Sermons, Uncategorized

Demon-Possessed, Mothers-in-Law, & You

christ-preaching-at-capernaum-1879.jpg!Large
“Christ Preaching at Capernaum” by Maurycy Gottlieb

Click here to listen to this sermon. 

And [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 (Luke 4:31).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

What do the demon-possessed and mothers-in-law have in common? I know, it sounds like the beginning of a tasteless joke. But I’m not going there. I happen to like mothers-in-law. Some of my favorite people are mothers-in-law. No, I’m talking about our Gospel for today. What do the demon-possessed and mothers-in-law have in common? They are both healed by Jesus by His authoritative Word!

The season of Epiphany is about Jesus making Himself known, about people discovering who He is. In our Gospel lesson for today, we find four more important puzzle pieces that teach us much about our Savior.

The first is that He teaches, and that He teaches with authority. If you remember last week’s Gospel, we had Jesus teaching in the synagogue of His hometown, Nazareth. He read from Isaiah 61 and then began to explain the text. But unlike the rabbis who might say, “This is a prophecy of the Messiah who will come someday,” Jesus declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He’s not another teacher saying that the Christ will come—He says that He is the Christ, standing before them. He claims that authority, and rightly so. But familiarity breeds contempt, and they don’t want Him to be the Savior, so they reject His authority: in fact, they try to throw Him off a cliff, so He moves on.

Here, in our Gospel lesson, the people of Capernaum are more receptive. They’re astonished at His teaching, for His Word possesses authority.

So what are His Word and authority good for? Here’s the second puzzle piece to fit into place: by His Word, Jesus shows He has authority over demons. A man with the spirit of an unclean demon cries out, “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.”

Demon-possession is a terrifying thing, but Jesus is far from frightened. What does He do? He speaks. He speaks His Word which has authority. He simply says, “Be silent and come out of him!” The demon departs. It has no choice. There’s no great battle, no back-and-forth where the outcome is in doubt. Jesus speaks. The demon departs. The man is unharmed. The people are astonished: “What is this Word?” they ask. “For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” The news spreads across the region.

The Lord isn’t done: His Word does more than cast out demons, as if that weren’t enough of a demonstration of power and authority. He leaves the synagogue and goes to the home of Peter’s wife’s mother. She is ill with a high fever—a serious condition that can still kill today, despite all our medical advances. Jesus treats the fever the way He treated the demon: He rebukes it.

Again, there’s no epic struggle, no need for Jesus to repeat Himself. He speaks. The fever is gone. Peter’s mother-in-law gets up and begins to serve them: she’s not just getting better; she’s fully healed. This, by the way, is the third puzzle piece as to Jesus’ identity: by His Word, He shows that He has authority over sickness, too.

Meanwhile, the Word has spread like wildfire; and by sunset, people have brought any who are sick or demon-possessed to Jesus. He lays His hands on them and heals them. There isn’t a single Savior-resistant virus or evil spirit in the lot. It’s no contest: He wins every time. When it comes to the demons, they can’t even speak without His permission. When they cry out, “You are the Son of God!”, He shuts them up. It’s not that they’re wrong, but that it hasn’t been given to them to reveal His identity.

Jesus departs to a desolate place. The people track Him down, which only makes sense: when you’ve got a miracle-working physician, you want to keep Him around. That’s their plan: they want to keep Him from leaving. But He isn’t going to stay. He speaks His authoritative Word to say, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

There’s the fourth piece that we can fit into the puzzle of who Jesus is: as astonishing as the miracles are, that isn’t why Jesus has come. He’s come to preach the good news of the kingdom of God—not just in Capernaum, but to the other towns, too. Jesus is going to go from town to town, calling people to believe in Him for salvation—and by His authoritative Word, He’s going to give them faith to believe in Him. As He continues to preach His Word, He’s going to keep performing miracles, because the Old Testament said that the people would know the Savior in part by His miracles. He’s also going to go to the cross to die for their sins; because, from the beginning, God declared that’s what the Messiah would do.

So our text gives us four clues, four more puzzle pieces that reveal who Jesus is. He speaks His Word with authority. He has authority over demons. He has authority over sickness. And He has come to preach the Gospel.

That was then. This is now. Unlike the people who were hearing and watching and wondering who this new Teacher might be, you know the answer. But those four clues about Jesus hold wonderful comfort for you, too.

First, it is still true that Jesus speaks with authority. He does so by means of His Word. In that Word, Jesus doesn’t point to another. He points to Himself and says, “I am your Savior. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Not only is this good news, but it is His Word, spoken with His authority. In other words, when Jesus declares to you in His Word that He is your Savior, He’s not just giving news for you to believe: He is, in fact, giving you the faith by which you can believe the news He speaks. He has authority over demons.

