Luke 4:31-41 “Healing”
We are talking about unclean spirits today. A demon walks into a fast-food establishment and orders a vodka tonic. The server behind the counter tells him “Sorry, we don’t serve spirits here.” Bad joke. Let us pray, “Way the words of. . . .”
Last week we left Jesus in Nazareth where he escapes neatly through a miracle from the hometown crowd that wanted to throw him off a cliff. He heads back down towards the town of Capernaum, a city that seems to be the center of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. Yet, we know that he was just there before coming up to Nazareth, so we need to consider why it is that he returns once more to that same city. Why not go somewhere else? Why not spread out the ministry a little more?
Yes, there is something that Luke wanted to point out to his original audience about the town of Capernaum. You see, when Luke was writing this, the Christians had already been kicked out of the Jewish synagogues and for the most part found refuge in “house churches.” Most of these house churches were in fact run by widows. So, we see Jesus going back to Peter’s mother-in-law’s house in Capernaum to bless her. She is healed from a fever and immediately serves Christ. That sounds strange to us, but it was the message to the early house churches that Jesus sees that as the way forward in ministry. Peter’s mother-in-law is in fact a “deacon” of the church in Capernaum because she serves at table—and that is what the word “deacon” literally means.
You will recall that Jesus goes to the synagogue as a 12 year-old boy. He goes to the synagogue in Nazareth. However, as His true ministry begins, he leaves the synagogue in Capernaum, and the teachings and miracles take place in the house church of a widow! That is so cool.
Our reading from today says that Jesus went to Capernaum for a certain reason indeed. Do you see it there in the text? It says that he went to that town in order to teach.
The Greek word used here is διδασκω, which is literally “to teach.” This is not, for instance, teaching someone a simple task, such as how to dig a hole in the ground. This is a true teaching of facts and theories. We get the English word “didactics” from this Greek idea. It is indeed referring to higher thoughts and education. Jesus is taking it upon himself to educate the people of Capernaum.
So, Jesus goes to Capernaum to teach didactically; however, He ends up apparently just healing people. I think we need to meld these two thoughts together here as Luke does in his writings: Jesus went to Capernaum to teach how to heal!
Jesus already has his eye on one particular pupil it seems. We read that he already knows Simon, who will later be called Peter by Jesus. He goes to Simon’s family’s house to help heal the mother-in-law there. Does Peter therefore learn how to heal as Jesus has taught? Yes, it seems that Peter becomes the star pupil as we can read in the Book of Acts 5:15-16, “They even carried out the sick on mats and cots in order that Peter’s shadow might fall upon them as he came by. . . and they were all healed.”
As we read further in our text for today about Jesus teaching in Capernaum, we see that the students were “astounded” by His teaching. Let us look at verse 32 again—the last subordinate clause. They were astounded at his teaching “because he spoke with authority.” What a terrible translation of Luke’s words here! They were astounded because, as it says in the Greek, “the Word of God was oozing out of Him! (εξόυσια ην ο λογος αυτού). The power to heal others was oozing out of Him.
Jesus gives this power to heal others directly to His disciples before sending them out in their own ministries as we see in Luke 9:1-2, “Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” I believe that as we receive the teachings of Jesus, we receive this power to heal in Christ’s name as well.
Let us shift gears a little bit here. As Jesus is teaching in the synagogue, a man with an unclean spirit interrupts the teaching. He shouts out, “Let us alone.” Before we get into the exchange between Jesus and this man, we should probably ask the question: “What is an unclean spirit?” What is affecting this man right now?
I must ask all of you if you noticed the strange way the demon in the man addresses Jesus. It is in the plural, right? Why is the unclean spirit speaking back in plural form?
I want to refer to a contemporary writer to Luke in the early church. He was a bishop named Irenaeus. Saint Irenaeus believed that humans could find and affirm what is Godly by its “oneness.” There is only one God. What is Godly in the world should reflect that oneness. Truth, for instance, if it is Godly Truth, cannot be “truths” (plural) because that is what humans say: “There are many truths, and your truth may not be my truth.” Jesus says there is only one Truth. God is the singular Truth; hence Jesus states that in John 14: “I am the Truth, the Way, and the Life.”
