(A) Introduction. (Read the passage.)

Not a great deal is written in my various commentaries about these verses. One of the reasons for this is that they pose a problem: why doesn't Jesus continue to heal men's bodies and minds now?

No-one healed liked Jesus - before or since. There is something very lovely about Luke's description of Jesus' healing ministry: When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness and laying his hands on each one he healed them. v40. See also Mt5v24. Nothing defeated Jesus' healing hands.

Jesus is alive today! He hasn't changed. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Heb13v8. If that is the case why doesn't our compassionate Saviour restore the sick in mind and body? He is certainly asked to. Some of the most heartfelt prayers are for healing.

I offer the following points by way of explanation:

(a) Miracles are rare events. They have to be because miracles involve the suspension of the natural laws governing the universe. If miracles were commonplace the universe would become unpredictable. The principle of cause and effect would no longer apply.

(b) Jesus was for a short time given the power to perform miracles to establish his credentials. We should not forget that for 30 years Jesus performed no miracle. This does not mean that Jesus only became compassionate at the age of 30. Jesus was given the power and freedom to perform wonders in order to convince men and women of his special status as the Son of God. He said to his critics: "Even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I in the Father." Jn10v38.

(c) Jesus no longer has to establish his credentials. God did that when he raised him from the dead. The Holy Spirit has been given to bear witness to Jesus.

(d) If Jesus still healed the sick in great numbers men and women would come to him for the wrong reason. They would lose sight of why the Great Physician came to earth. His remit was to save men and women from their sin. Jesus does not promise to extend our lives on earth but to give us life after death - if we believe on him.

In some respects the numerous miracles of healing in the synoptic gospels do not resonate with us because they are completely outside our experience. This is probably why commentators deal with the healings in Capernaum without much enthusiasm.

(B) Ministry of the word.

Then he went to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority. Lk4v31and32.

I wish to make 3 points about the ministry of the word:

(1) It's importance.

Jesus preached in Capernaum and then he kept preaching in the synagogues of Judea. v44. Jesus said, "I MUST preach ...... that is why I was sent." v44.

It is foolish to underestimate the importance of teaching and preaching. I am afraid we do! This is true of secular teaching. If the starting salary of a policeman, nurse and teacher are compared the teacher's is lowest. Many Christians seriously undervalue Bible teaching. There are other contributions to Sunday worship that they much prefer - the music, choral singing, congregational singing, drama, ritual or the opportunity to chat.

What has done the world most good: Christ's healing or his teaching? Paul's healing or his teaching? Christ's saving work on the cross is the only thing more influential than his teaching.

It is very strange that men and women should be so very concerned for their physical and mental well being and so careless about their spiritual condition.

(2) Its subject matter.

Jesus said: "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God ..... ." v43.

The theme of Jesus' preaching during the early part of his campaign is summed up by Matthew: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near." Mt4v17. He concentrated on two aspects of the kingdom:

    (a) Its imminent establishment. A time was rapidly approaching when men and women would be in the will of God.

    (b) Its values. People needed to repent of their old way of life and adopt the kingdom's values. Jesus revealed what conduct was pleasing to God in the Sermon on the Mount and his parables.

It was only later that Jesus indicated clearly how to enter the kingdom: Then they (the Jews) asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"

Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." Jn6v28and29

(An aside: The Christians I have fellowship with are much more comfortable with Paul's approach than that of Jesus. Paul taught that salvation was by grace, through faith and that good conduct followed regeneration and was evidence of a change in status. I think there is a real danger of underplaying the kingdom values and encouraging a kind of 'easy believism' - all you have to do is believe that Jesus died for you and all will be well.)

(3) It's nature.

They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority. v32. The Sermon on the Mount illustrates the authoritative nature of Christ's teaching. He said, for example: "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you anyone who is angry with his brother without cause will be subject to judgment." Mt5v21v22.

Jesus did not appeal to what other teachers had said or written. His views were not shaped by revered scholars from the past. Jesus did not even accept that the Law was sacrosanct. True he said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them." Mt5v17. In fulfilling the Law Jesus certainly amended it. This happens whenever rules and regulations are updated, clarified and revised. Jesus was surely being ironical when he said, "It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law." Lk16v17

Jesus spoke with authority because after many years of meditation, prayer and experience of men he knew the will of God. He told the Jews at the Feast of Tabernacles: My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me." Jn7v16.

Christians speak with authority when:

    (a) What they say has the clear and unequivocal backing of Scripture. I have absolutely no qualms about telling the members of my own Association of Churches that their exclusive mentality is wrong. Jesus wanted his followers to be one even as he and the Father were one. See exposition on John17 and 1Corinthians1v10to17

    I can speak on Jesus the Good Shepherd with far greater conviction than I can on church government.

    (b) They speak from experience. What a difference this makes. I would be the last person to speak on childbirth. What do I know about it! How could I speak with authority on such a subject? An experienced midwife and mother of three could address the matter with unimpeachable credibility.

