The Astonishing Authority of Jesus
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Luke 4:31–4:37
The Astonishing Authority of Jesus
August 28, 2016
Let’s open our Bibles to Luke chapter 4—the fourth chapter of Luke’s Gospel. We are getting into, frankly, what is a fascinating section of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. This first section here, as we get into this, is one that really establishes a pattern of his ministry for us as we see Jesus engaged in the teaching in the synagogue—the preaching of the kingdom of God in and around Galilee. And, as we see, this is typical ministry for Jesus. But what was typical for him—what was normal and routine for his life and ministry—was far from ordinary. He is nothing short of extraordinary, as every page of Scripture reveals. But we’re going to see that all the more as we read this text.
Look at verse 31 there—we’ll start there in reading and read to the end of the chapter:
And he [that’s Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”
But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him! And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.
And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.
Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.
And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
That section from verse 31 to verse 44 tells a series of stories—accounts—about the actions of Jesus and then the reactions of people to what he did—what he said. And, as we see there from start to finish, the focus is all on Jesus’ teaching. This is a particular Sabbath day in this account in a Capernaum synagogue—starting in verse 33 to the end of the chapter it covers about a day and a half—but just one vignette that focuses on a day in the life of Jesus Christ. There in the synagogue on a Sabbath day once again we find Jesus—as we always find him—teaching the word—explaining Scripture—preaching the Gospel. Verse 31 says he “went down to Capernaum. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath.” And then in verse 44—kind of like book ends on either side—verse 44 he’s “preaching in the synagogues of Judea.”
As Jesus explained the Word of God to people, we see some reactions here to his teaching. Verse 32 says the people were astonished at his teaching. That is a universal and frequent rejoinder to what Jesus did in the synagogue—whenever he taught people familiar and unfamiliar with him—friends and enemies alike—everyone is amazed—everyone is astonished at Jesus’ teaching. There are even some arresting officers—some officers who were deployed for the purpose of hooking him up—cuffing him up—taking him back—and they couldn’t arrest him. And their testimony at the time was, “Look, no one ever spoke like this man spoke.” The universal reaction to Jesus’ teaching was amazement—wonder—astonishment—awe.
There’s another reaction listed here in the text, though. It’s a non-human reaction. We see demons here reacting to Jesus’ teaching as well, and they’re absolutely petrified. Demonic spirits also manifest—throughout the Gospels—they manifest a universal reaction to Jesus. They recoil in terror at the presence of Jesus Christ.
Listen, demons—for us—are the source of all manner of nightmares and Hollywood movies and frightening myths and stories and tall tales and all that. But for demons, their horror stories—their Hollywood nightmares—are all about dreadful encounters that they’ve had with Jesus Christ. And that reveals something very important about Jesus’ authority. Jesus not only possesses authority over all truth—over every fact by his teaching—he possesses authority over all the creatures of the world, including those creatures that are irredeemably fallen. The demons know Jesus as the coming Judge. They know him as the one who will sentence them to their eternal punishment. And not only that, but he’ll execute their punishment. These demons are unable to restrain their dread in the presence of the Holy One. When they encounter the holiness of God in Jesus Christ, they know the authority he possesses. They know the power he has to execute judgment upon them. Whenever they’re in his presence they exhibit absolute terror.
How I wish that human beings—human beings who are redeemable in this earthly life—how I wish that they would all have the same good sense to fear Christ like that so that they might be saved from coming judgment which is just as certain—just as terrifying—just as dreadful. Would that we would all bow the knee before Christ like that.
After Jesus silences the demon and sends it away, his action opens another window into the extent of Jesus’ authority and his power, and we see it first as we read in the case of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Don’t ever speak a word against your mother-in-law, okay? Jesus loves mothers-in-law—heals them. And then we see from that healing the multitude of people around Capernaum who came to him with all manner of physical suffering. And that shows us again that Jesus possesses authority and this time over inanimate things like sickness and disease. He’s up all through the night, healing all the sick—all the oppressed—of Capernaum. By the will of God, Jesus has command over every molecule in the universe. Yes, even bacterial molecules—even viruses. As we read earlier from Colossians 1:15-17, he is the creator and sustainer of all things.
