Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Destructive Work of Jesus

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Luke 4:31-44

We’re so accustomed to hearing about Jesus’ saving work that we might not see it for what it really is. That Jesus saves means that there is something in need of saving. Jesus saves us. That means we need saving. Sometimes the way to save something is to destroy it.

That’s what we see Jesus doing here. The thing is, the people don’t see it coming. We never do. We generally don’t want to think about being in need of being saved. And who likes to think about destruction? Well both are here. And at first it’s striking to the people. They’re amazed. They’re excited. They like what they see.

But that’s because they don’t understand what’s going on. They don’t see what Jesus is really doing. The funny thing is, the demons do. They know who Jesus is. They understand exactly why He has come. He has come to save; which, again, means that there is need for salvation.

What the demons understand is that Jesus has come to save by destroying. And nobody wants that, including the demons. The demons are unwitting spokesmen for regular old people like us.

“Leave us alone.” “Don’t destroy us.” “Don’t change the way things are for us, they’re fine the way they are.” They aren’t, of course. But at least they’re such that we have some control in matters.

Of course, we don’t like some of the things that go with it. Who wants there to be demon possession as the unfortunate man experienced? Who likes sickness as Peter’s mother-in-law suffered? So of course when those things are dealt with swiftly and with power we latch on to them. Jesus has come for that? Yeah, I’ll sign on.

But you know how everything looks good at first? And then when you come to see what’s really going on, you’re not so thrilled about what’s happening to you. It’s not what it at first seems. That’s why we really need to listen to those demons. They had it right.

Not that they were right. But they show us what Jesus is really all about. Whereas we’re like all those people taking in the scene—we don’t have a clue. But the demons weren’t right in that, as James says, the demons believe all right, but they shudder. They know better than we do who Jesus is but they don’t believe in Him.

That’s because they don’t want God’s salvation. And they don’t want it because they don’t want to be destroyed. You have to be destroyed in order to be saved. And we have to ask ourselves, do we want this? To be destroyed? Do we want Jesus to come in to our lives and destroy all that is evil to make room for Him?

The way we react toward what happens to us suggests otherwise. We are often like the people in the Gospel reading. We’re astounded by the power of God. We rejoice in His miraculous works. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. It is astounding and something to be grateful for.

But the problem with us is that we now judge God by that standard. We expect Him to work in this way that we’re enamored with. God exhibited His power in Jesus driving the demon out of the man, why doesn’t He use His eternal power to help me in my difficulties? Jesus delivered Peter’s mother-in-law from sickness, why are there so many people suffering from illness today?

We should probably ask this question: what would happen if God did that? What would we do if God delivered us from all of our illnesses and trials? You know what would happen? We would hold Him to an even higher standard. Is that all you can do God? Isn’t there more? You know what we would see God as? A troubleshooter. A fix-it man.

But that’s not ultimate power. That’s not true authority. All that stuff we’re concerned with that we’re expecting Him to fix for us doesn’t compare to what we really need to be concerned about. And that is that we need to be saved. What we need is to be saved from ourselves. We need to not be concerned about all that stuff that seems important but about the sin that fills our heart.

This means war. It means that Jesus comes in in an assault. With His Word and His power He destroys us. He wipes us out. We have no chance. All our sins. The guilt that has piled up in our minds. Our lack of trust in a gracious and loving God. As the demon said to Jesus: “Have You come to destroy us?” Yup.

But you know why we need not tremble like the demons do? Jesus has come to destroy in order to save. He kills to make alive. He crushes to raise up. He wipes out all that we hold on to to give us new life. Free from the constraints of our notions of who God is. The true and ultimate God is the God who is free to work beyond our self-imposed constraints and save us from what we really need to be saved from.

That’s why power and authority will never do as we understand it or devise it to be. The true power of God is not seen in mere miracles of Jesus, as fantastic as those are. It is to be seen in what the demons point us to: the fact that Jesus is the Holy One of God and the Son of God. What this means is what nobody there knew or understood because Jesus had not yet done what He came to do in order to be the Holy One of God and the Son of God.

They had not yet known the God of the cross. The One who would not be speaking with appeal and displaying the power of healing people and driving out demons.

The one who was doing those things was really the One who came to do one thing. And that is the thing of eternal power. It’s the thing that seems the opposite of so much of what He did in healing people, vanquishing demons, raising people from the grave—His own life being snuffed out.

Where’s the power? The budding excitement that here is one who can do anything? Who will help us in whatever is our need? Who exhibits power and authority in everything He does?

It’s there. It cannot be noticed according to our standards we have set up for God. It can’t be seen except by faith. It can’t even be believed by us except for the strange thing the Holy Spirit does to us in our Baptism: He kills us. He destroys our sinful flesh that sees only what it wants to see. With new eyes we now see a God who loves us so much that He is willing to kill us along with Him in His death. In that merciful act we are raised to new life that needs no healing or exorcism.

It is healing of our soul. It is life in which our sins are wiped out. The slate is clean. The guilt vanquished like a demon who can no longer talk because Christ’s Word silences him. Jesus has come for one thing and that is to make alive. To save us in a way we would never know apart from His destroying us and our false notions. Jesus dares destroy us so that we may live with Him forever. Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Paul -- excellent hard hitting Law, and excellent harder hitting Gospel. Scary to think of myself in relation to the demons, but how true. And then the wonderful news that Christ destroys our sinful nature to save us, by His death -- he had bigger plans than just saving us from the consequences of sin, saving us from sin itself. Monica