The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Luke 4:31 And He came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and He was teaching them on the Sabbath; 32 and they were amazed at His teaching, for His message was with authority. 33 In the synagogue there was a man possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in the midst of the people, he came out of him without doing him any harm. 36 And amazement came upon them all, and they began talking with one another saying, “What is this message? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out.” 37 And the report about Him was spreading into every locality in the surrounding district. 38 Then He got up and left the synagogue, and entered Simon’s home. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Him to help her. 39 And standing over her, He rebuked the fever, and it left her; and she immediately got up and waited on them. 40 While the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and laying His hands on each one of them, He was healing them. 41 Demons also were coming out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But rebuking them, He would not allow them to speak, because they knew Him to be the Christ. 42 When day came, Jesus left and went to a secluded place; and the crowds were searching for Him, and came to Him and tried to keep Him from going away from them. 43 But He said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.”44 So He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (NASB)
In the December 2018 issue of the Atlantic magazine online an article was published with the title, “American Exorcism, Priests are fielding more requests than ever for help with demonic possession, and a centuries-old practice is finding new footing in the modern world.”
The article reports that in 2011 the Roman Catholic Church had 15 trained exorcists in the US. Seven years latter, the estimate is now between 75-100. Roman Catholics aren’t the only ones seeing such an increase evil spiritual activity. Closer to home, Concordia Publishing House published two books in recent years written by Pastor Robert Bennet. One in 2015 titled, “Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare in Madagascar,” the other in 2016 “Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare in America.”
The Bible teaches a spiritual truth that Western Christians have long forgotten. Where the Word of God is absent spiritual darkness and evil is present. The default system of this sinful world is sin, evil, and death. Where paganism, the occult, secularism, and stateism are mainstream, there you will find more and more moral depravity and demonic activity.
The Bible means what it says. John 1:4-5 “In him [Christ Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Where is Light of Christ is absence, there is only spiritual darkness. The Bible makes it clear. There are only two realms. The kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. 1 John 5:19 “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
We live in a day where the default operating system for strange phenomena are the materialistic explanations offered by modern science, medicine, sociology, and psychology. But it appears that many people in the West are rediscovering the unseen, irrational, unexplainable, dark, and evil side of this existence.
One priest who was interviewed for the Atlantic article offered the following theory as to why the movie the “Exorcist” (and the scores that have followed) has had such an appeal to the American mind. He said, “It confirmed something deep in the popular imagination, [something] very visceral, very irrational, beyond science, far buried underneath medicine and psychology: [there is] this huge fear that these things are true.”
On the one hand, there seems to be in human beings an innate belief that there is a very real unseen world that includes real evil. At the same time a dismissal of the same when it comes to the dangers of said evil as an existential threat to one’s own spiritual well being, even among Christians. Yet in the worlds of the Old and New Testament, demonic and spiritual activity is presented as common place.
Enter Jesus and the city of Capernaum. “31 And He [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee 32 and they were amazed at His teaching, for His message was with authority. 33 In the synagogue there was a man possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 ‘Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!’”
The Bible is the Word of God. As such the Bible conveys an accurate and truthful analysis of and cure for the realities that exists in both the seen and unseen worlds. It is not a book of ancient myths conjured up in the imagination of man. It is the wisdom, thinking, and sight of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
While the modern and so called “reasonable” Christian tries to explain away the accounts of demon possession in the Bible and Christians in America go about their daily lives as if there isn’t a world beyond that which they can see, the Bible and Jesus Himself call the thing what it really is.
So when we read an account like the one in today’s Gospel lesson of demon possessions, be they possessions of a person, an animal, or perhaps a place, the Bible is depicting a reality. Try to explain this away this verse. Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
In the Gospel lesson Jesus entered the synagogue where a man with an unclean spirit was. The demon “cried out with a loud voice, ‘Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!’”
