This is the sermon for the The Third Sunday in Lent (Oculi). The sermon text is: Luke 4:31-37. The sermon theme is: Where Is Your Power Now? Here is the Written Sermon.
Where Is Your Power Now?
When was the last time you saw stars? No, I’m not talking about the stars above that shine through the darkness on a clear night. I’m talking about the stars you get hit in the head. Years ago, when I was a teenager, our family went to the water-slides. I went down one of those really steep water-slides. It was so steep that the water shooted between my feet straight into my face. And I couldn’t breathe. So, I tilted my head back a little. And then the back of my head repeatedly hit the slide. When I reached the bottom of the slide I saw stars. I could barely stand. And when I did, my head would turn this way and that, trying to focus on the stars flying around.
That feeling—that sensation is what the people who were listening to Jesus and watching him in these words from Luke 4 were going through. The word that Luke uses means to ‘strike someone in the head really, really hard.’1 That’s what it was like to be around Jesus when he preached. He preached with such power that it was like someone hit you across your head with a two-by-four. Luke tells us: “Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.” (Luke 4:31–32 NIV)
The people were astonished at his teaching. Why? Jesus taught with authority. The word that Luke uses here for “authority” can be boiled down to two “P”-words2. First, Jesus’ teaching had permission. Jesus knew God’s word so very well that he had permission and freedom to speak it without second-guessing what he said. And second, power. When they say that Jesus taught with authority, the other idea behind this word is power. It was the sort of preaching and teaching that tore open your soul with the truth.
Maybe the best way to show this is by contrast. The teachers and preachers of the day did not speak with authority. They would use words like “might” and “maybe” when they should have used words like “is” and “will be.” They would say “this person thinks this. And that person thinks that. And, in the end, we don’t really know.” They filled their people with doubt when they should have been saying “thus says the Lord.”3
Jesus showed power in what he said. But even more amazing and perplexing was what he did. In these words in Luke 4 we come across the first time that Jesus drove out a demon. Now, before we speak about the power Jesus shows here, we need to set aside some time to speak about demons. Up until recent generations, the idea that the Devil exists and that he has demons serving his evil purposes would never be doubted or really debated. Christians realized that, if the bible says that Satan is real, then he is. And if the bible says that demons are real, then they are.
Where the “rubber hits the road” is not really that the Devil and his demons exist. As Christians, we know this. The real question is this: what can they do to us? In this area, there are two equally sinful attitudes we can take. On the one hand, we can pretend that we will never be affected by demons. We can pretend that we can watch evil movies about Satan and demon possession and think that it won’t affect us. We can read books that absorb us in darkness and lead us to despair. On the one hand, we can pretend that we can swim in a sea of Satanism and that it won’t drown us.
On the other hand, what is just as bad is thinking that Satan will always affect us. Just as bad is thinking that, if a car crashes or a tornado comes then that was Satan trying to get you. Just as bad is thinking that you’re just one bad thought away from Satan possessing your soul or one of his demons even possessing your body. Years ago, I was taking a woman through adult instruction class. And she called me late at night and begged me to come over to her house because she was horribly scared. So I did. And what was it that she was scared of? She saw a picture of a demon reflected in her front headlight. And she was terrified. And so I sat her down and told her that I didn’t see the demon in the headlight. And even if there were a demon in the headlight, I told her, then why should we care. I looked straight at her and said: “You don’t belong to Satan. You don’t belong to demons. You belong to Jesus. He watches over you and protects you.”
So here in your lives, see these double sins. You sin when you pretend that Satan has no power. And you sin just as much when you live your life in terror thinking that Satan has all power. For Jesus is the one with all the power. And we see that in these words here in Luke. The people were amazed at what Jesus’ words did to their hearts. But, even more so, they were amazed at what his words did to demons. Luke tells us: “In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit….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 is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!”” (Luke 4:33–36 NIV)
Notice the progression. Jesus says “come out.” What happens next? The demon is unable to not come out. And what do the people say? “He gives orders…and the demons actually do what he commands.”
Jesus showed power in his words. Jesus showed power in his actions. But this leads us to a very important question: Jesus, where is your power now? If we look at Christ’s church it doesn’t seem as if there’s a whole lot of power there at all. Where are the powerful words? Where are the powerful actions?
Well, let me tell you clearly where Jesus does not put his power. Jesus does not place his power in the emotions we feel. If you see a church that has a big sign on the outside that says “come here, you will feel Jesus’ power”, then don’t run to that church. Run away from it. For God does not choose to reveal his power in our emotions. So also, Jesus does not choose to show his power in personal victories. If you get a wife or a job or a good grade at school, then that’s great. But it’s not where Jesus reveals his power. Jesus does not show his power in the number of people sitting in the pew. We cannot say that we are a Jesus-lead, Spirit-filled congregation simply because we might have a bunch of people in the pews. So also, Jesus does not even reveal his power in the charisma of the pastor. Your pastor’s fancy speech and big words does not show or reveal Jesus’ power.
Well then, where is it? Where is your power now, Jesus? Where can we find it? Look back at these words in Luke 4 very carefully. What was it that caused these people to be cut to the core and be filled with forgiveness? It was the words that Jesus spoke. What was it that drove this demon out of this man? It was the words that Jesus spoke.
So then, my brothers and sisters, if you want to see Jesus’ power then look here. Look to this baptismal font. For hundreds of years, here is where exorcisms were performed. Here is where water was joined to the power in Jesus’ words. And what did it do? It drove Satan out of an unbeliever and replaced him with Jesus. If you want to see power–true power to fight against sin, then look no farther than this communion rail. For in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus adds the power of his word to bread and wine. And through it he forgives our sins and gives us strength to carry on powerful war against Satan.
And finally, my brothers and sisters, don’t despair. Do not despair that so very often you cannot see Jesus’ power. Jesus hides his power from the world. But he reveals it to you in his word. He does this to show you how he uses his power. He uses his power primarily not to destroy—but to save. Through Jesus’ word we receive internal peace, not external power. Through his word we receive daily bread, not the wealth of nations. Through his word we receive names written in heaven, not written on the arches of museums.
What this means for us is that for the many times we have sinned, whether by thinking that Satan had no power or by thinking he has all power—all those sins are forgiven. For we belong to Jesus. For even though he hides his power from the world, he reveals his power to us in words of forgiveness. Amen.
1 ἐκπλήσσω: to cause to be filled with amazement to the point of being overwhelmed, amaze, astound, overwhelm (lit. strike out of one’s senses) “ἐκπλήσσω,” BDAG, 308.
2 καὶ ἐξεπλήσσοντο ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ, ὅτι ἐν ἐξουσίᾳ ἦν ὁ λόγος αὐτοῦ.
3 כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה