Lord God, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the scriptures are read and your word is proclaimed, we may hear what you are saying to us today. Amen.
Friends, I want to start with a little game of word association. When you hear the word “authority”, what are the words or thoughts or emotions that come to mind? Does the word stir up positive connotations or negative ones? My hunch is that chances are the word is far more likely to make you bristle than bring your comfort, a word that you’re far more likely to resist than readily welcome.
In many ways today, we are taught to question authority, (and I get the following list from Christian author Jonathan Leeman), we are taught to question the authority of …
the church because of its hypocrisy
men because of abuse
the economy / stock market because the rich just get richer
the Bible because of its alleged contradictions
religious leaders politicians who act out of self interest
the media because of bias
the police because of brutality
And the list goes. Now, to be clear, sometimes we are wise to question authority as we rightfully lament the all too common reality that far too often power has been misused and abused
Yet rather than introducing the subject of authority as a means of handing out offenses and airing grievances, I share all this with you as a means of contrast in highlighting the nature and kind of authority that Jesus demonstrates in our passage today.
In our story this morning we see Jesus embodying authority at its absolute best. An authority that is beautiful and godly and countercultural. Authority in his teaching, over the demonic, over sickness itself. Authority that is tough yet tender, strong, yet compassionate, patient, yet not passive. Authority at its absolute, perfect best.
So for our purposes today we’ll reflect on what Jesus has authority over, how he displays it and as we reflect on those two things, we’ll also draw our attention to what this all means for you and me.
So first, as for what Jesus has authority over, we see that he had authority in his teaching.
You might notice that our story today starts in the same way our story did last week. Jesus is teaching on the Sabbath in the synagogue, only this time, not in his hometown Nazareth but in the town of Capernaum.
And it says that the people were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority.
Now, what exactly does it mean here when it says that Jesus’s words had authority? Is it that he had a booming and captivating voice, one like James Earl Jones, a voice that instantly grabs your attention? Or was it a kind of positional authority, one that maybe a high school sports coach has, where the implicit understanding is “listen to me or else you’re getting less playing time.”
Well, as you might imagine, it means neither of those things. Rather, it’s meant to communicate that Jesus taught with the utmost confidence and simplicity. Where other teachers in Jesus’s day would simply quote other teachers, saying “so and so interprets this passage this way, and so and so interprets this passage that way,” Jesus was teaching with remarkable confidence, saying, “You’ve heard that it’s been said, but I say to you” and even saying that the scriptures found their fulfillment in him. Maybe a line from Pastor Kent Hughes summarizes it best: While other teachers were speaking about the Word of God, Jesus was speaking the Word of God.
Now, consider the ramifications of all this for a brief moment. If all of this is true, then we should treat God’s Word with the highest regard, rather than treating it as simply one source of wisdom among many, we should regard it as standard and source of wisdom itself. Or to use that word again, it should have primary authority. We should hear it, seek to understand it and having done so follow and obey it to the best of our abilities. God’s Word is bursting with authority and so may it have authority over our lives as well.
And I say all that with a sense of confidence and assurance myself because of the pastoral heart of Jesus that we see on display throughout the rest of this story. The way in which we see Jesus’s authority manifested in real life. He is a God worthy of our trust and submission. For as we see further along, while Jesus demonstrated authority in his teaching, he also demonstrated authority over the demonic and over sickness as well. And in doing so, we get this beautiful and comforting glimpse of the heart of Jesus, and who displays an authority that is tough yet tender, strong, yet compassionate, patient, yet not passive.
First, we see Jesus casting out demons. The demons seem to be tormenting this man and even more they rightfully recognize Jesus as a threat to their very existence. When the demons say to Jesus, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” it’s as though they are pleading to Jesus, “Why bother with us? Can’t we just peacefully coexist? Of course, the answer is no. Jesus sternly casts out the demon, saying, “Be quiet!” Come out of him!” Which is exactly what the demon did.
Jesus’s authority is not passive and weak, rather in the face of spiritual forces that seek to do us harm, Jesus wields his power and strength for our good.
And yet contrast that with the tenderness and patience we see Jesus display later on this story. This might be one of my new favorite bible verses, it says,
40 At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.
I love this so much. Out of all the portraits of Jesus, this might be one of my favorites. First, we notice Jesus’s authority over sickness itself. Luke even goes out of his way to say “various kinds of sickness” as if to communicate Jesus is not some kind of medical specialist, like an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor and without a clue as to how to heal a foot injury, rather he has authority over all sicknesses.
