Jesus Is the Authoritative Healer

October 8, 2017

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Gospel of Mark

18th Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus Is the Authoritative Healer

Mark 1:29-45

          As we finish Chapter 1 in the Gospel of Mark today, I want you to get an overall view of where Mark has brought us so far. Remember, he moves very fast in his storytelling. His whole point in writing this gospel is to tell the known Greek and Roman world that Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God. In fact, he spells that out in the very first sentence.

Just in this first chapter alone, look at what we have witnessed. Beginning his ministry, Jesus is heralded by John the Baptist. Jesus is baptized in the River Jordan and God recognizes Jesus as his beloved Son. Jesus is then tested in the wilderness by Satan to prove his worthiness as the Son of God. Following that, Mark makes the case very rapidly that Jesus is an authoritative leader when he chooses his disciples; Jesus is an authoritative teacher when he presents his message to repent and believe in the gospel; and today, we learn that Jesus is the authoritative healer when he once again performs miracles of healing before his disciples and the crowds that gather.

In this one short chapter of forty-five verses, probably not spanning more than a few days after his testing in the wilderness, Mark has given us a picture of what to expect from this Son of God. Jesus is not like all the other self-proclaimed Messiahs that have come through Palestine. This Messiah is different. He backs up what he says with miracles. Scripture says that immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee. Mark has quickly pulled us into the story of this amazing man, fully human and yet fully divine. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

Alex, a young man, excitedly tells his mother he’s fallen in love and that he is going to get married. He tells her, “Ma, I’m going to bring over three women and you must try and guess which one I’m going to marry.” The mother agrees.

The next day, Alex brings three beautiful women into the house and sits them down on the couch and they chat for a while. Later, he says, “Okay, Mother dear, guess which one I’m going to marry.”

She immediately replies, “The one on the right.”

“That’s amazing, Ma, your correct. How did you know?”

The mother replies, “I don’t like her.”

One more. Fred and Rick were in a pub. Fred says to his friend, “My mother-in-law is an angel.” Rick replies, “You’re lucky. Mine is still alive.”

With today’s scripture, it was just too tempting to do a couple of mother-in-law jokes. It’s probably in poor taste, especially since Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is so sick. That is where our story opens today. Jesus is in Capernaum, a fishing village of a few thousand people on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. It is the Sabbath and Jesus has just finished giving his message in the synagogue, during which time he had cast out a demon in a possessed man. After the service, which ended probably around noon, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John walk the short distance to Peter’s house to have their Sabbath meal.

When I was in Capernaum, much of the synagogue is still intact, and what is thought to be Peter’s house is only about a half-block away. This site of Peter’s home has been a church and a tourist site since the time of the Emperor Constantine in the 300s A.D.

Obviously, Peter was married and living in Capernaum. There are those who claim that Peter never married, but these verses prove that wrong. Peter took Jesus home for dinner, but when they entered there, his mother-in-law was sick with fever and immobile.

In some sense, isn’t this the way we are before we come to know Christ? We are paralyzed and unable to do what we are created to do. United Methodist Pastor Clair Sauer writes: “Isn’t that how you feel when you are sick and in bed with a fever? You don’t feel like doing anything. And all you can think about is how miserable you feel. People are sick with the fever of discontent. And so, they run after all kinds of remedies in order to try and treat their sickness. Some run after money and materialism, but the fever remains. Others become involved in addictive behaviors, but these things only make them more and more sick.” And then Sauer concludes, “Yet, in the midst of it all, Christ reaches out his hand to us and we are recreated as Christ raises us to new life. The resurrection of Jesus Christ works itself out in our individual lives in the moment when the fever breaks, the sickness subsides, and we get up out of bed!”

Of course, in their concern, the disciples immediately speak to Jesus about the mother-in-law’s sickness. He takes her by the hand and raises her up in healing. Our scripture says the fever left her and she served them.

What is so interesting about the Greek word used for “raised her up” in this passage is that it is the same Greek word used later in Mark to describe Jesus’ own resurrection. In other words, the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law can be looked at as a metaphor for resurrection or Christian conversion!

Folks, when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are raised to new life in Christ, to a new purpose in Christ! Or to put is more accurately, we are raised to live the life we were created to live in the first place! And this is the beginning of the discipleship journey. Jesus saved Peter’s mother-in-law to serve. That is what we are all called to do, to serve. This is what discipleship is all about.

With the events of the day, it didn’t take long until word got out about the exorcism and the healings. Once the sun set and the Sabbath time was over, Jesus is bombarded with people who need healing. Our scripture says, When evening came, after the sun had set, [the people] began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door.

