January 31, 2009
“The Holy One of God”
Our Epiphany season continues to present us with Gospel readings that answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” Last week we saw him as the true Bridegroom. Before that, the Savior, the Son of God, the King of the Jews. Today in the synagogue, we have an unusual voice confessing Jesus true identity. A demon cries out, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God!” And it's true. From the lying mouth of a unclean spirit comes a confession of truth. Jesus is the Holy One of God.
That's not all that's happening in our Gospel today. That's not all the demon said. And it's not all we have to learn about who Jesus is and what he does. Let's look a little closer at the Holy One of God and what today's reading means for our faith today.
One might take this encounter with the demon and conclude that it simply demonstrates Jesus sovereign power over evil. And surely he has that. But it is a miracle which is more than just flexing his divine muscles. Here he shows his authority. Just as he rebukes the fever in Peter's mother-in-law. Just as he commands water to become wine, hushes the storm, feeds the multitudes, and heals so many. In all his miracles Jesus is doing more than simply displaying his omnipotent command of creation. He shows his authority to demonstrate his identity. He shows his authority over these things, also to show his authority over spiritual things.
For which is it easier to say, “get up and walk” or, “your sins are forgiven”? Jesus who has the very power of God is most interested in using that power for your good. And not just your physical good, but first of all for your spiritual good! The best thing he does for you is to make you clean, washing away your sins. This brings you “every spiritual blessing” - the good news!
Notice his purpose statement: “I must preach the good news, for that is why I have come!” Not to hand out prizes. Not to heal, do miracles, or even cast out demons. All those he does, and can do.. but not just that! He came to work salvation and bring us the highest and grandest gifts of God.
But we're so often focused on the things below. Life's little molehills that to us appear as mountains. Sickness, conflict, things simply not going your way. All of this results from sin, of course. All of this is part of the program living in this fallen world. But the solution isn't just to treat the symptom. Instead, Jesus goes to the source. That's who Jesus is. That's what he came to do.
While the demon spoke truth, he also tried to deceive. As the devil does so often, he laces his lies with truth, to make them harder to see. He twists God's word. He seeks to use it against us. Some of Satan's most destructive lies come from the mouths of so-called Christian preachers. Even here, Jesus meets evil head-on in the synagogue, the place of worship.
So what was the deception? That Jesus was a Messiah to be feared? Well, yes and no. Did Jesus come to destroy? Yes and no. Like Jeremiah the prophet, in our Old Testament reading, Jesus comes to pluck up and knock down, but also to build and to plant. He does come to destroy, but also to give life.
As usual, a right understanding of this comes from the proper division of law and gospel. The demon was rightly terrified of Jesus, who indeed came to destroy him, and all the devil's kingdom, and their hold over humans. Jesus came to destroy sin, death, and the devil – all our spiritual enemies. For we do not contend against flesh and blood, Paul reminds us, but against the spiritual forces of evil.
And even our own sinful self, our old nature, our old Adam, is slated for demolition. Jesus has come to destroy that within us that is corrupt and wicked and rebellious, and by repentance and faith build us anew into the men and women God wants us to be – perfect and blameless in his sight. Redeemed by Christ's blood shed on the cross. Inheritors of life, now and in eternity.
Jesus is a destroyer, a judge, the Holy One of God to be feared only if you are under the law and God's wrath. But he is also the friend of sinners – the shepherd who lays day his life for his sheep. He is the advocate and intercessor, the great high priest, and so much more. Jesus is the good news that he preached. The Gospel is all about him and what he does to save us.
The devils and demons don't want you to know it, or believe it. They want you to fear Jesus, if you think of him at all. They want you to get it turned around. They don't want you to see him as savior, but yourself. And they don't want you to have the comfort of trusting in his grace.
But Jesus silences that. He rebukes all that.
And his Holy Spirit speaks, even today, a different word. A word with authority from Christ himself, who sits on heaven's high throne. You who know and feel sorry for sin, you who have heard the call to repentance and fallen on your knees. Fear not. Jesus comes to destroy only what troubles you – sin and every evil. Jesus comes to foil every plot of the devil. Jesus, the Holy One of God comes to make you holy by his holy, precious blood, and declare it in his strong word. We know who he is – by what he says and does for us. In his name, Amen.