One of the joys of watching children grow up is in the number of ways they can amaze you. Their first smile, their first steps, their first word. Their life is a journey of surprises, as you get to know them better. Their deeds and words help to show their character, to reveal more of who they are, and what they’re like. In our Bible reading today, we find some amazing things in what Jesus says and does. These words and deeds will help us to answer the question: what is Jesus’ priority?
We find Jesus in the synagogue. This was a bit like the Jewish form of church - the building where the Bible was read and taught. Earlier in the same chapter, Jesus was in Nazareth, but now he’s in Capernaum. We’re not told what he says, but as he teaches, the people are ‘astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.’
It’s not just what they’ve heard before. It’s not just the same old, same old. It’s fresh, exciting, surprising - he speaks with authority. He knows what he’s saying. He means what he says. You can almost hear the silence, as everyone listens to his every word, when suddenly, there’s a loud cry. A loud voice calls out: ‘Let us alone! 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.’ (34) As the congregation look around, they discover that it’s a man with an unclean spirit - a demon.
Jesus rebukes the demon, and says: ‘Be silent, and come out of him.’ (35) With that, the demon was gone, the man is left, unharmed. Look at the reaction now! ‘They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, ‘What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!’
They can’t get over what they have just seen and heard - their focus was on his words: ‘What kind of utterance is this?’ I wonder if you’ve ever had the feeling that you might as well be talking to the wall. You’ve asked the kids to do their homework, but they keep on playing the Wii/ x box. You’ve told your husband or wife to do something, but it’s not done [or as I’ve read somewhere on Facebook: ‘Ladies, if a man says he will fix something, he will; there’s no need to remind him every six months!’]
If hearing Jesus teach with authority was astounding - and it was - then this is even more spectacular. Jesus has the amazing authority to deal with demons. He speaks, and the demon is gone. He can order them about like a child playing with a train set or a dollies tea party.
In the next verses, we follow Jesus after the service, to Simon [Peter]’s house. Having seen Jesus drive out the demon, they ask Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law, who had a high fever. Could he do anything for her? Verse 39: ‘Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her.’ He does the same thing to the fever as to the demon - rebukes it, and it leaves. She’s raised to health, and immediately starts to serve him.
Amazing things. To hear him speak with authority. To hear him silence & command a demon. To watch him heal a sick woman: all amazing. But what happens next is even more amazing as Luke continues to tell us what happened.
But before we get to that, I wonder what your favourite sandwich is? Maybe it’s tuna and sweetcorn, or one that we got as kids: apple and mars bar. My favourite sandwich, though is the BLT. Bacon, lettuce and tomato. You start with the brown bread, and then the lettuce, put the tomato on top, and then the bacon. Now what comes next? Normally you’d just put the other bit of bread on top. But if you were spoiling yourself, or in a really nice place for lunch, they would do it twice. Even more bacon, then some tomato, and a final top layer of lettuce. Delicious!
Now why did I talk about sandwiches? I’m not just trying to make you hungry for your lunch. I’m not even trying to inspire your lunchbox for this week. Rather, it’s the way Luke tells the story. It’s like a super-duper sandwich. Teaching - demon - healing. As we finish the passage, we get the same things again, in the reverse order:
Jesus had healed one lady - Simon’s mother-in-law. Now, as the sun sets, ‘all those who had any who were sick... brought them to him.’ Jesus heals ‘all’ of them.
Jesus had drive out one demon - now, demons come out of many: ‘shouting ‘You are the Son of God’ - but just like earlier, he silences them. Why is it that Jesus silences the demons? Surely he wants everyone to know that he is the Messiah, the long-promised King, the Son of God, the Holy One of God; that he has power and authority to drive out demons and to heal people?
Just think - you’re the Son of God. Wouldn’t you want everyone to know about it, as soon as possible? Surely the way to do it is by driving out demons and healing people - and making sure the demons cry out your name and who you are. It’s free publicity! No need for facebook if you’ve got a circus like this. Big crowds, lots of popularity. Think of the fame.
But our ways are not his way. At sunset Jesus healed everyone, but by sunrise, he is out of the town in a deserted place. The crowd send out a search party - they want to make sure Jesus stays with them. ‘They wanted to prevent him from leaving them.’ Imagine if Jesus was to stay in your town, Jesus the demon-driver-outer and healer. There’d be no need for the equivalent of the South-West Acute Hospital. Jesus could heal everyone. There’s be no need for Doctor Scott and Doctor Cromie in Brookeborough Surgery. If anyone got sick, you just bring them to Jesus and he’ll make them better. Perfect.
Except, the crowds in their excitement have forgotten about the first part of the day; the first reason they were astounded. It’s like making the sandwich and forgetting the final matching layer. Jesus wasn’t just about demons and healings. What came first? And what comes last here?
‘But he said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’ (43) Jesus came to teach, to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. And not just in one town either, but to other cities too.
The healings and the driving out of demons are signs of the kingdom, as Jesus overturns the way things are and defeats the devil and rescues his people. God continues to do amazing and wonderful things in us and through us.
But Jesus is reminding us that we can’t just run after the spectacular signs and wonders, but not bother about the kingdom. Do we yearn for Jesus to heal ourselves or a loved one, but aren’t really fussed about Jesus as our Saviour and Lord? It’s not enough to be excited about a big day, it’s about hearing and obeying the king every day.
Jesus was sent for the purpose of proclaiming the good news. You may never be healed of sickness in this life, but the good news that Jesus is King, as you hear and respond by trusting him - this will save you forever. Our prayer is that Jake and Ellie will hear the call of the kingdom, and follow Jesus the king, who saves us because he is the King.
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 24th February 2013.