“And He Healed Many” (Mark 1:29-39)
Yesterday, on a pastors’ e-mail list that I’m a part of, one of the men, Pastor Jay Webber of Arizona, brought a prayer request to our group on behalf of his son Paul and daughter-in-law Ruth. He’s given me permission to share this with you, by the way. His daughter-in-law, Ruth Webber, is 23 years old, and she is six months into her first pregnancy. However, she has been diagnosed with advanced gastric cancer, stomach cancer. Her chances for survival, Pastor Webber reports, are not good. Right now she’s up at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The baby’s birth will be induced in a day or so, and the child will be rushed to the neonatal unit–and baptized, too, I might add. The baby’s name will be John. Once the baby is born, new mother Ruth will begin aggressive treatment for her cancer, undergoing radiation and chemotherapy.
Pastor Webber writes in his e-mail, “This is a nightmare. But we are not waking up from it.” He then adds these words, though, quoting in Latin the words of the Canaanite woman who came to Jesus begging for help for a sick daughter, “Domine, adjuva me!” “Lord, help me!”
This is the kind of story that rips your heart apart, even if you’re not the one living it. But it also touches your heart, deeply, to see the faith in the Lord’s goodness that God has given to the Webber family. “Domine, adjuva me!” “Lord, help me!” The question is, Will he? Will the Lord help this pastor and his son and daughter-in-law and their newborn baby? And what will that help look like?
These are the kinds of questions raised as we consider the Holy Gospel for today, a portion of Mark 1, in which Jesus goes about helping and healing lots and lots of people. “And he healed many who were sick with various diseases,” it says. OK, fine, good for those people back then. “And He Healed Many.” But our question is, Will he heal us?
As I say, Jesus was pretty good at healing people back then. No daughters-in-law in this story, but there is a mother-in-law. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. She was flat on her back, sick with a fever. But Jesus comes in, takes her by the hand, and lifts her up. Bing, bang, bong. Fever is gone, just like that. So does Jesus only do these things for his friends? Or does he heal the lady just to get her to wait on him? It says, “she began to serve them.”
No, I don’t think that’s it. Because lots of other folks get healed, too. “That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons,” our text says. “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.” Jesus seems to be healing all sorts of people with all sorts of problems, and rather indiscriminately. Not just friends. Not just fevers. Not just mothers-in-law who can get up and bring you a nice cup of tea and some cookies. No, Jesus looked to be in the healing business back then, and really heavily into it.
That was then, this is now. So what are we, chopped liver? Don’t our needs count? God knows, we have enough of them. There’s no lack of sick people among us. I mean, look around. See some of those people who are not here this morning? There are a number of them who are at home, sick. And even among the people who are here this morning, I bet you we could find enough hurting people who would appreciate a healing or two.
Oh, I know, it must be our lack of faith! If only we would believe harder, then we would get a healing. Or maybe it’s some unconfessed sin in our lives. We’ve got to obey better, in order to earn our healing. No, those are the high-pressure techniques of the charlatan faith-healers, with their built-in, ready-made excuses for why they can’t produce healings for all the poor souls they’re fleecing.
But that still leaves us with the question: Did Jesus go out of the healing business? Why the favoritism for those folks in the first century? Has Jesus lost his touch? No, none of that. OK, so what about the young mother with the stomach cancer? What about the old man on hospice? Or even the middle-aged guy with the creaky joints and bad eyesight? Can’t Jesus muster up some miracles for his followers today? What happened to the healings?
Here’s the deal. All those people who were healed back then in the first century? They all died. Peter’s mother-in-law? Dead. You see, Jesus healed them, yes. But then they all went on to die later on. The healing was only temporary. And so it would be for us. To quote the eminent theologian Joycelyn Elders, “We’re all probably gonna die of somethin’.”
So what was the point of Jesus doing these healings? If it was only a temporary stop-gap measure, and if it was only for a few years during his public ministry, and only for a few folks in Galilee, then what was the point?
