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A Sabbath and Its Aftermath

Category Articles
Date December 30, 2003

Gospel Reading: Mark 1: 29-39

One of the great preachers of the last century was the Welshman, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I have heard a story about him that I have not been able to locate, but it sounds true of him. Once a woman, who was leaving church, said to him. “Dr, Lloyd-Jones, listening to your sermons leaves me tired.” Dr. Lloyd-Jones replied, “Well you should be because preaching leaves me exhausted.”

Dr. Lloyd-Jones was expressing what many preachers experience. It is that preaching is hard work, not only in its preparation, but also in its delivery. I have found, not only now that I am mid-fifties, but also when I was young, that Sundays wear me out, and leave me feeling drained in both body and soul. Sundays are not days of rest for those who preach.

In Mark, chapter one, verses twenty-one through thirty-nine, Mark gives us a description of one twenty-four hour period, which began on the Sabbath, in the ministry of Jesus. It begins with Jesus’ teaching and casting out an evil spirit in the synagogue. It continued with His visit to a home where He healed a woman with a fever. It intensified after sundown when many of the townspeople of Capernaum brought their sick and demon-possessed to Jesus. Yet the next morning finds Jesus up before the sun to pray and to sharpen the focus of His ministry.

Let’s look at the part of this day that followed the synagogue service from afternoon, to evening, to the next morning.

I. Afternoon

Jesus had followed His custom of going to the synagogue every Sabbath. On this Sabbath He had been invited to teach. People were impressed that authority marked His teaching. While He was speaking a man, who was possessed by an evil spirit, interrupted the service. Jesus cast out this spirit. Once again the people were impressed with His authority. Why, even the evil spirits obeyed His spoken word. This kind of ministry was not without its physical and spiritual costs. When the service ended I expect that Jesus was looking forward to the refreshment of a meal and perhaps of a quiet afternoon with His friends.

Jesus went home after the service with the brothers, Peter and Andrew. They were accompanied by the other set of brothers, who had started following Jesus, James and John. The house was probably very close to the synagogue. An excavation has discovered a house, not a stone’s throw away from the synagogue location, that was used as a church. This place is believed to be the home to which Jesus went.

We learn something about the domestic arrangement. Peter and Andrew shared a house. Since we learn here that Peter had a mother-in-law, we know that Peter had a wife. In 1 Corinthians Paul tells us that Peter not only had a wife but that she traveled with him on his pastoral journeys. So the household consisted of at least the two brothers, one wife, and a mother-in-law. Probably there were others – perhaps a wife for Andrew and any children of the marriages. It was a crowded house, but in those days families were close, and they took care of each other in a way that seems foreign to us in these days of scattered families and nursing homes.
When Jesus arrived at the home, He was informed that Peter’s mother-in-law had a fever. Luke, who was a doctor, tells us that it was a high fever. Whether this fever was caused by a serious or passing illness we do not know. Nor probably did they. In ancient times, without scientific diagnostic tools and treatments, when a person became ill, people just had to wait and see how it would play out. Who could know whether the illness was minor or might result in death?

What we do know is that this had a disturbing impact on the home life of that family. It was not a national crisis – just one of those ordinary domestic problems that have little impact beyond the life of a particular family circle. Even relatively minor illnesses can significantly disturb the family. One Christmas, when we had four small children, the cousins arrived at the grandparents’ with chicken pox. Right after the new year we began a siege of four consecutive cases of chicken pox. And it did not end there. From January to May somebody was sick in our house every week. That winter there was not a Sunday we all went to church together. It disturbed our lives and wore us down – nothing serious, just some fevers.

But homes can be affected by worse illnesses. We have several homes now affected by cancer, and we have seen how upsetting the diagnoses and treatments of such a disease can be. It can turn lives and household upside down. Others of us suffer with other diseases that are perhaps less dreaded but can also threaten our lives and upset our family arrangements. Still others of us suffer from the debilitations of old age. We cannot take for granted what we once did. Perhaps we become dependent on others for the first time. We wonder if we are going to be able to finish out our lives at home, as we wish, or if we shall end up in an extended care facility.

