Two Kinds of Reception (4:14, 37)
[February 1, 2009] Last week (Luke 4:16-30) Jesus went to Nazareth where He was brought up. In the synagogue where He had been reading the Scriptures since His bar mitzvah at the age of thirteen, He stood up and read, and then preached the inaugural sermon of His mission. At first His neighbors were impressed, but as He continued to speak, He offended them so much that they were ready to kill Him.
He left there and came to Capernaum on the shore of the Lake (“Sea”) of Galilee. As in Nazareth, He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath and teaches them. But in Capernaum the reception is practically the opposite of what He received at home. The people are astounded at His teaching and recognize that He teaches with authority.
Luke 4:14 reads, “Reports about Him went out through all the surrounding region,” and 4:37 reads, “Reports went out concerning Him into every place of the surrounding region.” This is called an inclusio and is a technique that Luke often uses in his writings. Here he frames the two synagogue scenes, the one in Nazareth and the one in Capernaum and begs us to compare them.
Confronting a Demoniac (4:31-37)
While Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, a man starts yelling at him. Luke tells us that he has a spirit of an unclean demon, and Jesus treats the man accordingly. What is this all about?
We hear so many things about “demon possession” that we need to clear up a few things. Images imbed themselves in our unconscious unfortunately, but we have to try to recognize that Hollywood is not an authority on the subject. First of all, the Scriptures never speak of demon possession, as if it were a permanent state. Instead, we get the impression in most cases of a sudden influence, and in the New Testament this is usually brought on by the effect of the Person or words of Christ. The phenomenon does not occur in the Old Testament and outside the New Testament the views on the subject are quite different than what the New Testament presents, so it might be a mistake to assume that Jesus Himself adopts or simply caters to the superstitions of the time.
Yet in the New Testament we hardly ever encounter this phenomenon outside of Jesus’ own ministry. There is the incident in Philippi of a woman with a spirit of Apollo, but that was a case of pagan “divining.” As a slave, she acted as a medium for her masters’ profits. That kind of phenomenon goes on today. The apostles treated it the same way that Jesus does. But it is rare. The phenomenon that we encounter in the gospels is not a matter of divination, or of anything that the person seems to have control over. On the other hand, Jesus seems to encounter it rather frequently. It is not just medical either, though it seems to be related to a nervous or psychological condition. There is a moral element about it. The demonized all acknowledge who Jesus is, and are upset by it. They are also responsive to His authority. He gags the demons (literally) and frees the person with simply a word. (Demons are also not angelic beings or among the principalities and powers. They afflict individuals, and thus are petty in comparison to these others.)
This phenomenon seems to be the manifestation of the devil’s opposition to Jesus. The first thing Jesus did after He was baptized and filled with the Spirit was to go into the wilderness and confront the devil. The devil could obtain no ground in Him—He thus “bound the strong man” (Luke 11:21)—and so Jesus left the wilderness with authority over him, ready to destroy the works of the devil. “When the One stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, He takes away his whole armor in which he trusted and distributes his spoil” (11:22). Jesus is in complete control.
The irony is that the people in Nazareth had no idea who Jesus is and were ready to kill Him. He simply walked away. (Compare Matthew 13:58.) But in Capernaum, the demon knows exactly who He is, and Jesus rebukes it and casts it out.
Notice that the demonized person is sitting in the synagogue, probably there Sabbath after Sabbath listening to the Scriptures read. But the demon is provoked by Jesus’ teaching. The devil can be much at home in a religious setting. Religion can create all kinds of delusions in which the power of evil can hide. But the truth in the Person of Jesus sheds a light—the light of reality—that destroys the hiding places and forces the pestilence to come out. Evil hides in our delusions, and it holds on with a tenacious grip. It takes root and rots the soul, and the soul feels as though it will be destroyed if it lets go of its delusions. The presence of Jesus calls it forth and His Word of command frees the soul.
What frees the soul is not only the spoken word, but the authority and power of the Person who speaks it. It is the presence of Jesus Himself, in His revelation, that delivers us. We ourselves can do very little on our own. But what we can do is present Jesus to ourselves and others and let Him do the work.
The people respond to Jesus with amazement, recognizing the kind of authority that He has. He thus clears a place for Himself to work in the village of Capernaum. When we recognize Jesus through His Word and respond to Him with faith, we create a space for Him to work in our own community. We establish a beachhead into the territory that the enemy occupies.
