Jesus and Social Distancing (Sermon)
There is something wrong with the world. Even before this Pandemic we knew this, maybe not as acutely as we can feel it right now, but we knew something has gone wrong. We live in a world filled with sickness, cancer, pain, disasters, trafficked children, tsunamis and earthquakes, Covid, and we live in a world filled with cemeteries. We do not have to look around to see the world is broken. We can see it in us, as our lives are marked by anger, greed, pride, selfishness, lust, and self-obsession. From the Garden on when our parents sinned and brought a curse upon our world, we have felt this brokenness both personally and cosmically. Something is wrong with our world, and we have this deep sense of how the world ought to be when it is not dominated from the curse that has come upon it from Eden on.
We write songs about this. John Mayer sings, “We keep waiting, waiting on the world to change.” C.S. Lewis in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe writes of it as he describes the power and curse the White Witch has over Narnia, “We live in a world where it is always winter but never Christmas.” This our world, a Genesis 3 world under the curse of sin where we see sickness and disease and death. There are all kinds of means we think might solve this problem. Some think education, government, or science will solve our problems, yet world history shows us they do not. In this text we get just a glimpse of One who does: One who seems to at least momentarily have power to turn back aspects of this curse and possess power over the brokenness of our world! Jesus has power over the curse to make the sick well, the unclean clean, and ultimately the spiritually dead alive.
Jesus has begun His public ministry, one of teaching with authority and showing His power over the Curse. Now Jesus, along with his closest mates, the disciples He has just called to Himself, Peter, Andrew, James and John go to Peter’s house where Peter’s mother-in-law is sick. The text breaks down in to three scenes describing Jesus’ power over the curse but also His purpose for coming.
Jesus Delivers from Diseases and Demons (29-34)
(Mark 1:29–34 ESV) And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
This is not a fairy tale. Jesus really went to his friend’s house (I have actually seen this home in Capernaum) and most scholars believe Jesus went there after the services of the Synagogue for a big meal, which proves Jesus was a Baptist. When He arrives He is made aware that Peter’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever. Now a side note this morning by way of encouragement to singles who desire to get married. This means Peter was married. I got married later in life and this text was an encouragement to me. I mean if the guy that Jesus once called “Satan” could find a wife the odds trend up for the rest of us.
In verse 31, we see Jesus acts, showing His care for even common needs like a fever (which may not seem so common right now). He doesn’t use incantations. He doesn’t use nonsense like expensive prayer cloths. No, He simply takes her by the hand and raises her up and the fever leaves. Notice the totality of the healing—even the effects of the fever like fatigue are gone. She immediately begins to serve them. What an appropriate picture of the Christian life. We who have been served in an even greater way by Christ in His forgiveness and salvation should immediately turn and begin to serve Him. What a guy this Jesus is. He even shows concern for Mother-in-laws!
Jesus is not just concerned with the physical but the also the spiritual. He acts casting out these demons who work on behalf of the one who helped usher in the Curse. We see just how powerful and different Jesus is. There is never a record in the Old Testament of a Prophet or Priest casting out a demon, yet so quickly in His earthly ministry Jesus is doing it constantly. He is giving His disciples just a glimpse of what He will say later on, “I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it!”
Also notice just how comprehensive His power over the enemy is. He won’t even permit them to speak. Parents know how difficult it is stopping someone from speaking. My twin brother told me about the time his 3 year old son was going around Dollar General shouting out a part of the human anatomy little boys are fascinated with. Unlike little boys with their parents, the demons listened to Jesus. That is power! In this text we see the Kingdom is dawning in the person of Jesus who is rolling back the curse, who is demonstrating His power over enemies to free spiritual captives.
Jesus Devotes Himself to Prayer and Preaching (35-39)
(Mark 1:35–39 ESV) And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Jesus now gets up early the next morning to be alone with His Father. In order to find time to commune with God in our busy lives, some times we are going to have to get up early or stay up late and at times not let another Netflix show roll. Jesus, like the early church in Acts 2, is devoted to prayer. Before we move to apply this to our own lives, I want us to take just a moment to admire and appreciate the Savior. Then as we behold Him, let’s pray that we will be made like Him in every way. Strikingly the text will show us that prayer takes precedence over the crowds. As I think about American Christianity, it makes me wonder, “What does Jesus know that we don’t?” It is more important for Him to pray than it is to be with the crowds, the very crowds that need to hear His message and be delivered by it.
Now along comes Peter who says, “Everyone is looking for you.” To this Jesus simply says, “Let’s move on.” He does this so that He might focus on preaching. One commentator points out, “When simply sought as a miracle-worker Jesus deliberately departed to teach elsewhere!” Jesus would not let His popularity deter His main ministry of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, one of repentance and faith, which provided an even greater cure than the healing of diseases or demons.
