Jesus the Great Healer
Jesus’ ministry was characterized by love, grace and miracles--healing and deliverance from evil spirits-- through the power of the Holy Spirit. God still brings healing and deliverance today, sometimes in ways that can’t be explained by science, and other times through “everyday miracles” where love, sacrifice, forgiveness and grace are shown.
21And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
Jesus Heals Many
29 And immediately he[g] left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon's mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
Jesus Preaches in Galilee
35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him searched 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 on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
There’s a lot going on here in this passage, and it’s pace is typical of Mark’s way of telling the story of Jesus. Mark’s gospel conveys a sense of rapid movement and starts right when Jesus is ready to begin his ministry.
And here in this passage today, the verses we heard today pick up at this point, with Jesus marching right into the synagogue to teach, and it says that he’s teaching with authority.
Then he jumps into action when a man in the synagogue has an unclean spirit, or demonic spirit. Jesus cast that evil spirit out of the man, and it left people amazed and impressed by his authority to do such things.
A little later on our story says that Jesus cast out lots of demons from people who were possessed by them.
And Jesus also showed his power by healing people who were ill, starting with Peter’s mother-in-law who was sick in bed with a high fever. And this is just the beginning of what’s to come.
Throughout the gospel of Mark, or any of the other gospels for that matter, there are miracles galore:
we read about all kinds of people being healed of diseases, all kinds of people set from evil spirits, and other miracles like feeding a whole crowd of people with only a few loaves of bread and a handful of fish.
As I reflected on today’s passage, and paged through the entire gospel of Mark this week, it struck me that these healings and other miracles are signs that the Kingdom of God is at hand, that through Jesus God’s Kingdom has invaded the world,
And the things that we see happening are demonstrations of the authority of God’s kingdom, fueled by the power of God’s spirit, authority that is in stark contrast to the authority and power of the Roman Empire, because Jesus’ power is rooted in love and justice while that of the empire is based in fear and injustice.
On the one hand, these acts of the Holy Spirit shouldn’t surprise us, because they flesh out exactly what Jesus said in his sermon that launched the mission of his Kingdom:
Of course, Mark in true form gives us an abbreviated version of it, but Luke spells it out more fully, when in Chapter 4 he recounts Jesus unrolling the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and reading these words:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
Most of us who have been in the Church for a while are quite familiar with this passage, so seeing all the healings and miracles take place should make sense as a working out of Jesus’ mission.
After all, many of Jesus’ miraculous signs and wonders were for the benefit of the poor, the oppressed, the enslaved, and their healing set them free from the things that burdened them, many of which were caused by the crushing oppression of the Roman Empire.
Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, we see that Jesus is passing on his ministry to his followers to carry it on. He breathes the Holy Spirit upon them, he says that they will do even greater things than he has done.
And if we move beyond the gospels to read the book of Acts, we see this taking place; we see the Holy Spirit being poured out on the day known as Pentecost,
And then we see story after story of Peter and Paul and other disciples using the power of the Holy Spirit to heal, and set people free, and do many other things that can only be described as miraculous.
I’ve heard it said that the “Acts of the Apostles” would be better named “the Acts of the Holy Spirit”.
But then there’s the other hand. Remember I said on the one hand, this all shouldn’t surprise us, but at the same time, if I’m honest with myself, I am surprised, and I’ve got a lot of questions.
Like when my scientific mind is in full gear, I sometimes have trouble believing in things that can’t be proven by science, like miracles.
We’ve heard a lot about “trusting the science” in relation to protecting ourselves from the coronavirus, and I find it easy to trust the science, but can I at the same time trust the science and also believe in things like miracles that seem to defy science?
Now, even though I sometimes have doubts, I can say that I believe that the Holy Spirit worked through Jesus and his disciples in ways that we can only say were miraculous.
But what about us Christians in today’s world? Can God still work in the same ways that He did back then?
Again, if I’m honest, sometimes I get confused and even skeptical about all this stuff.
Some of that confusion and skepticism comes from my trust in science, but I think that some of it stems from seeing how people who call themselves Christians claim to use the power of the Holy Spirit in ways that seem like misuse or even abuse, often to advance the person’s own agenda and not to bring glory to God.
I’ll give you a recent example, maybe something you heard about as well.
In the aftermath of the election, there was a Catholic priest in Wisconsin named John Zuhlsdorf who, like many people, was convinced that the election was stolen from Donald Trump. And he said that the fraud was caused by voting machines that were rigged by demons that took control of the machines to change votes from Trump to Joe Biden.
He said “as exorcists will confirm, the demons are very good with electronic equipment.” So he tried to cast out the demons from the voting machines. You know, you can’t make this stuff up!
Well, in the end, the only thing that was cast out was him from his position in the diocese. He’s now pursuing other endeavors.
I’ve also been turned off by Christians who during this pandemic have ignored the science and had a cavalier attitude about wearing masks and social distancing, claiming that God in his power will protect them.
And then there are those pastors and TV evangelists who make a big production out of healings and casting out demons. Many of them make a lot of money out of it to line their own pockets. And who knows if people really are healed and delivered or if it is all staged.
Then I’ve had some personal experiences that didn’t help the cause. When I was in college, some of my friends started going to a church that had a real strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit.
They believed that being filled with the Holy Spirit was a separate experience from a person’s conversion to Christ, and the evidence of being filled with the Spirit was through speaking in tongues.
They were always praying for healing of whatever ailment a person had, even something as minor as a sore throat or a slight headache.
And they were really into spiritual warfare, to the point of whenever anyone was struggling with something, they attributed it to a demon inside them, and they prayed to deliver the person from that demon.
