Sunday, January 31, 2010

Epiphany 4 Sermon -- Luke 4:31-44 (LSB Epiphany 4C)

January 31, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“Jesus went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And He was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority. . . . And they 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!’”

A Man walks off the dusty streets of a rural town and stands in its assembly hall. He reads from ancient writings in a stentorian voice, so that all can hear. Then He gives commentary about what He just read. But what comes from His mouth is unlike what the people usually heard. His words have gravitas. His statements carry the sense that what was told centuries before is completely true—true in the here and now. The people listen, enthralled by what the Man says because it hits them in their hearts, minds, and souls.

This is the depiction which the Gospel Writer gives about Jesus in the Capernaum Synagogue. Jesus teaches the people of that Galilean town. And what the people hear emanating from His mouth amazes them: “They were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority.” Jesus’ teaching was unlike what the Capernaum faithful usually heard on the Sabbath. They got no simple commentary from Jesus, no moralizing, no trite message of hope. Instead, as they heard Jesus speak, it was as if the author of the Scriptures was there retelling what He Himself had written.

“They were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority.” The authority was there because the Author of the Scriptures actually was standing in their midst. They were hearing the Incarnate Word of God speaking the Word of God. Jesus was speaking from His heart, mind, and soul to the hearts, minds, and souls of the Capernaites. And with that word came the full authority of the Lord God Himself. The faithful people of Capernaum heard the voice of Him who brought Creation into being through His words, who gives life to the dead, who calls into being that which did not exist.

As the people of Capernaum received Jesus’ teaching, they also received its benefits. Unlike the people in Nazareth’s synagogue who drove Jesus away, these people hear “the good news of the kingdom of God.” They are given the privilege of being witnesses of the Promised Christ’s work. And they are helped by it. For notice what else happened in Capernaum on that Sabbath Day! “And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘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.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm.”

The Capernaum synagogue sees the mastery which the Christ, the Holy One of God, has over the forces of evil. Jesus liberates one of their own from his bondage to Satan. The man is freed from that physical and spiritual affliction. Jesus demonstrates that what the demon said about His identity is true. Jesus proves that He is “the Holy One of God.” And this revelation astonishes again the crowd: “They 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!’”

What is this Word, indeed! It is what Jesus is. Speaking and commanding from His essence, from His being, Jesus has dominion over the unclean spirits. And His authority spills out into the streets of Capernaum. Going into Simon’s house, He heals Simon’s mother-in-law: “He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.” Speaking from His being, Jesus has dominion over diseases. His words carry authority that nothing can resist or withstand. They accomplish what they say. So when Jesus speaks to benefit the people of Capernaum and they see what His word brings about, they are overwhelmed with joy and amazement.

The amazement and joy which the Capernaites had led them to welcome Jesus. The Gospel-Writer records: “When it was day, [Jesus] departed and went to a desolate place. And the people sought Him and came to Him, and would have kept Him from leaving them.” The faithful of Capernaum wanted Jesus in their midst. They wanted to keep His word among them. “But Jesus 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.’” “His word that possessed authority” must be spoken in other places, so that others may hear, believe, and benefit from it. And so “Jesus was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.”

Everything that happened in Capernaum revealed Jesus’ identity. Witnessing with amazement, the people learned that Jesus is the Promised Christ, the One who would bring liberation and deliverance from what enslaved the world. Preaching authoritatively in the synagogue, Jesus works against doubt and unbelief. Commanding authoritatively, Jesus battles the demonic. Speaking authoritatively, Jesus overcomes disease and death. He is victorious over what had bound His creation. That is “the good news of the kingdom of God which Jesus discloses to the people of Capernaum.

But Jesus’ statement is vital: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” What happens in Capernaum doesn’t stay in Capernaum. It spreads to other towns where Jesus goes and speaks His authoritative word. It spreads to other places, wherever the authoritative words and works of Jesus are declared and proclaimed.

“The good news of the kingdom of God is spoken here in Mechanicsburg. For Jesus is preaching in the assembly halls of Pennsylvania. His authoritative word is here among you. It has been brought and left here according to Christ’s command. Jesus teaches here on the New Sabbath, the Day of His Resurrection. And as you hear His authoritative word, you also can be astonished and amazed.

This is what happens as the kingdom of God is expanded among you. Jesus achieves this through His authoritative word that He puts into the mouths of His servants. Just like He did with Jeremiah, the Lord God says to His servants: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have set you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” He authorizes others to speak His authoritative word with its full weight.

And so in this, your assembly hall, you may hear and be amazed. You have Jesus’ preaching and teaching repeated to you on Sunday and other days when the faithful of Calvary, Mechanicsburg gather. But it is more than a repetition—Jesus is speaking again, as He did in Capernaum! You hear His authoritative word cast out the spirits of the unclean, as spoken in baptisms: “Depart, O unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit!” And it is so. You hear Jesus’ authoritative word remove guilt, as spoken in the Absolution: “Your sins are forgiven you!” And it is so. You hear that same authoritative word rebuke the spiritual fever of hellfire and damnation: “You shall not have these disciples of Mine as your victims!” And it is so. On the Last Day, you will hear the authoritative word of Jesus say to the grave: “Open up and release My people!” And it will be so.

This is what the authoritative word of Christ brings about. And it is astonishing and amazing. It was amazing enough when it causes visible effects, as it did in Capernaum. The people’s eyes saw and were amazed. But it is even more astonishing when its effects are outside the range of vision, but still take place. Your eyes may not see and be amazed, but your hearts, minds, and souls know and realize that Christ’s authoritative word has had its way with you. They are astonished and overjoyed because Jesus has spoken in your midst, because His word—“the good news of the kingdom of God”—has come to you.

Because Jesus is the Holy One of God, the Son of God, His word accomplishes what it says. Nothing can resist or withstand it. And that Word says that you have benefited by what Christ has done, that you have been made part of the kingdom of God. So you have heard the good news. What Jesus does and what Jesus says is meant for you. He has come and has brought you the pleasure eternal. He has revealed His true identity to you—that He is your Deliverer, your Redeemer, your Champion over everything that enslaved you.

So you may pray with the Psalmist: “In You, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. . . . Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; You have given the command to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress.” His authoritative command has been spoken in your midst. Jesus says that you are His, that you have been saved, that your captors will be cast out. As Jesus speaks—as He speaks again here and now—so it shall be for you, just as it was in Capernaum and in every place where His people gather in His Name and hear His authoritative word.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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