Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (February 8, 2015)

Wordle: Untitled

Epiphany 5 – Series B (February 8, 2015)
Mark 1:29-39

            During the season of Epiphany, the Scripture readings teach us how Jesus manifested himself as God in the flesh.  Hymn 394 summarizes this in these words: “Manifested by the star / To the sages from afar, / Branch of royal David’s stem / In Thy birth at Bethlehem … Manifest at Jordan’s stream, / Prophet, Priest, and King supreme; / And at Cana wedding guest / In Thy godhead manifest; / Manifest in pow’r divine, / Changing water into wine … Manifest in making whole / Palsied limbs and fainting soul; / Manifest in valiant fight / Quelling all the devil’s might.”  And each stanza concludes, “Anthems be to Thee addressed, / God in man made manifest” (LSB 394).
            Today’s Gospel reading shows us Jesus exercising his divine power on behalf of those who were “sick with various diseases” or “oppressed by demons.”  This follows up on last week’s reading where Jesus was in the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath where he had cast out a demon.  After the service was over, he goes to the house of Simon Peter and Andrew and heals Peter’s mother-in-law of her fiery fever.  And take note that all of this is done on the Sabbath … the day when no work was supposed to be done.  Jesus would soon come into conflict with the Pharisees over this very issue.
            But this was a way in which Jesus taught that the Sabbath rest that God promised was found in Jesus himself.  He exercises his authority over all the effects of sin in the world, both the presence of illness and the existence of evil forces.  When sundown came, after the Sabbath was over, the whole city came out to be helped by Jesus.  Now that the Sabbath was over, they felt free to carry their sick friends and family to Jesus so they would not be “working” on the Sabbath, the day of rest.  And Jesus continues to be merciful and compassionate to those who need his help.  Likewise, Jesus is merciful and compassionate to us today, as well.  Jesus does his work among us at all times.  He never rests from his labor but continues to sustain us and even heal us.  It’s not normally in a miraculous way as in the days of his earthly ministry … although we certainly don’t limit him to doing miracles only back then.  But today he heals through the means he has given us … our body’s natural curative abilities and the gifts and talents he gives to doctors and surgeons and nurses and pharmacists.  He raises us up from our sick beds so we may serve others with the same love and compassion that he has shown to us.
            What about when God does not heal?  You’ve prayed and prayed and your illness is not taken away.  Your chronic condition worsens and you feel like such a burden to your family.  There are no easy answers.  God promises to hear our prayers (Ps. 50:15; Prov. 15:29).  He promises to answer them according to his will (Is. 65:24; John 14:13-14; 15:7; 1 John 5:14).  He also promises to work all things out for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).  We trust that our suffering serves a greater purpose to draw us closer to him, even as the suffering of Jesus on the cross was the means by which we are delivered from sin, death, and hell.  We may not be raised from our sickbed, but we can still serve others as a witness to Christ’s mercy and compassion through his saving death and resurrection.  It can be humbling, no doubt, but we also can allow others to serve us with Christ’s mercy and compassion in the midst of our suffering.
            Jesus is more than simply a famous healer.  His healing ministry has a much greater significance.  The bodily healings he performed foreshadow forgiveness and resurrection.  He sends fevers away, and in his sacrificial death on the cross he sends our sins away.  He lifts up the sick, and his resurrection is the guarantee that he will one day lift us up from the grave.  Jesus demonstrates how he overcomes all the effects of sin and evil in the world.  His healings and exorcisms are a preview of the wholeness he will bring in the new creation.  This is a preview of the coming eternal kingdom of God.  The life and ministry of Jesus was the fulfillment of Zechariah’s words in the Benedictus, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people” (Luke 1:68).  And Jesus continues to visit us with his redemptive power as we hear and believe the message of the Cross and eat and drink the fruits of the Cross for the forgiveness of all our sins.  He has brought us into his kingdom.  He manifests the presence of his kingdom among you today in Word and Sacrament.
            The crowds pressed around him.  Jesus tirelessly sought to meet their needs.  The next morning, he went to a desolate place to pray.  This is only one of three times Mark mentions Jesus praying, and it usually revolves around some significant moment or crisis.[i]  What was the crisis here?  Probably the shallow and superficial response of the people … that they were only seeking him to have their physical needs met.  Perhaps here Jesus sought to pray to seek “guidance from the Father about what he should do in view of the responses he is getting to his ministry.”[ii]
            Consider the weight that was upon Jesus.  The pressure of the crowds.  The constant attention that people demanded.  Remember, Jesus is not only fully God, but fully man.  He needed rest and refreshment, too.  He needed solitude to pray and to recharge his batteries, so to speak.  If our Lord Jesus needed, this, how much more do we need this and should take time out of our busy lives to pray and refresh and recharge.  We have heavy responsibilities placed upon us, too.  Like he did for the disciples, Jesus invites us to “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:30).  It may not be a weekend at a mountain retreat or a desert hermitage.  It might be just a few moments in the corner of your bedroom.  But when you consider all the things in life that weigh heavy upon us, it’s refreshing to spend time in God’s Word and prayer.
            Nothing compares, however, to the weight of responsibility placed upon Jesus.  The press of the crowd was only a preview of the pressing weight of the world’s sin soon to be placed upon him at the cross.  The solitude he sought was only a preview of the solitude that he endured as he suffered and died for the sins of the world.  Yet even from the cross, in the darkness of desolation, he prayed faithfully to his Father.  Jesus was faithful to the end for you and for me, acting as our substitute all the way to the bitter end.
            The disciples search for Jesus.  When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.”  Do you hear the veiled rebuke?  “Where have you been, Jesus? We have been looking all over for you? All these people are asking for you.  We’re kind of tired of telling them, ‘We don’t know where he is!’”
            And do you hear a hint of sadness in Jesus’ response?  “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”  Jesus came to preach the Good News of the forgiveness of sins through him.  He did not come to be a miracle worker.  He did not come to be a general who would lead the people in rebellion against the occupying Roman Empire.  He came to call people to repentant faith in himself in preparation for his saving death and resurrection. The people were only coming for healing.  They weren’t coming to hear Jesus’ preach about repentance and the presence of God’s kingdom.  This is one reason why Jesus would not have the demons use his name.  The demons who declared him to be the Son of God did not do so in repentant faith.  I suppose this is not all that different to people today who flock to healing rallies and revivals or people who listen to false teachers today who tell them what their itching ears want to hear.
            To preach.  That is why Jesus came.  And that is why we gather here.  To hear God’s Word preached.  To hear and receive the Good News of the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s death and resurrection … in our ears and in our mouths.  When that Good News is preached, our souls are healed.  When that Good News is preached, the demons tremble and flee.  And one day, after the feverish pace of life is over and we rest in our graves, Jesus will come and take us by the hand and raise us up and we will worship in his presence for eternity.  Amen.

[i] 6:46 after feeding of the 5,000; 14:32-41 in Gethsemane before his arrest and crucifixion
[ii] Witherington, quoted in Voelz’ Matthew commentary

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