Luke’s emphasis so far in his gospel is to depict who Jesus is. In our last lesson we noticed Jesus describing himself as the Messiah servant, the prophet of God sent to bring good news and set the people free from sins. The synagogue in Jesus’ hometown rejects Jesus as the Messiah, representing how this would be the overall response of Israel. Luke is also going to introduce to us the power and authority of Jesus.
Teaching With Authority (4:31-37)
The first point Luke introduces to us is that Jesus’ teaching possessed authority. This fact astonished those in the synagogue who were listening to him. From what we know about Judaism at that time, the rabbis would quote other rabbis. Many rabbis are recorded in the Talmud as saying that they never taught anything that they had not heard from other teachers. Jesus did not teach like that. Jesus handled the scriptures. He taught the scriptures, not what everyone else said about the scriptures. I suggest to you that this was a contributing reason for the Pharisees and scribes inability to proper perceive the scriptures. The religious leaders in Jesus’ day knew the scriptures but were dull in their understanding. Rather than teaching the scriptures, the rabbis apparently (and is still true today) taught what the other rabbis taught. This indicates that they were not thinking through the scriptures for themselves, but were simply accepting the teachings that had been handed down to them. But doing this is not a faith built upon God and his word. It is a faith built upon the understanding of some person which is not godly, scriptural faith.
This problem happens all to often unfortunately. Preachers and teachers simply believe and accept what other preachers, teachers, and commentators said or wrote. The congregation simply believes and accepts what the preachers and teachers teach. No one is studying the Bible for themselves but is relying exclusively on past teachings and writings. Preachers rely on books, the congregation relies on the preacher, and no one studies the scriptures for themselves. Now, do not get me wrong, the teachings and writings of other authors is very valuable and extremely important. I am reading more than ten commentaries and listening to a few preachers for our Romans study. But I cannot simply accept what a commentary says simply because it is in a book. I cannot simply accept what a preacher says merely because he says it and he has a good reputation. I need to think and reason through the scriptures for myself. I need to consider that the preacher’s conclusion could be wrong. The commentary may not be right, even if written by our brethren. Learn the scriptures and teach the scriptures, not what humans have written. Second Timothy 4:2 commands us to preach the word, not other teachers, scholars, or writers. Teachings and commentaries have a very important place, but can never replace our own personal study and thoughtful reflection of the scriptures. Jesus amazes the synagogue by teaching in a way that the rabbis in that did not teach. Jesus did not simply preach about God. He is God and taught with such authority. Mark’s account tells us that Jesus “taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). Think about this: when Jesus preached, he not only preached the word of God, but his words were the words of God. Jesus had teaching authority.
Authority Over Unclean Demons
In the synagogue there is a man who has the spirit of an unclean demon. Before we can go further, it is important for us to understand demons, or unclean spirits. Demon possession is a strange phenomenon, even in the scriptures. We do not read about demon possession in the Old Testament. But we turn the pages to the New Testament and we suddenly come across the problem of demon possession, particularly in the nation of Israel, though not exclusive to it. From what we read in the scriptures we learn that an unclean spirit would overtake the body of the individual the spirit lived in. The unclean spirit would cause the person would inhabit the person against his or her will and would cause the person to do things against his or her will. We read about a possessed person who cut him, another threw himself in the fire, and other disturbing things that people who are in control of themselves would not do.
One of the popular questions asked today is: does this kind of demon possession still occur? The scriptures give a very clear answer.
On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity. On that day, says the LORD of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered no more; and also I will remove from the land the prophets and the unclean spirit. (Zechariah 13:1–2; NRSV)
Zechariah is prophesying about what will happen at the time of the coming of the Messiah. He is going to open a fountain for cleansing from sin and impurity. Not only this, but when the Messiah there will no longer be a need for prophets because God is going to speak through the Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). Also, there will no longer be unclean spirits in the land. This is an important connection to make for people today. When Christ came bringing the forgiveness of sins, then the unclean spirits would be removed. To answer the question if there is still demon possession today is that there cannot be the demon possession that we see in the gospels because Christ would remove them. This is what we see in the gospel accounts, as Jesus and his apostles go through the land casting out these unclean spirits.
Many respond to this answer by asking what about all the strange things we see going on in the world today, sometimes classified as paranormal. I think there are two reasonable answers to this. First, there are many people who like to make things up to grab attention and get on television. We cannot deny that people will do some very strange things to try to make things appear paranormal. For example, the crop circles supposedly made by aliens turned out to be some really bored people who maintained those crop circles for the attention. It was not paranormal. It was abnormal, in that there are strange people who will do strange things for attention. But it was not paranormal. Second, I do not deny that people can voluntarily subject themselves to Satan and his power. People can choose to serve Satan and go into the world of the occult. I think you can find some terribly frightening things by giving yourself over to that world and life. But that is not what we are reading about here in the gospels. What we are reading are people who are involuntarily overtaken by an unclean spirit that causes them to do things and know things that the person does not want to do or does not know of himself. Even in this text we see this, as the unclean spirit thrown the person down in the midst of the synagogue (Luke 4:35). Zechariah prophesies that people will not be overtaken by Satan any longer. But you can certainly go seek after Satan and let him rule your life. With these things set aside, we can return to the story.
