During Epiphany we reflect on the things God has revealed about the world and Himself through His Son. The Gospel readings, which come from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, serve as introductions to Jesus—both for the people of His day and ours. This makes Epiphany an opportune time to (re)introduce your hearers to God as He has made Himself known. This is necessary, for the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are always pushing false assumptions and distorted conceptions of God and His creation.
This week’s reading recounts three separate episodes. In verses 33-36, Jesus exorcises a demon from a man in the synagogue. In verses 38-39, Jesus rebukes the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law. In verses 40-41, Jesus heals the crowds of various diseases and demon possession. A sermon on this text could focus on one of these episodes. Or, it could consider all three of them together and notice several recurring themes. I would suggest the latter, as together they serve as a substantive re-introduction to God and His creation.
What are the recurring themes? There are at least two. First, each of the episodes remind us the world is seriously broken. Demon possession and sickness are manifestations which confirm the world is not as it should be. The problem for the people in each situation is not so much personal guilt, but helplessness and vulnerability. Second, in each episode Jesus “rebukes” that which is broken. Luke uses the same word each time (ἐπετίμησεν), reminding us Jesus is neither content nor unable to reverse that which is wrong. His authoritative and powerful Word undoes the brokenness, delivers those who are suffering, and points toward His final restoration of all things on the last day.
There are a few other details in each episode that may be worth noting for your hearers:
Episode #1: It takes place in the synagogue. Jesus exorcised the demon without harming the man (μηδὲν βλάψαν αὐτόν). The result was amazement at the authority of Jesus’ speaking.
Episode #2: Peter’s mother-in-law was seized/attacked/tormented (συνεχομένη) by a great fever. The image is creation at war with itself. The relief led her immediately to service.
Episode #3: Not only did Jesus rebuke the demons. He also silenced them. His reign over that which is broken in His creation is absolute.
How might the sermon be organized? It could begin by informing the hearers this sermon will serve as a (re)introduction to God and His creation. It could continue by inviting the hearers to see if they can spot two recurring themes in these three episodes as they listen to the preacher creatively retell each episode. The goal would be to help the hearers imagine what it would have been like to observe these things. Then the sermon could move to the present and name some of the specific brokenness which still exists in the world today. It should not be difficult to find global, local, and personal problems to name. In keeping with the three episodes in the text, the problems you choose might cast your hearers as helpless and vulnerable, rather than guilty. You might also choose to deliver them in groups of three for the rhetorical impact and connection with the three texts. The sermon could then proclaim the promises of God in Christ according to their “now, but not yet” character. This (re)introduction would point to the promised return of Jesus and the full and final restoration He will bring.
One more note: the sermon might also include reference to the post-script in verses 43-44. There Jesus insists He has been sent (ἀπεστάλην) to proclaim the good news of God’s reign (τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ) to others. In His grace, this apostolic mission has extended all the way to your town.
Concordia Theology: Addition resourced from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO, to help you proclaim Luke 4:31-44.