Luke 4.38-44 — The Power of the Spoken Word

Jesus is stepping up; we’re getting a better glimpse of him. We’ve heard his impressive answers in the temptation scene. He gets rejected in his hometown and deals with it admirably. He heads to Capernaum and casts a demon out of a man, upping the ante and even stepping up what the over-the-top spectacular prophecies have said.

In this text he’s still in Capernaum, and he heads to Peter’s house—I hope someone had time to do some cleaning, y’know? At least run the vacuum once. His “mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help.” There is already an expectation that Jesus can do something to help people. He’s built a reputation already. But I notice that the faith of the people is based on evidence from previous experience and knowledge. This wasn’t just out of the blue. Faith is never just a shot in the dark or a leap over a cliff. Faith is not “believing something unreasonable with all your heart”. Faith is always an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for you to make that assumption.

When you sit down in a chair, you don’t think twice about sitting down. You have enough faith that the chair will hold you. But is it faith? You’ve sat in chairs hundreds of times, but were you absolutely sure it would hold you this time? No, you can never be absolutely sure. Things do break on occasion. But you made an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for you to make that assumption, and you sat down. That’s an act of faith, and it has nothing to do with a leap in the dark.

You know, almost all of life is by faith, because we can never know what lies ahead. Every time you turn a door knob you are expressing faith. Because 10,000 times you’ve turned a door knob, and it opened the door. So you turn the knob and move forward. Does it always work that way? No. Sometimes you turn the knob and the door doesn’t open. But you make an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for you to make that assumption.

It’s how we live our lives. Almost all of life is faith—faith in the reasonable. When you turn the key to start your car, when you turn on a burner on the stove, when you sit down to watch TV. We LIVE by faith. Almost everything we do is faith-based. The only question, really, is what you are putting your faith in.

So Jesus bent over and rebuked the fever, and it left her. This is the way he treated the demon in Lk. 4.35. Why would he ever treat a disease in the same way he treats a demon? It’s not that something tangible needs to come out of the sick woman, but instead that Jesus deals with everything by the spoken word. He creates by the word, he forgives, he heals, he exorcizes, he stills the water, raises the dead, and he conquers his enemies (in Rev.) all by the spoken word.

The spoken word shows the absolute authority of the one who speaks; nothing resists his command, and everything bows to his decrees: “and it was so.” It also declares the absolute liberty of the speaker. He acts as he wishes, with no limitations or restraints.

The spoken word also suggests a plan and a purpose. It didn’t happen accidently, or come as a surprise to Jesus. (Like calling a pocket in billiards: it shows intent and a plan.) These things don’t happen on their own.

In their culture, they were used to the idea of the power and authority of spoken words, primarily from the mouths of kings. Anyone with true power, like Caesar, just needed to speak, and it would be done. In acting with the spoken word, Jesus is making a claim to sovereignty and royalty, ultimate power and absolute authority.

“So she got up at once and began to wait of them.” The effects were immediate, just like all other of Jesus’ healings save for one—just like the multiplying of bread, the stilling of the waves, and the raising of the dead. There is no lag time, or doubt about what has happened, and the authority and the intent with which it has happened are so powerful and clear.

“At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.” The healing of verse 39 was neither random, nor lucky, nor just for his best friend. It was a limitless authority and power, extended to all who would come. He now throws his net far and wide, revealing himself to as many as he can. But notice who they are: the poor, the broken, the sick, the little people, the fringes of society, and the outcasts. He eschews the halls of power and anything associated with elitism. He works out of an obscure village in an obscure Roman province. It almost seems like he’s hiding from the paparazzi and the educated, but he’s not. First of all, he’s there for the disenfranchised because they will be more likely to respond, knowing their insufficiencies. But he also is not drawn in the least to anything regarding human power, pride, status or position.

“Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.” The idea of secrecy and obscurity are an obvious priority of Jesus’. From his birth (and even angelic declaration only to a few shepherds away from where anyone else would see or hear), to his changing water to wine in a way that only the servants would know what had happened, to the feeding of the 5,000 (he certainly didn’t call out, “Hey, everybody, watch this!”), Jesus acted as much as possible in the shadows.

But remember, first of all, these were signs, not a show. Their intent was to manifest, not to impress. Secondly, people needed to follow his by faith, not by sight. Faith was deep, lasting, and genuine. Sight was deceptive, shallow, and temporary. And third, the last thing he needs is people witnessing about him who either don’t know what they’re talking about, or they are his enemies and giving the wrong impression. Either way, “Please keep quiet.” Sheesh.

But he is driven. “I have to go to more places. I have to tell more people. I need to show God to more people.” And he’s gone. “And he kept on preaching.”

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