He Came to Be God with Us

imgresThis Christmas Season, our congregation has been thinking about answers to the question, “Why He Came”. Over and over again in Scripture, we are told why Jesus came. His life, miracles, teachings, death and resurrection all reveal a purpose being worked out. Christians believe that Jesus was not simply another in a long line of martyrs for peace, justice and the like who fell afoul of the rulers of his day and were killed. Jesus was different. His conception, birth, childhood and adult life all were directed towards a specific mission. On the cross, when he cried out, “It is finished” we believe he was stating that he had now done what he came to do. He had been the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. Before that, he had demonstrated the wisdom, love, and power of God in a unique way. The utterance, “It is finished” was the statement of a man who has accomplished what he set out to do. He had been God with us.

Matthew often shares something about Jesus, then quotes the Old Testament and says something like, “This happened so that this passage of the Old Testament might be fulfilled.” In this blog, I am looking at just a few of many prophesies that Jesus fulfilled.

In Genesis 3, God tells the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15). As Adam and Eve were being punished for their sin in the Garden of Eden, God prophesied that one would come who would undo the curse of sin and crush the head of the Evil One. Christians believe that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy. In his sacrificial death, the power of Satan, the Accuser of the human race, was defeated.

imagesLater in Genesis, 49 Jacob says of his son, Judah, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his” (Gen. 49:10). In this passage Jacob prophesies that it will not be from his eldest son from whom Israel’s leader would come nor would it be from Joseph his favorite son, but from Judah. Jesus came to fulfill this prophecy. David came from the line of Judah, as did Jesus.

David was promised that he would always have an heir on the Throne of Israel. On the other hand, he was also promised that, if he or his family were unfaithful to God, the crown would be taken from his house. In the birth of Jesus, born of the House and Linage of David, both prophecies were fulfilled. Jesus was the true heir of David, always and in all ways faithful to God. He is the everlasting heir to David!

Psalm 72, a royal psalm, says of the heir of David, “May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him” (Psalm 72:11). Christians believe that, in the coming of the Wise Men, this prophecy was fulfilled.

In Isaiah, we are told that “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:11). At Christmas, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus, whom Christians have always celebrated as fulfilling that prophesy—Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and he has always been referred to as Immanuel, which means, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

images-2 The Prophet Micah said, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:10). Thus, it was prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem in Judea, a small village a few miles outside of Jerusalem. The Messiah would not be just another man, but one “of ancient origin”—the eternal Word of God was with God at the creation and by whom and through whom all things were made. Tonight, we celebrate the birth of Jesus in just that place, born in Bethlehem, fulfilling this prophecy. He is a human son of Bethlehem, and he is the Eternal Son of God.

In Isaiah 9, we are told “In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:1-2). In this passage, we learn that the Messiah will come from the Galilee. Jesus was raised in Nazareth in this exact area of Israel, fulfilling this prophecy.

imgres In this same chapter we are told, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7). Here we learn that the Messiah will reign on David’s throne and be called “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” “Prince of Peace.” We are told that his kingdom will grow and grow, and last forever. Jesus came to fulfill these prophecies. Since the coming of Jesus and the birth of the church at Pentecost, Jesus has been and is called by all these names, and the Kingdom of his disciples continues to grow.

images-3One of the most precious promises of Isaiah reads: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth” (Isaiah 11:1-4). Here we are told that Spirit of God will rest upon the Messiah in a special way so that he has understanding, power and justice in a special way. Jesus came to fulfill this prophecy. Over and over again in the Gospels we see Jesus as one filled with the Spirit like no one before or since with great power and with a love for the least of these. Such a life could only come from God. Such a life could only be God with us.

