Sunday, February 5, 2012

This Is Why He Came

Texts:    Isaiah 61:1-9; Mark 1:29-39   

       ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT things about  being a Christian, especially a Christian pastor, is dealing with people's misconceptions about what Jesus came to do on this earth.  Especially hard to deal with is when unbelievers ask, "If  Jesus is so great, how come you Christians still suffer from diseases and troubles like the rest of us?  How come I can insult your God all I want and I'm perfectly happy and healthy?  Guess He's not so powerful after all!"

    Even Christians can wonder why a loving Jesus who healed so many people when He walked this earth doesn't reach down from heaven and heal them.  Is it because they don't have enough faith?  Or is God punishing them for some sin in their lives?  Or maybe, just maybe (we hardly dare even to think it), Jesus doesn't care to heal us-- or He can't?  But no, no, it's got to be a lack of faith on our part.  Or something.  After all, didn't Jesus come to give us healthier, happier lives and heal us of all our physical diseases?  Why doesn't He get on with it?

    It's hard dealing with this not because there's no answer to it, but because first you have to clear away a fundamental misconception about who Jesus is and what He came to do.

    That's not easy.  Even Jesus' disciples saw things this way, early in His ministry when they came looking for Him the morning Mark records in chapter 1, verses 35-37 of his gospel.  The afternoon before, we read, Jesus healed the mother-in-law of Simon Peter.  And that evening, the whole town of Capernaum showed up at Peter and Mrs. Peter's house so Jesus could heal those who had diseases.  He drove out demons, too, just like He'd driven out that nasty one in the synagogue earlier that day, which you can read about in verse 21-28.  Such power!  Such authority!  No sickness, no infirmity, no minion of Satan, could stand against the command of our Lord Christ!

    So why wasn't Jesus busy doing the same thing that day?  What was He doing out in this solitary place (verse 35) praying?  Come on, Jesus, come back and get to work! Hey, Jesus, "Everyone is looking for You!"  Don't You realize there are still sick people to heal and possessed people to set free?

    That's how we're tempted to feel about Jesus and His work, both back then and today. The unbeliever thinks Jesus doesn't eliminate all sickness and suffering because He can't.  The Christian believes He can, and so often can't understand why He doesn't.

    Yes, Jesus does know that everyone is looking for Him. But He knows they need more than physical healing.  His reply to the disciples is this, in verse 38:   "Let us go somewhere else-- to the nearby villages-- so I may preach there also.  That is why I have come."

    "That is why I have come."  Why?  To preach.  Not primarily to heal the broken bodies and tortured minds of suffering humanity, but to preach.

    To preach? we might ask.  To preach what?  Well, let's look  back at verse 15 of this first chapter of Mark.  There Jesus says, "The time has come.  The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!"

    Jesus came to preach the kingdom of God.  He healed and cast out demons to show to us that He was and is the Anointed Servant of God who can and does exercise power and authority against everything that would rise up and rebel against the that divine kingdom.

    We talk a lot these days about "Kingdom living" and "Kingdom ministry" and even "Kingdom kids."  But in the Gospel of Mark in particular, the term "kingdom of God" focusses on God Himself.  As Isaiah puts it in chapter 61, God being savior, God being grace-giver, God being provider, God being judge.  God Almighty is the focus and center of His kingdom; He is its Sovereign Lord and King.  The kingdom of God is that state of affairs where God is totally in charge and all resistance goes down before Him.

    This is what Jesus came to proclaim.  He came to prove that He Himself was the Anointed divine King in whose person the kingdom of God has come.  When He cast out demons and healed diseases it was amazing, stupendous-- but it only served to illustrate that He was, as Mark says in chapter 1, verse 1, "Christ, the Son of God."

