Pastor Scott Andrews | January 7, 2024
As soon as Jesus was baptized and the Spirit descended on Him, He entered His ministry, which meant, the die was cast. You see, there is an age-old cosmic battle being waged. Our adversary Satan launched the first salvo, actually against us, because we alone are created in God’s image. You remember in the Garden of Eden, the great serpent successfully tempted Eve and Adam to disobey God and plunge humanity into sin. And the battle commenced. But even at that time, God made the promise of a hero, a deliverer – a seed of the woman who would ultimately crush Satan’s head. This is the storyline of the Bible, tracing the fulfillment of the promise – that God will win the battle and His people will be delivered – for His glory and for our eternal good.
Well, thousands of years passed from that first promise. Now, if you’ve been participating in our Bible reading plan for this year, it’s a chronological plan, and you maybe noticed the first three days took you through Genesis 11 – the tower of Babel. But then, you jumped over to Job. You see, most agree the story of Job takes place between the tower of Babel and the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. Why do I point that out? Because, in the book of Job, we find Satan, the accuser, continuing his battle against God’s people – namely Job. I won’t reiterate the story – you’re likely familiar with it – but in summary, Satan gets God’s permission to attack Job – primarily because Job was a righteous man, who loved and followed God. And so, the battle continued.
But, when you finish Job, you’ll go back to Genesis 12 – where the promise was reiterated to Abraham, when God called him to leave his homeland, travel to Canaan, worship the true God, and that through a descendant of Abraham, all the nations of the world would be blessed. We understand, that’s the same promise – humanity would be blessed because a seed of the woman, now narrowed to a seed of Abraham and Sarah, would crush Satan’s head and deliver God’s people.
So, we can trace the line of Abraham through the other patriarchs, Isaac and Jacob, to whom the promise was reiterated and affirmed. Through King David, to whom the promise was affirmed, but also included the additional truth that this promised hero would sit on David’s throne forever.
The rest of the OT traces the story of Israel awaiting the fulfillment of the promise, despite their many failures. Thankfully, the fulfillment of the promise was not dependent on man’s faithfulness, but on God’s. By the time we get to the end of the OT, four hundred silent years followed – so called because there were no prophets, and seemingly no movement toward the fulfillment of the promise.
But then, we get to the gospel narratives, and pick up the story. There, we find, especially in Matthew and Luke, a virgin would give birth to a son. Not just any son. Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, the one born to her would be Son of the Most High God. Further, He would sit on David’s throne forever, and of His kingdom there would be no end. Oh, and not only that, His name would be Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins. The sins which they’ve been doing since the first salvo of the battle. Now, while we think it a long time till the fulfillment of the promise, Paul reminds us in the fullness of time – at just the right time – the hero came – don’t miss it – born of a woman – to deliver His people.
So, make no mistake about it, Satan knew the time had come, the die had been cast. So right after the baptism of Jesus, Spirit descending, Satan met Jesus in the wilderness. His purpose was to tempt Him, like he had the first Adam – to deter Him from the mission. It was a direct frontal attack against the fulfillment of the promise.
We looked at that a few weeks ago, but I draw your attention to the second of the three temptations. We read Satan led Jesus up – Matthew tells us to a high mountain – and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain, and its glory; for it [authority] has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if you worship me, it shall all be Yours.” I suggested then, there was a sense what Satan said was true. Since the opening salvo, he had been the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air. The question is, did he have the authority to give it to whomever he wished? Did he have the authority to grant the kingdoms of this world to Jesus? And by the way, are they the ultimate and only kingdoms, or is there another?
It was undoubtedly a significant temptation. Who among us would not be tempted to gain that kind of power, wealth, notoriety, authority? But Jesus rightly responded, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” There is only one ultimate authority to whom we will give account. So, Jesus successfully countered the attack with the Word of God. And after the third temptation, Satan left Him for a more opportune time. He wasn’t finished you see – the battle was still raging.
And I would suggest, while defeated at the cross making the blessing of God through the seed of the woman available to all who would believe, Satan is still a formidable foe. He’s wounded, and his destruction assured. In fact, John tells us that’s one of the primary reasons Jesus came – to defeat the works of the devil. And we, on this side of the cross and resurrection, having believed, follow the Victor Jesus. And Satan’s ultimate destruction is again assured. But he is still a wounded foe, prowling around, seeking someone to devour.
So, further, I would suggest in this cosmic battle, we have some extremes to avoid because we are often confused about the evil one and his forces. So, let me give you three extremes. The first is, we must not see this as a fair fight. What do I mean? God and Satan are not equally matched. Yes, there is a war going on, but it’s unfair. Satan is a created being – God alone is God. Meaning, Satan is God’s creation. We get this idea they are fighting for supremacy.