images-4Isaiah 42 foretells that the Messiah will be a different sort of leader when he says, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged until he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope” (Isaiah 42:1-4). We are told in Isaiah 42 that God will raise up a servant who will be filed with God’s Spirit and act in gentleness and kindness with complete justice for all. In Jesus, we saw revealed the true nature of servant leadership in the person of one who sacrifices self and selfish ambition for others, seeks justice for all, and will not be satisfied until everyone receives justice. This servant was to be a true and great teacher—one who teaches the true nature of God and godliness. Jesus came to fulfill these prophecies.

images-1Finally, the prophet Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would be a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, that he would bear our sorrows, and that he would be the source of our healing. Isaiah put it this way: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6). Jesus came to fulfill these prophecies. He was one who was rejected by others, suffered for our sins, whose punishment was for us, and by whose wounds we are healed.IMG_0091

These and other, similar passages tell us that one reason Jesus came was to fulfill the promises of God. He came to be God with Us, the always-faithful God who is and always will be God with us. In Christ, God took on human form and dwelt among us “Full of Grace and Truth” so that we might see in human form what God intended us to be like as his children, made in his image, and filled with his Spirit. On Christmas Eve we celebrate God’s faithfulness to his promises given over hundreds of years to prophets and others—promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

We live in challenging times. We all face or will face difficult circumstances. We have fears about the future. Whatever our circumstances, in the faithful God, Jesus Christ, who has fulfilled all the promises of God and of the Prophets, we can find hope and our anchor for all of our days and all of our circumstances. This Christmas Season, as our church looked at our theme, “Why He Came,” we saw that Jesus came to inaugurate God’s kingdom of peace, to forgive our sins, to heal us, to preach and to be Good News, to fulfill the prophesies of the Old Testament, to give us new life, and to call us to be his disciples.

At Christmas, we pause for a few moments in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives to rest in the assurance that he has come, he did come, he is here, and he will come again. He will come into our lives again and again with mercy and grace, as we need him to come. He will come at the end of history to complete God’s will for the heavens and the earth. He comes quietly. He comes unexpectedly. He comes without pomp and circumstance. He comes as a servant. He comes to us as a lowly, rejected savior, never forcing his way, but always working in love. He comes to us, just as he came on that night so long ago. He comes as a quiet voice, as a loving touch, as a humble and unexpected guest. He comes and comes, if only we will let him into our hearts.


Copyright 2014, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

He Came to Bring Good News

Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people (Luke 2:10).

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7). 

imagesA few weeks ago, some of our members ran the St. Jude’s Marathon. Have you ever wondered how a long run came to be known as a “Marathon?” It got me thinking about the word, Marathon and how the race got its name. In the year 490 B.C. a famous battle was fought on the plans of Marathon near Athens, Greece. King Darius of Persia decided to invade and conquer Greece, which was an emerging power and threated the Persian dominance of the ancient Middle East. He sent an armada to invade some Aegean islands, conquer Athens, and then invade the rest of Greece. The Athenian army met the invaders on the Plain of Marathon. The Greeks were outnumbered and outgunned. They could not hope to defeat the large cavalry of the Persian army. The Greek commander reinforced his flanks so as to draw the Persians towards the center of the battlefield, and then ordered a general attack. In a classic envelopment, the Greeks surrounded and defeated the Persian army.

imgresIn order to advise the waiting Athenians of his victory, the Greek commander sent his fastest runner, Philippides, to bring news to Athens of the victory. According to legend, Philippides, who had already run 140 miles to Sparta, ran back to Athens, announced the victory, collapsed, and died. The modern marathon, 26 miles, 385 yards is based on this legendary event.

If we were to describe Philippides in Greek, we might call him an “Uangleos,” or “Bringer of Good News.” Another English word might be “Herald” or “Bringer of Glad Tidings.” The underlying word is also the Greek word from which we get our English word “Angel” The word “Good News” comes from a Greek Word, “Euangellion,” from which we get the words “Good News,” “Gospel,” and “Evangelism. When the angels appear to the Shepherds in Luke they proclaimed: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Jesus was sent and anointed by God for the specific purpose of preaching and proclaiming Good News to the people of Israel, and through them, to us. In fact, as we shall see, he was the Good News and, therefore, his birth is Good News!

