Fifth Sunday After The Epiphany – Pr Smith

Msg for Epiphany 5, 2024 – Mark 1:29-39

OSL, Raleigh

Grace and peace…

The Gospel reading today is the continuation of last week’s story of Jesus’ first day of active public ministry. What started out on the Sabbath in Capernaum’s synagogue with Jesus teaching with authority and casting out a demon continued throughout the afternoon at Peter’s house. He healed Peter’s mother-in-law and all the rest of the folks that came to Peter’s door. After sunset especially, when the Sabbath was over it must have looked like a scene from a disaster movie with all kinds of people being brought to Peter’s house so Jesus could heal them. There was a need among the people in Capernaum, among the people of the cities, towns, and villages of Galilee for medical care.

I don’t think I have to argue with you that the world is not perfect, even for those who trust in Jesus, that our bodies break down and don’t function as they ought, as they were designed to do. Of course, bodies break because of accident or injury. But there’s also disease and aging driven by cellular mutations we know now about but it was all still happening in the first century. That no matter how much self-control and discipline like St Paul we exhibit, eventually the flesh gives out. This is why the healing ministry of Jesus is a mark of the Messiah and a mark of preaching the Good News of the coming of the kingdom of God. God is back in charge: the days of the forces of Disease and Pestilence and Death are numbered. Jesus has them on the retreat. It’s clear in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus’ ministry of preaching the Good News of the return of the active ruling of God on earth, that preaching went hand-in-hand with healing and casting out demons. So, as outrageous as this claim may sound to some modern ears, let’s go ahead and make it. Jesus miraculously healed many, very many people.

And let’s go ahead and state clearly that Jesus cast out demons. The worldview of a first century Jews was that just as God created human beings to have dominion in the natural world in His name, He created spiritual beings to have dominion in the spiritual realm in His name. We know them as angels, although I think the OT is more specific. And just as Adam and Eve rebelled against God, so did some of those spiritual beings. We call them demons, although, again, I think the Bible is more specific but we’ll use demon as a catch-all term for rebellious angels, a.k.a. spiritual beings allied against the active rule of God in the spiritual and natural realms. This might be hard for you. I understand. I want to assure you that I’m not trying to talk about spiritual boogeymen but rather about a profound reality even if it is beyond the natural, physical world that the writers of the Bible simply took as true. It was how they saw their world.

In Jesus’ day, injury and disease plagued people, especially so, because they did not have access to the health care we do today. Mark tells us that Jesus, Peter, Andrew, James, and John all went to Peter and Andrew’s house after going to synagogue. It was Sabbath and even if there had been a nice Italian place nearby, it wasn’t open on Sabbath. So, if you think about it, it’s kind of an odd scene when the group shows up at the house. Peter’s mother-in-law was down hard with a fever. The text says, “and immediately Peter and his companions told Jesus about her.” Like Peter and Andrew had invited Jesus over to the house after church and forgot that Peter’s mother-in-law had been ill, and they just remembered after getting back. She’s really quite sick. Luke the physician in his Gospel uses the scientific term of his day, great fever. Pastor Martin suggested in our study Tuesday that maybe it was such a great fever that Peter didn’t really expect her to make it. But Jesus doesn’t miss a beat, right? He came to her, took her by the hand and raised her up. By the way, it’s the same verb, egeiro, to rise from sleep and to raise from the dead. And then we’re told the fever left her alone. Aphiemi, is a word for leave, or abandon, even forgive or rebuke. This is a strong verb and a pretty athletic way to describe Jesus healing her fever. Jesus didn’t give her two Tylenol and wait for morning. He took her by the hand, raised her up and the fever said, “I am outa here,” and left. And we get a sense of this when she doesn’t need a minute to get her wits about her after being down hard with a fever. Her healing is so instantaneous, she starts serving the fellas like a good Jewish mother, “Can I get you boys something to eat? Oy, you’re skin and bones. How about some hummus and olives?”

Again, it’s no surprise to us that illness kills people today or in the past. But maybe what does surprise us is Jesus’ complete authority over it. And this healing goes hand in hand with casting out demons in the Gospels. For us, it’s harder to see the comparison between Jesus’ day and ours in this area. We are not as quick to explain illness, either physical or mental, as demonic affliction, much less possession, unless like the Linda Blair character the bed is levitating, and the pea soup is spewing forth. There’s some confusion about this today. We have some accounts in the Bible where the symptoms sure look to us like the person is suffering from epilepsy, uncontrollable seizures and even foaming of the mouth. But I think the best way is to take the Scripture at face value here. It might look like epilepsy to us but in that instance, it wasn’t epilepsy, it was demonic possession.

