Summary: Jesus shows that he is who he claims to be by healing amny people.
Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe Luke when he records these accounts of Jesus early ministry?
There’s been a lot of debate over the last 100 years or so about whether the miracles ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament were really miracles at all or whether perhaps the way they’re described was simply due to the fact that the observers didn’t understand as much as we do about how illnesses can arise, say, from psychological causes. They point to particular physiological effects that would explain why people appear to be healed. For example, the sceptics look at the accounts of Jesus casting out demons and argue that these people weren’t really demon possessed they were actually suffering from some form of epilepsy and all Jesus does is come along at the right moment and the person appears to be healed. Or Jesus meets a man who appears to be blind, he spits on his eyes and somehow clears away whatever it was that was blocking his sight. Others suggest that the mere fact that he’s built up this reputation for healing means that there’s a strong psychosomatic effect whenever he comes near people who are sick. In other words they virtually heal themselves.
The presupposition of all these commentators, these sceptics, is that miracles don’t happen; that our understanding of the world, our understanding of the processes of science, built up over the last four hundred years of scientific enquiry rules out anything supernatural, anything that can’t be explained by modern science or modern medicine.
Now I have to say that that sort of thinking is all pervasive in our culture. My guess is that most of us suffer from it to some degree. When we hear about the treatments offered by some alternative therapies, wearing magnets for backaches, copper rings for arthritis, even more mainstream treatments like acupuncture and chiropractic, many of us are a little sceptical because they simply don’t fit the rational scientific framework that we’ve grown up with.
So when we come to these accounts of Jesus healing people, casting out demons, changing water to wine and so forth, it’s easy to wonder how much of it is true. Or how much of it is due to their primitive understanding of science. So what do you think about these stories here in Luke 4 of Jesus healing people and casting out demons? Are they just the result of a misunderstanding on the part of Luke and those he heard these reports from, or did Jesus really do this? Was it really a demon who spoke through the man in the synagogue, or was he just someone who suffered from some form of epilepsy combined with schizophrenia or some other psychotic illness?
At Summer under the Son last week we were looking at Acts 28, where a viper bites Paul’s hand and the locals wait to see how long it’ll be before he falls over dead. And the speaker pointed out that there are commentators today who’ll tell you that this must have been a non-venomous snake. Well, he asked us, who are we going to believe? A modern day commentator speaking from surmise and speculation or local villagers who witnessed the event, who knew how dangerous the local snakes were and would have had no difficulty identifying the dangerous ones from the safe ones?
Well, here it’s not quite so easy, because this isn’t a snake, it’s a man who has an evil spirit, but the issue is the same. Who are you going to trust? Who are you going to believe? Modern day sceptics who can only speculate from a distance, or those who saw these events first hand?
Now this isn’t just an idle question. It actually goes to the heart of Luke’s account of Jesus’ first ministry moments.
When we looked at the early verses of ch4 last week we didn’t look at the response of the people of Nazareth. But perhaps it’d be good to go back and have a quick look at what happened there, just before these events we’re looking at today.
(Luke 4:22-30 NRSV) "22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth." That’s not a bad start is it? That’s often the first response to the good news about Jesus. But then notice how quickly the sceptics pop up. "They said, "Is not this Joseph’s son?"" You see, they know where he’s from. They think they know who he is. And everything they’ve learnt in all their years on earth tells them that someone who’s a mere carpenter’s son shouldn’t be doing and saying these sorts of things. And Jesus knows what they’re thinking.
So he says: 23"Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ’Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ’Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’" Their scepticism wasn’t about a scientific understanding of miracles. It was about an ordinary man doing extraordinary things. It may be that even those from Nazareth believed the proverb that nothing good could come out of Nazareth. What’s more, they wanted to see some proof. The scientific method requires that an experiment be repeatable if we’re to believe its results. That’s what they were hoping for: evidence in the form of a miracle or two.