Jesus and Divine Priority
All right, we should finish up Luke 4 this morning, so please turn in your Bibles to the
end of chapter 4 in Luke’s gospel. Last week we saw Jesus in a remarkable way as the great physician, healing all manner of physical needs and suffering. The manner of Jesus’ healing was nothing short of remarkable, as we saw how he healed people around Capernaum of all kinds of diseases, sicknesses—even casting out demons. His healing ministry was unprecedented, his power unprecedented—no one before him, no one since him has ever, ever healed like this man healed. And if you see in Luke’s gospel, chapter 4, verse 38, it says that Jesus entered Simon’s house first after the time in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and it says there that
Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever. They appealed to him on her behalf; he stood over her and rebuked the fever. It left her, and immediately she arose and began to serve them. When the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him; he laid hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many crying, “You are the Son of God,” but he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak because they knew that he was the Christ.
And as we saw last week, as this passage shows us, and demonstrates so clearly, that when Jesus healed people, they were healed completely; they were healed immediately, as we see here with Peter’s mother-in-law. There was no recovery period for her–she was restored to full strength—no need to regather strength, rest awhile—she was immediately up and serving. When people are healed at Jesus’ touch, they’re healed completely, and immediately and fully—fully restored, fully strengthened, raised to their feet and able to serve at full capacity. He also—as it says in the rest of the passage there, as everybody from around Capernaum was bringing to him all manner of sick with various diseases, they all came and he laid his hands on them—he provided very comprehensive healing as well. It’s what we see when the whole town arrived at Peter’s doorstep. All kinds of diseases, all kinds of sicknesses—whatever the source, whatever the cause—he was even able to cast out afflicting demons, banish them. Nothing is beyond his power—not a malevolent spirit, not a malevolent disease, virus, bacteria, whatever—gone at his touch. Nothing is above his authority.
And there’s a remarkable manner to his healing, as well. As we see, he’s not just a doctor in a white coat in a sterile environment. He’s there, down on his knees before people, touching them. He could have healed them with just a word, simply with a thought, but he took the time to heal each and every person with a touch of his hand. He didn’t need to do that, but he stooped down, and he looked each one in the eye. He treated every single soul as a soul with dignity and compassion, and he healed every one. I love the way Alfred Edersheim summarizes this scene and paints exactly the right picture. This is what he says, “On that evening, [referring to this evening in Capernaum] no one in Capernaum thought of business, pleasure, rest. There must have been many homes of sorrow, care and sickness there and in the populous neighborhood around; to them, to all the door of hope now had been opened. Truly, a new sun had risen on them with healing in his wings. No disease too desperate, when even the demons owned the authority of this mere rebuke. From all parts, they brought them—mothers, widows, wives, fathers, children, husbands, their loved ones–the treasures they had almost lost. And the whole city throngs—a hushed, solemnized, overawed multitude—expectant, waiting at the door of Simon’s dwelling—there they laid them: along the street, up to the marketplace, on their beds or brought them with beseeching look and word. What a symbol of this world’s misery, need, and hope. What a symbol, also, of what the Christ really is as the consoler in the world’s manifold woe. Never, surely, was he more truly the Christ, nor is he as symbol more truly such to us and to all time than when, in the stillness of that evening under the starlit sky, he went through that suffering throng, laying his hands and the blessing of healing on every one of them, and casting out many devils. No picture of the Christ more dear to us than this of the unlimited healing of whatever disease of body or soul in its blessed indefiniteness. It conveys the infinite potentiality of relief—whatever misery may have fallen on us or whatever care or sorrow oppress us.”
I hope you hear that, beloved, because that right there is what Luke wants us to hear. He wants us to understand this; and that’s what God wants us to hear also this morning—that Jesus possesses what Edersheim there calls “the infinite potentiality of relief—whatever misery may have fallen on us or whatever care or sorrow oppress us.” That’s what we need to see— that Jesus, with a touch, with a word, with a thought can banish it all.
You may very well wonder, as I’ve had some people come and ask me, if Jesus can heal, why doesn’t he heal? If he can heal every sickness and every infirmity now, today—why doesn’t he do it? If he can heal, why won’t he heal? It’s a very fair, honest question, a very important question to answer. He has this unparalleled ability to heal, this unparalleled power, incomparable willingness to heal—demonstrated by the way he stooped down in the street, touching every single person. So if he has the ability, and if he has the compassion, well, then, why does he allow so many today, even in our number, why does he allow us to continue suffering all manner of physical afflictions?
It’s hard to hear this, maybe, but it comes down to this, beloved—it’s a matter of priority for him. It’s a matter of priority—his priorities versus our priorities. It comes down to a matter of his sovereignty and what he sees from his perspective; not what we see from our limited, small perspectives. It’s about his timing, not ours; it’s about his purposes, not ours. It’s about the perfection of his plans, not the demands of our immediate needs. We need to see, here in this text, the issue of divine priority because that’s what God draws our attention to, what Luke draws our attention to as we finish up reading chapter 4. Look at verse 40 again:
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!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.
