Monday, February 01, 2010

Sermon on Luke 4:31-44, for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, "What is this Word?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Evil can be frightening in its power, and unexplainable to us humans. Watching too much of the evening news can numb you with the frequency of acts of violence, crime, accidents and disasters. Often we feel powerless to do anything about it. But in today’s reading we witness One who boldly took on the powers of evil and commanded them to stop with a simple Word of rebuke. Jesus Christ, who could command the storms and waves with His rebuke, here commands the demonic forces of evil and the various sicknesses and diseases that people had. Jesus’ Word carried a whole different power and authority than we’re used to seeing. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus was fearless in the face of evil. He came teaching and preaching in His home region of Galilee, and there in the synagogue, a place of worship, He encountered a demon-possessed man. Perhaps it strikes us as a surprise that a possessed man was at a synagogue. Were the rabbis unable to help him? But then again, should we be surprised that the devil is most active where God’s people gather, and where the Word of God is heard and prayers are offered? It’s often said that where God builds a church the devil builds a chapel; and also the church is not a sanctuary for saints but a hospital for sinners. The devil doesn’t need to work so hard where faith and God’s Word are absent. He already has those. So it should be no surprise that when Jesus began preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God, evil was close at hand.

However, the dark, disordered world of evil is lost when Christ the Light appears. Evil loses ground when God’s Word approaches. This was what the people of Galilee found so astonishing about Jesus. His Word and teaching possessed authority and it wasn’t borrowed or derived authority. Jesus didn’t draw His teaching from someone else, like the rabbis of His day, but He spoke with authority: “I tell you…” as if He were very God Himself, who commanded the Word. He was God Himself and He did command it. And when the demon-possessed man confronted Jesus—it was the demon, not Jesus who was fearful. With nervous defiance the demon questions whether its own dreaded fate is nearer than it thought. The dread of the demons when they encounter Jesus reveals that they know that an awful destruction awaits them for their constant evil. The book of Revelation describes the eternal lake of fire and sulfur where the devil, death, and Hades suffer torment day and night (20:10, 13-15). The demon knows its standing in the presence of the Holy One of God—and it knows the game is over.

But Jesus is in complete control of the situation. He won’t even accept the confession of His name and identity from the mouth of an unclean demon. With His Word of power and authority, Jesus silences the word of the demon, setting evil on the run with His Word in hot pursuit. The demon is muzzled and makes one last gesture as he throws the man to the ground, but uninjured. Jesus’ power and control over the situation prompted the onlookers to ask in amazement: “What is this Word?” They hadn’t witnessed such a powerful Word before, that needed no appeal to some other authority, that didn’t rely on someone higher up to enforce it.

Contrast this to today. Do we see such power in authority in anyone’s words? We’re surrounded with a flood of words in our media culture. We hear the silky smooth words of politicians, or alternatively the bold, impassioned rallying cries to draw support and enthusiasm. We hear rhetoric from commentators and analysts. We hear denunciations of evil, we hear calls for peace, we hear cries of complaint. But do any of these words, or any of these speakers command even a fraction of the power and authority that Jesus’ Word did? When governments rebuke a rogue nation, or decry the evils of an enemy like Osama Bin Laden, does evil turn tail and flee, or even surrender? When protestors raise a million voices together in opposition to war or unfair taxation or abortion, does evil wither and fold before them? Philosophers, scientists, historians, lawyers, politicians—all those who should be best with words, still cannot achieve through their many words what Jesus could achieve with one single word. I love this verse from the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” which fits perfectly with our reading: “Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill; they shall not overpower us. This world’s prince may still, scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none. He’s judged the deed is done; One little word can fell him” (LSB 656). One little word—the name of Jesus, can topple the devil and all his raging army.

Consider the power of the Word even on the lips of Christians today. I think of the example of a young Korean man who lived in China near the North Korean border. He helped smuggle refugees across the border and trained Koreans to go back and secretly evangelize people. He knew that he would eventually face imprisonment for what he was doing, and resolved that when he would be arrested, he would set out to share the Gospel with the judges, prison guards, soldiers, and fellow prisoners. When his expectation became reality, he spent 5 years in a Chinese prison facing torture, drugging, and consistent attempts to brainwash and discourage him that there was no God. But he had only the power of the Word of God, and the repeated confession that he believed in the One True God and that Jesus Christ was his Savior. This Word of God alone enabled him to endure such cruelty and hatred, and show such love to the guards.

This story has been repeated again and again from the persecuted saints in prison throughout the ages. From Joseph in Egypt to Jesus in Jerusalem to Paul & Silas in Philippi. The Word of the Lord was their strength in the face of evil. And the Word of God alone has the power of love to change hearts filled with hatred. Time and time again, it has been the Word of God, spoken with love, that was the only force powerful enough to counter overwhelming evil and hatred. When we face evil, that same Word of God spoken in love can disarm evil and set it on the run. The people who carry out acts of hatred and evil can only be set free by the Word of God—what Jesus says: “The Truth will set you free!”

