Epiphany 4 – "A Prayer for the Afflicted" – Luke 4:31-44


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Would you take out your worship folder and open to page 4 please. I’d like to begin this sermon by redirecting your attention to the Introit for the day. In know that we sing an ‘Entrance Hymn’ before the Divine Service begins, but the real ‘entrance hymn’ of the Divine Service is the “Introit,” which literally means, ‘entrance.’ It’s the prayer that the congregation sings together with the pastor as the pastor enters into the chancel to begin the work that he has been called by the congregation to do, which is… to speak to God on behalf of the congregation and then to turn and speak to the congregation on behalf of God.

Today’s Introit is taken from Psalm 10. It is A PRAYER OF THE AFFLICTED to God. Let’s speak it together again:

“Arise, O Lord; O God; lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land.”

“O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.”

This ‘prayer of the afflicted’ was written by David for all Israel to pray together. They were people who were ‘afflicted’ and who were well acquainted with ‘affliction.’ They were ‘afflicted’ by outside forces, particularly the Canaanites. And it’s the Canaanites in particular that Israel prays that God would cause to “perish from his land,” “so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.”

It is important to take notice of just how confident Israel is in God’s gracious answer to their prayer. They do not ASK God to strengthen their heart. Neither do they ASK God to incline His ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed. No, their prayer is a confession of faith. “YOU WILL strengthen their heart…” “YOU WILL incline your ear to do justice…”

In their ‘affliction,’ Israel’s hope is in their God. He WILL deliver them.

As we make this prayer our own in the Divine Service today, it’s important to understand that as we do so, we are not simply praying an ancient prayer of ancient people who were ‘afflicted.’ As we pray this prayer, we do so as those who are ‘afflicted,’ as those who are just as acquainted with ‘affliction’ as our forefathers and foremothers were.

This hardly needs to be pointed out, but we are ‘oppressed’ by OUTSIDE FORCES, the ‘Canaanites’ of our own day; powers and forces that are hostile and opposed to the faithful people of God who want to live as God wants His people to live – in faith and trust in His Word and His Way. How many different ‘Canaanites’ are there that ‘oppress’ us?

We’re also ‘oppressed’ by INSIDE FORCES that afflict us
bodily with physical pain and suffering;
and mentally with confusing thoughts and depression and failing memories;
and spiritually with feelings of guilt and hopelessness and despair.
Which of us isn’t under constant attack by “the man who is of the earth”?
Which of us would say that we are not ‘oppressed’ by sin – the sin of others and even our own?

As ‘afflicted ones’ we use the prayer given to us to pray by the Holy Spirit Himself to pray to God for His help and deliverance.

And the GOOD NEWS that we hear today is that God has not only heard the prayer of the afflicted, but that He has answered. He has “not forgotten the afflicted.” He has ‘remembered’ you.

“He has lifted His hand.” And His ‘hand’ is His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, whom we are told, “went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee.”

And there in Capernaum, Jesus met those who were ‘afflicted.’ Some were ‘afflicted’ by ‘the spirit of an unclean demon.’ Some with “a high fever.” Some with ‘various diseases.’ AND HE DELIVERED THEM ALL FROM THEIR ‘AFFLICTIONS.’

And it’s how He delivered them from their ‘affliction’ that seized the attention of those in Capernaum – and that seizes our attention too. He simply spoke His word or touched His hand, and the ‘afflicted ones’ were SET FREE from their ‘affliction.’

He “rebuked” the unclean spirit and it came out. He “rebuked” the high fever and it broke. He “laid His hands on every one of the diseased” and “healed them.” He “rebuked” the demons that came out of them and silenced them.

“And they were all AMAZED and said to one another, ‘what is this word?”

Earlier, when the congregation at the Synagogue heard Him teach, they were “astonished.” What ‘ASTONISHED’ them was that He was claiming not only to have the authority and power of God, which is astonishing enough. But He was also claiming to be God Himself. They were ‘astonished’ by His boldness and His audacity. There’s a good measure of ‘doubt’ and ‘suspicion’ and even some ‘offense’ in that word “astonished.”

