Sermon preached on Luke 4:31-44 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 08/22/2021 in Novato, CA
As we consider Jesus’ ministry of the Word in todays passage, it would be helpful to see it in light of last week’s passage. Last time, we saw Jesus explain his ministry at that time to his hometown of Nazareth. He used a prophecy from Isaiah 61 in verses 18-19 to describe his ministry as one who is anointed by God to give the gospel of God’s liberating power and healing. After Jesus read that prophecy, he said that by reading it, he fulfilled it. So then, that is what we continue to see him literally doing in today’s passage. While the people of Nazareth wouldn’t receive him, we see how the town of Capernaum received him well. There he brings that same prophesied ministry of the word in power, liberating and healing the afflicted. So then today we’ll see Jesus’ powerful ministry as a prophet and apostle of God to preach the good news of the coming kingdom of God.
Let us then begin in our first point to consider the power which Jesus’ word possessed. We see this stated in verse 32, that his word possessed authority. Now, if we just heard that statement by itself, we might just assume it means he spoke with a boldness or with a tone of command. But the context shows us that this had much more in mind. The passage immediately shows us what kind of authority it had in mind in the exorcisms. In verse 35, Jesus’ word commands a demon to leave a man. In verse 40, we see that he does the same for many others. Verse 36 then explains this by saying that his word came with both authority and power. In other words, for Jesus’s word to possess authority, it means that his word had power over the demons. At the command of his word they had to obey. By his word, he exercised control over demons.
But that’s not all. The power of Jesus’ word was also seen in how he healed people. We saw how the passage gave one example of Jesus rebuking an evil spirit from one man and then it described how Jesus exorcised many such demons there in Capernaum from people. Likewise, we see an example of one person healed with Simon’s mother-in-law in verse 38. This Simon is that beloved disciple Peter who was also named Simon, by the way. But notice in verse 39 that he rebukes the fever like he rebuked the unclean spirit. He spoke that fever out of her and she was healed. Then verse 40 describes a whole mass of other people from Capernaum that he later healed that same day. So, we see here that his word contained power and authority not only over demons but even over sickness and disease, amazingly!
Notice the effect that this fact had on the people. When they recognized the power and authority in his word they were astonished and amazed, verses 32 and 36. They ask in bewilderment, “What is this word?” They see the inherent power of his word, but they are at a loss to explain it. Of course, the facts speak for themselves. It’s what was said in that Isaiah prophecy. As the incarnate Son of God, he has been anointed by God with a ministry of word in power. We today look at what we did and rightly recognize the wonder of his miracles, but there is a sense in which we aren’t astonished and amazed the way they were because we know who Jesus is. The text focuses his power and authority in his word, in what he was saying, but we recognize that his words had such power because of who Jesus’s identity, because of who he is. So then, let us recapture some of that awe today when we remember there is power in his word because he is Jesus, the Christ and the Son of the God!
Let us turn now in our second point for today to see how his word silenced the demons. Consider just the contrast there. Jesus’ words are being highlighted in this passage. But in reaction to Jesus, the demons try to get some words out. They barely get any words out before Jesus speaks to silence them. Verse 35, Jesus told the one, “Be silent”. Verse 34 summarizes that he would not allow the demons to speak. Jesus’ powerful word stopped the word of the demons. That shows again the power of Jesus’ word but also shows the relative weakness of the demons’ words.
Yet, it is interesting to see what Jesus was stopping them from saying. Basically, we see that the demons know what the people do not. The people are in awe over Jesus’ powerful word because they don’t really know Jesus’ identity. But the demons clearly do. I love how that comes out in the first demon’s response here in verse 34. That demon first refers to Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth. That’s how the people would have identified Jesus. But then that demon goes on to expose who Jesus really was, the Holy One of God. It’s kind of like in the Superman comics going up to Superman when he’s dressed up undercover in normal person clothes as a journalist, and saying in front of everyone, “Hey you Clark Kent, I know who you are – you are Superman!” Likewise, we see further descriptions of how the demons knew the true identity of Jesus. In verse 41, we see that they know he is the Son of God. There it goes on to explain that they knew he was the Christ, the Messiah.
This is not the only place that we see Jesus telling the demons to not expose his true identity. And it’s not just demons. At other times we see in the gospels Jesus telling various humans to not reveal his identity as Messiah and Son of God to others. This will be seen very climactically later in Luke, in Luke 9:20. There, Jesus will ask his twelve disciples who do people say that he is, and the disciples will report on the various hypotheses that are out there. But then Jesus will ask his disciples who they say that he is. They will then rightly answer that Jesus is the Christ of God. But Jesus then immediately charges them and commands them not to tell this to anyone. And so, we find that during Jesus’ teaching ministry his concern at points to keep his true identity a secret, at least to a certain degree. I say that, because there are certain occasions and contexts where he does not seem concerned to keep it a secret.