Good News in Isaiah

The visions of the prophet Isaiah included visions of the future of Israel from the time of the Assyrians until the end of the world as described in Revelation, which often quotes Isaiah. In Isaiah 55, the prophet proclaims a message of hope the captives in Babylon:

ComeWhoAreThirsty“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples. … Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Isaiah 55:1-7).

It was a part of Old Testament faith that sins must be paid for either by suffering or by sacrifice. This part of Isaiah is taken up with their restoration to the land of Judah and the end of their exile in Babylon. Surprisingly, Isaiah does not proclaim, “Do this: Make this sacrifice and you will be freed from the consequences of your sins.” He says that God will provide a savior and a salvation that will be free—“without cost!” God’s kingdom will come. The Messiah will come. Salvation will come. Israel will be lifted up. And, it is all going to be free. God intends to give mercy and forgiveness for free.

This is the Good News Jesus proclaimed and which we continue to proclaim: God acted in Jesus Christ to fulfill the promise made to David, to raise up a Savior for his people. God acted in Christ to provide for us a free salvation out of his sheer mercy and grace. By the merits of Christ, and his life, death, and resurrection, we can be healed, forgiven, and restored to the unique image God placed in one of us. This is the Good News whose coming we celebrate at Christmas.

Unbelievable Good News

In Mark, we are told that, right at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus came proclaiming this Good News (Mark 1:14-15). Luke gives us a deeper look at an incident from early in his ministry where he returned home and taught in the synagogue. He tells the story this way:

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:14-21).

When Jesus finished reading, he gave the scroll back to the attendant and sat down in silence. Everyone looked at him, wondering what he was going to say. What he said was amazing: “Today this prophesy has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). The people were taken aback. The people began to say to one another, “Who does this guy think he is?” “Isn’t this the Son of Joseph the carpenter?” (v. 22). “Isn’t this the son of Mary his wife?” Eventually, they even got mad at him because of his message and drove him out of town, almost killing him (v. 28-30).

images-2Not long ago, I saw a movie in which the end of World War II was depicted. Most us have seen pictures of the great celebrations in London and New York that broke out when the Second World War was over. People had been anticipating the end of the war for months. From the time that the allies landed at Normandy, people looked forward to the day the war would end. After the Allied Armies crossed the Rhine River, the expectations grew and grew. People started stockpiling champaign and food for the inevitable celebration. But, there were others who could hardly believe that the war would end. They kept expecting something bad to happen. Even after the announcement was made there were soldiers and citizens from both sides who could hardly believe it was true. Some soldiers continued to fight. Months later, many Japanese soldiers continued to fight. In fact, the last Japanese soldier did not surrender until 1974, almost 30 years after the war was over! [1] Jesus’ hometown friends were like those who could not believe the good news of the end of World War II—they had been waiting so long, they could not believe that their waiting was over.

images-3At Christmas we celebrate God’s coming into the world to defeat the powers of evil, sin, and death. On Good Friday, we believe Jesus won that victory for us on the Cross. On Easter, we believe God proclaimed this vindication and the defeat of sin and death by the Resurrection. If we will only lay down our arms and surrender to God, there will be peace. Too many of us just can hardly believe it is true. We are like Hiroo Onada, the Japanese soldier. We just keep fighting and fighting, not realizing that the war is over. Nevertheless, the reason we party at Christmas and Easter is because it is true: God has won our victory on the cross if only we will accept his free offer of grace.

Being Good News

imgres-1A litte longer rendition of the passsage from Isaiah 61 Jesus read is as follows:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations (Isaiah 61:1-4).

If we listen carefully to the text, we realize that there are two movements to the text. First, Isaiah talks about the Spirit of God coming upon the prophet to proclaim good news of release to those who are captives. He proclaims the freedom of those in captive to the powers of this world.

