Sermon Series – Walking with Jesus
The Healing Ministry
July 5, 2020
Shortly after Jesus’ forty days of temptation, John the Baptist was arrested, and Jesus decided to return to his hometown of Nazareth. Nazareth was a small town of one hundred to two hundred people. In fact, it was so insignificant that like many small towns it wasn’t even located on the map. But it was here, in the insignificant town of Nazareth, that Jesus returned, filled with the Spirit, ready to call people to repentance and usher in the kingdom of God.
He entered into to the small synagogue in Nazareth crowed with people who had come to hear their hometown boy preach. It was then, in front of his peers, that Jesus read what the prophet Isaiah had written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed to free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, NRSV). He paused to let these words sink in and then he finished with, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21, NRSV).
Jesus the carpenter from Nazareth, in no uncertain terms, just claimed to be the long awaited Messiah. Can you imagine how this must have sounded to the people that had watched him grow up? How could he claim such a thing? He was from the little town of Nazareth. It’s kind of like Nathaniel said, “Nothing good comes from Nazareth” (John 1:46). Some of the people there that day called it blasphemy. Others were so mad at Jesus claiming to be the long awaited Messiah that they were ready to grab him and take him out and throw him off a cliff.
I remember my first sermon at Trinity UMC here in Elkhart, my home church. It was on a Wednesday night. It was a small worship service in the sanctuary that was held after a meal and before Wednesday night classes. I didn’t feel worthy of standing in front of all these people. Who was I, other than some guy who thought he wanted to be a preacher, to tell them about God and about how God wanted them to live their lives when I couldn’t even live my own life? At least I did better than Jesus…no one threatened to take me out and throw me off a cliff.
Jesus barely escaped with his life that day and left his hometown, feeling rejected and alone…and he headed for Capernaum. Capernaum was the second most important town in the Bible, with Jerusalem of course being first. It was there that he called his first seven disciples. But it was outside of Capernaum, in a little town of Magdala that Jesus stopped to spend the night and heal a woman.
The woman was afflicted with demons, seven
of them. Upon seeing the woman Jesus
stopped to speak to her and after talking for a while he cast out the pain, the
voices, and the turmoil in her head and in her heart. It was here that Jesus healed Mary Magdalene
and it was in gratitude for what he did that Mary followed and supported Jesus
and his disciples as they traveled throughout his ministry. Three years later, Mary along with the
disciple John, were the only two who had the nerve to stand by the cross and
watch Jesus be crucified. It was also
this Mary Magdalene who was the first witness to the Resurrection in the garden
that Easter morning.
Throughout the Bible, Jesus cast out demons as though they were a common, everyday occurrence. But if we look at the symptoms of these demonized people had from a 21st century standpoint, it looks as though their problems could very well have been due to a physical or psychiatric disorder.
If you have ever been to downtown South Bend or downtown Indianapolis you will find all sorts of people who are homeless and mentally ill. They stick out like a sore thumb. You might find someone sitting in front of a storefront looking up at the sky and yelling or you might see someone sitting there bobbing their head up and down whispering to themselves.
Back in the first century people would have believed that these people were possessed by demons. But today, because of how much we have learned, we recognize that these strange actions are signs of mental illness or the result of some type of physical trauma or maybe even due to a chemical imbalance.
In the first century, people believed that what we now call epilepsy was caused by a demon. No one understood anything about viruses or bacteria or that the hypothalamus (part of the brain) serves as a contributing factor to epilepsy. No one had even heard of schizophrenia or the other conditions we know about now that are used to diagnose mental illness. So how did people explain all these strange actions and conditions? By saying that they were caused by demons.
So we have to wonder. Was Jesus really casting out demons or was he curing epilepsy? Was he healing mental illness or was he commanding evil spirits to leave the body? Maybe he did both. But to Jesus I don’t think it made a whole lot of difference because his mission was to bring healing and deliverance to all people simply by demonstrating the power of God.
We all hear different voices calling our name. We hear the voice of the Sprit calling us to do what is right…and we hear the voice of darkness trying to defeat us, trying to destroy us, or simply trying to lure us toward the darkness. And it’s our job to decide which voice to follow.
If we follow the voices on the dark side, the voices of revenge, hatred, jealousy, rage, racism and addiction we are only going to find ourselves in a lot of trouble and in a lot of pain. Jesus on the other hand calls for us to listen to his voice, a voice that offers us life, a voice offers us peace and joy and happiness, a voice that has the God given authority and power to make all the demons in the world disappear.
