A Terrifying Presence
Intro – Read Luke 4:31-37. If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, (Prov 9:10), we live in a doomed generation. Mark Galli, editor at CT, documents representative comments from 21st century sermons: “Jesus is always patient." "Jesus’ mercy embraces even the demons." "Jesus is ever-welcoming, ever-inviting, ever-affirming." The concept of accountability to Christ has been buried under a Satanically inspired vision of Jesus as meek and mild. We simply cannot believe it is that important. That was the issue for the people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. The idea that their old playmate was Messiah, worthy of awe and a reverential fear was unthinkable. So they ran Him out of town at His first sermon.
If that is your concept of Christ, watch closely as Luke takes us to another Sabbath. A terrifying presence attends. A demon comes to church – but surprise! He is not the terrifying presence! See if you can figure out who is! We are about to see Jesus’ second sermon and first miracle.
So far, Luke has shown Jesus’ identity, preparation and qualifications for ministry. But from here through the end of chapter 5 we see His power and authority. We will see His authority is boundless – spiritually and physically; over everyone and everything. We are about to see a spectacular display. Luke wants Theophilus to see the greatness He displayed from the start.
By placing these Sabbaths back-to-back Luke is showing that what Jesus claimed in Nazareth – power to release captives – He demonstrates in Capernaum. He backs up His claims. He came to deliver those captive to sin; freeing the man held captive to this demon demonstrated that power.
This demon appears to be quite happy to be in church as long as the Word is not preached and applied. On this day, he has kicked back with his feet up expecting – ordinary. But this is no ordinary Sabbath and no ordinary preacher. As soon as Jesus begins He has the demon’s undivided attention. He suddenly realizes who this is and cries out mid-sermon, v. 34, ““Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” The Greek word translated “Ha” is an exclamation of sheer terror! He is horrified at the presence of Jesus. What Jesus’ hometown could not get because of their familiarity with Him, this demon gets in an instant. He recognizes the Holy One of God and cries out before he can stop himself. Take note, Beloved. This will be the cry of all those who have denied Christ on the day they realize who He really is! This is what it is to see Christ for who He is face-to-face without having saving faith. It strikes terror to the core of one’s being. So, I want to examine 5 characteristics of Christ’s authority that will either inspire a holy and saving “fear of the Lord” now – or will bring horror later on.
I. His Preaching
He preached with authority. Vv. 31-32, “And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32 and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” Above all, Jesus was a preacher. The first item on the list of Messianic duties in v. 18 is “to proclaim good news to the poor.” As His Galilean ministry began Matthew tells us in 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” In Mark 1, Peter comes to find Him for a healing service and Jesus refuses in v. 38: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” Matthew 11:1 tells us, “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.” No one ever preached like Jesus. In Capernaum they were “astonished” (literally “out of their senses, thunderstruck with amazement”) at His teaching. He doesn’t teach like the scribes who quote first one tradition and then another. Nothing wishy-washy about Him. Notice, “for his word possessed authority.”
There is power in the Word, Beloved. That is why we must know the Word. Heb 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Luke will come back to the power of the Word of Christ and the Word of God over and over to Theophilus. He caps it by telling us as the church began to grow exponentially in Acts 6:7, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” He doesn’t say the church grew. He says the Word increased, and as the Word increased amazing things happened, including even some of the priests, steeped in unholy tradition, came to faith in Christ. There is power in the Word.
Remember the two disciples going home to Emmaus the Sunday after Jesus was crucified? Heads down, hearts heavy, hopes dashed. They didn’t know the risen Christ. Jesus pointed them straight to the Word. Luke 24:27 tells us, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” He just opened the Word like He’d been doing for 3 years and said, “Look, guys, see that – that’s me! See this passage – that’s me crucified. See this passage – that’s me as the lamb. See this passage – that’s me resurrected.” He preached the Word with power and authority and in Luke 24:32, “They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” No wonder the demons from hell trembled as Jesus Christ opened the Word and preached Himself from it. I tell you honestly – I would rather have heard Jesus preach than to have been healed by Him. I would. There is power in the Word – and we will either let it burn in our hearts and instill a righteous fear of the Lord in this life, or we will one day tremble in His presence at the judgment as He preaches Himself from the Word. The demons trembled at His preaching. But it was too late for them.
