Help with Healing
Roman Catholic's have the Anointing of the Sick; some Protestants have healing services, and the Pentecostals claim to have the gift of healing. I can point out that the gift of healing is only mentioned in the letter to the troubled Corinthian church. This gift isn't mentioned in any of the later letters, such as Romans, Ephesians, or the Pastoral Epistles. I can tell you that in 386 A.D. Chrysostom said all the miraculous gifts had disappeared from the church completely. None of this moves you. You want healing and you want it now. For help with healing we need Jesus. During Epiphany we celebrate the light of God appearing in the face of Jesus. In His light we find help with healing.
We find help with healing in our text. Here we see how the law gets in the way of healing. Last week's text happened right before this week's. Last week we were in the synagogue on the Sabbath day as Jesus healed a person of an unclean spirit. Today's text takes place "as soon as they left the synagogue." It's still the Sabbath day; Jesus is invited to eat the afternoon meal with Simon Peter. Mark tells us Peter's mother-in-law was ill with fever, Luke tells us it was high and that they asked Jesus to help. Jesus healed her instantly.
Last week you heard the amazement in the synagogue at Jesus' ability to cast out demons. Here He demonstrates His power over sickness, yet where's the mad dash to Jesus for help? Where are those struggling with sickness, longing for healing? If I was in this city and I had a sick loved one, I'd haul them to Jesus for healing right away, wouldn't you? The people of Capernaum don't. They wait. The text says, "That evening after sunset." Why is Mark so specific that it's not just evening but after sunset? For the Jews, sunset not sunrise marks a new day because this is how God recorded days in Genesis 1: There was evening and morning; the first day. So sunset marks the official end of the Sabbath day. Because of Sabbath laws, real and imagined, they didn't go to Jesus for healing.
Orthodox Jews are still that serious about these Sabbath laws. In 1983, while at Army chaplain school, several of us were going to New York City for the weekend. The Orthodox rabbi said we could stay with him while there. Then he added, "Just make sure you reach my place before sundown on Friday evening because after that we won't answer the door."
There is no Old Testament law forbidding answering the door on the Sabbath. There are no specific laws about not getting healed on the Sabbath either, but there are laws about doing no work and kindling no fire. In order not to break the few God-given laws about the Sabbath, the rabbis had made hundreds more. But that's not the worst thing they did to God's Sabbath. The worst was making the Sabbath something men do for God rather than something God does for man. The Sabbath was meant to be a divine service. God served them by giving them time to rest without fearing that unless they worked 7 days a week they couldn't make it. The Jews had made the Sabbath into something they offered, gave, did for God. This tainted their view of God. He would rather them suffer in sickness on the Sabbath then be healed on it.
Their Sabbath Laws wouldn't let them take their sick to Jesus for healing. Here was the Great Physician, yet they sat in their homes sick, dying, miserable. At evening, after the sunset, they stampeded to Jesus' door. "The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases." Mark doesn't specify what the illnesses were only that there were many and various. And these people lived with them, perhaps some of them died with them, because the Law kept them in their house till sunset.
So how does this apply to you? How does the law get in the way of your healing? The law of God can stop our coming to Jesus for help. When we don't pray to God for healing because we don't think we're good enough, it's the law buttoning our lips. The law says you don't listen to God's word and He doesn't hear your prayers. The law says only the holy can stand before God. The law says, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him."
This is one of the few laws of God that all men recognize; in fact unbelief has expanded this law into the law of positive thinking. Let the least drop of doubt enter your heart and that poisons any chance of getting better. If you're not upbeat, positive, sure of the outcome, you break the law of positive thinking and you can't be healed. Such a law would sure keep me huddled in my hut hopeless in my illness.
The law also gets in the way of healing because we think we can be healed by following the law, and because there is some physical truth here it's all the more damaging spiritually. You go to the doctor for an illness and you're going to be given medicine that you must take, or exercises you're required to do. If you're going to get better you must do this and must not do that. If you violate such laws too flagrantly, some doctors will let you go. And they're right, in the realm of the physical the law does rule, but we do greatly err when we transfer this to the realm of the spiritual where the Gospel is to rule.
