Amazing the Crowds – January 26, 2020
Psalm 103:1-14, Mark 1:21-39
January 26, 2020
I try to imagine what it was like when Jesus began to do miracles. But it isn’t easy! In the very first part of this we read how Jesus “amazed the crowds” with his teaching. “They were astonished! For he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”
But then – immediately – again, a favorite word of Mark, “Immediately, there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit.” And what ensued went far beyond Jesus’ ability to speak, to turn a phrase, to show them his authority, or to captivate them with his oratory style. They were more than astounded!
Try to imagine what this was like. Here they were in Capernaum. I’ve said before how that Capernaum became Jesus’ “adopted home town,” his “base of operations” during the three years of his ministry. He was often found there. And here, in his first visit, the people were astounded by the way he talked, and by the way he taught them. We might say, “he had them” with his teaching. But, all of a sudden – immediately, as Mark liked to say, he started doing the impossible!
Now, can we imagine what this was like? I was thinking, there have always been what we call “faith healers.” And they’ve been all over the spectrum from frauds to phenomenons. But this, I think this was way beyond that! This guy was real! Can we imagine this scene at the synagogue? They didn’t know what to think! “Who is this guy?” “With authority he commands even the unclean spirits!” And as it says, “at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.”
The next scene is at Peter’s house. There he healed Simon’s mother-in-law. And then, it was like opening the floodgate! Mark tells us, “They brought to him all who were sick or possessed! The whole city was gathered around the house.” And he healed them all! I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time picturing that! Try to imagine that crowd! Imagine all the sick and infirmed, and all those who brought them, and all who came to watch. And it got bigger! By the end of the chapter it says that Jesus “could no longer openly enter a town – because of the crowds!” So, he changed his strategy. He stayed out in the country, and they came out to him.
Mark is telling us here how quickly Jesus became famous. It was long before the age of TV, the internet, tweeting, and FaceBook posting, yet the word spread so quickly, that, by the end of Chapter 3, Mark tell us that Jesus couldn’t even have a decent meal together with his disciples – because of the crowds!
This was, as I like to describe it, “Jesus the Rock Star!” This was Jesus followed by the mobs! Remember the story of the woman with the twelve-year flow of blood. (They had awful diseases in those days, too!) She got near Jesus in the crowd, hoping just to touch his robe, seeking his healing power. When she did, he turned and said, “Who touched me?” And his disciples said, “Are you kidding, Lord?” Look at the crowd! “Who didn’t touch you?!”
Try to picture Jesus and the great crowds. This guy was for real! He amazed the crowds! And think about this. Even those who didn’t like what they saw, even those who didn’t fall in line and become believers, even they could not deny he had this power! Remember Nicodemus, the pharisee who came to see Jesus at night in John chapter 3. He said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God. For no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” (John 3:2) The “signs” were real! And they weren’t sure what to do about them.
When Jesus raised Lazarus – one of his greatest miracles – the conversation among the priests was incredibly ironic. “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, everyone will believe in him.” (John 11:47-48) Notice, it wasn’t, “This guy’s a fake! He’s fooling the people!” No! It was “This guy’s for real! But, what can we do to stop him!”
Later in Acts, when Peter and John healed the man at the Temple gate, there was a similar conversation in the council. “What shall we do with these men? They performed a “notable sign!” And everybody knows it! And we cannot deny it!” And what was their “solution?” “But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them not to speak any more to anyone in this name.” (Acts 4: 16-17) They saw it! They couldn’t deny it! But still, they felt they needed to stop it!
It’s hard to imagine this healing power Jesus had. It’s hard to believe that people would want to stop it. But there have been many throughout history who have tried.
Some have tried to say that this was the “mythological” part of Jesus’ story. Yes, Jesus was a real person, but like Paul Bunyan, his “legend” grew over the years, and gradually people attributed these amazing powers to him. There are those who have said that. They’ve said that we need to “demythologize” Jesus! We need to set aside certain “fantastic” stories about him.
Maybe you remember the woman I told you about before, who said she couldn’t believe Jesus actually had the power to heal, “because he didn’t heal her father.” For whatever reason, people have denied Jesus’ power over the years. But not so then! These people, the people who were there, knew his power to be true!
Of course, the problem is that too often “true” doesn’t matter. I’ve been astonished over the years, hearing stories of people have chosen not to believe things that have happened. Unbelievably, there are those would deny that holocaust happened, or the moon landings. (Don’t get me started on that one!)
I believe that the truth of Jesus is ever before us. And I mean the truth even of the Resurrection! And yes, there are those who would deny those things. But there are also those who are just fine accepting those truths about him. They would even give a good account of his story, saying that he did miracles, and that he died and rose again! But! They don’t want to have anything to do with it. They want to avoid the call that it might place on their lives!
Make this even more basic. There are those who are just fine with the existence of God. But they want nothing to do with him. I mean, in a certain sense, I get atheists. Why bother to believe if you don’t believe there’s a God to believe in. There’s a certain logic to that. What I don’t get are the people who say, “Sure there’s a God. I just don’t want anything to do with him.” That’s what I don’t get.
Yet, some people avoid God… for years! They don’t disbelieve! They just avoid him! And I ask you, do we ever do that? And before you answer, I don’t necessarily mean we avoid him completely. Maybe there are just certain aspects of the faith that are just “a little too much for us.” Maybe there’s a certain level of “intimacy” with the almighty that’s just too scary. Maybe these stories of Jesus healing people are just a little too much.
Here we have Jesus “amazing the crowds.” Here we have Jesus creating a sensation. Here we have Jesus drawing huge crowds of people who “hadn’t ever seen anything like him.” Here we have the stories of Jesus performing “mass healings.” Here we have him showing his power on a grand scale. What do we think about it?
The people then saw it as true and authentic. And I believe we can know from their testimony that it is true. And that truth has echoed down through the centuries. The only question is whether we believe it. Or even more, whether we accept it, and whether we too are amazed and choose to follow this Jesus ourselves.
Lord, as the man said to Jesus, “We believe. Help thou our unbelief.” Help us to be sure of who you are, and what you have done for us. Break through the complacency of our lives, and help us to have the faith to draw closer to you each day. Help us to be bold disciples of Jesus Christ. For these things we pray in his name, Amen.