Step into the study, pour yourself a cup of coffee, get comfortable and let’s enjoy the Gospel of Mark.
Our passage today is Mark 1:29-45 29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. (NIV)
The healing stories in the Gospels are some of the most preached-on and taught-through passages in the Bible. I have known many ministers who preached more sermons from the healing miracles than any other part of scripture. They are the most familiar part of the New Testament for many Christians. It is ironic then, that they are among the most misinterpreted, misunderstood and misapplied texts in all of the Bible. Rarely, if ever, are the texts interpreted correctly. The result has been unfortunate. Let’s try to remedy that today!
Poor interpretation of these stories is part of the problem. They are not allegorical, but historical. Many preachers allegorize many different aspects in order to make the point of their choice. I am amused at how many preachers who will preach these texts discourage any kind of serious healing ministry in their church. These healing miracles show that Jesus brings something to the whole person. The Kingdom of God is good news for all aspects of our life. Many of the stories show the love of God for the most basic and personal details of our lives. Think of the woman healed of the issue of blood in Mark 5:26. That God knows and cares about such a private aspect of a woman’s experience is a powerful testimony to the holistic “shalom” that comes in Jesus: He speaks peace to all that is life. For this reason alone, let us interpret these stories properly.
First, the healing miracles in Mark exist as part of the message that the Kingdom of God has arrived in Jesus. The Kingdom of heaven is reversing the effects of the fall and the power exerted by the Kingdom of darkness. Disease and physical deterioration are part of the curse in Genesis 3. Complete freedom from these things is part of the realized Kingdom of God in Revelation 21-22. The miracles of Jesus demonstrate the power of the Kingdom of God present in himself to reverse the curse and destroy the works of the devil. (I would remind the reader of the comments on disease and spiritual oppression in previous studies. In the pre-scientific understanding of disease, demonic forces were credited with more than we would credit them today. However, the basic truth that disease is a work of the evil one and a fruit of the fall is still intact today.) Those who witnessed the miracles of Jesus were being convinced that the Kingdom of heaven was real and present.
This is important we contrast Jesus’ healings with the “healers” frequent in religious circles today. The healing miracles of Jesus were a natural outgrowth of the presence of the Kingdom. They were not a “show” or an entertainment. Perhaps one of the most annoying critiques of Jesus around today is the notion that he was simply the first “faith healer” or “magician” of the Christian era. Evaluating Jesus healings by comparing them to those who claim to perform healings today is a major mistake. We should always let Jesus’ miracles speak for themselves. Note Matthew 11:1-5 and how Jesus cites his miracles as evidence to John the Baptist that he is indeed who John said he was- the one who brings the Kingdom of God into the present. (The serious student should pursue a study of how the miracles in the Gospel of John are used as “signs,” i.e. events which give insight into spiritual reality and the truth/presence of the Kingdom. This is a major area of Gospel study that will be very helpful in understanding miracles in the Gospels.)
Secondly, the miracles attest to the unique identity of Jesus himself. Those anointed of God’s Spirit were involved in healing in the Old Testament, but this was a rarity. Jesus is anointed by God’s Spirit in a unique way. Healings are not exceptional events, but seemingly daily events in his ministry. Mark and the other Gospel writers select certain healings not because they were all the healings that occurred but in order to use those healing to show more of Jesus identity, power and message. The healings build a clear case that Jesus is the Messiah, anointed with the Holy Spirit and constantly moving in Kingdom power. As with the exorcisms, Jesus was not the only person in his culture with a claim to heal, but the Gospel writers, and especially Mark (1:32-33) want us to see that Jesus healing and delivering power was unusually abundant. The reader of the Gospels comes away with the impression that Jesus was almost humanly overwhelmed with those who came to experience healing. (1:35ff)
It would be appropriate at this point to point out that Jesus healings usually (with very few exceptions) contained certain characteristics that are quite important when listening to the claims of modern “faith healers.” First, Jesus’ healings were immediate. 1:42 is typical. The healing happened on the spot. Even the exception (the blind man in chapter 8) happens immediately in comparison to much of what we hear today. Secondly, Jesus’ healings were total. The result was complete restoration, not improvement or more tolerance to the situation. Blind persons saw perfectly. Lepers were cleansed totally. Absent tissue was replaced; visible symptoms vanished. Thirdly, Jesus’ healings were visible. The results could be seen and verified on the spot. Even Jesus enemies had to acknowledge that the healings happened! (They disagreed on the source, not the event itself.) I mention these three areas because most what is put forward as healing today fails these scriptural tests. Those whom Jesus commissioned to go out and continue Jesus ministry also experienced healings along these same 3 criteria, though not in the same measure or frequency as Jesus. We should not blush from pointing this out, for the unbelieving world certainly sees it! Those who claim to be imitating Jesus but show no immediate, total and visible healings are misled or deceivers themselves.
Scripture warns us, in fact, that many will claim to have performed healings like Jesus, yet not belong to him. Note Mark 13:22 and especially Matthew 7:22-23. Other passages tell us that the coming of the evil one is accompanied by false miracles (II Thess 2:9). The failure of Christians to consider this matter has left the sheep open to the appetite of wolves and false prophets. Healing is an area where human hopes and hurts often go far beyond our desire to remain rational and scriptural. Beware of those who claim to do what Jesus did when they fail in every way! All the lights, music, singing, shouting, praying, in the world will not conjure up a miracle! God is able to do the miraculous immediately, visible and totally.