But the second challenge for many modern readers, even astute readers of the Bible is this question: “Where in the OT do we get the idea that the Messiah should be casting out demons? The healing part is pretty clear, Isaiah 35, right?

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

6  then shall the lame man leap like a deer,

and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

Where is the equivalent passage for casting out demons? We don’t see Moses or Joshua or David casting out demons anywhere do we? And the answer is we really don’t. So, the follow-up question is: “So when Jesus shows up casting out demons, why is it people say, “Hey, looks like the Messiah showed up.”?

There’s a couple of reasons. The first has to do with Psalm 91. I hope that’s a familiar psalm for you. If not, that’s your homework for today.

It starts out:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

And continues:

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler

and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his pinions,

and under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. [Sounds like Ephesians 6 and the armor of God.]

You will not fear the terror of the night,

nor the arrow that flies by day,

nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,

nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

If you know it, you know this is the psalm the Devil quotes to Jesus during His temptation in the wilderness.

11  For he will command his angels concerning you

to guard you in all your ways.

12  On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.


What you probably don’t know is that the Greek translation of the OT notes that Psalm 91 is a Psalm of David. The Dead Sea Scrolls list this psalm as a psalm of exorcism with three other psalms of David that are used for exorcising demons.1 I should note, the three are other psalms that aren’t in the Bible at all but all four were in the same jar in cave 11 at Qumran. And Josephus tells us that Solomon, David’s son: “God also enabled him, Solomon, to learn that skill which expels demons which is a science useful and sanative to men. He composed such incantations also by which distempers are alleviated. And he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms by which they drive away demons so that they may never return.”2

So, if you’re a first century Jew, and you know Psalm 91 and you know it’s used for exorcising and you know the David and his son Solomon could exorcise demons, when Jesus shows up and starts casting out demons, and starts giving His disciples power over demons, the theological messaging is quite clear: This guy must be the Messiah because only the son of David, only one in the line of David would have been authorized, would have been empowered to do this. Go back and look at what the demons call Jesus: “Son of God,” “Son of David,” “Son of the Most High.” These miraculous signs, healing and casting out demons accompany and bear witness to the preaching of the return of the active rule of God on earth.

And I think, in some ways, there is almost an extension of the temptation of Jesus into our reading this morning. It’s why I brought up Psalm 91. There are some links in our reading back to the temptation narrative. Verse 35, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” Where did Jesus go out? To a desolate place; it’s the same word as wilderness where Jesus was tempted by the devil.

There are only three places in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus prays: here, in chapter 6 after the feeding of the five thousand, and in the Garden of Gethsemane (14:35–39). Bible scholar Ben Witherington’s suggests that Jesus prays here to seek “guidance from the Father about what he should do in view of the responses he is getting to his ministry.” The crowds are thronging to Jesus—but is it for the right reason? Remember the Devil’s temptation? He showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Peter hunts Jesus down in the desolate place and tells him “everyone is looking for you.” Jesus has rock star status now in Capernaum. He could set up shop. Is Jesus praying to the Father because He is tempted here?

But Jesus does not turn Capernaum into a pilgrimage site for others. Instead, He says: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. Healing and casting out demons are signs that the active of rule of God is being restored. They confirm and bear witness to the truth of Jesus’ message.

In the early days after the D-Day landings, in parts of France where the Allied troops had not yet arrived, the word arrived over illegal radios. The Allies had landed on the 6th of June but Nazi banners were still fluttering in the summer breeze all along the Champs-Elysees in Paris. It was hard to believe what was happening was really happening. A month after the landing, you still couldn’t hear the distant booms of artillery yet. But the Allies had landed. They were advancing on Paris. The forces of the Reich were being rolled back. The Battle of Paris didn’t begin until August 19th. But it didn’t last a full week. On the 25th, the German garrison surrendered. The citizens of Paris were liberated.

The Son of God came in human flesh to rescue humanity, to rescue you, from slavery to sin, death, and the power of the devil. I know what I’m saying to you sounds like a crackly radio signal from the hinterlands. But it is the truth. Your God has not abandoned you to your spiritual enemies. They have no claim over you anymore. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” More than that, He takes you by the hand today to lift you up. He says to you, “I forgive you all your sins.” Jesus’ healing ministry was witness of His authority to forgive sins.

Your sins are forgiven. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

1 11Q11.

2 Josephus, Antiquities, 8.2.5.

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