We encounter Jesus preforming his first miracles in our bible reading today and its pretty much splash into the deep end as the first one is liberating a man from an unclean spirit, then rebuking a fever and having it go away… It very much invites us to step out of our comfort zones as we follow his footsteps.
There are two extremes when it comes to thinking of the demonic... In my life I have meet people who you could say were obsessed with the demonic. They saw a demon behind every bush, every problem, every sickness, everything that went wrong. I was in a prayer meeting one night for a girl in the church I grew up in who was very sick and dying and I remember one man standing up and saying the reason she wasn’t getting better was that we hadn’t prayed against demonic forces and principalities in the right order… I remember thinking if your God is such a legalist mate I don’t want anything to do with him. In the passage we are going to be looking at today the gospel acknowledges a whole raft of different sources for the cause of difficulty and sickness in life, which is not that comforting really but it is comforting to know that Jesus has authority in the spiritual and physical realms.
I also know many Christians who deny the existence of the demonic or spiritual realm as NT Wright says they write off Jesus encounter with such things as simply medical conditions that people hadn’t diagnosed in Jesus day. Yet there have been a few times in my own ministry where I have encountered strange spiritual situations, that I associated with the demonic. One night at a home group I lead the whole gathering was like trying to move in porridge, like a wet blanket of depression covered the place and people. I left at the end of the night wondering what was going on and when I got to the end of the drive way, I felt the Holy Spirit say ‘Howard there was a spirit over that place and I needed to go back and deal with it. Great right…so I went back and told the group what I had sensed the Holy Spirit saying and as I said the name of the spirit the women whose flat it was screamed grabbed her head and fell to the ground. I’d never dealt with anything like this before, so I explained what I thought was happening to the people there told them there was nothing to be afraid of and we gathered and prayed that the spirit might be gone in Jesus name. The whole atmosphere changed and the women got up and was able to say that whatever it was had gone and she felt a real peace and joy in herself and in that place. It led to the other people in the group openly sharing what was going on in their lives and a very powerful time of prayer and the Holy Spirit ministering to people. As we saw in the reading we had today the Kingdom of God is about freedom and release.
We are working our way through Luke’s Gospel looking at the Ministry of Jesus, following his footsteps… we took a break last week and the kids took the service, it was great but before that we had looked at Jesus in hishome town where he had opened the scroll of Isaiah and read out a passage which acted as a sort of mission statement for what Jesus was about,
‘the spirit of the Lord is upon me,
he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor,
Release to the captives,
Recovery of sight to the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
In the passage we had read to us today Luke invites us to see how that mission statement, that revolution of God’s grace and release starts to work its self out in the Ministry of Jesus.
The passage we had read out revolves around two miracles stories: The freeing of the man with the unclean spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum, and the healing at Simon’s house of his mother in Law. They are placed in the context of Jesus teaching and preaching ministry. It starts with Jesus coming to Capernaum and preaching at the synagogue and it finishes with Jesus spending time with God and affirming that God’s call on his life is to go to many towns and villages with the good news of the Kingdom of God… That is the first time Jesus uses ‘the kingdom of God’ in Luke’s gospel. Jesus ministry is to proclaim the new way of living in relationship with God, and he is to show that in healing and release in people’s lives.
In each of the parts of this reading we see people response to Jesus. All the way through Luke’s gospel we are shown that who Jesus is and what he teaches and does calls for us to respond. The people are amazed at his teaching and they see he has authority. Elsewhere in the gospels he is contrast with the teaching of the rabbi’s in that. The rabbi’s would teach in a manner where they would quote this rabbi or that rabbi as a precedent about how to understand scripture, but as Darryl Bock puts it ‘Jesus declares God’s will directly even keeping his direct use of scripture to a few limited citations.’ The people are amazed that this authority even goes to speaking to demons and to physical illness and those things obey him. People respond in the narrative by bringing others to him to heal and liberate. They respond by wanting him to stay with them, as we move on in the gospel Jesus call will be I’m not staying with you rather come and follow me. When we meet Jesus response is inevitable. As we seen some responded like you can on face book by simply pushing the like button with no real engagement, as we work our way through Luke we are invited to see more and more what it means for us to respond positively to who Jesus is.
The miracles themselves speak in so many different ways about Jesus and his mission and his Kingdom.