And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
The next day would be Sunday—after the Sabbath, right? It’s a Sunday, the first day of the week. The next day the people came and sought Jesus. And they had the same question that we do—“Jesus, since you have the power and the compassion to heal us, stay here. Stay put, don’t go anywhere—keep healing us, keep delivering us from demons and disease and every affliction we might have—stay right here.” We understand that, don’t we? We would probably say the same thing. We understand their intention to press him into staying put. Clearly, Jesus had other things in mind. He was directed here by divine priority—he clearly had every compassion, but God had a greater mandate. Jesus is in full agreement; he’s in absolute and perfect alignment. He’s in total submission to the Father’s will.
In one sense, looking at this from a purely human perspective, it’s admittedly hard for us to fathom this. We look into the eyes of those who are suffering, when we look directly into their eyes, when we look directly into the family of the people who are suffering, the friends of those who are suffering—some of them very severely—the gravity, the acuteness of their condition, the chronic nature of it, the unrelenting pain and affliction and hurt—so many illnesses, so many diseases, so many mysteries to modern science, so many physical deformities, handicaps, maladies—all kinds of things we cannot fix, we cannot solve—and we feel it. It’s hard sometimes to understand why God allows such suffering, especially among his sheep, among his children, his little lambs—when with the very touch of Jesus’ hand, he could banish it all, he could drive it all away. So, if he can, and if he’s willing and able, then why doesn’t he?
That question, though—we need to caution ourselves because it’s only a perplexing question when we look at it from the perspective of human sentiment—when we choose to sympathize merely with the immediate pain and the presenting problem. But if we’ll step back and look at it from a different perspective, if we’ll consider all of this from God’s perspective, from a theocentric point of view, we get an entirely different view—a completely different understanding. And though we can’t figure all of this out ourselves, we can see that Jesus had it all figured out. He thought about all of this. He saw the suffering in front of him in a way that we never can. He saw not only the symptom, but he saw the very root and heart of it. But he wasn’t swayed by human feelings. He was undeterred by human grief and misery, even though he felt it. Even though he loved, he felt compassion, he continued down the proper path that God had set before him to secure our great redemption—that’s what he had to do—and I’m so glad he stayed the course, aren’t you? Knowing the whole story, now, I’m so thankful he didn’t stay there in Capernaum, but that he left.
We ended last time by noting Jesus’ unparalleled ability to heal, not just at the physical level, but at the metaphysical level—the deeper, more fundamental level—the level of first causes and the desperateness of the human condition It may be illustrated on the surface to us by all manner of sickness and disease—by handicaps, disabilities, by chronic and acute conditions and everything in between. But all of those things that we see, all of those things that we feel personally in our own bodies—are symptoms of a deeper, more fundamental issue—a metaphysical issue.
Physical maladies, pain and suffering—it’s all merely external. And when I say “merely,” I don’t mean to minimize the depth of that pain and hurt—not at all. I just mean to say “merely” in the sense of comparing it to what is more important, what is more foundational. Physical maladies are material symptoms—not roots—symptoms of a single, metaphysical malady—the internal, spiritual sickness called sin. If you don’t deal with the sin problem, you don’t deal with anything else. Any other healing on the surface is merely temporary; you have to deal with the sin. You have to deal with death principle at work in our being. Jesus is not just a physical healer. He’s a metaphysical healer; he’s able to deal with the real, fundamental problem, deep at the spiritual root. He destroys sin, he conquers death, and he grants eternal life because he has life in himself and he can give it to whomever he will.
Considering the vastness of eternity, considering the actual scope of human existence, it’s not about today’s pain—it’s about tomorrow’s eternity. It’s the metaphysical concerns that are primary for Jesus—he excluded everything else. After all, he did stoop down for an entire night and healed every single person. But he understood where the true source was. And if you understand that, it’ll help you to understand the nature of divine priority of all the Scripture and Jesus’ commitment to it. It’ll help you even now to start to process: “If he can and he has compassion, then why doesn’t he when I am sick, when they are sick, when people I love and care about are hurting”—it’ll help you start to process that—that maybe, just maybe, God has a good and wise and perfect reason for allowing suffering to continue. Maybe it’s to drive you to seek him.
We can see the divine priority at work in this passage as Jesus reveals a number of priorities in his ministry here at the end of the chapter. Your outline has five priorities listed there. We’re going to start with the first priority that we see, which is there in verse 41. We call it the priority of purity—the priority of purity. And what we mean by that is that Jesus was committed to keeping his ministry pure—unmixed, completely and totally separate and distinct from the pollution of any ungodly influence—that’s what we see in verse 41. It says there:”And demons also came out of many, crying, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.” It’s similar to what we saw back in verse 34, right? In the same chapter the demon cried out, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” Listen, for the demons it was a terrifying experience for them to be in the very presence of the Son of God, the Holy One. Even the demons believe in some sense, right? James 2:19— they know Jesus as judge and they shudder in terror at the Lord who saved us. “Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world,” right?