Then Isaiah moves on to speak of what “They” (the freed captives of Israel) will be and do: “They” will be crowned. “They” will become righteous oaks. “They” will be planting of God to display his splendor. “They” will restore cities. “They” will rebuild ruins. In this passage, Isaiah is talking about the liberated Jews, and by the power of the Resurrection, Jesus is talking about us.

Those who hear the Good News and are filled with the Spirit of God are going to be empowered to change the world. He meant to include us in this promise—all who hear the Good News and respond to God’s grace will themselves become Good News just like Jesus. God does not just want us to hear Good News. He wants us to be Good News. By the power of the Spirit, we can be Good News to others by what we say and do!

images-4Some of you know that each year I go away near Thanksgiving to pray about Christmas and about the general direction of Advent for the year to come. For the past two years, I have gone to a Catholic retreat center in San Antonio. The center is in the city, so people wander in and out of the grounds and nearby church all day long. It takes a while to get used to the silence of the retreat center, so ordinarily; I go on a walk or run to get acclimated to silence and the retreat itself. This year, as I was running on the grounds the first afternoon, I came near a meditation pool that is surrounded by a little wall and garden. There was a man covered with tattoos kneeling by the pool crying as hard as a man could possibly cry.

I had seen the man a little earlier as I left the guesthouse praying in another location and wondered at the time what was going on with him. I kept on going for a few moments, but in the end, I felt I should go back. (I am not a priest, and I was not sure I should interfere.) I walked up to the man, sat down beside him, and asked, “Is there something wrong?” There was. The man’s father had died. The man, I think, felt guilty about the relationship he had with his father. We just sat and talked for a while. I gave him what assurance I could that his father was O.K. and that God would forgive him for any argument they had before he died. After a time, I asked to pray with the man, who by now was no longer crying. As I finished praying, he said, “Are you a priest?” “No,” “I said, I am just a guy.” A little later, I saw him leave with his wife or girl friend. They were walking hand in hand.

In this particular instance, I did nothing more than anyone could have done. I was actually glad I was not a priest, just another guy. For in that moment, I was a little Christ, just an ordinary disciple, giving Good News to another human being who needed to hear the Good News of the God who came to give us Salvation. It is that same Good News we celebrate this coming week.


[1] Hiroo Onoda (March 19, 1922 – January 16, 2014) was an Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer who fought in World War II and did not surrender in 1945. In 1974, his former commander traveled from Japan to personally issue orders relieving him from duty.


He Came to Heal Us

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.  The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. 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 immediately 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. 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 1:21-29).

imgresEvery so often, an old Rock Hudson movie called the “Magnificent Obsession” is shown on television. The Magnificent Obsession is based on a novel written by Lloyd C. Douglas. It is the story of a rich playboy, Bob Merrick, whose reckless speed-boating inadvertently causes the death of a beloved doctor. It turns out that this beloved doctor has very little money because of his habit of giving it away. The playboy also inadvertently causes the blindness of the doctor’s wife, played by Jane Wyman. The only way Bob Merrick can hope to undo the damage that he as done is to become a surgeon himself, which he does. Along the way he falls in love with the now-blind widow of the famous doctor. After years of struggle, the now famous surgeon, Bob Merrick, saves the life of the wife of the person he killed, and the movie comes to a happy ending. The movie and book are examples of a genre of secular retellings of the message of the Bible that were popular in America in the early 20th Century. [1] The message is one of sin, forgiveness, renewal, and two healed lives by the power of God’s Spirit.

