The Authoritative Word of Christ
Passage: Luke 4:31–4:44
The Authoritative Word of God
When it comes to storytelling, it seems that nothing beats a battle of good vs. evil. As a child, I loved Star Wars, in part because it so vividly captured the age-old drama of the ill-equipped good guy defying the seemingly all-powerful bad guy. Today, my own children love C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia because it is thrilling to hear how Aslan is on the move to restore and reign over his world. Or, even think about our cultural fascination with superhero movies, which are surefire box office hits. What is a superhero movie other than a recasting of the classic good vs. evil showdown? When it comes to storytelling, we’re almost irresistibly drawn to the clash of good guy vs. bad guy.
Now, why is this the case? Why is it that across time and culture, this same theme so consistently shows up? Or, to ask it another way, why does the battle of good vs. evil resonate so deeply within us? It might surprise you, but the answer is actually theological. All of these fanciful stories that we create are really echoes of the One, True Story – the good news that God himself is on the move, setting things right, overturning the forces of darkness, and bringing his people into a kingdom of unspeakable beauty, goodness, and truth. We’re drawn to the battle of good vs. evil because as people made in the image of God, our hearts long to know that this broken world is not the end of the story. We long to know that there is a Hero, a Deliverer who can overturn all that is wrong and defeat everything that is frightening.
And our passage this morning in Luke 4 is a compelling picture of the battle in this One, True Story. Here in Luke 4, we see Jesus defying the forces of darkness in order to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. Whether it is spiritual evil or physical brokenness, Jesus wins. His power is his word, and his purpose is to restore what Satan and sin have devastated. It’s the ultimate battle, in other words. If our hearts resonate with the clash of good vs. evil, then Luke 4 shows us the reason why. It’s because the gospel – the good news of Christ – is that One, True Story that answers humanity’s greatest need.
In terms of theme this passage really revolves around two words – authority and priority. Jesus’ authority is on display, which is why Luke highlights miracles for the first time in his Gospel account. And then with that authority, Luke also intends to show us the priority that drove Jesus’ ministry. This passage is a battle, and those two themes – authority and priority – are the poles around which the action revolves. For our time together, I would like us to focus, very simply, on two takeaways, each coming from one of those themes. First, we need to see how the authority of Jesus demands our allegiance. And second, we need to see how the preaching of Jesus defines our priorities. Authority and priority. Let’s begin, then, in v31 and following, where the authority of Jesus demands our allegiance.
The Authority of Jesus Demands Our Alliagence
As we said at the outset, the scene for Jesus’ ministry now shifts to Capernaum, a village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. But while Jesus has moved to Capernaum, his ministry continues to focus on teaching God’s Word. Notice again Jesus’ practice of ministry, v31 – “And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath.” This is key. While this passage gives the first of Jesus’ many miracles, it is actually Jesus’ teaching that remains the main focus. Jesus is a preacher of God’s Word before he is a doer of mighty deeds. It’s the Word of God that remains the heartbeat of Jesus’ ministry.
And in v32, we get a glimpse of what Jesus’ teaching was like. Notice again the description Luke gives us in v32 – “and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” Now, notice what stands out about Jesus’ ministry. It is the power, the gravity, the authority of his word. Brothers and sisters, this is first feature of Jesus’ authority that we need to understand. His authority is unique. That’s what gets the crowd’s attention. In Jesus’ day, it was common for the Jewish scribes to teach, but their teaching always came with a footnote, you might say. When the scribes taught, they were always citing other scribes, citing other sources.
But that’s not the case with Jesus. Jesus’ teaching has no footnotes. He dealt with God’s Word directly and authoritatively. Again, that’s the key – Jesus’ authority is inherent to who he is. His word carried the weight of reality and truth within itself.
Now, in the Bible, do you know the only other instance of this kind of authority? There’s only one, and it is God himself. The very first chapter of Scripture – Genesis 1 – this is what we encounter. God speaks his authoritative word, and what he says is accomplished. That’s the kind of authority Jesus displays here in Capernaum. It’s not simply the authority of an expert or a well-informed teacher. This is divine authority. Jesus speaks as God would speak because Jesus is God in the flesh.
But there’s a second feature to Jesus’ authority that we need to understand in this passage. Not only is Jesus’ authority unique, it is also unrivaled. You’ll notice in v33 that suddenly, Jesus is joined in the synagogue by a man with the spirit of an unclean demon. This is a good time to remind you that the spiritual realm, while often unseen, is very, very real. Satan is real, his demonic forces are real, and here in v33, we see Jesus come face to face with this evil.
And make no mistake, this is a clash of authority. Notice what the demonic spirit says in v34 – “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” Now, in the flow of the chapter, this moment is a direct challenge to Jesus. V32 highlights Jesus’s authority, and immediately, v34 puts that authority to the test. Who is more powerful – Jesus or the forces of darkness? Who will win? It’s good vs. evil.
