jesus goes to his house in Capernaum. Two things are noteworthy about this incident aside from the healing that takes place. The first is that the story follows a pattern that we will become very familiar with over the course of studying Luke-Acts. Luke is fond of introducing a character by simply mentioning his name in one place, only to later give us much more detail, as that person becomes a main character in the story. So Simon is mentioned here but will have an ongoing and important role in the story beginning in chapter five. Secondly, Simon is married--it is his mother-in-law that is suffering from the high fever when Jesus arrives. The same word used with regard to demons is used here of the fever. Just as Jesus rebuked the demon, so he rebukes the fever. Simon's mother-in-law is immediately healed and she rises up to serve them. We should also note that the first story was about a man; this story is about a woman--Luke is fond of giving parallel stories for men and women throughout his account.
When the sun goes down and Sabbath rest is ended, people who have heard what happened earlier in the day come to Jesus--those who are ill like Simon's mother-in-law, and those suffering like the demon-possessed man. Those with various diseases and those with demons come. Jesus lays his hands on the sick. He once more rebukes the demons and will not let them speak when they know he is the Messiah.
Suddenly, Luke tells us it is a new day and Jesus goes off to a desert place by himself. The crowds must have started sounding a lot like Satan did when he was trying to get Jesus to use his power. Listening to the wonderful things people say about you can turn your head, make you forget who you really are, what your real mission is. They can make you want to stay where you are and revel in the glory and adulation. But Jesus says, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also." I will not forget my mission; I will not listen to crowds now any more than I listened to Satan in the wilderness.
Two things struck me about this day in the life of Jesus as I reflected on its meaning for 20th century enlightened Americans. Because our worldview is demonless we find ourselves explaining away these stories, deciding that whatever happened then was kind of a biblical time-period thing that came and went. When we explain away the phenomenon, we also tend to explain away the power. What an egotistical assumption we make when we assume that our own worldview, our own scientific and medical and psychological understandings, are not only the best, they are the only intelligent perspectives. The fact that we have re-labeled certain things as multiple personalities and given a specific medical name to diseases causing high fever does not necessarily prove our own worldview is the only intelligent one.
But more important to our own time and needs is the question of hearing that voice of authority. It was Jesus’ word of authority that triggered the reaction of the demon possessed man. It was the need to preach the good news to other cities that meant he could not stay and enjoy the glory and adulation of the throngs already coming to him in Capernaum. He came to proclaim good news to the poor as well as release to the captives. In a world that has become so smart, so sure of its own technology, so sure of its own set of cause and effect answers, who can hear the voice of authority today? From where does that voice emanate? Is not the body of Christ today called to be that voice in a world searching for answers it claims to already have but somehow is so dissatisfied? Voices of authority tried to crush religion and God for most of this century in Russia and Eastern Europe, but now who speaks with authority in those countries? In our own land, who has become so comfortable listening to our own goodness speak to the point that all too often, we no longer listen for the voice of scripture, but rehearse the opinions of our own voices? And beyond not listening to that voice, we also are not much interested in being mouthpieces for the voice.
We are called not only to hear that voice of authority in our time, through our own worldview--for better or worse--but we are also called to bear witness to that voice, to be that voice to a lost world. Does it have authority in our own hearts? Does the voice speak with any authority through us to a world begging to hear the good news?
Landon Saunders talked about hearing the voice a few weeks ago when he was here. He said that people come together for worship because they already have heard the voice. I believe that is true. I also believe that when we are together, that voice of authority is not absent but present. The question is, can you and I cut through the differences in worldview and the distance in time between now and the first century, and hear afresh the call of that voice, experience the power and authority of that voice, and even become the mouthpiece for that voice in our own world? When we speak of authority today, can we only talk about governments and armies and policemen, or can we speak of the Creator of the Universe, and a love so powerful and a voice so powerful that other solutions besides more police and bigger jails and longer sentences and better technology could be found.
Can you hear the voice this morning? Have you experienced the power and authority of his word in your life? Won't you experience that life changing power this morning by responding to his invitation as we stand and sing.
Delivered at Brentwood Hills, January 30, 1994 a.m.
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