This morning we are thinking about the fact that Jesus came to heal our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. Healing is an important subject for Christians. Jesus came as a healer. One name he has been given throughout history is, “The Great Physician.” From the earliest days, Christians have prayed for healings and believed that certain people have a special gift of healing. From the earliest days of the church, Christians have been interested in healing. For example, there was a great epidemic around the year 260 A. D. Here is what Dionysius of Alexandria said concerning the Christian response:

Most of the Christians in our city showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of others. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending their every need, helping and comforting them — and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pain. [2]

The God of Healing

The first Christians would not have been the least bit surprised that Jesus was a healer. When Jesus went to Levi’s home for dinner, the religious leaders complained that he was consorting with sinners. In response, Jesus admonished them that it was not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick (Mark 2:17). This tells us that Jesus was acquainted with doctors. In addition, in the ancient world very few people would have been surprised at what we would call “faith healers,” who could heal others in ways that seemed mystical. Jesus was just such a person. He had the power of healing.

In the Old Testament, one name for God is “Jehovah Rapha” or the “God Who Heals.” The Hebrew word can mean the healing of a person, a relationship, a community, or a nation. It can involve spiritual healing, emotional healing, communal healing, even a national healing. [3] The God of Israel is a God who heals everyone and every kind of illness or brokenness there is or can be. Where things are out of joint, Jehovah Rapha, the God Who Heals, has the power to put them right.

One sign of the Messiah’ reign was to be healing. In Isaiah 35, the time of the healing and restoration of Israel is described like this:

Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert (Isaiah 35:3-6).

The coming of the Messiah was to be the coming of a healer and time of healing for creation, for individuals, and for human society.

The Healing Power of Jesus

imgres-1All the Gospels are unanimous in teaching that Jesus was a healer. All four Gospels devote substantial attention to Jesus’ healing ministry. About twenty percent of the Gospels are taken up with healings. Out of almost 4000 verses in the four Gospels, over seven hundred concern his healing of physical and mental illness or the resurrection of the dead. [4] Luke, who was a doctor, shows an unusual interest in the healings of Jesus and often provides details that the other gospel writers did not think important.

John, when he wrote his gospel, saw in the miracles of Jesus generally and in the healing miracles specifically, signs that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel and God in human form, the Word of God in human flesh. In fact, he calls the miracles “signs.” A sign is something that signifies or stands for something else. In the case of Jesus’ miracles and healings, the events themselves carry a deeper meaning: They signify that God was present in Christ. The signs are clues so to speak that God is present in Christ.

This week, I posted the following as the meditation of the week of Facebook: “In Jesus’ healings and exorcisms, we come to a major issue for people who do not believe in miracles and a major reason why Jesus came: He came that creation might become new and be healed of the effects of sin, brokenness, and finitude. In his eternal kingdom, there ‘will be no more sorrow, nor mourning nor pain.’ Even the last enemy, death, is to be defeated. Faced with the God of Life in human form, those things that oppose God’s eternal life and wholeness must flee—and people are healed.” When Jesus came, when the Kingdom comes, the impact of sin, disease, and death end.

The Healings of Mark

imgres-2One aspect of Mark is the attention it pays to what Jesus does as opposed to what Jesus says. The long sermons of Matthew, Luke, and John are largely absent from Mark. If those who believe that Mark is based on Peter’s preaching are correct, there may be a good reason for this: The hyperactive, not always reflective Peter, the Big Fisherman, was more interested in what Jesus did than what he said. Matthew the tax collector and Luke the doctor were educated men much more interested in the teachings of the Messiah. For Peter, the most important thing was the actions, the mighty deeds, and the confrontations with the leaders of Israel that marked Jesus public life.

Therefore, right at the beginning of his book, Mark sets out the fact that Jesus was a healer. According to Mark, right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, after calling Peter, Andrew, James, and John, he came home to Capernaum to teach. As was his custom, he went to the synagogue, or their church house, and gave a message that was so unusual, that the people were amazed. Jesus, unlike the teachers of the law, did not rely on long quotes from the law or other rabbi’s. He taught as one with personal authority. As he was preaching, a man with an evil spirit cried out on behalf of the spirit, “Jesus, Son of God, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24).

