31 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. 33 And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 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.” 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. 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.-Luke 4:31-37, ESV
Luke tells us in this chapter that Jesus was teaching in many synagogues throughout the region of Galilee. Out of all the possible stories that might have been told regarding these early visitations, only two have survived. Luke did not record these two synagogue stories haphazardly, mind you. Being led by the Holy Spirit, these two congregations serve as a contrast. The first is the unbelieving synagogue of Nazareth, and the second is the synagogue of believing Capernaum.
Was Jesus’ teaching more clear in Capernaum and less clear in Nazareth? I think not. Is it possible that Jesus’ delivery was less persuasive in Nazareth? Could Jesus have had an “off” day? I’m going to go with the multiple-choice answer “D, none of the above.” Jesus’ teaching was unlike any sermon anyone had ever heard before. Some might have rightly concluded that His teaching was divine. What was the problem in Nazareth? Let me suggest one possible contributing factor. The text suggests a big difference between how the two congregations approached Jesus’ sermon. Those Nazarites came to hear their hometown celebrity, but those Capernaites came to hear a true prophet. The obvious result was the congregation in Capernaum’s sensitivity to the authority of God proceeding from Jesus’ mouth, while the Nazarite congregation only heard the voice of a carpenter’s son.
The state of spiritual deadness in Nazareth is also something to contrast against the congregation of Capernaum. The miserable people of Nazareth couldn’t even see in their own homegrown Jesus what a hopelessly oppressed demoniac could see. Hopeless, that is, until Jesus entered his synagogue. That evil spirit clearly recognized Jesus as “the holy one of God.” Isn’t it ironic? Jesus’ neighbors who lived alongside Him his entire young life missed Jesus’ true identity, but a Luciferian minion recognized Him in a single meeting. Jesus didn’t simply speak with a tone of authority but with the tenor of authority. His words were powerful and life-giving. The people of Capernaum didn’t only hear authority in Jesus’ words but saw His authority produce results, while the Nazarenes only wished to see some miracle performed.
The demon within that poor soul declared, “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.” And Jesus cast out that demon from the man by the authority of His word. Nazareth was, by comparison, a wholly wicked congregation that condemned Jesus rather than celebrating Him. Those Nazarites tried to condemn the Holy One of God, but in Capernaum, they condemned the devil. The devil left the man without harm and fled as a defeated foe in the midst of a losing battle. That condemnation of the devil happed among the congregation of Capernaum, but the condemnation of Jesus happened among the congregation of Nazareth.
Spiritual warfare without a battle.
There are another two scenes in Luke chapter four that are worth comparing. Here in verses 33-36 of chapter 4 is the seemingly easily controlled demon who Jesus banishes from the believers of Capernaum. Keep in mind how easily Jesus handled this encounter with the forces of Satan in contrast to the spiritual battle that he waged against Satan himself in verses 2-12 in the same chapter. Why was the Devil able to offer three temptations to Christ while the demonic spirit could not struggle against Him at all? Is there significance? It seems that when Jesus defeated Satan in the wilderness, that devil planned to depart until an opportune time, and therefore all his evil followers must also flee from the Holy One of God. That demonic spirit knew after overcoming Satan’s best schemes that Jesus was way outside his weight class as it were. So now, when Jesus speaks to a demon, they do exactly what the King says. They obey because Christ conquered their old serpent King. Now they are like outlaws and fugitives wandering in a kingdom that was once theirs to abuse but is now under the protection of that conquering King. They may die against the King in a battle or flee from Him in terror. All of Satan’s minions will choose the latter of the two options.
Christian, before engaging in Sunday worship, remember the difference between the Capernaites and the Nazarites. Repent of any contempt that comes from familiarity with the liturgy, the pastor, or the sermon text. Pray and ask God to open your ears again to hear His voice, and pray for God to grant you sight again to see the glory of God again in the face of Jesus Christ.
Also, run to Jesus with all of your guilt, shame, and fears. If Jesus can heal that oppressed Capernaite, He can deliver you too. Don’t run from Christ. Run to Him. Cry out, “I know who you are; you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Because that is the fundamental confession of the Christian faith.