“Miracle Worker or Savior?” (Mark 1:29-39)
The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (February 7, 2021)
All that has happened in our country over the course of the last several years and especially the last several months, has made it crystal clear to everyone that we live in a truly divided country, a country perhaps even on the precipice of civil war. Our motto of being one nation under God is laughable if not outright false. We are divided by ideology, religious convictions, political agendas and goals, and even by what we all consider to be generally accepted moral values.
President Biden clearly recognizes this division. In fact, he addressed it in his inaugural speech to the nation. He said he wanted to be a unifying president. I’m afraid, however, that his almost 3 weeks of hastily implemented executive orders, as well as public statements, have proved him to be anything but a unifier. Instead, he has only served to ignite the rancor and divisiveness among us.
Right now, I’m afraid, we don’t need a president. We need a miracle worker or a Savior or both!
Later today, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will go head to head to determine who has bragging rights to being the best team in the National Football League. Both teams are counting on their star quarterbacks to lead them to victory. Which of these former gridiron champions will deliver? Perhaps both teams ought to be counting on prayer for a miracle worker rather than on these two flawed men!
This season of Epiphany is all about God revealing to the world His Messiah; that is, His Christ. The coming Christ was a long held hope among God’s Old Covenant people. But what is not clear in their hope was what sort of Messiah they were longing for. Were they looking for a political deliverer, a miracle worker or, as God had long promised, a Savior from sin, death and hell?
What is absolutely certain is that the one and only person who can truly cure what ails us in America, as well as solve the problems of all people in this world, is the real Messiah… God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus the Christ. As the apostle Peter boldly proclaimed concerning Jesus Christ before all the leaders of his nation of Israel, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
Our appointed text from Mark’s Gospel puts this Miracle Worker and Healer front and center before us. But what we learn is that Jesus is much more than fixer of our worldly problems, but that He is The Savior of sinners!
Mark tells us that on one particular Sabbath, immediately after Jesus left one of the synagogues of Capernaum, the same place, by the way, where we had heard last week He had cast out the demon from the possessed man, He went to the home of Simon Peter and His brother Andrew. Jesus took along with Him also James and John. Many have speculated that perhaps Jesus had been invited there to join with Peter and his family in the traditional Saturday evening meal. It was customary among the Jews to eat a festive meal when the Sabbath was over at 6:00 p.m.
Shortly upon His arrival, it was brought to Jesus’ attention that Peter's mother-in-law was terribly sick with a fever. She had been bedfast for quite some time. Being the compassionate person He was, Jesus went to the woman's bed, rebuked the fever, took her by the hand and raised her up from her bed. The woman immediately began to serve all the guests, clearly noting that her cure was instantaneous and complete.
The secret of Jesus' healing power was definitely out. After the sun went down, denoting the end of the Sabbath, masses of people from Capernaum also came to Peter's home. No Sabbath regulation forbidding work could now stop them. The town's folks carried to Jesus all their sick, infirm, and even those demon-possessed that He might heal them. You and I can only imagine the sight. It was like waves of the suffering sea of humanity. The clamoring crowd literally pressed against the door, all hoping to experience Jesus' healing touch. And Jesus healed many of them!
From a worldly point of view, Jesus put on quite a show! It was a display of His miraculous power like no one had ever seen before. Oh, yes, Israel had had her share of prophets sent by God, who occasionally had done marvelous healing miracles, but never anything of this magnitude. As one commentator has said, "Jesus did miracles in overabundance... His very nature produced them" (Stoeckhardt, Buls, p. 40). Mark carefully points out that Jesus’ power extended even over all the mighty forces of evil, Satan and his demons.
Jesus’ miraculous display of healing power was not for entertainment as though He was performing at a Super Bowl halftime. His miracles by their very nature should have made it clear to everyone that He was no ordinary man… not even an ordinary prophet. Jesus’ display of supernatural power should have made it clear to all that He is God. No mere mortal could do the things He did.
Jesus became an overnight sensation; a true Galilean celebrity. However, few seem to have gotten the point that He was the Son of God. In fact, later on Jesus would chastise the people of Capernaum for not believing Who He truly was and respond in repentance and faith accordingly. He said to them, "And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day" (Matt. 10:23).
All this notoriety as a miracle worker, or great Healer, would no doubt be highly desired by most men. Even today, look at those preachers that are popular and attract a large following, like Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen. People flock to them, not so much to hear the Word of God from them but, as in Hinn’s case, to receive physical healing from him, and in Osteen’s case, to be empowered to live a successful and happy life. Both of these preachers seem to be enjoying the limelight. Their popularity and fame have certainly been quite lucrative for them!
Jesus, however, did not desire such fame. He feigned personal wealth. He had not come to open up a healing clinic. He greatly struggled with His new found notoriety as a miracle worker. And it is in Jesus' dealing with this notoriety that we are shown His true humanity. For here we are made to see that, just like you and me, Jesus had to struggle against temptation to do evil; the evil of serving Himself.
Mark notes that after the long night, Jesus arose early, even before the sun had fully risen, and went out of the house to a place outside of the city where He could be alone. There He spent time in prayer.
His time of solitude and communion with His Heavenly Father was short-lived, however. At morning's light, the crowds returned to Peter's home. Peter and some of the others frantically searched for Jesus. When they finally found Him, they literally exclaimed to Him, "Everyone is seeking you!” as if to say, “You’re needed back in town. What are you doing out here?”
