St. Paul's Lutheran Church

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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Mark 1:26-39

February 4, 2024

It seems as though Jesus did a LOT of healing in His earthly ministry, a lot of unsicking the sick, unpossessing the possessed, unlaming the lame, unblinding the blind, and even undeading the dead. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever; Jesus comes in and, BOOM, fever’s gone and she gets up and goes about her business serving the guests. Later that evening, Jesus continues in this healing and the casting out of demons, and He does this freely and willingly.

And He’s not just healing friends or family or friends’ family; He’s not just healing “good people,” or “deserving people,” but seemingly anybody and everybody who is brought to Him. This one-stop, one-touch, no-strings-attached, free of charge healing service was certainly part of His ministry for those 3 ½ years He walked the earth, and Jesus seemed just fine with it even when His disciples sometimes were not.

Well, that was over 2,000 years ago, 72 generations ago. We now live in the 21st century, yes, 2024, and we have to ask…where did the healing go? Doesn’t the Lord care about us today? I mean there are plenty of sick and suffering people about. We each likely know at least one or two people who suffer from cancer, from deformity, from heart disease, from diabetes and a whole slew of other ailments, not to mention broken bones, bad eyesight, difficulty breathing…the list goes on. Who of us wouldn’t appreciate a healing from time to time, a miraculous taking away of some incurable disease; who of us wouldn’t appreciate Jesus doing today what He did 2,000 years ago?

Well, Jesus talked a lot about faith and said that we can move mountains if we just have enough faith, so maybe our issue is that we don’t have enough faith…maybe we just gotta find a way to muster up more of that faith in us and THEN the Lord will start sending His healing waves down. I mean, turn on the TV to one of those 10,000 seat stadium churches and watch that funny looking guy with a “Dr. Evil” trench suit whap people on the head and say, “Be healed.” Seems like there’s healing going on there, isn’t there? Maybe that’s what we need here; maybe that’s the problem. Maybe it’s not faith at all; maybe it’s the performance. Maybe we need more of that excitement and liveliness in our church, maybe that will get the healings waves flowing. Maybe this stuffy, 500-year-old Lutheran church stuff is…maybe it’s just gotta go. Out with the old, in with the new, do as Rome, follow the crowd.

Or maybe it’s not so external or performance based; maybe it’s something internal. Maybe there’s a sin in our lives that keeps us from really trusting in God or keeps His healing touch away. Maybe we have to be more obedient, more like soldiers in an army that just do what we’re told so that we can earn a bit of healing, sort of like doing good works as merit, a way to earn grace in the heavenly bank account.

Let’s be real, and let’s first put to bed the charlatanism known as “faith healing.” All those “faith healers” you see on TV, and I mean every single one of them, has been proven, time and again, to be doing anything but healing people, you just gotta look it up, folks. They’re putting on a good show, sure, they’re selling a product, sure, and they’re making millions off desperate and hurting people, sure, but they’re not healing anyone. There is a LOT of money in faith healing, but there’s very little, if any true healing.

As far as faith is concerned, Jesus certainly healed people with little faith, with a lot of faith, with a medium faith. Your “level of faith” isn’t keeping Jesus away. And as far as being more obedient and earning God’s healing…we can’t earn anything from God by being obedient; we do not earn God’s grace because He gives grace and mercy freely.

So, we’re back to square one. Did Jesus get out of the healing business just in time for us to get sick? Why did He seem to care so much for those 1st century sufferers when there’s plenty of suffering still today? What’s going on?

I think this is a fair question for God’s children in the 21st century, not to mention the past 19 centuries where Jesus wasn’t healing people in the same way or degree as He did in the first century. But the only right way to find understanding is to put the blinders on and stop looking at all the peripherals; the televangelists, the faith healers, the word of faith preachers…block them out and focus on the Scripture. What does the Scripture tell us.

So here is what we DO know. The number of people that Jesus healed or exorcised – did demon casting, who he gave sight to, hearing to, who he made unlame, even the few He raised from the dead, all those people, every single one of them…died. They either died of some other sickness, died of old age, fell off a roof, a piano fell on their head…whatever, they all died. Jesus’ healing was a temporary thing.

You remember Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead, right? Well, the Scripture says that Lazarus was likely put to death through the scheming of the religious leaders, sometime around the same time as Jesus’ crucifixion. So, if our Lord’s miracles were all about making people whole physically, that He came to make people walk again or take the heart disease away…Lazarus’ resurrection was sort of pointless, wasn’t it, not to mention the many others who were healed or cured and who all died later.

This would be no different for us if Jesus was still doing healing today as He did back then. He’d fix us, heal us, restore us to health, but we would still die.

Well, then what was the point? Why did Jesus do all those healings back then? And even compared to the number of people who were sick and suffering back then, Jesus only healed a small percentage, so what was the point?