And listen, the demonic spirit understands the stakes. Look again at v34. When the spirit says, “What have you to do with us?” – that’s like saying, “Why bother me, Jesus? Don’t you know that if you come after me, you risk destroying this man too?” Now, we don’t know how long this man suffered under the demonic spirit, but it’s clear that the spirit has mastered the man. It’s clear that the spirit has control of the man, on some level. This is a showdown of authority, a clash of power, and the demonic spirit knows what’s at stake.
But then notice how quickly the battle is won, v35 – “But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm.” What did Jesus use to defeat this demonic spirit? He used his word, and only his word. There were no spells uttered, no incantations of deliverance, no mystical potions administered. What’s more, there was no prolonged wait, no tense hours spent observing if the remedy would work. None of that. With his word and only his word, Jesus defeats the demonic spirit, and he does so in a way that does not harm the man. Did you catch that? Jesus’ word is not only powerful, it also does good to those in need.
Now, what is the significance of this moment? It’s the first miracle Jesus’ performs in Luke’s Gospel, so what is the significance? At the big picture level, the healing here is proof that the kingdom of God has broken into this age with the coming of Jesus Christ. This is actually something we’ll see throughout Luke’s Gospel. The forces of darkness are now being defeated, God’s redemptive work has begun, and it is all happening because of this man, Jesus. The ministry of Jesus is the dawning of the kingdom of God. When the demonic spirit leaves the man, that’s what we should think – the kingdom of God has come in and through King Jesus.
But on another level, this miracle has a more immediate purpose, at least in this scene. It confirms Jesus’ authority, the authority of his word. When we read these kinds of passages, we tend to run to the miracles first, thinking that the mighty deeds are the point. But Luke would tell us otherwise. The miracle is important because it confirms Jesus’ teaching. It vindicates Jesus’ word. In other words, what should get your attention from this passage is not the demonic spirit but the One who defeats the spirit with only his word – Jesus Christ.
But don’t take my word for it. Look at v36, where Luke tells us what should get our attention. Listen to the crowd’s reaction, v36 – “And they were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’” You can hear the confirmation, can’t you? The crowd is amazed at the authority of Jesus’ word, and the miracle proves that point. Jesus’ authority is unrivaled – not even the powers of spiritual darkness can stand up to him.
Even so, there is one more feature of Jesus’ authority that we need to see. His authority is unique – he speaks with the authority of God. His authority is unrivaled – not even spiritual powers can stand up to him. But then in vv38-39, we see that Jesus’ authority is also unlimited. Notice what happens beginning in v38. Again, the scene shifts very quickly from the synagogue to the house of Simon Peter. His mother-in-law is ill with a fever, and the situation is serious. Luke the Physician doesn’t give us any details on the diagnosis, but in the first world, fevers were often dangerous. There were likely many other symptoms afflicting the woman. And considering what just happened in the synagogue, the family brings Jesus to the house, clearly expecting that he will be able to do something.
And that is exactly what happens. Notice v39 – “And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.” Did you catch that it is the same word here in v39 that Luke used in v35? Jesus rebuked the spirit, and Jesus rebuked the fever. The repetition makes the point. These miracles point us to the authority of Jesus’ word. With unrivaled authority, Jesus speaks, and the demon departs. And now with unlimited authority, Jesus speaks, and the fever flees as well.
Now, notice what we have here. Notice how these first two miracles bring the spiritual realm and the physical realm together. If you think about it, this is actually a fitting picture of what Jesus came to do. He has the authority to defeat the work of the devil, which began back in the Garden with Adam’s fall into sin – that’s the spiritual realm. And Jesus has the authority to heal sickness, which is also rooted in humanity’s fall into sin – that’s the physical realm. Whether it is the power of the devil or the effects of the fall, Jesus’ authority prevails. And that’s the key here. The kingdom of God is coming in Jesus Christ. The promise of redemption is being realized in Jesus Christ. Verse after verse, scene after scene, miracle after miracle – Luke is driving this truth home to us, brothers and sisters. Jesus speaks with unique, unrivaled, unlimited authority, and that means, the kingdom is coming in and through this Man.
And therefore Jesus can and does demand our allegiance. Listen, this is the grand application of this passage. We’ve seen the authority of Jesus so clearly in these verses, and in response, the Scriptures are urging us, “Listen to this Man! Listen to Jesus!” Don’t breeze past him, thinking that you’ve heard this story before. Slow down, and listen to him. If Jesus possesses this kind of authority – and he does – then the most important question facing every person here is this – Am I living, right now, in submission to Jesus and to his Word?
