The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Mark 1:28 “And immediately the news about Him went out everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee. 29 And immediately after they had come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Him about her. 31 And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them. 32 And when evening had come, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. 33 And the whole city had gathered at the door. 34 And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was. 35 And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for Him; 37 and they found Him, and said to Him, ‘Everyone is looking for You.’ 38 And He said to them, ‘Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for.’” (NASB)
Mission first. Mission last. People in the military understand that concept. It is a way to saying that the primary purpose for which an action is taken, is above all else, even the people undertaking the mission. It prioritizes and focuses everyone’s attention on what must be accomplished.
In last week’s Gospel, Jesus went into a synagogue in Capernaum and taught with an authority unlike any teacher the people had ever heard. He also cast out a demon, probably the first such occurrence in His public ministry. This week’s Gospel reading picks up where last week’s left off. The church service was over and the people dispersed throughout Capernum.
“And immediately the news about Him went out everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee.” The news that went out everywhere was the news of His doctrine and His ability to cast out demons. Given the public’s response some conclude that His teaching took a back seat to the report about demons.
Capernaum was the home town of Peter and Andrew. When Jesus left the synagogue, He went to Simon’s [Peter] and Andrew’s house. When they had reached the house, Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever. “And immediately they spoke to Him [Jesus] about her. And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.”
The word translated “left” in the English is Aphiemi. Aphiemi also happens to be the word that gets translated as “forgive.” To forgive is “to let go,” “to leave alone,” “to let it be” right?. That is what you do when you forgive someone. In this case we are told that the fever let go of her, left her alone. Jesus spoke in such a way that He was tending to both body and soul. In His earthly ministry Jesus addressed the entire human condition. Sickness, hunger, thirst, troubles of the mind, conditions of the body (blindness, deafness), spiritual oppression, even death. When Jesus spoke He tended to all of it.
Jesus had driven out a demon from a man in the synagogue that morning. That was followed by healing Peter’s mother-in-law. Capernaum is not a big of a town and the word about Jesus spread quickly. By the time the sun had set (33) “the whole city had gathered at the door.”
Jesus replied with compassion. (34) “He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.”
Now given all the activities of the day, the next day promised to be even busier. But when the next day came, Jesus wasn’t anywhere to be found. He had left. (35) “And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there.”
Over the years I have heard several sermons on Jesus and His need to get away and spend prayer time with His heavenly Father. I’ve heard it said that Jesus went away to be alone and to pray because He needed to “de- stress.” He needed quite time alone.
But there’s much more to these retreats than “de-stressing.” In fact, I’d argue that the end result of these little retreats would lead to even more suffering.
Whenever a Gospel account tells us that “Jesus went off and prayed” by Himself we need to take a look at the context of the particular report and take a look at the times when Jesus went off by Himself to pray.
When we do that we find that Jesus leaves and goes off to pray when He is at a crossroads between the path that takes Him to the Cross of Good Friday and a path that takes Him someplace else. In other words, when Jesus (fully God and fully Man) is tempted to forsake the mission for which God the Father had sent His Son into the world to accomplish, He goes off to be alone so He can pray to His Father.
The best example is the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prays
[Mark 14:36] “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Jesus was looking for some other way other than the cross to redeem mankind. But there was no other way set out by God the Father. Thus Jesus yielded to His Father’s will.
Consider the Feeding of the Five Thousand in Mark where Jesus sends away the crowd and left to go up to a mountain to pray. What happened to prompted that retreat? In the Gospel of John we are told that “Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.”
Then of course there was the wilderness temptation where Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness by Himself to be tempted by the devil to give up His primary mission for something else. While the text doesn’t tell us that Jesus went there to pray by Himself, He certainly did a lot of that over those 40 days and in preparation of the temptation.
So here we are early on in the earthly ministry of Jesus in Mark chapter 1 and people are streaming to Jesus so that He will perform miracles and heal them. These people wanted Jesus the miracle worker. They wanted Jesus the healer. As far as the people of Galilee were concerned, Jesus the preacher and teacher of the Gospel wasn’t on the radar screen. They see Jesus. They know something of Jesus. They just don’t understand and believe in what it is Jesus has come to do for them. They were looking for a temporary fix to a temporary problem.
Right there, very early in His ministry, Jesus was at a crossroads. And it was something like the one He faced in the wilderness. Stay in Capernum and meet the “perceived needs” of the people or move on, keep preaching, keep teaching, and keep moving toward Good Friday.
When confronted with a situation that might involve divided loyalties and duty, Jesus went to the empty places to pray to His Father. Each time He does He emerges from the temptation clear minded and completely focused on fulfilling doing His Father’s will. “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15
Jesus never gave in to temptation, even when giving into it meant doing something “good” for people, something like healing the sick. How often we Christians get confused over the “good.” We are so busy trying to meet people’s “perceived needs” and fixing temporary problems with temporary solutions, that we neglect the real mission of the Christian church.
But Jesus remained faithful to His mission because His mission was the greatest of all goods. He remained “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” [Philippians 2:8]
On that morning in Capernum Jesus was missing in action. 36 “And Simon and his companions hunted for Him; 37 and they found Him, and said to Him, ‘Everyone is looking for You.’ 38 And He said to them, ‘Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for.’” Promise miracles and success and temporary solutions to temporary problems and the whole world will beat a path to your door. But preach and teach doctrine and it’s boring.
Listen again to Jesus, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for.” Teaching and preaching are fundamental to the person and work of Jesus Christ and to the mission of the Church. It’s not just general preaching and teaching about religious things. It is the preaching and teaching of the “new” doctrine that was talked about by the people in last week’s Gospel lesson.
Healing people did not and does not prepare people for Good Friday. Only preaching and teaching does that. Jesus had a three year road ahead of Him and between Capernum and Mt. Calvary there was a lot of Law and Gospel preaching that needed to be done.
Mark 1:14-15 “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” Luke 8:1 “He began going about from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God.”
The very thing that so many modern Christians disparage is the very thing for which Jesus came into the world: Doctrine, Law, the Gospel, forgiveness, God pleasing worship, the identifying and forgiving of your sins, and the full body of the Word of God.
Most people don’t know or even care about their deepest and worst problem – about the power that makes them sick, and broken, and dead in the first place, namely sin and God’s judgment on sin. Thus most people don’t care about the forgiveness of sins – Aphiemi.
St. Paul wrote in the Epistle lesson assigned for this morning (1 Cor. 9:16) “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” He did not “woe is me if I do not heal. He did not write, woe is me if I do not perform great signs of wonder.” He did not write, “woe is me if I do not entertain and keep the people happy.” He wrote, “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.”
All those people who were healed in this morning’s Gospel reading eventually got sick and died as part of the natural God ordained process. But the preaching and teaching of Jesus, the mission for which He came into the world in the first place has continued from that moment until now. It will continue all around the world until Jesus comes again.
As marvelous as it was that Jesus went about healing people, it is His preaching that delivers the Kingdom of God to them. Romans 10:17 “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Our Lord Jesus continues to bless us with good health, but today He gives us medical facilities to heal. He even gives us wealth and shields and protects as we live day-by-day. That is where most people stop.
Thanks God the Father, that God the Son did not. He kept preaching and teaching and let there be no mistake, it was the preaching and teaching of the Gospel that so enraged the priests, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees that plotted and executed the plan to murder the Son of God.
Today, Jesus remains undistracted. He still preaches and teaches and remit sins. He has opened heaven’s gates to us. We have this because Jesus did not give in to temptation to do something else. He went to the towns nearby to preach and teach. He did that until be came to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world for that is what He came out for– to save you.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.