The Kingdom Advance, Mark 5:1-42
This is the manuscript of my sermon for tomorrow (June 22, 2008). It is based on Mark 5:1-42. Obvsiously, I have not dealt with every single issue in this chapter. Instead, I have highlighted a single aspect, namely, that Jesus did what others could not: Restored a mind, healed a woman’s suffering, raised a dead child to life. –jerry
The Kingdom Advances
1They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. 4For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” 8For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
9Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
11A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
14Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
18As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
21When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet 23and pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24So Jesus went with him.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31″You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
32But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
35While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”
36Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
37He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” ).
42Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
It should come as no surprise to you that this past week I finished reading another book. This book, Surprised by Hope, by Tom Wright is a fascinating examination of the biblical evidence for what it means to live the Resurrection life. I really wasn’t prepared for what I read, the conclusions he drew, and how they would affect my understanding of the Gospel life. Thus, I read:
But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the Gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit is to build for the Kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly to be thrown into the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. ( 208 )
And when I did I suddenly thought to myself: what I do in the Lord is not in vain. But I further thought: There is a lot more to this ‘go and make disciples’ than merely going and getting people to check off a checklist or recite a creed. Then I also thought: Everything that I do can be approached from the point of the Resurrection of Jesus; the firstfruits of the new heavens and the new earth. Then I thought, if all this is true—and I believe it is—then I have missed the boat in a lot of areas of my faith. God’s Kingdom is breaking in and breaking out. Jesus said in Revelation 21, “Behold I am making all things new.”
This means Jesus is currently about the business of fixing all the stuff that is currently broken, stuff that we have invariable had a sincere part in breaking. And yet, as Wright properly points out time and time again, our prayer, the one Jesus taught us is this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth…” If we have had a significant, almost exclusive role in the breaking of what God created, then through Jesus and because of His resurrection, we have a significant role in the fixing of it too. So our author continues:
Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God. God’s re-creation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last all the way into God’s new world. In fact, it will be enhanced there.” (208-209)
I have to say, this is mind-boggling, revolutionary stuff.
There are three inter-connected stories in Mark chapter 5. We have first the story of a man possessed by Legion, a horde of demons. We have second the story of a woman who had a issue with bleeding for 12 years. And we have third the story of a man whose daughter was dying and by the time we reach the end—she is dead. These are very real people, with very real problems.
The first thing I noticed about these stories is that there is an element of mystery in all three. In other words, these are three hopeless cases. The man possessed by demons was bound hand and foot in chains and shackles and what does it say: “no one could bind him any more…” and also “No one was strong enough to subdue him.” This man was out of control. He was in a hopeless situation, a hopeless condition. He didn’t just have one problem, he had a legion of problems. He was confined to the tombs which suggests to me that he was, for all intents and purposes, dead already. No one can help him; there’s nothing we can do.
The bleeding woman was not much different. She had a condition for 12 years—a bleeding issue. It obviously caused her a great deal of pain, perhaps it also caused her a certain social stigma as well. Such things were not so freely discussed in that culture as they are in ours. But again, what does it say about her situation: “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.” No one could do anything for her.
The story of the man, Jairus, is, again, not different. Here is a man who is in a hopeless situation. We don’t know why his daughter was dying or from what. We just know that she was. Presumably this man too had spent some time with doctors as I don’t think he wouldn’t provide care for this girl. And when Jesus gets to the house, and the girl is dead, then no one could do anything for her. What does it say, “”Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?” Translation: There is nothing anyone can do.
Three stories; hopeless all. There was nothing anyone could do. To alleviate living hell. Hellish living. Or death. Nothing. Human power had exhausted itself. It was pointless.
It seems at times that all our efforts are in vain, but maybe not.
We probably do the same, don’t we? I mean there are ill people all over the place. There are demon-possessed people all around. There are dying people everywhere. What do we humans do: More jails. More pills. More therapy. More doctors. More cemeteries. More asylums. These things are touted as solutions to problems that have causes much deeper than the mere physical manifestations of pain, erratic behavior and death. But these aren’t solutions. They are merely ways of ignoring the problem, they are ways of not treating symptoms not diseases, they are ways of silencing the demons but not driving them out.
These ideas don’t dig deep enough.
Does the church have anything to say about these situations? I think we do.
Jesus comes along and at the end of the story: “When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.”
Jesus comes along and at the end of the story: “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.”
Jesus comes along and at the end of the story: “He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” ). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.”
Here what we see is the advance of the kingdom: Jesus accomplishes what we cannot. Jesus will accomplish all that we hope for.
You see these were not just healings in and of themselves. The miracles were not ends in themselves. They were signs that pointed in the direction of something different. They were signs that pointed to a cure, a solution. They were signs that demonstrated the breaking in of the Kingdom of God a place where and a time when there will be no more people possessed by demons, there will be no more issues with blood, there will be no more death. But perhaps even more significant than that is this: It will also be a time when there is no more need for chains to bind people. It will be a time when there will be no more need for doctors. It will be a time when there will be no more need for resurrection.
Still, I don’t think that is enough. If these things are signs of the advancing Kingdom of God, and if we pray, ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,’ then what are we doing to advance the kingdom on earth? Are we waiting for God to move mountains? Are we waiting on God to return? Are we shapers and formers and advancers of the kingdom or are we, as I heard so eloquently put yesterday, polishing the brass while the ship sinks? You see, if God means to re-create the heavens and the earth, and all our work is not in vain, then what are we doing now to advance the kingdom, to promote justice, to drive out demons, to heal the sick, to raise the dead?
And I do not mean in any mean metaphorical way. What are we doing now, as resurrected people who will not go to heaven, but will inhabit the new earth, in new bodies? What are we doing now?
To put it another way, we live somewhere between the end of Acts and the closing scene of Revelation. If we want to understand Scripture and to find it doing its proper work in and through us, we must learn to read and understand it in the light of that overall story…As we do this—as groups, churches, and individuals—we must allow the power of God’s promised future to have its way with us. As we read the Gospels, we must remind ourselves again and again—because the pull of prevailing Western culture is so strong that if we don’t it will suck us back down into dualism—that this is the story of how God’s kingdom was established on earth as in heaven in and through the work of Jesus, fulfilling Israel’s great story, defeating the power of evil, and launching God’s new world. (281)