Sandwiched between these incredible miracles are the essential elements of prayer and proclamation. This should also be instructive for you who may be listening who don’t follow Jesus. What you ultimately need from Him is not His temporary healing from disease or His miracles, but you need the lasting forgiveness and salvation which He freely gives and which lasts forever.
Jesus Demonstrates Compassion to the Unclean (40-45)
(Mark 1:40–42 ESV) And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
To truly understand and be affected by this scene you have to become familiar with the seriousness of this disease. This was THE disease Jewish people feared most because it was a horrible skin disease that would overtake the body with painful boils and lesions that was described as a death by inches. It was not simply an illness. This was a death sentence since you would be labeled ceremonially unclean. Meaning the person would have to stay quarantined outside of the city, and in the presence of others they would have to cry out about themselves “UNCLEAN” so as not to infect them. They don’t have to wear masks and gloves. No, when they see other people they have to cry out about themselves “UNCLEAN!” They would also be cut off from the spiritual community as they could not go into the synagogues or the Temple. They were now beggars dependent upon others for charity and food. No wonder the Jewish historian Josephus said they were “in no way differing from a corpse!”
Imagine having to be quarantined for Covid along with the stigma that comes with something like AIDS. That is this man’s predicament, not just for weeks but this is his life with all of the stigma and shame and pain it carries. Yet as we read in the text, this desperate man does the unthinkable as he comes up to Jesus and instead of crying out “unclean” he cries out for mercy. He must have heard of Jesus because he knows Jesus has the ability to clean him if only He is willing. Notice the leper’s posture as he humbly kneels before Jesus. This man has been without hope in the world until he crosses paths with Jesus.
Jesus is moved with compassion or pity. This scene reminds me of later in Mark’s gospel as Jesus encounters the rich young ruler, who I so often think of as an antagonist to Jesus, and yet it says of Jesus, “Looking at him, He loved him.” Brothers and Sisters, aren’t you thankful we have a sympathetic and willing High Priest whose compassion moves Him to do the unthinkable? Jesus in His mercy reaches out and touches the Leper, and this is unthinkable because every other time someone touched a leper they became unclean. More than that we know that Jesus doesn’t need to touch someone in order to heal them. But Jesus stands there in His mercy and compassion and reaches out for this leper. You see friends, Jesus isn’t like anyone else. When Jesus touches the unclean He doesn’t become unclean, but He makes the unclean clean. This touch must have ministered not only to his physical despair about also his emotional despair, as he likely had not felt the touch of another human being in years.
Has there ever been a time when you desperately needed the embrace of another? I remember a time when I had fallen in to some serious sin and was needing to confess that sin to some people I loved and cared about. I remember all the shame I felt, and I remember running in to my high school basketball coach right before I was going to see this group of people. He was never really an affectionate man, but I just remember that when I saw him I broke down and sort of fell towards him and he caught me and embraced me. That’s what I needed in that moment. I think in an even greater way that is what this man is feeling here as Jesus stretches out his hand and touches him.
As we have had to social distance and as we miss the physical presence of others. This leper dealt with this his whole life. No human contact, isolated not just from the world but from his family and friends all the while a disease ravages his body, until he meets Jesus. Only twice in the Old Testament are lepers healed, and neither one of them is touched. In fact the rabbis would say it was as difficult to heal a leper as it was to raise the dead. Jesus makes an emphatic statement about who He is.
(Mark 1:43–45 ESV) And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.
Jesus gives the leper two directives: Don’t tell anyone, and go fulfill the Law by presenting yourself to the priest for cleansing. I believe the second directive is given so the man will be officially restored to the community by being recognized as clean. That’s why the text says, “as a proof to them.” Also, Jews believed only God could cure leprosy, and so this would be an undeniable messianic act confirming Jesus indeed is the Christ. The first directive of not speaking about this was given because Jesus does not want to be known merely as a miracle worker. Jesus knows it is more important for people to hear the message of repentance for salvation, yet because of His miracles no one is seeking that gift.
People’s greatest need is being overshadowed by their earthly, temporary needs. Does this sound familiar? How often are your temporal realties more important to us than our eternal, spiritual ones? Jesus wants to avoid a mistaken view of the Messiah. Israel was looking for a powerful King who would solve their temporary, earthly problems being occupied and oppressed by Rome. Yet they were unconcerned with their deeper eternal, spiritual ones of sin, separation from God, and death. Jesus wants them to know He has not come merely to be a miracle-worker or to overthrow Rome, but He has come to offer His life as a ransom for many.
Brothers and sisters there is something is wrong with our world. We see this around us with disease and disaster, and we see this within us with our sin whether we want to acknowledge it or try to paper over it. This has been the case since our parents Adam and Eve gave in to the voice of the Serpent and sinned in the garden, disobeying God and disregarding His voice. This led to three broken relationships: our relationship with God, our relationship with one another, and our relationship with creation itself. But there is an ancient promise given in that Garden that God would send someone from the offspring of Eve who would crush the Serpent’s head and reverse everything that went wrong in that Garden. The rest of the Old Testament is left wondering who will it be as generation after generation suffers the effects of the curse and there is no one to turn back the brokenness. Until we come to this man named Jesus of Nazareth.
