This morning we are starting a new series of studies in Luke’s Gospel. In fact we are starting where we left off this time last year. And we are looking at Luke 4.31–5.11. And after some words of introduction on Christ’s Authority, my headings are, first, ITS EVIDENCE; secondly, ITS SOURCE and thirdly, AS EXPERIENCED and a conclusion.
By way of introduction let me say something first about Luke’s Gospel. It is part of a two-volume work on the origins of Christianity with part two the Acts of the Apostles. Of all the Gospel writers Luke goes out of his way to stress the historical reliability of his writing.
Too many assume that ancient writers were not interested in finding out what really happened. That is not true with Luke. He inherited the high traditions of Greek historical writers and the Jews had a great concern for the truth. The Jews had courts of law where the aim was to judge fact from fiction. Their principle was that
“a matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses”(Deut 19.15).
And that principle was underlined in the New Testament. Then Luke seems to be writing for a Roman audience. And a fundamental question for the Roman world was, “where is there authority for living?” People do need some “authority” in life. But human authorities were in Roman times and have been in our time disastrous. In Rome they led to dreadful emperors like Nero and in our time to totalitarian and oppressors such as Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot.
So there then comes a cry for a more transcendent authority. This is for an authority that doesn’t simply validate the status quo and so approve even what is horrific, inhuman and immoral. A fundamental question, therefore, for everyone is this: “who are you going to treat as authoritative in matters of daily life and ultimately in death?” Luke (and the other Gospel writers) had no hesitation. They said, it had to be Jesus Christ. He had self-evident authority.
So my first heading, what was ITS EVIDENCE?
Answer, supremely his person. That means every aspect of his character, and not just what he said and did. Look at verse 31:
“Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people.”
So when was “then”? If you look back to the previous verses you will discover how Jesus’ synagogue ministry in Nazareth ended. Verses 28-29 say, “all the people … were furious” at his teaching; so they “drove him out of the town and took him to the brow of a hill … to throw him down the cliff. But verse 30 says, “he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. Then (verse 31)
… he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people.”
What do you do when you get huge opposition for doing or saying what is right and true but things then go pear shaped? Christians are finding this happening more and more in the secular world? What do you do in such a situation? Do you give up? Do you say, “I’ve done my bit; I haven’t got the energy for taking a stand again”? But what did Jesus do?
What did he do after nearly losing his life at the hands of a murderous religious mob. Does he say, “synagogue ministry is no longer for me!” No! The next thing you read is that he is down in Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee, on the Sabbath, in a synagogue, teaching the people once again. So, remember, as Hebrews teaches, “he has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin (Heb 4.15). And “because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb 2.18).
The character of Christ’s person was the first evidence for his authority. The second, was his teaching itself. Look at verse 32:
“They [the people] were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.”
His teaching, as we can see from the earlier part of the chapter, is good news and bad news. It is good news because he has come to bring true human flourishing for those who follow him – he is proclaiming (verse 19) “the year of the Lord’s favour”. And everyone liked that. But he then taught some hard realities. He was suggesting that people who rejected him would not experience those good things that come with “the Lord’s favour”. Instead God would bless, as in Old Testament times, people outside Israel not these people in Nazareth. You see, authority comes with the truth and the whole truth. And the whole truth may not be popular, while part of the truth may be. The truth is that God loves you. And people like that. But the whole truth is that unless you believe in Jesus Christ you will perish. Why? Because …
“God so love the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16).
You see, God takes sin seriously, as the Cross proves. Christ’s teaching was the second evidence for his authority.
And the third strand of evidence in our passage is Christ’s power. Look at verses 4.33-41:
“In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil 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!’ ‘Be quiet!’ Jesus said sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. All the people were amazed and said to each other, ‘What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!’ And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area. 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. She got up at once and began to wait on them. 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. Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.”
So Jesus was driving out evil spirits. There was instantaneous divine healing - Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, we are told, “got up at once and began to wait on” everybody (verse 39). And later we read about a remarkable catch of fish. What are we to say about such miracles?
For most people the basic questions are “did they happen, are they possible and are they probable?” But to answer those question you need to answer some prior fundamental questions first. These relate to what you believe about the nature of existence.
If you believe that existence is only about atoms and molecules, time and space, economics and politics, culture and entertainment, sex and your family and that is all there is to life, you will find miracles a difficulty. But if you believe, and for good reasons, that Jesus Christ is … a) the one “through [whom] all things were made [and] without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1.3 - as we hear every Christmas); b)and the one who is “before all things and in him all things hold together” (Col 1.17); and c) the one who is “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1.3) … it is an altogether different story.
And it is a different story when you note that the Bible doesn’t show us a God who scatters miracles at random into “Nature” (with a capital “N”) (as it is reported that some mythological pagan gods do and as does the fictional Jesus in the apocryphal gospels). For biblical miracles occur at what C.S.Lewis calls “the great ganglions of history”. These are times like the Exodus from Egypt; and the time of the great prophets like Elijah and Elisha. And supremely you see them at the coming, as fully human, of Jesus Christ who was God the Son, the second person of the divine Trinity; and the miraculous relates to his divine nature.