We think ourselves too advanced to speak of demons and possession these days, rather try to explain all illness scientifically. The Lord, however, disagrees: His authoritative Word says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Those spiritual forces of evil haven’t gone away. Sometimes they still manifest themselves, but more often they wear disguises. After all, one of the greatest tricks the devil can play is to make you believe that he doesn’t exist.

So how come all the demons in the Gospels? It may well be that His presence in the flesh ticked them off so much that they felt compelled to raise a fuss; or it may be that the Lord drew them out in order to show how powerless they were against His Word. But the relative absence of such events today does not mean that the devil has ceased to operate, nor does it mean that demon-possession has ended. Every temptation you encounter is hurled at you by the evil one, and he is far too powerful for you. He is no match, however, for your Savior who still sends Satan packing by means of His authoritative Word.

You’ve witnessed it yourself, surely, for you have seen the Lord’s Word added to water and spoken over an infant at the font: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” With that, Jesus takes possession of His beloved child and sends the devil packing. The evil one doesn’t put up much of a fuss like the demons in our Gospel lesson, for the last thing he’d want to do is provide evidence to you that Baptism actually does something.

The Absolution does him similar damage: your sins give Satan a claw-hold by which to hang on as he whispers in your ear that you’re condemned. But Holy Absolution exposes his accusation as a lie as it declares Jesus’ authoritative Word that you’re forgiven for all your sins. This, too, sends the devil scurrying away into the cowardly darkness away from the light of Christ.

Third, it is also true that Jesus has authority over sickness—even death. He has, after all, borne all our sins and infirmities to the cross and died with them there before rising again on the third day. Sickness and death are no match for His powerful Word.

So why so many more healing miracles in the Gospels than now? The miracles in the Gospels took place for a specific reason—to prove that Jesus was the Savior by fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies that declared that miracles would accompany the Messiah. He’s made the case—no more proof is needed. To believe in Him, we don’t need to witness such miracles ourselves, because we hear about them in His Word—His Word that He still speaks with authority.

Nevertheless, it is true that Jesus has authority over sickness and death. The problem is that you will be tempted to believe that He must exercise that authority right now, on your schedule, to prove that He is the Savior. But the Lord often works through weakness to save—there is no better example of that than the cross; and so He will also permit sickness in your life, too—and He will permit it to stay for a while. But this does not mean He is powerless or faithless. He did not heal everyone who was sick during His ministry, either.

You’ll be tempted to doubt your Savior when He doesn’t work on your schedule, but do not despair: though He permits suffering and affliction in this life for a while according to His wisdom and will, He will still demonstrate His authority over sickness and even death itself. He will do so on the Last Day, when He raises you up from the dead, fully healed and never to be afflicted again.

The fourth comfort is this: the purpose of Jesus remains the preaching of the Good News of the kingdom of God. It’s true that He gave them authority to heal the sick and cast out demons like He did, at least for a while; but most of all, He sent His disciples out to preach the Good News of the kingdom of God. Those who were healed of their sicknesses would eventually grow weak and sick again, and those who had demons cast out still had to confront death and grave. But the Good News of the kingdom of God is better news than that: by the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified, it gives forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.

The Church is always tempted to stray away from this message, for the Good News of the kingdom of God appears so humble and weak and useless against the temptations and afflictions of this life; but once again, so did the cross appear humble and weak and useless. The Church does well to remember this, because she will always be tempted to give up on the Gospel in favor of things that people consider more important and glorious—be it faith-healing, tolerance, emotional experience, or whatever.

Yet Jesus came to preach the Good News of the kingdom of God, humble though it may sound— and humble though it may appear at the font and the altar. Familiarity breeds contempt in a sinful world, so you’ll be tempted as well to look past this Good News. But as a called and ordained servant of the Word of Christ, and by His authority, I tell you this: Jesus Christ became flesh to be your Savior. He has died for all your sins. He is risen from the dead and sits at God’s right hand, interceding for you. He will deliver you from every evil of body and soul unto eternal life. That is why He came. And that is what He continues to proclaim in His authoritative Word.

Dear friends, this is the Good News of the kingdom of God. It’s Good News for the demon-possessed. It’s Good News for feverish mothers-in-law. And, it’s Good News for you! Your Savior is not far away. He is as near to you as His Word and His Sacraments. And by that Word which He proclaims with authority, He says this to you: “I forgive you all of your sins.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

You Always Were God’s Favorite

smothers brothersClick here to listen to this sermon.