When Jesus spoke the Word of God to command sickness and demons to be gone, Jesus showed that the real battle was a spiritual battle, and sin was the common cause of both. At the end of the Gospel reading last week, it said that the people were so angry about the sermon He preached to them, that they wanted to throw him off the cliff. The spiritual battle line ran right through their hearts. Whether sick or healthy, demon-possessed or in their right mind, the force of God’s Word confronted evil in their own hearts as well. And it made them more than mildly uncomfortable. It provoked them to the point of wanting to kill Jesus. Silence this Word. And when Jesus’ earthly ministry reached its climax in Jerusalem, and He purged the Temple that had become a marketplace and seedbed for dishonesty, they really did all in their power to silence this Word. They used words of betrayal to arrest Him. They used words of slander and false accusation to accuse Him. They used lies to hide their real intentions.

And for 3 short days, they thought they had silenced the Word. What is this Word? This Word is Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh. And for three short days, the Word was buried; silent in a tomb. Evil thought it had won! Evil charged full force against innocence and surprisingly met no resistance. Jesus didn’t even put up a fight. “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he didn’t revile in return; when he suffered, he didn’t threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1Pet. 2:22-23). Evil killed the Word! But the Word become flesh, Jesus Christ, didn’t remain silent or trapped in the tomb. The Word broke forth, and the Word Spoke forth on Easter morning, when the word heard on angel’s lips was “He is Risen! He is not here!” The killing of the Word was not victory for evil—in fact it was defeat for evil and victory for God.

The Word that was life and that was now alive again took on new vitality and won over even the hearts of many who at first had doubted Jesus. That vital Word of life, that Jesus had died for sinners and rose to life, now became the good news that would go out to all the world. Just as Jesus was moved by the Divine Necessity to preach the good news of the kingdom of God to “other towns as well,” so also after His resurrection, He moved His disciples and ultimately also us by that same necessity as well—to proclaim to other towns as well, the Word of His good news. The vital Word of life is carried on our lips to far and distant places from where the Word was first spoken. When we look at our own church and our community here—do we see places where the Word has not yet been spoken? Are we looking for mission opportunities to sow the Word where before there has only been silence?

When we encounter sin and evil in life, are we equipped with God’s Word, which alone can resist all evil in life? When our own lips and speech are sinful, and we have spoken unjustly or without patience, kindness and love—are we prepared to have our own speech cleansed by God’s Word that purges away sin, and fills our speech instead with love and truth? Wherever our paths in life take us, whether we encounter great evil and have to make a bold stand for our faith like the Korean man, or whether we live in a time and place of relative peace and comfort—we must never forget the spiritual battle line that is drawn through our own hearts as well. We must never forget that evil still has a stronghold in our lives as long as our sinful flesh breathes. So we must be watchful for the root of evil both within us and without. But know that when the “fight is fierce, the warfare long” (LSB 677 v. 5), our hearts can again become brave and our arms strong, when we remember that even if death should take us—where the Word stands, the victory belongs to Christ alone. Then what do we have to fear with this Word at our side?

What is this Word? The Word is Jesus Christ, the only Word, the only Light that stands firm against a world of sickness, darkness, physical and spiritual evil. But the Word that endures through evil and suffering in this life, is the same Word that will be fully revealed in glory, when Jesus, the Word returns. When Jesus returns, the last remaining glimpses of evil will be driven back permanently, and the fears of the demons that they are destroyed will be realized, and God’s Word will draw together all believers to Himself. The kingdom of God will not always be shadowed and surrounded by suffering and evil. The day is coming and will come where victory through the Word will stand forth, and we’ll participate in that victory. Rejoice in that Word and its power over evil, and take that Word on your lips and in your heart today. In the name of Jesus, the Word made flesh, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. Where should we expect that the devil will be most active? Why does evil flee at Jesus’ Word? Read John 3:16-21. Why were demons fearful of Jesus? Revelation 20:10, 13-15

2. How was Jesus’ Word different from what the people were accustomed to? What did it have? See Mark 1:27; 4:39-41; Matt. 7:28-29; (note in Matt. 5 the pattern: “you have heard it said…but I say to you…”)

3. For more stories like the man from Korea, go to the website www.persecution.com For information about writing letters of encouragement to Christian prisoners, go to www.prisoneralert.com

4. How does the Word confront evil in our own hearts, as well as around us? Rom. 7:14ff; Matt. 15:18-19; John 2:23-25 What response should we have when the Word lays open our sin?

5. What was the perceived victory of evil over the Word? Who had the real victory instead? When will only glory surround the Word, and not suffering and evil as it is now?

6. How does the Word aid us in our facing sin and evil? What necessity moves us to speak the Word in “other towns as well?” Where in our “neighborhood” has the Word not been heard?

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