Jesus did not respond as one might expect, however. Instead of returning to those seeking Him, Jesus shocked His disciples by saying, "Let us go somewhere else -- to the nearby villages-- so I can preach there also. That is why I have come."
Now, there is no question that for Jesus to return to the masses would have been the popular thing for Him to do. He would have endeared Himself to people to be what they wanted Him to be... their healer... a fixer of all their physical problems. And being human this would have been highly tempting for Jesus. Who doesn't like to be popular! He could even have rationalized that it would have been the loving thing to do. After all, His divine power could certainly have kept those people of Capernaum free from all sorts of anguish and suffering. Why, He could even have opened up a healing clinic. I’m sure people from all over would have come!
But Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that He had come for a higher purpose. He responded to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out."
To go back to the city and become what the crowds wanted Him to be would not only be betraying His true mission, but would actually be detrimental for the people of Capernaum, as well as all people. For Jesus' mission was to preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God; that is, He was to proclaim forgiveness of sins and eternal life in His name.
Jesus had come into our world not simply to help us with all our physical suffering, but to bring us the cure for what truly ails us: sin. He had come to give His life as a sacrifice for our sin, so that all of us who believe in Him might have forgiveness and eternal life free from all suffering. Jesus was not merely a Miracle Worker, but the Sin-bearer. He had come to vanquish sin, and thereby destroy the root cause of all the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual suffering we sinners experience. As the Word Made Flesh His priority was to tell all sinners that Good News.
Jesus had gone out to that lonely place away from the crowds to gain strength for staying on the right course. He hadn't gone just to be alone nor to get some well deserved R& R after His demanding schedule. He was fighting the temptation to be what others wanted Him to be. He needed to seek His Father's help to resist and remain what His Father wanted Him to be: The Savior of the World.
I don’t think we can even comprehend the intensity of the temptation Jesus faced. After all, Jesus knew full well what it meant for Him to complete His true mission. It meant rejection by His own people, public humiliation, excruciating suffering, and execution on the tortuous Roman cross.
This temptation to serve self was always greater with Jesus. As God, He had the power to do anything. The devil knew it also and in the desert tempted Jesus to create bread to satisfy His hunger, and again later while on his cross, to come down off the cross and receive the admiration of all the people. Clear up to the end Jesus found it necessary to pray, "If it were possible, Father, remove this cup from Me. But not my will but Thine be done."
I wonder how often we 21st century people would also like Jesus to forsake His true mission so as to be our personal Miracle Worker? We might examine our prayers. How often are we at the foot of His Cross pleading and bargaining with Him to heal our sickness or take care of some worldly problem that we have rather than approaching Him in sincere repentance seeking His forgiveness? Yes, Jesus can heal us! Yes, He can and often does perform some miraculous rescues in our daily lives! But is that all we expect or desire Him to be? He has come to be our eternal Savior!
Here then in this incident in Capernaum God is also revealing the true mission of Jesus: to save sinners, a mission He would accomplish on His cross but that would be brought into people’s lives through the proclamation of the Good News of forgiveness and salvation. "Let us go somewhere else," Jesus said, "so I can preach there also."
The miracles Jesus performed were simply manifestations, or signs, that the Kingdom of Redemption had come in His own person. They validated His claims to be God’s Messiah, our Savior. Jesus was purchasing with His own suffering and sacrificial blood the people’s redemption from all that ails them not just a few problems.
One of our Lutheran Theologians once wrote: "With sin Christ has also carried all the consequences of sin. Vicariously He has taken on Himself all the miseries of this life, and through His entire living in the flesh, through His suffering and death he atoned and made satisfaction for what we have broken and deserved. With the healing of the sick and the casting out of the devil, he not only showed Himself as a Prophet, mighty in word and deed, but also as a faithful High Priest, who came to redeem His people from all their sins. Through Christ we are freed and delivered from all fetters of sin, and of the devil, and of hell. And although we still suffer in the flesh, if it is the Lord's will, yet no suffering of this earth can harm and consume us, and no death can kill us; for we conquer all because of Him Who loved us and gave Himself for us" (Stoeckhardt, Buls, p. 42).
Through the Gospel preached to us, we have all been made to know and believe that Jesus has come to bring us, not some temporary fix of worldly problems and bodily ailments, but eternal salvation for both our body and our soul.
Accordingly, Jesus has taught His disciples that as important and compassionate as helping and healing people with their physical ailments are, we still have not done the most loving thing for them until we preach to them the Good News of the Kingdom of God. When we do that we will no longer be simply giving them symptom relief, but we will be providing them with the cure of what ails their whole lost condition: the forgiveness of their sins in Jesus Christ. Echoing that sentiment that the proclamation of the Gospel is to be the chief priority, the apostle Paul in our Epistle text exclaims, "Woe to me, if I don't preach the Gospel!"
As a congregation, as individual Christians, we can do allot to help ease people's temporal and earthly troubles by giving food to the hungry, building homes for the poor, and providing good hospital care for the sick. These are all truly important ways to bring God’s compassion to bear in people’s lives. But none of these things will save them for eternal life. They need the Gospel, the Good News that they have more than a healer of symptoms but that they have a true Savior and He is Jesus, the Christ, Who has atoned for their sins and has provided through that atonement an eternal life for them free of all strife, pain, disease, and death. You and I can give them the eternal cure through the preaching and teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. This is why we exist as a congregation. God bless us in that super mission! Amen.