Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Epiphany 5 of Series B (Mark 1:29-39)

“Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this fifth Sunday after the Epiphany of our Lord is from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, God’s preachers throughout history have always felt a desire to preach the Word of God. Jeremiah describes it as a “burning fire shut up in my bones.” He is weary of holding it in, in fact, he cannot. Paul expresses the same sentiments in our Epistle lesson for today. He cries out “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” He is bound to God by his position as an apostle, and so he must preach God’s Word, He must bring that message to others. Paul says: “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me.”

This urgency, this necessity, this ‘fire shut up in the bones’ does not seem to be present with our Lord in the first chapter of Mark. In our Gospel lesson for last week, a demon of all things makes the bold confession: “I know who you are- the Holy One of God!” And what is Jesus’ response? “Be silent!” In the Gospel lesson for next week, Jesus cleanses a leper, and what does He tell him? “And Jesus sternly charged him… ‘See that you say nothing to anyone.’” And in our text for today, Jesus is healing disease and casting out demons right and left, and what does He do to the demons? “He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him.” What’s with the big secret? Why does Jesus want to remain hidden? The disciples couldn’t figure it out either, for when the morning came Jesus was gone. “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.” Jesus is by His very nature elusive, He is constantly doing something unexpected. And that makes humans panic. “And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found Him and said to Him, ‘Everyone is looking for you!’” The word Mark uses here for ‘search’ should be translated much stronger; it has the meaning of ‘pursue’ and ‘search earnestly.’ The disciples were hunting for Jesus- how ironic is it that the very ones sent into the world to fish for people, to catch them for the kingdom, instead turned around and hunted Jesus?

The disciples wanted to keep Jesus to themselves, when He disappeared that morning, they were driven to a frenzy in their search for Him. And it wasn’t only the disciples, either. Simon says that “Everyone is looking for you!” The town of Capernaum had lost its personal healer and teacher, and they wanted Him back RIGHT NOW! How sad is it that this often characterizes our own relationship with Jesus? We have been claimed as His own, rescued from death and hell through His love, and then appointed as fishers of men, those sent out to spread this message to others. But what do we do? Too often we cling to Jesus, we hold Him tight so that no one else can get to Him. Jesus can be seen as a personal possession, someone that only is for us and for those within these walls. The town of Capernaum wanted Jesus for themselves, they didn’t want to risk Him moving on to anywhere else. How often does this church building become like Capernaum, where we keep our Jesus that is only for us? We can be so possessive about our Jesus, we keep Him here where He is safe, instead of out in the sinful world that probably doesn’t deserve Him anyway. Jesus is ours, no one else can have Him! How ironic is it that the very ones sent out to catch people instead turn around with the disciples and hunt down Jesus? And when we hunt down Jesus, we are doing so in order to keep Him to ourselves.

Jesus is elusive, He keeps Himself hidden for reasons that we cannot quite understand. But I think that He does so because He decides when He will be revealed. And He was revealed in a powerful way at Capernaum that day. “And immediately He 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.” The healing touch of Jesus removed the fever from this pious woman, and she immediately started serving our Lord. But Christ had first served her with healing, He had revealed Himself as the One who has come to defeat disease, as the one who has come to engage the effects of sin on our fallen earth and restore what God had originally made perfect. This was a private healing, but soon He would become much more public. “That evening at sundown they brought to Him all who were sick and 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.” That night, Jesus took on the soldiers of Satan, the agents of the lord of darkness, casting them out with the authority of His Word and the power of His touch. Jesus revealed Himself as the one with the authority, as the one with the power, as the Holy One of God who has come to do battle with sin and Satan and defeat them.

This battle raged throughout His life, as Jesus continued to destroy sin and its effects, and do battle with Satan’s followers, one by one. But Jesus continued to keep His work under a cloak of secrecy. This tension between Jesus revealing Himself for who He is- the Holy One of God, God in the flesh, the one come to defeat sin and Satan- and the hiddenness that He demanded from so many, continued throughout His life. This was because Christ would only truly reveal Himself while hanging on a cross on Good Friday. It was on that day that the centurion would be the only human in Mark’s Gospel to confess these words: “Truly this man is the Son of God!” For it was only on the cross that Jesus could ultimately be revealed as God in the flesh come to die in the place of all people, it was only on the cross that Jesus was revealed as the sin-bearer, as our sin-bearer. Without the cloak of secrecy that covered much of His ministry, people would misunderstand who Jesus is and what He had come to do. He was waiting for the moment of ultimate revelation. On the cross, all was quite literally laid bare for the world to see- Jesus was revealed as the one who had come to deliver you and me, as the one who would shed His blood for our sin, the one who would die in our place.

And now that Jesus has been revealed for who He is on the cross, we reveal Him to others. We make Him known for who He is, the one who came to this sinful world to cleanse it, to defeat the power of sin, Satan, and death. We proclaim Christ’s death to this sinful world, but we do not stop there. For Jesus did not remain dead, but was raised on the third day, triumphant over the power of death. We proclaim Jesus for who He is, the one who died but was raised, and therefore gives life to us all. Just as He lifted up Peter’s mother in law and took away her fever, so He will someday raise us up, free of all diseases and sins, to stand before Him around the throne forever. That is the message we proclaim, the message that was hidden until the moment of the cross and empty tomb, the message that we now reveal through our words and actions. Just as the disciples searched earnestly for Jesus, saying to Him, “Everyone is looking for you!” so we search earnestly for all who do not know Christ, bringing this message to them, acting as the couriers of His message, the instruments of His call. The words we speak are not our own, but are instead His Word, and that Word brings healing from sin and life to all.

We do this because Jesus is not our own personal possession, but instead has been revealed as for all people. There is now no shroud of secrecy over Jesus- we know who He is, the One who came to suffer and die to deliver us. He is now revealed as for every person everywhere. He was for every person in Capernaum, as Mark tells us: “that evening at sundown, they brought to Him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered at the door.” Jesus was for each and every person in Capernaum, He was there for their healing and He would soon die on a cross for them. But the mistake that Capernaum made, a mistake that we also too often make, was to think that Jesus was only for them. Jesus shattered that illusion at the end of our text. “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.” But even Galilee could not contain Him. For Jesus died and rose again for every person everywhere. He died for all! Each and every sinner who has ever lived or ever will live is the object of Christ’s love. He died for all! Every person that you see during your lifetime is another child that Christ showed His love to on the cross. He died for all! The love of Christ is so overwhelming that it covers up every sin ever committed. He died for all!

Jesus is for everyone, but this proclamation should not obscure the fact that Jesus died for you. Every sin that you have ever committed, or ever will commit, even the sin of keeping Jesus to yourself, has been covered by the blood of Jesus and forgiven for His sake. We read in our Old Testament lesson for today: “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of His might, and because He is strong in power not one is missing.” The same God who created everything, who knows all of the stars by name, sent His Son, Jesus Christ to suffer, die, and rise again to deliver you, to forgive you, to give you life, life everlasting in Christ. Each of us looks forward to that day when Christ will raise us up healed and renewed, to live without sins and tears forever in the presence of God, because Jesus died for all! May the same Jesus who cares for you and loves you preserve you in faith and trust in Him until life everlasting in His Name, Amen.

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