[Jesus] unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Most of you probably remember the Smothers Brothers. (For those of you too young to know who I’m talking about, you can check them out on YouTube https://youtu.be/PfgrREmy68A .) Their trademark comedy bit was singing folk songs, with Tommy on guitar and Dick on bass. Usually, these songs would devolve into an argument between the two brothers. Seeing he was losing the argument, an exasperated Tommy would retort, “Mom always liked you best.”

When our kids were younger, each of them at least one time thought they were getting short-changed. “Why does Jessi get to go and we don’t?”, they’d ask. “Because she’s our favorite,” I’d reply. “Why did you let Katie do such-and-such when she was eight, but I still don’t get to?” “Because she’s our favorite.” The question was repeated in various forms, always with the same answer: “Because she (he)’s our favorite.” Eventually, they caught on: “You say that about all of us!”

I suppose parents can sometimes show favoritism. After all, none of us are perfect. But, what about God? Does He show favoritism? Can I point at you or you or you and say, “You always were God’s favorite”? The answer is yes!

The Word of God before us today reminds us that God’s favor has been revealed to each one of us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Today God tells us that regardless of what we have done, God’s favor rests upon us through the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.

“You always were God’s favorite.” Is that really true? In one sense, it’s not. In terms of what we deserve, it’s God’s wrath, not His favor, that should come upon us. Paul says that we “were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Because of our sinful nature and the sin that it produces in our lives, we do not deserve to be sons and daughters that God punishes. But do not despair! In another sense, you always were God’s favorite!

Paul says that God chose you in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). God’s words to Jeremiah could be spoken to each of us. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). In Psalm 139, God tells us that He saw our “unformed substance” (v 16). God chose you before the world began! God knew you before you were you! God was present and active in your development in the womb! No doubt about it: You always were God’s favorite!

But just what does it mean to be God’s favorite? That question brings us to our text. Jesus visits His hometown of Nazareth. As was His custom, He went to the synagogue. He was given the scroll of Isaiah and asked to read. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me” (Luke 4:18), he begins. We know, of course, that He meant this quite literally because when He finishes, He says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v 21). He is the Anointed One. He is the one who proclaims “good news to the poor” and who brings “liberty to the captives” and “sight to the blind” (v 18). In short, Jesus comes “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (v 19). And there’s our word—favor.

The word favor as used in the Bible has to do with being accepted by God. To be God’s favorite means that, He accepts you. It means that He accepts you based on His love for you, not on your ability to make yourself acceptable. That is what’s so great about being God’s favorite. It doesn’t depend on you or what sins may be lurking in your past. Being God’s favorite means the past is forgotten!

In the Old Testament, there was a “year of the Lord’s favor,” when the past was forgotten. It was called the Year of Jubilee. Every fifty years, past debts were canceled, slaves were freed, and land was returned to its original owners. The size of your debt, how long you’d been a slave, or the number of years you’d been without your land didn’t matter. Every fifty years you got a brand-new start.

Wouldn’t it be nice to get a brand-new start? Well. That’s exactly what it means to be God’s favorite! Jesus came to give everyone a brand-new start. What Jesus gives is much greater than having a debt removed or being freed from slavery. The good news Jesus brings is not just for those who are poor financially. It’s for those who are poor in spirit, those who recognize their debt of sin and their inability to do anything about it. Jesus says, “I favor you and have assumed the debt of your sin Myself. You are brand new!”

The liberty Jesus proclaims is more than liberty for captives in jail. It’s liberty for those held captive by sin. Jesus says, “I favor you and grant you daily the liberty of forgiveness. You have a brand-new start every day!”

The sight for the blind Jesus offers is more than physical sight. He gives the sight of faith. Jesus says, “I favor you, and My Spirit will convince you of what you cannot see. You have brand-new eyes that assure you I am present with you always.”

The release from oppression Jesus offers is more than release from oppressive rulers or governments. Jesus offers release from the burden and guilt of sin. He says, “I favor you and have taken that burden upon Myself. You have a brand-new start regardless of your past.”

What does it mean to be God’s favorite? It means He accepts you because of what Jesus has done through His cross and resurrection. It means He accepts you regardless of what you’ve done. It means He accepts you and sees you as brand new!

Yes, you always were God’s favorite—acceptable, brand new. But just who is included in this? Is this really fair to everyone? Think again about the Year of Jubilee. Undoubtedly there was some grumbling and complaining. Was it fair that a debt of several thousand dollars was forgiven just like a debt of a few dollars? Was it fair that some got hundreds of acres of land back and others only an acre or two? Is it fair that God’s favor should be extended to everyone regardless of the number of sins they have committed or the horror of their sins?

