“What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” (Luke 4:36)
“Don’t preach to me,” the teenage daughter says to her mother. “Pardon me for preaching,” we say when we’ve gotten on our soapbox and overused our word quotient. “My, the president was terribly preachy,” I heard a critic say of Pres. Obama’s 70-minute state of the union speech. You see, preaching has a bad name, doesn’t it? Even the dictionary can’t help. To preach – to give advice or urge a course of action, especially in a meddlesome or tedious manner. Terrific. This is my chosen vocation. I’m a preacher. You don’t hear a carpenter saying, “Please excuse me for building.” Or a mechanic say, “I’m sorry for tuning this engine,” or an accountant say, “Pardon me for balancing these books.” Imagine a lawyer saying, “Sorry for arguing your case.” But preaching? That’s another story. I almost want to say, “Pardon me for preaching this morning, but I am standing in a pulpit and this is the time for a sermon and I am, yes, a preacher.”
The prophet Jeremiah was called to preach. And he didn’t have any choice in the matter. The Lord set him aside and consecrated him before he was even born. Ironically, Jeremiah is the prophet with the biggest career crisis of any prophet. This goes to show you that even if God hands you your vocation on a silver platter before you were even conceived or born, it still won’t be easy. In fact it may even be more difficult, since God already knew you wouldn’t have taken the assignment voluntarily. And Jeremiah’s call was a tough one – preach to a people who don’t want to hear your message or have anything to do with you.
In fact, Jeremiah tries to wiggle out of it. “I’m too young for this, “ he complains. No one will listen to me.” You see, we think it’s all about the preacher, the image, the style, the delivery. But it’s not, at least with the Lord’s preachers. It’s about the Word, the living and active Word that kills and makes alive, that never comes back empty, that creates and upholds and sustains. This is the Word that does what it says, that speaks light into the darkness.
The Word is what Jeremiah brings as a preacher. The Lord touches the prophet’s lips and says, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” With those words, the prophet will be over kingdoms and nations, he will pluck up and break down, destroy and over throw, build and plant. All with nothing but the Word.
Jesus came to preach. He preached in the synagogue at Nazareth, His hometown, and the people almost threw Him over a cliff on account of his preaching. He went to Capernaum, and again He preached the Word in the synagogue. But unlike the synagogue at Nazareth, the congregation at Capernaum was astonished with the authority of Jesus ‘ words. You see, Jesus isn’t simply another preacher delivering a sermon, Jesus is the sermon, God’s Word in human flesh. He is God’s sermon to the world. He was sent to preach the good news. Not the bad news of religion and politics, but the good news of the reign of God, the end of demonic terror, the end of disease and death, the end of the condemnation of the Law that weighs heavy on humanity.
It’s the good news that you are pardoned, that your death sentence has been lifted forever. It is news that gives sight to the blind, that opens the ears of the deaf, that causes the mute to shout out with praise and thanksgiving. It is good news that finds its fulfillment in your hearing, when you hear that God is a peace with you for Jesus’ sake, that your sins are forgiven by His blood, that you are free. Free from the commandments that condemn you, and make no mistake about it, the commandments do condemn you including the ones you think you are keeping. You are free from the death that dogs you, that even though you die yet do you live in Christ by His power over death. You are free from the darkness and the demons that terrorize this world and may even terrorize you. They must be silent in the presence of Jesus. You are free from the diseases that plague you, all the effects of Adam’s sin, humanity’s sin, your sin. Yes, you get sick; sometimes you get better, sometimes you don’t. One day you’ll die of something. But Jesus has you covered. Nothing can harm you because He has your life in His hands.
All of this is conveyed by the humble, lowly preached Word. Words that sound out of mouths through tongue and teeth. Words that travel across space by rattling air molecules together. Words that bang on eardrums. Never say, “It’s only words.” Words are everything; Jesus is the Word, and His Word packs divine authority and power.
That power was shown in the synagogue at Capernaum. At Nazareth, they clamored for a sign. “Do for us here in Nazareth what you did in Capernaum,” they said to Jesus. There Jesus refused. Yet here in the Capernaum synagogue, Jesus does what He refused to do in Nazareth. There was a man plagued by an unclean spirit, a spirit that wanted to create disorder, a religious spirit that confessed Jesus of Nazareth to be the Christ, the Holy One. The demons know their Lord and Master, and they tremble. Jesus would not let the demon preach in the synagogue. There would be no demonic sermon, even if it was the truth. With a word from Jesus’ lips, the demon is silenced and cast away. Just a rebuke. “Shut up! Come out of him.” And the demon obeys because Jesus is Lord.
The amazement grows. This is a preaching with power. “He commands the unclean spirits and they come out!” Of course, they do. Don’t let Hollywood fool you. The devil isn’t in charge. The demons are no match for the Word of Jesus. They cower in fear of Him; we would we cower in fear of them, unless we don’t believe. Lord, we do believe, help our unbelief!
Jesus goes and pays a house call on Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. She couldn’t be at church because she was sick with a fever. He stands over her and rebukes the fever. Stop there and think. He rebukes the fever as though it were a demon. Disease and the demons are all cut out of the same cloth. They are all the fallen stuff, the result of life severed from God which Jesus came to restore. And just as the demons are forced to obey Jesus’ word, so must disease. He rebukes her fever. He doesn’t rebuke her, telling her she should have taken better care of her self, watch her diet, not go out on those cold mornings or she’ll catch a death of a cold. He rebukes the fever, and it left her.
She is free by the Word of Jesus. Free to get up, to arise from her bed, and to serve them, even on a Sabbath, a legal day of rest. Jesus is the Sabbath fulfilled, the Sabbath in the flesh. Sabbath means rest, He is rest from the demons, from disease, from death itself. “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” He said.
And they came, as the sun was setting on the Sabbath. They came out of all the houses in Capernaum, bringing their sick, their frail, their demonized. And Jesus laid His hands on every one of them and healed them. The demons tried to preach “You are the Son of God!” They wanted it known far and wide before Jesus died and rose. They wanted the mystery unwrapped prematurely, like a Christmas present torn open a week ahead of time. But like the fever, Jesus rebukes the preachy spirits and silences them. They are not given to preach the kingdom. He is.
He stayed up all night tending to the sick and the demonized. He is Light come into the darkness. By early morning, Jesus snuck out of town and went off into the wilderness. The people followed Him. “Please stay,” they said. “Please don’t leave us.” But He had a mission. He had to preach. “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 to preach. The healing, the demon casting, the displays of divine authority were all there to validate the preaching. It’s all about the preaching and hearing of the Word. That’s how the kingdom comes to us. Thy kingdom come, we pray. And how does God answer our prayers? “When the Word of God is preached in it’s truth and purity, and we as the baptized, believing children of God believe it and live holy lives according to it.”
Jesus preached in the synagogues of Judea. He preaches in this synagogue here today. His Word of forgiveness. His renewing Word of Baptism. His feeding Word of His Supper. He preaches to your reluctant ears, dulled by the noise of this world, deaf by birth to the sound of His voice, distracted by the religious demons who want a show instead of death and resurrection. He preaches to you, for you. Good news. The kingdom of God has come to you. His death and life are yours.
Don’t preach to me? Faith would never say that. Rather, faith says, “Preach to us, Lord! Please preach to us! And don’t stop preaching to us until we rise to see the kingdom. Until then, preach to us good news.”
In the name of Jesus,