Jesus Teaching in the Synagogue – Sermon for January 28th – 4th Sunday of Epiphany
I wonder what it must have been like to be in the congregation when Jesus of Nazareth walked to the front of the assembly and began to teach. First of all, we realize that there is something unique about being in a house of worship; it is not like any other gathering. When we go to a play, or an opera, or a movie, we go to be entertained, to be amused, to be transported to another world.
But, when go to a house of worship it is different; we go for different reasons. We go because deep inside of us, we are searching: searching for comfort perhaps, or for peace, or for solutions to our troubles, or for answers to our purpose in life – why we are here and where are we going and why does it all matter. We come because we are searching for God.
That day, when Jesus made His way to the front of the Assembly, there was something different about Him. It might be difficult for us on this side of the resurrection, to think about Jesus as anything other than the Christ but for the people there that day, they were not sure. After all, Jesus was not the first man to come forth claiming to be the long-awaited Messiah.
But, Jesus was different. It was not only WHAT He was saying or even how He spoke, but it was about His very Presence that stirred something deep within the listeners that day. They were captured, astounded by His every word. There was something about Him that captivated the congregation. For them, Jesus spoke as someone having AUTHORITY, like no one else they had ever heard.
Perhaps in listening to Jesus speak, in their minds they were recalling the words of Moses of how the Lord God promised to raise up for them a prophet from among their own people.” And, how God said, “I will put My words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.”
The divinity of Jesus was speaking into their deepest longing. “Is it possible that this is the prophet of Whom Moses spoke about?” Imagine the stirrings in their hearts to think that the One they had been waiting for had finally arrived just as God had promised. They were moved so much so that they went out and told others about Him. Jesus’ fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
But there is more that happened that sabbath day than the people being captivated by Jesus of Nazareth’s teaching. There was something else Jesus did that day that revealed His identity as God’s Son.
Within the Assembly was a man possessed by an unclean spirit who challenged Jesus in front of the gathering.
This is not Jesus’ first encounter with Satan. We remember that immediately after Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit drives Him into the wilderness forty days, where He is tempted by the devil. Among other temptations, Satan says, “worship me” and Jesus responds with Scripture saying, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” Then Jesus tells him, “Now, away with you, Satan” and immediately the devil departs.
But this time, Satan is back and not in his own skin this time but in that of human being. Satan has made his way into the house of worship, among the Assembly. In order for Satan to have gotten inside the building, he had to disguise himself as one of the people. So, the unclean spirit possesses this man in order to sit among the people unnoticed.
The Unclean Spirit cries out, “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.”
What is interesting about Satan’s words is that in his effort to deface Jesus in front of the Assembly, what he is actually doing was proclaiming Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah…the one of whom Moses had spoken about just as God’s promise. As the people are trying to figure out the identity of Jesus of Nazareth, Satan jumps right in and speaks out – actually, he cries-out with a cry born out of fear and insecurity. For Satan knows that Christ has come to put an end to his reign on earth, “Have you come to destroy us?” he says.
The fact that Satan knows Jesus as the Holy Son of God before the people or even the disciples, is not so much a criticism against the people of the day but more of a testament to the fact that the relationship between God and the Enemy goes way back – long before the people were around and long before we came around as well.
There is history there between them that transcends us which is why when God gives us commandments and sends His Son to teach us the way to live, it is not only because He loves us and longs for what is best for us but also to protect us from the evil forces – “from the terrors of the night, or the arrows that flies by day.” God sends the Good Shepherd, the Rod and the Staff to comfort and guide us, to keep us safe, especially so during the times when we find ourselves traveling through the dark valleys in life.
Jesus responds to Satan by saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirt, convulses the man and cries out with a loud voice and comes out of him. Satan being dramatic, not wanting to go quietly, makes a scene. Yet, once again, with a word spoken from the lips of our Teacher, Jesus casts out the evil spirits. “Away with you, Satan.” God has spoken. Satan departs.
In this encounter, notice what Jesus does NOT say. Jesus does not reprimand the man himself in whom the unclean spirit had possessed. Jesus’ words were not directed at the individual but to the unclean spirit that was dwelling within him.
If we freeze-framed this moment in the story and looked closely at all of the parties involved: Jesus, the man, and Satan. We can understand that Jesus, in loving the man, was able to see inside of him, beyond his faults and weaknesses – whatever it was about him that allowed the unclean spirits to enter in – Jesus still loved the man and restored his well-being. Jesus did not judge him or take offense at him but took the time to see past the moment and into what was really going on.
Notice, also, what Jesus does NOT say to Satan. Jesus does not reprimand Satan for taking possession of one of His beloved children but instead simply dismisses him.
Jesus speaks – Satan departs – only proving further proof of the power of the Holy Son of God.
Today’s Gospel passage may be short but it offers much food for thought in our spiritual lives. For one, Jesus’ presence speaks to the deeper longings of the human soul and on this side of the Resurrection, Christ’s presence is with us no matter where we are geographically, emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually. Through God’s Holy Spirit, we never have to walk this world alone – in the good times or the bad. Christ is always with us. Emmanuel means God with us.
Our relationship with God is so important; not only to fill us and make us whole but also to protect us. If we, each day walk a little bit closer to Christ as we spend time learning about God, spend time in prayer and worship – we strengthen our defenses because when we know the way of the Light really well, we can more effectively detect the workings of the devil when he tries to worm his way into our hearts.
When we believe in our being that we are God’s beloved children made in His image, then we do not fear the evil that may threaten us. When the darkness comes, we hold onto Jesus’ hand a little bit tighter and know without a doubt that He will defend us – Our Good Shepherd.
Being Christian does not mean that we will never encounter trouble or evil forces in this life. Being Christian means that we carry within us the Holy Spirit of God through Jesus Christ and in Him we will prevail.
St. Paul tells us in his second letter to the Corinthians, “The Light of Christ shines out in the darkness and has shown in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We hold this treasure in earthen vessels…We may be afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed; always carrying within us the Body of Christ.” 2 Cor 4:6-10
Jesus has told us that, “In the world you will face troubles. But, take courage I have conquered the world!” John 16:33.
Before we leave the synagogue in the story of the Gospel today, may we remember this: Jesus Christ is our Teacher – He is that for which our hearts long for, the Love that makes us whole – more complete. That evil forces are alive in our world, has been since the beginning of time and they can take hold of us of we are not careful and diligent, but they can never own us for we already belong to God. God’s very fingerprint is stamped on our souls for we are made in His image – through His Son Jesus Christ Who has made us His own and nothing – no one, no force – can take us out the Hand of God. We shall never fear the “terrors of the night nor the arrows that fly by day” for Christ is with us – our Rock and our Salvation!
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