Luke 4:31-44
Pastor Drew Williams

Have you ever gotten into the car and then forgotten where you were going? Like, you sit down, put on your seatbelt, make a mental note that you should really clean out the backseat when you get back, turn on your car, check the mirrors, and then…nothing.

Your mind is just blank. Where was I going? Wait, what day is it?

You could start driving, but you don’t want to head in the wrong direction, so you’re just sitting there. Stopped. And the radio that came on automatically isn’t helping to jog your memory.

I would wager that many of you have had a similar experience. Maybe it wasn’t even with driving. Maybe you’re thinking of the time you were at a juncture in your life, and you weren’t sure how to move forward because you weren’t sure exactly where you wanted to head.

Is THIS the person I should be building a relationship with? Is THIS the career I should stay in? Should we move? I don’t know if we can afford it.

When we are sure of the mission we’re supposed to be on, it’s hard to move forward. Instead, we feel stuck. Afraid to make the wrong step. Unwilling to leave the comfort of what we know.

Whenever I feel stuck like that, either in life, or in the produce aisle of the grocery store, what I need to help me move forward is a reminder of what my mission was. Then I’ll know how to take the next step in that direction. We’re going to see how Jesus’ life can help give insight on that for us today.

Last week, Pastor Chris taught on the passage where Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth to tell them about the good news of the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately, they didn’t want to accept that good news, because it seemed to threaten their way of life that they were used to. So they tried to kill him. Today’s passage picks up right where that left off, with Jesus returning to the other town that he had connection with.

Let’s read Luke 4:31-44

Our story starts with Jesus traveling to a small town on the coast of the Sea of Galilee called Capernaum. We know it was a small town, because Luke has to tell his readers where Capernaum is, showing that it wasn’t really well-known outside of it’s direct vicinity.

And, as was Jesus’ custom, he goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, along with all the other God-fearing Jews who live there. Now, this is early in Jesus’ ministry, but he’s got enough of a reputation as a teacher that he’s invited to teach.

Since Luke doesn’t recount what Jesus said here, we’re left to presume that he was probably delivering the same message — or a similar one — to what he had just preached in Nazareth, where he proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of God is being fulfilled in him, that release from captivity and healing from brokenness is coming to fruition because of him. This is the message that got Nazareth all in a tizzy, causing the crowd to turn into a mob that tried to throw him off a cliff.

So, either Jesus is a glutton for punishment, or he figures there aren’t any cliffs in the coastal town of Capernaum, but it turns out that this time around, his teaching is received much better. Everyone is amazed by what he is saying, they marvel at his words and the authority with which he delivers them. This is not like other rabbis, who deliver reflections on Scripture that are full of questions about God’s heart and what-if statements. This is not like other teachers of the law, who are so worried about breaking a law that they create three more laws around that one to hedge their bets.

This is Jesus explaining Scripture clearly and pointing to how people can experience the freedom of living in the Kingdom of God right here, right now.

But immediately, almost as if on-cue, a challenger to that freedom pipes up in the form of a man possessed by a demon, in bondage and oppressed by a spiritual force. And while everyone else seems to be listening to Jesus and murmuring their approval, this man shouts out his disapproval.

Now, why does this demon shout at Jesus at this point? It doesn’t seem like Jesus had called out the man, or even noticed him publicly. It doesn’t seem like the man had been brought to Jesus for healing.

The only thing we can assume is that the demon heard something that he didn’t like in what Jesus was saying and felt threatened by it. If Jesus had actually been preaching from Isaiah again, like he had in Nazareth, maybe the fact that he had just declared his whole purpose was to set prisoners free and release those oppressed seemed like an attack targeted at the demon.

In any case, the demon lashes back with a targeted attack of his own, speaking in such a way that makes it seem like he has some secret knowledge about Jesus, as if the demon is trying to prove his own superiority. Or maybe, the demon is just trying to continue what Satan was attempting to do in the wilderness, by exposing Jesus as the Messiah and getting everyone whipped up into a frenzy, and forcing Jesus to gain popularity and influence on a different timeline than Jesus intended.

