Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)
February 8, 2009
Text: Mark 1:29-39

Jesus is always going about reversing the effects and curse of the fall into sin. He heals diseases. He casts out demons. He raises the dead. He even lifts Peter’s feverous mother-in-law out of her bed. The simple touch of the Great Physician is enough to fully restore her. She immediately gets up and serves Jesus and His disciples. A fever, the flu, a cold, even just a little temperature is a sign that this creation is fallen, cursed, because of sin. Jesus has come to undo what sin has wrought in our world. Thus the healing. Thus His great compassion for those suffering from all manner of sickness and disease, injury and ailment, and the crafts and assaults of the devil and his demons. Thus His great compassion for those who are under the sentence of death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23; ESV). Jesus Christ has come to bring life, real, eternal life, to a dead and dying world, to dead and dying people, to you and to me.

But the miracles Jesus does in His earthly ministry are not an end in themselves. Jesus could have had a brilliant career in medicine, but that is not why He came. The miraculous healings in our text are not the main event in Jesus’ ministry. This is difficult for the multitudes to understand. They see in Jesus an easy cure for what ails them, One who can take away their diseases and cast out their demons. The multitudes are crushed under the weight of suffering in a fallen world, and they rightly see in Jesus One who can deliver them and grant them relief. But they miss the big picture. As wonderful as it is that Jesus heals them from their diseases, it is more important that Jesus heals them from their sin. And He does that through His Word. In His Word, Jesus delivers the healing balm of His blood and righteousness. In His Word, He delivers the cross. And this is the real healing. And so when the disciples find Jesus at prayer in a desolate place, and Simon tells Him, “Everyone is looking for you” (Mark 1:37), Jesus says to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (v. 38). Jesus came to preach. And it is in preaching, in speaking His Word, which bespeaks us righteous, that Jesus heals us from our most serious ailment, our most dreaded disease, that with which every human being descended from Adam and Eve save Jesus Himself is infected, sin.

It is common among Christians when we are sick that we pray to Jesus, the Great Physician, for healing. And that is a good thing. Our Lord wants us to pray. James, the brother of our Lord, writes, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church,” that means pastors in the Bible, “and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:13-15). When we are sick, we are to pray. When we know someone who is sick, we are to pray for that person. Pastors, in particular, are to pray for and with sick people, but really this is the duty of all Christians. And here is the promise according to St. James: The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick. The Lord will raise him up. We can all think of many examples where the Lord has answered our prayers by healing us and our loved ones, sometimes even miraculously. Her cancer disappears for no apparent reason. The doctors said he’d never walk again after the accident, and now he’s running. Several of you in this congregation have had the experience of having your family called to your bedside because your death was imminent, and yet you are among us today, healthy and full of life. Thanks be to God! To Him alone be all the glory!

But what about when you pray, and your Christian brothers and sisters pray for and with you, but you are not healed? Where is the promise from James then? Where is your Great Physician, Jesus, when you need Him to heal you? Beloved, don’t be confused like the multitudes were who sought from Jesus only physical healing. It is true that Jesus can and does heal from physical ailment. But remember that the healing you need most is healing from your sin. For sin is a disease. Original sin, that condition of sinfulness and guilt that we inherit from our first parents, Adam and Eve, is the deadly disease with which all of us are infected. And it comes with horrendous symptoms, actual sins we call them, the actual bad things that we do and the actual good things that we leave undone. This is the cause of all that is wrong in the world. This is what we’re talking about when we say this creation is fallen. Sickness, injury, and heartache are all the consequences of the disease of original sin and its dreaded symptoms. So for true healing, your Great Physician, Jesus, needs to get right at the heart of the problem. He needs to treat the disease itself, not just the symptoms and not just the consequences. If you’ve had any experience with doctors, you know that often their treatments are quite painful. Surgeons inflict gaping wounds on the bodies of their patients. But they do this for the greater good of healing their patients. Doctors routinely use knives and needles and all sorts of sharp and barbaric instruments in their practice of medicine. And these instruments cause no small amount of pain and anxiety. But this is all for the good of the patient, to restore the patient to health. The point, beloved, is this: As contrary as it is to our logic, Jesus uses our sicknesses, injuries, and heartaches, and all of our sufferings, for our good, for our spiritual health. He uses them to lead us to despair of ourselves and all human help, and to drive us to Him alone for healing and mercy. He uses them to drive us to His Word and His Sacrament where He has promised to be for us, for our help. He uses them to drive us to prayer. He uses what is evil: sickness, pain, suffering, to accomplish what is for our ultimate good, driving us to take our medicine, wherein Christ Jesus delivers to us all the benefits of His cross.

