This morning we continue with our series, The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus. Let me remind you of where we went last week and where we are going today. Last week we went to the Jordan River down near the Dead Sea where we remembered Jesus’ baptism by John. And we saw how in His baptism Jesus was claimed as God’s beloved Son, He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and He was commissioned for His ministry.
We then followed Jesus who immediately after his baptism was compelled by the Spirit into the wilderness to the mountain of temptation where for 40 days and 40 nights he was tempted by the devil not to follow the path His Father had set for Him and to instead satisfy his physical needs, compromise His beliefs, and exalt Himself instead of trusting God.
This morning we pick up our journey with Jesus as He leaves the mount of temptation. As Jesus leaves the wilderness strengthened by His victory of the devil He traveled up the Jordan River valley and he made his way to his hometown of Nazareth. He’s rejected in his hometown; rejected by everybody he knew and grew up with and takes the 2-day walk to the town of Capernaum. And this becomes his home for the next three years.
Now Capernaum is situated right on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. And 80% of Jesus’ ministry occurs in this region, about the size of the greater Washington DC area. The gospels include twelve stories of healing or the casting out of demons that take place in Capernaum, more than any other place in the gospels.
Now here are a few facts about Capernaum. We know that Capernaum was a relatively small town. It was a fishing village there on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. We know that there were Roman soldiers that were stationed there and also that there was a Roman customs office there. We also know the name of the customs agent. It was Levi or Matthew who became one of Jesus’ disciples. We also know that 7 of the 12 disciples came from this town. So do you can see how important this town was to the life and ministry of Jesus?
Now that’s interesting, but that by itself is not a sermon. So what I want to do is focus on what happened in this town of Capernaum.
You can’t think about Capernaum without thinking about Jesus’ healing ministry and ministry of deliverance. And that’s where I want to focus our attention this morning.
So Jesus shows up in the synagogue in Mark chapter 1 and he begins to preach. He’s preaching not like the scribes and Pharisees. He’s preaching, well as you would expect God’s Son to preach if he walked on this earth. He preaches with great authority. And this preaching begins to attract a crowd. People begin to come from all around Galilee to hear the words that Jesus was speaking. The people listened intently to Him and went out shaking their heads, saying, “He taught as one having authority and not as the scribes.”
On one occasion the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest Him, and they came away empty-handed, saying, “We could not arrest Him. No man ever spoke as this man speaks.” And men of all ages have marveled at the words of Jesus.
And so do we. As we hear the power of His words in the midst of our sickness, in the midst of our pain we hear his promises, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) or “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
We can trust His promises.
And when the forces of this dark world begin to press against us, when the evil one seems like he has the upper hand, when we feel like we are in bondage to our own fears or sins, Jesus speaks with power and authority: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John16:33) or “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:9)
We can rely upon His Word.
And so as he’s preaching His sermon is interrupted. A man stands up and begins to shout at Jesus. And he says, “Jesus of Nazareth, we know who you are, a holy one of God. Have you come to destroy us?” And Jesus says, “Shut up and get out.” Not to the man but to the spirit that was inside afflicting him. And he began to convulse and scream in a loud voice. And the spirit leaves and the man is whole.
Here we see Jesus delivers with amazing power. The people who had gathered were astounded by what happened so they began to spread the news throughout the region and people came to hear him preach and to see what else would happen.
Now when it comes to this subject of demons there are several things that need to be considered. We know that in the Greco-Roman world demons were thought to be the cause of nearly anything that defied ancient medicinal knowledge. Fevers were thought to be caused by demons; epilepsy too. If someone were mute or deaf it was sometimes thought to be the result of a demonic affliction. Most of the conditions we routinely diagnose as mental illness today were thought to be the result of demons.
Sometimes we use the term, “demon” today to refer to forces, influences, habits or thoughts that lead us to do what is destructive to ourselves or others. So for example we might say someone caught up in a destructive pattern of alcohol addiction, we might say they are “battling their demons.”
So let me say this. At the very least demons are those things that lead toward self destruction or destroying other people. They lead us down a path that leads to darkness. And so whether it’s something addictive; drugs or alcohol, or whether it’s the kind of thinking that leads us to seek revenge against someone else or to hurt someone else. All of those things would sort of represent demonic forces.
Now let me just say this one more thing. All of us hear voices like this sometime. So here’s the thing. There are two voices we can listen to in our head. The one is that one. And the other is the voice of the Lord who calls us and beckons us to follow him. Who says, “I love you and you have sacred worth and value. This is the way that leads to life.”
Now I don’t want to completely rule out the idea of disembodied spirits that are demons that are plaguing us sometimes. After all we find this in the scriptures where we find these demon stories where the demons speak. So I don’t think we can say, “No it never happens.”
So either way here’s the bottom line: In essence these stories tell us two things: Jesus has power over the forces of darkness–it is not even a real competition.
Every single time in the scriptures where you see demons that come in contact with Jesus, the demons are terrified of Jesus. Every time. And so Jesus goes to the man among the tombs at the other side of the Sea of Galilee. And the townspeople had chained him up because they were terrified of him. And this man who lived among the tombs broke the chains and when Jesus spoke to him and said, “What’s your name?” He says, “My name is Legion for we are many.” And these many demons who were inside this man and they begged for mercy from Jesus. Even though there was a legion of them they begged for mercy.
Here’s what you need to understand. If we belong to Jesus and we trust in him, and follow him, we don’t need to fear the demons. It’s not even a fair fight between Jesus and the demons. Infinitely greater is His strength and power than the forces of darkness. The forces of darkness are terrified of Jesus. And that’s what we learn in the gospel stories.