So, when Jesus wants to step in and arrest the decay of the curse—when he wants to step in and subvert the law of entropy where everything is moving toward the state of disorder—when Jesus wants to momentarily halt the curse for the purpose of healing—to alleviate suffering—to remove affliction—you know what, he does it. He does it. It’s by his will—by God’s authority—by the divine will. As we’ve learned, Jesus came on a mission. He came to fulfill the word of Isaiah 61:1-2, which he explained to his own home crowd in Nazareth. He said, “He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
Jesus’ ability to accomplish that mission—that’s what Luke wants us to see. Luke wants us to see not only that he possessed authority, but that he was able and willing to exercise it. Luke wants us to see that Jesus had power—all power—over all creation, whether human or angelic—whether friend or foe—whether animate or inanimate. Jesus not only taught with authority, but he exercised authority as well. He had the power to release the captives. He had the power to give sight to blind eyes. He had the power to deliver from all that oppresses and afflicts. He had the power to not only reverse the curse but demolish the curse—which he did in his death on the cross—and to give life.
That’s what this section here is about. This is what we need to see. Luke wants us—in keeping with his purpose for this Gospel—Luke wants us to know for certain that Jesus is who he said he is. Luke wants us to read for ourselves that Jesus not only possesses authority but he has the will and the power to exercise authority. He’s kind, he’s loving, he cares.
Jesus possessed and exercised authority and power on this occasion and then we are going to see that he exercised that throughout his earthly ministry—all the days of his humiliation as we read in Philippians chapter 2—which took him all the way to point of death on the cross. You know what, all the more so now, that during his time of exaltation to the right hand of the throne of the Father, we know for certain that Jesus still puts his authority and his power to use for our good. Isn’t that good to know? Right here at the start of the Gospel? That’s why it’s called Gospel. That’s why it’s called Good News.
Beloved, that’s the point of this section to give us absolute confidence in the authority and the power of Jesus Christ. To show us his loving concern. To show us his tender mercy for all of those who are weak and afflicted and know it. He saves and he sanctifies all those—and only those—who know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they cannot save themselves. It that you? It’s me.
Let’s start where Luke starts with Jesus’ teaching ministry. That’s our first point: His Authority in the Word of Teaching. Jesus possesses authority by virtue of who he is—by virtue of his holy commission, which we saw in Isaiah 61. His authority is manifestly evident first in the authoritative word of his teaching. Look at verses 31 to 32 again: “He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.”
Now those two verses do a couple of things. One, they form a transition between Nazareth and Capernaum. We don’t know it by reading here, but some time has passed. We’re not sure exactly how much time. But these verses keep the narrative moving along so that Luke can pursue his purpose to provide his readers with certainty concerning the things that they have been taught—Luke 1:4.
Luke wants us to know that when Jesus left Nazareth, he did not leave with his tail between his legs. He was rejected there, but he didn’t sneak away—frightened, perplexed, wringing his hands. Not at all. In fact, the very way—the very manner—that he left Nazareth provides a very stark contrast with the apoplectic mob with their unrestrained anger and hostility—shouting and pulling—all the cacophony of their unbridled passion and anger and hatred. Luke 4:30 says, “But passing through their midst, he went away.”
It’s such a contrast to their crowd—their mob. He’s calm, dignified, and poised. There’s no sense of hurry or worry. He simply moved on. And as we pick up the story in verse 31, it says he went down to Capernaum. Down—that’s a geographical reference point—Capernaum is situated to the northeast of Nazareth, above Nazareth on the map but about 2,000 feet below Nazareth in elevation. Nazareth is up in the hill country, sitting at about 1,200 feet. Capernaum is nearly 700 feet below sea level. A fascinating part of the earth. And this is the place—here on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee—this is the place that became the base of Jesus’ teaching ministry—kind of a hub as he went and ministered in and around Galilee.
Capernaum was far from Judea—far from the religious establishment and the jealous gaze of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. It’s also far enough away from Tiberius, which was down south on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. And that was the capital city of the Tetrarch Herod—Herod Antipas. So, it was far enough away from Herod Antipas and his concern over John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded, and his concern about Jesus. It was far enough away from Jerusalem and all the religious jealously that they had toward Jesus there. It was also on the border of the tetrarchy of Ituraea, which was the territory that belonged to Herod’s brother, Philip.
So, getting too close and meddling in Capernaum could send the wrong message to Philip. And if Philip were to meddle, it would send the wrong message to Herod Antipas. So, it was kind of a safe place right there between conflict.
Capernaum was well situated there to fly under the radar, so to speak. He didn’t receive too much religious or political attention, which was very good—very good. This allowed Jesus the freedom to teach—to develop people—to spread the news of the Kingdom without drawing too much unwanted attention.
At the same time, Capernaum was not utterly remote and isolated. It was small, but it was not insignificant. It was a little fishing village, but it had grown up a bit into a sizable town. and it became kind of a hub of Galilean fishing industry. The land around Capernaum was fertile. It was perfect for agriculture—all kinds of agriculture. So, commercially, Capernaum had a lot to offer.