Jesus came into that crowded home whose routine had been upset on that busy Sabbath, and He did something about it. We are not told that He said anything, only that He took her hand and lifted her up and she was well. Again there is nothing of magic, or casting of spells, or of incantation. There was just the simple healing in the privacy of a home by Jesus’ reaching out His hand to this feverish woman. I think it is noteworthy that He touched her. We live in a time of awkwardness about touch. Some of us grew up in homes in which there was not much touching. Then some people are super-sensitive about any kind of touch today. Others are so touchy-feely they make others uncomfortable. But touch can be very important for those who feel isolated by illness. Jesus was prepared to take this woman’s hand and to lift her up from her bed of illness. If we cannot ourselves give healing at least we can give a sense of connection by our willingness to touch those who may feel untouchable.

As soon as the woman was healed she resumed her normal place in the home. She served Jesus and the others in the home. She did not go out to tell the neighbors, or write up her testimony, or go on television. She just served. When Jesus grants us a measure of healing in our homes – whether it is healing from a sickness, or a healing from a relational problem, or a healing of an emotional pain – the best way we can show our gratitude and bear a testimony to His healing power is not by seeking stage or spotlight but by simple service.

Jesus shows us that He exercises His saving authority, not just in public but in private, not just in the synagogue but in homes, not just when there are many witnesses but when there are few, not just when there is publicity but when there is none. This, too, is why He came – to bring redemption and healing to the most ordinary parts of life, to restore order, and health, and wholeness. The kingdom of God extends to these things, too. When we trust in Him and His saving work, He comes into the ordinary parts of our lives and into our daily home life with His salvation, and He gives us hope that that the day will come when He will put all things right that now are wrong, a day when there will be not sickness, no disorder, but only healing and peace in every area of life in every corner of the universe.

II. Evening

After sundown on the same day many of the people of the city brought to Jesus those who were sick and demon possessed. This note about the time is not just Mark’s telling us what time of day this occurred. You may remember that the Jewish way of measuring a day is from sundown to sundown. So the day on which the people brought the sufferers to Jesus was actually the day after the Sabbath. Now Jesus believed in the Sabbath command and kept it. He did not overthrow the “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” command in the Ten Commandments. But there had been many rules added to that law by the scribes. These rules would have been violated in two ways had the people come while it was still the Sabbath. For one thing some of the afflicted would have had to be carried, and this would have broken the law against carrying a burden on the Sabbath. The other thing is that the act of healing would be considered unlawful work on the Sabbath. The people were mindful of these rules, and they observed them.
We will have opportunity later to learn more of Jesus’ Sabbath views and practices. But it is enough for now to note that He had already done a healing on the Sabbath, so it is clear that He considered showing mercy on the Sabbath to be a proper use of the day. He kept the day holy, but He did not find ministering to the needs of people to be inconsistent with holiness of the day. He, unlike the scribes, cared about the people and their legitimate needs. This, too, is a part of the way He reveals to us what it means for the kingdom of God to come. This, event shows us how He exercises His authority as the Messiah and Son of God and highlights another difference between Him and the religious leaders who had made God’s law an burden to God’s people.

What Jesus did in these cases was to heal those with diseases and to cast out those who had demons. He brought true Sabbath rest. The Sabbath is meant to give us rest from our work and to give us opportunity to worship. God established the Sabbath at the time of creation, before there was any sin. But after sin came into the world the Sabbath became, in a sense, even more important. Work now is filled with frustration, and we are harassed by the consequences of sin – disease, death, and ultimately the devil. The Sabbath, after sin entered the world, is a promise and foretaste of our redemption from sin and all its consequences. The religious leaders of the Jews could only burden the people with Sabbath rules, but Jesus, because He is God’s Son, could give Sabbath rest, healing the sick and delivering those oppressed by the devil.

Even now, on the New Testament Sabbath, Jesus comes to us by the power of His Word and Spirit. He offers us on this day healing and deliverance from sin – its guilt, its power, and its condemnation. And, through the Word and sacraments, He assures us that a day of full redemption is coming. On that day, no longer will the devil harass us. No more will there be pain, or sickness, or death or tears. There will be only a holy wholeness of soul and body for eternity. This is one reason it is important for us to continue to keep the Sabbath holy – so that we might have a foretaste and a sealing of the promise of perfect rest and peace to come.

