Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Power & the Authority (Luke 4: 31-44)


Every pastor has experienced some late Saturday evenings finishing a sermon.  I must admit that for me, it's most Saturday nights, not some.  As I climbed into bed at 3:15am I knew it was time to call it a day...and a half.  The next thing I heard was the alarm clock going off at 7:00.  I knew it was time to pray...but I got sidetracked by my search for a cup of coffee.  So it was with some anticipation that I drove to my local coffee shop, got out of the car and headed for the door.  That's when I read the hand written sign: CLOSED - DUE TO POWER OUTAGE.  Since I was preaching on Jesus' power and authority, I felt somewhat convicted. Is coffee really going to cure my power outage…or is God? Who is going to fill my empty cup?  I decided to forgo the coffee, and invite my tired body to rely a little more on his power...and then I really began to pray! In  Luke 4: 31-44, Luke describes a day in the life of Jesus, a day in which we discover the power and authority of his word, and how much we really need it

(i) We need Jesus’ power in the church with God’s imperfect people (31-37).  Having faced rejection in Nazareth, Jesus traveled to Capernaum, along the north side of the Sea of Galilee, the home of Peter and Andrew…and once again he began by teaching in the synagogue.  Two reactions stand out in the synagogue.  

First, the people were “astounded because he spoke with authority” (32).  Normally Rabbis would cite other Rabbis to support their teaching; But Jesus needed no other authorities to validate his teaching…he spoke like he was the authority, incarnate, the expert on how to live life as it was meant to be lived. Secondly, they were amazed at his power (36).  Not only did Jesus speak, he backed up his words with actions.  In the midst of his teaching, a man with an unclean spirit cries out, “Let us alone, Jesus! Are you going to destroy us?”  I have found that, more often than not, people are more convinced that Jesus will destroy their lives, than they are that he will save their lives.  They fear that if they begin to follow him, he will take away their freedom, ruin their fun, or turn them into religious oddities.  Jesus did not come to destroy our lives, he came to give us our lives back.  "I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10) Jesus said.  So, for the record, Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit and commands it to come out of him…and does so "without having done him any harm" (35). 

Now at this point we could spend a great deal of time talking about the possibility of demonic possession.  I find C. S. Lewis' advice helpful on this subject: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight" (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, New York: MacMillan, 1982, p. 3). For myself, I see no need to try and prove the Devil's existence…when his work does the job so well for me.  Like that asteroid that fell from the sky on Friday, evil is hard to ignore.  We do live in a fallen world.  But the good news is that in Christ’s ministry, his exemplary life, his atoning death, and his victorious resurrection…the Evil One has been given a mortal blow. “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lighting,” Jesus says in Luke 10:18, and like a meteor from heaven he is going down.  So we need not fear him or his power, but…

We must not naively ignore the reality of evil either.  After all, Jesus found a man with an unclean spirit…in a church.  Now strictly speaking, a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit cannot be filled with an unholy spirit for "God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son" (Col. 1:13), but we can be harassed and tempted by the Evil One, just as our Lord was in the desert (Luke 4: 1-13).  This should not surprise us.  We know all too well that sin is in the church, that brokenness is in the church, that gossip is in the church, that anger and unforgiveness is in the church, that unbelief is in the church, that dis-ease is in the church…but thank God, Jesus is in the church too, He loves the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5: 25).

Someone said to me, “The church is just a bunch of hypocrites.  I listened as he went on and on about the weaknesses of the Church and then I said, “I totally agree.”  “Well, why are you a pastor, then?  “Because the church is an ER for sinners…not just an RV for saints.”  I’ve seen just how strong and beautiful the Church can be when it lets Jesus shine his light through her.  After all, we're Christ’s Body, the Family of God, and the Temple of the Spirit and “Greater is He that is in you that he who is in the world.”  Our greatest weapon against the attack of the Enemy is the power and authority that we have in Christ as his disciples, an authority which we can claim as we humbly obey him, practice repentance when we fail, pray in hope, exercise perseverance, and rely on his grace and forgiveness. 