But then, when He demonstrated His power and authority before their eyes and in their own bodies, they were “all amazed.” “Amazement” means that the floor has just been yanked out from under ever reason they had to hold onto their doubts and ‘offense’ at Him. There’s a good measure of ‘awe’ and ‘fear’ in that word “amazed.”

All of this took place on the Sabbath day. And the Synagogue was filled with ‘afflicted’ and ‘oppressed’ men and women, boys and girls, just like this synagogue is today.

But it is not just those who are in church who are ‘oppressed,’ and that Jesus has come to ‘set free.’ It’s not JUST those who are in church today who needed to be “amazed.”

From the Synagogue, He went to VISIT THE ‘SHUT-INS’ who couldn’t get to church but who were ‘afflicted’ and needed His word of “rebuke.” And He set them free.

And then, “when the sun was setting,” – which means that the Sabbath day was officially over and it was okay for people to travel, “all those who had any who were sick with various diseases, brought them to him.” And He set them free too.

That’s a lot of ‘AMAZEMENT’ for one day and for one city.

On a day that was meant for ‘Sabbath rest,’ it had been a long day for Jesus. But as we all know, the Sabbath day is the preacher’s day to work. (But not the only day the preacher works!)

The next day, “Jesus departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them…”

There were lots more ‘afflicted’ ones right there in Capernaum. THERE’S ALWAYS MORE AREN’T THERE? And so the people of Capernaum went to Jesus and “would have kept him from leaving them…” We wonder how they tried to keep Him from leaving. Did they pray:

“Arise, O Lord; O God; lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. “O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.”

“They would have kept him from leaving them…” They wanted Jesus all for themselves. And who can blame them? All they saw was THEIR ‘AFFLICTION.’ Which is just the way it is when you’re the one who’s suffering isn’t it? “Is it asking too much to finish what You started here Jesus?” And the answer is, ‘No, it’s asking too little.’

Jesus answered their prayer with an answer that goes as far above and beyond their request as the heaven is higher than the earth. “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

By His answer, Jesus is saying that He intends to set the whole world free from their afflictions. And if ‘the whole world,’ then certainly that includes Capernaum too. He is saying that He has come, not only to set us free of those afflictions which we suffer on any given day, but to get at the root cause of every affliction that afflicts us, EVEN THE AFFLICTION OF DEATH.

For He sees the root cause of every that ‘oppresses’ us. He sees the outside forces of the Devil himself. And He has come to crush the head of the Devil and all of his ‘Canaanite cronies.’ And He sees the ‘inside forces’ of the sin that is in each one of us. And He has come to take our sin away from us and set us free from its power.

The teaching, the healing, the exorcisms that He does in Capernaum – they’re all just ‘signs,’ as we learned last Sunday. “Signs” that point to the greater work that He has come to accomplish. And to accomplish this mission and to fulfill this purpose, He must go to the cross and die and be raised again on the 3rd day.

Which is to say, to set us free from the root cause of all ‘affliction,’ He must be ‘afflicted’ and suffer everything that ‘oppresses’ us and causes us to suffer – so that so that by Him and through Him all the ‘afflicted’ might be set free.

And so it is that the prophet Isaiah’s words find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, our Lord. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and AFFLICTED.” “He was oppressed, and he was AFFLICTED…”
(Is. 53:4,7)

Jesus Christ has borne ALL OF OUR AFFLICTIONS unto death even death on the cross. If you will, you can picture the soldiers placing all that ‘afflicts’ you and the whole world onto Jesus head in that crown of thorns.

And by His suffering and death, He has put all of your suffering and death to death. And on the 3rd day, He gave us the ‘SIGN OF ALL SIGNS.’ He has even overcome the ‘affliction’ of death.

God has heard our prayer and answered us with more GRACE, more COMFORT, more FREEDOM than we can comprehend. It’s God’s overwhelming grace in Christ that causes the apostle Paul to explode in a doxology of ‘AMAZEMENT.’

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us IN ALL OUR AFFLICTION, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

Turn in your worship folder to page 4 and pray with me once again the prayer of the afflicted:
“Arise, O Lord; O God; lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land.”

“O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.”

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