    I can speak from experience on some Christian topics but not others. I am a recipient of God's providential care and his sustaining grace. God has protected me and upheld me and so I can speak with certainty about his presence and provision. I am not able to testify in the same way to the baptism of the Spirit and the possession of supernatural gifts because it is outside my experience.

    How I long for preachers to stop talking in generalities and to be specific. The preacher should be able to tell the congregation how God has: answered his prayers, given him peace in time of trouble, delivered him from temptation, guided him when perplexed and provided for his needs.

    (c) They have studied a subject in great depth. It goes without saying that a trained meteorologist can speak with greater authority on the formation of snow than the average man in the street. A dentist will know more about teeth than a ski instructor. A Christian Geologist is more likely to be right about the age of the earth than someone who has never picked up a book on Stratigraphy. (Or even knows what Stratigraphy is!!)

    We should respect scholarship and be glad that Greek scholars like Prof William Barclay have made parts of the New Testament clearer to us. And even the least academic preacher will speak with added confidence and power after many hours pondering a passage of Scripture.

(C) Ministry of Confrontation

In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil (unclean) spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, "Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God!" v33and34.

Demon possession is a difficult subject. In the time of Jesus many diseases were attributed to evil spirits which today are explained in scientific terms - examples include: epilepsy, autism, schizophrenia and delirium caused among other things by alcoholism, ergot, venereal disease and malaria. It is easy to reason that Jesus' assumed disturbed people were demon possessed because his knowledge of medicine was limited by his humanity to that prevailing at the time. However, I would expect someone who enjoyed such intimate fellowship with God the Father to be very sensitive to evil and the source of evil. Surely this is something Jesus, who came to break the power of Satan, would know about. (This has led me to modify the views expressed in some expositions in Acts. See exposition on Acts16v16to24.)

(1) The argument for demon possession.

(a) A man's spirit can be influenced by another man's spirit. I have often felt gloomy but on meeting cheerful, happy friends have felt my spirits rise. Married couples of long standing are not so much one in flesh as one in spirit.

Now sometimes a person can be so dominated by another that they are said to have no will of their own. A mother can dominate her son, a man can dominate his girl friend and a cult leader can dominate his followers. The control can be so extreme that it would not be an exaggeration to describe the craven son, besotted girl friend or cowed cult member as possessed.

(b) A man's spirit can be greatly affected by the Holy Spirit. Jesus called the Spirit the Comforter or Helper and usually his contribution is very similar to a trusted and highly competent friend. However, sometimes the Holy Spirit's influence is overpowering - as at Pentecost - and then a person could be said to be possessed by the Spirit. There is something involuntary about the bizarre behaviour of men and women in the grip of the Spirit during times of revival.

(c) Satan, the ultimate evil spirit, may, under certain circumstances, exert such control over a person that they can be described as possessed. This is especially likely when a person is vulnerable. There are several things that could make somebody vulnerable:

    (I) Psychological disorders - addictions, phobias and obsessions. I believe Satan can use these to exert a terrible control over a person. People are possessed by their addiction to drink, gambling, money and sex. I think Satan imparts a peculiar intensity to the addiction.

    (II) Some sins. There are some sins that do take on a life of their own. Hatred is one example. Satan can so fuel hatred that it takes possession of a person and makes them behave totally irrationally. We talk about blind hatred! Surely there is something devilish about mob violence and genocide. Jealousy is another example. It can be given such power by Satan that it possesses a man or woman. One only has to read Samuel Pepys' diary to see how it can consume a man and blind him to the truth. Jealousy makes a person behave unreasonably and do terrible things. It is par excellence an evil spirit.

    (III) Mental illnesses like manic depression and schizophrenia. It is a strange fact that a disturbed brain never has beneficial effects. It does not make the sick abnormally calm, joyful, affectionate or peaceful. Perhaps depression or schizophrenia makes a person vulnerable by undermining the will and allowing Satan to dominate. He produces bad things - anxiety, restlessness, despair, hopelessness, fear, delusional behaviour, self-harm and violence. If the illness is cured the will reasserts itself and Satan's power is broken.

I am no expert on this subject but it seems possible that the man Jesus approached had either a psychological disorder or mental illness which allowed Satan to so work on him that he was possessed by an evil spirit.

(2) The evil spirit's reaction to Jesus.

(a) Satan wants nothing to do with Jesus. The man cried out at the top of his voice, "Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth." v34.

We can see the growing influence of Satan on Great Britain by the determined efforts to remove all reference to Jesus Christ. Local councils want to rename Christmas, Winterval and ban notices advertising carol services from their notice boards. Primary schools are dropping nativity plays from their end of term celebrations. No public body is more determined than the BBC to keep Jesus hidden. Recently three of Mrs Gaskell's short novels were serialised under the name, 'Cranford'. It is significant that all reference to the positive aspects of Christianity found in Mrs Gaskell's stories were removed. Great pains were taken to get the costumes right for the time but no effort was made to reflect the Christian ethos of mid 19th century England.