The point was to demonstrate what would be the ultimate outcome of Jesus’ coming among us. The healings were a sneak preview, if you will, of the permanent healing to come. In other words, what Jesus came to do, the purpose of his mission, will result in complete healing and wholeness forever. Nothing temporary about it. Eternal healing, that is what we’re headed for. And on the basis of Christ’s coming, where’s he’s going with all of this, as he walks about Galilee, dispensing blessing left and right. There’s a place he’s moving toward, there’s a direction in which he’s going, and when he gets there and does what he came to do, then that is going to issue forth in complete and total restoration for all those who trust in him. That’s you, sister, and that’s me, brother. That’s the young mother with stomach cancer and the old man on hospice who’s taking it a day at a time.
You see, all these afflictions and ailments we suffer under, the sicknesses and sorrows–they all have one cause, and they all have one cure. The cause is sin, and the cure is Christ. Now when I say the cause is sin, I do not mean that this particular sickness is caused necessarily by that particular sin. That would be tying cause and effect too narrowly. But in a broader sense, yes, generally, all sickness, all death, is the result of sin. Our sin. The fallen sinful condition that we all share. You and I have sinned against God, in many ways breaking his commandments, and we reap the brokenness and the consequences and the curse that our race of sinners has come under.
So Christ came to deal with this root cause that produces all the bad results. The only way for that root of sin to be dealt with is–well, it’s precisely what Jesus did. The Son of God came as our brother, keeping God’s law in our stead. Jesus Christ is the only one who has earned God’s favor by his works. No cause for death in him. But to deal with our death, Jesus had to take it upon himself. Paying the price for our sins on the cross, God’s own Son won forgiveness for everyone–yes, even you. Nothing you have ever done wrong is too big or too small for Christ not to have included in his death on the cross. All of it has been covered. You are completely forgiven, for Christ’s sake.
So when you are sick, when you are suffering, it’s not as though God is punishing you. That punishment Christ already took in your place. No, God is doing another work in your life, drawing you close to himself, inviting you to take refuge in his infinite, yet intimate, mercy. Your heavenly Father is holding you in his loving arms, enfolding you in his loving embrace. This is a time to be reassured of his goodness, knowing that Christ Jesus died and rose for you and that your eternal future is secure.
Yes, Jesus is still in the healing business. It’s not like he’s lost his touch. The healings he did long ago were enough to show that this is what is in store for all of us, and with no expiration date on it. Dear Christian friend, our Lord Jesus has touched you, forgiving your sins and claiming your body as included in his healing. It happened when you were baptized, when you were joined to Jesus’ resurrection, and God washed that saving water over your body. It happens every time you receive Christ’s body and blood into your mouth–again, God is saying, “I have redeemed your body, as well as your soul.”
God is committed to the healing of your body–indeed, of his whole physical creation–all of which will be restored new and glorious when our Savior Christ comes again. These old bones of ours will be made new, no longer subject to disease or decay or death. I don’t know yet exactly what all that will look like, but I do know that it will be great, and it will be forever, and it will surely happen.
For right now–for right now, if you are faced with a devastating illness in the family, the nightmare is very real, and it doesn’t go away when you wake up in the morning. And so, of course, we rightly cry out, “Domine, adjuva me!” “Lord, help me!” And we pray that the Lord will, in his mercy, grant healing to the sick, even here in this life. Sometimes the Lord does this healing work through doctors, to whom he has given such wisdom.
But should that not be the case, should the physical healing not come, we know that the Lord has something even better in store for us. There will come a morning when we will wake up from the nightmare, and the pain will be no more. Just as our Lord Jesus Christ arose on Easter morning, so too all who trust in him will arise “in that great gettin’-up mornin’.” This is our sure hope. This is what we are looking forward to. This is what all those healings in Jesus’ ministry were pointing ahead to: The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
Jesus is still in the healing business. He’s doing it here today, among us, every time his gospel comes to us in Word and Sacrament. Total forgiveness, total healing, for sick and dying sinners. Complete wholeness, in body, soul, and spirit, begun now and completed at Christ’s second coming.
“And he healed many.” Hey, he has healed, and he will heal, all of us, too! Young mother, old man, daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law, and even a few outlaws: There is healing–real, final, forever healing–for all who belong to Christ.