WRESTLING AGAINST Battling Popular Opinion Luke 4.6

Luke 4:42-44

At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him, and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

ALL THE STAND-ALONE PIECES OF INFORMATION

  1. This incident happened in Capernaum very early in the morning, as the sun was coming up.
  2. Jesus went to be alone in a quiet place to pray.
  3. The people of the town went looking for him.
  4. When they found him, they wanted him to stay with them so badly that they tried to stop him from leaving.
  5. In response to them, Jesus told them that he had a primary responsibility to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to all of the other towns as well as theirs.
  6. He explained that this was part of his calling from God –  the reason he was sent.
  7. He then went around the towns of Judea preaching in the synagogues.

HOW DID THE PRESENCE OF THE ENEMY BECOME KNOWN?

At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him, and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them.

In the last section of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul urges his readers to make sure they are combat ready. He identifies the real enemy as spiritual, not physical. He goes on two identify seven weapons that would bring the strength and power of God to bear so that the (spiritual) enemy would be defeated, and God’s kingdom would come. Paul describes the contest as a wrestling match and identifies the enemy in the following way: “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”[1]

As complex and mysterious as this sounds, a tangible encounter with the real enemy could be quite simple and seem relatively harmless or unimportant. The incident here in a lonely place outside of Capernaum early in the morning is a good example. Jesus got up early and went out to a place where he could be on his own (in order to pray). People from the town must have come to Peter’s house expecting to see him. When they couldn’t find him, they went looking (as did the disciples if we use information from other accounts). They probably felt they were on a roll. They had been amazed when they saw a demon cut and run during the synagogue service. Peter’s mother-in-law was instantly healed from a fever. A whole bunch of sick and demonised people had come after sunset and had been healed. They wanted these kinds of things to continue, and the presence of Jesus was the key. When they found him, the only subject on the agenda was the unanimous wish for him to stay in Capernaum. The phrase describing their action is quite strong: “they tried to keep him from leaving.”

I don’t know about you, but for most warm-blooded humans there is something very inviting about being wanted. Popularity or approval from others seems to meet a fundamental need. Remember when teams were being picked at school? We all wanted to be the first one picked and dreaded the idea of being the last. On this occasion, Jesus had suddenly become Capernaum’s most favourite person. And no wonder. Households suffering sickness and disability were unburdened and rejoicing. People living with the demonised were experiencing normality for the very first time. It doesn’t take much to paint a parallel picture in our own world: suddenly our ministry is taking off. People are coming to our building and listening to our sermons. Our church is the talk of the town and the region. It doesn’t take much to move to the idea that we must be doing something right to attract this favour from God. Then comes the talk about publishing a book and building a bigger place where people can keep coming – maybe an indoor stadium to hold the crowds. So there is money to raise and applications to lodge. Yes, a bit of popularity can test out even the most humble of hearts. All of this is normal and natural in societies like the one to which I belong. We have been so well tutored by free-market ideas. If something suddenly gains popularity, the rush is on to capitalise. In 1975, as soon as the movie Jaws recouped its production costs in two weeks, it was inevitable that there would be Jaws II, if not III and IV.

As I said, popularity and riding a wave of support creates as many problems as obscurity or disapproval. My goal here is to gain a better understanding of how the enemy worked to oppose Jesus and what he was doing. It seems logical to me that ANYTHING that had the potential to limit or misdirect Jesus would qualify. The same would be true for us. While someone thrashing around on the floor shouting obscenities and blasphemy is easy to pick as the presence of a demon, other things are harder to pick, and that difficulty creates its own challenge. We could easily think it didn’t matter either way. We will see that Jesus didn’t agree.

But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

As I have demonstrated in the other incidents from Luke 4, one of the helpful ways of looking at the situation is to think what you might have done if you were in Jesus’ position. These people were not malicious or horrible. They were good people wanting what they thought was a good thing. If I had been approached by such people with a request to stay, I could definitely see myself wanting to please them. They weren’t opposing anything. Quite the opposite. They just wanted what had started among them to continue. I could have said something like, “Okay, I’ll stay for another week.” They would have been satisfied with such an answer, and the crowd would have wandered happily back into town. Soon the news of what Jesus had agreed to would be all around town. I can imagine how the story would have been told, “We went and found Jesus. He was going to leave, but when we pressed him to stay, he agreed” (or something of the sort).