There was a trade route—an ancient trade route—called the Via Maris, the Way of the Sea— and it connected Egypt with Mesopotamia, which runs right through the land of Israel. And it runs right around the Sea of Galilee, just a short distance from Capernaum. And since this city, as I said, is a border town that’s kind of between the tetrarchies of Philip and Herod—because of the commerce and because of the trade—it was the perfect spot for a customs office. We’re going to be introduced to Matthew, the tax collector, a little later, who was situated there in Capernaum. That’s where we find Matthew. That’s where Jesus finds Matthew.
The inhabitants—as one commentator says—were primarily Jews in Capernaum. They labored as fishermen, farmers, artisans, merchants and officials, including tax collectors. This was a perfect place—under the radar, busy, populous, active—a lot of communication, a lot of network with the rest of the land of the Jews in Judea. It’s easy to see what made this an attractive spot for Jesus to use as his base of operations. It provided him with the freedom from the wrong kind of scrutiny. It provided him with ease of travel. It provided him with the ability to spread the Word—to teach the Word deeply—to let it spread quickly and widely to promote the Kingdom of God.
Now, as I mentioned, verse 31 provides a summary—covers a bit of time—and we learn from Matthew’s Gospel something that Luke really just passes over, and that’s the calling of the first four disciples. You can just jot down in your Bibles there and come to it later; Matthew 4:18-21. That section talks about Jesus choosing his first four disciples. These are men who—it’s Peter and his brother Andrew—it’s James and his brother John—these men had first met Jesus at the Jordan where they were with John the Baptist. They met Jesus there, and when John pointed Jesus out to them, they left John and followed Jesus. They were at the wedding in Cana, where he turned water into wine. They also probably also saw the clearing of the Temple—but at some point, they returned to their fishing businesses. They went back to making a living on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in Capernaum.
As I said, Capernaum had a thriving fishing industry. One historian tells us the residents invested a good bit of money and sweat equity into that place to build a harbor that supported a fleet of fishing vessels as well as a sea wall. The sea wall was about an 8-foot-wide sea wall made of stone. It extended along Capernaum’s 2,500-foot promenade. So, it’s kind of like a boardwalk that ran along the sea. It was an 8-foot sea wall which provided protection from the sea but also a place to build piers that extended out into the sea itself.
Somewhere in the white spaces then of Luke 4:31, Jesus came walking along that sea wall, looking for these men. He’s on the shores of Capernaum looking for these four guys. He gave the same command to the two sets of brothers: “Follow me.” Immediately, Simon and Andrew left their nets; James and John left the boat and their father behind, and they followed him. These men—Peter and Andrew, James and John—they’re here with Jesus in verse 31. They hear him teach week after week in the synagogue—and on this particular occasion in Capernaum, hearing his teaching and being with the rest of the people who found his teaching nothing less than astonishing. He was the most amazing teacher anyone had ever heard. He’s the most amazing teacher who has ever been heard on this planet ever. Why? Verse 32, because his Word possessed authority. It possessed authority.
The very best of teachers that we know and love—I can list John MacArthur, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther—we can name so many figures from church history. John Chrysostom, in the early centuries of the Christian church, was called the Golden Mouth. I mean, imagine hearing some of these—Athanasius, with the power of his preaching. All these preachers, the teachers that we know—and every single one of you has people in your life who have made an impact on your life because of the strength of their teaching—none of them—not one of them—possesses authority. None of them possesses authority. When they are at their very best, it is because they have stayed very near—very precisely—very doggedly near—to the only true authority, which is the Word of God. That’s where the authority is found. That’s the locus of authority.
Anybody who strays from this loses authority. No matter what their charisma and their gifting is, they lose their authority. They abandon their right to speak and command your conscience because they’ve departed from this authority. There is no authority in the word of men—none. But in the Word of God, there is an inherent, irrefutable, attention-arresting authority that is unquestionably divine.
That’s what people heard whenever Jesus taught. His teaching absolutely stopped people in their tracks because they knew instinctively that what they were hearing was not the voice of any mere man. They saw a man but they heard the voice of God. I’d imagine that had to be kind of an unnerving experience to hear that. Perhaps somewhat disorienting. I mean, imagine yourself there in that synagogue. You’re looking at a man. He’s dressed just like you’re dressed. By all appearances he’s just a normal person, flesh and blood, entirely human, and yet when he opens his mouth—when he starts teaching—out of a very human mouth comes powerful, penetrating, authoritative truth. Not in the voice of any man that you’ve heard, but in the voice of, well, the Author—the one who wrote the Scripture; and he speaks in the manner that God intended it to be spoken. No wonder they were astonished.