Some commentators believe that the demons cried out here, and it was rather involuntary on their part, as if they couldn’t help themselves. They wanted to remain hidden, they wanted to operate incognito, they wanted to be in stealth mode But the very presence of Jesus exposed and blew their cover—it forced them into the light. And the trauma of his very holy presence caused them to shriek involuntarily. Other commentators see it a little bit differently. They see a more intentional, more malevolent purpose in their outcries. The demons revealed their presence in the midst of the synagogue, in the midst of his teaching, right? And they did that to disrupt his teaching—and maybe even to show some kind of an affirmation of his true identity before the people. Perhaps the demons intended to give the perception to people of a partnership—as if they were in league with Jesus. Perhaps they knew that associating their testimony with his would undermine his credibility, mixing in their impurity with his pure holiness.
Whatever the case, by allowing the demons to speak, by not silencing their testimony, Jesus ran the risk of confusing people. He ran the risk of polluting the clarity and the purity of the message because its source is in God, and he wanted that to remain clear and distinct. He didn’t want the message to be mixed with demonic testimony. He would not allow that—he wouldn’t tolerate any perception of partnership with the demonic realm. He was committed to the priority of keeping his message, his mission, his God, his source, pure and undefiled.
Listen, not only does Jesus find the testimony of the wicked unhelpful, but by what we learn in other parts of scripture, he utterly despises any truth spoken from their lips. You can hear this kind of summarized in Asaph, when he wrote in Psalm 50, verse 16: “But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite my statues or take my covenant on your lips?'” If you’re in that category of the wicked, you should be afraid, very afraid. Jesus is passionately opposed to whatever is going to pollute the truth. He is passionately opposed to those who would mix the purity of the truth with an immoral life. Impurity leads to confusion.
In Athanasius’ biography of the life of St. Anthony, it’s the late 3rd, early 4th century. Athanasius quotes Anthony’s explanation of why the Lord silenced the demons, and he quotes this very passage—a very early insight into this text. Anthony says this, and this again is quoted by Athanasius:
The Lord himself, even if the demons spoke truth, for they said, “Truly thou art the Son of God,” the Lord still bridled their mouths and suffered them not to speak, lest haply they should sow their evil along with the truth, and that he might accustom us never to give heed to them, even though they appear to speak what is true. For it is unseemly that we, having the holy Scriptures and freedom from the Savior should be taught by the devil, who had not kept his own order, but had gone from one mind to another. But the demons do all things, they prate, they confuse, they dissemble, they confound, to deceive the simple.
It’s so true. Our Lord was committed to the priority of purity in his ministry—to keeping his testimony to the truth pure and unmixed from any other testimony, any other religion, so to speak, any other demonic testimony, any impurity, any immorality. He kept his teaching pure. Are we committed to that? Let’s think about even our own lives. Do we live in such a way that the Lord would bless our testimony of his truth? May it never be that he would silence us as he silenced the testimony of the demons. For some people, their own immorality or their own indifference to the truth has kept them silent anyway. They claim Christ, they profess Christ, but they never share the Gospel, never talk to friends and loved ones who are going to hell. They don’t care; they only care about their own priorities. They only care about their own lives, and effectively Satan has silenced them. They’re dumb, they’re mute; they cannot speak. So impurity, in a sense, has silenced them already.
Listen, there is power in the holy life. There’s power in a pure life. May we live in such a way—in an incessant, relentless pursuit of holiness in our lives that we become fitting vessels of Gospel truth; that we don’t mix his truth with impurity and error. Jesus was committed to the priority of purity.
The second priority in Jesus’ ministry provided constant clarity in his decision making—the priority of prayer—the priority of prayer. Just look at the first sentence in verse 42. It says, “And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place.” Why did Jesus go to a “desolate place”? “Desolate place” is the same word that opened the chapter in Luke 4:1: “The Holy Spirit led him to a desolate place”—it’s desert, wilderness, eremos. Here it’s translated “desolate place.” He left the city and all the people; he left them for some focused time away from people and their questions and their needs. It’s an undistracted moment for him after a long night of ministry. Over in Mark’s gospel, Mark tells us what he was doing out there—we could guess, but Mark tells us certainly—Mark 1:35 says: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” Prayed. Luke often notes in this gospel Jesus in prayer—it’s so often that it’s a clear, compelling theme in Luke’s gospel; an encouragement for us to be often in prayer. No one is more exemplary in this vital discipline than Jesus. It’s wonderful to see him—the very Son of God, but in prayer as a man—in prayer.
Luke tells us in Chapter 5, verse 16 that Jesus would often “withdraw to desolate places and pray.” That was his habit; that was the way he lived—to stay close in communion with the Father. We even saw it at his baptism, didn’t we? Jesus in Luke 3:21 was praying when the heavens were opened, when the Spirit descended, when the voice came from heaven and the Spirit descended like a dove—he was praying at that time. Great! Before choosing the Twelve, Luke 6:12, the ones he named as Apostles—before he chose them it says that he went out to the mountain to pray—again going away to a desolate place. It says that “all night he continued in prayer to God.” He’s praying, he’s praying, he’s praying. “Father, are these the ones? Are these the men? Are these the ones I should choose?” Luke 9:18 says that as he was praying alone, he elicited from his disciples the true confession that he is the Christ. It came right before his transfiguration, and guess what—before his transfiguration—he prayed! He was praying again; he was on the mountain praying.