(ii) We need Jesus power at home helping our families and friends (38-39). Immediately after Jesus leaves the synagogue, he enters Simon’s house.  Now in Capernaum, the ruins of a 4th century synagogue still stand today (the oldest synagogue structure in the world), and beneath it are the basalt ruins of a 1st century synagogue, which is the one Jesus must have visited.  I’ve stood on the stone floor of that synagogue as I gazed at the Sea of Galilee not more than a hundred yards away.  Now if you head south from the synagogue toward the Sea, not more than 85 feet, you will come to the ruins of several 1st century houses…one of these is believed to be the home of Simon Peter for reasons I’ll explain. This was the house Jesus entered to find Peter’s mother-in-law sick with a high fever.  Luke describes the fever exactly the way a 1st century doctor would.  Notice that Jesus’ disciples ask him about her, and that he comes immediately to help her, rebuking the fever and healing her so that she is able to stand and immediately begin to serve them.

What strikes me about this afternoon visit to a fisherman's home is the intimate portrait of one of Jesus’ disciples…Peter lived just down the street from the synagogue, he was obviously married or widowed, he cared for his mother-in-law, and most importantly, he invited Jesus into his home.  If we are facing a crisis or simply the challenges of life in the home, Peter teaches us that we need only ask Jesus to come…and he will.  He will sit with us, share bread at our table, and his word also, and when asked he will also bring the power to heal and forgive, and to love sacrificially.

A house where Jesus is welcomed will be transformed, just as Peter’s house was.  Archaeologists have discovered coins, oil, and fish hooks there; but even more interesting, a room that was enlarged by the mid 1st century and plastered from floor to ceiling.  It's the only house in ancient Capernaum like this, and suggests that it came to have a public use. During the 4th century a church was then built around this house; and inscriptions on the walls read, “Lord Jesus Christ help your servant.” It seems that shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter’s home became not only a house of prayer, but a house church, and that years later a formal church enclosed that house to honor the ministry of Jesus there and to proclaim his gospel.

After reading this passage, how can we not pray that our homes would truly welcome Christ…that as parents we would take it upon ourselves to actively encourage our children spiritually, and that as young people we would seek to honor Christ in the way we live out our lives at home with our families.  Many families today face adversity, marriages are stressed, and many of our dearest family members are far from God.  Some of us have been unsure how to encourage our children spiritually.  Peter began by asking Jesus for help; and after Jesus left this earth, Peter found life-saving power in the fellowship he shared with Jesus’ followers right in his own home…and so can you.  Many Christians today meet in homes all across the world to worship, pray, study the word of God, and encourage each other in mission.  In our own Christian community we call them "Lifegroups."  "My Lifegroup saved my life," someone testified recently.  And it's no wonder, because spiritual power and authority grows as Christ is invited to enter our homes, heal our families, and even transform our living room into a place of welcome where others are invited to discover Him.

(iii) We need Jesus’ power on the street with strangers in need (40-41).  As the sun began to set, signaling the end of the Sabbath, crowds began to bring their sick and hurting friends and family members right to the door of Peter’s home.  We read that “he laid his hands on each of them and cured them” and that “Demons also came out of many shouting ‘You are the Son of God!’ but he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak….” (41).

Some may wonder why Jesus silences the demons when they speak the truth about him?  Perhaps it is because Jesus was not yet ready to reveal his identity as the Messiah, so misunderstood was the term.  Jesus did not come to lead a violent revolt against the Roman occupiers, as many thought the Messiah would do, he came to lead a revolution of grace, truth, and love which would begin to transform the world, one church, one house, one street, and one individual at a time.  One of the things that strikes me about this scene is that Jesus did not have to go out and find a crowd.  He simply began to heal, and they came to him.  I believe in our Lord’s sovereignty over illness and disease…and I also believe that as we engage in his healing work in our city, meeting the real needs of the people around us…men and women and their children will stream to us. 

I was struck by the comment of a Chinese scholar who said that at UCLA, the International Student Fellowship at our Church is the largest gathering of its kind in West LA.  He went on to say what an incredible service this was to the Chinese community… providing friendship, community, and conversation.  He was not a believer, but he was drawn to God’s house because his people are meeting a real need in this community. Each of us needs to ask…how can I be part of meeting the real concrete needs of those around me at my office, in my school, through my volunteer work…and at the same time reveal the love of  Christ to them with his power and authority?!  

