Sunday, February 5, 2012

Epiphany 5, Series B

Sermon on Mark 1:29-39
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
February 5, 2012 (The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Series B)

One thing that is somewhat unique about St. Mark’s Gospel is that he uses the word immediately (well, actually the Greek word that we usually translate as “immediately”) very often to connect one event to the next.  Large chunks of St. Mark took place in only a few days or even a few hours.  The first part of today’s Gospel lesson takes place later on the same Sabbath as last week’s Gospel, in which Jesus cast a demon out of a man right in the middle of the Synagogue service.  Now he heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever, and then goes on to heal others and cast out more demons.  These are great and impressive miracles, of course.  Casting out demons, and healing people simply by speaking the Word is certainly not something you see every day.  It is a testimony to just Who Jesus is, that He can do this.

But there’s more to it than just the fact that Jesus is doing miracles.  Remember why it is that people get sick in the first place, and why it is that demons can possess people at all.  The creation itself has been fundamentally corrupted by the sin of its inhabitants.  All disease, hunger, thirst, injury, disaster, and, yes, even demon-possession, are symptoms of the fact that mankind, the crown of creation, is now subject to death, and therefore creation itself is subject to futility, instability, and breakdown.  Jesus’ mother-in-law’s fever, and the possession of various people by fallen angels, are things that are only symptoms of the basic disease of sin that was brought into the world by Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden.

And so, Jesus’ ability to heal people and drive out demons is more than just merely a miraculous demonstration of the fact that He’s God.  It’s more than just a rather dramatic way of proving His claim to be the promised Messiah.  It is, in fact, part and parcel of what He came to do.  He came to put to death the old creation in His own body, and raise up for us a new creation, in which we, cleansed and purified of sin and all its effects, will live forever.  He came, not just to do away with the effects of sin temporarily for a few people back in first-century Palestine, but to do away with sin itself, forever, and restore the creation to what it was originally intended to be.

Now, St. Mark actually hints at this in his choice of words to describe what Jesus does for Peter’s mother-in-law.  He comes to her and “raises her up,” says St. Mark.  Now, that doesn’t mean that she was actually dead and that He resurrected her.  But it is interesting that Mark uses the same word as what is later used to describe Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and our own resurrection.  And then he says that the fever left her.  This one isn’t as easy to see in English, because Mark uses a Greek word that can be translated all sorts of ways, but the verb that is translated “left,” as in “the fever left her,” is actually the same word that is translated “forgive” when the object of the verb is sin.  Forgiveness and raising up go together.  Death is only in the world because of sin, and so the forgiveness of sin (and therefore of death, and therefore of disease that leads to death), results in the raising up, the resurrection, of those who are forgiven.

I mentioned last week, in connection with the fact that Jesus cast out, or exorcised, the demon in the synagogue, that Holy Baptism is actually an exorcism, a casting out of the chief demon himself, Satan, in order to make room for the Holy Spirit.  The same thing is true of Holy Absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, and the Holy Supper.  That which is corrupted, and desecrated by sin is destroyed to make way for the new creation that God will “raise up” to live before Him in righteousness and purity forever.

And I’m not just speaking of purely spiritual things, either.  Peter’s mother-in-law eventually died.  So did everyone else that Jesus healed during His earthly ministry.  But when Jesus forgives us and raises us up, He raises us up not just spiritually, but physically as well.  He makes us part of the new creation, the new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells.  Peter’s mother-in-law, we can assume, was a believer, and so even though she died, yet she lives.  Even though Peter himself was crucified upside down under Roman persecution, he lives in eternity.  You and I also, because our sin has been forgiven, are also raised up.  We will live forever, not just spiritually, but also bodily.  When Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead, we will be raised up from the dead to live forever with Him in the new creation.  Compared to this, the miracles recorded in our text are actually not all that spectacular.  They are merely dim foreshadows of the greater miracle that happens here every Sunday, where your sins are forgiven and you are raised up to eternity.  You become part of the new creation when you eat and drink the first-fruits of that new creation, namely the risen body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Instead of being granted temporary healing, we receive here a new and eternal life where neither sickness nor demons will ever come near us again.  You are forgiven.  You are raised up.  You will live forever with your Creator.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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