Monday, February 28, 2011

Christ: The King of Healing

Preached February 27, 2011

Scripture readings: Jeremiah 30:12-17; Mark 1:21-34

There is a story about a disaster at sea. A tourist ship was loaded with travelers and their cars, and the crew had failed to properly seal the doors. Out at sea, the doors gave way, and the boat began to sink.

The passengers were completely panicked. Suddenly, one man (who was not a member of the crew) was giving orders in a calm, clear voice. The crowd quieted down because someone appeared to be in charge, and they followed his directions to the lifeboats.

The man made his way to the part of the hold that was nearly submerged and (with one hand grasping the ladder) he used his other hand to pull the people who were trapped there to safety. The man made himself a human bridge to save their lives.

In the end, when the tragedy was over, it was discovered that the man who took upon himself the authority to save the others was among those who drowned. He had given his life in using the authority he took upon himself to save others. (N.T. Wright; “Mark for Everyone”; p.11)

Jesus possessed an authority that no one who heard him or watched him had ever heard or seen before. Mark tells us: “The people were amazed at is teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22)

When Jesus cast out the demon from the man in the synagogue, we hear the same thing: “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” (Mark 1:27)

The people who met Jesus found themselves in the presence of an authority beyond any they had met before. The word “authority” in the New Testament Greek means authority. It sort of means the power and the right to do a thing. So Jesus had the authority, the power, and the right to teach and speak for God; to command and cast out evil spirits; and to heal the sick; and even to raise the dead, as he would do later on.

Now, where do this authority, this power, and this right come from? The hero on the sinking ship spoke and acted with authority in a way that most of us probably couldn’t. He probably knew about ships and ships’ safety. Even though he wasn’t a member of the crew, he had probably been a member of some crew, on some ship, and he knew the drill. In such an emergency he was the one to follow, the one to listen to. He had authority.

Someone can be an authority on military history, or on ice age floods. Someone can be an expert on Middle East diplomacy. Someone can be an authority on agricultural chemistry, or plant genetics. This is authority based on acquired knowledge, and even on acquired, practical experience. The same could be said of you if you are a parent, or a spouse; or or a farmer, or rancher, or homemaker, or teacher, or nurse, or artist, or singer, or mechanic, or maker of things.

Authority (acquired knowledge, and understanding, and experience) can become so much a part of you that you feel as though you were born with it, or born for it. It is in your blood to be what you are, or to be what you will be.

But this is not really so. Being an authority, sometimes, is like catching a sickness, or having it catch you and never letting you go; until you can’t imagine having been anything else, and it will leave the mark of its identity on you forever.

But this is human authority. Jesus had an authority that was beyond human authority. It left those who met him stunned. Here was this man who was the carpenter of Nazareth, who was capable of things that no one else was capable of doing. He healed the sick with a touch of his hands, and he liberated people who were caught in the clutches of evil spirits with a word.

And Jesus spoke and taught with the very same kind of authority with which he healed the sick and cast out demons. We have never heard anyone speak like that. Jesus was not merely a spellbinding super-teacher/master-teacher.

The people in the villages and synagogues of Galilee looked at Jesus and they saw a man: saw the carpenter. The spirits who were trying to dominate people in ways we cannot understand were able to see what human eyes could not see. “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24)

Without knowing what they saw, the people around Jesus saw the one whom the Gospel of John describes in its opening paragraphs. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it…And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, and we have beheld his glory; glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (John 1:1-5, 14)

In the Bible, the world authority refers to a power or a right that does not come from what you know, or from what you have learned, but from who you are, and what you are. The authority of Jesus came from who and what he was, and is.

Jesus had authority to heal the sick, because he was the authority behind our health. He was the authority behind our creation. He was the one who gave us all life. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”

Jesus had the authority to free people caught in the clutches of evil spirits, because Jesus was the creator of all spirits, even the creator of the spirits who fell. Jesus had authority over the spirits of darkness because he is the light that the darkness cannot overcome. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Jesus is the light that will come and destroy, forever, the power of the kingdom of darkness.

Jesus taught with authority because he is the Word of God. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” Jesus is the self expression of God: God speaking himself just as he is, in himself. Jesus is the self-expression of God made flesh and blood; made human, just as we are.

The kingdom of God is the rule of God, and in Jesus we see God reclaiming his own. He claims the sick and heals them. He claims the possessed and sets them free. He would even claim those who were dead and bring them back to life. (Mark 5:35:43)

In the beginning Christ had been in the Garden of Eden (with the Father and the Holy Spirit, because all of the fullness of God was at work in our creation). He was there to breathe the breath of life into Adam; so that Adam and Eve, and all of their children down to this day, could be living souls. (Genesis 2:7) The authority of Jesus comes from who he is. It comes from who Jesus has always been.

The kingdom of God is the rule of God coming to reclaim his creation and to restore his creation. Now the people who heard and watched Jesus had some ideas about the kingdom of God. But Jesus did not share those ideas.

They could not understand the kingdom of God unless it meant the Kingdom of Israel rising up and throwing out the Romans. They would have understood the prophet Jeremiah meaning the healing of their nation of its weakness when the Lord spoke through Jeremiah and said: “But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds.” (Jeremiah 30:17)

They would have understood the healing as political. Jesus completely confused them because he refused even to talk about that.

