Luke 4:31-44 / Epiphany 4C / 03 February 2013 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
“Talk is cheap,” we say. “Actions speak louder than words.” “Don’t just say it, do it.” We have our ways of saying that words don’t mean very much to us. Perhaps it’s because we’re surrounded by so many words. Talking heads on TV. Talk radio. Talk, talk, talk. Constant chatter cluttering our ears with static. When something is in plentiful supply, it tends to be cheap. No doubt about it. Words are a cheap commodity. It’s too bad we can’t run our cars on words, or at least on the gas accompanying words. Words would come a lot cheaper at the pump than gasoline.
And so we devalue words. We throw them around carelessly and loosely, without regard for the fact that words can do things. Words can start wars and end them. Words can begin a romance and end one. Words can comfort, terrify, tickle, bring joy, hurt, console. Words can carry information, knowledge, wisdom. Words can be written down, recorded, handed on, preserved. Imagine a world without words. We would be isolated, unable to communicate. What’s the thing we celebrate with our little ones? Their first words. That first coherent string of syllables. It’s cause for celebration. We can relate, communicate, share.
Make no mistake. Words are powerful. They can come with authority. The words of a judge can put you behind bars. The words of a legislature can bring punishments and rewards. When one who is in authority speaks, those words carry that authority. When one who has power speaks, those words carry power. When the Son of God who is the Word speaks the Word, His words come with the power and authority of God Himself. And that’s the point of today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings. The power and authority of the Word of God.
The Bible begins with the Word. In the beginning was the Word. The creation week is really six days of speaking. And God said…and it is so. The Word says what it does. “Be light,” and light there is. God does by speaking. He doesn’t pick things up with His hands. He doesn’t use tools. He speaks, and His Word, with all the power and authority of God, does what it says.
In Hebrew, the word for “word” is “dabar.” It means not only “word” but “event.” The Word is the event. The Word happens. The Word of God never returns empty. It always accomplishes God’s intents and purposes.
When the prophets of the OT spoke, they weren’t speaking idle words or opinions. They were speaking the Word that God had put into their mouths. And in speaking the Word, the event happened. It may take a few decades or centuries to work itself out, but “the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” It’s as good as done.
God called a reluctant prophet named Jeremiah. No one ever volunteers for prophet duty. God calls the prophet. He doesn’t put out a job description and wait for applicants to show up at the prophet table. The Word of the Lord comes to the prophet. The prophet doesn’t come to the Word.
Jeremiah had been appointed by God to be a prophet before he was born. So much for decisions here. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” No choice in the matter. God said it and it was so.
Jeremiah had objections. “I’m young; I don’t know how to speak.” God says, “Never mind all that. You don’t worry about that. You go where I send you. You speak what I command you. Do not be afraid of anyone, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord. God said it, and it was so.
Then the Lord put out His hand and touched Jeremiah’s mouth. And you say, “Hey, wait a minute. God doesn’t have hands.” But whenever you see God with hands and human stuff like that in the OT don’t just think God, think Christ. This is Christ the Word touching the prophet’s lips. You say, “But Christ doesn’t have hands yet.” Don’t limit Christ with your clocks and calendars. If He wants hands ahead of the time He takes on Flesh, He can do that.
Christ touches the lips of Jeremiah, the way the angel touched the lips of Isaiah with the burning incense coal. “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” And all of it with nothing but the Word. Jeremiah had no political power, no might, no clout, no connections, no armies, nothing but the Word that the Lord put on His lips. But that Word had authority and power to topple kingdoms, to tear down, to restore, to build up, to plant.
Enter Jesus at Capernaum. Jesus is more than a prophet. He doesn’t simply have the Word in His mouth, He is the Word in the Flesh. And this is the cause of great astonishment. He teaches with the authority of God, because He is God. And when a demon decides to disrupt things and distract the hearers, the Word of Jesus silences the demon and casts it out on the spot leaving the possessed man unharmed. Quite a show! And the people are amazed even more. Not only is His teaching with authority, but His words have power over the demonic realm so that the demons have no choice but to obey.
And the people wonder. “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” Nothing more than the Word.
There’s a tender and personal side too. From the synagogue, Jesus goes to Simon’s house. His mother-in-law is sick with a fever. It’s flu season, she’s not feeling well. “Please, Jesus won’t you help her.”
It seems so trivial after the demon incident, doesn’t it? A fever? She’d get over that by herself in a day or so. Take two aspirins, drink plenty of fluids, and she’ll be better in no time. Why trouble Jesus with something so slight as a little flu bug?
But she is important to Jesus, precious to Him. He goes to her bedside and again delivers His words. He rebukes the fever. Rebukes it. The same as He did with the demon. Demons, diseases – it’s all the same thing. Signs of the Fall. It’s what Jesus has come to die for. He rebukes her fever and immediately it leaves her just as the demon left the poor man in the synagogue. All because Jesus said so. The Word does what it says, filled with authority and power.
Well, you can imagine what happened when word got out about the Word of Jesus. The whole town came out with their diseased and demonized. It looked like the emergency room on a Saturday night. And Jesus healed everyone who was sick, and rebuked every demon. And finally in the early morning He slipped away to some solitary place. And the people clamored after Him for more, and would have kept Him from leaving until every last one of their sick and demonized were healed by this powerful Word with authority.
But Jesus left town. He pressed on to go somewhere else. “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well, for I was sent for this purpose.” He was sent for this purpose: to preach the Word. Not to heal people one by one, as nice as that was with Simon’s mother-in-law. Not to cast out every demon, as impressive as that was in the synagogue. Not to deal with every cold and flu and cancer and clogged artery on a case by case basis, as much as we think that’s the way He should operate.
The reason Jesus was sent by the Father was not to fix the world but to redeem it. Not to right all the world’s wrongs but to die for it. Not to heal people one at a time but to take away the sin of the world by taking it all into Himself and dying on a cross with it. Not to defeat every demon one by one, but to beat the devil at his own game by becoming our Sin, diving into our Death, disarming the Law, and rising from the dead victorious. There is the marvel and mystery: the One who is the Word and who spoke the Word with power and authority came to be silenced in death so that the kingdom of God could come with power.
The Word comes to you. The same Word that silenced demons, that raised old ladies from their sickbed, comes to you. “I forgive you all of your sins.” “This is my Body given for you, my Blood shed for you. For the forgiveness of your sins.” All because Jesus says so. That same Word with the same power and authority comes to you to forgive you, heal you, restore you, raise you up from death to life. The Word does what it says. The Word is the event itself. You are forgiven. You are cleansed. The demons are silenced. Death has no sway. The Law cannot accuse you. All because Jesus says so.
In the name of Jesus,