Fifth Sunday of Epiphany, Mark 1:29-39

People of God, we come to another narrative in Mark’s gospel. The gospel of Mark is a royal and kingly gospel. It begins in verse one by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we have seen, gospel means more than good news about personal salvation; gospel also means that a new king is risen to the throne.[1] This gospel is deeply interested in presenting Jesus as King. Jesus will de-throne the kings and rulers of the age. There is a reason Mark writes his gospel through the lens of Jesus’ kingship, and it is because Mark sees Jesus as a New David. In fact, there are several comparisons between Jesus and David in Mark. For instance, in the days of David there is a demon-possessed man as king—Saul. Now, in Jesus’ day, the elders, scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees are in many ways demonic in their lives and teaching. You may remember how David was anointed by Samuel, and now in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is anointed as king of kings as he is baptized. David was filled with the spirit. Now Jesus is filled with the Spirit in baptism. David defended his sheep against the wild beasts. In Mark, Jesus is driven to the wilderness, and Mark 1:13 says that he was with “the wild beasts.” In the days of Samuel, the ark is in exile. In Jesus’ time he makes his first appearance in the far side of the Jordan. He is outside in the wilderness like the ark was outside in Philistine camps. David’s first task was to defeat Goliath. Jesus defeats Satan with his resistance of temptation, and by speaking the Word of God.

Mark’s gospel is deliberate about connecting these events, and revealing that Jesus is coming to take his royal throne among a people and culture that is very much like the days of David. We need to realize that the works of Jesus are not random acts, but rather very purposeful, because they reveal something profound about the world he has come to redeem.

In our passage, Jesus is entering the scene, and the first reaction to Jesus’ presence is that the demons began to appear. They understand the uniqueness of this moment in history. This is a moment in history they have all feared. They understand Jesus’ identity: the holy one of God; and they understand Jesus’ mission when they ask: “Have you come to destroy us?” As a matter of fact, Yes! But the way Jesus brings about the destruction of this evil empire is by doing things in the way few kings would. He goes around casting out demons, and now in our passage he begins to restore people to health. Remember that what Jesus does is not random. What he does to individuals is a sign of what he intends to do to the nations.

We begin to see this in verse 29:

“29 And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her.31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

This is the second of Jesus’ healing miracles in Mark. But instead of an exorcism, Mark shows us a restoration.[2] Simon’s mother-in-law is unable to walk or stand due to a fever, and Jesus raises her up. This is the language of most of Jesus’ restorations, which is also resurrection language. Why are these people raised? Is it simply that they may go about their business? no; that they go about our Lord’s service. This is the pattern that unfolds in Mark’s gospel. People are restored for service. What Jesus is doing as he enters the scene is to look around and ask: “What is the state of my kingdom?”[3] What does he discover? He discovers that things are in terrible shape. They are sick, which is a picture of them being dead in their sins, unable to serve effectively in the kingdom of God. They are blind because they are blind to the word of God. They are deaf because they do not have ears to hear. Jesus is constantly saying “for him who has ears to hear let him hear.” The people are leprous; unclean in their sin. They are demon-possessed. Jesus comes to exorcise them, and makes things right. Mark is an action-packed gospel. Jesus goes here and there; cleaning things up with the efficacy that was lost by the corrupt Jewish leaders. But what is also unique—and we may miss this—is that there is a movement taking place. Jesus began in the wilderness, but now he is moving to synagogue and house, and city. Jesus is not going to leave any place untouched by his presence.

After healing Simon’s mother-in-law, the work of restoring continues in greater proportion:

32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 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.

Notice how verse 32 begins with “evening.” Demons abide in darkness. And here we have the demons are gathering. What Jesus did in the synagogue is what he does again. He muzzles them; he shuts them up; he silences them. Again, these are not random acts of restoration. The “silencing of the demons is a picture of the silencing of the demonic leaders of the day.”[4] Verse 34 says he silenced them because he knew them. He knew that nothing worthy would come down from their mouths. He knew this well because earlier he endured the rhetoric of satan himself. All that came out from Satan’s mouth were words of entrapment. Jesus knew well what comes out of the mouths of demons. So, he does not even let them speak. The text also says that the numbers are increasing. The city is gathered to see this. But in all these miracles do not confuse the increase of Jesus’ audience as full approval from the people. Rather, the numbers are increasing because it is rumored that a miracle worker has come in their midst.[5]

Remember there is a movement taking place, and we see this again in verse 36:

35 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. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, 37and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” 38 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.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The movement is from evening to morning; from gloom to glory. In the morning, the warrior king Jesus will not be silent. He is going to launch his preaching crusade and healing crusade. Notice that Jesus prays. As the noble task is ahead our Lord prays for strength. The more he heals and restores, the more he prays. This is Jesus the man praying to the Father. The text says he goes to a desolate place, literally a “wilderness place.”[6] Mark is echoing a distinct wilderness theology. The wilderness is a place of testing. It is not just a geographical location; it is where we bear the pain placed upon us. This makes sense, because central to Mark’s gospel is the idea that Jesus heals, but he carries the pain of his people to the very end. In many ways it is in the wilderness where Jesus recalls his determination to fulfill the mission for which he has come into the world.[7]

But also notice that the purpose for his coming is to preach his message of the coming kingdom; a message filled with gospel and demand; repentance and restoration. The words of Jesus create life; they cast demons; they exorcise evil. This is why there is this back and forth about Jesus shutting the mouths of demons, because in the end, this is a battle between the words of Jesus and the words of the devil. This is all a re-iteration of Genesis 3:15. Whose word will stand? This is a battle for the authority to claim the world. Jesus is on the move to the next towns.

