Friday, January 15, 2016

A man angry at Jesus' authority (Luke 4:31-37)

The Byzantine-era synagogue at Capernaum (Photo: Gene Brooks)
In our last post, we saw anger in Nazareth's synagogue at Jesus' authority. In this post, we see anger in Capernaum's synagogue, but the outcome is different.

Anger flared a second time in a synagogue in Luke 4, this time at the village of Capernaum Luke 4:31-37; || Matt 4:13-16). This time it came from just one man and the spirit resident in him. Literally, he was “having a spirit of an unclean demon”[1] (Luke 4:33-34). In a dramatic display of the fulfillment of Isaiah 61 in their hearing, a demon cried out, “Ha, What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”
(the town where his authority was not honored). Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34). The ἔα (Ha!) may be either an “interjection of surprise and displeasure (found in Classical Greek), or may be the imperative form of the verb meaning “let us alone!”[2] In strange irony, the demon calls him Jesus of Nazareth, the name of the town which had just rejected his authority. Now an unclean spirit immediately recognizes it with fearful anger.

Here Jesus performs his first public miracle, and it was deliverance from a demon, what Isaiah 61 calls releasing the oppressed. Jesus responds quickly to the fearful anger of the demonic being. In swift, short, sharp authority, Jesus silences the evil spirit and commands it to come out of the man (Luke 4:35). No incantations, no prolonged magic, no pleading. Only a severe, “Be muzzled. Come out.” His authority demonstrated itself by coming out of the man without harming him (Luke 4:35).

It is notable that the man’s condition was unknown until he was in the Lord’s presence. Jesus in ministering to the suffering man sought to preserve the man’s personal dignity, muzzling the evil spirit. The demon, however, had no such intentions, humiliating the man by throwing him down in the congregation as it departed the afflicted man (Luke 4:35).

And the congregation’s response to this display in the middle of their worship service? Amazement. Recognition of his authority. Spreading the word about Jesus Christ all over the region. The Capernaum congregation was not just enamored at the way he spoke, but they were “amazed at his teaching because his message had authority” (Luke 4:32). Jesus did not rely on centuries of rabbinical opinion. He spoke the word of God from the text. The congregation here recognized (and by implication submitted to) Jesus’ authority (Luke 4:32, 36).

Today, our congregations thrive when they submit to Christ’s authority. Now, I doubt that anyone expected to see a demon come out of an otherwise normal synagogue member when the parishioners arrived that Sabbath day in Capernaum. But Jesus’ presence alone brought miraculous deliverance. The submission of God’s people to Christ’s authority brought about Christ’s cleansing, Christ’s power, Christ’s healing, and Christ’s peace.  

And one more thing. Submission to Christ’s authority also brought about evangelism. The text says that news about him spread throughout the surrounding area (Luke 4:37). How did that happen? It happened because that congregation, amazed and submitted to Christ’s authority, talked about that Jesus. They told their neighbors and their coworkers about Jesus. They told their families about Jesus. They spread his fame and made his name great in that region. Will we submit to Christ’s authority? Will we spread His fame throughout our region? May Christ grant it by His authority. Amen.

[1] Strauss, 365.
[2] Strauss, 366.