The people in Nazareth didn’t think it was fair. Oh, they “spoke well of [Jesus] and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from His mouth” (v 22). But this lasted only as long as those words favored them. Things changed quickly. Jesus knew His fellow Nazarenes wanted Him to do miracles of healing as He had done elsewhere. But He also perceived their lack of faith in who He really was. Mark’s account of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth tells us He could not heal there because of their unbelief (6:1-6). Jesus then gives examples of Old Testament prophets whom God sent to show favor to non-Jews. Elijah extended God’s favor to the widow in Zarephath, and Elisha extended God’s favor to Naaman the Syrian.

The hometown crowd is suddenly “filled with wrath” (v 28). “Not fair! How dare Jesus imply that God would favor non-Jews over us?” They are so enraged at this perceived insult that they drive Jesus out of town to kill Him. But this was neither the time nor the manner of Jesus’ death. Jesus simply walks away. He will extend His favor to others.

The people of Nazareth illustrate for us why some reject God’s favor. They thought they deserved His favor. They deserved to have Jesus heal them. After all, this was His hometown. They deserved healing. After all, they were Israelites, God’s special people. How ironic! Those who think they’re accepted by God because they are acceptable on their own merits end up rejecting God’s favor.

We know better than to think we’re good enough to deserve God’s favor. But we may sometimes struggle with the fairness of God’s favor. How could God forgive so-and-so for such-and-such a sin? Is there favor for the rapist? What about the child abuser? On this Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, we might think about those who commit abortions.

Yes, we can fall into the trap of thinking that God could not possibly favor certain people. But perhaps more often we think it of ourselves. We think we have done something God could not forgive. Because of a particular sin in our past, we doubt whether we could ever be God’s favorite. Some sins burden us even though we know intellectually that God forgives. One of those kinds of sins we think of today is the sin of abortion. If there’s anyone who might feel they could never be God’s favorite, it’s those who are struggling because of an abortion in their past.

Most women who’ve had an abortion and men who’ve been involved in an abortion decision know they’ve done something wrong. Abortion, the killing of unborn children, is so unnatural. As the saying goes, “One cannot hurt a child with hurting the mother.”

Concerning this, Dr. David Reardon, who has done extensive study on the effects of an abortion, writes, “This is why from a natural law perspective, we can know in advance that abortion is inherently harmful to women. It is simply impossible to rip a child from the womb of a mother without tearing out a part of the woman herself—a part of her heart, a part of her joy, a part of her maternity.”[i]

Parents find it extremely difficult to deal with the death of a child. Think how this difficulty is multiplied when you make a choice that leads to the death of your child. It weighs heavily on the heart. You can never forget it. After listening to a presentation on the struggles of those who’ve been involved in an abortion, a woman handed the speaker a note. It read, “My womb has become a tomb, and it only takes the beat of my heart to visit the gravesite of my child.”

Those hurting because of an abortion decision in their past can identify with the words of our text that talk about being “captives” and “oppressed” (v 18). They feel imprisoned, surrounded by the thoughts and memories of the abortion. They feel oppressed by the burden of shame and guilt as these thoughts weigh upon them. They don’t feel very favored by God.

But the good news of our text for us who are poor because of our sin is that Jesus came “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (v 19). Through Jesus, God makes us acceptable by the forgiveness of our sin—every sin, any sin. Through Jesus, God liberates us from the captivity and oppression of sin. Through Jesus, God says to each of us, “You always were My favorite.”

We dare not be like the people of Nazareth and think that there are those who should not hear that message. That is one of the reasons we are talking about the sin of abortion today. We need to bring an end to this ungodly practice that kills over three thousand babies every day in our country. We need to bring an end to this atrocity that wounds so many women and men. If we don’t talk about the sin of abortion in our churches, it will never go away. If we don’t talk about the sin of abortion in our churches, we will never be able “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” to those who have been caught up in this sin.

You may have said it in jealousy to a brother or sister, “You always were Dad’s favorite.” God says it to you in love. God says it to you regardless of your sin. God says it to you because in Jesus Christ, He made you acceptable and gives you a brand-new beginning. So take it to heart. Take it personally when God says, “You always were My favorite.” Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

This sermon is an adaptation of a sermon by James I. Lamb, in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 17, Part 1, p. 63-65.

[i] David C. Reardon, The Jericho Plan: Breaking Down the Walls Which Prevent Post-Abortion Healing [Springfield, IL: Acorn Books, 1996], 14).