The Lord's Day Evening
May 3, 2009
“A Preacher with Power”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
I'd like to invite you to turn with me to Luke 4 as we continue our study of the Gospel of Luke. The whole service conspires together to help us understand the passage. We always try and take care to relate some of what we sing to the substance of what we're reading and preaching, but tonight the C125atechism question that you've already heard asked and answered and meditated upon actually goes right along with the main theme of this passage.
Remember, the last time we were together in the Gospel of Luke, we saw Jesus having come out of the wilderness and the temptation by Satan and into Galilee preaching. And we saw an example of His preaching in His home synagogue. He was in that synagogue — as was His habit, Luke tells us — on the Sabbath Day, and He opened up the Scripture and He read from Isaiah and He declared that it had been fulfilled in their hearing. And there was a lack of proper respect for the Lord Jesus. There was not a recognition of who He was. And we said that a lot of what is going on in that passage is Jesus’ identifying Himself, Jesus explaining to His hometown folk who He really was. And they don't get it. That's important for us to remember, because it's going to be surprising in this passage who does get it. You find His hometown folk who have known Him since He was a boy hearing Jesus explain the Scripture, knowing what He had been doing in the surrounding countrysides with regard to miracles, and yet not getting who He was. But yet in this passage the most surprising audience gets exactly who He is.
Of course in that same passage He's proclaiming the good news through Isaiah to these people and explaining their own need of that good news. It segues perfectly into the passage that we're going to be looking at tonight.
This passage is a passage about authority — God's authority. It's a passage about God's sovereignty. It's a passage about Jesus’ power. It's a passage about the kingdom of God, and the issue of the kingdom of God is vitally important for us in at least two ways. The kingdom of God establishes for us who our authority is, and our recognition of that authority is a very important point in our Christian lives. It also sets forth before our eyes our proper aspiration in this world.
What is it that we long for the most? What — if I can quote Jesus from Matthew — what is it that we seek first? Is it ourselves? Is it our pleasures? Is it our agenda, or is it God's kingdom? This is a passage about the kingdom of God, and as such Jesus is challenging us, even as He challenged His original hearers, to recognize His authority and the authority of God in the kingdom, and to embrace God's aspiration of the kingdom as our aspiration in life.
Well, let's give attention to God's word in Luke 4, beginning in verse 31. Before we do, let's pray.
Father, this is Your word. It's the word of the King to us, and by Your grace we have been brought under the sway of the King of love, our Shepherd, the One who ransomed us and restored us and healed us and forgave us. And so we pray that Your word would have its way with our hearts tonight as we read and learn from it again. We pray it in the name of the King, even our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This is God's word:
“And He 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 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. 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!’ And reports about Him went out into every place in the surrounding region.
“And 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. And He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.
“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. And 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.
“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, 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.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Luke is giving us a picture of the power of the word of God in Jesus in at least three ways in this passage.
First of all, he draws attention to the power of the teaching and the preaching of Jesus. He teaches and preaches with authority.
Secondly, he draws attention to the power and the authority of Jesus by drawing attention to His ability to cast out demons with a word, to heal the sick with a word, to rebuke a fever and make it leave.
And then he draws attention to the authority of Jesus in the very theme that is the substance of His proclamation in Galilee and in these synagogues in Judea. And throughout His ministry, the theme — the message, the content — of the kingdom of God: that God is reigning; that God has come to reign; that He is establishing His kingdom. These issues are just as important for us to understand as they were for the people who heard Jesus preach to understand. Especially it's important for us to understand something of His authority and of His aspirations for the kingdom; to understand something of His power and to acknowledge it, and to bow the knee to it, and also to embrace His priorities of the kingdom. And so tonight let's briefly walk through this passage, and I want you to see at least four things as we do so.
I. Jesus taught with authority.
The first thing is this. If you’ll look at verses 31-32, Luke wants to draw our attention to the fact that Jesus taught with authority. This is certainly in contrast with the rabbis of His own day that Luke is wanting to draw a distinction between the manner and the content of Jesus’ teaching and the manner and the content of the kind of teaching that the people of Israel were used to hearing in the days of the rabbis at the time of Christ. He tells us that as He went down to Capernaum in Galilee and was teaching them in the synagogue on the Sabbath that they were — here's their response — “…they were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority.”
Now we've already gotten — if you’ll just look back just a few verses to the passage that we studied the last time, you’ll see something of this authority captured there. He reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and He says,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor…He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recover sight to the blind…to set free those who are downtrodden, and to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
And He closes the book and He gives it back to the attendant. And He sits down, and with all eyes fixed on Him, He says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” It would have been electric, wouldn't it? Total contrast to the rabbis. Typical rabbinic teaching would have been to read the passage and then begin to cite rabbi after rabbi and his opinion about what the passage meant: ‘Well, Rabbi So-and-so said it meant this. And Rabbi So-and-so said it meant this. And the convocation of these rabbis said it meant this.’ And here's Jesus declaring the meaning of the word of God and centering that meaning on His person and work and His message. It was strikingly authoritative, and they were astonished at that teaching.
