Summary: Jesus came to proclaim the gospel to all the world. Let’s make sure we’re a church that continues his work as faithful disciples who continue to proclaim the gospel.
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.