Over in the parallel account in Mark 1:21-28, Marks says this about Jesus’ teaching:
They [that’s Jesus’ disciples] went into Capernaum and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.
How did the scribes teach? They taught by quoting each other. They were the authorities, and they pitted one authority against another. They were like professors in a seminary. They were like professional scholars and academics. They made a living by quoting each other—by stroking some people’s authority and disagreeing with others’—getting themselves published and known by their opinions. They published articles in arcane journals—remote and distant from the interests of normal folks—and there were layers upon layers upon layers of human opinion that, over time, had really obscured the clarity and dulled the power of the undiluted Word of God.
The scribes were boring people to death—I mean, putting them to sleep. [Some of you please wake up.] They were putting them to sleep. They were simply reciting the teaching of other scholars and other scribes and other popular rabbis who came before them. And instead of the people eating six-ounce chunks of meaty truth, listening to the scribes was like trying to swallow chalk dust. It was like stifling—dead—choking—oppressive—utterly irrelevant—entirely lifeless—not to mention devoid of nutrients. When Jesus came upon the scene—when he opened the Scriptures, he did so with a kind of passion and energy, with the kind of sincerity and sobriety of mind which was shared by none but the divine Author himself.
It was an encounter with the living Word of God, which Hebrews 4:12 says,
is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, [things that can’t be divided by us, right?], of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Can you imagine sitting before a man who’s cutting you open like that with the very Word that he speaks? That’s what people were hearing whenever Jesus taught them; that’s what they were hearing. Imagine that!—being in the presence of that powerful, undiluted voice of authority—sharp, penetrating, inescapably convicting. For all those who humble themselves before that Word, it’s profoundly life-changing. It’s transformative. It had power to change their lives. No wonder they were astonished at his word, right?
Now, not only was there authority in the Word of Jesus’ teaching but—point two—we see the manifestation of power—of energy—in the effect on a spiritual being. This is Jesus’ Authority in the Word of Command. Authority in the Word of Command.
I just looked at Ryan over there, and as I think about Ryan and Wes and others who’ve been involved in law enforcement, I think about the thing that they’re taught in the academy—in law enforcement—which is called command presence. An officer, when he comes onto a scene, needs to exercise a sense of command presence. He needs to show up and he needs to be perceived by everybody there—we’re talking about maybe some very violent criminals—he needs to be perceived as the one in charge. Jesus had that command presence. Not just the presence, but the command. And his command—his very word—was like firing a bazooka at the problem. It’s not just the authority that came through his teaching although his teaching authority held sway over the consciences of those who heard his teaching. But Jesus’ authority isn’t limited just to the consciences of human beings; his authority extends to every creature—every creature who has a mind. That includes the angelic realm as well, and Luke wants us to see that Jesus possesses absolute authority—sovereign authority—to command all creatures human and angelic, whether holy angels or fallen demons—all.
And listen, this is what we need to see; if Jesus can command demons, which are powerful—more powerful than us, certainly—which are malevolent spiritual beings that everyone universally considers the most supremely rebellious against God’s authority, the most hostile to his will—if Jesus can command them, then his sovereign authority would seem to be sufficiently demonstrated, right? We have no reason to doubt. That’s why this is written, beloved. We need to see the authority of Jesus Christ as a settled matter—firmly established, a matter of fixed certainty for us. And if we learn to submit ourselves to that authority—his authority—then we benefit from the care of that authority, don’t we? We rest in the confidence that his sovereign authority is watching over us at all times for our good. And nothing—Romans 8:38—“Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers [that’s a pretty exhaustive list, isn’t it?] nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Look, that’s the point we need to see here. As we get into verse 33 and following, Luke is giving us a close-up view of one of these Sabbaths, a particular occasion when a demon spoke out. That would be a day in church you would not soon forget, right kids? You’d be talking about that for the rest of your life. “I need to pay attention in church and not sleep, ever.”
So starting in verse 33, we read, “In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon.” Luke here combines several terms: spirit, unclean, and demon. It’s kind of an awkward phrasing, but he wants us to be abundantly clear about the kind of spirit that he’s talking about. Those terms really cover all the bases; they leave no doubt whatsoever about the nature of this creature.
First of all, we see it’s a spiritual being—not a physical one. It’s non-corporeal, which means it doesn’t have a body. And that means that this is a reality here; what we’re seeing in this demon is the reality that is for us as human beings is unseen. This demon inhabits a world that is really not known and understood by us. There’s a mystery to this being—a mystery to the world it inhabits. It’s a creature that inhabits an immaterial world—one that runs in parallel to our physical world—and it’s the abode of the angelic and demonic creatures. It’s a spirit.
