Luke 4:31-44 – A Compassionate Savior with Time

After what was by any reckoning a failed return to His hometown, Jesus moves on to Capernaum and makes it His home base (at least while He ministers in Galilee – ultimately, He has no permanent home – Lk 9:58).  While there He teaches, heals, and casts out demons.  In so doing He shows His heart.  No matter who comes to Him, where He is when they come or what time it is or what He’s doing when they come, He ministers and loves and heals.  Our Savior has time for everyone in Capernaum, and that means He always has time for us and also means that as His followers we should generously give time to the people He brings into our lives.

Nazareth sits on a hill (the one the residents tried to throw Jesus from) and so Jesus and His followers come down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee (and a city on the Sea of Galilee).  Capernaum is the home of Peter and Andrew (and likely James and John) and is a larger and less provincial town than Nazareth.

Jesus begins to teach in the synagogue (likely He does this more than once) and the people are amazed.  He teaches as one with authority, not as the scribes.  The regular rabbis cite other rabbis when they teach, Jesus cites no one.  Plus, Jesus teaches His OWN WORDS.  Jesus doesn’t teach someone else’s scripture; it is His own (and obviously He’s the only man on earth for whom this is true).  Thus, His teaching is different than what the people typically hear, and they’re astounded.  They’ve not heard anything like this before.

On one of the Sabbaths when Jesus is in the synagogue, a man cries out and addresses Jesus.  The man is demon-possessed (interesting that he attends religious services in the synagogue – perhaps attendance is so culturally-ingrained that the demon doesn’t keep him from it – or perhaps there’s a lesson here about people in church who look like everyone else but actually belong to Satan) and asks Jesus (the demon speaks through the man) if He’s here to destroy the demon and his kind.  He goes on to identify Jesus as the Holy One of God.

[This is an example what James refers to in his letter (2:19).  It’s possible to know the truth, confess the truth, and still be lost.  The demon knows exactly who Jesus is and speaks truthfully, but he’s a minion of Satan and eternally lost.  Knowing the truth isn’t enough; the true believer must have saving faith too.]

This has to be scary for everyone in the synagogue.  Right in the middle of the proceedings, the man/demon cries out with a very loud voice and yells at Jesus.  The interruption is sudden and shocking.  Whether or not the man is known for being possessed isn’t clear, but his actions and words likely terrify everyone around him.  And since the demon refers not only to himself but to other demons also, he makes it clear that they’re around and abundant.  It’s a dramatic change in what was presumably a peaceful scene of teaching and ministry.

Jesus doesn’t panic.  He simply commands the demon to be quiet and come out of the man.  The demon throws the man down and comes out of him.  Luke – the physician – tells us that the man isn’t injured in the fall.

The people who were amazed at Jesus’ teaching are now even more amazed by His authority over unclean spirits.  Not only does He teach like no one else, but He’s able to cast out demons by HIS OWN AUTHORITY.  He doesn’t tell the demon to come out in the name of God.  He simply tells the demon to come out and the demon obeys Him (and this after the demon asked if Jesus was here to destroy him).  No one has seen anything like this.  Authority in teaching and authority over the spirits – this is a Man unlike any other. 

Once the people start talking, Jesus’ notoriety spreads.  People hear about him throughout the surrounding communities.

[Unlike what will happen numerous times during Jesus’ ministry, no one apparently has a problem with Jesus casting out the demon on the Sabbath.  The religious leaders in the synagogue either decide to keep quiet or are not enough in opposition yet to find fault.]

On the same Sabbath day, Jesus goes to Peter’s house (this is the first appearance by Peter in the book – interestingly, Luke places this story before Jesus calls Peter in Chapter 5 – it’s an example of the gospel-writers being more concerned with message than chronology).  Once there He discovers that Peter’s mother-in-law (that Peter has a mother-in-law is how we know he’s married – that she lives with Peter and his wife likely means she’s a widow who doesn’t have sons of her own) is sick with a high fever (Luke – the physician – is the only writer that identifies it as a high fever).  Peter’s family asks Jesus to look at her (no way to know if Peter is with this group or stays strangely silent in regard to his mother-in-law’s health).  Jesus rebukes the fever, it leaves the woman, and she immediately gets up and begins serving the guests.

It’s interesting that Luke says Jesus rebukes the fever.  It’s hard to know if he intends us to understand that an evil spirit was behind the fever, or he simply means that Jesus releases her from it.  Ultimately, sin is behind all sickness (not necessarily specific sin, just sin in a fallen world), so perhaps he just wants the reader to know that Jesus overcomes the fallen world by setting her free from the fever.  Whatever the explanation, notice that she immediately begins to serve the guests.  Her healing is complete and immediate – there’s no recuperation necessary.

Since Jesus’ actions in the synagogue and at Peter’s house become well-known, people decide to bring Him all the sick and possessed in the city.  It’s the Sabbath, however, so they can’t carry anyone or walk very far until sunset (the end of the Sabbath).  So once the sun goes down, they show up in great numbers (presumably at Peter’s house).

Note two things about the scene Luke describes.  First, there’s no way to know just how many come, but Luke says that all who had any sick with various diseases brought them to Him.  EVERYBODY comes.  Jesus has shown that He has amazing authority, so everyone who has anything comes to be healed.  And He’s no specialist – the people have various diseases, and He heals them all.  His power extends to all health issues – no exceptions.  Second, He lays His hands on every one of them.  He doesn’t just heal them.  He doesn’t stand at the front door and call out, “Everyone be healed!  Okay?  Good night!”  He presumably could, but that’s not what He does.  He interacts and touches EVERY ONE OF THEM.  So there are tons of people, they don’t start coming until sundown, and He ministers individually to each one of them.

