Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 25:25 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“The presence of the Savior is the torment of devils” (Venerable Bede). And so it is when Jesus shows up in this synagogue, as He often did, teaching the people. And the people stand amazed at His teaching, because it is not a derivative authority like that of the scribes; instead, He teaches as if it is actually His own word—which, of course, it is.
But Jesus’ very presence there torments the devils. They know that their time is short, that things will not be as they were, that their end is near. Immediately, a man with an unclean spirit—as opposed to the Holy Spirit—shows up and starts talking about Jesus. And even though the devil is the father of lies, everything the demon says is true: Jesus is from Nazareth; He has come to destroy them; and He is the Holy One of God. But Jesus doesn’t want to hear even those truths from the demons. He silences the demon, just as He does with the wind and the waves, and He commands it to come out.
There is no argument; the demon doesn’t have a choice; it must come out. Jesus’ words are the words of God’s own authority, because He doesn’t only speak God’s words, but He is the Word that God has spoken into the world. He doesn’t speak by anyone else’s authority, but by His own. And that authoritative word is a living and active word that does what He says. He speaks, and the demon must come out. He speaks, and people are healed. He speaks, and the dead are raised. His word and His teaching is His presence, and the demons are tormented.
And not just the demons. Jesus appears, as St. John says, to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). But not only that. He has come to destroy and drive out all that is opposed to Himself and to His good creation. Whether it has to do with your mind, your body, or your soul, Jesus has appeared to heal all of you. He hasn’t come only to save your soul—to save it out of your body—but to save all of you, body, soul, and mind. So wherever Jesus is present, He is present by His word to torment all that is opposed to Him.
Sometimes we don’t want that word coming too near to us. It might expose, reveal, open up things we would prefer to keep hidden. Or sometimes when people have suffered, or are struggling, or are mourning the death of a loved one, they stay away from the Lord’s house for a while, and they don’t want to be in places where there are a lot of people who are going to talk to them. I understand that impulse, but hear what Jesus does: it is His word and His presence by which He comforts, sustains, and gives hope and joy. Sometimes we simply don’t believe that Jesus’ word will do what He says. We don’t believe that He is actually powerful enough to do the sorts of things He does in the Scriptures. We go on struggling with the various afflictions that come because we live in this world, and we grow numb to the words of Jesus.
But He alone has the word of God’s own authority. What He says happens. We will not be completely free of the devil, the world, and our own flesh in this life, but it is precisely the Word of Jesus that will keep us until we are free of all of it. It is where He is present that everything opposed to Him must give way. His presence is the torment of devils. And He is present where His word is spoken and heard. He is present here, according to His words. And it is by His word that we are assured that His own body and blood are given to us.
Where else could we go, Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life, the word of authority by which you drive from us all the snares of the enemy, all the questions and doubts. Because that’s what the devil does: he will whisper in your ear that Jesus’ words are powerless, that they cannot help you or deliver you. But he says that because he knows that Jesus has come to destroy his works, and that the work is all but done. Jesus has taken the accusation of the devil, taken the condemnation that comes with sin, and its death, and buried them in His own death. And it is the risen Jesus who speaks His word to you now. Because He is alive, His word is a living and active word.
We may be exposed by His word. We may be laid bare. We may, in our flesh, even be wounded. We will be killed by that word. But His work is not finished when He wounds and kills. The people of Israel who were present at Sinai when God spoke from the mountain were afraid to hear God’s voice in its majesty and glory. They told Moses not to let God speak to them any more, lest they die. And God agreed with them! He said, they are right, and so I will raise up a prophet like you, Moses, from among your brothers. And I will put My words in His mouth, and He will speak to the people, and they must hear Him. So God spoke to Peter, James, and John on the mountain of transfiguration: this is My beloved Son. Hear Him!
So the Son appears and speaks and is heard. His word has authority, but not to kill. It is not the terrifying majesty of God that speaks, but the humble Son in flesh, speaking with a mouth like ours. If He exposes and reveals and wounds, it is only to heal. If He kills, it is only to raise from the dead. He is present for you, speaking His words with authority. The demons know it, but Jesus silences them. We know it, and we praise Him. What He says, He does, and nothing can stand against Him. He began His work by showing us what He came to do for everyone and for all time: no more demons, no more works of the devil, no more sickness, no more death. And you can be sure that He will finish what He started, because He is the Son who speaks words of authority. What He did for that man in the synagogue, He will do for you. The presence of the Savior is the torment and destruction of everything that does not belong in this creation and in us. Hear Him!
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).
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/29/21