The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

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“The Gospel that Heals”

Mark 1:29-39

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

She never spoke a word.  Like the man with the unclean spirit, we don’t even know her name.  But Jesus enters the house where she is and, when He hears that she is sick with a fever, He takes her hand and drives out the fever with a single touch.  Both demons and diseases are enemies that have been inserted in God’s good creation by sin.  But demons and diseases are driven out by the One who has authority over both: one with a word, one with a touch.  One restoration of a man in an unclean spirit, and all who are oppressed by demons come to Jesus for relief.  One healing of a woman with a fever, and all who are oppressed by diseases come to Jesus for healing.  “And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons” (Mark 1:34, ESV).  But simply freeing people from demons and diseases is not why Jesus came in the flesh.  Jesus is not just a healer and an exorcist.  The summary of His whole earthly ministry is not, “He came, healing the sick and casting out the demons.”  It is, instead, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15, ESV).  He has compassion on Simon’s mother-in-law; He heals the sick who come to Him; He casts out many demons.  That is the way of His compassion for His suffering creatures, but His healing is a result of His powerful Word, not the Word itself.  The people have needs and they know He can help them, but do they have faith?  Is it not likely that many of those who were healed were satisfied with the restoration of their physical health, satisfied like the 5,000 with their full bellies, but took no concern for their spiritual health?  How many take the signs pointing to the destination as the destination itself?

It is clear that Simon and the others, though they believe He can do the miraculous, do not yet understand His mission.  It is the same throughout most of Mark’s Gospel: as far along as chapter eight, Jesus says to the disciple whose mother-in-law He healed: “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33, ESV).  What is it that Simon Peter did not want to hear?  Precisely the preaching of Jesus, the reason for which He came: “[H]e began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  And he said this plainly.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him” (Mark 8:31-32, ESV).  That suffering, rejecting, killing, and rising again is the goal, and not even Jesus’ compassion for the physical needs of people will keep Him from it: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:38, ESV).  Jesus knows that as long as He is seen as a magician or worker of miracles, the people will not allow Him to preach the Gospel that is the source and goal of their healing.  Jesus never stops healing and driving out the demons: “he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39, ESV).  But that is a result and sign of the purpose for which He came: the preaching of the Gospel of God (Mark 1:14), which is nothing else than His suffering, rejection, dying, and rising for you and for all people.

Peter did not want to hear about that kind of Lord; he wanted the kind of Lord who healed and cast out demons and was popular and drew a crowd.  It is in keeping with his character, then, that Simon Peter would be the one to lead the search party for Jesus.  No doubt Peter was enjoying being the follower of a Man who attracted dozens or hundreds of people looking for healing.  Are we any different?  Imagine the scene: you come here on Sunday morning, and Jesus is healing anyone who comes and asks Him.  Everyone who is oppressed by unclean spirits, everyone who has heart disease, arthritis, asthma, cancer, the flu-everyone who comes is healed.  The next Sunday and the next Sunday, more and more people hear about the healing that is happening at Trinity/St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Fisher/Euclid, and they more than fill the pews, and it’s standing room only.  It would be great!  We could attract people to the Church and then they could hear the Gospel and join our congregation.  But would they hear the Gospel?  That is, would they hear it if it was still preached, and if we did not get caught up in the miracles and lose the point of it all?  I can’t say for sure, but I might be tempted to soften the message; I might be tempted to put the miraculous healings front and center; maybe take out the sermon because who wants to listen to someone talking when what they’re really here to see is a miracle?  If you’ve ever seen a preacher on television who claims to have the gift of healing, you get the impression during his sermon that the people are impatiently waiting for him to get on to the main thing, the important thing, the spectacular and miraculous thing.  But if we are looking for the sign without the Gospel, we are no better than Herod, to whom Jesus was brought when He was arrested: “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him” (Luke 23:8, ESV).  For Herod and those like him, the sign is the thing, rather than the Gospel to which the sign points.  Now, we pray constantly for the healing of the effects and symptoms of sin, including sickness and disease.  If someone is oppressed by the temptations and afflictions of Satan, we pray for them.  But that is not the Gospel.  If the Gospel was the same as healing diseases and freeing people from the physical effects of the devil’s lordship in this world, what would it mean if people are not healed?  If healing is the same as the Gospel, what would it mean if people die?  Because I will die.  And you will die.

Jesus nowhere promises that because He heals some, He will heal all.  In fact, Jesus did not even come close to healing all the people who were sick around the world.  But He healed some, and some of those healings are recorded for us, including that of Simon’s mother-in-law.  Jesus did not come close to casting out all the demons around the world.  But He cast out some, and some of those exorcisms are recorded for us.  The diseases that Jesus healed were sub-diseases of the disease we call physical death.  The demons Jesus cast out were sub-demons of the demon we call Satan.  But Jesus did not come to be merely a healer and an exorcist.  Jesus came to be a Savior.  And that means salvation from something deeper and more destructive than the dissolution of our bodies and the attacks of the devil.  It means salvation from the sickness that leads to eternal death, to which those diseases and demons point.  It means that whatever happens to you in this life, Jesus has already done the most miraculous thing that could possibly happen to you: He has joined you to His death and resurrection in baptism, so that your death is over and done with.  He feeds you with the food of eternity, an eternity that has already begun for you.  You are His now, even if what we will be has not yet been revealed.

You, my brothers and sisters, will be healed.  The weakness of your flesh will be taken away in the power of the Spirit.  If there is a thorn in your flesh that never seems to leave you fully, even if it is lessened by grace (2 Corinthians 12:7), that, too, will be gone.  But it may be that you will not be healed before the disease of death, the consequence of sin, runs its course.  Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26, ESV).  You live now in that tension of dying and yet never dying; of not healed and yet forever healed; of oppressed by the devil and yet free from the power of the devil; of feeling acutely the sting of sin and yet living sinless the new Life of Christ in the Holy Spirit.  We pray for healing now only because we know that we will one day need no healing.  Beloved, there is a Tree in the New Jerusalem, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations, for your healing (Revelation 22:2).  It is the Tree of Life, and its branches are shaped like a cross.  Today your Lord feeds you a foretaste of that Tree’s healing fruit, His own Body and Blood.  His life is now your life, His health is your health.  Even as you suffer, even as you weep, He is doing what He came to do: preaching His Gospel into your ears and heart.  That Gospel alone heals, that Gospel alone casts out unclean spirits.  That Gospel began the healing in you that will be completed on the Day of the Lord.  “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5, ESV).

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/4/09


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