Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
February 3, 2019
Text: Luke 4:31-44
Our Lord forgets not the afflicted (Ps. 10:12). He hears their desires and strengthens their hearts (v. 17). Which is to say, He forgets not your afflictions, your sorrows, your grief, your sickness and pain and regret. These things sin has wrought in this fallen world and in your life. These bitter things are symptoms of the death to which we are all condemned, to which our first parents enslaved us by their rebellion in the Garden. It would certainly not be unjust of God to forget us in our afflictions, to abandon us in our rebellion, and let death takes its course to hell, and drag us down with it. But that is not who our God is. Our God is the God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6; ESV). He does not abandon us. He does not forsake us. He is the God who arises, who lifts up His hand (Ps. 10:12) to defeat our enemies, to rebuke demons and fevers and heal our afflictions. He lifts up His hand to be pierced, affixed to the wood, to bleed, to writhe in agony, to go limp in death to save us from death and hell, and then to be filled with life again, and, nail-print intact, to grab ahold of us and raise us up out of our death and rebellion to life and righteousness and eternal salvation. He forgets not the afflicted. He heals and He saves.
So it is that we find Jesus this morning casting out unclean demons and healing diseases and afflictions. This morning’s Holy Gospel follows fast on the heels of last week’s (Luke 4:16-30). Jesus preached in Nazareth. He proclaimed. The most important thing, as we learned, is the proclamation, the preaching that creates reality. Jesus preached that He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 61, in other words, that He is Messiah, come to save His people from their sins. “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). Then, having rolled up the scroll and sat down, Jesus begins His sermon with the words, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). Jesus preaches, He proclaims this good news, and in the proclamation, it is accomplished. The poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed… these are relieved of their afflictions in the preaching. The Kingdom of God has come in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth.
Now Jesus is in Capernaum, and once again He is preaching. He is teaching them in the synagogue, and the people are amazed because He preaches with authority. That is to say, once again, His preaching is creating reality. He doesn’t just speculate. He doesn’t just talk about God’s Word. He speaks God’s Word, and that Word forgives sins and restores sinners to the Father. And now amazing things begin to happen. A man with the spirit of an unclean demon is in their midst. He cries out that Jesus is the Holy One of God, a rather curious thing for a demon to say. Isn’t it interesting that demons know what the rest of the crowd does not? It is as St. James writes: “Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). This teaches us something about faith. Faith is not simply believing things to be true. Faith is trust that these things are true for you. Demons believe the facts about Jesus. You believe the facts about Jesus are true for you and for your salvation. Now Jesus commands the demon to be silent and come out of the man. And when Jesus speaks, things happen. Even the demons must obey. Jesus is the God even of the demons. The demon throws the man down and comes out of him. And because Jesus is on the scene, casting out the demon, the man is unharmed. The people are amazed, not simply by the miracle, but by the power of Jesus’ Word: “What is this word?” they exclaim. “For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” (v. 36). Jesus speaks, He preaches, and His preaching creates reality.
And here we learn about the new reality in His Kingdom. Where Jesus is, there is no more room for demons. Jesus comes to cast out Satan and His minions. So also, He comes to undo all the damage they have done. His Word undoes real afflictions. He raises Peter’s mother-in-law out of her fever. He heals all those brought to Him that evening who are sick with various diseases or oppressed by demons. The miracles prove His authority. They are confirmation of His preaching. He is who He says He is. He has come to do what He says He has come to do. He is God in the flesh. He has come to save His people. First there is the preaching. Then there are the miracles that confirm the preaching.
Now, you’ve probably never thought of it this way, but is this not the very pattern of how our Lord deals with us in the Divine Service? First there is the preaching, what we call “The Service of the Word.” You can easily see how that part is the same. There are the Scripture readings, just as Jesus opened the scroll in Nazareth to the appointed reading of the day from Isaiah 61. Then there is the sermon, just as Jesus preached to the people in Nazareth and in Capernaum. There is the liturgy of the Synagogue to accompany and complement the preaching, and so there is here at Church in the Divine Service. But what about the miracles that confirm the preaching? Where is the miracle? I mean, if we did miracles here after the sermon, one would think we’d be bursting at the seams with people who want to be healed of their afflictions.
Christ Jesus grant recovery of sight to the blind and open your eyes to see. What greater miracle could there be than that Jesus speaks and bread and wine become His true Body and Blood? First you have the preaching, then comes the miracle. And the miracle is for your healing. It goes right to the heart of the problem, the mortal disease, inherited from Adam, that is your sin. The very Body of Jesus, the hand of God lifted up to be pierced, the very Blood of Jesus, the Blood that poured out of His hands and streamed down His arms and His Body onto the ground at Golgotha, that Body and that Blood are given to you under bread and wine for the forgiveness of your sins. But not just for forgiveness. For strength. For fortification against temptation and the attacks of the devil. For protection. To protect you against the fiery darts of the evil one. For healing. Spiritual healing, certainly. That is the forgiveness you receive and the faith in Christ that these gifts impart. But also mental and physical healing. Oh, this is not to say that suddenly your cancer will be gone if you take Communion. But it is to say, who knows how many sicknesses you have not suffered because you received this medicine of immortality, and who knows how many sicknesses you’ve recovered from because of the Great Physician’s remedy. At the very least, we know because of the Lord’s Promise, that this holy Meal is a down payment on the perfect healing you will be granted in body and soul on the Day of Resurrection. The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is given to you for life. Eternal life. The Lord of Life gives you Himself. He is your Food, and you are what you eat. So, for the same reason the people in Capernaum brought all the sick to Jesus, that He might lay His hands on them and heal them, you come here with all your afflictions of body and soul. Jesus remembers your afflictions. He hears your desires and strengthens your heart. He touches you with His Body and Blood, and you are healed.
And what a beautiful picture it is of the Christian life when the people, after hearing the preaching, bring their loved ones to Jesus for healing. Peter and the disciples ask Jesus to help his mother-in-law. They pray to Jesus, and He heals her. The people bring the sick to Jesus for healing. They pray to Jesus on their behalf, and they bring them into His presence. They pray and they bring them to Church, and He heals them. You pray for your loved ones, especially when they are suffering. You pray to Jesus and, if they’ll let you, you bring them here into the presence of Jesus, where He does the miracles. You bring them to Church. You do this because you, likewise, know the healing of the Lord. You’ve heard the preaching. You’ve received the miracle. And now you live in the reality of the Kingdom. Like Peter and the crowd in Capernaum, you bring your loved ones to hear Him and be healed by Him. Like Peter’s mother-in-law, you get up to serve, doing works of love for your neighbor. Jesus frees you up from your afflictions so you can do this very thing.
There is the preaching. There is the miracle. This is the Divine Service. Jesus sets the pattern. And this is why you come to Church. Because you know you need this healing and this life. The world is a fallen place, and you live the midst of many dangers and afflictions. There is only one sure remedy for all that ails you. It is Jesus. It is the forgiveness of sins. It is His Word, His miracle, His Meal, His healing. The remedy for death and hell is Christ crucified and risen for you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.