WRESTLING AGAINST Luke 4.3 Jesus at the Synagogue in Capernaum

 

Luke 4:31-37

Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath, he taught the people. They were amazed at his teaching because his words had authority. In the synagogue, there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are —the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power, he gives orders to impure spirits, and they come out!” And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.

HOW DID THE WORK AND PRESENCE OF THE ENEMY BECOME APPARENT?

It is not difficult to identify the enemy in the synagogue in Capernaum. While Jesus was teaching a man in the congregation started speaking on behalf of the demon within him. It was the man who was doing the yelling, but it wasn’t the man who was making up the words. I know this is a bit hard for a lot of western cultured people to relate to, but lots of other cultures would be more familiar it. The society of the New Testament knew all about it. People knew when their relatives and friends were demon possessed. They brought them to Jesus for the demons to be cast out. At the time of Jesus Jewish exorcists were known to manipulate demons with apparent success,[1]But the demonstration of kingly power by Jesus was something they had never seen.

At the outset, let’s just notice what happened. I want us to be reminded that we are not reading a theological manual or a set of propositions. We are gaining an understanding of the kingdom of God through an event that happened to Jesus. The message is the story, and the story is the message. Any truth we discover will come as we observe it in its context. The context here is an incident in the synagogue at Capernaum.

Jesus had returned to Capernaum from Nazareth. He had made it his operations base. He had called disciples there, taught there and performed miracles there. In contrast to Nazareth, his teaching in the Capernaum synagogue was welcomed and acknowledged. The people listening knew that it was different from what they had come to expect over the years. The leaders who usually taught there would do what we see a lot of speakers doing today. Their impact comes from their accumulated knowledge. They quote all kinds of authorities they have researched and read. Their presentations are based on human oratory and human learning. None of that is wrong in itself. What made Jesus’ teaching different was the presence of God’s authority as he spoke. Today we might call that “anointing.” It was a combination of being what you are teaching and the Holy Spirit who works within the hearts of the hearers, affirming what is being said. We might also describe this as the ‘tangible presence’ of God. It happened when Jesus preached and taught.

As the room was becoming more engaged with the presence of the Spirit of the Lord, one man in the congregation was experiencing something quite different. Without delving too far into speculation, we could assume that he was becoming more and more uncomfortable or aggravated. The reason was that his life had been occupied by one or more demons. Whether the man was a visitor to the meeting or a regular we can’t know. What we do know was that his demonised condition was not obvious until he began to speak. It might be interesting to contemplate the idea that he could well have been a regular member. In that case, he would have sat through other synagogue services without being threatened by anything that was happening.

Today was different. It seems that the authority of Jesus’ presence provoked the demon into making his presence known. It was intimidating and directly threatened the legitimacy of the demon’s occupation within the man. I think we can deduce what was going on from the character of the outburst:

“Go away.”

“What do you want with us? Have you come to destroy us, Jesus of Nazareth?”

”I know who you are – the Holy One of God.”

Jesus didn’t go into the synagogue to chase a demon. He was there preaching and teaching. In other words, he was engaged in doing the work of the kingdom of God. That might seem very logical to some, but I can remember times when everyone seemed to get so hyped up about demons that they would act like security intelligence officers and “sweep” the room for demons before they did anything else, “just in case.” For that reason, we need to note that even when there WAS a demon in the room, Jesus didn’t focus on it. He simply proclaimed and ministered the kingdom of God. That, in itself, was sufficient to flush out any demonic presence.

The preoccupation with demons is sad because of the unwarranted attention and, at times, the authority it gives to the devil. Even though it is true that the Son of Man appeared to “destroy all the works of the evil one,”[2]He did that by proclaiming the kingdom. The same is true when certain people seem to set themselves up as experts on everything the devil is doing and offer endless critiques of anything that looks like an error.[3] It must always concern us to know that the ministry of Jesus was exactly the opposite. We know him because of what he offered, rather than what he opposed. The reason for this is simple: whenever he was opposed he offered something. He proclaimed the solution rather than describing or bemoaning the problem.