But Jesus doesn’t take the shortcut, and instead silences the demon. Our Bibles translate Jesus’ command as “be quiet,” but I’ve got to tell you, that’s a pretty tame translation. This is one instance where I’m so grateful to Bible study tools that help us go back to the original Greek, because the verb that Jesus uses is one that refers to tying a mouth shut. Literally, Jesus says, “Muzzle it!”

The demon is trying to take attention away from Jesus, and distract from what Jesus is doing, and Jesus just stops the demon with a word of rebuke. It reminds me of when I was growing up, and my dad could just give me or my brother a LOOK from across the room and we KNEW we’d better stop whatever it was we were doing.

So not only was Jesus teaching with authority, he’s also silencing a demon with a word, and then commands the demon to come out of the man, literally accomplishing the setting free that he had said he had come to do.

And our text tells us that the demon threw the man down, but the man wasn’t injured. The demon’s power had been completely taken away. The bark AND the bite had been muzzled.

And if the people in the synagogue had been amazed at Jesus before, now they were doubly amazed, and “the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.”

Jesus, meanwhile, does what is so customary for many of us after church, he heads home. Apparently, he was staying at the home of Simon, who we’ll meet again next week. Simon’s mother-in-law, who also apparently lives there, is sick with a high fever. They’ve seen Jesus’ incredible authority and power, so they ask him if he can help.

So Jesus bends over her, coming close to her, not afraid, and rebukes the fever, and it leaves her. Now, this word, rebuke, is the same word as the one that was used earlier to describe how Jesus spoke to the demon. You could easily translate verse 35 as “Jesus REBUKED the demon by saying, ‘Muzzle it!’”

Here, again, Jesus rebuked the fever, showing his authority not only over spiritual oppression, but also the oppression of sickness, and he set the woman free. Immediately, she’s able to get up and start preparing dinner, showing just how complete the healing was. This was not like when we have a fever finally break, but we still kind of feel out of it for a couple days. No, this was complete and total healing, restoring her fully.

And it was a good thing that she started feeling better, because her house is about to become overrun by people who need healing. The Sabbath rules against traveling too far haven’t stopped the word about Jesus from getting out, so once the sun goes down and the Sabbath is officially over, everyone in the vicinity who was sick is brought to Jesus.

And Jesus lays his hands on EACH one, showing Jesus’ empathy and attention to the sick and marginalized. Even more demons try to have a standoff with Jesus, shouting about his identity. But again, he REBUKED them and silenced them. Our text tells us that this was because they knew he was the Messiah.

Why wouldn’t Jesus want them to declare the truth of who he is? I think it’s still connected to why Jesus didn’t give in to Satan’s temptation to shortcut his path to renown and celebrity. Just because what the demons were saying was true doesn’t mean that they were trying to help him. If anything, they were trying to distract him or throw off his mission by bringing too much attention to him, so he silenced them.

The next morning, Jesus heads out on his own. He’s just had quite the day and night of fruitful ministry, right? He taught in the synagogue and everyone was amazed by him, marveling at his speaking skills and his ability to cast out demons. Then he totally has everyone in the town flock to him, and he’s able to heal people and cast out more demons. I’m sure that everyone in the town is even more amazed, thinking “wow, God is on the move! This is incredible!”

And when I read this, if I’m honest, I get a little jealous. Wouldn’t you? I mean, I wish I had that kind of experience. Everyone being amazed at my teaching. Everyone flocking to me so I can help them. If that happened to me, I would literally just assume that God was blessing it. I’d try and figure out how to be able to help more people. Maybe we could have more teaching events. Maybe we could even blow out one of the walls of Simon’s house to expand it to be able to fit more people. Because, I mean, people are coming, so it’s obviously God’s plan for us to stay and build and grow, right?