And yet, even more, this Jesus shows incredible pastoral care and compassion to each and every person he encounters that evening. Notice, it says, that he did all of this “at sunset.” The way the narrative reads Luke wants us to see that our story today happens over the course of a calendar day – and it’s already been a big, big day! Jesus has taught in the synagogue, cast out demons, healed Simon’s mother in law from a high fever. That sounds like a pretty accomplished day already, right? And yet at sunset, at the end of the day, the people bring to him those who were sick so that they could be healed. Imagine having a long day at work, getting to the end of day, letting your guard down, ready for a quiet and peaceful night in, only to have something pressing and urgent that needs your attention? Actually, you probably don’t have to imagine that. You probably know that experience all too well.
And yet, Jesus’s response at this moment? He tenderly and compassionately heals each and every person, laying his hands on each one. It’s like the Hall of Fame baseball player who makes every effort to sign each and every autograph, but better. Here we see unbelievable care, incredible intentionality, as he lays his hands on each and every person and heals them. Being the God that he is, I have no doubt that he could have performed some kind of miraculous and instant group healing, but no, he shows care for each and every person. All of which tells us that if Jesus was willing and ready to give each and every person on that day his undivided attention and personal care, he’s willing and ready to give his undivided attention and personal care to you as well. He’s not too busy. He won’t put you endlessly on hold. He hasn’t forgotten you. He’ll draw near to you too.
Throughout our story we see Jesus embodying authority at its absolute best. An authority that is beautiful and godly and countercultural. Strong, yet compassionate. Authority at its absolute, perfect best.
Now before we wrap up our message for today, I want to share with you one main point of application, and that is, an encouragement and charge to us all to minister to one another using the truth of God’s Word, that is, that we would strengthen and comfort one another through the power of God’s Word as found in scripture.
Notice how throughout our story Jesus uses the power of the spoken word as his main tool and arsenal at his disposal.
We first see this in his teaching, it says his words had authority. And this alone is rather obvious, the very act of teaching and speaking requires the use of words.
But yet notice how Jesus continues to use the power of His words in casting out demons and healing the sick as well.
He says to the demon, “Come out of him!” rather than wrestling the demon to the ground.
When he went to heal Simon’s mother in law who suffered from a high fever, it says he rebuked the fever, that is, he told the fever to leave, rather than pulling out a thermometer or stethoscope. To my knowledge I’ve never heard of a physician today healing a person’s fever by saying, “Fever, be gone!” And yet that is exactly what Jesus does!
Altogether, this once again, affirms and reinforces the remarkable authority of this Jesus, he casts out demons and heals the sick, not by force, but through his words.
That just as God himself spoke creation into existence at the beginning of time, here Jesus is restoring the ways in which creation has been distorted through the power of His Word.
All of which tells us that the best tool in our toolkit, the best weapon in our arsenal is God’s Word as found in scripture. And that it would not only be what we run to and lean on ourselves in times and seasons of need, but also what we run to and lean on when we desire to strengthen and comfort others as well.
For example, when someone is need of strength, share with them Psalm 46, “God is my refuge and strength”
When someone is experiencing fear, share with them Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
When someone is anxious, share with them Matthew 6, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will wear.”
When someone is nearing death and to give them a glimpse of heaven, share with them Revelation 21, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.”
When someone is facing spiritual attack or battling sickness or facing death or confronted with whatever else might come their way, when in doubt, give them God’s Word.
And if that sounds unnatural or even a bit inauthentic, I understand. However, to me I find it incredibly freeing. Because so often when people are hurting and struggling, I don’t know what to say or how to say it, and yet, thankfully, I can give them something even better.
And you can share God’s Word with others face to face, or in a handwritten card or even in a text message. In fact, that’s what I often do. I open up my bible app on my phone, copy and paste, and then send a text to a person in need. It’s really that simple.
Friends, when we don’t know what to say, give each other something better, give them God’s Word.
And I’ll finish with this:
The one thing I always wrestle with when reading healing stories such as this one is, why doesn’t Jesus still heal in this same way today? You know what I mean? During a season when sicknesses of all kinds are running rampant in our town, why don’t we see similar kinds of healings happening today? Now maybe we do, and for so many reasons I and I know you are grateful for all those who work in medicine who through the use of technology and their God given gifts and talents help bring healing and wholeness to so many. But yet here in this story, the healings that take place seem so easy, so simple, so automatic? Why don’t we see more of this today?
Truth is, there’s lots we could say here and yet, I am most comforted when reflecting on one of Jesus’s final acts of authority, where he died on a cross. Jesus did not exercise his authority in a domineering way or use his power to sidestep suffering, rather he took the full weight of suffering on himself. He is not indifferent to our pain and suffering, rather he knows it all too well. Now that is the most beautiful and countercultural kind of authority of all. One day he’ll be back, and with him he’ll bring heaven down to earth, where there is no more sickness or tears or death or pain. And yet until then, may we and those around us be strengthened and comforted, yes maybe even healed through the truth of God’s Word.