II. His Person
The demon feared the person of Christ. He says in v. 34, “Ha! 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.” He uses 2 names for Jesus. First is Jesus of Nazareth (the Nazarene) – His common earthly name. The name of His humility. But he moves to “Holy One of God” -- an exalted recognition of the deity of Christ. The spirit is saying, “I know you’re called Jesus of Nazareth – a carpenter from a third-rate village filled with despised people. But I know who you are under the skin. You don’t fool me. You’re God in human flesh. I know who you are.” The hometown crowd ran Jesus out of town, but the demon trembled at His identity. ‘You may look humble, but you don’t fool me.’ He feared the person of Christ.
Do you tremble at the person of Christ – or do you write Him off as myth or at best a great prophet? Do you know who Jesus really is? The Bible tells us it is a matter of eternal consequence to acknowledge Jesus as God. It is not just an interesting theological debate. John tells us in 20:31 that he wrote his whole gospel “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, (and why is that important?) and that by believing you may have life in his name.” It matters eternally that we recognize Jesus as the Holy One of God. John states it very clearly in I Jn 5:12 “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” To deny Christ is to deny God. Paul tells us that one day every single person will acknowledge that Christ is God. Phil 2:9-11, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Every knee will bow one day – but it only counts if done now, in this life!
A Christian minister once had a Jehovah’s Witness interrupt his teaching saying “You cannot prove that Jesus is the eternal Son of God. He was the firstborn of every creature; so He could not be deity. The eternal Father must therefore be older than His Son; and if Christ is not as old as His Father, then He is not eternal, if He is not eternal, He cannot be God.” The preacher paused a moment and then said, “You are wrong by your own words. You have just called God the eternal Father. But how can God be the eternal FATHER (not just God) without having an eternal Son? Eternal FATHERHOOD demands eternal SONSHIP!” The demons know Jesus is God and they fear Him. Would that everyone would do the same.
III. His Purpose
V. 34, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? The phrase translated “what have you to do with us” is an idiom. It literally reads, “What is it to us and to You?”, that is, “What business do we have with each other?” Or even more simply, “We have nothing in common. Leave us alone.” It is a whine. And yet Jesus has said not one word to him. He’s just been preaching. But the demon knows, the presence of Christ means the end of him. So, he protests “Go away and leave me alone!” But he knows it is not that easy. He goes on.
“Have you come to destroy us?” It’s a rhetorical question. He knows that is exactly why Jesus has come. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost – to die for sin and bring life to believers. But the flip side of that intent is to destroy the person and work of Satan and the evil angels who long ago chose against God. The theology of this demon is extraordinary. When he says, “Have you come to destroy us?” he doesn’t mean have you come from Nazareth. He means have you, the Holy One of God come from heaven. He knows something is up and it isn’t good for him and his demon companions – “us.” He knows that some angels who rebelled against God have already been confined. Some demons in Noah’s time exceeded their God-defined boundaries in some manner (I Pet 3:19). And Jude 6 adds, “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” Some demons have already been confined to a holding area called the abyss, and all demons fear it. That’s why when Jesus cast a whole mess of demons out of one man in Luke 8 we read in v. 31,” And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.” They are horrified at His purpose to destroy them. They delay as long as possible.
But their fate will not change. Heb 2:14-15, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things [became flesh], that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil and His angels. He did that at the cross where He also bought our redemption. But be warned, Beloved. Those who love their sin more than Christ, will share in his fate. I John 3:8 says, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Don’t be caught up in your sense of self. The demons fear God’s purpose to destroy sin. They are confirmed in their state and cannot escape it. We can escape, but only by faith in Christ’s death for us. The cross will save us – or it will condemn us. It is one or the other.