This raises an important question. Why would the Messiah at this point want to limit this truth of his identity from being revealed? The Bible never gives us a single definitive answer to this question. Yet, different Bible passages certainly imply various reasons. Those passages don’t all imply the exact same reason, so it cautions us to not look for just one simple answer. Rather, there seems to be a more complex set of reasons that we might summarize like this: Jesus was going to reveal his identity according to his own timing and to whom he pleases and in his own way and with his own authorized spokesmen. And he was going to see that the revelation of his identity did not in any way conflict with his other ministry work that he to do. That’s the larger answer to why he guarded his identity. But’s lets also notice what specific aspect of this that we find in our passage here for today. We’ll observe that now in our third point.
Our third point can be titled, “His Word Must Go Forth.” I began our sermon saying that what we see in today’s passage at Capernaum is what he had told the people of Nazareth he was doing. He was anointed to preach by word and power the good news of the kingdom. That is what we see him doing there at Capernaum on that Sabbath day. He shows up that synagogue and is preaching to them about the good news of the kingdom of God, verses 31 and 43. And there his preaching came with the power that liberated those captive to demons and recovered the health of the sick. He literally performed what that Isaiah prophecy foretold.
So then, notice how our passage describes how did this on a nice full day of ministry there at Capernaum in Galilee. Verse 31 describe him going there and doing all this at the synagogue on the Sabbath. After that time at the synagogue, Jesus takes some time to rest with a smaller group at the house of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, though even there doing a healing. Then, at the end of that Sabbath day, as the sun is setting to conclude the day, the whole town comes to him to bring him the sick and demon-possessed to be healed. Word had gotten out about the power of Jesus’ word and they were all flocking to him for help. I’m sure they waited until the end of the Sabbath to get healed so they wouldn’t be accused of breaking the Sabbath. But I’m sure all those healings and exorcisms went very late into the night. As a pastor, I can say that this sounds like a long, busy and frankly tiring, but blessed, day and night of gospel ministry!
So then, we are not surprised to see that the next day, at daybreak, he sets out to find a desolate place. In other words, he had a very busy Sabbath, and now the next day he needs some alone time. Surely, he especially goes there to escape the crowds from the previous day, after what had happened the night before. Surely, it would also have been a time for him to engage in solitary prayer, as we see from elsewhere he delighted in doing. But it is also where we get a glimpse at one reason why he had guarded his identity. Look at verse 42. We see that while he tried to get away to a desolate place, the crowds nonetheless sought him and found him. And notice what they wanted to do. They wanted to keep him from leaving.
Realize what is happening here. The people loved the power of his word. They were so excited at the healings and the exorcisms that they never wanted him to leave. We might note at this point that these miracles were signs of the coming of the kingdom of God. That is why Jesus performed them in conjunction with his preaching about the good news of the kingdom. They were a picture in advance of what things will be like when God’s kingdom comes in its full. In the final glory when that kingdom comes, Satan and all his demons will be fully defeated and cast out forever. No unclean thing will ever be in that kingdom of glory. And no one will have any more sickness or disease and there won’t even be death anymore. Jesus’ word about the kingdom manifested such power as a foretaste of that glorious kingdom to come. And so, whether or not the people understood at that that time that Jesus was, in fact, the king of that coming kingdom, they enjoyed these signs and they wanted to be in a place where they always and forever ever enjoyed those blessings. They rightly understood that they would enjoy them while Jesus was there. They were right to make that identification, even if they didn’t fully grasp the full identification of Jesus. These signs he performed testified to him and his power and authority and they wanted more.
And so surely this is party of why he tried to hide his identity. The more his full identity got out as Son of God and Messiah, the Holy One of God, the more likelihood this sort of thing could end up happening. I’m referring to a big crowd wanting to surround him and keep him there at their town. But Jesus goes on to explain why he can’t settle down there with them. His explanation is there in verse 43. “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.’” This is his explanation for why he can’t give them what they want right then. He can’t just stay therefore forever with them.
Notice in verse 43 he says this is something he must do. He has a divine obligation to keep preaching. This language is used in Scripture a lot when Jesus is fulfilling prophecy. He is ever cognizant of his duty to live out what God had prophesied of the Messiah. He must do what God foretold of him through Isaiah.
So then, note the word in verse 43 of “sent”. Jesus says he was sent with a purpose. That word sent is the verb form of where we get the noun apostle. Jesus is the sent one. He is the prophet and apostle of God sent with the good word of the coming kingdom. He has been sent to proclaim this good news of the coming kingdom. Jesus says this is his purpose at this point. It is his divine assignment at this point to preach and proclaim this kingdom gospel.