Even as he is casting out demons, Jesus will not permit the demons to speak. Why? Because the people need to discover for themselves who Jesus really is. Many will still not know who Jesus is until his suffering on the cross and his resurrection three days later.

All of this tells us three things about the people in this story. First, it tells us something about Jesus. Jesus did not require an audience in order to exert his power; he is just as prepared to heal in the little circle of a cottage as in the great crowd of a synagogue. He is never too tired to help; the needs of others take precedence over his own desire for rest. Jesus can speak one authoritative sentence or touch a person and the healing is complete. There are no elaborate incantations, formulas, spells, or magical instruments like many of the exorcists of the time used.

William Barclay, in his commentary on Mark, says that “a miracle to Jesus was not a means of increasing his prestige; to help was not a laborious and disagreeable duty; he helped instinctively, because he was supremely interested in all who needed his help.”

Second, it tells us something about the disciples. They have not known Jesus long, but already they have begun to take all their troubles to him. Peter’s mother-in-law is ill; the home is upset; and it is for the disciples the most natural thing in the world to tell Jesus all about it. The essence of the Christian life, as the hymn has it, is “take it to the Lord in prayer.” Early on here, the disciples learn what will become a habit of a lifetime, to take their troubles to Jesus and to ask his help for them.

And lastly, it tells us something about Peter’s wife’s mother. No sooner is she healed than she begins to attend to their needs. She uses her recovered health for renewed service. Jesus helps us that we may help others.

What a hectic day it must have been for Jesus! He has no time alone. He must surely be exhausted. But we learn that he is up before sunrise the next day, leaves the house, and goes away to a secluded place to pray. Jesus knows that he cannot live without God. If he is going to be forever giving out, he must be at least sometimes taking in, that if he is going to spend himself for others, he must constantly summon spiritual reinforcements to his aid. He knows he cannot live without prayer. We find many times throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus going away from the crowds to be alone with his Father to get a spiritual recharging, if you will. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is the only one who prays.

But Jesus is soon found by the disciples and told Everyone is looking for You. Folks, many people in this world are happy to take advantage of Jesus. Some call and visit churches when their needs are great enough. And often they find help and disappear as quickly as they appeared. They want something quick. They want whatever samples Jesus has to offer. They are not interested in hearing the good news or really anything more than temporary satisfaction. And they almost never want to respond in service to Jesus or anyone else. Jesus healed thousands and yet the majority never responded. But that did not stop him from dealing with many peoples’ needs.

One would think that Jesus would go back to the crowds since they are looking for him. Instead, he says, let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for. Although Mark says this in one verse, it must have taken weeks and even months to do it. As Jesus travels, he preaches and he heals.

Sometime in this travel, a leper comes to Jesus begging to be made clean or healed. As our chapter concludes, Mark tells us about this one last miracle to demonstrate that Jesus is the authoritative healer. This is not simply a health problem, but also a religious crisis. Not only is the leper slowly dying from this consumptive disease, but he is not fit to approach God, be in the place of worship, or with any other people in the community. The leper is a nonperson, and anyone who associates with a leper suffers the same fate. Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.”

As Barclay writes in his commentary, he says “here is one of the most revealing pictures of Jesus. He did not drive away a man who had broken the law. The leper had no right to have spoken to him at all, but Jesus met the desperation of human need with an understanding compassion. Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. He touched the man who was unclean. To Jesus he was not unclean; he was simply a human soul in desperate need. Having cleansed him, Jesus sent him to fulfill the prescribed cleansing ritual so that the leper might join his community once again. In this moment, we see in Jesus, compassion, power, and wisdom all at work together.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus was and is the authoritative healer. But he does not want to be known as a miracle worker. He wants instead to have his mighty works understood as signs of the reign of God realized in human experience. That’s why he doesn’t want people proclaiming the healings publicly, but wants them to realize that God is working in them.

So, the questions that are begging to be answered today are these: “Are we responding to the touch of Jesus Christ on our lives in a proper way or are we just asking for samples? Do we understand that we are saved to serve? Saved to represent Christ in physical ways, ways that we actually will enjoy and find eternal satisfaction as a result.

Folks, it is time to reevaluate your ongoing response to the touch of Jesus Christ. Are you looking for samples and thinking, what has Jesus done for me lately? Or are you feeling Jesus’ healing touch and responding, “How am I going to serve? How can I tell the good news that Christ can bring? How can I bring eternal satisfaction to others?” How will you respond?

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