The Gospel Story: Jesus’ Healing Ministry
Mark 1:21-25, 29-32
Rev. Sandy Johnson
July 30, 2017
I’m excited to move into our new sermon series because it is all about Jesus! For the next five weeks, we will be following Jesus during his ministry from healing in Capernaum to calming the sea of Galilee; we will spend a week studying his miraculous signs, then the next week we will dig into the “I AM” sayings and then ending the series on August 27 with Jesus’ farewell discourse from John 15.
This is the first time preaching Jesus footsteps since Chey, Jennifer and I went to Israel and I am especially drawn into these lessons because we saw many of the important locations so now I don’t just imagine what a place looked like, but I have seen it for myself. I plan to show photos from our Israel trip that correspond to the places we will be discussing.
I know that you thought maybe I was going to show you my vacation photos this morning instead of a sermon. Although that’s not a bad idea, if you want to see our vacation photos, check out Facebook…we’ll keep today for the lessons of Jesus! Deal? Deal!
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen
One of my favorite places, that I visited while in Israel, was Capernaum. You can see from the photo on the front of your bulletin the remains of the synagogue that Jesus entered that sabbath day. It was shortly after Jesus had begun his formal ministry. He had been baptized by John in the Jordan River, endured 40 days of trials and testing before he launched into fulltime ministry. Just after John had been arrested Jesus returned to his home town of Nazareth.
Nazareth was a super small town, so small that it isn’t even included in the historical records from that time period. In John 1:46 Nathaniel said to Phillip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Can anything good come out of Searchlight? Or Nelson??
Nazareth was a suburb of Sephoris, the “Jewel of the Galilee.” Where Sephoris had a population of 30,000, Nazareth was a mere several hundred. The poor folks and servants lived in Nazareth and would travel to neighboring Sephoris to work. Nothing good could ever come from Nazareth, of that you could be sure
So, Jesus went to his home town and they remembered him. When he began preaching he stunned them by claiming to be the long-awaited messiah. In Luke 4:21 Jesus proclaimed himself by saying, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Their response was swift! Some thought that what he’d said was blasphemy and tried to run him out of town and threatened to throw him off a cliff.
What exactly did Jesus say to them that upset them so much? He simply read the Isaiah scripture that was assigned to that day:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Coincidence? I don’t think so. Leaving Nazareth in a hurry, Jesus headed to Capernaum, a 40-mile trek. Today you can hike this path, it’s called “The Jesus Trail.” It is a beautiful countryside, green grass, rocky outcroppings, caves and even a stream. I imagine it took him several days to traverse the countryside and arrive along the Sea of Galilee.
As Jesus was walking along the Galilee, he recruited his first disciples, Simon and his brother Andrew, who were fishing along the sea. Continuing along the shore he came upon James and John who also left their father Zebedee and followed Jesus. I have to wonder what Jesus said to them that would cause them to drop everything and follow him. Have you made that decision? Have you dropped everything to follow Christ? What did he say to you?
They finally arrive in Capernaum and went to the Synagogue – you can see in the photos here, the synagogue that was built in A.D. 300 on the site where Jesus had taught. Behind the synagogue, across the way were the remains of an octagonal building from the Byzantine period, also built in the 300’s.
In 1968, during excavations of the site, they discovered a first-century home underneath the remains of the previous church, and archaeologists believe the home belonged to Peter. It was the custom during this time that churches would be built on the sacred sites, to preserve them and to worship God at them. In Capernaum, Peter’s home was the center of Christ’s ministry – as he often stayed there and used it as a home base, so it’s not surprising that a church would have been built there in A.D. 300.
Of course, several years after this site was discovered, the Roman Catholic Church built this modern church over the site to preserve it. From inside you can see through the glass floor into the round room that was their living quarters.
So, Jesus arrived at the synagogue and began preaching. I suspect he was thinking about his last preaching date which was in Nazareth and we know that that didn’t end so well. So, he starts teaching and it seems that Jesus’ message was causing a stir, “they were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
The Greek word used to describe people’s response is translated as astounded, however that doesn’t quite convey the entire meaning of the word. It is more like his teaching was “instilling a sense of fear as well as wonder.”
As Jesus spoke, his “words were especially disturbing to one man who sat in their midst that Sabbath day. Mark tells us the man had an “unclean spirit,” yet surprisingly he still had come to the synagogue to hear Jesus. In the middle of Jesus’ message the man interrupted him, shouting. “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!