Along with the sick, people come to Him who are possessed by demons.  He casts them out the same way He did in the synagogue – with authority.  In each case – just like the demon in the synagogue – the demons identify Him.  They know he’s the Son of God and they’re frightened by Him, and they call out who He is.  They cry out as the demon in the synagogue did.  Just as He did in the synagogue, Jesus tells them to keep quiet.  His time to go public with His identity is not yet at hand.  There will come a time when He publicly claims to be the Messiah, but that time is not now.  And to arouse in people the idea that the Messiah is here is to invite a response He doesn’t want (although obviously they understand that someone very special is in their midst).

[There’s no way to fully explain the seeming prevalence of demon-possession in Jesus’ time compared to other Bible times or to our own.  Perhaps it has something to do with Jesus’ mission to directly take on Satan in the world and with providing opportunities for Jesus to show His authority.  It may also have something to do with how Satan works in our western world.  Perhaps he doesn’t need to overtly possess people because there are so many other weapons at hand to keep people bound to his kingdom.]

Jesus gets up the next morning (after likely seeing petitioners into the early morning hours) to get away by Himself to pray (Mk 1:35).  Even here, the multitudes find Him and urge Him to stay in Capernaum.  The people know what they have in someone who can heal any disease and exercise power over any evil spirit, and they don’t want to share Him.  They want all the healing and power at their own disposal.  Thinking of others and promoting the common good aren’t high on the citizens of Capernaum’s priority lists.

Jesus – seemingly without irritation over having His quiet time spoiled – explains that He can’t stay in Capernaum.  He has been sent (notice the phrase – if He’s been ‘sent’, then He preexisted His birth into this world) to preach the kingdom of God to many people.  It’s what He must do – it’s His mission. 

This is Luke’s first mention of a theme he will return to repeatedly throughout the book – ‘the kingdom of God’.  This is what Jesus has come to proclaim and establish.  He has inaugurated the kingdom by coming into the world and displaying His power over the effects of the fall.  The end of sin and death is now imminent, and citizens of the kingdom will never be enslaved again.  The kingdom won’t be fully realized until Jesus’ second coming, but its existence and power are realized now in the person of Jesus.

Jesus leaves Capernaum and does what He says He must.  He begins to preach in the synagogues of Judea (probably referring to all of Israel, not just the area south of Samaria as is typically the case).

Jesus does several things in this text to both encourage and challenge us.  First, He shows His power and authority over all worldly ills.  He’s sovereign over disease and the power of the enemy.  There is nothing in this world that besets us that we can’t take to Him for healing and restoration.  All the consequences of living in a fallen world are subject to His authority.  How He wields that sovereignty isn’t always in accord with what we want – we aren’t always immediately healed either physically or spiritually – but there’s nothing we face that is beyond his control. 

Second, He shows that He is compassionate and merciful, and deeply interested in knowing us personally.  He’s also willing to spend all the time with us we could possibly need.  He didn’t have to interact individually with each person who came to Him in Capernaum, but He did.  He WANTS relationship with us and is NEVER short of time to give us.  And there’s no limit on His accessibility.  The God of the universe, our Creator and Redeemer, WANTS to be in personal relationship with us.  And He never limits His accessibility.  When we understand that, it should motivate us to prayer and worship.  We don’t serve a God who’s a distant deity leaving us to our own devices.  We serve a FATHER who loves us personally and is infinitely merciful and loving and who longs for us to enjoy Him.  Jesus saw and healed EVERYONE who came to Him and touched each one.  That’s the same Redeemer we can approach in prayer at any and all times.

Third, Jesus challenges us with His perspective on time.  What’s the resource we value most?  Some would say money, but for most of us it’s probably time.  If you were to ask me for $100, I’d be more amenable than if you’d ask me to spend a few hours helping you with work around your house.  Time ultimately is our most precious resource and one that’s most susceptible to selfishness.  But what does Jesus show about His time in this story?  He sees EVERYONE who comes to Him, and they don’t start coming until sundown.  At the very time He likely wants to relax after a long day, multitudes of people show up and He sees them ALL.  He not only sees them all, He interacts with each one when He probably could’ve simply healed them as a group and saved Himself the time and effort.  On top of this, He doesn’t seem to react adversely the next morning when He intentionally gets away for alone time only to have the selfish multitudes find Him and make more demands.  At the very time He distinctly wants to be alone, He again is patient with people wanting access to Him. 

Jesus shows us that people are more important than our time.  That can be a very hard lesson to learn and put into practice, but the message is that we aren’t here for ourselves and there are things more important than our comfort and needs.  Yes, we need time alone for prayer and refreshment, but people are eternal and we’re commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Relationship trumps convenience, comfort, hobbies, schedules, and relaxation.  Jesus demonstrated this by having time for everyone regardless of His circumstances or plans.  It’s an example we must remember the next time the phone rings, the neighbor’s at the door, the church acquaintance wants to vent when lunch is waiting, or someone just needs to talk when the game’s on.  When we’re on the new earth, we won’t brag about how we made time for ourselves in this life but we will rejoice with those we ministered to and who join us there.

And while the sun was setting, all who had any sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and laying His hands on every one of them, He was healing them. 

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