2/8/2021 1:29:01 PM
The Greatest Miracle
Pastor Kyle Bitter - The Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany - Sunday, February 7, 2021
What makes something count as a miracle? Miracle is a word you hear pretty frequently. Let me give you a few examples. “Miracle on the Hudson” – a label applied to the dramatic emergency landing of a passenger aircraft in the Hudson River in 2009. Miracles of modern medicine treat or cure diseases that at one time were fatal. You see it a ton in sports. “Miracle” is the title of a movie about the improbable victory of the 1980 US hockey team over the Soviet Union. NBA headlines this week included this one: "Wizards score 6 points in 4 seconds in miraculous comeback vs. Nets.” What is it that makes people call something a “miracle”? Examples like these would seem to be things that are improbable, things that are highly unlikely to happen but amazing when they do! You and I probably see a miracle as something even greater than that – something impossible without outside help! A miracle is what you hope for when all other options are exhausted and all hope seems to be gone.
Miracles are frequent in the Bible and in Mark’s gospel especially. He loves recording them, and the section before us today is no exception. The story starts with what you heard last Sunday. While teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus cast a demon out of a man simply by the authority of his word! It had to have made an impression on those who were watching, and as events unfold, we find more and more people turning to Jesus in hopes that he can help them too. That’s where today’s gospel picks up. “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” (Mark 1:29-31 – NIV84). The Greek words indicate that this wasn’t just a little bug – she was so sick that she couldn’t even find the strength to get out of bed, and her relatives had become so concerned that they told Jesus about her, and he healed her. You don’t see them slowly nursing her back to health as her body rebuilds from its bout with this disease – she’s instantly better and transitions immediately from bedridden patient to generous hostess. It was another miracle!
Many other similar situations took place that night. To envision the scene, keep in mind that on the Sabbath Day, people customarily didn’t travel any farther than the distance from their home to the synagogue. So, the town was pretty quiet. But as the sun set and the Sabbath Day drew to a close, you don’t see people heading to bed. Instead, a flurry of activity begins! Not some kind of night life in this small town, but people coming out of their homes with sick relatives and friends, all looking for Jesus! A bunch of hopeless situations that now had hope in the prospect of a miracle by Jesus! “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” (Mark 1:32-34 – NIV84). Late into the night he performed miracle after miracle, helping people in need. One can imagine the attitude of optimism and hopefulness that suddenly filled the town!
That’s what makes the next morning’s events rather surprising. “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…” (Mark 1:35-38a – NIV84). Even before Jesus explains his reasoning, it’s not hard to envision the disciples’ jaws dropping. There’s so much more work to be done right here! So many more miracles that could be performed, to such great benefit! And Jesus couldn’t possibly be more popular. Why leave now? We will get to Jesus’ reasons in a minute, but for now we simply can observe that for Jesus, there’s something more going on here than just helping people by performing miracles, as enjoyed and appreciated as that was. But I wonder how many of his followers understood what he was up to?
It wouldn’t be particularly surprising if they were left scratching their heads at Jesus’ behavior. Even from our perspective today, even with all the extra information we have about what Jesus was going to do – all stuff these people didn’t, couldn’t really know, there might be times when find ourselves scratching our heads at Jesus’ behavior when it comes to things like miracles – divine intervention into the world! He’s God, and there are so many problems right here and right now that the power of God could easily solve – why doesn’t he? It’s not hard to see examples. Life could be so much better if Jesus snapped his fingers and cured the pandemic. Things would be so much easier if uncurable sicknesses and diseases were gone. And imagine how much attention would be drawn to Jesus if he were going around and doing amazing things like we see him doing in Bible times?
