In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Almighty God, you know we live in the midst of so many dangers that in our frailty we cannot stand upright” (Collect for Epiphany IV, Series C). Into the middle of that frailty, into the middle of those dangers, God sent His Son. He stands there in the frailty of flesh, in the synagogue at Capernaum, and He speaks a word of authority. It has such authority, that the demons start coming out from where they’ve been hiding. “Have you come to destroy us?” The demons, in fact, know that He has come to destroy them. But like the demons later in the Gospel, who beg Jesus not to send them into the Abyss, these demons are surprised that He has come already. They know that their day will come, that their end is coming, but they expect it only at the end of time, not there in a Galilean synagogue. Like Martha in the Gospel of John, who says, “I know that my brother will rise again on the last day,” but Jesus says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”
The last day will mean the end of the devil’s authority, but it happens here and now, in time, when Jesus speaks a word and rebukes the demon: “Be silent and come out of him.” And that word has authority: the demon came out of him. The demon has no choice to stay or not; he must come out when Jesus speaks. Then He goes to Simon’s house and He speaks a word of authority: He rebukes the fever that is killing Simon’s mother-in-law, and it flees from her, and immediately she gets up and begins to serve them. This happens eight times in the Gospel of Luke: Jesus speaks, or touches, or is touched, and immediately the thing happens. Immediately the person is healed; immediately the dead girl gets up; immediately the wind and the waves are still. No question, no pause, no recovery time, no rehabilitation, no nursing home: immediately, because Jesus says so. His Word has authority, because He is the Holy One, the Son of God, the Christ, come into the midst of danger and frailty. Jesus rebukes demons, He rebukes a fever, He rebukes the wind and the waves. He is the Lord of all creation, and He has come to put an end to everything that has corrupted His good creation and overrun it like weeds in a vacant lot.
His final rebuke to death, disease, and the devil is when He submits to them: He submits to sin by taking it as His own, and that means that He must submit to death as sin’s conclusion and end. But He rises from the dead, and what is left that has any authority? Death is the final enemy, and if He has gone through death and come out safe on the other end of the grave, how can death have any authority anymore? Death no longer has any lordship over Him; He is Lord and there is no other. On the last day, Jesus will deliver all things to the Father, having destroyed every rule, every power, every authority. But until that day, until all His enemies are put under His feet, He must reign. He reigns now precisely because all the enemies are still kicking and fighting the end that is coming to them. We live in the midst of so many dangers: sin grabs hold; sickness and disease sap our life; death is still our reality in this creation. In your frailty, and in mine, we cannot stand upright. But the Son of God, the Holy One, the Christ, has come. And where He is, He is Lord, and death, darkness, disease, and the devil must flee from His presence. He is Life and the Light of the world.
His Word remains forever. The problem for us is not that He has stopped speaking, or that His Word no longer has the power it once had. Maybe we think that if we could see Jesus going around emptying hospitals and getting rid of demons with visible power, then we would be as amazed as the crowds in Capernaum. But give it a few days, and we would begin to take it for granted. We would accept it as a matter of course, and our amazement and joy would fade. You know how I know? Because we do the same with the Word that Jesus does speak in our midst. How easily we take Baptism for granted. Jesus speaks, and He washes us clean; He gives us newborn life in God, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus speaks a single word and delivers eternal forgiveness for all our sins. Jesus speaks and makes His Body and Blood present with bread and wine to eat and drink for forgiveness, life, and salvation. No big deal. We’ve seen it all before. No, the problem is not with Jesus and His Word, or a lack thereof. The problem is that our wonder and faith have faded at the miraculous things that Jesus’ Word of authority does. His Word has never ceased, and it cannot. He told the people who wanted to keep Him in Capernaum: I must go and preach the Gospel to all the other cities as well, because that’s why I came. And then He gives that authority to His Apostles, that just as the Scriptures say: the Christ must suffer, die, and rise on the third day, and in His Name, repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations. This is the Gospel: new life that forgives sinners and is the great resurrection rebuke to sin, death, sickness, and the devil.
Death and the devil may indeed still throw us down in this creation. But the authority of Christ is exactly this: that the devil, that ancient dragon and serpent, the accuser of the people of God, has been thrown out of heaven, down to earth. And while he still prowls around, trying to devour and destroy, Jesus reigns as Lord already here and now, until every enemy is vanquished from His creation. Though we are thrown down, on that great day we will see all things put under Christ’s feet and delivered to the Father, and He will raise us up, and we will rise, unharmed and free. All because this Man, Jesus, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed, purchased, won me from sin, death, and the devil, by His blood and death, that I—that you—that everyone—might be His own, just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/30/16