Well, let me provide some further context here. Jesus walked the earth in human form for 30 some years. He now reigns in heaven in human form and will return in human form on the Last Day. But His ministry lasted about 3 ½ years before He was crucified. After His ascension, the Apostles, including the Apostle Paul, carried out the commission which Jesus established to make disciples, to plant churches. If we consider the time span of the Book of Acts, this church planting work went on for about 30 years, and ended with St. Paul dwelling in Rome in around 62 AD. Many of the Apostles were dead by the time Paul and Peter were martyred in 66 AD. The Apostle John may have lived into the second century, some say as long as 120 AD, but that’s only legend.

The point is that Jesus’ healing, along with the acts and miracles and healing from the Apostles, only lasted perhaps 40 years, a very small sliver of time compared to the age of the human race – many thousands of years. The OId Testament offers us very few examples of God healing people of ailments, and the New Testament only talks about such healing over a short period of time. But for the rest of the history of the world, there just isn’t a lot of miraculous healing going on in the way we read it in the Gospels.

That 40-year anomaly was but a sliver of a sliver of time in history and that anomaly should not be pursued as the norm.

Then what was the point? Well, the Scripture tells us, doesn’t it? Jesus came to preach, to draw sinners to repentance and to faith in His blood – forgiveness of sins and life eternal, right? Jesus even says it, right in our text. He says, “Let us go to the next towns, that I may PREACH there also, for that is why I came out.” The preaching, the message is the point, not the miracles, the signs.

The signs were evidence that Jesus was (and is) the Christ, the One who came as the prophets foretold, the One by whom the world would be redeemed from sin and death. Jesus’ whole purpose, God’s whole purpose for sending His only Son was so that He might die on the cross. The healing, the curing, the raising from the dead, these are the signs which signify Him as the true Messiah. And all those healings and signs were temporary. Jesus didn’t come to just give temporary relief to sick people; Jesus has come to give eternal, everlasting relief to sinners, to the people living in darkness, Jesus has come to be the light.

Every healing miracle Jesus did, He did for us to prove to us that He is Messiah, the true Anointed One, Emmanuel, God with us.

Further, everyone will suffer sickness in life. No one escapes even a common cold or flu. This is the result of sin in the world. But such sicknesses come and go, and we have doctors and medication to minimize or mitigate the effect of such diseases. And while it would be great if such suffering never existed in this life, the fact is that for sickness and disease to go away, sin would also need to go away.

But sin isn’t going anywhere until the Last Day when we are raised to glorious, sinless, unsick bodies forever. Until that day, we still suffer from the effects of sin, and we ourselves sin and fall short of God’s glory. We break His commandments.

Christ your Lord still comes to each of you today by His Word. He comes with the Law, His accusing and condemning word set out to kill your old nature because you are still very sick with sin and deserving only God’s wrath. Jesus’ first step in healing you is by making you uneasy in your sins – He has no desire for comfortable Christians who think of sin but lightly because sin cannot exist in His presence. But then Jesus comes to you with the healing waves of the Gospel, that comforting and consoling promise of forgiveness and life eternal for the penitent, for each of you who feels the power of sin in your lives and seeks His healing release.

Christ has come to deal with your eternal problem, separation from God because of sin. The root of your problems, your law breaking and God-defying, was dealt with by Christ who came and lived the life you cannot live by keeping the commandments for you. He took death upon Himself for you, and in His death your sin problem was paid for forever. This makes you a completely, totally, and forever forgiven person because of Christ.

And should you get sick or suffer illness, it is not punishment. It may be consequence for something you shouldn’t have eaten, something you shouldn’t have drunk, a place you shouldn’t have gone, etc., but it isn’t punishment because Jesus has already been punished for all your sins.

But because sin is still part of our lives, illness comes, diseases lingers, our bodies age and break down. And this will be how it is until the day our sleep of death or until the Lord returns.

So, absolutely do pray for health and healing today, for yourself, and for others. But God never promises it. He may take your illness away; He may cure you of cancer; He may help you with addiction, He may help you with finances; He may give you sight or hearing; He may give you a loving and dependable spouse, faithful children who never go astray; He may give this church many members and continued growth so that we never have to worry…But He does not promise any of it. So, yes, ask for healing and help and an end to your suffering, pray for others, pray for family and friends, pray for the church and the pastor, but never take your eyes off the TRUE end to suffering – the Day of the Lord where all our bodies will be made glorious and new, and all suffering will be gone forever. Run the race as a Christian and discipline your body so that you do not fall to sin. And do not take your eyes off the cross where your deeper problem, the problem of death because of sin, was cured.

And do not take your eyes off your baptism where, by water and Word, God marked you as His child and will never forget you.

Jesus continues, even today, to come to us with healing. Most importantly He comes with the healing salve of Word and Sacrament where true, unending, total forgiveness of sins is given to all of us who repent and who die daily to sin. His healing is true, eternal healing, and unlike the signs He did 2,000 years ago, His true healing and purpose is everlasting for all who belong to Christ. Amen.