Christ's Hidden Glory Is Seen in His Mercy
Mark 1:29-39 Epiphany 5 Recognize the Messiah by His Acts of Mercy Dear friends in Christ, A young married couple, speeding down the highway, hoping to reach the hospital before their first child arrives. Red and blue lights suddenly flash in the rearview mirror. A state trooper pulls them over. The wife is breathing calmly, assuring herself and her husband that everything’s going to be OK. But the husband is frantic. They are having a baby! They need to get to the hospital right away! The trooper could exercise his authority by following procedure. He could patiently ask for license and registration, check if everything is in order, and write out a ticket for speeding. But I would think, in that kind of situation, he might show some compassion and understanding. He might exercise his authority in a different way, in a way that would help this young family in their time of need, maybe even giving them a quick and safe escort to the hospital. During the season of Epiphany, we have seen Jesus revealed as the Messiah during his earthly ministry. Last week, we witnessed Jesus exercise his authority as the Messiah as he taught in the synagogue of Capernaum and as he ordered an evil spirit out of a man. But if Jesus had exercised his authority without also exercising love and compassion, his ministry as the Messiah would have been a failure. So, just as last week we recognized Jesus as the Messiah by his authority, this week we also want to recognize Jesus as the Messiah by his acts of mercy. Today’s gospel follows immediately after last week’s gospel. Mark 1:29-39: As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. I. He healed the sick Four men: Andrew and his brother Simon Peter, John and his brother James. These were the disciples who left the synagogue with Jesus and went to Simon and Andrew’s house. They might have been planning to eat some supper there. But when they arrived, they told Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law who was lying in bed, suffering from a high fever. We aren’t told whether or not the disciples were expecting Jesus to do something for her. But because they had just witnessed Jesus’ authority in the synagogue, it would be surprising if they did not think that Jesus could help her and that he would help her. Today we have many medicines to help bring down high temperatures, fight infections, and drive away diseases. But they didn’t have the medicines we have today, and this woman’s fever was a serious matter. The disciples knew that she needed help. So they told Jesus about her, and Jesus acted with mercy and compassion. Sometimes when Jesus showed compassion to the ill or the disabled, he just spoke a word and they were healed. But in Simon and Andrew’s house, with a personal touch, and without any concern about catching whatever illness this woman might have had, Jesus took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Immediately the fever was gone. Her strength and energy were restored. And with joyful gratitude, she began to serve them. Every time Jesus showed mercy and miraculously healed someone, he was fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming Messiah. Isaiah wrote: “He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:17). His healing of the sick (1) proves for us that Jesus is the One who he claimed to be, and (2) reminds us of the compassionate power which he still exercises for our good today. You and I still get sick. But Jesus still has authority over every illness and the compassion to help us in our time of need. So we call on him. We pour out our hearts to him, trusting that he can send our illnesses away. And, if he chooses not to send away our illnesses, but to allow us to suffer for a time, we trust that our Lord will work even those diseases for our good, and the good of his kingdom, even if we can’t understand how any good could ever come from it. That’s God’s promise, and he does not lie. II. He cast out demons News about what Jesus’ compassionate power spread fast throughout Capernaum. So that night, after the Sabbath had ended, people began to bring to Jesus many who needed his help. Again, he had compassion on them and healed people with all kinds of diseases. Mark then also records, He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. One item to note is that demon possession is not the same as having a certain illness or a disease like epilepsy. Evil spirits are real and can take control of people. They seem to have been most active during Jesus’ earthly ministry, as if the devil was unleashing his entire army to try to ruin God’s rescue plan. These demons knew exactly who Jesus was. They knew that he was the Messiah and that he had come to destroy the devil’s work. Another item to note is that when Jesus ordered these evil spirits out of people, he also commanded them not to speak because they knew who he was. At first that might sound strange. Why wouldn’t Jesus allow these spirits to broadcast the message that he was the Messiah? One reason is that many of the people were looking for a different kind of Messiah. They were thinking that the Messiah was going to be a political and national savior, someone who would free them from the oppression of their earthly enemies and establish an earthly kingdom for them in Jerusalem. Later, when people realized that Jesus was not going to be that kind of Messiah, they plotted against him and killed him. Eventually that would happen. But that time had not yet come. Another reason why Jesus would not allow demons to speak about him was the fact that speaking the Gospel of Jesus is a privilege for those who follow him. Demons know who Jesus is, but they do not trust in him or follow him. By God’s grace, we also know exactly who Jesus is. By God’s grace, we trust in him as our Redeemer and we call him our King. And, by God’s grace, he has given us (not demons!) the privilege to proclaim his Gospel to the people around us. III. He prayed for people Exactly how long into the night Jesus continued to heal people and cast out demons we aren’t told. At some point, however, the crowd must have dispersed. Then in the very early hours of the morning, without anyone knowing where he was going, Jesus got up and found a solitary place to pray. For what did he pray? Again, we aren’t told. But maybe he prayed for help to carry out his ministry to the crowds of people who were coming to him for help. Maybe he also prayed for strength to overcome temptation. The temptation being that with his popularity growing, he very easily could have become the kind of Messiah that the masses wanted. Most everyone would have supported him if he became their “bread king” and political savior. Then he wouldn’t have to carry his cross. Then he wouldn’t have to go through the pain and suffering that was waiting for him. Maybe he prayed the same kind of prayer that he would later pray on the night before his death. At that time Jesus prayed for all his disciples, including us. He prayed that God would sanctify us by his Word, protect us from all evil, and keep us safely in his kingdom. You know the comfort and encouragement when a Christian friend says, “I’m praying for you!” How much more comforting and encouraging to know that Jesus still prays for us. As God’s children in Christ, we don’t want to sin. But when we do, our Savior is still there, interceding for us before his Father’s throne. And God is pleased with his prayers, declaring that because of Jesus’ work, we are redeemed, restored, and forgiven. IV. He preached the gospel Simon Peter and the others didn’t realize that Jesus had gone off alone to pray. When they realized that he had left the house, they searched for him. They wanted Jesus to get back to the crowds and to continue to do what he had been doing the previous night. But Jesus didn’t go back to the crowds that had gathered at the house. Instead he said to his disciples, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” It’s not that Jesus didn’t want to help these people anymore. But he didn’t want them to see him only as a miracle worker, a “bread king,” or a political savior. He still would help people with their physical needs and heal the sick and drive out demons. But ultimately all his miracles were to point people to the real reason for which he had come. He had come to preach the gospel, to proclaim freedom for those held captive by sin, and recovery of sight for the spiritually blind. He came to point sinners to himself as the One who would restore their relationship with God and prepare their place with him in heaven. It still happens that people try to fashion Jesus into what they want him to be instead of trusting who he really is. You and I aren’t immune from doing this either. Sometimes we can start to treat Jesus as a “bread king,” as someone who can work miracles to provide us with a comfortable life on this earth, or as someone who will deliver us from our political enemies. But we have a much greater need than full bellies and comfortable lives. We have a much greater need than healthy bodies and political victories. “The soul that sins is the one who will die.” Our sin is a burden that threatens to crush us. But Jesus still preaches the gospel: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened… Come to me, all of you who are being crushed by the weight of your sin and guilt… Come to me because I have carried that load to the cross for you! ... Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28,29). We recognize Jesus as the Messiah by the authority he exercised during his earthly ministry. But we also recognize Jesus as the Messiah by his many acts of mercy. He healed the sick and cast out demons. He prayed for people and he preached the gospel. Celebrate the fact that the Messiah still shows the same mercy and compassion for you. Amen.