There were demons of jealousy, demons of greed, demons of depression, and demons of lust. And they could be prayed right out of the person and poof, they were freed from their demons right then and there, never to struggle again.
I just couldn’t get into this way of looking at the world—I don’t think it’s helpful, I don’t think God usually works like this, and whether it was healing illnesses or delivering demons, it was all based on how much faith you had.
If it was successful, it’s because you had enough faith in God. But if it wasn’t successful, it was because you didn’t have enough faith. To me, that also is not helpful and can actually be very damaging to a person’s psyche and well-being.
So given all these examples of what I consider misuse and abuse of the power of the Holy Spirit, where does that leave me? And where does it leave you, if you’ve had some of the same experiences?
I can’t speak for you, but let me make a few comments about where I’m at.
First, in spite of all the misuse and abuse in the name of God and the Holy Spirit, I have seen and heard enough evidence to know that God can work in miraculous ways, ways that can’t be proven or explained by science.
I have known people and heard stories of people who doctors said “there’s nothing more we can do, you have maybe a few months to live” and then the person comes back for a follow up cat scan or blood work and the doctors find no trace of the disease in the person, and they leave with a clean bill of health.
I have known people and heard stories of people who have been tormented by addictions which they would call demons, and they had struggled for years, until they were at the end of their rope,
and then somehow they climbed up out of it and were set free from that addiction, and they said “it was only by the power and grace of God and the prayers and support of so many people that I overcame my addiction, my demons.”
And I have heard of people who truly have been given spiritual gifts like prophecy and healing, gifts that have been confirmed in the community of faith and used to build up the Church and not themselves. One of them is John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Church.
I know that there are a lot of self-proclaimed healers out there who I think are phonies, but there are some real ones out there too.
A couple of weeks ago I participated in Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s School for Leadership Training. It’s a week of keynote speakers and workshops, and gatherings of different groups. This year it was all online.
One of the speakers was Meghan Good, pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church in Arizona. It’s the church that I served as a pastor at from the mid-90’s t the mid-2000’s.
Meghan led a workshop entitled “Missing Person: Introducing Anabaptist Communities to the work of the Holy Spirit.” As the title implies, Meghan talked about how us Mennonites have shied away from focusing on the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church; our main focus in the Trinity is Jesus.
She said that we downplay the Holy Spirit for a number of reasons: we’re skeptical because of some of the things I mentioned earlier; and we also are hesitant about the Holy Spirit because of the emotionalism that is associated with it.
Did you see all those Bernie Sanders memes floating around social media and the TV networks after the inauguration? He’s sitting with his arms crossed on a chair outside at the inauguration, freezing his “you-know-what” off!
He’s got a big parka on, and big mittens, a stoic look on his face, and he’s huddled up like he’s freezing.
Those memes were funny and provided us with some much-needed laughs. One meme that I could really relate to as an Italian transplant into the Mennonite Church was the one where it shows two identical pictures of the meme side by side, but with different captions.
One side said “When a Mennonite is NOT enjoying the sermon.” And the one right next to it says “When a Mennonite IS enjoying the sermon.”
Now to be fair, I don’t think that this is as true here at DRPC as it is at other Mennonite churches that I’ve preached at!
Anyway, Meghan’s workshop was great, and she made the point that while Jesus was fully God, he was also fully human and his ministry was fueled by being empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Meghan also encouraged us to be more open to wonder and mystery in our understanding of God. And to make a bigger deal out of Pentecost than we do.
And she said that our ministry, just like the disciples in the book of Acts, is a continuation of Jesus’ ministry. The Holy Spirit is still at work today as it was back then.
She shared that at her church, they start their staff meeting with the question, “How did you see God working this week?”
Now I want to say that God works in all kinds of ways. There are those times when God’s activity borders on what we’d call the miraculous, the unexplainable.
But I believe that much more often, God through the HS works in more ordinary but just as important ways. These are what we could call “everyday miracles”.
To me, these everyday miracles manifest themselves in things like showing unexpected kindness to a stranger,
or experiencing confession and forgiveness and healing in a relationship that has been broken.
Everyday miracles like putting someone else’s needs above your own and making a ton of sacrifices during a season so others can succeed. Like parents and grandparents who are helping the children in their life get through online education. That in itself is a miracle!
In today’s political climate, an everyday miracle can happen when you have a civil and respectful conversation with someone on the other side of the aisle.
There are everyday miracles like being surrounded by prayers and expressions of support and love that carry you through a tough time,
Or a friend who believes in you and holds faith in God for you at a time when you’re about to give up on yourself and on God as well.
Or experiencing unity and communion in a church even though people have disagreements about theology or decisions that have been made.
These and many other everyday miracles are signs that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world, that Jesus’ kingdom is at hand, and that God is present among us.
The great theologian LeCrae—well actually, he’s a Christian rapper but sometimes he says some profound things—LeCrae posted this on twitter recently:
“It’s not that there’s not enough evidence that God is real…it’s that we suppress the evidence.”
Jesus was the great healer, and he still is the great healer today, working through people who dare to call themselves his disciples, his followers.
So let’s be people who don’t suppress the evidence. Let’s be people who look for the sings, the miracles that the Holy Spirit is working in our midst.
Let’s be people who keep praying for healing, keep praying for deliverance, keep praying that God’s kingdom will come and His will be done right here on earth. Let’s keep believing that God can use us to carry on his ministry. AMEN.
Before we begin our sharing time, I invite us to have a brief time of silence where we reflect on the question that Meghan Good uses at her staff meetings:
How did you see God working this past week?