(iv) We need Jesus’ power when we are alone…in the deserted place (42a) At the end of a long night of ministry, as day was breaking once again, we read that “Jesus departed and went into a deserted place.” It was the source of his power, and it will be the source of our power as well.  There was something very special about the early morning hour for Jesus.  In the morning Moses went up to Mt. Sinai where he received the commandments (Ex. 19).  Early in the morning the boy Samuel heard the call of God in the temple (1 Sam. 2). “In the morning,” says David, “you will hear my voice” (Ps. 5).  And it was early in the morning that the stone was rolled back, and Jesus rose from the grave.

Jesus warned us of the hazards of ministry…when doing good things and the approval of people can begin to replace our love for God; when we begin to get our sense of worth from what we do rather than who we are (Matt. 6: 1-18).  Jesus calls us back again to the place of solitude where we can hear the Father say, “You are my son, my daughter, with whom I am well pleased.”  Of course, sometimes, it is when we are alone that we begin to doubt our sense of worth and value as people.  As a man, the Lord has been reminding me that my value is not measured by my ability to do more or to do it better.  My identity is not determined by what I do at all, but by who I am in Christ.  Craig Barnes makes us aware of a critical implication of this spiritual truth...
Our theologians remind us, creation occurred "ex-niholo," or out of nothingness.  This means that all things, even the dust with which humanity was created, derive their existence from God.  So when we seek a different identity derived from anything other than God, we don't actually become different but only return to the nothingness we were before God created our lives....So, to be clear, we don't make a living.  We receive it through our participation in the Christ, who has brought us home to communion with the Creator" (M. Craig Barnes, The Pastor as Minor Poet, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009, p. 9)
Some have sought to change their identity by changing their work or a relationship or their house or their car...forgetting that their identity was created by God.  We’ve forgotten that God created us “out of nothing” and to deny God and seek an identity apart form him is to return to nothing.  Only in him can we discover that we are really something…and that our power comes from him.

(v) We need Jesus’ power on the road…wherever Jesus leads (42b-44).  The crowds looked for Jesus early in the morning…and though it took a while to find him, eventually they did, for “they wanted to prevent him from leaving them.”  The Greek verb, katecw (katecho) is even more forceful: “They wanted to hold him back.”  “They wanted to restrain him.”  One has the picture of them almost physically trying to block his way.  “Just one more healing Jesus.  Just one more deliverance!  Please, don’t leave us yet!”  But Jesus was clear about his mission.  “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.”  Jesus is always on the move.  From the synagogue, to the home, to the city street, to the open road…he is always calling us further up and futher in, to the next mountaintop he wants us to climb, to the next destination he wants us to reach, and it’s thrilling to say to him, if nothing else, “Lead on King Jesus… because wherever you’re going - in the morning, afternoon, or evening - we want to follow.”

When we think about what Jesus accomplished in just one day…the words he spoke, the souls he cleansed, the bodies he healed, the homes he blessed…perhaps you’re wondering what you could possibly contribute to the kingdom? Perhaps you have even asked yourself “What would Jesus do in my situation”?  What would Jesus do if he was living in my home, what would Jesus do if he was at my school and had my friends, what would Jesus do if he had to work in my office?  What would he do if went to this church?  (Not much, if he was in my shoes, we may quietly mutter). But perhaps the question should not be “What would Jesus do?” but “What is Jesus doing?” because the truth is, Jesus is in your situation, he is in your home, in your school, in your office, in your church, when you are all alone…even in that coffee shop.  Our Lord is never "closed" for business because of a power outage.  At any time of day or night we may boldly ask him to fill our empty cup with his Spirit and to display his power and authority through us to the glory of God.  Therefore let us pray this powerful and authorative prayer in his name:

Heavenly Father, in the strong name of Jesus Christ we resist every force that would seek to distract us from our center in You.  We reject the distorted concepts and ideas that make sin plausible and desirable.  We oppose every attempt to keep us from knowing full fellowship with You. By the Holy Spirit we call upon the good, the true, and the beautiful to rise up within us and the evil to subside.  We ask for an increase of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  By your authority we tear down Satan’s strongholds in our church, in the lives of those we love, in our city, and in our own lives  We command every evil influence to leave; for they have no right here and we allow them no point of entry.  We ask for an increase of faith, hope, and love so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be a light set on a hill, causing truth and justice to flourish.  These things we pray for the sake of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. Amen! [Adapted from Richard J. Foster, Prayer, New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, p. 242]

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