It seems that before every major decision, before every turn in his ministry, before every moment in his life, we find Jesus praying. It seemed to be his normal habit—not just over major issues, but all other kinds of issues as well—it just seemed to be his reprieve, for rest, for refreshment, to spend undistracted time with his Father. I understand that, don’t you? Do you understand how resting and refreshing it can be to be in the presence of the Father, and the Father alone?—with no other distractions, no other worries, no other pressures; no texts coming in, no emails, no Googling—just you alone with the Lord, an open Bible, a prayerful heart—refreshing. When Jesus emerged from praying, here as we see, it says that the crowds were pressing him. But he comes out and says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well” So time spent with the Father in prayer clarified his priorities. It clarified what he should do next and made that decision crystal clear—there was no guessing. It was prayer that kept him spiritually sharp, spiritually sensitive. It’s prayer that kept him near the Father, closely attuned to the divine priority. God guided His Son by the Spirit; Jesus constantly sought that guidance, remaining in complete submission to the Father’s will, and he did so by means of staying near in prayer. If so for him, how much so for us, right? It’s instructive to us—keep the priority of prayer central in our daily lives.
Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” Do you say that? He’s remarkable, isn’t he? “I’ve got this huge list of things to accomplish today, so I’ve got to run there, I’ve got to do this, do you see the laundry? I’ve got stuff piled up on my desk, I’ve got emails filling my inbox—so I need to spend the first three hours in prayer.” Do we do that? Do we think that way? The hustle, the bustle, the expectations of modern life—we tend to neglect prayer, don’t we? So often we let other people’s demands and priorities and incessant calling us to their attention—we let that govern the way we think, the way we conduct our days, don’t we? The Father is not sending us emails. The Father is not sending texts to us; he’s sitting silently, quietly in the background waiting for a heart of faith to push everything else aside and treat him as holy. We need to learn from our Lord here, don’t we?—from faithful saints who’ve gone before us We need to be constant in prayer and instant in prayer. That is to say, instantly, everything should draw us into prayer and constantly—at all times and in all occasions—we need to be praying. Listen, if you’ll remain nearer to God in daily prayer, you’ll be open, you’ll be flexible to his direction; you will find your neck not hard and stiff—neither to be broken nor to be turned. You’ll find yourself easygoing, malleable, like putty in God’s hands—shaped into the vessel he wants to use for his purpose. Remain near to him in prayer. Prayer is not about changing God—you understand that? Prayer is about changing you—it’s about bringing our understanding and our will into conformity with God’s will—that’s what prayer is about. We read and understand his will from Scripture. We hear from God in Scripture—we speak to God in prayer. We don’t hear from God in prayer—we hear from God in his Word. You say, “I want to hear an audible voice,” well, then, read his Word out loud—you’ll hear it. Jesus, always obeyed his Father’s will. He leaves us an example that we might follow his pattern of living as his disciples, being constant and instant in prayer.
Having made a couple of points about Jesus’ priorities here, about the priority of purity and about the priority of prayer, I need you to see something here in the text. Luke focused, as I said, much on prayer in this gospel—so much so that it is widely recognized—it’s not debated at all—that prayer is a theme in Luke’s gospel. But it’s significant, isn’t it, that if it’s such a theme in his gospel, and even if Mark told us that he prayed that early morning as he was in that desolate place, it’s significant that Luke doesn’t tell us that, isn’t it? Why the absence? Luke, for whom prayer is thematic— skipped right over that fact of Jesus’ prayer at this time. He’s not hiding the fact that Jesus is praying. He just doesn’t want us to bog down on this point—he wants us to move past because there’s something very important we need to see. He wants us to focus on the next verse.
He wants us to get into priority number three in our outline, and this is the main point of this passage—the priority of purpose—the priority of purpose. Jesus’ priorities are dictated by the sovereign purposes of God—a very important principle that governed Jesus’ entire earthly ministry. And it’s what should govern our entire lives as well. Look at verse 42 again: “And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, ‘I must [that’s an imperative there on his life. It’s an obligation—it’s a verb of obligation and necessity—“I must—it is necessary that I”] preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.’ “
So we see the people here searching for Jesus; they’re seeking him. And the imperfect tense of that verb means they were seeking him intensely—they were persistently trying to find him in their search; they were not going to rest until they found him. Over in Mark’s account, we find out why—he fills in some of the details here. According to Mark 1:36, it was actually Simon Peter who led the search party. You might have guessed it was Simon, right? That guy’s into everything; he’s always out in front of everything good and bad. “And rising very early in the morning,” it says in Mark 1:36, “while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ ”
You can picture the scene, can’t you? Simon wakes up very early in the morning—he is a fisherman. Fishermen do not get up late—they get up early. He’s always up before everyone else in the household. He’s brewing the coffee; he’s doing his devotions and Torah, whatever. He’s up there before anybody else because you need to get out on the lake early—you need to be ready when the fish are biting. Your nets have to be ready; everything has to be prepared. On this particular morning, the first day of the week—first day of the business week—he’s not the first person awake and out of the house. It’s Jesus—it’s the Rabbi who spent the evening with them. It’s the exorcist who was there in the synagogue; it’s the healer who was right there in his house and around his neighborhood healing everyone—the Great Physician! He is gone, and this is a problem for Peter, as well it should be:no goodbye, no note—just gone. So Simon went out looking for him. You can imagine that he woke up quite a few people in town looking for Jesus. Like Peter, like Simon, they’re all interested in finding Jesus. So they go from house to house to find him, and people are awakened. You know Peter, being a leader, he activated search parties. He determined—they all determined together, “Hey, he’s not in the city any longer,” so they start tracking him outside the city—out in the countryside, going to the desolate places. And from what Mark records, it’s clear that Peter’s group found Jesus first, because he informs Jesus, “Everyone is looking for you.” He got there first.