Secondly, it’s an unclean spirit. That is to say, it’s not an angelic, holy angel. It’s a foul fiend straight from the pit of hell. The characteristic of uncleanness refers to a moral impurity that is endemic to this creature—its vileness.
Thirdly, just in case there’s any doubt left about the kind of creature we’re talking about, we’re talking about an unclean, demonic spirit—demonic. And the word “demon” refers unmistakably to these malevolent spiritual creatures that had the audacity, the temerity to follow Lucifer from heaven. They preferred his company—an insurrectionist, just a creature like them—over the company of the holy angels. Preferring him and service to him over service to God their creator. A third of them fell. John writes in Revelation 12:3 and 4, seeing a vision of a great sign in heaven—a figurative sign, really, to picture a spiritual reality. It says, “A sign appeared in heaven: behold a great red dragon [Who’s that? Satan, right?], with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.” And verse four says, “His tail [that is, the tail of the great red dragon] swept down a third of the stars of heaven [that’s a figure, a symbol of the other angels] and cast them to the earth.”
Just a footnote here: If a third of the angelic beings followed Satan into a demonic existence of perpetual enmity toward God, a jealous hatred for all those of us who are created in God’s image, that could be a frightening reality, right? To know that that multitude—that vast multitude—of beings are swarming the spiritual world, hovering all around us and, by the way, one of them showed up in the synagogue, and that tells us that the devil goes to church. So, be careful: If you feel a swoosh, it could be one of them! I’m just kidding; you’re not going to feel that. They’re spiritual beings, right? You’re not going to feel stuff.
But they’re in the spiritual world, they’re hovering all around us, they’re filled with hatred, they’re waiting to do us harm. Satan has organized this demonic horde into ranks. So they’re organized. Ephesians 6:12 says they’re organized into rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, they’re forces of evil in the heavenly places. There are many of them, and they prowl about under the command of their leader who himself is prowling about like a roaring lion, 1 Peter 5:8. He’s seeking to devour one of us like a little weakling that separates from the herd. They want to pounce on that one.
Satan has them all organized. They’re all strategizing. They’re using time-tested tactics to try to pounce on us to turn us against God. Or by means of our sinning, hoping to turn God against us. But that can’t happen, by the way. God, once he sets his love on us, we’re always in his hand. Nothing can separate us from his love.
But, again, this is just a footnote. If one third of the angelic creatures followed Satan in that original rebellion, well, I’m no mathematician, but by rough calculation, I think that leaves two thirds of the angelic host who remain holy, who remain completely and totally loyal and submissive to the Word of God. And are not all angels—Hebrews 1:14—“Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” Are we not in good hands? That’s why the apostle John assures us, 1 John 4:4, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
Listen, if we belong to God, no fear of demons. But the demons seem pretty afraid of our Master, do they not? Take another look at verse 33: “And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.’”
Notice that text doesn’t say that the demon had this man or that the demon even possessed this man. It says that this man had the spirit of an unclean demon. The man possessed the unclean spirit; the spirit didn’t possess him. It’s important to realize this. In some places in the New Testament it uses a verb to refer to what we call demon possession. The word “to be demonized” really is the literal translation daimŏnizŏmai, and it means to be oppressed or afflicted by a demon. It’s a passive voice verb. It’s done to us.
Listen, demons can exercise a considerable degree of control over a person’s body. They can inflict injury and pain, cause significant harm, throw children in the fire, convulse them, and sometimes give people super-human strength. We’re going to read about the Gerasene demoniacs who tore chains from themselves—iron chains—that’s strength.
You may remember Acts 19, where there were seven sons of Sceva. These are sons of the Jewish high priest, and they were renowned exorcists. They tried to cast out one particular demon that answered back to their incantations and their foolish little spells, and he said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” Apparently, the sons of Sceva weren’t quick enough to anticipate the beating that was about to rain down on them. They just stood there. The next verse says, “And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” Serves them right, playing around with things they don’t understand. Who did they really think they were?
But in all the Biblical cases where a demon is inhabiting the person, they speak of either the person having or possessing a demon or else of a person being demonized— passive voice—which just means he’s tormented by or afflicted by a demon. So you can think of the demon here as a squatter, one that doesn’t own the person; it just takes up residence in that person and, by the way, illegal residence in that person and manipulates that person’s body, even sometimes manipulating the voice.
