Monday, February 01, 2016

The Authority to Change Eternity

[This was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, yesterday, January 31.]

[You can listen to the message by clicking here.]

Luke 4:31-44
At first, today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 4:31-44, may seem like a hodgepodge narrative of two days in Jesus’ earthly ministry. But the incidents recounted here are really linked by two strong themes.They’re important for us to remember.

The first theme is authority.

The lesson takes place in the Galilean town of Capernaum. Jesus is preaching in the synagogue and Luke tells us that, as Jesus does so, the people “
were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority.”

Many people try to speak with authority. In this presidential election year, we see that a lot. But when Jesus taught and preached, it was unlike anything the people had heard.

In Jesus, whether people knew it or not, they heard the voice of the One Who had once said, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” That’s authority! 

Later in the passage, a man disrupted Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue. The man was filled with a demon.

We need to stop here for a second because as post-moderns, we may be skeptical about the existence of demons. I don’t share this skepticism about the existence of demonic forces in our world, though.

A few years ago, our son Philip went with his now-wife on a mission trip to Haiti. One day, Philip’s young translator took Phil on a tour of the town close to the school where they were working and later, the translator took Phil to his own home. Near the end of their visit, the translator introduced Philip to his sister. Phil shook her hand and felt that the sister was there, but not quite. Her eyes had a strange look. After they left her, the translator turned to Phil and said, “She has a demon.” Philip knew it was true.

In a culture like ours that has come to doubt the existence of Satan (which suits Satan just fine; he doesn’t want you to think he exists), the forces of hell and the demonic operate more subtly. Satan, the serpent of the garden who was described by Genesis as the most subtle or crafty of creatures, is a master marketer. He understands exactly what is most likely to drive people away from God in any given culture.

In first-century Judea, as in twenty-first century Haiti, one marketing ploy that Satan commonly used to frighten them into thinking that the devil was more powerful than God and that God couldn’t help them was (and is) demonic possession.

But even in the face of demonic possession of a human being, Jesus is authoritative. Verse 35: “‘Be quiet!’ Jesus said sternly [to the demon]. ‘Come out of him!’ Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. All the people were amazed and said to each other, ‘What words these are! With authority [there’s that word again] and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!’”

Whatever evil afflicts you, whatever temptation dogs you today, whatever sin has overtaken you, Jesus can have conquering authority over it, if you will let Him.

Not long ago, I was talking with a man who told me that over the course of several years, there had been a steady, almost imperceptible decline in his faith life and his character. He was still in worship. But he didn’t pray very often. And he found himself toying with temptations and sins he never would have previously considered. In the process, he became more cynical, more critical of others, less patient, more selfish.

The horrifying thing is that he was enjoying it. His increasing slavery to sin
felt like freedom to him. This is how sin and the devil can mess up our thinking!

Fortunately, the man still
did occasionally feel prompted to pray. (Remember that our prayers are always responses to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. We wouldn't know or feel drawn to pray otherwise!)

One day he was praying. In the middle of giving God a laundry list of things he wanted in his life, he stopped cold.

“I was walking into my living room,” he told me, “when suddenly, there were tears in my eyes. I felt totally convicted by God for how I was living. I called out to God, ‘I don’t want to be far from You, Lord. Help me to be a man of God again!’”

That man gave me permission to tell his story so that you will know that there are more subtle ways of becoming demon-possessed than the way recounted in today’s Gospel lesson.

The God we know in Jesus Christ will never force Himself on you; God only goes where He’s invited.

And when almost imperceptibly, we walk away from God--neglecting worship, the study of God’s Word, prayer, receiving the sacraments, or caring for or serving our neighbor--we create vacancies in our souls that become footholds for sin, darkness, and the devil.

When that man came to God in Jesus’ name, even though he prayed selfishly, he was actually inviting Jesus back into his life. For the first time in a while, this man felt truly free of the sins that were destroying his character, his relationships, his self-esteem.
Jesus has the authority to do this in all of our lives.

Jesus speaks the Word of God with authority. Jesus also speaks with authority to defeat Satan. But that’s not the end of the authority theme in our lesson.

Starting at verse 38, Jesus enters the home of Simon, the apostle Jesus would rename Peter. There, he found that Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a fever.

This was no demonic invasion. This was physical illness. Illness
is another manifestation of evil in our fallen world, but most physical illnesses don’t come to us because, like the man I just mentioned, we’ve sinned. People get the mumps or chickenpox or cancer usually simply because illness happens in a fallen world. Physical illness is a consequence of living in an imperfect world. One day, those who entrust their lives to Jesus Christ will live in an eternity beyond the reach of illness. But this isn’t heaven.

Yet in Jesus, heaven comes to this world, as it did that day in Simon’s house. Verse 38: “...Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.”

In His own
authority, Jesus signified the power He ultimately will wield over our common human enemies--sin, death, darkness--by restoring the health of Simon’s mother-in-law.

Jesus still conquers illness today.

Great doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals know this.

In hospitals here in Dayton, I have experienced more than in any other place I’ve served, doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists who join patients, families, and me in praying before surgical procedures.

When competent, trained medical professionals also pray in Christ’s name for their patients, those patients can great confidence that they are in God’s hands as He guides human hands.

After healing Simon’s mother-in-law, Luke says that Jesus brought healing and deliverance to many more in Capernaum.

Early the next day, He went off to a quiet place. Crowds found him and tried to convince Him to stay. But in verse 43, Jesus says: “
I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

And this is the second important theme of today’s Gospel lesson. The preaching of Jesus, the exorcisms He performed, the healing He brought, and everything Jesus did that day in Capernaum and everything He did while on earth, were really about one thing:
To bring the good news of new and everlasting life to all who dare to turn from sin and believe in Him. Every miraculous thing Jesus ever did was meant to be a sign pointing us to Him as the way, the truth, and the life, to Jesus as God the Son and Savior.Every person Jesus healed, brought back from the dead, or from whom he exorcised demons, had one thing in common. They all eventually died to life on this earth. Jesus exercised His authority in these ways not because life could ever be made perfect in this imperfect world, but to point to the good news that can change the person who believes for all eternity!

No doubt many in Capernaum wanted Jesus to stay because they saw Him as the cure for their earthly afflictions. We human beings are always more impressed by flashy, easy to observe, earthly things. You’ll remember that Jesus once sent His disciples out to replicate His ministry--to heal, to cast out demons, to preach and teach. They came back to Jesus excited about the authoritative signs that they’d performed in Jesus’ name. But Jesus told them, “ not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” [Luke 10:20] These are good words for us to remember!

In this life, nothing will ever be perfect.

Our prayers will often seem to go unanswered.

Evil will often seem to win.

We may be tempted in the face of these realities to wonder whether God is there or if He is there, whether He cares.

But every time, in the name of Jesus, sin is forgiven, relationships are mended, healing is granted, God uses us to feed hungry people or helps us tell a friend about Jesus, whenever God empowers us to fight for justice for our neighbors, and whenever lives are made eternally new through faith in Christ, we are given signs that, beyond this life, those made righteous by faith in Christ will live a resurrected life with God and in the company of the saints and that all that hurts us--that hurts God Who stands with us--will be gone for eternity

In the meantime, may we live under the authority of Christ Who saves us from sin and death and may we share the good news that all who turn from sin and surrender to Christ can have this same everlasting life with God! Amen

No comments: