31 He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. 32They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. 33In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34‘Let us alone! 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.’ 35But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm. 36They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, ‘What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!’ 37And a report about him began to reach every place in the region.
Jesus left Nazareth, and made his home in Capernaum. There he went to the synagogue – and was teaching on the Sabbath. There, the people were astounded at his teaching – they did not have the pre-conceived notions about this man that the people in his hometown had. Here, they found that he spoke with authority. Jesus’ authority was not like that of others they had known – there was a power about him, a thing they found hard to describe. But it made them listen to what he had to say!
There are ruins of a synagogue in Capernaum – these ruins are from a later date, but that synagogue was built over the foundation of a first century synagogue. This is the actual place where Jesus taught. It gives one a strange feeling to stand in that place, and know that Jesus taught there, with authority, 2000 years ago!
But while Jesus was teaching, he was interrupted; a man jumped up and began to shout. Except, Luke tells us it is not the man crying out but the demon that possesses him. There were many things in the world which were not understood by people of the time, and the tendency was to attribute them to the supernatural, to demons. Thus, demons were believed to be the cause of mental illness, seizures, and other unexplainable physical ailments. Fred Craddock, in his “Interpretation Bible Commentary: Luke”, says that we must remember that demons were believed to cause physical and mental ailments, but did not cause people to do immoral things. (They thus differed from the vampires and zombies of modern movies!) They were, however, of the supernatural world, and so, they recognized Jesus, whose power was of the supernatural – i.e. the spiritual, world. The demons always knew who he was. What we see throughout all the gospels is that Jesus has power over demons, no matter how many, no matter how strong.
But Jesus did not want the demons telling people who he was; he wanted the people to figure that out, to follow him of their own will. And so, he tells the demon to be silent, and then to come out of the man. And the demon, with one last effort to harm, throws the man down, but finds he must obey and leaves the man.
Now the people are truly amazed, and they ask one another, “Who is this man? With power and authority he commands the unclean spirits, and they obey!” Here is something beyond their understanding! Here is a man of power and authority! They do not yet understand where this incredible authority comes from – but they have seen the power of it! And the word spreads around all the region of Galilee. Do we read these passages and think only of the archaic beliefs? Or do we see the power with which Jesus taught and preached and healed – and still heals today?
The dark stones at the base of the foundation of the Roman built synagogue are from the earlier foundation of the first century synagogue.