Jesus heals with loving compassion
So we find that when Jesus goes to Capernaum and he not only casts out demons in the synagogue but in Mark chapter 2 we find out He ends up in Simon’s house. And the house is jam-packed with people who have come to listen to Jesus’ teaching. And they’re spilling out into the courtyard.
This is the scene that greeted four concerned men as they arrived at the house. You see when they heard Jesus was there they immediately thought of their friend who was completely paralyzed. They knew Jesus had the power to make him whole again. "If we can only get Jesus to touch him." And so they gathered their friend and using his mat as a stretcher physically carried him to Jesus.
But there was just one problem. By the time they did there was a wall of people so thick that there was no way that they could get their friend to Jesus.
But they couldn't give up. These four men haul their friend up the outside stairs, punch a hole through the adobe-type roof, no doubt dropping chunks on the heads of the disconcerted and disrupted down below, digging with their hands until they make an opening just big enough to lower the paralytic to the floor directly in front of Jesus. That's some trouble to go to for the sake of a friend.
Consider this scene through the eyes of the Lord Jesus. He is in the middle of teaching this great crowd when his teaching is interrupted by this terrible commotion on the roof. When he looked up, he saw this man being gently lowered down from the roof. And I picture Jesus smiling as He sees them lowering this man down in front of Him.
The man reaches the floor and then Jesus sees the expectant faces of four men who would not let circumstances stop them from bring their friend to the Lord. And Jesus seeing their faith rewards their faith. He says, "Friend, your sins are forgiven. I tell you get up, take up you mat and go home." And immediately the once paralyzed legs lifted him up on his feet and he bent over picked up the mat that had been his bed for so many years and walked out in full view of everyone there.
Now the first thing I want you to notice is that everyone needs stretcher bearers. These four men were deeply concerned about their friend and wanted to see him helped. The paralytic was fortunate enough to have four friends who were his stretcher-bearers. Where would have this man have been had he not had these able to get him to Jesus. They saw the need and that need moved them to action. They didn't sit back and wait to be asked. They took it upon themselves to respond in a loving, caring and compassionate way.
So let me ask you two questions:
Who are your stretcher-bearers? Do you have four friends that you could call at 4 in the morning that they would come to your aid and stand with you through thick and through thin? Because we all need them and I’m guessing at least half of you don’t have them. And the way that you have them is you become a stretcher-bearer for someone else. You invest in other people. You show up when nobody else shows up in the hospital. Or you mow the lawn. Or you show a genuine interest in someone else. And over time you become a stretcher-bearer. That’s the second question: For whom are you a stretcher-bearer?
That’s really what the church is all about. We as a church family are called to be each other’s stretcher- bearers. This is what it means to be called a Christian. This is how we display our discipleship. The church in action coming together as one, uniting to reach out and lift our friends.
The second thing I want you to notice is that Jesus had compassion on the sick. In every one of the healing stories in the gospels what we find is Jesus stops and He heals the sick. He has power to heal the sick. He stops. He has compassion for the sick. He is constantly involved with people who are sick, blind, lame, can’t talk, can’t hear whatever it is. He has power to do this and He has compassion for people. He is very interested in the sick. And so when you’re sick you’ve got to know the Lord is interested in you. He has concern and compassion for you. That’s the kind of God we serve.
Now the final thing I want you to notice is that this man’s problem was not in his spinal cord, it was in his heart. “Your sins are forgiven you,” Jesus said. The problem was this man was paralyzed because he was overcome by guilt. Jesus heals both the body and the heart.
I’ve seen this happen before. I’ve seen people paralyzed emotionally and spiritually by guilt. Until finally they are able to trust in the grace of Christ and to hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Now this is the healing story that happens in Mark chapter 2. And this leads me to a conclusion.
First of all we clearly see that Jesus is more powerful than the demons, the forces of darkness. He’s calling us to listen to His voice. And we recognize that there are things that oppress us and bind us and He’s able to set us free from all those things; drugs, alcohol, thoughts whatever it is, He can break us free from those things.
And secondly we recognize that He has an interest in the sick. And so we followed in the footsteps of Jesus in the gospels, what does that mean for us today. Here’s what I want to suggest to you. Part of what it means today is that if we’re following Jesus then we’re in the business of trying to help other people find healing and find deliverance from the things that oppress them. And this is really important.
Our task is to be agents of healing in this world. And so when you go out on a mission trip or you pack a backpack or you build a house or you become followers of Christ. You become his hands and voice in bringing help and healing and wholeness to people who may not have it otherwise. You see when God works in the world He works primarily through people. In natural ways and not always in ways that seem supernatural or miraculous.
We work; we become agents through which God works. And we are all called to do this. We’re all called to be stretcher-bearers for other people. There’s somebody at your workplace who right now
needs someone to come alongside them and say, “Hey, I’m with you. I’m standing by you. Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid.” Somebody who’s going to show up at the hospital. Somebody who’s going to mow the yard. Somebody who’s going to say to one who’s oppressed, “Listen, you’re listening to the wrong voice and you can be free. And Jesus can help you. And I want to help you. I want to stand with you as you
go through the steps necessary to find healing and deliverance and recovery.”
Do you see how this works if we’re following in the footsteps of Jesus? We become agents of Christ’s healing in the world today. We’re all commissioned to do that. And then Christ works through us.
Christ Jesus still has the power to set you free when you’re oppressed by the dark forces and those dark thoughts. Christ is still a healer and He works through people like us to be instruments of healing for other people. And so God make us instruments of your healing. Set us free from the things that bind us. Help us to recognize Your voice and to follow it. Help us to recognize the dark forces and to invoke Your name to find freedom. And use us as stretcher bearers, as healers for those around us. Bring freedom, healing and deliverance this morning. In Jesus name. Amen.