Luke’s account reveals that some time has passed, and crowds had gathered, and they’re all there—Simon and the other disciples—they’re all there pressuring him to stay. Three verbs there in rapid succession—they’re seeking him, they came to him, they tried to prevent him—massive pressure on Jesus to stay put. They’re pressing him, they’re leaning on him, they’re trying to persuade him, trying to keep him from going anywhere else. If they had had handcuffs, they’d have surely cuff him and brought him on back and thrown him in a doctor’s office. He’s the greatest teacher they’ve ever heard. He’s the only effective exorcist they’ve ever seen. He’s the most competent, powerful physician who’s ever treated anyone. He could heal anything from leprosy to paralysis and everything else in between—all healed, so why wouldn’t they want him around just a bit longer?
Even though they’d been fully healed for the moment, they weren’t finally healed, were they? Every single one of these people would one day die. They’d be struck in their bodies by some other sickness, some other illness Their bodies would succumb to the weakness of the flesh, to the principle of death and the curse in them. So eventually they’re going to die, and they knew that. No doubt their reasoning went something like this: “You healed us yesterday—yes, and we thank you—but what about tomorrow? What about next week? What about a month from now? What if we get sick again?” So they wanted him to stick around. They wanted him in Capernaum—to be the city’s permanent, full-time physician and Bible teacher. Boy, what better combination, right? Great Bible teaching, great physician, great doctor—awesome!
Even though we can understand their thinking, we need to be very careful, here, not to excuse it. It’s not okay to think like they thought. Rather than setting Jesus’ priorities for him, they should submit to him and see what he thought was best. Wouldn’t that be a better approach to the Sovereign of the universe, the King of Israel, the Messiah—wouldn’t that be a better approach? Listen, we need to discipline our sympathies, too. We need to restrain our sentiments; we need to let our judgments be instructed by what Luke is showing us here—by what all the gospel writers show, by what the entire New Testament, the entire Scripture tells us about God—He is holy. We tend to judge with such a man-centered perspective. We set our priorities according to man-centered concerns—so small, so limited, so ignorant, really. It’s what the townspeople of Capernaum were doing, and led, by the way, by Jesus’ first disciples—Simon and Andrew, James and John. Look, if they did it, how much more would we, right? They all wanted Jesus to stick around, to run his ministry from Capernaum. They thought it would be just fine for him to care for other people who visited: “Sure, we could be magnanimous with your care”—as long as he took care of them first.
They had their own priorities. They wanted Jesus to conform to their expectations, their desires. But notice in verse 43 Jesus’ statement of priority: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” That gracious, gentle sentence confronts their man-centered thinking and their wrong set of priorities. And then he left Capernaum—verse 44—to preach in other places. He told them what he intended to do, and then he did it. Clearly, his priorities were ordered differently than theirs. And this verse is strategically located here: after the dramatic acts of power to cast out demons, heal all the sick. Why? So that we will be cautious to remember the priority in Jesus ministry: It’s not just about the physical—it’s about the metaphysical. It’s not just about symptoms but the depth of the problem of sin.
We see three verbs here in verse 43 reintroduced again: Jesus preaching good news, sent by God, proclaiming God’s favor. You know where we first saw those terms in Luke’s gospel? Just a few verses earlier in Luke 4:18 and 19: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me [there it is] to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me [there it is again] to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Euangelizo—to proclaim good news; apostello—sent; kerusso—to preach or to proclaim—those are the words used there and repeated here at the end of the chapter. It’s important. Here in the narrative, where the people have sought out Jesus, where they’ve tried to persuade him to line up and submit to their agenda for his life and ministry—it becomes instructive to us, doesn’t it? It helps us to see this from God’s perspective, not from man’s.
preachingsentproclaimingproclaimsent proclaim proclaimEuangelizo—apostello—kerusso—
Let’s break down that sentence just a little bit and see the significance of this gentle confrontation of Jesus. There are three points of divergence between the people’s priorities and Jesus’ priorities—three ways their priorities differed from his. First of all, there’s a difference here in assessing the true nature of human suffering. We’ve been talking about this, but the people wanted more physical healing; Jesus is more concerned about dealing with the metaphysical root of the problem. The people are concerned about temporal things; Jesus wanted to point them to eternal things. Essentially, the people had misunderstood completely the true substance of Jesus’ ministry. They’re not really hearing his message. They’re hearing him teach; they know that he’s bringing wonderful things to their ears—but it’s just kind of ping!—hitting their head and bouncing off. They’re not really getting it. Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God.” He is thinking about the problem with humanity from an entirely different level. People are fixated here on immediate issues of pain and suffering—just the symptoms. Jesus came to treat the root and the heart, to cut it out and cast it away, and give new life.