They speak of his revolution of Grace…The people in Nazareth had been upset that Jesus revolution of God’s grace seemed to be for the wrong people. Here we start to see how Jesus good news for the poor release for the prisoner is worked out. Someone who was identified as a having an unclean spirit would have been ostracized seen as being on the outside. They would have been classed as a sinner, or cursed. Perhaps, it is the same kind of stigma that is attached to people who suffer from mental illness today that we are trying to break down. Jesus however shows the person God’s mercy and grace and brings liberty. By the way I’m not making a connection between the demonic and mental illness per sae, Luke’s gospel is very quick in the narrative to point out that what is oppressing or possessing these people are spiritual beings and we see that they are very aware of who Jesus is, through the passage they are the ones who acknowledge Jesus as the ‘Holy one of Israel, the son of God, the messiah, Jesus tells them to be quite because he does not need their testimony, it is not mental illness or delusional behaviour. Simon’s Mother-in-law was living with Simon which means she was a widow and had no son to look after her, which meant she fit the definition of the poor mentioned in Isaiah and she would have been marginalised in her society, but it shows Simons kindness nd also Jesus compassion in healing her. As the sun goes down and the Sabbath ends people respond to this revolution by bringing people suffering from all kinds of illness to Jesus, it’s like the revalation of God’s grace and compassion allows them to do that.
The miracles speak of the release and liberation that this revolution of grace brings. We should not be surprised that as Jesus had already encountered Satan and overcome him in the desert that as he proclaims God’s reign and God’s agenda of freedom, grace and justice that he should encounter and defeat Satan’s foot soldiers. Most of us without knowing it owe our image of the demonic more to such works as Dante’s inferno than scripture, some people have a very highly developed demonology, but in this passage Luke uses three words, to try and explain what Jesus is dealing with, ‘Spirit’ ‘unclean’ and ‘demon’, he is basically saying that what Jesus is dealing with is the antithesis of the Holy Spirit that comes from God. Joel Green says that the mission of Jesus is set against these demonic forces, for they are at variance with God’s purposes for human wholeness. God’s purpose is for us to find freedom and wholeness in Christ and when we see these unclean spirits in scripture they are bent on the opposite destruction and oppression of humanity.
But it goes beyond that… The coming of God’s anointed one is an onslaught against all the powers of evil, be they spiritual or physical, like diseases and illness, on an individual level as we see in these case or systemic as we see as we move on through the gospel. As we see Jesus teaching and ministry come into conflict with the political and religious powers of his day. And as we move though the gospel we see Jesus call people to be an alternative kingdom, people who live out the grace and justice and mercy of God. next week in Luke 5 we will see him calling people to come and follow him, establishing that new people of God and then in Luke 6, in what is called the sermon on the plain, because it contains so much of Matthews, sermon on the mount, that Jesus gives them instruction of a new way to live, a human society that is set free to live out the reign of God.
I want to finish by saying three quick things…
Firstly, where we allow Jesus presence and teaching to come it brings liberty and wholeness and life. WE are quite happy to see this in terms of people’s lives being turned around, freedom for addiction or sin we are not so sure about healing… Often when the miracles in the gospel are preached on there is the debate over whether God still moves in the miraculous today as in Jesus day. Does God heal? Does God set free? It’s a serious question because often people will say well praying for healing isn’t it just giving people false hope? John Blanchard’s response is ‘that while God uses the body’s natural mechanism drugs, medicare and medical skill to restore people to health today, he also works directly and by miraculous means. Do we limit God by locking this kind of healing away within the covers of the Bible?
Secondly, where we allow Jesus presence and teaching to come it brings liberty and wholeness and life. It means that we will come into contact and opposition with forces arrayed against God’s kingdom. Spiritual forces, physical forces, human forces... political and systemic. It is important for us to be aware of that and also to be aware that we have the presence of the same Holy Spirit that Jesus did with us and that Jesus has the authority over those powers. By his life and death and resurrection he has broken the powers of sin and death, and as his kingdom has come the power of sin and death and evil to oppress and bind is broken in his name. We can have courage and hope facing those things, at an individual level and a systemic level. Some will be overcome miraculously some by sacrificial service and perseverance proclaiming and living out the Kingdom of God.
Lastly, where we allow Jesus presence and teaching to come it brings liberty and wholeness and life. This morning I want to invite you to be still to encounter Jesus presence here with us today by the power of the Holy Spirit. Are there areas in your life where you know you feel that spiritual oppression or you just can’t seem to be free of that are holding you back from knowing a fullness of life in Christ… I invite you to ask Jesus to shine the light of his presence into those areas. Physical issues and troubles offer them up to Jesus as well…