The people, even his own disciples, want to see these healings occur, but what Jesus has in mind is more than healings, but the manifestation of his kingdom among all nations, and this is why he goes into Galilee. The historian Josephus says that Galilee was filled with many villages, full of people (about 15,000 inhabitants). As Jesus brings his work to Galilee he is bringing his mission to the Gentiles destroying every idol, demon, and healing every type of disease. Jesus is demonstrating that nothing can restrain him or his kingdom.

How Now Shall We Then Live?

The central theme of this narrative is restoration. God is restoring individuals, but he is also using this as an illustration for how he will restore the nations. But in restoration what Mark wants us to understand is that the king is not a distant king. Jesus likes to minister to us. He does not view it as a waste of time. He rejoices in ministering to those in need.

But what is unique about those whom Jesus heals is that once they are healed, they serve; and the lack of service has destroyed Israel. They have forgotten their role as a priestly nation to the world. They are not serving the world. They have failed to live up to their calling. On the other hand, as Peter says, we are royal priesthood.[8]We are a people struck by the healing hands of God. We were in exile, and God moved us into a new kingdom. He delivered and restored us.

The topic of sickness is one that we cannot escape in this world. How do we as Christians handle suffering? Augustine wrote that God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.[9] Not even our Lord escaped suffering, so neither should we expect to do so. How do we respond to all of this? How do we respond to death? How do we respond to prolonged pain?

We could spend a lot more time dealing with this great topic. Before offering a few thoughts on how we as Christians are to act, let me first consider how non-Christians act towards suffering. The Non-Christians that I have met, pay little to no attention to those suffering around them. In the midst of illness there is little talk about the love, providence, and purpose of God. Sometimes they are very quick to express anger. They will say: “How can a loving God do this to me?” Then when the sickness is relieved, non-Christians do not express any gratitude. “Wasn’t I lucky,” they say?

Or if you attend the funeral of a non-Christian, have you noticed how they always assume they are in a better place. Christopher Hitchens once said that he wanted to make sure that when he died he had a recorder, so that the world may know that he did not abandon his atheism. That form of antagonism is not common. The regular non-Christian are common people who assume that when they die they will be in a better place. But this is all ignorance of what our Lord taught. Non-Christians want to live as if Christ is absent, and when they are in pain they want the absent Christ to be with them just long enough until they are recovered. But this is not how we are to think.

My question to you is “How well are you sick?” Let me suggest that the next time you are sick, let your sickness remind you of your sinfulness. Sickness is a picture of death, and the shortness of life. Let it remind you that you are not your own, and that your life must be a life of service to your Lord.

Next time you are sick, be reminded of our great deliverance from sin. By his stripes we are healed. Jesus took upon himself the illness of the world, so that we might be freed from sin.

When you are sick, pray for deliverance; that Jesus would come with healing in his wings an bring you relief. Let me be specific. James says that when you are sick, call for the elders of the church, so they may pray over you, and anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord. How often has the Church followed this instruction? We are here to serve you in sickness also.

When you are sick, don’t sorrow over your illness like the unbelievers do who have no concept of heaven. Let us not sorrow as those who have no hope. We can sorrow. Jesus wept, but were are not a hopeless people; we have everything.

Don’t fear your illness. God is greater than your suffering. Don’t let it strap you from service in the kingdom out of fear. Fear is our greatest enemy.

Also, do not use your illness as an excuse to sin against others. We have a tendency to get irritable, grumpy, short-tempered when we are sick. Don’t let that happen. Be faithful even in the midst of sickness.

We are also called to be a comfort to others who are sick. Sometimes those who are sick do not want to be visited. Do not let that hinder you from calling to comfort others. You can send a note, write an e-mail with a psalm. We can encourage others in many ways. We need to be creative in this respect.

Jesus is the royal King. He comes to heal and to save. We have been personally and corporately called by him carry out this message of restoration to the world. Let us do so this week.

 

 

 

In The Name of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[1] I am depending heavily on sermon notes by CREC elder, Chris Wilson from Reformation Covenant Church in Oregon City, OR.

[2] The Victory According to Mark by Mark Horne, 44

[3] Wilson.

[4] Chris Wilson.

[5] William Lane, Commentary on Mark, 80.

[6] Lane, 81.

[7] Lane, 81.

[8] I Peter 3:9.

[9] Augustine quote found on-line.

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Mark, Sermons/Epiphany. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Fifth Sunday of Epiphany, Mark 1:29-39

  1. Pingback: the shaming animosity of “my god can beat up your god” « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

  2. Pingback: good news (“resist not evil”) « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

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