It’s the first use of the phrase “the kingdom of God,” but it’s not the last time, not by a long shot. “Kingdom of God” is repeated 31 times in Luke’s gospel—again, thematic. Matthew refers to the same concept in his gospel; he calls it the “kingdom of heaven.” He uses that phrase 32 times. Mark refers to the “kingdom of God” as well another 14 times. This is no minor theme in the Gospels—the kingdom of God. It’s the fundamental subject of Jesus’ teaching. Whenever Jesus is teaching, whatever he is saying when it says he is teaching in the synagogues, you know what it is he is teaching—the kingdom of God. Just fill that blank in in your mind; it’s relating in some way to explaining and calling people to enter into the kingdom. Luke 8:1: “He went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God” When he sent the Twelve out, Luke 9:2, “he… gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” Later, when he sent out the 70 to accelerate the spread of the message in Luke 10:9, he commanded the 70 evangelists to heal the sick and to say, “The kingdom of God has come near you.”
We’re not going to take the time right now to go into great detail on the kingdom of God. Luke keeps the narrative moving forward because the focus is on priority, and that’s where our focus in the text right now needs to be. But believe me, with more than 30 references ahead of us, we’re going to get an understanding of the kingdom of God. For right now, it’s just going to help us as we think about Jesus’ priority to know that the kingdom of God is about God’s absolute sovereignty over all things. Do you know what it is to be a sovereign? It’s to be a king, to be a monarch. We could call it a benevolent dictator—that’s Jesus, that’s God. The kingdom of God is about his absolute supremacy over all things, so that in all of creation, as William Hendriksen says, “Everything is subservient to God’s glory.” We’re to ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name, right? “The glory due his name”—really? “The glory due with His Name,” his person, who he actually is—we don’t understand that. The kingdom of God is God’s sovereignty in action. It’s the extending of his power and his authority—that’s what Jesus came to proclaim. He preached the sovereignty of God over all things; he was unapologetic about that fact. Man is not sovereign; man does not set the direction, the priority. It’s not man’s will that’s important, it’s God’s—God’s will. He called people to submit to God as king, to kneel before His authority, to bow themselves before His Lordship. And as a practical matter, Jesus was very helpful here, because he taught the people the laws of the kingdom, the ways of the kingdom, the thinking of the kingdom— how to practice and conduct themselves in the kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount—it’s all about that: “The kingdom of God is not about this as you’ve been taught—it’s all about this.” He expected people to live by those laws. He expected people to see the kingdom of God and all its laws, all its governance, all its rule, and to bow before all of that and say, “this is glorious; I can’t keep it—I need you.” You know, when we call out for God in need, we glorify him. We are doing our part in bringing to him the glory due His Name. That’s our part as creatures.
We’re going to see all this take shape as we keep teaching through Luke’s gospel. The people here had a lot to learn. They’re still amazed at physical healing; they’re just still caught up in what all that would mean for them in the temporal moment: “I don’t want Jesus to leave. I don’t want to lose the healing power.” But Jesus here is prioritizing the substance of the kingdom, which dealt with the true nature of the problem, which is this: lack of faith in God, lack of submission to God’s law, and the chaos that results. That’s what Jesus came to heal. He had to teach the kingdom of God.
Second, Jesus said, “I must preach to the other towns as well.” This is another point of difference between their priorities and his. “I must preach to the other towns as well.” His concerns for the other towns as well—that phrase “to the other towns as well” comes first in the Greek sentence because Jesus here is leading with that to gently rebuke their self-centeredness. “Stay here, Jesus!” “Well, to the other towns as well I must also preach.” People wanted Jesus all for themselves—they didn’t care about the “other towns as well,” frankly. Jesus here—by how he says what he says—is forcing them to think about other people—about their concerns and their interests—not just about themselves. Did they really think that God cared only for the sick, diseased, and afflicted in Capernaum? Do we think that? That God cares only about the preaching of the truth here, in this church, in this room? Does he not care for the people around Greeley as well? The kingdom of God is bigger, wider, broader than our mere, local concerns. The local is not unimportant—I don’t say any of that to diminish the local, what happens here—but God’s watchful care is universal. He is God over all the earth, not just a regional god. It’s one of the reasons Jesus carried out an itinerant ministry, that is, traveling to different places to preach. He didn’t stay in one location, build a big, huge conference center and a big TV ministry and say, “Hey, check me out!” He visited people where they were and brought the truth to them. Can you imagine that! If he had stayed put in Capernaum, the people of the land of Israel coming in from all over Israel and dragging their sick and afflicted people to Jesus—carrying them on litters, dragging them along, bumping along as they’re hurting? No way! He didn’t expect the people to come to him—he went to them. And once again, it demonstrates the divine initiative in the sovereign grace of God. We are only saved because God took the initiative. We are only saved because God visited us. There are no seekers among sinners, but God is a sinner-seeking God. I’m so grateful, aren’t you?
