ON OUR SIDE // SARA WOLBRECHT // MAY 10, 2015 // Mark 1:21-34
We are 20 verses in to the gospel of Mark, where we’ve been for four weeks now, seeing the life of Jesus as a dynamic pattern for us to follow in our lives here and now. One of the things we’ve named in the last few weeks is that we are all telling ourselves a story about who we are, there are voices we carry with us and inform our sense of worth, value, and purpose. These voices are influenced by who we understand God to be, and these voices also influence how we see God. And today – in what we just experienced together – we name that God is on our siiiiide. From that place we look at our text for today.
Jesus has just called four of his 12 disciples. And now we see what they do first. As we hear this, I invite you to engage your brain in hearing these words and picturing these scenes as they unfold. (I know I often miss what’s said when I hear something read in church).
21 [Jesus with Simon, Andrew, James, and John] went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 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.
So two scenes for us to consider. First, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and a man cries out, and Jesus drives out an impure spirit, a demon. Then later Jesus heals Simon’s MIL of a fever then heals a bunch of people that evening. So, you know, just typical everyday stuff going on, right?
In the gospel of Mark, we’ve read that Jesus shows up on the scene, really with a singular purpose: he’s about the business of the Kingdom of God – that’s the key. He shows up and says, The Kingdom of God has come near. I know “the Kingdom of God” is really churchy language. We’ve talked about it quite a bit, that it is God’s dream, God’s hope for the world. Non-churchy language for that and what Jesus is doing, is that through Jesus God is working to bring restoration to all things in the world. As in, all things. Every part of this world as we know it. Because God is on our siiiiide.
This means that Jesus is on the lookout for those places that need to be healed, restored, transformed. Jesus is looking for the gap between what is and what could be.
So that is what Jesus is doing, and with that in mind, we look at this text we just read of casting out demons and healing (stuff that is a bit hard for us to digest in 21st Century America) and we look at it asking questions about how this must then fit into this larger picture of what God is trying to do. It has to do with the restoration of all things. (And we ask the question knowing that it points us to important things both then and now).
What do we see? We begin to see more clearly what the Kingdom of God is like. Jesus as the live-action example showing us what the Kingdom of God looks like.
Let’s take a look…I’m going to name three things for us. First we see: 1. Sickness and suffering ain’t a part of the Kingdom of God. (Leave on screen) When Jesus is teaching in the synagogue he sees a man who is hurting, who is overcome by the presence of something other than God in his body and spirit. This is not what the Kingdom of God is like. And so Jesus takes action entering into the personal, immediate, intimate reality of this man’s pain, freeing him from what possesses him. Because: God is on his siiiiiide, yes?
And then when Jesus and the guys head over to Simon and Andrew’s house, gonna hang out there and have some dinner, and Simon’s MIL is in bed with a fever. What I love about this moment is that it really is an everyday kind of moment. Have you ever gathered with friends or family for a meal but then someone is absent because they’re in bed. The flu. A fever. When I was a kid I missed Christmas dinner twice because of the flu. The worst! And what does Jesus do? He is confronted with a woman who is sick– so he heals her. Then more people show up in the evening, more healing, demons being cast out. Because God is on their siiide.
This is what we learn: Jesus reaches out to heal and restore these people because 1. Sickness and suffering ain’t a part of the Kingdom of God. That’s what Jesus shows us here. Huh, God does not want people to be sick, and God does not want people to be possessed by things that are not on our siiiide.
Which leads us to number two. God is on our siiiiide. And yet the reality – that we begin to see here in what Jesus is coming up against – is that 2. There are other forces at work in the world that are not on our side. (Leave on screen)
This is what the bible refers to as the presence of evil. In the bible, Satan was understood by Jews to be the source of evil. Satan stood behind both human wickedness (that individual expression of evil) and large-scale injustice, and sometimes operated through these independent ‘demons’ – spirits that seemed to dwell in a person. Like we see in our text here today as Jesus confronts the presence of evil in this man.
Satan, that word means “the Accuser” and is often called The Enemy. I think that is the most accurate word for understanding Satan. Satan in this text is present in the man’s body and is against, an enemy to, his goodness. Clearly not on his siiiiide.
All to say we begin to see that: 2. There are other forces at work in the world that are not on our side. We see this as one of the dynamics of the unfolding Kingdom of God.
So the third thing we begin to see about the Kingdom of God is that 3. Jesus opposes and (and does not shy away from) confronts the Enemy. Again, Jesus wants to address that gap, where reality now is not what it could be. So he doesn’t shy away from those places. We see it in how Jesus helps this man and Simon’s MIL and the crowd that comes to her home to be healed. Confronts those places of evil and pain.
Also – notice the way that Jesus engages in both of these scenes. With the impure spirit: “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” He is firm, brief, and doesn’t make a big emotional deal out of it. So if you have the image of the preacher who says, “Be healed!” and the person falls on the floor and there’s yelling and hype and drama – that’s not it. With Simon’s MIL it says that Jesus simply takes her hand and helps her up and the fever is gone. We don’t even know if he says anything! So notice the natural, non-crazy way Jesus does this. Which is great to notice.
Also notice – how the people responded to Jesus driving out the demon in the synagogue. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”
There’s a key word in there: authority. When it says Jesus “taught with authority” it means he didn’t quote known teachers, scholars, or ancient manuscripts to back him up. THAT is how people usually taught. What Jesus is doing instead is not quoting others but naming himself as the expert, as the authority. This gets people’s attention.
AND Jesus proves that authority as he simply and directly deals with this impure spirit. And they notice that! Even the impure spirits obey him. Big deal stuff.
So a footnote to Jesus opposes and confronts the Enemy: (And Jesus has authority over the Enemy).