It makes sense on the surface but notice where the focus is – on making life better right here and right now. Under that mindset, the whole reason for turning to Jesus is in the hopes that he will fix the problems in my life. Even though I think most of us realize that Jesus is about a little more than that, sometimes it seems as though our priorities and actions don’t really reflect it. When do we find ourselves turning to Jesus most frequently and fervently? When things happen that are hard. When do we find ourselves most readily spending time in prayer? When we aren’t sure what to do and feel as though we need a miracle of some kind. I don’t know about you, but I think in the last year or so I’ve heard more people wistfully talking about life in heaven and how they can’t wait to get there than I’ve ever heard before – and not just people who are elderly or sick or seemingly close to heaven’s door. Young people, healthy people, people who seem to have all kinds of things to look forward to in this life yet are now looking forward to the peace of heaven in perhaps a greater way than ever before in their lives. What does it say about us that it takes times of hardship and tragedy, chaos and loss, disaster and distress to finally get our eyes off of what we want right here and right and look at what God’s been trying to get us to focus on all along – the wonderful kingdom of heaven he’s prepared for us and all the things he’s done to get us there!
A Spiritual Miracle
You know what it tells us as well as I do – we are sinners and we need a Savior. Times of hardship remind us of that in so many ways. Maybe when faced with hardship in our lives what we ought to do is turn to God and repent for our behavior during all the good times during which we took him completely for granted and pushed him most if not entirely into the margins of our lives as we found ourselves occupied with all kinds of trivial things! It happens so easily! And in those times of hardship, it would be nice if Jesus were to just perform a miracle and end all the craziness. But ultimately, that’s not what we need most. We need a Savior. That same thing was true back in Jesus’ day, and that’s why he moved on to the next village. “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”(Mark 1:38-39 – NIV84).
This is why I have come – to preach and to teach. Did you notice how this account begins and ends? We see Jesus in the synagogue. Preaching and teaching. That was the real focus, despite the miracles that jump off the page at you. And what was his message? You might call it the good news of another miracle he was about to perform. Not a physical one, but a spiritual one. Not the miraculous healing of incurable physical ailments, but the even greater miracle of curing the disease of sinfulness that we are all infected with from the very beginning of our lives. A disease so insidious that much of the time we don’t even realize we have it. A disease so deadly that it causes misery not just for life here, but for eternity separated from God. A disease so deeply infested in our very nature that we are powerless to do anything about it. No matter how hard we try it keeps cropping up in self-centeredness, pushing God to the margins of our lives and eventually, if allowed to run rampant, out of our lives entirely. A disease that could only be cured by a miracle, and that’s what Jesus had come to do. The Greatest of Miracles, a Spiritual Miracle. By his death on the cross, this spiritual disease of sin was to be cured, our inner demons were to be driven out, our relationship with God restored. Everything changed. All the other miracles were demonstrations of Jesus' power – power as the Son of God that enabled him to perform this greatest of miracles in being our Savior. And so, Jesus preached in the synagogues. It’s what he had come to do. He invited people to repent – to turn from their sin and trust in him as their Savior, the one who would perform this most desperately needed of miracles, a Spiritual Miracle, and like his other lesser miracles, a Life-Changing Miracle.
A Life-Changing Miracle
When you look back over the miracles performed here, or over any other examples of miracles you want to look at, you find that they produce life-changing reactions in the people who experience them. What did Peter’s mother-in-law do? She immediately started using her newfound gift of health to serve the people around her! What did the people in the synagogue who watched Jesus drive out that demon do? They went home and told their sick friends and relatives, and as soon as the Sabbath was over, they went out to find Jesus!
In the same way, this Greatest of Miracles, Jesus’ cure for our disease of sin, is A Life-Changing Miracle for you and me. Like Peter’s mother-in-law, we can use our newfound spiritual health to serve others – offering the hope-filled perspective of life in heaven to come despite the struggles and challenges here. No longer is life about me and how much fun and enjoyment and success can I squeeze into the years I spend here on earth – instead, I can show love to God and other people by serving them at every opportunity I get! And like the people watching at the synagogue, you and I can go home and tell others about the miracle we have seen and invite them to come and see Jesus for themselves!
We might use the word “miracle” to refer to all kinds of improbable things, and miracles in any form are exciting. But let’s keep things in perspective too, and remember what The Greatest Miracle is – that Jesus cured us from the disease of sin. A miracle just as life-changing when things are good as it is when things are hard, a miracle that promises not just relief from one single problem, but the replacement of all problems with pure joy when we spend eternity with God. It’s a Spiritual Miracle, it’s a Life-Changing Miracle, it’s the The Greatest Miracle, and Jesus did it for you. Amen.