That’s why the pattern has always been to go to where the people are: to embrace the challenge to leave, to get the Gospel out. We don’t expect all them to come to us. That’s why we’re not doing entertainment up here. That’s why we’re not making all this palatable for the interests and sympathies of unsaved people. No, we gather here to be edified, and we scatter to evangelize. That’s a mandate from Jesus’ life and ministry: We broadcast the message, we visit the needy and the afflicted, we go outside the walls of the church to seek and save the lost—that’s the pattern. There’s a difference is substance, there’s a difference in concern for people—all people, not just some.
Thirdly, there’s a difference between the people’s priorities and Jesus’ priorities, and it’s the issue of submission—submission. Jesus said: “I was sent for this purpose.” That’s the verb apostello. And God is sending Jesus as an apostle—apostello. God is the sender here, right? This is an instance of the divine passive—Jesus says, “I was sent,” and he’s clearly implying God is the one who sent him—God is the one who is directing him to fulfill his divine purpose here. In fact, there are several indications of God’s sovereign direction in verse 43 when Jesus said, “I must.” That Greek verb necessitates him—it’s a divine obligation. He said, “I was sent”; next, “I was sent” again—the divine passive; God sending him as his chosen vessel. A clear statement of divine purpose comes next: “I was sent for this purpose.” “For this purpose”—that is, to preach the good news of the kingdom of God. He is in complete and total and absolute submission to the Father’s will. He takes his direction from the Father and the Father alone—it’s his perfect priority.
But notice the people didn’t want to see that—they wanted to see their own demands as sovereign here. They wanted to be the ones to direct Jesus in his ministry. They wanted to set his priorities for him—they think they know better. Sounds kind of like us, doesn’t it? I mean, we are like that, aren’t we? Trying to persuade him to conform to their desires, they’re putting forth their demands as sovereign and Jesus gently pushes back. He says, “God is sovereign, not you. I submit to his priorities, not yours.”
It’s interesting to note at this point the theme that has tied all of chapter four together. We come to the end here. We see the people of Capernaum trying to get Jesus to submit to the dictates of their own self-interest, right? They’ve become yet another obstacle here to Jesus fulfilling his mission, and that really is the theme here in chapter four—all the obstacles that are thrown up to distract Jesus, to detract him, to get him off course, off track. The chapter began in the wilderness with the devil trying to derail Jesus in a number of ways, ultimately trying to tempt him to think according to self-interest. He appealed to Jesus’ sense of self-preservation, his sense of ambition. The devil, there, is an obstacle standing in the way of Jesus’ mission. And then when Jesus went home to Nazareth, his own people acted with self-interest and pride, self-centeredness. They became a second obstacle standing in the way of his fulfilling his mission. And they didn’t want to just distract him—they wanted to stop him entirely, right? To kill him.
Here, the people of Capernaum have become yet another obstacle. And they tried to appeal to his sympathy, his compassion, hoping his evident compassion would overcome his sense of divine priority. But as we’ve said, if Jesus had submitted to their appeals, if he had allowed himself to be distracted from the mission that God had given him—he would have failed. But in all three instances, Jesus stayed the course—he stayed the course. He submitted to the divine purpose and the divine priority, and I’m so grateful he did.
Folks, we need to see that our own compassion and sympathy, when it’s unbridled, when it’s unrestrained—our feelings can actually cause us to be unfaithful to God’s will. We need to take our directives from God’s Word. We need to follow a principled approach from His Word rather than our own feelings, and our own sentiments—they are not a reliable guide. Good feelings are not a guide to faithfulness. Our feelings have to be submitted to God’s priorities because only He sees all things clearly. As they say, feelings make a terrible engine on the train—they’re a great caboose, but a terrible engine! If feelings are driving the train, you’re going to be derailed in no time—you’re going to be far off the track. You’re actually going to become counter-productive to God’s purposes. But, if your feelings are restrained by God’s Word, if you take your marching orders from God’s priorities, you will be faithful. You will be useful for His purposes, you will be fruitful with your life, and the feelings will follow along—in joy, contentment, satisfaction.
Jesus, here, knows that becoming consumed with treating physical needs alone would distract from his more fundamental mission, which was to conquer the metaphysical issue of sin. He didn’t come just to deliver from some physical, temporal, external, superficial maladies. He came to do all of it, and he started with the deepest one of all—sin. The judgment for sin, the wrath of God on us for our sin—he came to restore people to the right kingdom of God.