But listen, here’s what I want you to see: the individual is still able to hear the Gospel. The individual is not entirely possessed by the demon but possesses the demon in himself. He’s tormented by the demon. He has the power to think and to reason. He doesn’t have the power maybe to resist all the demon’s physical manipulations. And apart from spiritual regeneration, that person does not have the will to resist the demon since he lives—Ephesians 2:2—under the influence of the spirit of the power of the air, the spirit that’s now at work in the sons of disobedience.
What’s our duty if we ever come upon something like that? Preach the Gospel. And don’t go trying to cast him—like John MacArthur says—don’t try to cast him into the abyss or to hell or to Phoenix—you know, just anywhere hot. Don’t try to take that on yourself. Don’t try to think that “in the name of Jesus”—“in the name of Jesus”—don’t do that. Just preach the Gospel to the mind of the person you’re talking to. Pray that the Lord will get rid of that demon—but you preach the Gospel.
People who have demons—and there are many, I think—you know in our secular age we don’t often recognize this. You go around the world—oh, they understand the force of the demonic. In our secularized age, anything that looks like the demonic, we just assign a medical term. And we’ve medicated it. We’ve tried to subdue with drugs the symptoms that we see.
But anybody who has demons is no more lost and beyond hope than any other sinner. They’re not. I only say this because we need to be careful that we don’t give too much credit to demons. Satan and his demons just love it when we overestimate their significance—when we overestimate their power and their authority. They want us to overestimate them.
Remember, we saw that in Jesus’ testing in the wilderness. Satan tried to tempt Jesus, and he tried to get Jesus to respect his position in that second temptation. He was referring to himself and thinking of himself as the current sovereign of all the kingdoms of the earth. He tried to get Jesus to bow before him—to acknowledge ever so slightly—just as a gesture of respect—his rightful place as the ruler of the earth. He says, “To you I will give [as if he has the power to do that] I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.” That’s absolute nonsense. He just puffing himself up, making himself look bigger than he really is. He’s a paper tiger at the end of the day. You can blow him over; you can light him on fire. There’s nothing there but another creature.
So, we can’t allow ourselves to inflate the authority and the power of the demonic realm. Their stock in trade is deception, and they want us to overestimate them—as is done among many cultures in the world. Even here in our own country, where the presence of demons is doubted and scoffed at by a secularized culture, there are still religious communities—charismatic churches and the like—that think they specialize in somehow knowing how to handle cases of demonic possession. I seem to be reading more and more articles and headlines these days about demonic possession, are you? I’m seeing more now today than I can remember in years past—cases of possession and professional exorcists coming to the rescue.
I read an article just the other day called “An Interview with an Exorcist. Learn How to Protect Yourself Against Demonic Attack.” The interview was with Father Gary Thomas, and the article describes him as “the mandated exorcist for the diocese of San Jose, California.” I’ve been to San Jose; it’s probably warranted to have him there. But, the article lists Father Thomas’ qualifications. He’s a guy who studied at the Vatican’s Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum in Rome. Forty hours of study in the sacred rites of driving out demonic presence. And by that he became part of this exclusive group—this cadre of 14 Vatican certified exorcists working in the US as of 2011. There are probably more now.
I believe we’re going to see, in our country, an increase of this kind of thing in the years to come. Because the coming generations of Americans are going to be burned out on secularism and its hollowing out of the spiritual in our society, its denial of spiritual reality. And because there is very little public Christian witness—it’s been subdued and oppressed and marginalized—all these young people are going to return to a more native paganism. They’re going to return looking for answers in a perverted form of spirituality. When that happens, folks, we need to be there. We need to be there ready with the truth to teach them, to help them understand.
We don’t want to make the mistake of overestimating demons. On the other hand, we do not want to underestimate them either. Here’s what we need to do: We need to rightly estimate the demonic. We need to understand these beings biblically, because that will help us to discern their true activity.
We studied already, didn’t we?—how Satan attacked Jesus, Luke 4 1-13. And we can watch for the same tactics against us that he employed against Jesus. We can discern the many and the various ways that he entices all of us to commit sin because that’s the point for us as Christians. It’s not to inhabit and possess or to get into us or whatever; it’s to just get us to sin. That’s what he’s after.
We need to study, therefore, Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 6, right? To “put on the full armor of God so we may stand against all the schemes of the devil.” At some point in the future, we’ll go through that full armor of God together.
But look again at the text verse 33? This man “cried out with a loud voice, ‘Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.’” That verb there for “cried out” is anakrazō, which is the verb krazō which means “cried out,” but then it’s a verb that is further intensified with a preposition.
