Sermons, Uncategorized

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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Sermons, Uncategorized

Authority Issues

“Christ Preaching at Capernaum” by Maurycy Gottlieb

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“They went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath [Jesus] entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22).

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

When you mention the word “authority,” it’s likely you’ll have to qualify what you mean. Depending upon the audience’s background—and the current context—“authority” may have an extremely negative connotation. It may suggest oppression by a dictatorial governmental official, an overbearing boss, or an abusive parent. In that setting, an “authority” is a ruler—a ruler who uses you for his own advantage. And so, it’s no wonder that many of us have authority issues.

But there are good authorities as well—ones who use their authority for the benefit of others instead of themselves. This use of authority is seen as beneficial and orderly for society. Good parents, good teachers, good bosses, and good governmental officials—ones who develop trust in the people of their charge.

Jesus exercised good authority. Like other good authority figures, Jesus didn’t seek authority; it was given to Him (Matthew 28:18). In His state of humiliation, Jesus submitted Himself to the will of the Father, using His Father’s authority for the good—for the salvation—of all mankind. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus demonstrates His authority by His teaching and power over demons.

The scene is familiar. Jesus enters the city of Capernaum, a place where He lived for some time. Its situation on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and at the intersection of several important trade routes made Capernaum an ideal base for carrying the Gospel into the regions of Galilee and beyond. Besides, Capernaum was also the home of Zebedee and his sons, James and John, and the home of Peter, whose mother-in-law was living with him.

On the Sabbath following their selection to become fishers of men, Peter, James, John, and Andrew, together with Jesus, attended the synagogue service. Since synagogues had no resident ordained ministers, the rulers of the synagogue would invite some rabbi or scribe present to teach the lessons. So, it happened that Jesus was often invited to address the congregations.

The synagogue served mostly as a place of the Word. Whereas the temple was mainly a place of worship and sacrifice, the service of the synagogue would consist of prayer, reading Scripture, and an exposition of the Word. Therefore, the synagogue was the ideal place for the true Word, Jesus, to reveal Himself.

What Jesus’ specific message was on this Sabbath, Mark does not tell us; he does tell us about the impression His preaching made on the worshipers. They were amazed, for Jesus did not teach as the scribes did.

The scribes extracted rules and regulations from the Torah for almost any situation. Generation after generation of scribe passed down this oral law, which was committed to memory. Since they were the experts of this unwritten code, they were also the ones judging individual cases. They were considered the final authority on interpretation of God’s Word, particularly regarding moral living.

Jesus wasn’t preaching about endless circumstances for choosing the right behavior, but rather sin and grace. His message wasn’t “What should I do?” but rather “What has God done for me—because of what I’ve done and left undone?” Jesus was boldly preaching contrition and faith, the full counsel of God. He simply told them how it is—on no less authority than God Himself. This wasn’t just some new teaching, but a dusting off of timeless teaching. It was a teaching that through the coming of the Messiah, forgiveness would be won for helpless man. Jesus is the final authority. He is the one who in word and deed reveals to us the undeserved love of God for sinners incorporated in His own person. Through Him and His Word, God’s authority issues. His, is the final Word.

But this refreshing message of good news isn’t always received with joy and amazement, is it? Often, we see, even in quite different settings, the rejection of the good. Because of our sinful nature, we all have authority issues. We all want to have the final say, to be our own god. And the sinful world and Satan are all too eager to help us toward this deadly end.

“And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “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’” (Mark 1:23-24).

At this crucial moment in Jesus’ ministry, why should there be a demon-possessed man showing up in the synagogue, that gathering place of God’s people? We might expect a holy, secure setting for Jesus’ teaching. Yet, this is the beginning of His ministry, a beginning that recalls Genesis 3 and the unanticipated appearance of Satan in the paradise of the Garden of Eden. It has been said where God builds a cathedral, Satan sets up a chapel next door.

It is not at all surprising that Satan, despite his recent defeat in the wilderness, was not ready to let such a message and such a preacher go unchallenged. It was the devil who caused this man in that synagogue to cry out against Jesus, for it is clear that this man was not speaking for himself. He could not of himself have known what he said about Christ.

However, Satan and the evil spirit that possessed this man knew who Jesus of Nazareth was and what His purpose was. They knew He was the Son of God and that He had come to destroy Satan’s hold over mankind. With his words Satan revealed himself wiser than many modern theologians. This knowledge did him no spiritual good; it only filled him with fear and trembling. He knew that He faced hell and the Gospel was not meant for him.