Now you Lutherans think I'm making the turn from the law that shows us our sins to the Gospel that shows us our Savior. In a sense I am, but there's a problem with this text. It shows us not only how the law gets in the way of healing but how the Gospel does too.
Jesus came into the world to save us from the law that damns us, the sin that we are no match for, and the Second Death of hell. He saves us from these by who He is and by what He does. He is God in flesh and blood. As God He was not obligated to keep any law since as God whatever He did would be right. But He became man to put Himself under all the laws of God. Having kept them all perfectly, He, the Man who is God, went to the cross of judgment, of justice. There He pled guilty for all of your sins. There He was punished for each one of them drop by bloody drop.
It doesn't take God becoming man; it doesn't take the death of God the Son to heal anybody. Breast cancer is now healed above 90% of the time. Childhood leukemia is healed above 60%. Diseased hearts are healed by a completely new heart every day of the week. All of these modern day miracles could happen without Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter ever having happened.
People don't understand this. In the text, the crowds valued Jesus for healings that didn't require His Person or Work to do. The disciples are overjoyed by this. "Everyone is looking for you!" You're a hit Jesus. You're popular Jesus, and you didn't have to shed one tear, one drop of blood, or one bead of sweat. The same thing happens when Jesus feeds the 5000. The crowd wants to make Him king, and they too seek Him out to crown Him. Bread King, Healing King: Jesus could be either without ever having entered the virgin's womb or submitted to the cross.
Both times when the crowds wanted to crown Him as Satan offers to do in the Temptation without the cross, Jesus resorts to prayer. While Jesus is in prayer about His ministry of suffering, sighing, bleeding, and dying, the darkness is deep and Mark wants you to notice this. It's literally "much in the night." It's around 3 AM.
What I want you to know to give you help with healing is this. In the deep darkness of 3 AM while Jesus prays, some poor mother is holding her sick child praying that she can get him to Jesus for healing the next day. You must face this disturbing fact. The floodgates were opened last night when "the whole town gathered at the door" and Jesus healed them. Then they ran to relatives, friends, neighbors, telling them how Jesus healed them. Off set the young woman with her sickly child as soon as she heard. She would take her little one to this Jesus and He would heal him. She has to stop for rest during the night, but she does more hoping than sleeping. With first light she's off again, but what does Jesus do come morning? We find out from His words: "Let us go somewhere else so I can preach there also."
Whether or not there was a woman left with a dying child, the Scripture doesn't say, but Jesus does leave without healing everyone and He leaves behind the Gospel He preached. He leaves behind the Good News that the Law's reign is through because He has kept it perfectly. Neither the Devil, the World, nor even your own flesh can point to one Law that you must keep before coming to God for healing. Jesus also leaves behind the Good News that sin's reign is through. What sin of yours can the unholy three find that Jesus didn't pay for? What sin of yours can be between you and healing if Jesus carried them all way? Since both the law's and sin's reign are over, so is the Devil's, so is Death's, so is sickness's. They don't determine what happens in your life: Jesus does.
Luther said that if the Gospel were preached in hell, hell would be no longer hell. The Gospel isn't preached in hell but it is preached in the face of sin, sickness, and death, and that Gospel makes sin no longer sin, death no longer death, and sickness no longer sick. As light scatters darkness, destroys darkness, makes darkness not dark, so the light of the Gospel of God in the face of Christ scatters dark demons, destroys black guilt, and enlightens endarkened consciences.
Why? Follow me now to the Introit specifically to the antiphon. Twice we told each other: "Even in darkness light dawns for the upright - for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man." Whether that darkness be sin, death, sickness, or Devil light still dawns for you. Because the Gospel in Jesus' name declares you to be the gracious, compassionate, righteous person for who light must dawn even in darkness. This Gospel truth is not just help with healing but with living, with dying, with believing, and rejoicing. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (20090208); Mark 1:29-39