Since we didn’t have Sunday worship last week due to the snow, if you watched the video or came to the Monday night service, you will remember that Jesus cast out an evil spirit while he was at the synagogue in Capernaum. The lesson we learned was that Jesus is the one who drives out the devil from among us. Indeed, that is why Jesus came—to destroy the works of the devil.
When we read the Gospels, what we discover is that immediately after Jesus begins his public ministry, the devil steps in to hinder his work. And what you will also notice as you follow Jesus and take him seriously, is that the devil will also attempt to hinder Jesus’ work in your life. Because the same way that Jesus was at work in the people’s lives of Capernaum, so also is he at work in your own life today.
That doesn't mean that we should be afraid of demon possession, but nor do we want to dismiss the devil as a mythological figure. The devil is much more real than you realize. And if Jesus is at work in your life, you can be sure that the devil is also at work in your life. How so? Well, today we will see that he makes it extremely difficult for us to follow Jesus by sending us problem after problem, obstacles whose intention it is to keep us far from Jesus.
Consider, for example, all the human problems that are present in this little text of Scripture. It seems that everyone in Capernaum has some sort of problem. Even Peter's mother-in-law is sick with fever so that she cannot hear the Word of God or serve her guest Jesus. Mark writes:
29) As soon as they left the synagogue, they went into Simon and Andrew’s house with James and John. 30) Simon’s mother-in-law was lying in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31) So he went up to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32) When evening came, after the sun had set, they brought to him all those who were sick and demon-possessed. 33) The whole town was assembled at the door, 34) and he healed many who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demos. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
Whew! It seems that everyone had some sort of issue that made it difficult for them to follow Jesus. There is Simon’s mother-in-law’s fever (we think of COVID). There are other sickness and “various diseases” according to Mark. “The whole town was assembled at the door.” It wasn’t as big of a town as Waukegan, but the point is that everyone has got something. Everyone one has problems—by the devil’s design. He wants us to take our eyes off Jesus, so he sticks us with problems.
There are financial problems. There is mental illness. That’s real, by the way. There are relationship problems. And one of the biggest problems in today’s world is the lack of fulfilling and meaningful relationships. People are bored out of their minds. People are empty on the inside. So, you would think they would go to Jesus. But that’s not how problems work. The whole point of the devil giving us the problem is that he knows our minds will fixate on the problem. Not on Jesus. We look at the problem. Then we look to ourselves. And then we throw up our hands in despair.
The purpose of these verses in Mark is to present Jesus as the Savior of life’s problems, so that rather than excluding him from our problems, we turn to him for help. That is what the people do here. And why do they do that? Why not go to the local rabbi? Why not ignore Jesus and stay at home wallowing in their misery? Because due to what Jesus did for the demon-possessed man in the synagogue, they were convinced that Jesus could help them too. And when you are convinced that Jesus can help, you will go to him too.
And why Jesus? Because it is so clear from everything we read about him in the Bible that Jesus is God. Remember that Mark's main purpose in writing his gospel is to present Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1). And that is exactly what he does here. Notice how Jesus as the Son of God spends his time serving people. He serves them willingly. He doesn't force them to pay. He doesn't require them to first prove their love in order for him to help them. He just helps them. Nor does he ask for any reward or praise. He just helps them because he is a God of compassion and mercy.
Now, two of the dots we just have to connect whenever we read our Bible, are that the way God deals with people in the Bible is the way he deals with people of all times and seasons. The whole point of the resurrection is that Jesus is not a dead God, but a living God. And so, in the same way that he was active in rescuing people while he lived on earth, so also is he active today in rescuing people all over the earth!
Does he require anything from us beforehand? No. Does he expect us to pay him back? No. He attaches no conditions to his help. All he does is invite us to come to him in faith. He invites us to think of him in the moment of distress, because he knows he is able to help, AND because he cares for us.
Do you believe that Jesus cares about your problems? Well, he cared about the people’s problems. They were not too insignificant for him. So, why would yours be too insignificant for him? Or is it that you don’t trust him? Or is it that you don’t think about him when the going gets rough? You don’t think about him because you’re too focused on your problem and on what you think YOU need to do to solve it! Until you realize that you can’t solve it. It’s too big for you. It’s beyond your control. And so, you finally give up and despair.
Well, don’t feel too badly if you’ve reached that point in your life. Because it is only when we finally despair of ourselves, that we will try anything! And lo and behold that “anything” is the best thing; it is Jesus.
You see, because we are so self-sufficient and because we are so sinfully self-sure, God allows the devil to send problems into our lives. He allows the devil to place obstacles before us. You say, “That makes no sense.” Yes, it does. For if there were no problems, or if there were only minor obstacles, we would never have a need to turn to Jesus because we would think that we are doing just fine ourselves. And perhaps we would be doing okay on our own, but then we die without knowing Jesus, and we die in our sins—which is exactly what the devil wants—which is exactly what Jesus doesn’t want.
So, he allows the devil to send us problems because he knows he is going to turn the table on the devil. The very thing the devil uses to hinder us from following Christ is the mechanism God uses to drive us to Christ. When a child hurts, they go running to their father or mother. And the Good News, loved ones, is that you are God’s child. And how sad it would be for a child never to turn to their mother or father for help when they do have problems! We say we wish our children wouldn’t have so many problems. But the fact is they do, and can you imagine if we didn’t know about them? Wouldn’t that be worse?
So, Jesus invites us to come to him. For he knows that we are only human. And that humans are not able to solve everything. Man is broken by sin, and that is why man cannot get rid of problems, because problems are symptoms of sin. Only Jesus can get rid of sin because only Jesus is God.
So, it is good to despair of yourself so that you put your hope in Jesus. This perspective helps us enormously during difficulties. For every difficulty is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to pray to God. Even Jesus prayed to God. Mark mentions that the next day, "very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he got up, went out, and made his way to a deserted place, and there he was praying." Well, if Jesus considers it useful to pray to his Father in heaven, don't you think we should pray all the more?
"Ah but praying doesn't do anything!" Well, it did for these people. It did for Jesus. How are you different from every other human that has ever lived? Listen. The truth of the matter is that God allows problems and difficulties to touch us because he knows that without them we forget about him. So, problems are a blessing in disguise, because they force us to take our eyes off ourselves and put them on Christ. And then we seek his help, and he helps us! And that motivates us to help others.
Just like Peter's mother-in-law. Jesus heals her and she immediately goes to serve Jesus and his disciples. In other words, I can still serve others even when I have my own difficulties. I can serve them because I also understand what it means to need help during difficult times. I can serve them because I understand that this is precisely what God does for me—he serves me. Yes, I can serve them because I recognize that they also need Jesus.
Therefore, turn to Jesus during life's difficulties. Come to him in faith and believe that he is the Son of God. And then wait. Don’t despair but wait for his aid! For this is why Jesus came to earth—to help those who cannot help themselves, to forgive them of their sins, and to save those who recognize they cannot save themselves.
Glory be to Jesus! Amen.