But Jesus wouldn’t take it anymore. Even though what the demon said was true, it certainly was no endorsement. It was like having Adolf Hitler as your character witness. Besides, Jesus was not yet ready to proclaim openly that He was the Messiah. Most of His audience would have read political aims into that word. So, Jesus shut him up. Literally, in the Greek, He “muzzled him.” Jesus says three little Greek words—that’s all it took to vanquish the wicked one. No magic show—no long incantation—just three words: Be silent and come out!

“The unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him’” (Mark 1:26-27). This is what Satan and his angels most despise: to be put in their place, to be reminded that they never had, and never will have, ultimate authority. They can never be God. Jesus is God.

So, it’s a nice story and all, Jesus speaks with authority and casts out a demon, but “What has this to do with us?” you may be asking.   

I would like to go back and have you to listen more closely to the language of the unclean spirit. The spirit confronts Jesus and cries out, “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.” Notice how it speaks in the plural: “us.” Mark clearly tells us the spirit is singular (it is “an unclean spirit”). Yet, the spirit speaks in the plural: “What have You to do with us?”

This could be a case where the spirit is one of many, like the situation of the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:9). Or it could be the spirit is speaking of a realm of uncleanness. Or it could be the spirit is intentionally seeking to deceive Jesus, presenting itself as many when it is only one. I wonder, however, if the spirit could be making a bolder claim. Is it possible the unclean spirit is claiming the people in the synagogue as its own? This unclean spirit already has laid claim to this man. The man is described as, “in the unclean spirit,” and the spirit is later able to convulse him. Is it possible the unclean spirit sees things differently than we do?

We look at the synagogue and see God’s people gathering in worship. The spirit, however, sees uncleanness and lays claim to all which is unclean as its own. God’s people have gathered in worship while there is a war going on, and this war has two opponents: The Kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God. There is no middle ground. You are either Satan’s or you are God’s.

When the spirit first appears in the story, Mark makes it sound like there may be a middle ground. “And immediately, there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit.” The synagogue belongs neither to God nor to Satan but to the people of Capernaum. The spirit then makes a claim. Its claim is that all the people gathered in worship are the spirit’s. They are unclean and cannot be in the presence of the “holy One of God.” What does God have to do with those who are unclean? Nothing. So, the spirit cries out and reveals that the people of Capernaum, gathered in worship, are under the threat of being claimed by Satan.

But then Jesus reveals who He truly is. He is more than a man from Nazareth. He is more than a prophet like Moses. He is more than a teacher with authority. He is the cosmic Christ. This is His synagogue, and these are His people. His rule is over all things, visible and invisible. His power is without equal. He has come into this world to fight against Satan and to defeat him. He will set free all the people Satan claims as His own.

How are the unclean made clean? How are the captives set free? By the gracious work of Jesus, bearing the curse of our uncleanness on the cross that He might rise and bring the blessing of God’s holiness to us in His authoritative Word.

For almost a year now, we have been experiencing the disruptive effects of COVID. One of the things that has happened is it has changed how we view our ability to gather in worship. I fear some have found worship to not be so essential. But many others have begun to see why being able to gather for worship is truly a gift. Mark’s Gospel this morning takes us one step further. He reveals the divine gift of worship. We are Christ’s Church. The One we worship is the One who has come to rescue us from the power of Satan. We live in the midst of a battle. Satan seeks to lay claim on our lives. But for us fights the valiant one: Jesus. The cosmic Christ who has come today claims us as His own.

Jesus’ authoritative teaching and power over the unclean spirits create an immediate stir among those beholding Him in the early days of His ministry in Galilee. Today, we often see the same thing. People continue to be interested in and even amazed by Jesus’ teaching, and yet many fail to depend on Him for life and salvation. By the power of His authoritative Word and Spirit, however, others are indeed brought into saving faith and life.

As He promised, the Lord our God has raised up “a prophet” like Moses, namely Jesus, our brother in the flesh. “To Him you shall listen,” because the Word of the Lord is “in His mouth” (Deut. 18:15–18). Indeed, He is more than a prophet and more than a scribe of the Scriptures; He is the incarnate Word, and He speaks “a new teaching with authority” (Mark 1:22, 27). He enters “the synagogue” of His Church and provides true Sabbath rest, using His authority to silence and cast out “even the unclean spirits” (Mark 1:21–27). By His Word of the cross, He removes the accusations of the Law and of the devil, and He cleanses our consciences before God the Father.

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.