But really the key part here in verse 43 is that reference to other towns as well. Jesus understands that his divine mission is not just to bring the gospel and its blessings to Capernaum. He has been anointed by God to bring the gospel to many towns. So then verse 44 goes on to reference Jesus’ continued preaching at the various synagogues of the Jews spread out throughout their country. Jesus’ ministry of the word in power must continue to go forth from town to town, proclaiming the liberating and healing gospel of the kingdom to all Israel.
So it’s this point about the other towns that seems especially the nuance here for why Jesus wanted to guard his messianic identity. Apparently, if his true identity was too revealed early on, it ran the risk of the people of any particular town to try to force him to stay amongst them. Of course, most of those people would probably in such a case not even understood yet what his role of Messiah actually meant. Too many would have sought an earthly kingdom to setup a kingdom of this world and put all their attention like the Zealots did at throwing off the yoke of the Roman government. Still too many others would have been too focused on the benefits of miracles, just expecting him to be a constant supplier of one miracle after another, whatever the people perceived they needed. But all these things would hinder Jesus’ first task, to be a prophet and a preacher and an apostle of the coming of the kingdom. He had a word ministry to deliver, and that message had to be widespread. It could not just be for a town or two. Jesus must not, cannot, will not, give the gospel message just to this one town and then settle down there. It had to go out broadly to all Israel, and from there we’ll see, even beyond that. It’s like that parable of the mustard seed that Jesus gave. The kingdom would start small and seemingly insignificant. But it would grow and grow into something amazing and wonderful. And how would it grow? Especially through preaching and proclamation! And that was starting here with the ministry of Jesus.
If we step back then and consider today’s passage in light of the work of Jesus, we see that Jesus had to first be a prophet and apostle before he would particularly serve as a priest and king. Don’t get me wrong, Jesus is simultaneously prophet, priest, and king throughout all this, and there are absolutely ways in which he is performing aspects of all those offices the whole time. But his role of priest will especially come to wonderful height when he offers himself as a sacrifice for the sin of his elect people. And his role as king will especially come to a wonderful height after his resurrection from the dead when in such victory he boldly declares that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. But it is his personal service as a prophet and apostle that really is the focus of his ministry work right here in today’s passage. But this priority of his prophetic ministry should not be surprising. For the word of Christ must first go out and convert a people unto himself before he truly settles and rests with them in the consummate glory of his kingdom.
Saints of God, in conclusion, I’d like to tie these points together in some application to where things stand today. We now stand in the aftermath of Jesus’ earthly prophetic ministry. He has already completed his divine purpose to go town to town throughout Israel in preaching the good news of the kingdom of God. And then he did as a priest die in our place. And then he did rise from the dead and be exalted to the highest place as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Yet we know, that even now, this kingdom Jesus proclaimed has not yet come in its full. Right now, think of how he continues to advance the cause of his kingdom in his exalted state. As a king, he now sits on high at the right hand of God and reigns from heaven. As a priest, he now intercedes on our behalf in heaven before God.
But what about his ongoing work as a prophet? Well, we see how he does that through his word that we have that still speaks to this world, and how he has poured out his Spirit to give people understanding of his word. Yet, we should not miss that in the case of his prophetic office, he especially fulfills that now through us his church. Remember, it is Luke himself who in the book of Acts records how Jesus would send his commissioned apostles not only to all Israel but even to the ends of the earth. While Jesus’ earthly prophetic ministry focused largely on the towns of Israel and to some degree the surrounding regions, he has greatly expanded the breadth of his kingdom proclamation today by sending us his church to the ends of the earth with his gospel word.
And as we go forth now today, we have been given an even greater amount of revelation we are allowed to deliver. Not only do we get to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, but we get to proclaim the gospel of the Christ. We proclaim the glories of Jesus as the Holy One of God, the Son of God, the Christ. Jesus wouldn’t tolerate the demons to proclaim that. But Jesus now commands us to proclaim it.
Let us heed this call by Jesus. We are now the ones sent by Jesus to the world with his word. And the word of Jesus still possesses power and authority, able to liberate hardened sinners blinded by Satan to disciples of Jesus Christ giving sight to the spiritually blind. And his word all the more must go from town to town. Let us be careful then today not fall into the temptation of the people of Capernaum in our own way. As a congregation, it is too tempting to just settle down with Jesus in our own little foretastes of glory each time we gather as a church. May we not forget the fact that we today have been sent to bring the gospel to others. Let us bring that gospel here in our area to the sick and captive all around us. And let us also look to how we can support and assist in that gospel going to all the other towns throughout the world as well. May today’s message reminds us that we must not only be people who personally enjoy the saving benefits of Jesus Christ, but also share that with others. Let us enjoy the foretastes of Christ’s kingdom here and now, but not miss the need to keep proclaiming that kingdom until it comes in the full. Amen.
Copyright © 2021 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.