Today, the people of the West and an awful lot of “church going” people don’t seem to know who Jesus is. If they do, they don’t act like it. But when Jesus comes into the unclean spirit presence, it knows exactly Who Jesus is and what it means for such a evil creature. To the repentant sinner the Word of God is rescue, comfort, forgiveness, and healing. But for demon there’s only shear terror, as James 2:19 teaches “Even the demons believe—and shudder!”
Notice as well, unclean spirits have no regard for holy people and holy places. A holy place is defined as a place that has been dedicated to God and is used for the reading and teaching of God’s Word and the administration His sacraments. This particular unclean spirit is in a man who is a part of the visible church of the day, the synagogue. Luther once observed that where Christ builds His church, the devil sets up a chapel.
The presence of the “Holy One of God” was more than the unclean spirit could stand. His only choice was one last act of rebellion. “But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be quiet and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him down in the midst of the people, he came out of him without doing him any harm.” (Luke 4:35)
Jesus’s words had power to do what the words commanded. The mere speaking of the words accomplished the thing that was commanded. “What is this Word?” [the people said] “For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out.”
Now the news of Jesus doctrine and the news of what He did spread throughout the surrounding region. The people began bringing the sick and the demon possessed to Him. While the word spread, Jesus went to Peter’s house where they found Peter’s mother-in-law very ill. So Jesus did what he always did when He found someone suffering. He healed her. “And standing over her, He rebuked the fever, and it left her.” “Rebuked,” it’s the same word Jesus used to drive out the demon.
The Bible is teaching us that the words of Jesus have power over both the natural laws of the physical world and over the unseen world of clean and unclean spirits. The one and the same word was being sent out by Jesus into the seen and unseen worlds and accomplishing the purpose for which the Word is sent in both places.
The people who witnessed what Jesus taught and did in the synagogue caught on immediately. The result? More encounters between Jesus and demons. Here is where it gets really interesting. Listen carefully to what Luke wrote; “He was healing them. 41 Demons also were coming out of many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But rebuking them, He would not allow them to speak, because they knew Him to be the Christ.” The demons knew Who Jesus was. They knew He was the Son of God, the Christ.
One of the greatest confessions of the Christ by a human being was the one given by Peter in Matthew 16:16. “Who do you say I am?” and Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
When the demons acknowledged Jesus to be the Christ, Jesus bound their tongues and rendered them mute. I remind you, that during the time of Jesus’s earthly ministry before His crucifixion and resurrection, each time the disciples saw something or anytime they said something that identified Jesus as the Christ, Jesus instructed His disciples not to tell anyone. Matthew 16:20 is an example of this. “Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.”
Jesus had come into the world to die for the sins of the world. He had a mission to accomplish and part of that mission involved stealth. He didn’t want masses of people to rise up in an coup d’etat to seat Him on the throne as a political ruler. Jesus is doing the same thing here. Jesus renders the demons mute so that they cannot blab His identity to the masses.
The Holy One of God, the Christ came into the world to deliver us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. He did this amidst the physical realities of sin’s and the curse’s effect upon physical this world. But Christ also came to deal a death blow to satan and his legion of evil angels. Genesis 3:15 is called the Pro-Evangelion. “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
Remember one of the temptations in the wilderness. The devil tempted Jesus to call upon the holy angels to save Him. “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”
Do not doubt it. There is a spiritual war underway as the devil, the world, and the old sinful self seek to rob the church of her sons and daughters. But Christ You “whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” 1 John 5:18b “he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” He has taken you from the evil one and the Son of God, along with His holy angels protect us.
Christ Jesus has not only won the victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil for you, He has also given His angels charge over you. Hebrews 14:13 “But to which of the angels has He ever said, “Sit at My right hand, Until I make Your enemies A footstool for Your feet”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?”
Thus we ought to pray the Morning Prayer in the Small Catechism, which concludes, “Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.” By the way the Evening Prayer also concludes with that exact same petition. “Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.” Then Luther added, “Then go to sleep promptly and cheerfully.”
Promptly and cheerfully because though the war rages, Christ’s Word is powerful. It has what we need. It does what it says. Your sins have been forgiven. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have made and claimed you as one of His own John 10:27-28 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.