Sunday, February 8, 2009

Epiphany 5 Sermon -- Mark 1:29-39 (LSB Epiphany 5B)

February 8, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus said to the Twelve]: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came.” And He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

So the war campaign of Jesus continues. Though it may seem odd to speak of Jesus’ work in this way, the war description fits very well. There is a struggle that Jesus participates in, a contest which is more than a game. There are no neutral parties, no people who are disinterested or unaffected by the results. It is war of liberation, not conquest.

Galilee is one theatre of operations in this war that Jesus wages. Last week, you heard of Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum and His healing of a demoniac. He announces who He is and what He is going to do, explaining the Old Testament prophecies about Him, about the promised Messiah. His words are a declaration of freedom and liberty: “I have released you. You are free from slavery to sin and death and Satan.” And to show that His words are true, Jesus deposes one of the captors, freeing the man from the demon which had ensnared him.

The same acts continue in the streets of Capernaum. The Evangelist writes: “And immediately [Jesus] left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.” But as He enters the house, Jesus is informed of the illness which grips Simon’s mother-in-law. She suffers from the effects of sin; not that she broke God’s Law and so He has punished her with a fever, but that her imperfection and sinfulness make her susceptible to illness. So Jesus frees her: “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

Once again, Jesus deposes what had held one of His people captive: disease and illness. And when news of where Jesus can be found reaches the people of Capernaum, they flock to meet Him in order to receive the benefits of His work: “That evening at sundown they brought to Him all who were sick or 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.” The people of Capernaum welcome Jesus as a liberator, the One who can and will deliver them.

These events are part of Jesus’ redemptive work. His presence in the fallen world is dynamic as He carries authority and power which He uses to aid sinners. Those who are desperate for such aid go to meet Him, to be where Jesus can be found. They want what Jesus can provide. But what He has to give them is even greater than healing the sick or expelling unclean spirits.

The greater gift is alluded to in Jesus’ words on the morning after His preaching and healing in Capernaum. The Evangelist writes: “[Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him, and they found Him and said to Him: ‘Everyone is looking for you.’” Why do they look for Jesus? Because they want Him to act on their behalf again. But Jesus’ reply shows that the healing is not the main purpose of His mission, not the only thing He is there to do: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came.”

Jesus’ words indicate two things. First, what He was doing was not meant for Capernaum alone, but for a greater audience. His theatre of operations is to be enlarged. More towns will receive His work. Second, what Jesus was meant to do is to proclaim the gospel, to declare what the righteousness of God is and to share that righteousness with those who lacked it. Jesus’ mission is to speak words of freedom to the captives of sin, death, and Satan. But He doesn’t simply talk about freedom, His words and actions deliver it. Jesus tells people about redemption and gives it to them, because He is the One who redeems them.

So Jesus begins to fulfill His mission: “He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” This is Jesus on the warpath. The physical healings show Jesus’ power and they reverse the symptoms of sinfulness. But when Jesus preaches, He is getting to the root of the problem. The gospel that Jesus declares will be eternally therapeutic. He says: “Your guilt is removed and your sins are no longer counted against you. Your condemnation has been lifted, so that even your earthly death does not actually end your life. Your slavemaster has been defeated by Me, so now you are My people and I give you a new purpose and it is not an awful fate.” This is the message that Jesus brings to the synagogues of Galilee. He says these words and backs them up with action, delivering the promised goods, setting people free.

The same liberating gospel is what Jesus brings to the synagogues, to the assemblies of Pennsylvania. Jesus sends out His ministers with the same message of freedom. He said: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came.” And after He accomplished all that is necessary for that gospel message to be true, Jesus sends that declaration of freedom and liberty around the world. He dies and is raised again and He says: “As the Father sent Me, so now I send you. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” And He sends His apostles with that declaration of freedom and liberty, His words that accomplish what they say.

That is why the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians: “If I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! . . . I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” Paul tells his assembly that he must preach the gospel to them because he needs to fulfill the command given to him and they need the blessings that the gospel of Christ gives. And what are those blessings? They are the salvation which Jesus has earned and that He brings by His work done through the Church.

You have been given a share of those blessings as long as you believe what Jesus says and does. He knows that you need deliverance. For who in this place has not suffered from illness? Who hasn’t fallen victim to the wiles of Satan? Who hasn’t felt the dreadful impact that sin brings to personal lives and family ties and relationships? Who hasn’t had to bury their loved ones or explain to the young why there will be less people at Christmas or Easter or birthday celebrations? Who hasn’t had their own consciences accuse and condemn them?

Like the people in Capernaum and all Galilee, you know that you need deliverance. But in your desperation, to whom do you turn? It cannot be to yourselves, for that would be futile. It cannot be to others, not even if they make great claims or dress in unique garb, for they suffer the same limitations. No, it must be to Jesus that you go for aid. For He alone can provide the redemption and liberation you need. This is what He brings as the Incarnate God, the Lord God-in-the-flesh. What the prophet Isaiah said describes Him: “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to Him who has no might He increases strength.” That is the Redeemer you need, the Redeemer that Jesus is.

And the Psalmist speaks of that same powerful, dynamic God providing aid to His people: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. . . . The Lord lifts up the humble; He casts the wicked to the ground. . . . His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor His pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love.” What the Psalmist describes is what the compassionate acts of Jesus done in Galilee and here delivers. That is the gospel that He proclaims through His Church.

In your guilt and your sorrow, your hearts are broken; but Jesus binds your wounds with His forgiveness and promise of eternal joy. In your contrition, you are humbled; but Jesus lifts you up to be heirs of heaven. In your weakness, you fail to be perfect in thought, word, and deed; but Jesus does not treat you according to your terrible measure of worthiness. Instead, He delivers what He has earned to you, as you hope and trust in His compassion and mercy. The desperate clamoring for what Jesus has—the gathering at the doors of His house on earth—is the reaction He wants of you. For then, He will speak and you will be healed, not in body, but in soul. And for all who have been made righteous in the sight of God, the blessed end of everlasting life with glorified and restored bodies awaits.

That is the blessing of Christ’s gospel which is meant for you. As you assemble in this house of Christ and believe His words and actions, it becomes yours and yours to keep. You are in the theatre of Christ’s operations of redemption. And it is meant for all whom you bring in their desperation to receive His work also. For all “those who fear Him, those who hope in His steadfast love” shall have the blessings of Christ’s gospel. It is theirs as He preaches it to them and they believe, just as it is was for the people of Galilee and for you.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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