This begins with the submission of faith. Are you trusting today that Jesus alone has the authority to save you from your sin? Perhaps you’re here today, and you have never trusted in Christ. You’ve never taken that initial step of bowing before him in confession, trusting that he alone has the power to save sinners. If so, then God’s Word is urging you today to respond to Jesus with the submission of faith. Confess your sin to Jesus Christ, acknowledging that you have broken God’s commandments and deserve the wrath of God. And then, with a repentant heart, trust that Jesus provides the salvation you need. Trust that this same Jesus, who speaks with such authority, went on to suffer and die at the cross, bearing the wrath of God that you deserved. Friend, if you don’t know Christ today, then God’s Word is calling you right now to respond with the submission of faith.
But for those who are believers this morning, God’s Word is also calling us to respond to Jesus with the submission of faithful obedience. That’s really the inescapable application for Christians from this passage. If Jesus has this kind of authority, then our lives, day in and day out, must be submitted to him in faithful obedience. Taking in God’s Word, confessing sin, growing in godliness, loving our neighbor as ourselves – those things are rooted in the authority of Jesus Christ. And as his body, he calls us with this same authority to live out his Word. Are we doing that – not perfectly, of course, but consistently?
Listen, I think this is a good question to ask ourselves. If someone were to examine my daily life for a week, would I give enough evidence to demonstrate that Jesus is authoritative, that he is Lord, and that his Word demands my allegiance? Or, would my daily life call into question what this passage so clearly teaches – that Jesus has unique, unrivaled, unlimited authority? That’s a good exercise to engage in, brothers and sisters. Luke 4 clearly presents Jesus as authoritative, so how do you and I respond to his authority?
The Preaching of Jesus Defines Our Priorities
Let’s transition now to that second pole around which this passage revolves – the theme of priority. We’ve seen how the authority of Jesus demands our allegiance, but beginning in v40, we now see how the preaching of Jesus defines our priorities. Luke wants us to understand that these first two miracles from Jesus are not isolated incidents. Notice how broadly the situation expands in vv40-41. It’s the end of the day, but that doesn’t stop the people from bringing the sick and oppressed to Jesus. And the type of illness doesn’t matter; Jesus heals them all. Person after person is brought to Jesus, and v40 says Jesus dealt with each one. That’s instructive. Jesus could have healed the entire crowd with a single word, but he goes person by person, showing compassion, showing care, and healing those in need.
And v41 says this broad ministry applies to those oppressed by demons as well. Luke tells us many were delivered from evil spirits, and you’ll notice also that the demonic spirits very clearly understand who they are dealing with. Did you catch that in v41? The demons cry out with the truth – “You are the Son of God!” Think about that. These demons know the truth, but they do not submit to the truth. They confess who Jesus is, but they do not trust him.
You know, this is one of the clearest examples in Scripture of the fact that merely knowing the truth is not the same as saving faith. You can assent to the facts of the gospel, like these demons do, without actually trusting in the Lord of the gospel – Jesus Christ. I wonder how many professing Christians today are in this same situation. Maybe they were raised in church, attending Sunday school, and they can give you all the right answers. They know the facts. But at the heart level, they don’t actually trust in Christ. Their confidence before God is not based on the reality that Jesus obeyed the law in their place, that he died on their cross in their place, and that he rose from the dead for their justification before God. Merely assenting to the facts of the gospel is not the same as trusting in the Lord of the gospel. And so, I would again urge you to consider – is my trust, my confidence, my hope rooted in Jesus’ work for me, in my place, on my behalf? Even demons know the truth, but a Christian is someone who delights and cherishes and trusts in the truth.
But you’ll also notice in v41 that Jesus does not allow the demonic spirits to testify about him. Jesus tells them to be silent. Now, what is that about? Luke doesn’t tell us exactly. Perhaps Jesus is concerned that misguided messianic expectations not trouble his ministry. Most Jews in Jesus’ days expected a Political Christ, someone who would overthrow the Romans.If this demonic testimony spreads, perhaps people would have the wrong idea about the kind of Savior Jesus came to be. Or, perhaps more simply, Jesus doesn’t want the primary testimony about his identity to come from demons. Again, Luke doesn’t tell us precisely, but that shouldn’t stop us from recognizing the fact that even the forces of darkness know the truth.
Now, with such a broad and miraculous ministry, it is really not surprising that the people in Capernaum want Jesus to stick around. Notice v42 – “And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them.” Again, this is not surprising. Wouldn’t you want a guy like Jesus to stick around? I mean, who needs a doctor if Jesus is healing people no matter the illness? By all means, the people want Jesus to stay, and that might even seem like a good idea. Surely, there were more physical needs in Capernaum. Surely there is a lot of good left for Jesus to do. Perhaps staying around makes sense.
