A funny thing happened in the Synagogue…

Luke 4:31—37

Historian Luke records a number of incidents in 4:31—44 that take place in Capernaum, which was Jesus’ home base during His work in and around Galilee. Bible scholars note that here we see the power Jesus has over demons and diseases. But in the incident in the synagogue, we learn something about those who attend “religious services.” It’s not always saints who attend “religious services.” In the synagogue this particular day was one possessed by an unclean spirit. Right at the outset of this story, then, we learn that not everybody is what they seem. Who would have dreamed that a demon-possessed person would want to go to church?

Both Luke and Mark tell a similar story. In Mark, the story is found in 1:21—28. Luke, writing to Theophilus, a Greek, adds a detail Mark, writing to people familiar with the territory, left out.

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. (Mark 1:21)

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)

Once again, Jesus, as was His custom, went to the local synagogue. Clearly Jesus was known well enough for those in charge of that synagogue to ask Him to teach. His teaching was so profound, those in the congregation that Sabbath were literally “struck out of themselves,” or as we might say, “the couldn’t believe their ears.” Now, their state of amazement didn’t last long, but amazed they were with Jesus’ teaching. What did Jesus say that was so amazing? Consider:

  • Jesus spoke the truth. The teachings of the scribes and Pharisees were marked by corruption and evasion (Matthew 5:21ff).
  • Jesus taught about important things; matters of life and death, time and eternity. The Pharisees often wasted their time on trivial matters (Luke 11:42; Matt. 23:23).
  • Jesus taught systematically; He often reasoned with His listeners. The religious leaders often rambled on and on, as evidenced by the writings of the Talmud.
  • Jesus engaged His listeners by using parables and illustrations. Their “speeches” were dry and old.
  • Jesus preached and taught as One concerned with those in His audience. Jesus cared about them and addressed their needs. The religious types were cold and had no love for people (Luke 20:47)
  • Jesus spoke with authority because His message came from His heart; it was part of who He was. The scribes, though, always took their teachings from the fallible doctrines of man; scribe quoting scribe, never saying anything original or from their heart.

No wonder those in the synagogue that Sabbath were astonished. Jesus’ message and His presentation must have been so refreshing!

1. The enemies of Jesus

In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice… (verse 33)

Actually, there were two in opposition to Jesus this day: the demon and the man possessed by the demon. An innocent person is never indwelt by a demon. Only those who are already opposed to God and in league with the devil can be possessed.

An interesting observation should be made at this point. Many, if not all, primitive people attributed physical illnesses and mental abnormalities to the influence and operation of evil spirits. But not the New Testament writers. They recognized when a person was ill because of a physical disease and very often they were healed by Jesus or other apostles. But, as Luke himself notes, they also recognized when a person was inhabited by a foreign spirit; an “unclean” or demonic spirit.

Ha! 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!” (verse 34)

Notice what the demonic spirit said to Jesus:

It knew who Jesus was.

I know who you are—the Holy One of God!

The demon knew exactly who Jesus was. Naturally it would know who Jesus was! Jesus is the Son of God; divinity in the flesh. This demon, as all demons are, was subject to the Son of God from all eternity. But what’s really significant here was that the demon acknowledged both of Jesus’ natures, referring to our Lord as “the Holy One of God,” Jesus’ divine nature, and “Jesus of Nazareth,” acknowledging Jesus’ human nature. The demon may have been wicked and evil, but it was not ignorant on this point.

It knew why Jesus was there.

Have you come to destroy us?

Did the demon have a complete understanding of Christ’s mission? Did Jesus come to destroy demons and those possessed by them? Here we see the ignorance of the demon on display. In fact, Jesus mission was clearly spelled out in Luke 19:10—

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.

Yes, Jesus did come to destroy all evil and end all opposition to God, but the Son of God was made flesh to seek and to save the lost! But neither God nor Jesus is unjust. That’s why our Lord drove demons out of people in order to save the person.

It shunned His presence

What do you want with us…

There is absolutely nothing similar between light and dark; between good and evil. The devil and all who serve him will always shun and hate the light because it shows them for what they really are.

What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:15)

But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. (John 3:21)

The demons knew who Jesus was and they knew He would never have anything good to do with them!

Do the demons of Hell know you as a child of God? Would they ever say to you what they said to Jesus, “What do you want with us?”

It wanted to be left alone

Let us alone (KJV)

Not only do demons want to be left alone in their sin, but all those leaning in their direction want nothing to do with God and God’s people. It’s the exact opposite with people of God; those who love Christ want to spend time with Him and be in His presence and associate with God’s people.

2. The word of Jesus

God’s Word is quick and powerful. God’s Word is:

A word of conviction

Be quiet!

Jesus does not acknowledge anything the demon said; He had no interest in hearing a single, corrupt word. Besides, what right had that demon to interrupt our Lord in a synagogue on the Sabbath? So Jesus sternly rebukes the demon with a terse authority that must have caught the attention of all onlookers.

The very first work of Jesus is to silence the sinner:

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. (Romans 3:19)

What silences the mouth of a sinner? The Word of God! It turns self-justification into self-conviction. When the sinner stands in the light of God’s grace, mercy, and justice, what can he possibly say?

A word of conversion

Come out of him!

Jesus issued a simple command which the demon obeyed immediately, without question. The Word of God is the only way of salvation. This demon possessed man needed to be set free; obviously just sitting in a religious service did him no good at all! What he needed what an authoritative dose of the Word of God.

Going to church week after week, going to Bible studies, or sitting in counselling sessions will not save anybody; what saves an individual is the Gospel.

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

The Word of God is stronger than any evil spirit and is more than strong enough to save even the vilest sinner. No soul is so polluted that the blood of Jesus can’t clean it. There is no thought, no matter how corrupt or profane, that God cannot cast out. Jesus Christ is THE Savior; He is THE deliverer; He is the only who can set the sinner free.

3. The work of the devil

Then the demon threw the man down before them all … (verse 35)

Even though the demon left immediately, he tried to harm the man, which he was not allowed to do. We get the impression that it took a few moments for the demon to completely leave its host, and while it was leaving it wanted to harm him. This is the end goal of all Satanic activity: to harm human beings. Satan hates man with ever fibre of his being because he sees in us the image of God. This evil prince of darkness does all he can do to hurt human beings.

We are living in the end times, and the closer we get to the Second Coming of Christ, the closer Satan gets to his inevitable end. He will do all he can to take as many human beings down with him just to spite God. Is it any wonder why, in these last days, we see an increase in evil and demonic activity on Earth?

4. The triumph of Jesus

...[It] came out without injuring him.

See the care and compassion of Jesus on display! He would not allow this demon to harm its host. The hapless, helpless possessed man could not stop the demon from trying to harm him; Jesus had to step in and make sure he was left alone.

The demonic spirit came out of the man without injuring the man in any way; physically and spiritually. The man was left whole; his soul cleansed. When Jesus saves, He saves completely and effectually.

No demon can stand against the Word of God because all spiritual forces are bound by the Law of God. That’s why God will always triumph of the devil.

5. The audience reacts

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!” (verse 36)

Not only were these people astonished with Jesus’ teaching, they were amazed with what they saw and heard Jesus doing in exorcising this demon. What a stark contrast between His teaching and that of the religious leaders, and between His exorcism and the useless, mindless ritualistic activity of the peddlers of religion. Jesus, unlike those selling religion, was a “Man of action.” He was on a mission to save and to set people free.

Just as Jesus called men to follow Him, He commanded demons to leave people. He calls, He saves, and He sets people free. The only power that can do this is the power of God’s Word. God is the God of hope. The devil is the spirit of despair.

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