How do you respond to Jesus’ teaching? Do you recognize it as authoritative? It's been my privilege the last few days to be at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, and during one of the meetings two young students who were there attending the conference struck up a conversation with a couple on the front row. The woman was a godly Christian woman who had been a member of Tenth Presbyterian Church for fifteen years. The man that they struck up a conversation with was her husband, who was a professor of philosophy at a local university and had absolutely no belief in God, Christ, Christianity, the gospel or the Bible whatsoever. And it was a fascinating interview to overhear these two young men asking her questions and asking him questions. And her response to the teaching was reveling in the richness of the teaching that she had heard from Phil Ryken and from Al Mohler, and from so many other people, and talking about things that they had brought to life in her mind from Scripture that had set her on fire. And his response was, “I find all of this improbable.” That was his response. “I find all of this improbable.”
How do you respond to the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ? Luke will make it clear in this passage that His teaching is not teaching to be dismissed by anyone. Not by philosophy professors, not by demons, not by anyone. How do you respond to the teaching of God's word? How do you respond to the teaching of Jesus?
II. Jesus cast out demons with authority.
The second thing I want you to see you’ll see in verses 33-37. Here, having taught the word of God with authority, Jesus encounters a man who is possessed of a demon. Now you will perhaps already know that most — in fact almost all — of the recorded instances of demonic possession in the Bible occur in the days of Jesus and the Apostles. There are glancing references to demonic activity in Samuel and Kings. We’ll come to that. There are of course examples of demonic activity in the Apostles, but it's especially during the reign of Jesus in His public ministry that the activity of demons is so highlighted. It's almost as if Satan (knowing that the King has come into this world in Israel) has marshaled all of his minions in one place in the world all at once, to unleash all of their fury upon hapless sinful humanity.
Well, this man has an unclean demon. What does that mean? I mean, naturally a demon is unclean! Right? Does that mean that that's a demon that in the way that it possesses him causes him to be unkempt and dirty and constantly in the muck and mud and mire, as we have examples elsewhere in the gospels? Or is this a reference to a demon who makes this man morally unclean, or both? I don't know, but this man is under the tyranny of a demonic spirit. And when Jesus encounters the man, before Jesus speaks the demon speaks to Jesus and immediately identifies Him as Jesus of Nazareth, asks Him if He has come to destroy “us” — interesting use of plural…we’ll encounter that again — and then identifies who Jesus really is: “You are the Holy One of God.” And then with a word, Jesus rebukes the demon and dismisses it from the man. And everyone around gets the point. Look at what is said in verse 36: “They were amazed, and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’” Luke is showing us the authority and power of Jesus Christ even over the demonic world. He teaches with authority, and He exercises authority even over the demonic world.
III. Jesus healed with authority.
And then in verses 38-41, we see Luke draw our attention to Jesus’ healing with authority…Jesus’ manifestation of His power in healing. We read, “He arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon's house.” Now Luke doesn't pause to add that this is Simon Peter, because he hasn't introduced Peter to you yet. He’ll introduce Peter to you later. Right now it's just Simon's house and Simon's mother-in-law that's the focus of attention, and Luke tells you something here that Mark doesn't tell you. Mark tells you that Simon's mother-in-law had a fever; Luke tells you that she had “a high fever.” He uses the technical medical language, as you might expect a physician would. In other words, he's identifying this as a particularly dangerous and perhaps life-threatening fever. And then Luke tells us that Jesus stood over her and rebuked the fever. How do you rebuke a fever?! You don't, if you’re not the King. You don't, if you didn't create the body. You don't, if you’re not the Son of God. You don't, if you’re not the Holy One of Israel or someone invested with His power and authority. And Jesus rebukes the fever and it leaves her.
And then I love what Luke tells us here: as soon as she's well, she gets up and she begins to serve them. This is obviously a woman of godly Christian hospitality, and the moment she's well she begins to serve the disciples gathered in the company of her home.
But now the word is out, and many others with various diseases (Luke says) bring their sick to Him, and He lays hands on them and every one of them is healed. Additionally we're told that demons came out of many. Now this is important. Notice that Luke does not ascribe all sickness to demonic activity. There are some who are sick and have diseases and need to be healed, and there are others who are possessed by demons and perhaps have physical manifestations of that, and what they need is for the demons to be cast out. And Jesus does both. And once again, as the demons come out they acknowledge, “You are the Son of God.”
