Prior to their period of captivity in Babylon, the people of Judah worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem. But, after they were taken out of Judah and brought into Babylon and away from the temple, they had to find another way to worship, since the temple was no longer available to them. So, they developed the synagogue. This was a place where Jewish males gathered in order to read the scrolls of the Scriptures – what today we call the Old Testament – pray to God, and hear His Word expounded upon.
Later, when the early New Testament Christians began worshipping together, they continued to follow this pattern that was first established in the synagogue. The early Christians were also the first to start using the codex, rather than the scroll. That is, they bound the Scriptures in a book form and by doing so helped to show which writings were considered authoritative as Scripture and which were not. The writings in the codex were considered authoritative, while those outside the codex were not.
At any rate, the early Christians continued to follow the pattern of synagogue worship, eventually adding the books of the New Testament to the list of readings. So, each Sunday – the day of the Lord’s Resurrection – they would read from the Old Testament, one of the epistles, and then from one of the Gospels. Then, they would also celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
It probably sounds very familiar. Our traditional liturgy basically goes all the way back to the early Church and even further back to synagogue worship; the celebration of the Sacrament goes back to the early Church’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper. So, the way we worship today goes back 2000 years to the early Church and, in some ways, back even further a few hundred years to the synagogue worship pattern.
So, in the text from Luke today we see Jesus going to the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath, Saturday, to teach (Luke 4:31-44). In Luke’s Gospel last week, Jesus was in the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of Isaiah and proclaimed that Isaiah’s prophecies were now fulfilled in him. Now, this week, Jesus is in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Luke doesn’t say from which scroll Jesus read this week or what specifically he taught. But, we can imagine that like last week, he was pointing out how the Scriptures are being fulfilled in and by him. And at this, one of the men in the synagogue who had an unclean demon dwelling in him cried 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.”
What I find most interesting here is that this man was a member of the synagogue. Since he is still a member of the synagogue at this point in Luke’s Gospel, we can assume that he had never cried out like this before, or else the other people probably would have kicked him out of the synagogue. And yet he had a demon.
What that means then is that week after week, Sabbath after Sabbath, this man and his demon came to the synagogue and never found anything that was said which was worth crying out over. Nothing was said that challenged him or that he found threatening. This demon was perfectly at home in the synagogue in Capernaum, until Jesus Christ came to challenge him.
That’s amazing isn’t it? It’s like each week nothing was said that was really worthwhile, because neither Satan nor his demons took offense. They were comfortable in church, because there was no preaching of Christ to challenge them or confront them.
I fear that a similar thing happens in our churches today, particularly in this country and most of the Western world. We have whole church bodies embracing sin, we have church bodies and individuals actively advocating for the murder of the unborn, we have preaching which points us not to Christ for salvation, but rather to political programs or ourselves.
And Christ, the Word of God in the flesh, is what needs to be proclaimed. That man in the synagogue sat there comfortable for an untold number of Sabbaths until Christ came into his midst and taught with his own word that possessed authority. The demon knows who Jesus is and as he speaks to Jesus, Jesus rebukes the demon, telling him to be silent and come out of the man; and the demon obeys. Indeed, the demon must obey, because Jesus’ word has authority and he has the power to do things through his Word.
Then, Jesus goes to Simon Peter’s house where Simon’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever. Jesus rebukes the fever and it leaves her. Indeed, it must leave her, because Jesus’ word has authority and power. Then, the healed woman gets up and begins to serve them. Here we see what happens when Jesus delivers us. He heals us and restores us and then we are brought into a new life to serve. Like Simon’s mother-in-law who was healed and then got up to serve, we too are healed and then get up to serve.
Jesus’ word has authority. He has the authority of God to cleanse and heal, because he is God, God in the flesh. So, Jesus rebukes demons and casts them out. He rebukes illness and removes it. Jesus removes evil and restores his creation. This is what Jesus came to do; he came to “preach the good news of the kingdom of God.”
The “kingdom of God” that Jesus speaks of in this text and throughout the Gospels is not really a place. When we hear the word “kingdom” we tend to think of a place, perhaps a place with a castle. But, what Jesus means by kingdom really has the sense of a “reign” or “rule.” That is, Jesus preaches the good news of the reign of God which is claiming this fallen world as His own, returning it to its rightful state in which He created it. And it comes about through the Word of God made flesh and the continual proclamation of this Word through the Church in both speech and Sacrament. To do less is to allow people to remain captive to sin and death.
And so the Church births children into the reign of God. You have been birthed through the waters of Baptism and given new life. You have been cleansed from evil and healed, brought out of Satan’s reign and into the reign of God through Jesus Christ.
In fact, in the older rites of Baptism, there was an exorcism performed at the beginning where the devil was cast out of the soon to be baptized person through the power of Christ’s word. Then, the person would be baptized in the water to die and rise with Christ. Baptism is the drowning of the old person so that the old person dies to the power of sin and evil. Then, the baptized person rises up out of the waters of baptism into a new life with Christ. He is recreated in Baptism. God has done this to you in your own Baptisms. You have died and risen with Christ, so death and evil no longer have any hold on you. And what does this great work? It’s God’s Word, which has the power and authority to do this. And now you are enabled to do good works, to serve in love, because of what Christ has first done for you and to you.
Paul talks about serving in love in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13). The word translated love means a kind of servant love or charity; love in action, essentially. And Paul holds up faith, hope, and love as three great Christian virtues, but maintains that the greatest of these is love, for a very good reason.
Of faith, Hebrews 11:1 says that “… faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Of hope, Paul says in Romans: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25).
So, both faith and hope grasp hold of something that is not seen and look towards the coming of something with patience. Our Christian faith grasps hold of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that the reign of God has come and that we are incorporated into His reign of healing and restoration through our baptisms into Christ’s death and resurrection.
Likewise, our Christian hope is that Christ will return to finish the restoration and healing that he started in our Baptisms. We live in a world that still has Satan prowling about and with sin and death and decay and evil in it. But, our Baptismal hope looks past all this present evil and instead looks forward to Christ’s return, and our faith trusts in Christ’s promise to return. Until that day, in this present life, we live lives of active love in the midst of decay and death, serving one another for the sake of Christ.
But, when Christ returns our hopes will be fulfilled and our faith will be complete. What we had not seen will then, on that day, be seen. So, faith and hope will then pass away, because we will receive what we hoped for and in whom we had faith. We will see Christ face to face and dwell in person with Christ and each other forever in a world without sin, death, decay, or evil. So, faith will be seen and hope will be fulfilled. So, it is love, then, that remains forever. This is the love of Christ that you have already received and now share with each other: an active love which sacrificed himself for you and which continues on into eternity.
For, the Lord who knew you in the womb came in the flesh to die and rise for you. And the Lord who knew you in the womb baptized you into his death and resurrection. He removed you from the reign of evil and sin and death and placed you into the reign of God instead though the Baptismal waters. This is the good news. And He continues to feed you with his Word each week in preaching and the Lord’s Supper, for you live within the gracious reign of God. And this word has authority; it gives you what he says. It gives you forgiveness and healing and restoration, freely and without cost to you.
Yet, all this is just the beginning, a foretaste of what is to come. All things will be completed when Christ returns. He will fulfill your faith, complete your hope, and finish your healing and restoration as well as that of all creation. And you will then dwell with the Lord and each other in perfect love for eternity. This you can be sure of, because the promises of God come to you through His Word which has the authority to make these promises and the power to fulfill them. Amen.
(Image: Christ preaching at Capernaum. By Maurycy Gottlieb – pl.pinterest.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1712661