I’ve shared this with you before, but it bears repeating. I once heard a radio preacher use an illustration that went like this: it’s as if through the Old Testament, God and the devil were playing a chess match. God would choose a man, make a move, and the devil would counter. He, too, would choose a man, make a move, countering everything God did. By the end of the Old Testament, it had been pretty much a draw – in fact, there were 400 silent years as someone pondered the next move. It was apparently God’s turn, because the New Testament opened with the birth of Jesus. But the devil chose a man and countered, he tried to have Herod kill Jesus. Then, there was the great battle in the wilderness – when the devil faced God Himself – tempting Jesus three times. Back and forth the chess match went until the crucifixion, when finally at the cross, the devil said, check. And the demons were throwing a party – Jesus was dead. The devil had won the match. Not so fast, on Easter Sunday morning, Jesus rose from the dead in glorious resurrection – and God said, checkmate.
Sounds great, but there are so many problems with that analogy, I hardly know where to begin. It is an extreme we must avoid. First, God and the devil are not equals. Second, it is not as if they are playing a game. Third, the end of the match was never in question. Fourth, the crucifixion was not the devil’s move – it was God’s. Isaiah 53 says it was God who would crush His Son, see the travail of His soul, and be satisfied. God was pouring out His wrath on the sin of humanity when Jesus bore our sin in His body on the cross. Meaning, the cross was not an attempt by the devil to destroy the Son of God. No – he wanted to keep Jesus from the cross. Remember, when Peter said he would prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem to die, Jesus said what? “Get behind me, Satan.” Meaning, any attempt to prevent Jesus from dying was inspired by Satan. You see, the cross was the culmination of the eternal plan of God to provide redemption for humankind. It was the fulfillment of the promise.
The analogy – from a nationally known preacher – which received lots of hoots and hollers from the audience – illustrates our confusion about the forces of evil. And our confusion about this topic robs God of His singular and due glory. Let me say it again – God and the devil, Satan, the adversary, the accuser, Beelzebub, the prince of demons, the serpent – whatever name you use – God and the devil are not equals. There is one God, there is no other. He has no peers, no rivals. There is none like Him. No one who compares to His glory and majesty, knowledge and wisdom, power and strength. Isaiah 46 says it like this:
5 “To whom would you liken Me And make Me equal and compare Me, That we would be alike?
6 “Those who lavish gold from the purse And weigh silver on the scale Hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; They bow down, indeed they worship it.
7 “They lift it upon the shoulder and carry it; They set it in its place and it stands there. It does not move from its place. Though one may cry to it, it cannot answer; It cannot deliver him from his distress.
8 “Remember this, and be assured; Recall it to mind, you transgressors.
9 “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,
10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’…”
There is none like God, and that includes the forces of evil. It is not as if God sits in the heavens, wringing His hands, worried about Satan’s next move. He knows it altogether, and Satan could do nothing outside of God’s sovereign care and control. Remember, Satan had to get permission to attack Job, and later Peter. Satan is God’s Satan, created to do His bidding.
That leads to another extreme, and that is to focus on Satan too much. To see him as an enemy under every bush, lurking behind every tree. To be fearful of him, as if the battle has not already been won. It has, and we must always remember, Satan and God are not equals, the end is assured, and greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.
But that leads to a third extreme, which is to ignore Satan or deny his existence altogether. Make him into a religious legend of mythological proportions. To deny there is any such thing as his minions we know as demons. To suggest, as many do, that demonic oppression or possession is really nothing more than mental illness. The ancients didn’t understand it. To be clear, we must distinguish between mental illness, which is real, and demonic activity, which is also real. I want to say very gently and hopefully with compassionate understanding, there is such a thing as mental illness, but there is also such a thing as demonic activity which we must not dismiss.
That finally brings us to our text today. Now, as we get ready to read it, I want to bring us back to the concept of authority. [Satan’s attacks on Adam and Eve, and Jesus, had to do with authority.] Our world – especially our society – is terribly confused about authority. All authority is seen as evil – as simply an opportunity for oppressors to continue to abuse the oppressed, which is Marxist ideology. While tempted, I’ll not cite examples of such ideology and its impact on our society. But I will say this: today, if you oppose sin of any kind, then you are simply an oppressor. But, I want to be clear, there is such a thing as good authority – with the right to declare that which good, and that which is evil. Yes, there is evil authority, and Jesus comes face to face with it in our text – and vanquishes it. But again, I want you to notice how His authority is good. The text contains two of the fifteen times the word authority appears in Luke – emphasizing Christ’s sovereign authority. Let’s read it, Luke 4:31-37.
