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LSB Epiphany 4C Sermon – Luke 4:31-44

February 8, 2016

January 31, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

And [Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And He was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority.”

You heard the call of Jeremiah in this morning’s Old Testament Reading. The LORD chooses Jeremiah to be a prophet. He reveals that this selection had been made before Jeremiah’s birth: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” For Jeremiah to be a prophet, he needed to have the LORD’s words given to him. Without that, Jeremiah would be helpless, as he says: “Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” So that required giving of the LORD’s word takes place: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

When the LORD placed His word in Jeremiah’s mouth, the chosen prophet began to carry the LORD’s authority. Jeremiah could not cause nations to rise or fall. He could not destroy or build. He was just a youth. He was nothing. But that status changed when Jeremiah would not speak his own ideas or trust his own ability. When Jeremiah would open his mouth and speak the LORD’s word, then he exercised the divine power and authority given to him. His speaking would accomplish great things.

This theme of authoritative speech is echoed about 700 years later with Jesus’ actions in Capernaum. You heard about that in the Gospel Reading for today: “And He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And He was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority.” Jesus shows up in the synagogue and preaches. When He does so, the people recognize that He has something that other speakers they heard did not. It wasn’t that Jesus was reading the Scriptures to them: that was done every Sabbath day, no matter who was leading the synagogue service. But when Jesus was teaching—when He was speaking of His own accord—an authority was being displayed.

In Capernaum, Jesus demonstrates His authority through a number of speech acts. It is seen when He teaches in the synagogue. It’s also displayed when Jesus exorcises a demon: “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.” He shows it when He heals Simon’s mother-in-law: “He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.” In each of these cases, Jesus speaks and His words carry a power to accomplish what He said.

The event in Capernaum reveals Jesus’ divinity. Jesus shows that His word is just like the LORD’s word that created the world. Jesus reveals that His speech is like the prophets of old; His message is just as powerful as the message that Jeremiah carried to Judah. But there is a difference between Jesus and the prophets. Jeremiah and other prophets possessed an authority when they spoke what the LORD gave them to say; they carried no authority in themselves. That is not the case with Jesus. He has  authority whenever He speaks. His authority is found in Himself. For Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh. He does not have the LORD’s word placed in His mouth; Jesus is the LORD’s word with a mouth. Jesus is “the Holy One of God… the Son of God” as even the demons testify. Because of that, He possesses all authority in heaven and earth.

So what does this mean for you? It means that Jesus’ words have authority over you. When Jesus speaks about what is righteous or not, that judgment is binding on you. That includes when Jesus’ teaching identifies your thoughts, words, and deeds that are deemed unjust. Those words rightly convict you, pointing out your violations of the Divine Law. They “pluck up and break down, destroy and overthrow,” just as Jeremiah’s speaking of the LORD’s Law did.

But it also means that when Jesus speaks about His making atonement for the sins of the world, that message is applicable to you. His words show you how to obtain salvation in Him. These are His words that “build and plant” you as redeemed and holy people. It is the same type of speaking that Jesus gave in other synagogues, as He declared: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And the great preaching that Jesus performs is to show how all the LORD’s promises of redemption are fulfilled in Him.

So how does this speaking of Jesus’ words come to you? Where do you hear it? It happens as Jesus has sent people into the world with His authority to speak, just as the LORD had sent the prophets like Jeremiah. It happens as the gospel accounts of Jesus are read and preached in this assembly. When that takes place, then the authoritative word of Jesus sounds again for you to hear.

This is what you have come to listen to on this Sunday morning, just as generations of Christians have done before you. You have gathered together—you have “synagogued”—with the desire to have Jesus’ words spoken to you. Why is that so? Because you know the identity and work of Jesus. You confess that He is “the Holy One of God…the Son of God.” You trust that His death and resurrection has atoned for your sins, just as the gospel accounts of His words record for you. You rely on Jesus to rebuke and pluck out what is evil and sinful, while planting and establishing what is righteous and good in your lives. You believe Jesus’ promise that where His people are gathered together in His name, He is present with His gifts.

That promise of Jesus stands true. But there is a caveat: the people whom Jesus has sent into the world with His authority to speak must actually speak His words. That is where the authority and power is found. It is not located in the person of the preacher, no matter how charismatic or eloquent he might be. It is not centered in the number of followers that a church leader has gathered up. No, the authority is in the words of Jesus that are spoken for you to hear. If those words of Jesus are lacking, then there is no benefit in listening.

When Jesus preached in Capernaum, the people reacted to Him: “They were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority.” To have an audience express similar astonishment at a sermon might be the greatest compliment given to a preacher. But that astonishment must come because the audience has heard Jesus’ words. The awe must arise from hearing that the LORD has been so gracious to you that He became part of the creation, assumed humanity, and gave up His life so that you may live. The amazement must stem from learning that the God of all justice and righteousness has been so compassionate and merciful that He takes all your guilt away. Without that, it is just a confidence or interest placed in the preacher, who is nothing and has no authority in himself at all.

But what do you hear in this assembly? You hear the testimony about Jesus’ identity: He is “the Holy One of God…the Son of God.” You hear the testimony about His work done for you: He is the Lamb of God who has taken away your sins. You hear the testimony about the benefit: Jesus has opened up the way of everlasting life for you. That is the message proclaimed from this pulpit. And Jesus’ words of promise are spoken to you other times. Whenever a baptism takes place, there is the speaking of Jesus’ words about making new disciples, giving eternal life, and entering His kingdom. Whenever sins are absolved, there is the speaking of Jesus’ words about proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name. Whenever the Sacrament of the Altar is celebrated, there is the speaking of Jesus’ words about remembering His sacrificial death and receiving the benefit of forgiveness of sins. All of these actions are bound to Jesus’ words, for they carry His authority.

When you hear that word of Jesus, the same question asked in Capernaum can come from your mouths: “What is this word?” But you know the answer. This word is “the good news of the kingdom of God” that Jesus has caused to be preached in this town as well. That was His purpose, a mission that Jesus fulfilled. So you also are astonished at His teaching, because when you hear it you know that Jesus, true God and true man, has accomplished your salvation.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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