For Jesus, the incurable wound was the sin and dysfunction and weakness and blindness of the human race and our own human nature. The incurable wound was the impassible barrier that exists in our hearts between us and God, between us and the people and the world around us; the barrier that even keep us away from peace with ourselves.

Jesus is the king of the kingdom of God who comes to heal that wound and tear down that barrier through his sacrifice for our sins on the cross. Like the man of authority on the sinking ship Jesus came to be the man, the human we could never be, and form, for us, a bridge from death to life. N.T. Wright says: “Jesus came to be the human bridge across which people could climb to safety.” (N.T. Wright; “Mark for Everyone”; p. 12) It is in this way that Christ is the king of healing.

It needs to be remembered that the people who received healing from Jesus would, one day, grow sick again and die. The people he freed from evil spirits would have to go on through life and still be obliged to resist the devil. The people Jesus raised from the dead would die again. And all of those people would (as all of us will) finally come into the presence of Jesus in eternity and be made well and free by him there.

There is the matter of need, and how we experience our need. The people who met Jesus wanted the Romans thrown out and a king of their own sitting upon the throne in Jerusalem.

Jesus wanted something much more. Jesus wanted repentance for his people and repentance for the world. Jesus wanted the conversion and the transformation of life, so that human life could be born again and born from above: life abundant and life everlasting. That was the freedom of his kingdom. This was the healing that Christ came to give.

Right now the world of the Middle East appears to be changing. The people of those nations are yearning for change, and they are demonstrating in the streets in order to get rid of the tyrants and dictators who have ruled them for so long; and they show no signs of giving up.

I heard a journalist interview a man, on the street in a Middle Eastern city, who was with the demonstrators. The journalist asked the man if he wanted democracy. The man answered: “We don’t need democracy. We need food.” Where will such people’s experience of need take them?

Jesus came into this staggeringly needy world with authority. He came to give this world what it needs most. And what this world needs is not what it says, or thinks, it needs.

In his death on the cross, and in his rising from the dead, Jesus gave us and this world of ours what we all need most; not necessarily what we think we need. But, in order to get through to this world, he also spoke to the felt needs of this world. He taught, and he healed, and he liberated.

People saw this and they were drawn to Jesus because he showed them, with authority, that he loved them and cared for them. And Mark often tells us that they were amazed by Jesus; but seldom does Mark tell us that they believed in Jesus.

Even the disciples had trouble believing. But they lived in the presence of his authority every day. They looked on, and they listened, and they asked questions, and they heard answers that they did not really understand, and they went where Jesus sent them; they followed where Jesus took them.

They saw the confusion in the crowd, the excitement in the crowd, the rejection of Jesus in the crowd. As the story moves on, the rejection becomes more certain, and more deadly. And they saw all this through the lens of their growing love for Jesus and for his authority.

They struggled with their own desire to see Jesus sitting on a throne in Jerusalem, and riding at the head of an army to defeat the Romans. But one thing they did see (and Jesus made them a part of this) was the desire to meet people where they were because he loved them and cared about their desires and their needs.

Jesus would delegate the disciples as deputy healers, and exorcists, and preachers to go into the towns ahead of him. Perhaps people would see the love of the kingdom of God through them, and have a change of heart, and be ready for Jesus.

Another change that happened to them was that they became a “they” with Jesus. When they went somewhere, it was them and Jesus together.

They became a unit (them and Jesus). The matter of what they had to teach; and their prayers for the sick; and their prayers to free people from the evil spiritual powers ruling them; that was all a matter of them and Jesus.

They became a team with Jesus, and their mission was to reclaim and restore the world around them for the kingdom of God. They were focused on people at their place of need, even when those people did not know what they needed most.
We are disciples of Jesus too. We are a team whose mission it is to reclaim the world and restore the world for the kingdom of God; even though that world, and the people Jesus sends us to (even in our families and among our neighbors) may not know what they need most. But Jesus deputizes us to meet them in their place of need as they feel it themselves, not just as we see it.

We see Jesus as our crucified Lord and Savior. We see Jesus as the Lord and Savior of all people. Not even the disciples saw Jesus that way, until after the cross and resurrection took place. Without knowing it, the first disciples, in everything they said and did, were preparing their world, and their neighbors, and their families for what Jesus was going to do, and what Jesus was going to turn out to be: all without knowing it.

They worked hard to meet their people in their place of need, because of their love of Jesus. His calling them had made him the authority of their lives. And his authority made them aspire to be healers who followed the king of healing.

When we know Jesus (when we know who he really is) we become like the man who made himself a human bridge for others. We have authority too, because of what we know. We can’t make others believe. We can’t do everything that others want. We don’t even see every thing we pray for come to pass. But we can do the work that Jesus has delegated to us of meeting people in their place of need, even if it means simply being with them where they are.

Then we can trust Jesus to do the work that only he can do, to show himself to them as the one who died and rose from the dead for them. When we know Jesus, then we know what it really means for Jesus to be the Christ, the king of healing.

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