February 3, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“And [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.”
It’s the Sabbath, and Jesus shows up in the synagogue. You may have heard the Gospel Reading begin and wondered why it was being read. Didn’t we hear this last Sunday? Jesus goes into a synagogue on the Sabbath because it was His custom. He reads the Scriptures there and teaches the people. They won’t like it because they think Jesus is just some sort of impostor or pretender. He’s a Galilean, just like them. What does He know about the Scriptures? And how do they even speak about Him? That’s what you heard took place in Nazareth.
But as you heard what took place in Capernaum—another city of Galilee—there was a notably different reaction. Jesus speaks, and the people listen. They hear what He has to say. But they also receive His teaching, recognizing that it carries something that the other speakers in their synagogue did not have. They note that Jesus is wielding a power, an authority: “[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.”
This is what the people in Nazareth would not acknowledge. When Jesus spoke there, the people showed amazement at what He said. But their amazement was not a positive reaction to what Jesus said. They would not accept Jesus as being anything more than Joseph’s son. The claim that Isaiah had prophesied about Him and what He would do was dismissed. The Nazarenes wanted to push Jesus off a cliff because of what He said. But when the people of Capernaum hear that message from Jesus, they receive it as something precious to possess.
The authority that Jesus carries is shown further in another action that takes place in the Capernaum synagogue. You heard of the presence of someone who doesn’t really belong: “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.’” The demon stands as a challenger to Jesus’ authority. It is a usurper who has taken what does not rightfully belong to it. Jesus demonstrates His authority through what He says: “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.”
What is shown in this action? That Jesus holds power over all spiritual things. This Man from Nazareth bears authority even over the realm of the invisible beings. And He exercises that authority for the benefit of people, so that they may be under His rightful rule and not enslaved by what does not recognize that order. Jesus gives the command, and the demon must comply with it. He speaks, and it must obey. And the people notice this about Jesus’ speech: “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!’ And reports about Him went out into every place in the surrounding region.” The people of Capernaum recognize that Jesus’ words had authority. Jesus’ authority comes from His identity. It is what He bears as the Incarnate Lord. And He bears it with a purpose. He has come to exercise His authority, to bring His rule into this world where there is all sorts of opposition to it. That is His agenda. It is revealed in His actions: preaching with authority, casting out demons, healing the ill and infirm. This is what Jesus declares to the people at the end of the Gospel Reading: “The people sought Him and came to Him, and would have kept Him from leaving them, but 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.’ And He was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.”
What Jesus speaks is authoritative. His words carry all His power and ability as the Holy One of God. He is sent to speak them. But those words accomplish two different results. The words of the Incarnate Lord accomplish the same things as the words that the Lord gave His prophets to speak. Recall what you heard concerning the call of Jeremiah to be a prophet. The Lord gives Jeremiah the authority to speak for Him: “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” And the Lord gives Jeremiah the words to speak: “Then the Lord put out His hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’”
The Lord’s statement concerning His words and His authorizing of Jeremiah to speak them show the two different actions that are accomplished. The Lord’s words will pluck up and break down, destroy and overthrow. This happens as His authority is exercised in judgment, as His words of conviction and condemnation are spoken. It took place in Nazareth when Jesus spoke against the people who were rejecting Him, comparing them to their ancestors who rejected Elijah and Elisha. It also happens in Capernaum, as Jesus rebukes the demon in the man and rebukes the fever in Simon’s mother-in-law, expelling them both.
But such authoritative speech is not frozen in time. It is heard in this place where the Lord’s people gather. The Lord speaks conviction and condemnation here. His authoritative words are spoken by people sent to preach them. Those words carry the divine ability and power. They pluck up and break down, destroy and overthrow. What are the targets of such words? The unrighteous acts that you have done, all the sins that you have committed. But there is more than just the listing of the wrong actions you have performed. The Lord addresses your unrighteous character. The exposition of that was found in the apostle’s words to the Corinthians. Take the things that he says concerning love and find the opposite: impatience and meanness; envy and boasting; arrogance and rudeness; insistence on your own way or no way; irritability and resentfulness; joy at wrongdoing. Those are the descriptions of what is not right in your lives. They testify to what is wrong even in the life of this assembly of believers gathered together. The Lord’s words spoken against them begin to tear them down.
However, the reaction to that can be like what took place in Nazareth. Wrath boils up. You don’t want to hear it. You take offense at the one who dares to speak them. But those words of truth must still be spoken and received. The plucking up and breaking down, the destroying and overthrowing must take place. You must hear the rebuke that comes from Jesus’ mouth and from those He has authorized to speak is given. You must experience it. Why? Because that rebuke casts out what is unclean and points out what is harmful. It is not to bring you to total destruction; it is actually to cleanse and purify you, so that you may live. The kingdom of God is coming here, as Jesus says.
“[T]he good news of the kingdom of God” must also be spoken. That authoritative word of Jesus must also be spoken. It brings benefit to you through building and planting. What type of building and planting? The giving of a new life, the creation of a new will, a restoration of a status that you were meant to have. This is what “the good news of the kingdom of God” is all about. The good news is that Jesus has come and done what is necessary to place you under His rule. He has come and rebuked what is evil and destructive. He has come and atoned for all the wrongdoing that you have committed. He has come and driven a stake in the heart of the Usurper, the one who desires to be your tyrant. He has come and endured affliction in your place. He has come and swallowed up the den of death with His life. Jesus has come and shown you the Lord’s favor.
This is “the good news of the kingdom of God” that is preached in this assembly. Jesus does not only come with words of conviction and condemnation. He also speaks words of pledge and promise. That is what builds and plants. His words reconcile and forgive; they create and sustain. Such words are astonishing: the divine became human; God died and rose for you; the Lord’s power and authority are found in this place. But those words are heard with your ears, and you recognize the authority behind them. You recognize how they show the salvation meant for you. And when that happens, there is a clamoring for what they bring. You want Jesus and His authority present among you. The desire for divine characteristics is created in you: to be patient and kind; to avoid envy and boastfulness, arrogance or rudeness; to insist on following the Lord’s way; to be cheerful and content; to find joy in virtue and righteousness. You know this is not how you naturally are; it is what the Lord builds and plants in you.
Not only do you want it for yourself; you desire its presence to bring the same life and gifts to others. The recognition of Jesus’ authority found here causes the same reaction shown in Capernaum: “Now 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.” The people of Capernaum received the truth about Jesus and His authority. So they brought all sorts of individuals to Him, so that these could also benefit from what they had heard. That is the action found among you, when you receive the truth about Jesus and His authority and as you receive and hear the truth of His words that cut down and build up. What you have experienced is the Lord’s favor that Jesus displays. You want others to have the same forgiveness, life, and salvation that Jesus’ divine and authoritative word of pledge and promise distributes wherever it is preached.
This is what Jesus’ appearance in the Capernaum synagogue reveals. He bears authority to rebuke what is sinful and destructive. But He also bears authority to speak the words that build up and plant. You are part of the kingdom of God that He ushers in. You have the salvation He brings. Recognizing Him as the source of it, you now make Jesus the subject of what comes from your mouth—your prayers and praises: “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…. My mouth is filled with Your praise, and with Your glory all the day.” So it is for you who believe the truth about Jesus’ authority, as you welcome and receive Him.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.