There is nothing more unnerving that being interrupted while preaching! Jesus doesn’t skip a beat, he “rebuked the man, saying “Be silent and come out of him.” “The man convulsed and cried out, and whatever afflicted the man left him. The people watching were amazed. They could not believe what they had just seen. Their response that day was far different from the response just a week earlier at Nazareth. Jesus’ fame spread quickly through the surrounding countryside, and soon huge crowds descended on Capernaum, searching for the teach and healer from Nazareth.”
Jesus stayed at Peter’s home and it was in this home that Jesus healed Peter’s Mother-in-law, as told in our scripture this morning. Another famous healing that occurred in Capernaum was the bleeding woman, you’ll find that story in Luke 8:43-48. It was on the path from Peter’s home to the Synagogue where she stopped Jesus and took a healing just from touching the fringe of his robe.
These stories, like many others, “raise questions for us in the twenty-first century. Jesus cast out demons as though they were a commonplace occurrence. Yet often the symptoms of demon possession look, to the modern eye, very much like symptoms from known physical or psychiatric disorders. Fevers were sometimes thought to be brought on by a demon. Being deaf or mute was often thought to be the work of a malicious spirit.”
So, we ask ourselves, “do we believe in demons?” This is not a simple question to answer. We understand that in the Greco-Roman world much was blamed on or thought to be the cause of “demons.” Pretty much any physical or mental illness that they couldn’t understand or was beyond their current medical knowledge was classified as “demon.”
“Epilepsy is a prime example.” Many of you may know that my oldest son Calvin has epilepsy. He began having seizures when he was in high school, following a bike accident where he was t-boned by a car. They began as small, almost twitches. They progressed to where when they were happening he would drop things. Several years later he had a full on, grand mal seizure that freaked his roommate out and he quickly called 9-11 to get help for him. It’s unnerving to see. One’s body thrashing around, uncontrollable and seizing.
Epilepsy in the first century was explained as the result of demons or demon possession. Although at times I thought Calvin was full of the devil, I’m sure that his epilepsy has a neurological cause. But we see several examples in scripture where Jesus cast out a demon that looked very much like epilepsy, bringing healing to them.
“Today, when we use the term “demons” we are often talking about forces, influences, habits, or thoughts that lead us to do things that are destructive to ourselves or others.” You have heard folks say that someone had demons – alcohol, gambling, drugs – that controlled their life. “We routinely use the word today not only for addiction but for negative impulses such as the desire for revenge or lust or greed – things we know will bring pain but that we hope will somehow bring us relief.”
“What do we make of demons today? There are accounts of demonic activity that seem both supernatural and horrible. I don’t dismiss the idea of spirits seeking to influence people in such ways. At the same time, I’m hesitant to explain most things that happen in those terms. If we do, where do we start and where do we stop? Using demons to explain those things removes personal responsibility and fails to recognize our advances in the fields of medical science and mental illness. ” Where is free will?
What I noticed in the scripture today is the “demon’s” response to Jesus. He knew Jesus and it was the demon that was afraid, not Jesus. All Jesus had to do was speak a word and the demon fled. Talk about power over darkness! “What I find intriguing about these stories is that, as part of the encounter, usually the demon can’t help but bear witness to Christ’s identity. In the synagogue, where the demon would most wish to turn people away from Jesus, it can’t help but say, “You are the Holy One of God.” So it is clear that Jesus has absolute power over the demons, and they know it.” They know it!
And the best part is, we have that same power, through our relationship with Jesus Christ. By claiming the power of Christ Jesus, we can also dispel evil. “It’s not even a fair fight between Jesus and the demons! His strength and power are infinitely greater than those of the forces of darkness.” We must never forget that.
The gospel is full of healing stories and in the end, it really doesn’t matter to Jesus what the cause of the malady is. Jesus can heal our physical, emotional, spiritual or neurological disorders, as well as demon possessions. Jesus came to live among us to bring healing and deliverance. And he demonstrates God’s love and power through healing. Jesus heals hearts, forgives sins, and sets people free.
Let us pray:
Gracious Lord, we thank you for sending Jesus to live among us and to demonstrate your healing here on earth. Allow us to be instruments that you use to deliver healing to those we know and love, and even those we don’t love! Give us courage for the task before us and confidence that you are the Great Healer, and there is nothing you can’t do. Thank you, God,!