We are supposed to be amazed – wowed – overwhelmed – awestruck by the authority of Jesus. Who can say the things He says? Who can do the things He does? He is amazing. This is the first of three specific exorcisms in the book. There are also a number of specific healings and nature miracles. Throughout, we’re supposed to be amazed. Over and over, Luke will say things like, they were amazed, frightened, completely astounded, utterly astonished, there is no one like Him. And because there is no one like Him – you need not fear. Fear what? Anything. Sickness, death, sin, the forces of nature, the forces of evil. Anything – because He has ultimate authority, and is good. The outline of the text goes like this:
- His Authority in His Teaching (31-32)
- His Authority over Demons (33-37) – there is no one like Him
Verse 31 tells us He came down to Capernaum. Nazareth is above sea level, Capernaum is by the Sea of Galilee, which is 700 feet below sea level, so He came down to Capernaum. Now, Mark mentions Andrew, Peter, James and John accompanied Him, but Luke has not mentioned any disciples yet, so he leaves them out. Capernaum literally means village of Nahum, and was a large city on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Estimates place the population as high as 1,500. It had its own Roman garrison and synagogue. In fact, there are ruins today of a 4th century synagogue, and below that, what most think are the remains of the synagogue of Jesus’ day.
So, Jesus entered the synagogue and began to teach. As we’ve seen, this was His custom. Now, the leaders of the synagogue would invite visiting rabbis to read Scripture and comment on the text. By this time, early in Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ ministry had been around for a while, so undoubtedly, He was invited to read and teach. We don’t know what He read or what He taught. But Luke tells us they were amazed at His teaching. I love that part – they were amazed. Christianity has been around for so long – and we’ve been around it so long, we are often no longer amazed. But we should be. His words and works were amazing.
Again, we don’t know what He said – likely something to do with the kingdom of God. Don’t miss that. Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom, and that kingdom will be in direct conflict with the dominion of Satan. Jesus already scored a victory over Satan in the temptations – now He will do it by defeating one of his demons.
So again, whatever He taught, we see they were amazed because His teaching was with authority, the other gospels add, not like the scribes. The scribes were considered experts in law – the Law of Moses – experts in the interpretation and application of religious law. They guarded the oral interpretations handed down, which became the tradition of the elders. It was oral – it didn’t become written until about 200 AD in what is called the Mishnah.
Now, while parties like Pharisees and Sadducees were religious groups, scribes were a professional vocation, and could be members of any religious party, usually the Pharisees. They were highly respected – had special seats in a synagogue, and people rose when they entered a room. They are often grouped with chief priests and elders who opposed Jesus.
Now, the scribes’ teaching and authority was derivative. What do I mean? Their job was to guard the traditions of the elders handed down to them. They didn’t have new teaching, or even authority within their teaching – their teaching and authority came from those before whose traditions they then upheld. In fact, famous rabbis were known to say, I have taught nothing that I have not heard from those who came before.
But Jesus shows up, and He doesn’t quote traditions of earlier rabbis – His teaching is fresh and new – consistent with the OT, but not necessarily consistent with traditions handed down. In fact, He often opposed popularly held beliefs – about the Sabbath, about the Law, about marriage. He would often say something like, “You have heard it said, but I say to you.” In other words, you know the traditions, but let me tell you the truth, and appealed to His own authority.
But, Jesus wasn’t done amazing them, which brings us to our second point – there’s no one like Him in His power, in His authority. Because you see, just then, there was a man in the synagogue possessed by a spirit of an unclean demon. This unclean demon is clearly different from the Holy Spirit. A contrast is being drawn – Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit; this man with the spirit of an unclean demon. Two kingdoms coming into conflict.
Now again, you may be thinking, wait a minute, do we really believe in demons and demonic activity? I mean, we’re in the 21st century now – Salem witch trials and all that are a thing of the superstitious past. We’re much smarter now, and understand what they saw as demonic activity – like possession – was really mental illness, right?
Again, an extreme we need to avoid. You see, because we believe the Bible to be God’s inerrant word, we do believe in Satan, we do believe in demons, and we do believe in demonic activity such as possession and oppression. Yes, there is also such a thing as mental illness – and through the years, no doubt, well-meaning Christians have misdiagnosed mental illness as demonic activity. We do need to avoid the extreme of denying the existence of demons. The Scripture is clear demons are fallen angels who followed Satan in his rebellion against God and were cast out of heaven. And they became, to this day, opponents of God and good.
And those fallen angels now serve Satan and his purposes seeking to destroy God and His purposes and His people. And so, we remember that Paul said our battle is not against flesh and blood – i.e., people who are demonically possessed or oppressed – people who have been taken captive by the real enemy to do his will. Our battle is against the demonic forces of evil.
