The Character of Healing

Scripture: Mark 1:21-35

As we go through Mark, I’d like you to always keep in mind the purpose and focus of his Gospel, which was, the main question is “Who is this guy Jesus? Who is this man?” We see signs of it just in passing, let me note, when it mentions there, in the passage, keeping the demons silent, because they knew who he was.

Of course, we know the answer, again, because of the very first verse in the very first chapter, he tells us, “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Now, the healings which were covered today, healings that are called “miracles” in the other two Synoptics and “signs” in John, are all called “teachings” in Mark. They’re called teachings. You would think it would be rather unusual to name the healings “teachings.”

Perhaps for Mark, though, the healing itself was less important than what it conveyed about Christ and the individuals involved. Maybe what we are meant to do is to look at, not the miracle of the healing itself, but the people in the story, much as Aesop’s fables always had a moral, and things like that.

So with that in mind, let’s look again at this story of the two healings. Now, in the first one, we have a public occurrence. It’s in the synagogue. It’s on the Sabbath. There are lots of people there.

Though many modern scholars like the idea that Jesus was healing sickness rather than demons. After all, the first century didn’t have the medical knowledge that we have today. In a different case, elsewhere, there’s a boy who frequently convulsed and “threw himself into the fire.” I agree in that kind of case it can very well have been epilepsy or something like that.

But not here. Like many of the more modern commentators who, since the Enlightenment, they look at this and part of their discussion, part of their argument – a large part of it, actually – is showing that this was truly a demon possession, not an illness, the way some like to think.

For myself, the fact that the man spoke and had knowledge that he could not possibly have otherwise had proved it. The things that he spoke, that sought to sway the crowd into dismissing what Jesus was going to do, all speak to a true demon possession. So I want to just make that clear from the outset.

And now let’s kind of just set that aside for the moment, as we look at what happened, what it teaches us about Jesus and the people that were involved. One other thing was that this must have been a sudden possession or a sudden revealing, because if he’d been known to be possessed, the guards wouldn’t have let him into the synagogue.

It’s considered to be holy. He would be unclean. In fact, in the New American Standard version, it calls it an unclean spirit. Here it says evil, in your pew Bible, but in some of the other translations that I think are a little more true, actually, it says an unclean spirit. I think this is important, because what Jesus did there on that Sabbath was he cleansed the man. He made him clean.

Now, let’s set the framework for the passage. We have this guy here. It’s in the synagogue, a public place, and this man apparently steps forward.. Jesus was teaching, as the liturgist noted, with authority, not depending and not saying, “Well, Gamaliel says this,” or “This rabbi from the ages old says this” or all these kind of things that scribes did. He just teaches straightforward, and he speaks with authority as one who knows.

The Greek word that is used is exousia, the power to act or have authority. It’s literally out from and it intensifies the being. So he is a being of power. He speaks with power, essentially. He is someone who speaks with the authority of God. In the New Testament, it is referred to in that way.

This demon-possessed man, the demon within him was enraged by apparently what he heard. We don’t know what, but enraged by what he heard. And he is fearful at the same time. So it seeks to sway the crowd against Jesus.

As it says, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth”? Now, you have to understand, there was a saying, “nothing good could come out of Nazareth.” It was well-known. The Nazarenes, it wasn’t just a small town of 150. They were known for being stiff-necked, rebel rednecks of the time. Nobody thought much of a Nazarene, or people from Nazareth.

Sometimes we refer to some people that way. When I was in Tennessee, it was always those people in western Tennessee or eastern Kentucky. When I was in Nebraska, I’m sorry, but it was the people over in Council Bluffs, Iowa. You know, there’s always somebody. The Nazarenes were seen that way, and nothing good could come out of Nazareth.

So he named him – remember, this is in Capernaum, not in Nazareth – as a Nazarene. “Jesus of Nazareth.” So he seeks to set the stage there. “Have you come to destroy us?” There were some prophecies that talked about the destruction that would come on the day of the Messiah.

Then he says, “I know who you are, the holy one of God.” Now here we have the answer to the question Mark’s always asking, “who is this guy?” I know who you are, the holy one of God. The promised Messiah. The Christ. I know who you are.

It’s interesting to me that demons know who he is. You know, when I pray, I like to say, there will come come a time, and I quote Scripture, “when Jesus shall come again and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Everyone will know him.

Elsewhere in Scripture it says that the demons know and tremble at the name of Jesus. But they don’t believe for salvation. It’s not enough to know who Jesus is. Salvation is not for everyone, but only for those who believe in the name of Jesus Christ and accept him as Lord and Savior.

But these demons know who he is. The people don’t know. His disciples don’t know. The demons know. And Jesus says, “Be quiet!” Again, Jesus rebukes him, and the Greek word used for “rebuke” is a very stern word. It’s a very strong word. I’m not sure that “be quiet” actually summarizes what it was that he said. But it was something that very definitely shut him up.

I don’t know about you, but I can remember times, when I was growing up (and it was mostly my mother, not my father), but there was always “the look.” Or if they used your full name – if I heard “Jon Scott Evans,” I knew that I was in trouble.

And it was usually something I’d said – smart mouth. I was even one of those that got my mouth washed out with soap once. With that look, and that name, they commanded obedience. They don’t do that kind of thing these days – more’s the pity.