So, are you still with me? After taking a quick look at what we begin to see about the Kingdom of God, let’s dial it in to what this actually has to do with us here and now.
The three things then for us, echo out of the three things we see in our text today. First: 1. Jesus steps into our places of darkness, sickness, and pain. We see what he does in the synagogue, at Simon’s house, and we’ll continue to see it every time Jesus engages with another human being. He steps into those places where people are hurting and also frankly where they’re experiencing evil. And he does it, constantly with us, too. He is in our business because he is on our side.
One of the reasons we hang a cross inside of churches and wear them around our necks is to remember that our God is the one who suffers with us. Our God who is on our side, this on-our-sideness was demonstrated on the cross in Jesus’ willingness to suffer for us. But we keep that cross up there to remind us. It’s not just a one-time he died on the cross thing. It is an on-going presence in our pain and darkness. Our God who hurts when we hurt, cries out when we cry out, who is pissed off when we are. That moment of cancer diagnosis, that moment of broken trust and betrayal, that moment when the grief hits us, that moment when the dream is lost, that moment where we give in to the addiction, that moment where the deep wounds of abuse hurt again, that moment when we say or do the awful, undoable thing. God is with us in that. God is on our siiide, even and especially in those times and those places. …For what in your life or the world do you need to hear that reminder? That’s why we hang the cross. To remember our God who is on our side and present in our messiness.
And when it comes to that messiness just like we saw in our text 2. We experience other forces at work in the world that are not on our side.
They are not for us. I feel sensitive to the fact that a few minutes ago I whipped out the words, evil, Satan, demons, the enemy (which is not a big deal for me personally). In our 21st Century place where we find ourselves sitting here this evening, my guess is that we may be in different places about whether we’ve really thought about this before, what we believe and whether we roll our eyes or cringe about it, so just so we’re clear that wherever you are at is ok. And I’m just figuring out how to talk about it with y’all, too. And to also be clear, we’re not talking about this kind of devil, (Picture of cartoon, red, horned devil) red horns and pitchfork.
But we know that we do not need to look far to see signs of evil in the world today – I’m not going to get into a lot of examples of this, but we see it in human suffering of all kinds, the pollution of the earth. From the personal places of darkness (And we all have them!) to the large-scale. And not to demonize people or things in the world – but you really have a sense that there is something behind the great pain of our world and all of us are subject to it.
Not all of the darkness we see and experience in the world (and ourselves) can be labeled as “evil” or “the work of the enemy”. And really, it doesn’t matter if the source is evil or some other form of brokenness and pain. Our role is to recognize that not everything at work in the world is on our side. This is important. Not everything we pay attention to and let influence our lives has our best interest.
We have incredible freedom to choose the life we want to live, and to be influenced by the examples we look to to shape our lives. And the choice is ours as to whether we continue to choose the life of God – and I am unabashedly supporting the life of God because God is the only one that is on our siiiide. No ulterior motives. Completely focused on restoring this world. Everything from the most intimate places of brokenness, grief, disease in our hearts to the global movements like ending child labor and poverty and war and the sex slave trade – God is working to restore and make new all of these things, so that the world comes in line with the Kingdom of God.
I’m willing to trust that God can see the big picture better than I can, and therefore let Jesus be the guide I look to for the sake of myself, but absolutely for the sake of all people. Because if we are listening for God and following the example of Jesus, and if we do that together, then we get to be part of that work of redeeming the world.
So how do we do that? We take moments like the one we shared earlier, where we listen, pay attention to our lives and God. We study Mark’s gospel and see Jesus showing us a pattern for our lives that we get to innovate and make our own in this context. Like, what we talked about last week, following Jesus’ rhythm of balancing relationships like Jesus did – in those three primary relationships, we make time UP with God, IN with family and friends and community, and OUT in the world. In those relationships we remember who we are, we listen together as community for what God is saying to us, we then also engage with Jesus in the work of redeeming the world. We take action, we respond. The sex slave trade will only be stopped by people like you and me who continue to find ways to fight it.
So how do we do that? We stay close to Jesus. We continue to learn from him – that’s what it means to be a disciple, to literally be a learner of Jesus. Jesus teaches us many things but today we see how God is absolutely on our siiiide, and that there are other forces at work, too. The choice is ours and the life is there for us.
And finally the third thing for us as we see it in our text is that: 3. Jesus can handle it. Our stuff. Our darkness. Evil. We see Jesus engage evil – not run from it – and we see how he has authority over it. He wins - the enemy never gets what he wants. Every time, and I mean every time in the Bible where the enemy is up to something, Jesus wins. The ultimate example of that is Jesus overcoming death, right? He has complete authority.
So we hear this as a word for us in whatever ways we are facing darkness. And we are all facing it – just as surely as we have the image of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit with us, there is also evil. A quote I read that captures some of this is from Stephen King: Monsters are real, ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win. – Stephen King. What I appreciate about this quote is how Stephen King (in his typical creepy fashion) – though using different language I think he is naming the same reality we’re talking about. That there is this force at work that is not for us, that can frankly be scary – and, it is not just something outside of us, but the greatest struggles and pain and subversive work the Enemy will do is inside us. We have an on-going choice. To listen for God, to stay close to Jesus because Jesus wins every time.
To close, Jesus said in John’s gospel that Jesus came that we may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10. Abundant life. When you think of abundance, what do you think of? Having enough. Being enough. Being satisfied. The image is that our life is like a cup, filled to the brim.
As the band comes back up, I’m going to pray for us – you can sing along as we sing this song that names how God’s grace finds us wherever we are. Or you can take a quiet moment and continue to ask the questions that we always ask: God, what are you saying? And what am I going to do about it?