Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 3, 2019
Whatever he is like at home among his family or around a table with some friends, our president of these United States certainly has a bombastic way about his public persona. He seems loud and boisterous, even when we don’t here him talking but simply reading his tweets. By virtue of his office, he is known as the most powerful man in the world. But, when it comes to getting something that that he wants and a goodly portion of congress opposes, his words don’t carry the authority to accomplish what he wants. Instead, he must negotiate, give a little to get a little, or maybe, not even come close to getting what he wants. In other words, his authority is limited and his ability to command is limited.
Most depictions of Jesus are just the opposite. A mild and meek man that speaks softly but to whom people flocked to listen because he taught with authority and to whom demons must obey. There is no negotiating with Jesus for He speaks with divine authority. He speaks as the One through whom the creation exists and is sustained, the One through whom the creation is redeemed and cleansed, the One in whom we are to live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).
Epiphany is that season in which we typically read of the miracles of Jesus as episodes that reveal the true identity of Jesus as the Son of God. We read through the many miracles that He performed during His ministry from Cana onward as a list of all the things over which He has authority, nature, illness, demons, etc. Today’s reading is no different, but there is a character to the reading that focuses not so much on what Jesus heals or casts out as much as the authority with which he speaks.
Being paired with the call of Jeremiah, we see the eternal nature of Jesus’ own call, which was from before the foundations of the earth were laid. It is a prophetic call to speak on behalf of God to all to whom He is sent. To proclaim good news to the poor as Jesus Himself read from the Isaiah scroll in last week’s appointed reading, to proclaim liberty to the oppressed, and the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18,19). He speaks and what He declares comes to pass: a man oppressed by a demon is liberated; a woman oppressed by a fever is set free; the many oppressed by various illnesses, diseases, and demons were made well. In all of these healings and liberations, there is no ceremony that is recorded but only that Jesus spoke and rebuked the illness or demon. Jesus speaks with the authority of God and whatever He rebukes, it is rebuked, it must obey.
We only have recorded for us two sentences spoken by Jesus in today’s reading. The first is His command to the demon to “Be silent and come out of him!” The second is His declaration that “[He] must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to other towns as well; for [He] was sent for this purpose.” Another way to translate “good news” is “gospel.” He must preach the Gospel. Too often, the Gospel is just thought of as information about Jesus, that He did this or that, or taught a certain thing. While every bit of that is included, the Gospel as far broader. IT includes more than just a few sayings or recordings of a few events. We see just from today’s reading that is a culmination of what Jesus says and does by the authority that He possesses. In other words, this Gospel or good news that Jesus preaches isn’t just words, it is a Word that commands and must be obeyed.
The people were amazed by what their ears heard and their eyes saw. For those that received healing, their whole body was enthralled by what was happening. It wasn’t so much believing that it was true as it was coming to grips with what was happening. One way that we would describe what was happening would be to use the phase, “It was too good to be true.” Yet it was true. It was happening in them, around them, and among them. And this same Gospel, the same authority of Jesus is at work in us, around us, and among us today because it is that which the Church has been given and performs. I say performs because the liberation from oppression is still happening.
As the preaching of the Gospel continues, the freedom from demonic tyranny is ongoing. Where the good news is proclaimed, captives are still set free. Where God’s Word is declared, men are still astonished and demons give way. You see it more than most Protestant Christians because you understand the delegation of authority and the power of God’s Word given to men. When you witness a baptism, you hear the simple words spoken and the splash of a little water but you behold the power of God at work by the authority of the Almighty as the Lord delegated that authority to His disciples and all the Church. You hear it and see it when the ministers of the Gospel speak in the stead and by the command of their Lord, Jesus Christ and your sins are expunged and cast out leaving you as on unharmed. You behold the power of God at work in the words of Christ spoken at the altar and received as what they truly are – the body and blood of Jesus Himself given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. And from there, you rise with the immediacy of one refreshed and prepared for service to your Lord.
We should not think that we do not witness the same things as these early hearers of our Lord’s words, for we do. What we see and hear are the very same words and actions of liberation as we are set free from the bondage to sin and devil and delivered from such oppression. This is the Faith which we believe, that Jesus does that same for us as He did for those in our reading. His Word today is a powerful and has every bit the same authority as it did among the people of Capernaum. You are free from all demonic oppression and liberated from every disease originated in sin because the good news of the kingdom of God has come to you and has embraced you.
We can respond in only two ways. We can, by faith, embrace this good news of the kingdom of God that has embraced us, or we can push away, saying, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth.” He has nothing to do with the demons and their evil but He has everything to do with you and your flesh corrupted by sin. As the demon said, Jesus is the man of Nazareth but also the Holy One of God. He is the One come down from heaven who has taken on the flesh of humanity. He has everything to do with us for He is like us in every way except sin. And He has come that He might make us like Him in every way, that is, fully human with the unstained image of God fully intact.
It is unfortunate that so many respond as the demon did, rejecting any association with Jesus of Nazareth. But this is what makes our mandate, to go to all nations, all the more urgent. As Jesus went to other towns as well, so too, must the Church today, continue to baptize and to teach the same good news that you have heard and embrace, for as He was sent, so too, are we.
So realize, that when you speak of Jesus and this good news, and when you support the proclamation of the Gospel, when you forgive the sins committed against you, and pray for those in need, it is by the authority of Jesus that demons still flee, sickness is quelled, and men are liberated from the oppression of sin.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.