But that’s not what Jesus does. Notice v43 – “But he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.’” Now, catch what Jesus is saying here. He’s making two very significant points here. First of all, Jesus reminds us that he lives in submission to the will of God. Did you catch that, at the end of the verse? Jesus says, “I was sent for this purpose.” Sent by whom? God the Father, of course. It is the Father’s will that defines Jesus’ life, and notice, brothers and sisters, that Jesus willingly submits himself to that will.
Now, I hope you see the juxtaposition of authority and submission in this scene. One minute, Jesus is speaking a word of unrivaled and unlimited authority, but the next minute, Jesus is speaking of his submission, his obedience even, to the will of the Father. Jesus has authority because he is God, and Jesus submits to the Father because he is God’s Son.
This is very instructive, brothers and sisters. This should remind us that submission to the authority of God is never a sign of weakness. Jesus is the mightiest man to ever live, and he lived in submission to the will of God. Submission to the authority of God is never a sign of weakness. You know, the world will tell you that any kind of submission to authority makes you small-minded and perhaps even servant-like. The world will say that you have throw off authority, throw off obedience, in order to claim your place as truly free.
But Jesus would tell us otherwise, brothers and sister. Jesus shows us here with his own life that true flourishing is found not in throwing off submission but in embracing it, even when it is costly. And notice that Jesus does not do this begrudgingly. He’s not grumbling about having to do the Father’s will. He’s not making any apologies. No! With gladness in his heart, Jesus is ready and willing to follow his Father, even when it is costly.
Listen, that’s true human flourishing, brothers and sisters. One of the most insidious lies in our culture is this idea that flourishing means doing what I want when I want with whomever I want. But that’s a recipe for slavery, not freedom. The Lord Jesus is calling us to flourishing here in v43, and he’s showing us it comes through submission to the will and purpose of God.
Let’s be counter-cultural, brothers and sisters. Let’s be people who take the very radical step of living in clear and joyful submission to Scripture, even when it is costly. Let’s make this true in our homes, where husbands and wives, dads and moms, follow the pattern of Scripture more than culture. Let’s make this true in our workplaces, where we reject ladder-climbing strategies of mere self-advancement in favor or godly character that honors God and neighbor. And let’s make this true in our church, where we take God’s Word seriously, even the parts that the world might consider backward or obsolete. That’s the recipe for true flourishing – it comes in submission to the will and word of God the Father, and we learn this from the Lord Jesus himself.
That’s the first significant point Jesus makes – he submits his life and ministry to the will of God. Jesus’ second point is that preaching the gospel is central to his earthly ministry. It’s very striking that Jesus does not say he came to do miracles. He came to preach the gospel. Jesus must go on to other towns not because he must heal people there, but because he has to preach the good news there. Now, will Jesus heal people in those other towns? Yes, he will, but even then, the miracles serve the word, not the other way around. The miracles confirm the message, and that’s why Jesus must move on – because he must continue preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. He must continue to proclaim that the redemptive power of God has broken into this age, and that through Jesus, God is defeating darkness, destroying the works of Satan, and delivering those in need.
Brothers and sisters, what I want us to see is this. If preaching good news was the central task of Jesus’ earthly ministry, then proclaiming the gospel must be central to our lives as well. As Christians, we are followers of Christ. We are his disciples, and a disciple is someone who walks in the way of the Master. How did our Master walk? He proclaimed the good news. How, then, must we walk? By making the good news central to our lives as well.
But I’m not involved in full-time ministry, you might say? But that’s actually not the point, brothers and sisters. You don’t have to be in full-time ministry to make proclaiming the gospel central to your life and calling. In fact, you’ll probably have more opportunities for the gospel than someone who is in full-time ministry.
The point here is about living each day with what we might call gospel-readiness. In each situation, I am ready to speak about the good news of Christ, and in each situation, I am living in a way that displays the hope of Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter talks about being ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you. What is that hope? It’s the gospel, the resurrection of Christ and our resurrection in him. And Peter assumes Christians are living in a way that makes our hope clear. That’s gospel-readiness, and that’s what Jesus’ example is calling us to pursue here. His priority was proclaiming the gospel, and as his followers, we’re called to live with that same priority.
This is the One, True Story – the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the good news that Jesus Christ saves us from the evil of our sin, and then he calls us to join him in the battle, to carry the gospel message to the ends of the world as well. It’s the One, True Story, and amazingly, brothers and sisters, we have a part to play alongside our Lord and Savior!
Authority and priority – those are the themes. Jesus’ authority triumphs over evil, and his message now defines our priorities, including how we live each day. But as we go, I pray these themes would mark not only this passage, but also our lives and our church. May God grant us grace to live, each day, under the life-giving authority of Jesus, and may God grant us faithfulness, each day, to make known the good news of God’s kingdom now revealed in Jesus Christ. Amen.