In fact, Jesus was not willing to stay. His response was to explain his calling. He made known to them something they couldn’t see. He wasn’t looking for popularity, he was there to finish his Father’s work. It was the same when Jesus he fed the crowd. The people wanted to make him king – but he went off to a mountain by himself. A coronation awaited him, but it was going to happen on a cross and then in a grave, not on the side of a mountain. [2] The kind of king and kingdom they were thinking about was always going to fail. It always had and it always will. People and groups are still trying it out of course, but the result is always the same. Here in the early morning outside of Capernaum, the request was similar. It was based on the same presumptions, and its hopes were built on the same foundation. “We want a king to rule over us – preferably one who will give us what we want and privilege us over everyone else.” Jesus wasn’t going to be persuaded.

The reason for his resolve offers us another universal principle here. The unseen reality was the fact that he knew the will of God and wanted to fulfil it. Jesus articulated it without hesitation. God wanted Jesus to proclaim the message of the kingdom in every town and city in Galilee (and possibly Judea as well). We get this aspect of his calling in a few places. When he sends out the seventy-two, he tells them to go to all the places where he, himself, will come.[3] This is a powerful part of the message from heaven all by itself. I am aware of something quite different happening with people who gain great notoriety as itinerant ministers. They go where the biggest crowds are and sometimes, sadly, where the largest offerings are. It presumes a level of comparative self-importance that is absent in Jesus. At another point in the spectrum, we have people with a message and ministry from heaven who restrict their commitment to what is comfortable and easily accessible. They commit to the few people they know and stay in that small circle according to comfort and convenience BUT NOT CALLING.

One of the things I have discovered about the nature of the kingdom of God is that it has no borders. It is ever expanding, like the universe created by God. So often and so easily we limit God and build a wall around our hearts that ensures no pressure, nothing unknown and what is safe. In the language of this story, we don’t need a crowd of people to come and tell us to stay. We often make the presumption that we are not going anywhere unfamiliar or difficult. We may be fearful of the reaction of our spouse or family members. Jesus faced all of that.  His own family thought he was mentally ill.  But Jesus was motivated by what was inside his heart. It was the heart of his Father – God. Such a heart was not willing to draw a line or create a border till every family on the earth had been blessed with the opportunity to be reconciled with God. In terms of his contemporary circumstances that calling, and therefore his responsibility, is to go to every town and village.

In the opinion of those who interrupted his prayer time, he should stay with them. Some people will have difficulty accepting that it was a demonic idea. The fact remains that if Jesus had responded to their sincere wishes, he would have done so at the cost of obedience to his Father. This was similar to when Jesus announced that he would suffer and be crucified.[4] What Peter thought was a vote of loyal concern turned out to be a taunt from the devil – i.e. trying to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross.

WHAT WEAPONS DID JESUS USE TO ENGAGE THE ENEMY?

The effective weapon here, according to Paul’s list in Ephesians 6 is a combination of TRUTH and the WORD OF GOD. It involves others as well, but these two are the easiest to recognise. When the suggestion was made to Jesus, he already knew the answer because he knew what his calling was. Regardless of their sincerity or their rationale, it didn’t line up with his call. Their minds were naturally set in a very small world, the world of Capernaum. Jesus’ world was bigger. The story they were part of was defined by the traditions and lifestyles of their town. The story Jesus belonged to began before the foundation of the world and would end with the establishment of a new heaven and a new earth. They were concerned about their own wellbeing and that of their family and friends. Jesus was concerned about the families of every nation on earth. This reality/truth was alive and strong in Jesus so that his response was immediate and clear. I refer to the other above mentioned weapon: the word of God. Jesus knew his calling was based on what God had said rather than on his preferred natural gifts or on the opinion of a committee. It wasn’t dependent on circumstances or popular opinion. It was the unchanging word of God.

