Disease, Demons, and Darkness

“The Healing of Peter’s Mother-in-Law” by James Tissot

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“Immediately [Jesus] left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told Him about her. And He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

“That evening at sundown they brought to Him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him.

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him, and they found Him and said to Him, ‘Everyone is looking for You.’ And He said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:29-39).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Disease, demons, and darkness, that is the context for this reading from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. Peter’s mother-in-law was sick (1:30), and many others suffered various diseases (1:32, 34). A man in the synagogue was oppressed by an unclean spirit (1:23-26) and he was not alone (1:32, 34). The darkness which followed sundown (1:32) was not simply literal. It summarized the spiritual and physical condition of a creation corrupted by sin. This was the broken world into which Jesus was beginning His ministry. The direct temptation of the Devil in the wilderness (1:12-13) was only the beginning.

Jesus was not intimidated, however. Undeterred by the Devil or the disease or the demons or the darkness, He went on the offensive. With recently gathered followers by His side (1:16-20), He taught in the synagogue with authority (1:22, 27). With the crowds paying close attention, He exercised lordship over the physical and spiritual forces of evil. His rule was clear for everyone to see and hear, and His fame began to spread (1:28).

But rather than capitalize on His celebrity status (Mark 1:28), Jesus retreated to the relative privacy of Simon and Andrew’s home after the synagogue service was finished. They already had plenty to talk about, but there was going to be a lot more. When they arrived at the house, they found Peter’s mother-in-law ill with a high fever. The disciples immediately brought this matter to Jesus’ attention. They had to wonder: Was Jesus willing to help them, too? Or were His miracles meant only to increase His prestige and renown with the multitudes?

It didn’t take long for them to find out that they would also be recipients of His loving care. Jesus answered their request. He took the woman by the hand and lifted her up. The healing was complete and instantaneous. The fever left her. The woman’s strength was fully restored. She immediately proceeded to wait on them—her way of expressing her gratitude.

As soon as the Sabbath ended at sundown, a huge crowd came to the house with their sick and demon possessed. No matter what the disease, Jesus healed the sick and drove out the demons. Nothing was too difficult for Him.

Jesus did not allow the demons to speak. He wanted those who were healed and those who witnessed the healings to draw their own conclusions directly from His words and actions and thus to come to the realization that He is more than just a healer of the body—He is the promised Savior from sin.

That Sabbath had been an exceptionally busy one for Jesus, yet He did not sleep in late the next morning. After a night of wrestling power from the prince of this world, Jesus left the house before sunrise and withdrew to a solitary place to pray. It may seem strange to us that Jesus, the Son of God, felt the need to spend time praying to and communing with His heavenly Father, but only until we remember He was also truly human. As such, He, too, was dependent upon God for everything. However, in one respect, His prayers were not identical with ours. They were not prayers for the forgiveness of sins, for He had none.

In His prayers, Jesus talked with His heavenly Father about the work that lay before Him and thus found strength for His task. On this particular morning, He may well have discussed with the Father whether He should remain longer in Capernaum or begin taking His message into other areas of Galilee. The Father’s answer is seen clearly in Jesus’ words to His disciples and in His subsequent action. That Jesus felt the need for spending time in prayer reminds us that our need to do so is even greater. Let us take to heart His example.

Peter and the other disciples had different plans for Jesus. It was time to strike while the iron was hot. Jesus’ status was trending. A crowd was quickly gathering. There were many more diseases, demons, and darkness to confront.

But by the time the crowd had gathered again, they discovered that Jesus had already left the house. Immediately, they began searching for Him with Peter leading the search party. That they seemed to find Him so quickly suggests that they were aware of His practice of going apart by Himself to pray.

They told Jesus about the crowd looking for Him. Undoubtedly, they thought Jesus would be pleased with that. But Jesus knew many only came to Him for what there was in it for them. He also recognized the disciples still had a lot to learn about Him and His mission. Had Jesus followed their suggestion, He would not have placed the emphasis on proclaiming the Gospel but on presenting Himself as a healer—the error that many faith healers are guilty of today.