According to one scholar, this verb krazō and anakrazō had special religious significance in the Greco-Roman world describing these cries of demonic worshippers. He writes this: “The loud invocation of the gods of the underworld is in long unarticulated and mysterious words. There is a similar crying in magic which is closely related to such incantations. The voice of the witch is like the bellowing of hounds, the howling of wolves, the hooting of an owl, the hissing of the snake. The demon itself cries out.” Even the pagans in the Greco-Roman world shuddered at this kind of demonic outcry. Even unbelievers recognize this weird sensation, right? It’s what sends them to scary movies in theaters; they want to get that sensation—this other-worldly blood-chilling cry. It makes your skin crawl.
That’s what this man did in church. There’s an emphasis in the text on the volume, too. He was loud. Mega is the word. Loud voice. There in the midst of the synagogue, he interrupts Jesus’ teaching with this primal, blood-curdling shriek. Absolutely disturbing. Just stopped the service cold. Something unholy and utterly out of place dared to cry out and interrupt the authoritative voice of this one whom he so readily acknowledged as the Holy One of God.
Notice what the demon said, “Ha!” “Ha!” That opening word is translated as a cry in the ESV. In other translations they see it as an imperative related to a verb translated, “Let us alone.” It can go either way, but I think it’s best to see this man is crying—an utter cry of despair—of dismay, fear, dread—that’s what’s coming out. This demon is terrified. And it explains why it’s terrified. It believes Jesus has come to execute the sentence that had been dangling over its head—over their heads—ever since their departure from heaven. The demons know that their day is coming. This demon believes, with the presence of the Holy One in its midst, that it’s time. “What are you going to do with us? Have you come to destroy us?” The demons and the legion of demons in the two men at the Gerasenes in the tombs say something similar. They say, “Have you come to destroy us [and they add this] before the time?” Like, “I thought we had more time.”
“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth.” Literally translated, that is “What to us and to you?” It’s an idiomatic expression that means, “We have no dealings with each other. Why are you here? We don’t have anything to do with each other.” And it’s an attempt to push Jesus off to create distance, to keep Jesus at bay. This demon is on its heels; it’s back-pedaling away from Jesus. It knows that Jesus is more than just a man from Nazareth—the Nazarene as it calls him there—and it recognizes him as the Holy One of God. Ha’ hagiŏs the Holy One. It’s a title here that expresses the absolute otherness that it sees in this person standing before him—the separateness—the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Think about this. When this demon comes into the presence of the Holy, this demon has the same skin-crawling, blood-curdling, hair-raising experience and sensation that we feel when we consider the demonic. What the demonic being feels in the presence of the terrible, ineffable, holiness of the Son of God—if the demon had skin, it would be crawling—if it had skin and hair on that skin, the hair would be standing up on end on this demon. It’s terrified.
Isn’t it interesting that the people in the synagogue weren’t falling down along with the demon in terror? The demon can see what they can’t. And I find this just yet another evidence of the amazing accommodation that happened in the incarnation—that this divine majesty—this terrifying holiness—is robed in simple flesh. That’s for our good, beloved, for our good.
The demon’s theology here may have been accurate. Its fear was certainly warranted—very appropriate—but Jesus wanted it gone—silent and out of there. Look at verse 35, “Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm.”
There it is: Jesus’ authority, his word of command: “Silence yourself. Come out of him.” Jesus doesn’t want the demon communicating any further. He doesn’t want the demon remaining any longer. In Mark’s account, he portrays the demon’s final act of protest. Mark 1:26, “And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.” One commentator writes here, “The malice of the demon made the healing of the man as painful as possible. Both throw down and harm are medical words. The one being used of convulsions, the latter of injury to the system.” That is to say, this demon on his way out tried to hurt the guy. He wanted to cause injury and harm even as he was departing. This shows his malevolent nature.
Some of you may remember when Jonathan Moorhead was here. He’s a missionary to the Czech Republic. He’s a friend of ours, a great man of God. And the two of us visited the Stanley Hotel—just showing him around here in Colorado—we visited the Stanley Hotel up in Estes Park. We were talking with a woman who was working at the reservation counter down in the basement, signing people up for the ghost tours. You ever talk to that lady? She’s a true believer, I’ll tell you what. Extremely naïve, as well, about the nature of ghosts. She used words to describe them like “Oh, they’re so playful.” “Oh, they’re fun.” She called them pranksters and tricksters and stuff like that. She said even one of them came and tickled her. Foolish! Absolutely foolish! So proudly confident that she has a handle on the spiritual realm, yet so dangerously oblivious to the truly sinister nature of the demonic spirits, like the unclean spirit who inhabited and tormented this poor man. Demons are not here to tickle us. They’re not here to play. They’re here to hurt those who are created in the image of the God that they hate.
