Why Jesus Came audio (3MB)
It’s easy to get carried away when things are going well in our ministry isn’t it? We can get caught up in the excitement of ministry and think this is what it’s all about! And if we have enough success we might even be tempted to so focus on that particular area of ministry that we forget the essentials of what it is we’re actually here for. [Matt Redman example] Sometimes we need to stop and remind ourselves exactly what it is we’re aiming for in whatever ministry we’re involved in. We need to stop and check in with God to get our bearings again. That’s what we discover Jesus doing in this passage today.
But first let’s think about the context of the passage. Mark begins his gospel with a series of encounters where Jesus’ power and authority is made very evident. People looking on are amazed at what he says and what he can do and evil spirits have to be told not to say who he is. Yet at the same time there’s the puzzle, as we’ll see in a moment, of the disciples’ inability to understand who it is they’re dealing with.
The passage begins and ends with scenes of Jesus healing people.
Perhaps the word’s got around after what’s happened earlier in the day. The day began with Jesus teaching in the synagogue. There he cast out an evil spirit who identified him as the Holy One of God. Then afterwards he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. So no doubt people have been talking about him.
Then Mark tells us that after sunset, that is, once the Sabbath has ended, people come carrying the sick and lame to Jesus. It’s as though he saying that the religious business of the day is now ended so the real work of the kingdom can begin. Of course the religious laws would have prevented people from carrying the sick and lame to Jesus so they’ve had to wait until sunset to receive his ministry of healing.
And it isn’t just a few people is it? No, the whole city was gathered around the door. This is a huge crowd, lots and lots of people, coming to be healed by Jesus, and we’re told that many received healing of various diseases and many demons were driven out.
Notice that Mark tells us he cast out demons but wouldn’t let them speak. Why? Because they knew who he was. Again, there’s this highlighting of the evident nature of Jesus to those with eyes to see, compared with the inability of the disciples to discern the truth about Jesus. Understanding who Jesus is requires spiritual sight. The evil spirits have no problem recognising who he is. But for human beings it requires the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit to see the truth of Jesus. That was true for the disciples and it’s still true today. As I said last week, if we’re going to tell people the gospel we first need to pray that God’s Holy Spirit would speak through us, opening people’s inner eyes to see the truth.
There’s also a sense in which the hiddenness of Jesus’ true nature is part of his intention at this stage of his ministry. He doesn’t heal and cast out demons to prove his divinity. He heals out of love for the sufferer. He cast out demons because they’re a corruption of the lives God has created.
We see this again in the next healing episode. A man suffering from leprosy comes to him and falls on his knees begging to be healed. Now this man has already worked out that Jesus is more than just a great preacher. There’s no question in his mind that Jesus can heal him. The only question is whether Jesus will heal him. This is a very poignant moment isn’t it? If you know anything about the situation of someone like this in Jesus’ day you’ll realise that he’s taking a huge risk. He has everything to lose. His experience up to this point would have been of utter rejection by every able bodied person he’d ever encountered. In fact it’s amazing that he gets this close to Jesus without the crowd telling him to get lost.
But he does and to everyone’s surprise Jesus not only agrees to heal him but he does it by reaching out his hand to touch him. Touch is one of those core means of human connection isn’t it? One of the first things our son Paul wanted to do when he came out of the induced coma this week was to hold our hands, to hug us. There’s something very moving about a great hulking 33 year old wanting to hug his parents. But it’s the way we’re built isn’t it? We need human contact and when we’re deprived of it, it can become a craving. And I guess Jesus knew that. This man would have been shunned by everyone he came into contact with. So the first thing Jesus does is to reach out and touch him as a sign, not just that he’s willing, but that his healing is real. There’s nothing to fear in touching this man. His leprosy has left him instantly.
But I want to let you in on one of those titbits of information you find when you read the commentaries. Where you read that Jesus was moved with pity you may see a footnote there that says some ancient authorities have anger. Now when you find that some of the earliest manuscripts use a word that seems strange what do you think? Did Mark originally write anger or did he write pity? Why was the word changed by a scribe who was copying the text? Remember that every copy of the gospels was hand written until the 15th century. So when did this change of words happen and which was the original. Well, one of the rules in Bible translation is that the word that seems the strangest is often the original if the document is old enough. The one that’s easy to understand is likely to have been substituted by a scribe who couldn’t understand why the other word would have been used.