Having said all that, let me make a brief case for the place of healing ministry in the church- an important and neglected ministry. Two passages make it clear that this is to be part of the Church’s ministry. I Cor 12:28 lists “those with gifts of healing” as part of the body of Christ. This is a plural all the way, indicating many people and various kinds of giftedness (and even various kinds of healing.) This does not describe a “healer” who arrives like a circus, but an ongoing ministry in the body of the Church. Also, James 5:13ff indicates that people should pray for themselves, the church should pray for the sick and the elders should pray for the sick. In answer to the prayer of faith, God sometimes will raise up the sick person. At the same time, II Cor 12:7-10 makes it very clear that sometimes God’s answer to the prayer of faith is not healing, but grace to persevere. This passage is crucial- in my opinion- in building a theology of illness, for it faces reality, encourages prayer, sees an answer that may not be physical healing and speaks of larger purposes of God in allowing sickness. Those who say that God will give perfect health to all who pray in faith must have a real problem with this passage- and with the fact the all God’s children die, many by way of some illness. If we followed the “faith healing” theology of some, we would have to conclude that most Christians die without much real faith!
We should be involved in healing prayer and prayer for the miraculous. We should also realize that we are not Jesus and the apostles and that for whatever reasons He chooses, God does not heal everyone we pray for in the way Jesus healed people. The reason for this is clear to me- the miracles of the New Testament are not normative for the Christian life or the life of the church. They have a greater function in establishing the Kingdom of God and identifying the King. We are to pray and preach and deliver in Jesus name, with persistence, power and compassion. But we are also to leave all the results in God’s sovereign hand. Remember, the same Bible that contains the Gospels also contains Job.
I want to touch on three other things found in this section. First, the priority of the preaching of the Gospel is clearly taught in 1:38. It is almost humorous to see Jesus saying we need to move on to get away from those who want healing. But the reason is that the Gospel might be preached “for that is why I have come.” The signs and wonders theology that is so influential today has many things right, but I am afraid a basic error exists in seeing that Jesus himself embraced the primacy of preaching the Gospel over doing the miraculous. The proclamation of the Kingdom does not happen when we sing for an hour and have altar time for another hour! The appetite of some churches for anything except preaching is a very bad sign of the absence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus preached, prayed, healed and delivered. As we shall see next time,however, he was very clear about what was primary in his earthly ministry. Those who seek to replace preaching power ministry, drama or music are departing from the expressed will of the Master
Secondly, the compassion of Jesus is prominent in his ministry. (1:41) Jesus healings are certainly expression of his compassion, but compassion is the heart of God in the world. It is the ability to feel the pain of others with the deeper part of the soul. Compassion is the reaction of the Gospel to a sinful and fallen world. Mark uses the word three times, but his portrait of Jesus as a man who felt the hurt and pain of people is part of what Mark says in 10:21- Jesus loves us!
Now I have two concerns. One is that we read of the compassion of Christ and believe that compassion is the sum total of the Gospel. It is not. The truth of the Gospel includes God’s love and compassion, but those qualities of God cannot really be understood unless we know He is a righteous God, who is too pure to look upon evil and will judge the world in righteousness and wrath. You cannot isolate love and compassion from the overall character of Jesus or the entire message of the Bible. The liberal reduction of Christianity to “Love” and “whatever” is a sham.
Thirdly, Mark’s Secret is very much at work in this section. See 1:32 and 1:44. When we cross this unusual feature of Mark, I will note it but I can never claim to solve it. As I have stated elsewhere, I believe Jesus felt that a partial understanding of his identity was potentially worse that a complete misunderstanding. 1:32 seems the most helpful on that score. It wouldn’t have been wrong for demons to proclaim Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, it is simply that, before the cross, such an identification misses the most important aspect of his identity, i.e. his sacrifice for sinners. I do feel that Mark’s secret is a problem for those liberal scholars who want to reinterpret Jesus. I’m not surprised they want to assign it to Mark and not Jesus himself, for it clearly indicates that the cross was the focus of Jesus ministry from the very beginning.
As we finish chapter one, thanks to all who are studying with me and I solicit your feedback. At this rate, I’ll be done in about 4 years!
1. What are the different meanings of the word “healing” as Christians speak of it?
2. What do the healing stories mean to you personally? Is there one you especially relate to?
3. What does in mean to live between Genesis 3 and Revelation 22?
4. Michael’s opinions on modern “healers” is pretty obvious. What do you think?
5. How does a skeptical non-Christian react to the promise of healing delivered by faith healers? Why are so few ever discredited?
6. How does a David Copperfield (the magician) influence how some people view Jesus?
7. What are the three characteristics of Jesus’ healings? Explain why Michael sees these as significant?
8. Describe how a typical church could integrate healing into its ministry?
9. How might we apply Paul’s statement that there are “gifts of healings?”
10. Have you experienced healing in any way as a result of prayer? How has God used your prayer for others’ healing?
11. What does Michael feel is the importance of Paul’s “Thorn” in II Cor 12?
12. What might Michael mean that our Bible has both healing stories and Job?
13. What has contributed to the deterioration of preaching in many churches? Why do pastors often encourage the replacement of preaching with other things?
14. What does compassion mean to you? How has compassion changed your life? Towards whom to you need more?
15. Michael is concerned that “God is Love” can become a distortion? Is he off his rocker?
16. Why do we get so upset at lost people? Michael loves I Cor 6:11a- “Such were some of you. Why do we so easily forget?
17. How can a partial truth about Jesus be worse than an untruth?
Recommended Resource: Do you own The Amplified Bible? Well, go out and get one! You may not know Greek but you can really sound like you know something if you use this great little translation!