The Demons, the Fever, and the Word of the King
Bethlehem Baptist Church | Minneapolis
When we come to Luke 4:41, near the end of this message, we are going to see something that has a direct bearing on your life in 2023 and on how you relate to demons and fevers and death and sin and the sovereignty of Christ over all of it. I point this out now lest you be tempted to think that these two-thousand-year-old stories are interesting, but not really relevant to “my issues today” or the problems swirling in our culture. That would be a big mistake.
Luke writes in verse 41 that “demons also came out of many, crying [to Jesus], ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak.” Why? Why won’t he let them talk? They just spoke one of the greatest truths in the world: “You are the Son of God.”
That’s better than what their master, Satan, said back in Luke 4:3 in the wilderness: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” These demons aren’t playing that game. They came out crying, “You are the Son of God.” There’s no if about it. They know whom they’re dealing with. So why does Jesus silence them when they speak such truth?
He gives the answer at the end of verse 41: “ . . . because they knew that he was the Christ.” Eventually, the word Christ became virtually a proper name along with Jesus — Jesus Christ. But in our text, it’s a title: “the Christ.” Luke tells us, “They knew that he was the Christ” — which is the English transliteration of Christos, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Mashiah (1 Samuel 2:10), which means “anointed one” or “Messiah.”
So the demons know that Jesus is the long-expected Son of David, the kingdom-bringing, world-conquering, enemy-defeating Jewish Messiah. They know this. And at the end of verse 41, Luke says that precisely because they know this truth, Jesus silences them. My point here is simply this: in that act of Jesus, when he silences that truth, there is a worldview that has everything to do with your life today. That’s where we are going. But let’s get there by starting at the beginning of the text.
His own hometown of Nazareth has just tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:29). But they couldn’t. Because, for now, Jesus is untouchable. He will decide when he is to be killed. “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18). So he walks away unscathed through the crowd. And after a twenty-mile journey, he comes to Capernaum, where Simon Peter lives (which becomes significant in Luke 4:38). And on the Sabbath, he enters the Jewish synagogue and does the same thing he was doing in Nazareth. He teaches:
He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. (Luke 4:31–32)
In other words, he spoke as one who had the right to tell them what they ought to believe about God. We know that’s the focus of his teaching because down in Luke 4:43, when he leaves to go teach elsewhere, he says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” When he mentions “other towns as well,” he means that’s what he was teaching here, in Capernaum — the good news of the kingdom of God.
And his teaching came with authority. In other words, he claimed to have the right to tell them what they ought to believe about God and his kingdom — the way God would rule the world, and the way people should live under his rule. And verse 32 says, “They were astonished.”
The authority of Jesus is astonishing. I mean, if it doesn’t astonish you, you’re not paying attention, or your emotional capacities are out of whack. Listen to the way he teaches in his first extended sermon in Luke, one chapter later.
Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them [my words] is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great. (Luke 6:46–49)
If I spoke like that — if I said, “What you do with my words determines whether your life will be swept away in the final judgment” — you’d think I was a nutcase. That’s breathtaking authority. And, of course, they did call him a nutcase (Mark 3:21) and worse: “possessed by Beelzebul” (Mark 3:22).
Demons in the Light
But here in the synagogue of Capernaum, that’s not the effect. The effect of Jesus’s teaching here is not only going to astonish the audience; it’s going to drive a demon out of the darkness and make him a witness to the truth.
The reason I say that’s the effect of his teaching is because Jesus doesn’t do anything — nobody does anything — to cause the demonic outburst of Luke 4:33–34. Jesus is just teaching. He’s telling the good news of the kingdom. He’s magnifying God as king and liberator (Luke 4:18–19). And he’s doing it with unprecedented authority. And the next thing we hear is this loud demonic voice: “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” (verse 34).
Verse 33 gets us ready for this outburst: “In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice . . .” Why? This is demonic suicide. Why did he do that? He knows Jesus is the Holy One of God. This is not going to go well for the demon.
I don’t know why he made such a suicidal appearance instead of keeping his head down. But what I see, and what you can see, is this: the teaching of Jesus with authority provokes demonic exposure — and then deliverance. It was true then. It is true now.
“The steady-state, normal way that demons are exposed and removed is the teaching of truth in love.”
In 2 Timothy 2:24–26, the apostle Paul said that if the Lord’s servant teaches God’s truth with clarity and authority and love and patience and boldness, two things may happen: (1) God may grant people to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth, and thus (2) they may escape from the snare of the devil, who had captured them to do his will. The steady-state, normal way that demons are exposed and removed is the teaching of truth in love. The devil is a liar and a hater. He cannot abide a heart or a community ruled by truth and love.
Now at this point in Luke 4, someone might say, “I’m not sure bringing demons out of the dark is safe.” No, it’s not safe, unless Jesus is present and on your side. If you turn away from Jesus because you want to play with the demonic (sorcery, séances, necromancy, fortune-telling, Ouija boards, mediums, crystal balls, palm reading, witchcraft, astrology, yoga), you may draw the demons out of darkness, but you won’t have Jesus’s help. That is a dangerous place to be.
But if you stand with Jesus, if you trust him and position yourself under his authority and in his care, here’s what happens:
Jesus rebuked him [the demon], 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. 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!” (Luke 4:35–36)
Surely this is the main thing Luke wants us to see: Jesus is absolutely sovereign over demons. The people were “astonished” at the authority of his “teaching” (verse 32), and now they are “amazed” (verse 36). For when that teaching provokes demonic exposure, there is not only “authority,” but “power” — authority and power to dispatch that exposed demon and deliver the one who was in bondage. Let the last part of verse 36 sink in and be your boldness as a follower of Jesus: “With authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!”