Now isn't it fascinating that twice now as Jesus encounters the demon in this man who was possessed by an unclean spirit, and as Jesus encounters these demons while He is healing the people with various diseases at Simon's house, isn't it interesting that the demons recognize who He is? In the last passage, after Jesus proclaims from the scroll of Isaiah that He is the one who is come to proclaim release to the captives, the response of the people in Nazareth is what? ‘Isn't he Joseph's boy?’ But even the demons proclaim Him to be the Christ, the Son of God. It will take Peter all the way until Caesarea Philippi to give a testimony to the person of Christ as clear as these demons. Doesn't that speak, my friends, of how spiritually blind we can be to the truth right in front of our eyes? And as only Jesus can exercise dominion over demons, and as only Jesus can rebuke a fever, so also only Jesus can open your eyes to Jesus.
Won't you pray that He would open your eyes to behold Him as He is, so that you can confess that Jesus Christ is the very Son of God?
But there's something else, my friends, that we need to think about in the acknowledgement of demons that He is the Son of God. You see, the sad thing is that they know who He is, but they do not love Him or worship Him. They know exactly who He is, but they do not treasure Him and trust Him. They know exactly who He is, but they do not put their faith in Him and follow Him.
I wonder if there are any here tonight who learned their catechisms on their mother's knee, who went to Vacation Bible School and Sunday School and have grown up under the preaching of the word, and they know all the right answers about Jesus but they do not love Him, and they do not trust Him, and they do not follow Him, and they do not put their faith in Him, and they do not treasure Him and worship Him. What a tragedy it would be to know what God has granted you to know, to be given the truth that God in His mercy has showered upon you for generations in this congregation, and not to love Him and believe on Him, and trust Him, and treasure Him and follow Him, and put your faith in Him and worship Him.
My friends, does the knowledge that you have of Scripture make you love truth? Does the knowledge that you have of Scripture make you hate sin? Does the knowledge of Christ that you have make you trust Him and love Him? Does the knowledge of God's will that you have make you to say with the psalmist, “How I love to do Your law, O Lord”? Knowledge that does not lead to trust and faith and love and service is knowledge that will only puff up, and at last will condemn you. Do not leave the precious truths that are proclaimed to you from God's word rattling around somewhere between your ears. Embrace that truth with all that you are, in the very depths of your heart, and love and trust and believe on and follow the Savior; or James will be saying in your ear as he did in the ear of the unbelieving one who claimed to be a believer in James 2, “Do you believe in God? You do well. So also do the demons, and they tremble.” Don't tremble; trust. Don't fear Him with a servile fear; have faith in Him. Believe on Christ as He's offered in the gospel. Acknowledge Him to be your Messiah, the Son of God, your Savior.
Luke has shown us Jesus teaching with authority and dealing with demons in authority, and healing with authority, but one final thing he shows us here. Now we’ll spend much of the rest of our time in Luke unfolding what he teaches here, but look at it in verses 42 -44:
“And when it was day, He departed and went into a desolate place.”
Mark tells us that He went to pray. [By the way, you should probably remember that at the end of II Timothy, Paul tells Timothy that only Luke is with him; “…bring Mark.” Now. When Luke and Mark and Paul are together in those last weeks of Paul's life, you understand that you have in those three men half of the Gospel writers and the writers of more than half of the New Testament. And you remember what Paul asks Timothy to do? Not only to bring Mark, but “bring my cloak and bring my books, and bring those parchments.” Wouldn't you have loved to have been a fly on the wall there?]
But Luke draws attention to something else. Mark draws our attention to the fact that Jesus goes to this desolate place to pray; Luke draws our attention to the fact that Jesus in going to this desolate place is preparing himself to preach. He tells us that in the way that Jesus responds to the crowds that come to Him and try to tell Him to stay in this one town in Galilee. Jesus says, “‘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.”
Now that theme of the kingdom of God…I'd actually planned to walk through about 20 verses in Luke with you tonight, but I’ll save that. We’ll get to the kingdom of God. But let me just highlight for you how frequently this theme occurs in Luke's record of Jesus’ ministry. This is the first time that phrase is used in connection with Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Luke, but it will occur again in Luke 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22 and 23. Over and over, Jesus will be preaching the good news of the kingdom of God.
What's that about? Well, you’ll remember, my friends, that David had been promised to have a king on the throne…that he would never fail to. But it's been how long since one of David's line was on the throne in Israel? How long has it been? When Jesus was in Galilee, how long has it been since David has had a man on the throne? Almost 600 years. And Jesus is saying, “The King is here. God's kingdom has come. The kingdom is among you.” We’ll learn what the good news of the King who has come…what it is…as Luke unfolds it for us in his great Gospel.
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