31Then he came down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and taught them in the synagogue on the Sabbath. 32And they were astounded at his teaching, because there was authority in his word. 33And in the synagogue there was a man having a spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34“Ha! What is it to us and you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 35And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Shut up!” and “Come out of him!” and the demon threw him down in the midst and dame out of him but did not hurt him. 36And amazement came on all, and they talked with one another, saying, “What is this word, that in authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out?” 37And the report concerning him went out to all the neighboring region.
The Enlightenment in Western civilization brought a boost to man’s ability to understand the world around him and employ reason for noble purposes. But it also brought an arrogance to humanity—a willingness to believe that everything could be rationalized, measured, explained, and reasoned. With this attitude came a deep suspicion of miracles. If you’ve ever wondered why American Christians don’t seem to see as many miracles as other places in the world, this might have something to do with it: we are sophisticated and reasonable, and therefore there is no room for the supernatural in our midst. We read of demon possession in the Bible and automatically assume that it always means “mental illness.” So in this first miracle recorded in Luke, it is not surprising to see modernist expositors fall over themselves to try and portray this exorcism as something other than a miracle. But make no mistake: it was a miracle. A few things to keep in mind as we peruse this text:
First, Jesus “went down” to Capernaum. Remember that he had been in Nazareth prior to this. Nazareth sits at 1150 feet above sea level, and his ministry was rejected there by his own folks. Capernaum in Galilee sits at 680 feet above sea level, and his ministry is welcomed with amazement and wonder by the folks there. So, as Chuck Swindoll points out, as Jesus descends in literal elevation, his ministry soars. Second, you should also note that, once again, Jesus is in church. He was in church in Nazareth when he read the scroll from Isaiah, and he is in church in Capernaum on the sabbath once again. And right there in the middle of church is a demon-possessed man. The man confronts Jesus, and refers to him as the “Holy One of God” (34). Jesus rebukes him and casts the demon out. But the biggest thing I want to point out to you about this passage is the use of the Greek word ἐχουσια—“authority.” We see the word at the beginning of this pericope, in verse 32: the people were amazed at his teaching because his word had authority. We see the word again at the last of the pericope, in verse 36, in which the people wonder in amazement at the “word” of authority once again. The word “authority” dominates this passage, because this is a contrast in two words: the word of the devil and the word of God. Here, in this church on the Jewish sabbath, is the physical embodiment of God (Jesus) and the physical embodiment of the devil in this man—and the word of authority wins the day. For all the bluster and braggadocio emitted by the demon within the man, he ends up obeying the word of authority uttered by the Holy One of God. Remember that Jesus had just announced, in Nazareth, that he had come to set the prisoners free. Here in this pericope, he was as good as his word. A word of authority.
Christ IS the Word of God. He is the very embodiment of the word of authority. His word is always true, and is always authoritative. He speaks, and demons still obey. He speaks, and men and women are set free. He is God’s word, physically enfleshed. Do we really trust his word? Have we talked ourselves into believing that miracles don’t happen to folks like us? Is his word a distant anachronism, a blast from the past that doesn’t really happen in this day and age?
The central question of this passage is “who has the real authority?” Christ does not change, because God does not change. This means that his word is still the last word. It is the word of authority. Trust in his word today. He has the final say over disease, possession, oppression, and the various other prisons in which we frequently find ourselves locked. His word is always true.