It is not surprising that Jesus’ disciples and the multitude would be seeking Him that morning. He was breaking the darkness, as several hymns put it. The people were increasing with hope. But Jesus had other things in mind. He informed His disciples that He would not stick around and satisfy every appeal in town. R.T. France describes what this meant:

Here for the first time, we meet a recurrent theme of the Gospel, that of the difference between Jesus’ programme and His disciples’ (and still more other people’s) expectations. It is not just that He is one step ahead of them; His whole conception of how God’s kingship is to be made effective is quite different from theirs. While they would naturally pursue the normal human policy of taking advantage of popularity and building on success on their own home ground, following Jesus will increasingly involve them in having to learn a new orientation” (The Gospel of Mark. NIGTC, 111).

Strengthened by His time in communion with the Father, Jesus saw clearly what He must do next. Though Jesus had much more He could still do among the people of Capernaum, it was time for Him to move on to the work His Father had prepared for Him. Jesus’ clear plan stands in stark contrast to our tendency to lose focus, to allow others to set our agenda, and to put lesser things above what is most important. Given our weaknesses, it is reassuring that Jesus keeps things straight. His highest goal was, and is, to fulfill the Father’s command that He save the lost. Jesus therefore informed His disciples on that very morning that He would set out on a preaching tour of Galilee.

Wherever Jesus went on this tour, He entered the synagogues. This offered Him many opportunities to preach the Gospel, since synagogue services were not only conducted on the Sabbath but also on Mondays and Thursdays. In connection with His preaching, He also drove out demons, for they were opponents of His message. The tour may well have lasted several weeks or even months, but Mark summarizes it in one verse. “And He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39).  

As the Son of God and Lord over creation, Jesus was demonstrating His divine authority and sovereign rule. Demonstrations would continue throughout His ministry. They would culminate in the ultimate sign of His lordship on Easter morning. The announcement of His resurrection would provide life and salvation which exceeded even the temporary healings and exorcisms described in our text.

Which brings us to our day. Given the endless series of things to which Jesus attends, we may sometimes imagine that He is too busy for us and our problems. But Jesus knows and cares for us individually. He commands us to lay all our needs before Him and stands ever willing and able to help us.

The world is still dark. It is still filled with disease. The Devil and the demons still tempt and oppress. Much like the people in our text, you come to worship this week looking for Jesus. You are looking for help and looking for healing. You look for the Lord to reign graciously over your particular struggles with darkness.

Often, Jesus seems to depart for other towns. He seems to leave you in the darkness and without deliverance. He seems to leave you to struggle with your doubts and despair.

But the preaching continues! The announcement goes forth. That is how Jesus continues coming to town after town—even to ours. Through His called and ordained servants, Jesus proclaims His victory over all the forces of darkness. Through the promises spoken in His name, He makes known and spreads forth the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

As you consider the darkness in your life, it would be easy to list the usual suspects—the pandemic, social unrest, political dysfunction, and economic uncertainty. But you’ve heard much about these lately. It might be more helpful to dig deeper, to poke and prod at more specific problems casting shadows over your lives: Doubts and despair sown by the Devil, family relationships sick with selfishness or self-righteousness, the internal demons of depression, anxiety, fear, suspicion, or jealousy, the oppression of the Devil, the world, and your own sinful nature. And there’s the physical manifestations of sin through death and disease, such as cancer, heart disease, COPD, dementia, arthritis, glaucoma, osteoporosis, neuropathy, diabetes, and stroke, just to name a few.

Dearly beloved, those and many other physical afflictions will be taken away from you in time or in eternity. I often speak of this in funerals, saying that the deceased loved one is alive and well with the Lord in paradise awaiting the day of resurrection, while the disease is dead and gone forever.

Disease, demons, and darkness—Jesus came to defeat all these, as He demonstrated in Capernaum and Galilee and, ultimately by His death on the cross. Through His Word and Sacraments, He still comes to forgive, restore, comfort, and encourage us. And when He returns on the Last Day, He will break the darkness once and for all as He raises you, me, and all who have trusted in His name to everlasting life in body and soul. That is the promise that I get to preach, that you get to hear, that we get to share. This is how Jesus’ mission continues in our towns.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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