IV. His Purity
Now, we come to the phrase, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” This is the cry of sin in the presence of the perfection of God. People who insist that their goodness is good enough will one day find themselves TERRORIZED in the presence of perfect holiness. Sin hates holiness. Jesus said in John 3:19, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” People reject Christ because they love their sin more. But hell is an eternity of regret that they failed to deny self and accept Jesus.
Isn’t it interesting that the demons know so well what people refuse to acknowledge. Jesus is God and we need His holiness to stand before a holy God. The phrase the “Holy One” is used 51 times in the OT to speak of God. The demon recognizes in the person of Jesus the Nazarene the Holy One of God, and he is horrified of the purity that is God. That will be the experience – listen, now, Beloved – that will be the experience of every person who meets their maker bringing their own goodness rather than the righteousness of Christ. In the glare of His perfection, they will suddenly see even their selfishly motivated goodness as “filthy rags”. They will see themselves as God sees them and they will be terrified. The only solution is that offered by God in II Cor 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The only way to face God without being terrorized by His holiness – is to have His righteousness.
V. His Power
It was widely believed in ancient times that exact knowledge of an enemy’s name brought mastery over him. Thus, when the demon says “I know who you are—the Holy One of God” he is trying to control him. Jesus turns the idea completely on its ear by forbidding the demon to identify Him. He left no doubt as to who the true master was. Terror was the right reaction.
Notice how effortlessly Jesus controls the situation. V. 35, “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.” This is truly amazing. One command from Jesus and it’s all over. Look at the crowd reaction in v. 36, “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!” 37 And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.” Who wouldn’t be amazed?
Commentator Wm. Barclay notes that exorcisms in those days were tedious. One exorcist put a ring under the afflicted person’s nose and recited a long spell. There would be a sudden splash in a basin of water, and the demon was supposedly out. Another method was to use a magical root called Baaras. When anyone approached it, it shrank into the ground unless gripped. But to grip it was certain death. So the ground around it was dug away, a dog was tied to it; the struggles of the dog tore up the root. As a consequence, the dog died as a substitute for the one possessed. Exorcism 1st century style.
By contrast Jesus takes 7 words – 5 in Greek, to command to remedy the whole situation. His word is all it takes. The word of Christ is powerful, Beloved. Look at v. 36 again. What were the people saying? “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” When you have omnipotent power at your disposal, a demon is not much of a problem. Jesus’ power over the spirit world is demonstrated with great effectiveness here. It staggered them all. It reminds me of one of the great moments in cinematic history. In the first Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford finds himself surrounded by rampaging infidels. One of the men begins to twirls is sword in the most threatening and fearful manner. You can feel the tension even in the theater. Harrison is about to lose his head. Then the camera zooms in on Ford. He gives his little smirk of a smile, pulls his revolver and shoots the guy dead. In the ferocity of the display, everyone forgot where the real power lay – everyone except the hero. Beloved, the demons can scream and threaten and rage all they want – but the power is with Christ who can expel them with a single word.
Conc – Do you know the loving, yet terrifying presence of Jesus? In the first book of the Narnia Chronicles, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver explain about Aslan, the lion, at the first meeting they have with the four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.
"Ooh!" said Susan, "I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather anxious about meeting a lion."
"That you will, Dearie, and make no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver, "if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly."
"Then he isn’t safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don’t you hear what this is Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you."
"I’m longing to see him," said Peter, "even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point."
The point is, it won’t be long and we will all meet Him. Every last one of us. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Jesus as judge is a terrifying presence. Jesus as Savior is love personified. What is He to you? Judge or Savior? Are you His? Will He be a terrifying presence or your loving advocate? He’s not safe – not by a long shot – but He is good, and He will save anyone who comes to Him in faith. Come now. Let’s pray.