Mark notes something about the way Jesus dealt with the demons that evening. Jesus forbade the demons to speak, because they knew him.” They knew His true identity – that He was the Messiah and Son of God – something that the crowds did not know and that even His disciples did not grasp. Surely this silencing shows us once again His authority over the devil and the forces of darkness. But there is more. Jesus did not want the testimony of these wicked spiritual powers, even if it were true. And, Jesus knew they were up to no good. They were not acknowledging Him for the sake of testifying to the truth but in order to create conflict for Him prematurely before He was ready to reveal His full identity.

III. Morning

It had been a busy day for Jesus, and it extended well into the evening as many people from the city brought their sick for Him to heal and their demon-possessed for Him to set free. But we do not find Jesus, as we might expect, resting the next morning. Rather He got up early the next morning, before daylight, and He went to a desolate place outside of Capernaum to pray.

Mark notes Jesus’ prayer life only three times. He prayed on this occasion. He prayed after He had fed the five thousand. And He prayed on the night before His death in the Garden of Gethsemane. Of course, He prayed on other occasions. Luke tells us more of the prayer practices of Jesus than Mark. But we wonder if there is a reason that Mark records these three particular instances of Jesus’ praying. We will see that all three instances are at turning points or crises in Jesus’ life and ministry.

We might wonder why Jesus ever prayed at all. Wasn’t He the Son of God? We pray in part because we need help – we need wisdom, guidance, strength, endurance, courage. Does the Son of God need to pray as we do? Remember that He is the Son of God, but also that He is really man and fully man. In His human nature Jesus is as dependent on God as we are. He needs God’s help as we do. Jesus prays because He needs wisdom and strength.

What it is about this incident? Jesus has concluded His first day of ministry in Capernaum, a city of ten thousand that had become His base of operations in Galilee. His fame had already spread through the city. What would happen now? What should He do? What impact would the teaching, healings, and exorcisms have? Should He stay in Capernaum and build on the successes of the day before? Perhaps in addition to the questions to be asked and the decisions to be made, there were also temptations to face. This was a crucial time. Jesus was at an early turning point in His public ministry. And so He needed to pray.

Often, when this incident in Jesus’ life is noted, we go on to ask ourselves if we pray in this way, if we can get up before dawn to pray, and, if not, why not. There is a place for us to ask such searching questions. But first we should marvel at this revelation into the human nature of our Lord and at the same time to remind ourselves that, if He needed the Father’s help, so do we, and never so much as when we are facing new challenges and opportunities in our lives.

When the disciples woke up, they discovered that Jesus was missing. They began an anxious search, and eventually they found him in the solitary place where He had gone to pray. There is a tone of rebuke in their statement, “Everyone is looking for you.” Apparently they thought this was the time for Jesus to capitalize on the previous day of ministry and the attention it had drawn. Why not go back to Capernaum and heal more of the sick, and cast out more demons, and look for more opportunities to teach? You have to admit that it made good sense. They were thinking it terms of ministry strategy, and to continue to minister in Capernaum when everyone was looking for Him seemed like the next right step to take.

But, after prayer, Jesus was focused His priority. “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also.” Jesus had come to preach the good news that the kingdom of God had come in His coming. He would not confine that good news to Capernaum, but would more on to other towns and villages in Galilee to proclaim this message. And be sure to notice what is the heart of Jesus ministry. It is not miracles but preaching. The miracles that Jesus did – whether healing illnesses, or casting out demons, or, or mastering nature – all of them are the signs of the coming of the kingdom. But the priority of Jesus’ ministry was to preach the coming of the kingdom. Jesus did not seek out the ill to heal them or the demon possessed to free them. But He did go everywhere preaching the gospel. This is why He came out – why instead of staying in Capernaum He came out of that city, but, more importantly, why He came out from God. This is why He became incarnate and lived among us.
This is always the priority of the church. We have a message given to us by Jesus – He has come to deliver us from the devil and to establish God’s saving rule. We have method for spreading that message given to us by Jesus – preaching, announcing this good news of what the coming of Jesus means. This is the way God save sinners and the way God strengthens and preserves believers in their faith until faith becomes sight. This is why God leaves the church in the world and sends the church into the world – that we may preach the Gospel.

Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, has come with salvation. Today in this service He is preaching that good news to us. If you have not believed, it is time to believe. If you have believed, it is time to renew you faith and to rejoice that the kingdom of God has come and that you live under the gracious rule of Jesus.

WILLIAM H SMITH
WESTMINSTER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA

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