This is an excellent example. When Jesus first entered the synagogue nothing abnormal happened. The demon was present but silent. When he began to preach his authority was felt by everyone in the room. For all except one, it was embraced with approving surprise. They didn’t anticipate the palpable authority in the room. One of those present was affected very differently. The hidden demon became extremely agitated, possibly knowing his tenure was threatened. The level of agitation reached a point where silence was no longer an option.

We don’t have the opportunity to interview the demon involved. If we did, we could get a running commentary on how the situation unfolded. What is more to the point, we don’t fully know why he cried out. Was it an involuntary reaction of fear or was it a strategic counterattack? If it were involuntary, it would be reasonably simple to understand. Extreme fear often precipitates an involuntary outburst.

One of my reasons for thinking it was not involuntary, or not ultimately so, is based on the last of the three statements. The demon accurately publicises Jesus’ true identity: the “holy one of God.” The obvious question is, why the devil would want people to know that. He is the adversary. He is opposed to everything Jesus represents. We have noticed in the previous account of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth how the people intentionally avoided the suggestion that Jesus was the Messiah. Is the devil now working for the Kingdom? I don’t think so. It seems this outburst was an attempt to discredit Jesus. I’m pretty sure when someone screams out such things in the middle of the sermon it is not going to amount to credible testimony. It will only create confusion or aversion just by association.

The presence of Jesus and his preaching filled the room with authority from heaven. The first reaction of the demon was fear and then a quick counter-attack designed to discredit, even though what he was saying was true. We have already seen how the devil uses Scripture. This is similar. In this case, the devil is using truth in such a way that it will be obscured by the confusion.

Jesus exercises direct authority.

This is a good example of the way spiritual wickedness works. The man doing all the yelling is an individual human being with a separate spiritual person attached in some way. Jesus made this quite clear. His command is to the demon, not the man. Firstly to be silent and then to come out of him. The outcome is similarly clear. The demon objected to the idea and threw the man to the ground and then came out. No more manipulation. No more shouting. No more contesting. Just a man, lying on the floor of the synagogue free from this demonic presence and influence. Everyone saw what had happened and they were once again amazed at the exercise of such direct authority. It seems that while the regular exorcists were able to manipulate and do deals to get demons to leave, no one had ever seen a demon go by a simple word of command.

THE WEAPONS USED

One of my memories of growing up on the family farm was the local annual show. Even though I wasn’t all that proficient, I can remember spending a sizeable percentage of my pocket money at the duck-shooting sideshow. They used air rifles with lead pellets, and there would be a few rows of ducks that would spring up and move across the back wall of the tent. It was only when they were at the top of their cycle that you could get a shot. You had to be able to aim at the spot where they would pop up and then try to follow them across till they disappeared. I think this incident tells the same story. The presence of the enemy in the synagogue was not apparent until it reacted to the authority of Jesus as he preached. Once it was out in the open Jesus could respond with direct authority. There was no bargaining and no idea of appeasement or detente. Two words of command, a few parting rattles and it was gone.

Faith is the other weapon here. I think anyone who has ever ministered in the name of Jesus would relate to this experience. When you act or speak as an expression of faith, there is nothing visible to confirm the outcome. There is always a risk factor. Just think of it. The demon cries out. Jesus commands silence. The moment the command is spoken there is no tangible guarantee of what will happen next. Only faith is the “substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things that are not seen.”[4] Jesus speaks as a tangible “work”[5] of his trust in the Father’s power and purpose. There has been a longstanding debate about the essential nature of faith. One core meaning would be best translated by the English word, “faithfulness” or “loyalty.” Someone would be said to be exercising faith when they remain committed to a relationship or a purpose regardless of how they feel and regardless of what might happen. The other would be the assurance or knowledge that something was certain of happening even if there was no form of tangible evidence. I don’t think the two are opposite at all. Faith begets faithfulness and faithfulness begets faith as far as I am concerned.