So he gave the man the look, and essentially said “SILENCE!” And the man was silent. Jesus said, “Come out of him,” and the evil spirit shook the man violently, and came out of him with a shriek.

So he commanded the demon with the kind of authority, the same kind of authority that he had when he was teaching. Here he was named as the holy one, and he has power and authority over demons. He also has power and authority with what he’s teaching about the Scriptures.

The people were amazed, and again the word for amazed is one that means disturbed. They weren’t just like “Oh, wow! That’s cool.” It was more like OMG.

They kept looking at one another and saying, “What is this? A new teaching, and with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” Jesus had authority. He had authority over Scripture. He had authority over unclean spirits. And Jesus has even more authority than that.

So they recognized this man, that they don’t know, that’s just come out of the wilderness, now is speaking in the synagogue, and is showing every sign of authority and power that they’d ever known, that what he says is right and reputable and he’s somebody worth listening to. And not only that – he can do really cool things.

So the news, it says, spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. I once heard a saying that says the only thing that spreads faster than rumor is lint. So rumors of Jesus, stories of Jesus, what they heard, spread quickly.

How many of you have ever experienced a story that spread faster than you could keep up with? You know – I heard it from somebody that heard it from somebody who heard it from somebody – but that was a reputable source, that such-and-such happened. Surely it couldn’t happen in a small town like this!

Then they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew, and Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever. What we have here now is a complete and utter reversal of situation. Not public. Still the Sabbath, most likely, but maybe not, because of what happens afterward.

It could have been after the Sabbath was over. Remember, their Sabbath went from sundown to sundown. So he spent all day teaching, on the second half of the Sabbath, teaching in the synagogue. It’s dinnertime. Sabbath is over. He goes to Peter’s house, where his mother-in-law is sick with a fever.

Private. Quiet. No need for ostentatious displays of authority and power here. But they’re worried about her. That’s a wonderful thing, to see that they cared so much about the mother-in-law. Peter must have been one of those rare men who, despite his brash tongue, managed to maintain a good relationship with his mother-in-law.

They told Jesus about her. So he goes to her and simply takes her hand and helps her up. No “be silent.” No casting out of demons. No “be clean.” No “your faith has made you whole,” even. He just takes her hand, and helps her get up out of bed, and the fever leaves her.

You have to imagine, this was not – it says a fever, but this had to be pretty debilitating. I mean, we’ve all functioned with a fever before. But she’s in bed, and apparently has been for some time. So we’re talking major league fever, illness, probably the shakes, the sweats, whatever.

The fever left her, and she immediately – this wasn’t just that the fever left her. It wasn’t just that she was healed. She was strengthened and made whole, because it says she immediately began to serve them.

She was playing the hostess. Remember, hospitality is a sacred duty there. She was being the hostess. She has enough strength, enough wherewithal, to take care of these men that had come into the house. From having a fever, to being hostess. That’s possibly, in many ways, more impressive than the casting out of the demon.

It tells us a lot about the character of the one who heals. It doesn’t matter what the situation is. His focus is on you.

The Jews would have thought by touching something unclean, you become unclean. It’s kind of like that saying I heard once. If you put a spoonful of applesauce in a barrel full of sewage, you get sewage. If you put a spoonful of sewage in a barrel full of applesauce, you get sewage.

They look at uncleanness as contagious, if you will. If you’re touched by something unclean, you become unclean. But Jesus had authority, not just over the Scripture and its interpretation, not just over demons, but even over the physical beings of other people, over illness. With a touch, he cleansed her.

I just love the idea, and the understanding, that in some Gospels is made clearer than in others, that whenever Jesus is touched by uncleanness, he does not become unclean. He cleanses what he touches.

It’s important to understand that because we are unclean. We may not be demon-possessed. We may not have a physical illness. But when we come to Jesus, we are unclean in our sin, and his touch – the song “He touched me, oh, he touched me” was running through my head during the weekend – he makes you whole. He cleans you of that sin and makes you new and strong.

The touch of Jesus is one of authority and power, and mercy and grace. He touches you, in your life. Not just once, but every time we fail. Every morning, when we wake up. Every night when we go to bed. He touches you, with his authority and power, and mercy and grace. And most of all, with his love.

That cleansing touch comes from Jesus’ authority and power. So what we see in these two stories is a tale of character. A man with character. A man with authority. A man with power to do what God has commanded him to do.

He has been baptized. He has been anointed. He has had his trials in the wilderness. He has now begun his ministry, and he carries it out. And we know why he succeeds. It tells us in the very first verse, in the very first chapter. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Healings are great. Miracles are nice. They’re crowd-pleasers. They’re a good way to get people’s attention. But let us not, in our awe over what occurred, forget the real purpose of the power displayed, which was to point to the man, the God-man, Jesus Christ, and his power and his authority, so that we can understand and know that applies to us as well.

The character of Christ is what we, too, can gain. Through the power of his Spirit within us, we too can exhibit the same kind of authority and power, and more so, mercy and grace, and love. And this is good news.

And just as the people of Galilee wanted to spread the news about Christ, and this new teacher with authority, I hope and pray, as we go into this new year, that you have the same kind of eagerness. Not for show, but because of the joy that comes from having been cleansed by Christ.

May you bring him praise and glory with all that you do. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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