As with all seven of the weapons, this had the power to overrule the subtle attempt of the enemy to divert Jesus from this calling. He had a heart that loved the people of all villages and towns (righteousness). It was a calling based on offering the message of the gospel. It came from a deep trust in God’s ways and purpose (faith). It was borne of intimacy with the Father (salvation). It was nurtured and sustained by prayer. Yes, Jesus had the full armour of God on, and for that, he was combat ready. Could I again risk overstated repetition to point out that none of these “weapons” were ones he had “put on” that morning? Not a single one was resting on a rock where he was praying. All of them were things going on inside and things he had built and developed day by day. Combat ready is a matter of who and what you are before it is something that you do.

Having made that point, I also need to say that all of these weapons came into play as he met with the people from the town. The reality of his call needed to be stated regardless of what the people thought. He spoke to them and then left for Judea. It may have resulted in tension, disagreement or loss of favour at the time. He had to be prepared for that possible outcome. Most of the time it takes courage and strength to stick to your calling and the enemy of God’s purpose will use the subtle pressure of popular opinion to draw us away from it.  We have come to learn about something people are calling “mission drift.” Matt Smethurst [5] make the following observation in response to a very important book by Peter Greer and Chris Horst entitled “Mission Drift,” “Relatively minor decisions, when compounded by time, lead organisations to an entirely different purpose and identity.”

I agree. Mission drift can happen to individuals as easily as it can happen to churches and organisations. I am sure this will be easily recognised as a phenomenon but not as easy to deal with in daily life. When Jesus found his prayer time gate-crashed by a very sincere and well-meaning bunch of people from Capernaum, this was the threat they posed, and it WAS demonic.

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

This kind of threat happens all the time. I have been in Christian leadership for a little less than fifty years and can see how many times my insecurity or my desire to be liked by people caused me to cave-in to the pressure of one or more prevailing opinions. It doesn’t mean we need to be stubborn and independent. The wisdom from the story here is to know what your calling is. We need to take time to discover it, nurture and confirm it and then trust it. That process will and should involve others, but it is ultimately up to us. I know how easy it is to be “driven and tossed by the wind”[6] of varying opinions. It is especially true when those opinions come from the people we are married to, related to or obligated to in other legitimate ways. Then there are wider circles of people, e.g. a congregation we lead or people we work with.

What becomes important for us is to make sure we have a clear understanding of what God wants us to do. The old saying, “If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything” is true of the call of God. If you aren’t shaped and carried by a call of God, you will be liable to accept anything that sounds good. People often treat serving God like a fashion parade. They go after whatever is new or the latest thing they read in a book. They go to conferences often enough to ride on other people’s good stories but never take responsibility for allowing God to shape their own. They shift from church to church and never leave a faith legacy to anyone. They substitute talk about revival for obedience in their day to day living.

I value what God says and spend a significant portion of my time understanding it and road-testing it until I get a sense of what it means in my own circumstances. I have definitely been a person who is susceptible to wanting to please others and have said “Yes” to many things to which I should have said, “No.” As a result, I have avoided some pain I should have caused in the short term instead of what could avoid pain in the longer term. I have been at the beck and call of some people at the expense of being unavailable and disobedient to God. This story is a worthy reminder of the importance of taking the trouble to know the heart and purpose of God – and then to allow that knowledge to shape my priorities and activities. I also think that I should take the time and do the work needed to make sure that those around me are a knowing part of the process. Once again, I stress, this is not about unloading personal responsibility.  It is about how you get to a place where you are willing to take full responsibility for what God has entrusted to you.   The devil will always try to downplay that responsibility to increase the possibility of compromise.

[1]         See Ephesians 6:12

rulers – dominion through hierarchical systems. authorities – influence that has been conferred by a recognised process. powers of darkness – ability to deceive and confuse. destructive forces in spiritual realms – spiritual evil causing destruction.

[2]         See John 6      After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

[3]         See Luke 10 “After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.”

[4]         See Matthew 16:21-23 “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

[5]         https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-subtle-danger-of-mission-drift/

[6]         See James 1

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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.

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