But Jesus’ power is such that he prevented the man from being harmed. And here at this point we find just another subtle revelation of the Lord’s motive. Love. He loved this man. He’s concerned in this outcry not so much about the demon—he just swipes him away like a cat knocks a mouse out of its path. He just swipes the demon away, and he catches the man. He’s powerful enough to expel the demon in violence of action, in the power of his Word. He’s also powerful enough to allow the afflicted man to land gently to protect him from further harm. And again, it’s not only an indication of his kindness; it’s a clear demonstration that in this moment—far from being rattled like the rest of us would be, far from being unsettled or distracted by this demon’s outcry interrupting his teaching—Jesus is here collected, poised, calm. He’s thoughtful enough to be attentive to this man’s safety. Everything is under complete and total control.
Beloved, isn’t our Lord Jesus wonderful? Listen, for everyone of humble and tender heart, this demonstration of the Lord’s authority and power and—don’t forget—gentleness causes our hearts to leap for joy. It causes us to worship him in the beauty of his holiness—to throw ourselves before him and say, “Here am I. Send me.”
Look, that’s why he silenced the demon as well, because though the demon acknowledged the truth about his identity, it had no concern to obey and bow itself before Christ. Even on the way out, it’s rebelling. Jesus doesn’t need—and he will not accept—the testimony of demons or of those who disobey his authority. Jesus will be glorified by those who know him and love him and obey him, those who worship him in spirit and in truth. Jesus rejoices in those who testify about him, who are also at the same time bearing the fruit of his saving and sanctifying graces. But those who test him, those who are characterized by disobedience, those who rebel against his authority like this demon—he will one day silence their voices, and he will command them to be silent and to go from his presence.
Well, those who witnessed saw all this. Here’s what happened among them in verse 36: “They were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’ And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.” That word amazed, thambŏs—Luke uses that word several times to indicate the spell-binding astonishment, the complete amazement, the total wonder at something inexplicable. People are absolutely awe-struck. But after they’ve been silent a while, the experience wears off enough, and they start talking, excitedly going on and on about what they’ve just witnessed.
Notice some repeated words here in verse 32 and then here as well: the word logos. It’s translated as “teaching” in verse 32, but it’s logos and it’s translated “word” here. And there’s another word back in verse 32; it’s the word ĕxŏusia, which is translated “authority” in both places. Along with the word that the people added here in conjunction with the word “authority,” they added the word “power.” “What word is this? For with authority and power he commands.”
This shows us what Luke wants us to see very, very clearly. Here’s the point: Jesus’ word is authoritative, and it possesses real power. To what extent? “Can you give us a ‘for instance?’” Oh, yes. I can. He commands the unclean spirits to come out. That’s the substance of the reports that went out into every place in the surrounding region.
And, folks, that’s what we need to hear as well. In a world that seems to us to be spinning out of control, we live under the care of sovereign authority—this sovereign authority—the one named Jesus, the Nazarene. Not everyone exposed to Jesus’ astonishing authority responds in the same way. Merely seeing his authority and power on display is not enough to produce genuine saving faith. Excited and favorable responses are not certain indicators of genuine saving faith, either. Many of these very people would be crying out for his blood in only another year or year-and-a-half’s time shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Can you believe that? Unbelief is powerful.
We could say this, too, and as illustrated in the demon, the demon even has right theology. It’s not an indication of genuine saving faith either. Right theology is necessary. After all, faith comes by hearing—not by hearing bad theology, mind you—but by hearing the true word, the true message, the true teaching about Jesus Christ. But, here’s the difference: God must by his sovereign grace enter into a life, regenerate and give the gift of saving faith. And beloved, you must repent of your sins, believe the gospel, yield yourself completely and fully to the Lord Jesus Christ, commit to obey him fully, and follow him fully in obedient faith.Look, that is proof positive that this astonishing authority—this powerful word of Jesus—has had its saving effect in your life as well.
Would you join me in a word of prayer: Heavenly Father, we are so grateful that you sent the Son, Jesus Christ, and that this account is recorded for us here in Luke’s Gospel. I thank you for the wisdom that you by your Spirit gave to the writer, Luke, who was concerned to set up an orderly account so we could walk through this Gospel narrative in a right and fundamental and systematic order, propelling our minds along from one piece of evidence to another to draw the proper conclusion that there is no other savior than Jesus Christ our Lord. We love you and commit ourselves to you afresh this day and ask that you would go with us and fill us with the wonder of his holiness. May we be obedient—even as we are astonished by his authority and power—may we be obedient fully and completely to every word. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.