And that’s apparently what the people of Capernaum are thinking, because when they find him, our text says that “they tried to keep him from leaving them.” They literally try to restrain him, to keep him to themselves. This is the exact opposite reaction that Jesus received in Nazareth.

Nazareth wanted nothing to do with him, and Capernaum wanted him to never leave. But Jesus isn’t distracted from his mission. He came to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, and that involves going and telling others in other towns.

“That’s why I was sent.” See, Jesus knew what his mission was, and it DIDN’T involve growing a crowd. His mission was NOT to get renown as a healer. His mission was NOT to set up base camp and have more and more people come to HIM.

So, as we are trying to learn how to follow Jesus, we need to ask ourselves, do we know OUR mission?

Jesus actually lays it out pretty clearly at the end of Matthew’s gospel, where he reminds us of the authority that he has: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Make disciples, aka help people learn how to follow me, BY teaching them to OBEY what I’ve commanded, teaching them to LIVE like I told you, loving God by loving others.

In Luke’s version of this encounter, Jesus tells his followers (and us) that repentance for the forgiveness of sins WILL BE PREACHED, and that YOU are WITNESSES.

Help people learn to follow me by repenting, turning away from their previous way of living for themselves, of living in scarcity, and teach them to obey MY way of life by being a WITNESS.

This is the mission we’ve been given: help people learn to trust Jesus and live in his way by being a witness.

And what does a witness DO? A witness TALKS! Right? A witness talks about what they’ve seen or experienced. A witness doesn’t need to be an expert. A witness doesn’t need to be particularly skilled. A witness doesn’t need to be impressive or charismatic. A witness just needs to talk about what they know, what they’ve experienced. And they don’t even need to be all that assertive or aggressive. Because a witness only RESPONDS to the questions they are asked.

?? So you’re telling me that the mission that Jesus has given me in my life is to just talk about him? To share how I’ve WITNESSED him in my life?
Oh, I don’t think I can do that. That’s a lot of pressure. What if I say something wrong? What if I get a reputation like one of those people with the signs down by main street that says, “repent or go to hell!”? I’m not even sure if I HAVE witnessed how Jesus has worked in my life…it’s pretty confusing.

I know it can seem like a big weight. I feel it myself most days. But here’s the truth: we already ARE WITNESSES!

Think about it, we already share about all the things we care about to anyone who will listen, don’t we? We share good news. We share reviews. We share recipes. We share diets we’ve tried. We share advice that we think will improve the life of the person we’re talking to.

We already do this. And as followers of Jesus, we have the BEST NEWS to share! That freedom from oppression is available! That mercy and forgiveness are offered for free! That the grace of God covers over anything we’ve done that separates us from him, and that we are being BECKONED to learn from him and experience the Kingdom of God life here and now!

See, in a world where news organizations, celebrities, and anyone with a smart phone can put themselves online and share their OPINION, where it seems like SHOUTING is the only way to stand out…we follow the One who actually has AUTHORITY in his words. Authority to bring healing, to bring compassion and empathy and understanding, to bring salvation, to bring wholeness.

THAT’S who we get to talk about. Who we get to witness to. But HOW do we witness to Jesus?

Well, I don’t have an elegant system for you. I don’t have an acronym to share. I don’t have 5 ways that all start with the letter “A”. All I’ve got is two steps. Two steps to become a witness that is able to talk about Jesus.

First, you’ve got to get to know Jesus. Second, you talk about it when someone asks.

That’s it. The end. Have a great week.

Oh man, wouldn’t that be awful if that’s how I ended? Just said some simplistic steps without anything else and just left it at that? Yeah, I probably shouldn’t do that.

See, sometimes, advice is almost too simple, and it goes in and out of your head without actually taking root in your heart, and so you’re never given an opportunity to change and grow and try it out.