How does He ultimately reverse the curse? Well this scene with the leper ends strangely. Jesus and the leper have traded places. The leper is now inside the camp with friends and family freely going about, and Jesus is outside the camp in desolate places. This gives us a glimpse of how Jesus fixes the brokenness of the world and how He fixes our brokenness. Oh brothers and sisters, this is just a taste of the even greater exchange of places to come when Jesus will solve our biggest problem, He will cleanse us of our sin problem.
He who never sinned will take the sinners place upon the cross, bearing in His own body the judgment our sin deserves in what the theologians call the “Great Exchange.” He in His great mercy and compassion takes our shame, and our punishment, and the judgement due our sin as He goes outside the camp and bears our reproach hour after hour as the judgment of God due our sin touches down upon Him at Golgotha. His kindness and compassion move Him to do the unthinkable to heal us. He trades places with us. At the Cross, He becomes accursed, He becomes unclean, so we can become clean. He becomes sin, so that we might become righteous. He takes death, so we might get life. He takes away the curse by becoming the curse for us as He takes those thorns and thistles that came out of the ground to signify the brokenness of creation, He takes them on His head. How do we know His sacrifice is good and that He can do for us all that He says He can? Simple, because Jesus isn’t dead anymore!
If you’re not a Christian, you must see your state before God is just like this leper. Our biggest problem is not disease. Our biggest problem is sin, which has led to the brokenness without and the brokenness within. Sin is like leprosy in that it starts small and then spreads and leads to shame and isolation and eventually to death. We are all sinners. We all have this spiritual sickness. We have lied, envied, lashed out in anger, hurt others, thought evil things, and been obsessed with ourselves. All of us are sinners who need cleansing, and the glorious news of the gospel is that Christ has made forgiveness and the cleansing of our sin disease possible at the cross, Christ has made a way to fix your brokenness.
You might be listening and think, “You do not understand I am far too broken. I am far too gone. Jesus would never receive me.” I want you to know that just as He received this broken man, He will receive you. In fact He pleads with you, “Come to me you who are heavy burdened and I will give you rest!” All you have to do is come to Him with the posture of this leper and cry out for mercy because He is willing. The Scriptures tell us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
How should Christians respond this morning to this text?
We should meditate on and Celebrate the grace we have been shown.
We were the spiritual lepers whom He has shown His great kindness to climactically at the Cross. Just consider how magnificent the incarnation is. In order to save us, He became like us with all that meant, including He could get sick and He could die. But He went even further that than that as He did not just become like us, He took our place ion the cross.
Though the Earth gives way, we should not fear.
Jesus has taken care of our biggest problem, so we can face the smaller ones like Covid. Make no mistake: Jesus can and does heal sometimes in this life, but He ultimately heals in the life to come if you are His. This leper would eventually die and what he needed most from Jesus was not temporary healing but everlasting life. Let me make this very practical this morning. Most of us will survive the Coronavirus, but we will not survive disease and death forever, and so we need something to solve that problem. Brothers and sisters, only one Man has walked through death and come out safe on the other side, and His name is Jesus. I am staking my whole future on Him. I am resting in His promise that those who are His will not ultimately taste death, that our resurrection is as sure as His. It may not be three days later. It may be 3 billion days later. but resurrection for the Christian is on its way!
We too should go outside the camp to the hurting.
We must do it wisely, but if Jesus has made it so that Corona cannot ultimately touch us, we must be sacrificial in wisely caring for the hurting.
We must serve the one who served us.
Like Jesus, we commit to prayer and proclaim the good news. It is an unprecedented time where people are open to our message, and we have been given a different commission than the leper. Our commission is to go and tell. The truth is if someone amazing does something for us we tell people about it. Oh, how much more so should we talk about the one who has delivered us from spiritual leprosy. I think a good question to ask in this season is, “Will people know by what we say and post on social media that we treasure Jesus or so many other things?”
Brothers and Sisters, in many ways we still live in a world where it is “always Winter but never Christmas.” In Lewis’ novel, as the main figures begin to see the White Witch’s curse of winter melting away, one says about Aslan the Jesus figure: “Aslan is on the move—perhaps he has already landed!” This text is telling us the rightful King has landed, and He is beginning to roll back the curse and brokenness of our world. In so many ways we are “waiting, we’re waiting on the world to change,” but not for long. Soon our King will split the Eastern Sky, and on that day He will usher us into a place that Lewis describes as one “where every chapter is better than the one before it.” He is taking us to a place of no more fear, no more tears, no more Covid, no more death. After all, He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and with His wounds, we are healed!
This sermon was preached at Fellowship Raleigh on April 5, 2020.