So it is possible that the original expression was that Jesus was moved by anger. Well if that were the case, what was he angry about? Was he angry at the man for coming so close to healthy people? That wouldn’t fit with what he does next would it? No Jesus is angry at something else. Can you see what it is? Well, I think he was angry at the way sin and evil in our world have affected people. I think he may be angry that God’s plan to put people in the world in relationship with one another is so clearly perverted in the case of people like this. Perhaps he’s even angry at the way we victimise and isolate people who don’t fit our standards of hygiene and health and normalcy. Not that that would happen in our world today would it? Well, perhaps it might!
You may have heard about a certain politician who spoke out recently to complain about migrants who are smelly or whose idea of personal hygiene is different from ours. I heard the other day that in the US a number of states had, until recently, what were known as “Ugly Laws”. These were laws that forbid people with physical disfigurement to be allowed in public places or on public ways. And a number of them weren’t repealed until the 1970s. So perhaps that sort of attitude was part of Jesus’ anger when he saw the plight of this man.
In any case Jesus heals him, then sternly warns him not to go blabbing about it. Again, Jesus isn’t healing him in order to get publicity. He doesn’t want people to come simply because he can heal them. And perhaps we can understand why when we see what happens when the man ignores Jesus’ instruction. The word spreads so fast that Jesus can’t even enter a town because of the crowds clamouring to see him.
But there’s more to it than that. We find the real reason in the middle section of our passage that we’ve skipped over.
Let’s look back at vs 35-39. Jesus has spent the night healing the many people who’ve come with illnesses and evil spirits and then in the morning he disappears. Where’s he gone?
Mark tells us that he’s gone out to a deserted place before dawn to pray. Jesus understands that sustaining a long and hard ministry requires times of communion with God. Mark highlights this in Jesus life at three critical moments. Here at the start of his ministry, in Ch 6 after the feeding of the 5000 and in Ch 14 in the Garden of Gethsemane. At each point it’s as though he wants the particular guidance and strengthening that only God can give him.
But that’s something that the disciples can’t grasp. Mind you I don’t know that we should hurry to criticise them. This is something that we often struggle with as well. The disciples no doubt look at Jesus and think to themselves: “He can do anything. Nothing can stop him. Look at what he’s achieved in a mere 24 hours. He needs to the most of it. Keep going while he’s on a roll.”
That’s certainly the tone of their reproach when they finally find him isn’t it? There’s a hint of anxiety at his disappearance. But there’s also a hint of exasperation or impatience in what they say: “Everyone is searching for you.” They could almost have added: “Think of the opportunities you’re passing up by being out here on your own.”
And we can imagine their surprise when they hear his response: “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
They’ve totally missed the point haven’t they? He doesn’t heal as a means of increasing his popularity. His concern is with the plight of human beings who are alienated from God and subject to all the damage that sin inflicts on their lives. And he’s come to bring the message of the gospel, of freedom from bondage, of healing and salvation to the whole nation of Israel. So he needs to go off to all the other towns in the region.
And so that’s what he does. He goes off throughout Galilee proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. And here’s where we see the core of his mission. His message is the gospel and the casting out of demons is what goes with the in-breaking of the kingdom of God into the world. The power of Satan is overcome by the preaching of the gospel as much as by casting out of demons.
Well before we finish let’s think about some of the lessons we can learn from this passage.
The Importance of Prayer
I shouldn’t actually need to say this, but if Jesus needed to get away from the crowds to pray, how much more do we? You may not be someone who gets up while it’s still dark to pray but we all need to set aside time to bring our prayers to God, to ask him for guidance and strength.
Discipleship as Following.
One of the mistakes the disciples made in this passage was that they thought they’d worked it all out. They thought their job was to shepherd Jesus to his next PR opportunity. ‘But they learnt the hard way that their job was to follow Jesus. They needed to learn from him, to see how he operated so they could follow in his footsteps later. It isn’t always easy to be a disciple of Jesus is it? Sometimes he takes us to uncomfortable places. Sometimes he gives us difficult jobs to do. Sometimes the skills he wants to teach us are hard and take lots of practice.
Faithfulness to our Mission
Finally there’s the imperative to remain faithful to our God-given mission of sharing the Gospel. It’s very easy to be carried away by the desire to appear relevant, to seek to find points of contact with people, to be doing things that’ll attract the crowds. But unless what we’re doing is centred on sharing the gospel then our success may actually be a failure.
So let’s never forget that this is why Jesus came - to proclaim the gospel to all the world. And let’s make sure we’re a church that continues his work as faithful disciples who continue to proclaim the gospel.