Saint Irenaeus is the one accredited with giving us the understanding that there are not a series of rules and regulations in the church. Instead we have “Canon Law.” The word “canon” is directly from the Greek κανων, meaning that is which created by God. You may have heard this term used to describe the Bible, too. We do not have multiple conflicting writings from humans but rather the canon of texts—that which is created by God!
Going back to the unclean spirit that refers to itself in the plural, this speaks of a kind of self-deceit that is not created by God. The unclean spirit deems itself greater than it actually is. This kind of deceit is exactly what makes Satan the “Great Deceiver.” If you want to identify an unclean spirit, listen for that kind of self-deceit—something that conflicts with a true one universal divine God.
The way I interpret this passage is that the man has some self-deceptive God-denying thoughts. The spirit is not causing him grief or pain per se. He is able to function seemingly normally in life. Maybe he is thinking some evil thoughts about hurting others, using profanity, adultery, or some such. In this way, he would seem to be quite normal for our day. WE all have our demons. They are not always what we think they are.
The unclean spirit in him is crying out to Jesus leave us alone—plural. We have heard this complaint before again and again: “Whatever is wrong in my life, it just is not bad enough that I should actually have to go to church!” “Don’t preach at me. Don’t bother me with your Jesus junk.” If you want to know if someone is suffering from an unclean spirit, when you hear such things, you will know.
The spirit in the man cries out, “You have come to ‘evict’ us.” I know the Bible says “destroy,” but truthfully the word here is “cast out” or “evict.” (απολυω) Jesus does not destroy the demons. He is not a police officer. He does not arrest them. He evicts them because this is the God’s Creation, and God has the right to cast out—evict.
So, we see that even demons recognize Jesus. Remember last week? His own hometown neighbors did not recognize him as the Son of God, Messiah, Almighty. Yet, the demons know who he is! Strange, no? Well, they fear him. They fear Jesus. In verse 35 we read that Jesus “rebukes” them. What? What does “rebuke” mean? (επετιμεω) It means from the Greek “to cause fear in someone else.” Hear the difference: If you see your child’s room is messy and you want that child to pick up the mess, you can say, “Please pick up your room. Live a clean life.” And, when that does not work, try the rebuke, “Pick up your room right now, or leave your father’s house and live with dog in the kennel.” My dog Nikos is always happy for company in his doghouse! That is the rebuke!
Rest assured, unclean spirits fear God. Therefore, put the fear of God in them. “Don’t you fear God?” Is a really good rebuke for an unclean spirit to hear!
People who pray and are prayed over actually do heal faster. You are welcome to read the reports from Web MD or Harvard University (studying prayer in healing for the last 30 years.) It is a fact! We do have a power to heal that comes from God, through Jesus’ ministry, to the world—which needs a lot of healing prayer right now.
When Jesus heals in Capernaum, the word goes out, and people start lining up to be healed. Wait, I thought Jesus went there to teach?! Now he has got lines of people waiting for healing prayers. Orrrr, was that really what Jesus went to Capernaum to teach? The Bible says that he was laying hands on people.
I hate to say it, but the Bible here is not exactly clear on what that is. What is “laying on of healing hands?” The confusion comes with the word “on” in the Greek. The word is επι in the Greek. My Greek dictionary has four pages of ways to translate this one little preposition. It might not mean “on,” but rather “over,” or even “towards.”
Here is the issue: For some reason especially this last week people have come up to me to ask me to “pray over” a loved one on the mainland. “Pastor, will you pray over my daughter in Chicago?” etc. I am happy to pray over anyone, anywhere, on this planet. We pray over Ukraine and Tonga as well. We are technically not laying on hands, but still praying over!
Isn’t it funny in English that when we are finally healed, we say: “We got over it!” We were with God in that healing position over the illness.
This is the power of God’s love through Jesus Christ coming through us to others. WE have the power to rebuke illness and heal in Jesus name.