    Because as grievous and tragic as physical and mental sickness are, even worse is the spiritual sickness that lies beneath them.  Brothers and sisters, all the diseases that mankind ever suffered are only symptoms of the real problem, the sin that's within and around and among us.  Out of the heart of man, out of our hearts, comes the sin that disrupts our relationship with God.  It was human sin that let evil into the world, human sin that perverted our relationship with creation such that viruses and bacteria are our enemies, instead of under our dominion.  Human sin creates economic and political systems that keep people in slavery, poverty, and despair.  Human sin brings about injury, injustice, ruin, and disgrace.

    Certainly, Jesus Christ had the ability to heal every last person in Galilee and Judea, with Samaria, Lebanon, and the Decapolis thrown in.  He could have lived a long, long, life doing nothing but that.  But that wasn't what He came to do.  If all our Savior did was save our bodies, our souls would remain just as dead and damned as they were before He encountered us.  But He came to do far more than that.  Jesus came to preach the arrival of the kingdom of God, the year of the Lord's favor, the day of His judgment.  Jesus, the living Word, brings in the kingdom of God by His word, the same creative word that spoke the universe into existence.  The preached word of Jesus is powerful, authoritative.  His Spirit is in it, and it gives life where there was none; for those who have been called according to His purpose, His word has given life to us.

    Today at Grace Church we have celebrated the Sacrament of Christian Baptism.  In Baptism we acknowledge that we, too, have been in rebellion against the kingdom of God, dead in trespasses and sins.  We were helpless, and needed to be raised and recreated after the image of Jesus Christ.  St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans writes how mankind died through the trespass of our first father Adam.  Sin reigned in death-- until Jesus came with the perfect act of righteousness, His death on the cross, so grace might reign through righteousness to bring us eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. When we were baptised we were baptised into His death.  Sin is defeated in us through Him, God's kingdom rule is established in us, we are freed from the bondage of sin and liberated to serve God in holiness and joy.   This is true for D--; it is true for all those who have been transformed by the word of Christ preached for repentance and faith.

    Every healing, every exorcism Jesus ever did pointed forward to that one great and final act when He would bring healing to our sin-sick souls and utterly crush the head of Satan the prince of demons.  Isaiah looked forward to that day, and spoke of the time when the Lord would make an everlasting covenant with His chosen people.  This is the new covenant made in the blood of Jesus Christ.

    Why did Jesus Christ come?  He came to die and to rise again, that we might truly be healed.  This is how the kingdom of God was established on this earth-- by that one perfect sacrifice that Friday afternoon on Calvary.  By His death death was confounded and the power of sin and Satan broken forever.

     Oh, yes, even as Christian believers we will yet go through the trials and terrors of this fallen world.  Times of suffering and disease will still be ours.  We, too, will experience the death of our mortal bodies.  But we have this comfort, that we can look to Jesus Christ and know that He has given us the health that matters, the only health that will last: the salvation of our souls and the promise of new and immortal bodies like His own.   Sickness and suffering do not defeat us, for Jesus has come preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, and He by His grace has made us His own.

    If you will permit me a personal story: Last Maundy Thursday when I preached at Grace Church, that was the first time I'd appeared in the pulpit with my own hair; that is, the first time since I lost it to chemotherapy.  More than a year before that, in February 2010, I'd been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  At that time something I'd read led me to believe that I might have only four months to live.  That prospect focusses the mind wonderfully.  What did everything I'd been preaching all these years mean in the light of that?  And I was led to ask, All right, how much do I love Jesus Christ?  But then I realized the better question was, How much does Jesus Christ love me?

    He loved me enough to go to the cross to purchase my salvation so I might be made fit for the kingdom of God.  And that's how much He loves you, too.

    There are many who scoff and insist that Jesus has no power to heal.  There are others who desire Jesus only for His power to heal, but otherwise would leave Him alone.  In sickness or in health, let us be those who bow the knee to Him in humble joy.  The kingdom of God is near to you, even in your heart, established by the word of Christ preached to you in His name.  Hear what He declares to you by the power of the Holy Spirit, and repent and believe the good news.  For that is why He came. Amen.

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