(b) Satan knows only too well what Christ's intention is. The possessed man cried out: "Have you come to destroy us?" v34. Jesus did come to break Satan's power.

Satan's malign influence is seen in both pagan and godless societies. Before Christianity made its presence felt in Africa, for example, people lived in superstition and fear. Bad spirits lurked round every corner! Jesus broke the power of the witch doctor.

Anthropologists might bemoan the coming of missionaries to the aboriginal people off the N.E. coast of Australia but to the indigenous population it was the 'coming of the light'.

(c) Satan knows the true identity of Jesus. The possessed man called Jesus: "The Holy One of God" and "The Son of God." vs34and41. The Evil One was aware that he would have to accept the authority of the Son.

As we wrestle, in the words of Paul, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph6v12) we have on our side one stronger than Satan.

(3) What Jesus did.

(a) Jesus said: "Be quiet." Sometimes we need Jesus to quieten those inner voices that provoke doubt, mistrust, helplessness and despair. I like the chorus of the old Sankey hymn, 'Master, the tempest is raging!':

            "The winds and the waves shall obey My will!
            Peace! ..... be still! .....
            Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea,
            Or demons, or men, or whatever it be,
            No waters can swallow the ship where lies
            The Master of ocean and earth and skies:
            They all shall sweetly obey My will;
            Peace! be still! Peace! be still!
            They all shall sweetly obey My will;
            Peace! be still! Peace! be still.

(b) Jesus said: "Come out of him." At this the evil spirit had to leave the man who was restored to perfect health.

Many, many, one way or another, have been delivered from Satan by Jesus. The malign enemy of God and men may do everything in his power to keep the lost from Jesus but the Master continues to seek sinners out and set them free from the evil one's control.

(D) Ministry of gratitude.

Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon's mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. v39.

Simon Peter, Andrew and their partners John and James were not poor. They had a thriving fishing business and owned several boats. Peter had two houses - one in Bethsaida and another in Capernaum. However disease is no respecter of wealth and Simon's mother-in-law had a severe fever - something like malaria or typhoid. It is interesting that Jesus rebuked the fever. Even today people in the grip of illness will think of it as an enemy to be fought. I certainly loathed and detested the Parkinson's disease that blighted my father's old age.

After Simon's mother-in-law was healed: She got up at once and began to wait on them. v39.

Her prompt service showed:

(1) The perfection of her cure.

Peter's mother-in-law didn't get better slowly! She didn't feel rather weak and washed out to languish for several days in bed. She didn't get up and decide to take it easy for a day or two. Peter's mother-in-law didn't expect others to make a fuss and wait on her! No! No! She got up at once and began to wait on them. v39.

When a person is converted - healed of sin - they are changed at once and begin to serve Jesus and his followers. There is something seriously wrong if they don't! There is something very much amiss if they expect others to wait on them!

(2) The extent of her thankfulness.

We see this in the nature of her service:

    (a) It was humble. Peter's wife's mother waited on others. She didn't look for something eye-catching to do - something glamorous or spectacular - that would enhance her status.

    I suppose some would say that it isn't much to wait on others. But I can remember the few times that I have been waited on personally. I remember: a young woman helping me on with my coat; a pretty Japanese lady finding me a chair after I got up with a groan from sitting on the floor for 2 hours; Freda May, the cook at Pioneer Camp, coming out onto the field with a mug of coffee to refresh the weary sports organiser; tea with Richard and Carolyn and being waited on hand and foot by young Simon their son.

    Jesus waited on his disciples. He washed their feet. It was personal. He said to his disciples: "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet." John13v14. See exposition on John13v1to17.

    (b) It began where she was. Peter's mother-in-law served Jesus in the home she shared with her daughter and son-in-law.

    There is always something to do for Jesus where we are. It may not be what we want to do or feel we are well qualified to do. There are plenty of menial jobs in a church or an organisation that few are keen to do. But they need doing and it may be you should be doing them. I was very pleased before Christmas when one of the ladies in our congregation volunteered to help me deliver newssheets round the village. I have been doing this very mundane task for several years and this is the first offer of assistance I have received!

    (c) It was accepted. Did the one who fed five thousand really need the efforts of Peter's mother-in-law. Jesus, unlike Paul, was always prepared to accept gifts and hospitality from others.

    It is not always easy to accept help from others. This morning my old friend Edward phoned me up and asked if I could give him a lift to the dentist in the afternoon. I know full well that he would prefer to help me than for me to help him. It is humbling to be dependent upon friends and neighbours.

    Jesus was not so high and mighty that he couldn't be helped; nor was he so fiercely independent that he refused financial support from his well-to-do lady admirers. In this respect Paul was very different from his master. See exposition on Acts16v6to15 and 1 Corinthians9v1to18. Jesus really is meek and lowly of heart and he still welcomes our help in spreading the gospel.