At the morning service I preached from Luke 4:31-44, a passage made up of a series of short episodes from the ministry of Jesus in Capernaum. Unlike in Nazareth, where Jesus’ reception was less than positive (to put it mildly), Capernaum delighted in the words and deeds of Jesus. Though they didn’t necessary put saving faith in Christ, they were astonished by what they heard and saw; later, when Jesus had retired to a desolate place, they urged him, but in vain, to remain with them longer.
There is much to learn from the ministry of our Lord in Capernaum. First, Jesus demonstrated his authority as the Son of God. The people were stunned to hear Jesus speak with such authority (v. 32), so unlike the teaching of their rabbis. Likewise, when Jesus cast out a demon by a mere word, he astonished the onlookers (v.36). Without the usual elaborate incantations and rituals of other exorcists, Jesus demonstrated his absolute mastery over the powers of darkness. Of course, this authority of Jesus that so impressed the people of Capernaum was located in the person of Jesus. As the incarnate Son of God, he taught and acted with that divine authority and power that properly belongs to him. Today, in the ministry of the Word of God, the church speaks with that same authority. This authority of faithful preaching and teaching doesn’t reside in the church itself, but belongs to Christ who has chosen to speak his Word to the world and to his people through the church (Ephesians 3:10). As a church, may we faithfully proclaim the message of salvation in Christ – it is the authoritative Word of Christ and therefore both true and full of power (Romans 1:16)!
Jesus also showed his compassion as he ministered to the demon-possessed and sick of Capernaum. Though Jesus may not be with us physically today to heal the sick, and though he may not to grant supernatural healing to us or our loved ones, nevertheless he still has a heart full of mercy and pity towards his own whom he loves. Just as Jesus used his divine power in Capernaum to relieve human misery, so his promise to us is that he rules over all things on our behalf to prepare us for, and ultimately deliver us to, that eternal glory where we will no longer suffer pain, sorrow, and death. In the end, we will see how in all things Jesus dealt with us with perfect compassion.
Finally, Jesus revealed his priority in Capernaum. And that was, “to preach the good news of the kingdom of God” (v.43). At the time, this good news meant that Jesus came as God’s Messiah to rule, and to bring salvation and eternal life to all who trust in him. That is essentially the same gospel the church must preach today: Christ died and was raised for sinners; believe in him and you will be saved. And if that message was the priority of Jesus, so it must be for the church today. If we lose the gospel, we lose everything. No matter how much earthly good we may do, apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ we can offer nothing of lasting value to the world.
At the same time, the church is called to imitate her Lord in carrying out deeds of mercy, and in showing compassion to those afflicted or in need. As God gives us grace to do so, hearts will be more open to the message we proclaim. Especially in our skeptical world today, when truth claims are automatically suspect, the world must not only hear about Jesus from us but they must also see Jesus in us. And they will, if we as Christians reflect the mercy of our Savior in our words and actions.
At the evening service, we considered the meaning of the 2nd Commandment, using the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 35 as our guide. A picture may be worth a thousand words. But when it comes to images of God, the written Word of God is infinitely better, and truer, than a thousand pictures.
Soli Deo Gloria!