So, if our mission is to be a witness to Jesus, and if being a witness involves getting to know Jesus and then talking about him, exactly HOW do we do that? I mean, when Jesus told his disciples they were witnesses, he meant it literally. They had actually WITNESSED him do and say all those things. They were there. They had spent a few years being WITH him every day in order to get to know him. How are WE supposed to get to know Jesus better when he’s not standing next to us right here in the flesh?

Well, how do we get to know ANYONE better? Especially if you can’t spend time with them, talking to them face to face? I asked a friend of mine who is a private investigator, since I figured he has experience finding out what there is to know about people he’s been tasked with investigating. And it seemed pretty straightforward. The way you get to know someone is by talking to the people who know them. You get to know someone when you spend time with the people they care about. You get to know someone when you spend time in the places they frequent.

So if we want to get to know Jesus better, we definitely need to spend time talking to the people who knew him (in the Bible). But we also can talk to people who are currently learning to follow him. And we can spend time with the people Jesus cares about: the marginalized, the sick, those on the fringe of society. And as we get to know him better through those things, we get to then talk about it to anyone who asks.

Simple, right? Yeah, pretty simple. But here’s the problem. I still don’t do it all that often, at least not when I’m out and about in the world. Talking about Jesus in the middle of a worship service to a bunch of people who decided to be here? Yeah, that’s easy. But sharing how Jesus has been at work in my life with people outside of church? Ooh, that’s hard. That’s scary.

Do you feel that way? What’s stopping us from the simple mission of being a witness for Jesus? There’s a pastor and author who I’ve followed for a little while, Caesar Kalinowski, who says there are three things that stop us from sharing about Jesus: Fear of man, love of self, and a small understanding of the gospel.

Fear of man means that we care more about what people think of us. We crave approval from others, or we fear rejection, so we avoid people altogether, or we just stay on the surface with people. We’re never vulnerable with them. We don’t risk shaking the boat. “I don’t want them to think differently of me…”

But here’s the thing, we don’t need to fear the approval or rejection of people because we have already received perfect approval from our Heavenly Father. You are already chosen and loved and claimed by God. Nothing you do or say can risk that.

But fear of man isn’t the only thing stopping us from talking about Jesus in our everyday lives with those outside the church, we’re also being stopped by a Love of Self.

You know what that one is like. “I can’t possibly adjust things or change things because I’ve already arranged my life, my schedule, my spare time, my family life, my work…all in a way that pleases…ME. I’m worried doing this would put a cramp in my lifestyle. I just simply don’t have time to do that because I’m too busy. Maybe next year. Maybe when the pandemic is over. Maybe when I can fit it in…”

I know I have said things like that. But here’s the truth: anything that we grasp ahold of and treat as sacred is probably an area of our life that we need to talk to Jesus about. We can’t let the idols in our life keep us from our mission of witnessing to Jesus.

The final thing that Caesar offers as a block to being a witness is a small gospel. What he means by that is that the gospel, the good news of Jesus isn’t just for our afterlife. The good news of Jesus isn’t just about going to heaven when we die. The good news of the full life that Jesus offers is good news for every area of our lives, right now. It’s good news for our relationships, for our work ethic, for our ability to create change in the world. It’s good news for our finances, for our families, for the legacy we get to leave to the next generation. So we can learn how the good news of Jesus can give hope and light to every area of life, and then we get to just point that out.

There was a quote that really stuck with me. Caesar said, “when we begin to love God and others more than ourselves and our comfort, our focus and intentionality changes. God’s mission becomes our mission.”

We already ARE witnesses. And the best news we can share with others is how Jesus is at work around us and inside us. Because he is still at work. And he is still patiently beckoning us to follow him, to learn from him, to do the things he’s doing, to share the grace and forgiveness that we’ve already received. To understand that he loves us perfectly, and that he is able to work in us and through us to accomplish his mission in the world. And THAT’S good news.