Let’s put the demons aside and talk about miracles. There were hundreds and hundreds of people healed by Jesus while he was in Capernaum. When Jesus taught inside a home like he’s doing today there were always hundreds of people gathered around to see him or hear his voice. That’s because life in Palestine was very public. In the morning when you woke up, you opened up your front door to your family and to your friends; an open door was a sign of friendliness; an open door meant an open invitation for anyone to come in. So when word spread that Jesus was in a house down the streets (scholars say Peter’s house) crowds began to gather and since the front door was open it wasn’t long before the house was filled to capacity with people standing outside looking in the windows and the streets were jammed with people trying to get a glimpse of him.
Several of the local men knew about Jesus and they believed that he was who he said he was and that he could heal people. They had a friend who for some unknown reason was paralyzed and unable to walk. They placed their friend on a stretcher, picked him up and carried him to the home that Jesus was teaching at. When they got there, like everyone else they found it impossible to even get near Jesus. So they improvised. They carried their friend up to the roof and began digging their way through the thatch and mud and using ropes, they eventually lowered the stretcher down so that the man was lying in front of Jesus.
At that point Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us that the same thing happened: “Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the man, ‘Your sins are forgiven. Get up. Take your mat and walk’” (Mark 2:5-11, my words). It’s interesting to note in all of this that it wasn’t the man’s faith that got Jesus’ attention. In fact, if you’ll notice the man never said a word. We don’t know if he had any faith or not. But his friends, the ones who carried him, and hoisted him, and opened the roof and lowered him down – they were the ones who had all the faith – and it was because of their faith that Jesus healed their friend.
In hearing this story there are a number of things we can get out of it. First of all, we all need stretcher bearers in our life. Who are the people in your life who would be willing to pick you up, tear off the roof, and lower you down to see Jesus in your time of need? These are the kinds of friends we want. These are the kind of friends we need. Friends whose faith is strong even when ours is weak. People who are friends not just in word but in deed. These are friendships that don’t just happen; you have to work at them; you have to develop them and invest in them. These are the kind of friendships that develop through regular church attendance and through Sunday school and through other church activities. Who are the people in your life that would be willing to pick you up and carry you to Jesus in your time of need? But on the other hand, whose stretcher bearer are you? Are you caring enough and compassionate enough and loving enough to pick up one of your friends and carry them to see Jesus in their time of need?
Second, it’s important to understand the deep seeded compassion Jesus has for the sick. In every one of the healing stories in the Bible I want you to see that Jesus always made a point of noticing and then stopping to heal the people who were sick. He was constantly involved with people who were sick, blind, lame, deaf, dumb and possessed…and he even went so far as to raise three people from the dead. Jesus had the power to heal and he had the compassion to use that power. That’s why it is so important for you to know and to understand that when you are sick, Jesus knows about it. He is always concerned because he is full of compassion. That’s the kind of God we worship and serve.
Finally, if we take a good look at the story, it appears that the paralyzed man’s problem was spiritual and psychological and not physical which means then that the problem didn’t originate in his spinal cord, it originated in his heart. All Jesus had to say was “Your sins are forgiven Take up your mat and walk.” It could be that the man was paralyzed with guilt over something he had done or said in the past. After all, deep seeded, irrational guilt and even self-hatred can literally paralyze us emotionally. But once again because Jesus has the authority to dispense God’s forgiveness and once again because Jesus is full of unconditional grace he can say “I know what’s going on in your life. I know what it is that has paralyzed you and bound you up, and I have the authority to say this to you, ‘You are forgiven. Now get up and walk.’”
In the house at Capernaum, Jesus healed the man’s heart, which led to his full recovery…and he still heals hearts today. He still forgives sins. He still heals our bodies; he still heals our minds; he still casts out demons, and like the man on the stretcher, he still unbinds the chains that are holding us down and he still sets people free. Forgiveness can change lives. It can go down to the deeply hidden roots of our transgressions and it can heal old, long-buried sins that continue to paralyze us. Don’t just be another face in the crowd. Don’t stay on the outside looking in. Be willing to dig through God’s roof…place yourself in his presence and let his grace set you free.
Once you are willing to give yourself to God through Jesus Christ and have your sins forgiven, you’ll find yourself on your feet again and you’ll be able to go out into the world to show others what the love of God can do.