No Demon Can Disobey
Why? Why do they obey? I mean, the whole point of being a demon is that you don’t obey God. Demons hate God. So what’s with the obedience? Here’s the answer: God has two kinds of willing.
He has a moral will, like the Ten Commandments: “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t lie.” That’s God’s moral will. And demons don’t give a hoot about obeying those commands. The very meaning of being a demon is to be opposed to the moral will of God.
But the other kind of divine will is not the moral will, but the sovereign will: “Let there be light” — and there was light. “Lazarus, come out” — and the dead man came out. “Demon, be silent, and come out of him” — and he came out. He obeyed.
And the people were amazed and said, “What is this word?” (verse 36). Indeed! That’s the right question. The Ten Commandments are the word of God, and they don’t get obedience from demons. What is this word?
The closest we get to an answer is the last part of verse 36: “With authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” The Ten Commandments have authority. God has a right to tell us how to live. But this word of Jesus comes with authority and power.
“Jesus Christ forms a thought in his mind, he turns it into a word, and that word creates reality.”
We don’t know how this works. We don’t know what kind of power this is. Electromagnetic? Bluetooth? Wi-Fi? Radio waves? Those are all mysterious enough. But Jesus Christ forms a thought in his mind, he turns it into a word, and that word creates reality — which we should expect, since Hebrews 1:3 says, “He upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
Fevers Flee Before Him
Then Luke wants us to see that this absolute authority and power of Jesus’s word extends not only to the world of demons, but also to the world of nature. So we follow him to Simon’s house in verses 38–39:
And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.
Surely it’s not a coincidence that Luke uses the same word for how Jesus spoke to the fever that he did for how Jesus spoke to the demon. Verse 35: “Jesus rebuked him [the demon].” Verse 39: “He stood over her and rebuked the fever.” This is an even more graphic picture of how mysterious this power is. You might argue that a demon obeys the sovereign word of Jesus because he is a rational creature, making up his mind to do so and then obeying. But here, Jesus is talking to a fever — rebuking a fever.
What is a rebuke? It’s telling someone they’ve done something wrong, said something wrong, gone where they’re not supposed to go. So Jesus says in effect, “Fever, you should not be doing that. You don’t belong here.”
Now the fever doesn’t understand anything Jesus is saying. It has no ears. No brain. No comprehension. It has no will. And it leaves her. It obeys just like later, when the wind and the water obey him (Luke 8:25).
Do we have any scientific categories at all to explain that kind of power? No. This is the scientifically inexplicable sovereignty of the Son of God over all things. All demons. All nature. That’s what Luke wants us to see — the sovereignty of Jesus over demons and nature.
Every Demon, Every Disease
But suppose someone says, foolish as it may sound, “Well, that was a one-off. One demon. One fever. You can’t generalize this power to other situations.” Luke now shows that the power both over demons and over disease is not a one-off. Verses 40–41:
Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!”
Various diseases. Many demons. When Jesus speaks or touches, they go. His authority and power are absolute. No demon and no disease can stand when Jesus exerts his sovereign will, which he can do whenever he pleases. Then and now.
Why Christ Came Once
And now we have arrived at the end of verse 41, where we started, and we can turn to the twenty-first century. The second half of verse 41 says that when the demons declared Jesus to be the Son of God, “he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.”
Why didn’t Jesus want the news to spread that he was the Messiah? Jesus gives part of the answer in Luke 9:20–22, when he told his disciples not to spread this news. He says it’s because “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
The common conception of the arrival of the Messiah did not include his crucifixion. It included his supernatural military triumph over all Israel’s enemies and the establishment of his earthly kingdom. That’s what they expected from the Messiah, and that was not going to happen for another two thousand years or more.
In Luke 4:41, when Jesus blocked the spread of that misunderstanding of the kingdom and of his Messiahship, he signaled a view of the world — a worldview — that accounts for the twenty-first century, for our place in history, and points to how demons and fevers and death and sin and the sovereignty of Christ relate to us.
The mystery of the kingdom (Luke 8:10) was that the Messiah, in his first coming, would heal the sick and cast out demons and raise the dead and forgive sins, and in this way he would give many signs of what his final, perfect, sinless, painless, deathless kingdom would be like, after his second coming. The mystery was that there would be an unspecified period of time between the inauguration of the kingdom in Christ’s first coming and the consummation of the kingdom at his second coming. That’s where we live.
God’s number-one purpose in the first coming of the Messiah was that he die in the place of sinners and so purchase forgiveness. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Until He Comes Again
So, here’s our situation between the two comings of Christ. By trusting Jesus Christ, his sacrifice for sin becomes mine. It counts for me, for you. All our sins are forgiven once for all (Colossians 2:13). There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus through faith (Romans 8:1). God’s just condemnation and Satan’s legitimate accusation are gone.
The one damning weapon with which Satan and his demons could ruin you is stripped from their hands — namely, the record of your unforgiven sin. That record was nailed to the cross. “This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14)!
“God is totally, one hundred percent for you and not against you, if you are in Christ Jesus.”
Which means this for our lives: We live in the period of time between the Messiah’s two comings. In this period, Jesus — the risen, reigning Son of God, who upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) — is absolutely sovereign over demons and disease. But he does not remove them in this period of time. That’s the next phase of redemptive history, after the second coming.
But what he does remove, absolutely and completely, is your guilt and condemnation. Which means that in this period — in your life today — God is totally, one hundred percent for you and not against you, if you are in Christ Jesus. And if God is for you, who can be against you (Romans 8:31)?
And if you say, “Demons can be against me; disease can be against me,” no, actually, they can’t be. Because in Christ Jesus, whatever disease and whatever demon assaults you, Jesus turns it for your good (Romans 8:28). This is the good news of the kingdom: Jesus is sovereign, and he is for you. Trust him. Be valiant for him until he comes or until he calls.