Household Recovery and Extravagant Healings (4:38-41)
Jesus does not want to only teach in the synagogue. The synagogue is a public space. He also wants to occupy our homes. We should not miss this point, because it is pervasive throughout Luke and Acts. After the synagogue service, Jesus is invited into the house across the street (archaeologists have excavated the synagogue and Peter’s house). The fisherman Simon (later, Peter) lives there with his wife and mother-in-law (and perhaps others).
Like in all homes, there are situations. Peter does not invite Jesus to a properly prepared meal. His mother-in-law is burning up with a deathly high fever. (This was far more dangerous then than it is now.) Do not miss the point that this is not simply a sickness. Jesus recognizes a demon at work. He “rebukes” the fever and the demon, and its symptom, at once leaves her. What happened in the synagogue continues in the household but in a different form. But with the same authority with which He spoke in the synagogue, He commands the demon in the household, and with the same result. He has cleared more territory for Himself.
When Peter’s mother-in-law is healed, she immediately “served them,” that is, she provided them with a meal. The peace of the household is restored, and the evidence of it is the practice of hospitality. This is what Jesus wants to do in our homes.
Later, in chapters 9 and 10, Jesus sends out the twelve and the seventy to enter people’s homes and to bring “peace” (the same peace announced by Zachariah in 1:79 and by angels in 2:14). Jesus wants to be the peace in our homes and He wants us to practice hospitality with our homes so that they can be places where people can meet Him. He also wants us to bring peace into the homes of others. He speaks (in 9 and 10) of healing the sick and proclaiming the kingdom. His own work of casting out demons is a way of proclaiming the rule of God against its opposition. The rule of God is established by the light of truth overcoming the delusions that people live in. This does not mean by asserting one belief against another, but by presenting—not forcing—the reality of Jesus so that the Spirit of God can do Her own work autonomously in others.
After peace—and hospitality—was restored in Peter’s home, people begin to come. All those who were sick came or were brought to Jesus and Jesus heals them all, whether their sicknesses were medical, psychological or the result of demons. This indicates the power of Jesus in our homes. The restoration of our homes is for the sake of ministry to others.
Whether Jesus healed people or freed people from the demons that held them captive, it was a sign of the Messianic “Year of Jubilee.” Wherever Jesus is, the kingdom of God is there, even if the world has not yet changed. His miraculous healing of people is a sign of the Age to Come. One day we will be bodily resurrected. That day is not yet, but healing is a sign of it. Thus it is a sign of who Jesus is. Miraculous healing still takes place—we should pray for people to be healed—but not even in the Acts of the Apostles do we see everyone getting healed. Jesus laid hands on each one and healed them all.
This story introduces Peter to us, so that when he appears in chapter 5 we realize that Jesus does not call him “out of the blue.” A relationship was already established. Conversions usually take time.
The Work (4:42-44)
We would like to keep Jesus to ourselves as our private enjoyment and possession, but we must not. Jesus went out to a deserted place and was praying all night in preparation for a mission tour. Luke tells us that the people of Capernaum “tried to hold on to Him so that He would not go away from them.” We can be so enamored by the signs that we do not realize that we still have Him when we have the memory of Him. I do not mean this in a trite way, but in the sense that Jesus, being divine, is eternally present in the way that we know God is. God is not a mental presence, the way an idea or a common memory is. Rather God is intensely present, more present that the floor and walls and ceiling are around us, more present than our own bodies are to ourselves. What makes Jesus this present to us is our “remembering” Him with faith.
But Jesus said, “I must announce the gospel of the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this I was sent.” Remembering that the gospel is the evangel, Jesus literally says, “I must evangelize the kingdom of God.” The gospel of the kingdom of God is that the kingdom of God has arrived in His own Person. Wherever He is, whenever we give Him our allegiance (our faith), the kingdom of God is. Territory has been claimed for the rule of God.
Jesus leaves Capernaum and does not return until 7:1. During that time He calls disciples to Himself and gives them a discipleship sermon (comparable to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5—7). In other words, He “announces the gospel of the kingdom.”
The church needs to see that this is also the work to which we are called. This mission tour of Jesus is a model of similar trips later in the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.