Two more points for this morning, just quickly. We’ve seen the priority of purity, of prayer, of purpose. Last, there’s a fourth and fifth priority in verses 43 and 44—the priority of people, and also as you can see in your outline, the priority of people and the priority of preaching. We’re going to cover both those points in just one shot. Take a look at the final two verses there: “He said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well, for I was sent for this purpose.’ And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.”
First, let’s talk about the priority of people. We see that in the phrase there, “to the other towns as well,” and then in verse 44 “in the synagogues of Judea.” Jesus’ priority is to preach the gospel to the Jews first and then through their witness they can fulfill their calling, as Isaiah said, as a light to the Gentiles—that’s the plan, that’s the priority, that’s the way it all works. Isaiah 42:6 “I will give you [my people Israel] as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations.” Isaiah 49:6: “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” God chose the Jewish people to be the means of extending the rule of his eternal kingdom to the uttermost parts of the earth. This really anticipates Acts 1:8, right, where Jesus told his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” That’s the plan—the Jew first, and through their witness, to the Gentiles.
And that is why Jesus prioritized the Jews during his earthly ministry. You’ll find some strange statements every now and again that strike us as strange when we see them, as in Matthew 15 when Jesus healed the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman. He said it’s not right to take the food that’s on the table and give it to the little dogs. She’s like, “a little dog”? Yeah, that’s right. Not a rabid, scoundrel, mongrel dog that roams the streets and is vicious, but a little lap dog—one that belongs in the house, under the master’s table, belongs there. Jesus said of the Gentiles—that’s where they are—they’re around the table. Those of faith, like us, we’re so happy to eat the scraps that fall from the table, aren’t we? He came to the Jews first. Through their witness it comes to the Gentiles—the scraps that fall off the master’s table. He came preaching to the towns and the cities of the Jews. He entered their synagogues—it was a matter of divine priority. The light’s going to shine from the Jews through the preaching of the Gospel. And the apostles followed the pattern of Jesus, doing what he trained them to do—to preach—and he calls us to do the same thing. God has ordained preaching to be the means of salvation. The physical touch of Jesus had the power to deliver people from physical affliction, but it would require the power of preaching to deliver sinners from the deeper, spiritual affliction of sin and death.
Philip Ryken, in his excellent expositional commentary on Luke—if you would like a commentary, by the way, to read along with what we’re doing here, Philip Ryken is an excellent commentator, and it’s not technical, it’s very, very helpful. You’ll find a lot of help from that, and it’s devotional, expositional. But he quotes in his commentary from J. C. Ryle, who gives us a very important warning: “Beware of despising preaching. Beware of despising preaching. There’s a lot of despising of preaching going on today as churches do anything but preach. It turns sermons into sermonettes. By doing that, they turn Christians into Christianettes. Beware of despising preaching.” Ryle went on to say, “In every age of the church, it’s been God’s principal instrument for the awakening of sinners and the edifying of the saints. The days when there has been little or no preaching have been days when there has been little or no good done in the church. Let us hear sermons in a prayerful and reverent frame of mind and remember that they are the principal engines which Christ himself employed when he was upon the earth.”
Do you come in here in a prayerful and reverent frame of mind? Are you planning for your Sunday on your Saturday—to come in with a prayerful and reverent frame of mind? Look, we’ve all failed in this, haven’t we? We fill in our weeks and our time and our hours with so much superfluous stuff, so much distracting stuff. Ryle’s warning, here, is consistent with the great Apostle Paul. He was committed to preaching as well—the medium of divine power to awaken sinners and edify saints. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” That’s power! That’s why Paul was committed to it—preaching, preaching the Gospel, preaching Christ crucified. He did not come to baptize, but to preach the Gospel. He’s not there to count numbers—he’s there to preach. God had only one son, they say, and he made him a preacher. That preacher trained other preachers, and those preachers trained other preachers still, all following the pattern of 2 Timothy 2:2: “Entrust this ministry of preaching to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” That’s what we’re endeavoring to do here as well, right?
By the grace of God, and for the glory of God, we’d do well to stop for a moment just to reflect on all of this. Do these priorities—of prayer, of purity, of purpose, of preaching—do these make a practical difference in our life? How do they disrupt our schedule? How do they change the way we approach our week, our days? They need to. As we follow Jesus’ priorities here, which are the divine priorities, we will find every help from God because we’re humbling ourselves before his way—to do his will, in his way—when we do that. God opposes the proud, who think they can do it any other way, but he gives grace to the humble. And when we try to follow his Word and do his ministry in his will in his way, you know what?—he draws near to us with every grace.
Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we are grateful to you, once again, for the clarity of your Word and its convicting influence in our lives. We are grateful for how you confront us, and how you encourage us; and we do ask that you would help us to live, Father, under your perfect and beautiful sovereignty. We ask for your help. We ask for your grace and mercy. We know, according to your Word, that you have given us your beloved Son, Romans 8, and if you’ve given us your beloved Son, how will you not also along with him freely give us all things? We believe that to be true. And we do seek you, Father, because we ask you to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask and think for your glory—for the glory of your Son and his Gospel and for the salvation of many and the sanctification of us all. We give ourselves wholly and joyfully to you. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.