Jesus drives us to His Word and to His Sacraments. That’s the medicine. There we receive the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation that Christ won for us on the cross. That’s the cure for original sin, that dreaded, deadly disease. And once the disease is gone, the symptoms and all their consequences begin to subside. The guilt of all sin, original and actual, is wiped out on the cross of Christ. We are healed. And this is the point of Jesus’ preaching. Remember, He says in our text, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:38). The miracles Jesus does are meant to confirm the preaching. Jesus came to preach. He came to preach repentance and forgiveness. That is true healing. The miracles testify to this true healing, the forgiveness of sins. James, incidentally, makes this point all along. They are the last words I read from his epistle a moment ago. After saying that the one who is sick will be saved and the Lord will raise him up as a result of prayer, James says, “And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:15). In other words, that is the ultimate healing. Once you have that healing, all the rest will fall into place.

Now it’s true, however, that in this earthly life we still have to suffer many ailments of body and soul. We have to suffer the afflictions and temptations of the devil. And we suffer in our bodies. Again, every fever, flu, cold, and sniffle is a sign that this creation is fallen. So also cancer and heart disease and car wrecks and old age. Even though we have the forgiveness of sins now, we still sin and we still have to suffer in this earthly life. The reality remains that unless Jesus returns first, we will all have to die. But, beloved, do not despair, for the truth is that Jesus will heal your every ailment. The truth is that every healing is from Jesus. We just don’t see it as miraculous because we’re so used to it. Every cold from which we recover, every broken bone mended, every migraine relieved is a sign that Jesus is reversing the curse.[1] And for believers in Christ Jesus, finally, in the end, at the resurrection of all flesh, all your prayers for healing will be answered with God’s “Yes!” There will be no more sickness, or disease, or injury, or heartache. No more sin. No more tears. The old order of things has passed away. The new has come. Our bodies and souls will be made perfect in our risen Lord Jesus. Then we will see how Jesus, as a skilled Physician, injured us to make us well… supremely well in fact.

But that is the resurrection. In the meantime, take your medicine. When Jesus was physically, spiritually, and emotionally worn out from all of the miraculous healings and exorcisms He had been performing late into the night, He sought rest and restoration in communion with His heavenly Father. Mark tells us that “rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). When you need healing and restoration for your weary bodies and souls, you will always find it in communion with your heavenly Father, through His Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. It starts with receiving our Lord’s gifts here in church every week, His Word, His forgiveness, His body and blood. It continues throughout the week in your daily devotions as you meditate on His precious Word. And you respond to these gifts with your prayers, petitions, thanksgivings, and praise. Even in the midst of great physical illness, this medicine is the most important medicine you can take. Because in this medicine Christ applies to you all the benefits of His cross and suffering. He forgives your sins, wipes out the disease of sin. He gives you His righteousness. He gives you life everlasting. Even for you, Jesus is always reversing the effects and curse of the fall into sin. He does it now this morning as He lifts you up out of your illness and speaks His Word, “I forgive you all your sins.” Now, like Peter’s mother-in-law, you can go and serve Him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The Rev. William Cwirla makes this point, http://blog.higherthings.org/wcwirla/The%20Sermonator/SeriesB/5epiphanyb.html.

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