On the day when Jesus was preaching in the Capernaum synagogue when the demon began to use the man’s voice to cry out loud, I don’t think there was any doubt in Jesus’ mind that if he uttered a command, the demon would succumb. He knew he had that authority. It is the same as anyone with authority in any area of life. An accomplished musician picks up their instrument, and confidently their fingers move to produce a beautiful sound. A doctor with authority can use the most intricate instruments with authority to perform successful brain surgery. They have faith in their skills and instruments. They know the intricacies of the human body and can navigate with the same faith or confidence. Patients can go in very sick and leave completely well. Jesus was confronted by a man controlled by a demon. He could get rid of the demon and leave the man a bit shaken, but free. Like the Bible says, “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.”[6]  As we know faith is not just some set of propositions to which we give assent. It is something that is known by what happens because it is there. When a demonised man is set free, what we have witnessed is the faith inside of Jesus becoming visible and measurable. Above all things, faith will only be known by what happens. Jesus was in that synagogue with his Father’s authority and knew his Father’s purpose. No one could see it when he entered. They began to experience some of that faith during his preaching. It became more visible as they saw a demon intimidated, silenced and then expulsed at Jesus’ command.

One of the things I love about spiritual weapons is the fact that when they are used, only the devil loses. Only the devil’s world is destroyed. Flesh and blood have the opportunity to be rescued, delivered, transformed or redeemed. They don’t always take the opportunity, but whenever spiritual weapons are used, they get the chance. On this day in the synagogue, one man was set free, and the rest of the congregation had the opportunity to embrace their Messiah/King.

HOW MIGHT I RECOGNISE A SIMILAR WORK OF THE ENEMY AND DEAL WITH IT?

There are a series of challenges here. Even though I have had some experiences where demons have made their presence known through people I have been involved with, I have very limited understanding of the matter. What we have been witnessing here is an occasion where, as kingdom ministry (in this case preaching) was happening it flushed out a demon that was present. I think I ought to be more aware of the fact that there is a difference between doing the work of the kingdom with authority and doing it without. When we have little or no authority we are like anyone doing anything with no authority: we are more tentative, less expectant and more engaged with human interaction rather than engaging the powers of darkness because we know what we are doing and know how to do it. So I think I need to spend more time considering what I am doing in the name of Jesus and offer that ministry with the confidence that I am going to confront resident dark powers. I think I should become more aware and practice the more so that I become more confident. I need to learn as I go and keep pushing out the boundaries of my comfort zones. I need to learn how the enemy captures people and confront the enemy with more confidence rather than just having endless conversations that challenge nothing much at all.

I think if I focus on FULLY doing kingdom of God work – i.e. what flows from the rule of God and what challenges every other kingdom and what honours the rule and will of the king, I will find myself more and more in situations where the contest is between what I am saying and doing and what the devil has been killing, stealing and destroying. I want to offer people the very best of what the kingdom of God represents as Jesus did. When demons show up, as a result, I want to be able to deal with them directly and effectively. I think it is harder to do than it is to talk about. To be willing to confront the actual presence of a demon IN a person or IN a situation takes a bit of practice. Some people will take this to an extreme and figure there are demons where there aren’t. Others will qualify demonic presence using the language of psychology and want to deal with it by prescribing medicines. That’s why there is a work of the Holy Spirit enabling us to DISCERN what is going on. It must not be a method or a religious practice. It must be a one-by-one discerning so that we know how to respond.

I can only assume that the weapon of salvation, i.e. my covenant relationship with God gives me access to the authority belonging to my Father just like Jesus. I need to continue to embrace that relationship so that I will know God’s authority and be able to exercise it as an expression of his nature and purpose.

[1]         See Luke 11:19 “Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.”

When Jesus was accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, by the religious leaders, he argued that their accusations could apply in the same way to the Jewish exorcists who practised their ministry with a measure of endorsement from the religious establishment.

See also Josephus, Antiquities 8:47-49 where Josephus talks about exorcists using scents and invoking particular words to see someone freed from demonic influence.

[2]         See First John 3:8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

[3]         One example that comes to mind is the work of Hank Hanegraaff from the Christian Research Institute. Their zeal to expose Christian heresy was so strong we only knew them by what they were opposed to – rather than what they stood for.

[4]         See Hebrews 11:1

[5]         See James 2:

[6]         See First John 5:4

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About Brian

Passionate follower of Jesus. Member of a family that keeps on growing because I keep on meeting up with more great people from every nation and background who I belong to because of Jesus. Husband of an amazing woman, father of four forgiving kids and eight almost perfect grandkids. And loving it.