So, this demon-possessed man in the synagogue cries out. Don’t miss that – this is always the response of demons to the presence of Christ – the Son of God. We are going to see several encounters between Jesus and demons, because, Jesus was bringing the Kingdom of God near – which would be in direct conflict with the satanic kingdom of this world. So, we’ll see a number of skirmishes, but Jesus always wins. In fact, they often fall in His presence. Because, while there is a cosmic battle going on – it’s not a chess match. God is God – Jesus is the Son of God, God in the flesh – and there is no other. And they know that.
So this demon cries out, “what business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? [that was actually a colloquial way of saying – leave us alone, mind your own business] Have You come to destroy us?” They knew the answer was yes – but it’s not time yet, right?
Now, who does it mean when this unclean demon says, us? Two possibilities – he could just be speaking generally – have you come to destroy us – the forces of evil? And of course, the answer is yes – Jesus did come to destroy the works of the devil, which would include all his evil forces. And destroy them He did, at the cross. But…they will meet their final and full defeat at the end of time – when they are cast into the lake of fire. So, that’s one possibility. But, the demon could be trying to manipulate Jesus. Have you come to destroy us – meaning, me and the man I possess? You see, to get me, you’ll have come through him. But notice, when Jesus exorcises the demon, the man is thrown to the ground, unharmed. Meaning the exorcism was complete. Perfect, because He is perfect in power authority.
Notice the next sentence – “I know who You are—the Holy One of God.” You see, these demons, whenever they came into His presence – knew who He was. At this point, the people don’t know, but they knew. James says even the devils believe, that is, they know who Jesus is and what He came to do, and they tremble. And they should, because there is no one like our God. And so, from the most unlikely of sources, we get a declaration – Jesus, the Holy One of God. Make no mistake about it – this is a clear declaration of the person and deity of Jesus – the Christ, the Son of God.
And Jesus rebuked him, saying, be quiet. Literally, be muzzled – put a muzzle on it. It’s the same thing He’ll say to a storm later – be quiet, be muzzled, and the storm will lay at His feet. Now why does He command the demon to be quiet? I mean, think about it, at this point, the demon had just declared the identity of Jesus – why, be quiet? Some rightly suggest it’s called the messianic secret in the gospels. Over and over, Jesus will tell people and demons to be quiet about His person and works. Why? Because it wasn’t time for Him to be revealed. It wasn’t time for a premature movement to make Him King. He had come not to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many. And it wasn’t time.
But others suggest, also rightly, that Jesus will not be proclaimed by those beings who oppose Him, who hate Him. He will be proclaimed by those who praise Him and love Him.
And so, He says to the demon – come out of him. And the demon had to – God had spoken. Now, there are bizarre accounts of exorcisms outside the NT – but Jesus doesn’t use spells, incantations, or rituals. He simply commands, and they obey. Yes…as often happened in NT exorcisms, the demon threw the possessed into a convulsion – one last destructive act – and the demon cried out – but come out, he did. He had to, because God told him to. And there is no God like our God. There is none equal to Him. When He speaks, even demons obey.
Now, let me address a few other thoughts as we close. Yes, there is such a thing as demon possession. But I’m not aware of any Spirit-indwelt Christian in the Bible who was demon-possessed. I believe we can be harassed and oppressed by demons. They can unleash the fiery darts of the evil one. Again, Peter tells us our enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, prowls around seeking someone to destroy. The devil is real – but when he comes into the presence of God, he must submit. And I remind you, we are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit who filled Jesus. And I’m suggesting, they will not cohabitate.
In fact, James tells us to resist the devil and he will flee from you. Now, we come up with all kinds of ways to resist the devil – to speak against him – to battle him – to take him on – to go toe-to-toe with him. I have no interest in that. I’m not powerful enough. But the God in me in the person of the Holy Spirit can. And so, the very next verse in James tells us how to resist the devil – draw near to God and He will draw near to you. And where God is, the devil and his demonic forces have no interest to be. They fall at His feet.
So, while one extreme to avoid is to deny their existence, another to avoid is to seek to engage them in battle. We draw near to God – and we put on the whole armor of God, and do battle that way – by drawing near. And we take up the shield of faith in God – and the Sword of the Spirit which is the word of God – and do battle that way. Two extremes to avoid. We don’t deny, nor need we fear. Our God is great in sovereign authority, there is none like Him.
Verse 36 says, And amazement came upon them all, and they began talking with one another saying, ‘What is this message? For with authority [there it is again] and power He commands the uncleans spirits and they come out.” Because they must. As a result, immediately the news about Him spread everywhere, into all the surrounding district of Galilee. What message is this? Who is this Man? Luke wants us to understand He is the Christ, the Son of God – and there is no one like Him.
I want you to remember today: there is no god like our God. There is no savior like our Savior. What is the message? This is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. So, there is no need to fear. In the midst of all that is going on in our crazy world – or maybe even in your own little world – there is no need to fear. You can trust Him.