Romans 1.3 says
“through the Spirit of Holiness [he] was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.”
It is that context, and only in that context, of Jesus Christ’s death and Resurrection that you can begin to understand and fully believe the miracle stories in the Gospels. You then see these were interventions of God in history bringing an amazing sense of the presence and power of God. But they were not for show. They were all part of his love and goodness. They are what you would expect from the one who was the power of God incarnate who came to redeem and restore the world.
And remember, Christ’s Apostles referred to his miracles as facts which their audiences knew. Nor did his opponents deny them. Instead they blasphemously claimed Christ’s miracles were demonic.
So the evidence for Christ’s authority was his person, his preaching and his power. We must move on …
secondly, to ITS SOURCE
First, there is his prayer to his Father. Look at chapter 4.42a
“At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place.”
Mark’s Gospel tells us Jesus went to a solitary place to pray (Mk 1.35). Jesus needed time for prayer. If he did, so do we. Jesus found early morning good for a “quiet time”. And it is still good for praying and reading the Bible. Yes, there will be occasions when you get interruptions. This happened with Jesus – verse 42a:
“The people were looking for him and … they came to where he was”.
So prayer was a great source of his authority. But Jesus’ seeking God’s will through these quiet, solitary times, meant a second source for his authority – namely, he had priorities in line with God’s will. And you will get your priorities right when you pray and read God’s word. Look at verse 42 again.
“At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’ And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.”
The crowds were wanting Jesus to stay, perhaps because they wanted more healings. There was nothing wrong in that. But Jesus needed to be explaining the truth behind those healings and the total Good News that he came to bring. So preaching the Good News of what God was and still is doing in Jesus Christ, has to come first. From that will flow good works as people trust Jesus Christ. That has happened down the centuries. For example, modern health care, which is now miraculous in its extent, is one of the fruits of the Christian gospel.
And the third source of Christ’s authority that you can see in our passage is, what I have called, Christ’s prudence. Prudence is an essential Christian virtue. Jesus said we should be “as shrewd as snakes” while being “as innocent as doves” (Mat 10.15). Look at chapter 5.1-3:
“One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret [the Sea of Galilee with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.”
To get the gospel out you need to be shrewd and think outside the box. Jesus didn’t just stay in the synagogue to get his message out and expect people to come to him. He did not only rely on making sure that what he said was true. He also thought imaginatively about how that truth could best get out. So he improvised and created an unusual pulpit – a floating one. Such imagination with an authoritative message increases its authority.
Today we at this church need to be imaginative, both collectively and individually in the methods of witnessing to Christ – from more use of electronic communication to new strategies for evangelism. The leaders will be thinking about some of these on Saturday.
So the source of Christ’s authority among other things came from his prayer, his priorities and his prudence.
Then, thirdly, and finally, his authority AS EXPERIENCED
And you have here recorded in chapter 5, the experience of being prepared for Christ’s service.
“What is the best preparation for Christian service?” is a question many are asking today.
Well, how did Jesus go about training and testing his disciples? The answer is here. And it begins not with formal theological training – that was necessary. And the disciples had a three year course living along side Jesus when they heard him teach so much. But the first lesson he wanted them to learn and master was acting and living by faith. And the lesson was learnt that day on the Sea of Galilee.
Fishing on the Sea of Galilee was normally at night. That was the time for good catches. And you need to note that when you fail as a commercial fisherman, it feels very bad. As a student I once worked on a trawler in the Arctic. When you are not catching fish after a long period, you feel like the Scottish Rugby team at the final whistle yesterday on loosing to England in the World Cup. You are very depressed. For a fisherman your livelihood is at stake.
So it was to knowledgeable fishermen in that state that Jesus, not a fisherman, says go fishing – and it is daytime. Look at verses 4-5 of chapter 5:
“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."
That little “but” is at the heart of true faith. It is taking Christ at his word and acting accordingly - “but because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Recognizing his authority you obey his commands (as here) and trust his promises. And the result confirms his authority. Look at verses 6-10a:
“When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.”
Who needs to trust Christ like that this morning, maybe for the first time? Or maybe, you’ve been a Christian many years, but you have forgotten how to live by faith. Such faith is not being stupid, but trusting Christ for good reason because his word and will is clear: we are not talking about fanaticism. And to accept his authority is reasonable.
But, as with the disciples, when he commands you do not see the long term good results he has in mind for you. However, when Christ has taught this lesson of faith through practical obedience, he then wants the disciples to exercise that faith in trusting a great promise that requires further obedience. Look at verse 10 and the second half.
“Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”
The promise is that from now on the disciples can “catch men”. And they needn’t be afraid of what will happen (in the good times as well as the not so good times), for Jesus Christ will be with them. They were being invited to be co-workers with Christ in his evangelism and his good works. And Christ later made it clear that that promise would remain down the centuries. So I must conclude.
Verse 11 tells us …
“So they [these disciples] pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”
Yes, these apostolic disciples were unique. This miraculous period of world history was unique. But by his Holy Spirit, the risen and reigning Lord Jesus Christ, still says to us all in a desperately needy world, not least in Britain, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mk 1.17).
To obey will involve a cost.
But as the disciples learnt, it was infinitely worth it.