The man who has the spirit of an unclean demon makes an amazing declaration. First, the unclean spirit recognizes the power of Jesus. Jesus is going to remove the unclean spirits from the land and the unclean spirit recognizes that this time is coming. The spirit seems to want to know if this is going to happen right now. The spirit knows its end is coming, but is Jesus is going to take care of these unclean spirits now? The answer is yes, because we see Jesus casting out these unclean spirits. Jesus is exercising his authority over unclean spirits, and of greater importance, over Satan.
We also must notice the confession of the unclean spirit. The spirit calls Jesus, “The Holy One of God.” Before all the people in the synagogue the unclean spirit declares that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is the Holy One of God. Jesus is the one uniquely set apart for service to God. Jesus’ response is fairly interesting. Jesus tells the unclean spirit to be quiet. He does not tell the synagogue to listen to the unclean spirit or base his ministry on the spirit’s confession. I think it is reasonable to consider that the confession of an unclean spirit is not a ringing endorsement. A confession from an unclean spirit might lead to the opposite conclusion, that Jesus is from Satan, rather than the realization that Jesus truly is the Holy One of God. The story concludes with the demon being cast out and the people being amazed at the power of the word of Jesus. No one else could do what Jesus had just accomplished.
Be sure to notice how Jesus exercises his authority over the unclean spirit. It is by his words. Jesus has the authority and the power that he can just say the words. This is another reason why unclean spirits cannot exist today. No human has the power that Jesus had to cast out these spirits. Jesus gave this power to his apostles, but this was the end of that demonstration of God’s power as they cast out all the unclean spirits. No one today has the authority like Jesus to say words to cast out spirits, which is how Jesus always cast out these spirits. Jesus simply says, “Be silent and come out of him!” Jesus can rebuke demons and they must obey because his words were powerful. Who is this person who can cast out demons just by his word? Jesus must have the power of God.
Healing Authority (4:38-44)
The third power Luke reveals to us is Jesus’ power of severe sickness. Peter’s mother-in-law has a high fever. This was a very dangerous sickness in ancient times. They did not have Tylenol to be able to bring the fever down. The point is that this is not a minor illness or insignificant problem. Observe how Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. He heals by his powerful word. This is the third time that we have seen the power in the words of Jesus. He spoke as a person who has the authority of God. He spoke and cast out an unclean spirit. Jesus now speaks and heals this woman of a high fever. Luke emphasizes that this was not a natural healing. Please notice that she does not continue to lay in bed and starts feeling better the next day. She immediately gets up and starts serving. Jesus has complete authority over diseases and disabilities of the human body.
These are not isolated incidents. Notice in verses 40-41 that people begin streaming to Jesus for healing. Luke is careful to point out that Jesus “laid his hands on every one of them and healed them.” We are reading about the compassion of Jesus. Jesus is not turning away those who come to him. He loves people and he wants to heal them. Jesus wants to make them well. Jesus desires that the masses come to him.
Notice the confession of these unclean spirits. They are saying, “You are the Son of God!” But Jesus with his powerful word rebuked the unclean spirits and healed the people of this affliction. Allow me to make an observation at this point. It is not enough to simply confess that Jesus is the Son of God or the Holy One of God and think that salvation has been given to you by God. Here are demons confessing who Jesus is, but there is not forgiveness or salvation offered to them because they confess him. James makes the very same point in his letter.
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (James 2:19; ESV)
You can believe in God, but this is inconsequential because even the demons believe. You can even believe Jesus is the Son of God and openly confess that Jesus is the Holy One of God. But guess what! Even the demons did the same thing. Confession alone is not the means of receiving God’s grace. We have a religious world that says a person just needs to say a prayer and believe to be saved. But this is not found in the scriptures. Today we have seen evidence that confession alone is not the answer to salvation. Confession is a great starting point, but you have not brought your faith to completion is asking God for forgiveness through immersion in water.
- Preach the word. Study the word. Human teachings assist, but must not replace, our examination and learning from the scriptures. Further, God has given to the church to preach the word. We are not an entertainment facility. Dedication and focus must be on the word of God.
- Jesus exhibits his great authority through his powerful word. Jesus’ powerful word is available to us through the scriptures that we hold in our hands.
1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1–4; NRSV)
- Submitting to Jesus’ authority. Even the demons understood that Jesus was the Son of God. But it is not enough for us to be here today in worship. It is not enough to believe in Jesus. We must go beyond what the demons proclaimed and give our lives to Jesus. We must submit to his authority.