In Aramaic, the collective word for demons means, “Ones Who Do Harm.” [5] This demonic, speaking for the entire demonic world, confesses that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, is in fact, the Holy One of God. Jesus, in a mighty act of power, silences and casts out the demon. Later on, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (v. 29-31). By that evening, the events of the day have been so widely recorded in Capernaum that people from the village and surrounding area being Jesus sick and demon possessed people and he heals them all (v. 32-34).

In both word and deed, Jesus spoke and acted as one with authority, that is to say, Jesus spoke as if he had both the right and the power or ability to speak, heal, and cast out demons. By his words and mighty deeds, he claims and exhibits God’s power, including the power to break into history and bring about a healed state of affairs—a state of affairs Jesus called the “Kingdom of God” (Mark 1:17). [6] This pattern of Jesus teaching in mighty ways and then demonstrating the power of God in healings occurs over and over again in Mark. [7] Jesus heals demons (v. 1:29), skin diseases (v. 40), paralysis (2:3-4), fever (v. 1:31), and blindness (10:46-52).

What Does This Mean for Us?

We live in a nation with a very sophisticated medical. It is no mistake or coincidence that many of the hospitals of our nation and other nations carry the names of Catholic saints, or Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, and others. Jesus came to heal and his followers have been healers and supporters of healing ever since. In the West, we are accustomed to healings by doctors, many of whom are not Christians. We forget how our wonderful healthcare systems began. Perhaps more importantly, we forget the role God plays in healing. We forget (until we are in big trouble) that in every age people cry out for Jehovah Rapha.

For those who have difficulty with the idea of miracles and healings, the best explanation I can give is this: Miracles are not so much a suspension of the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, and the like as they are a revelation in specific circumstances of a deeper rationality in and beyond the universe—a rationality that is not always revealed to us, but with which we do occasionally come into contact. It is obvious that our contact with this reality is not constant, does not guarantee that every prayer for a miracle will be answered, and is in some sense a ” personal contact with a personal rationality.” This is why we pray to God for a miracle: We sense that an answer is not automatic and is outside of our control, much like other people cannot be automatically controlled by our words or requests. We are asking another intelligence with its own ideas, agenda, desires, and will to answer our prayers. In so doing, we recognize that this Person is infinitely different from us and in some ways infinitely superior. Therefore, we throw ourselves upon his mercy in answering or not answering any particular prayer. Nevertheless, because God is Absolute Wisdom and Love, we trust that, whatever the answer, in some way all things are being worked together for the good (Romans 8:28).

At staff meeting this week, I told a story I’m sure I’ve mentioned to the congregation before. When our Clara was born, the tear duct for one of her eyes was closed. The pediatrician instructed us to massage it, saying that, most likely, it would eventually open. By the time she was seven months old, he told us that, if it did not open on its own, we would probably need to have it surgically opened before she was ten or eleven months old. In 1986, the main reason we dreaded an operation was the risk of anesthesia on a baby, though there were other worries. For months, friends and relatives prayed that Clara’s tear duct would open. The surgery was finally scheduled. The day before it was to happen Kathy canceled it saying that she did not have a peace about it. That same afternoon, Kathy was driving home our maid, Cuca, who was a charismatic Mexican believer. When they stopped for an errand and Kathy got out of the car, Cuca massaged Clara’s eye and prayed in tongues for God to heal Clara’s eye, as was her custom. When Kathy returned to the car, Cuca told her what she had done and the tear duct was open! The next day, when the surgery should have happened, the tear duct was still open!! I am sure that a non-believer could find a reasonable explanation, even chance, to explain away the facts. All I can say is that her father and mother believed then and now that she was healed. Like the blind man in John, all we can say is that we had a daughter with a closed tear duct that is now open (John 9:28).

Every month at Advent we have a healing service in the chapel. We have this service for a simple reason: We believe that Jesus came as the Great Physician to reveal for us the nature of God—and God is Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals. That is why Jesus came—to usher in a new world and to heal the old world, including us, of all its sin, sickness, and brokenness.

Copyright 2014, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] The Magnificent Obsession, wr. Robert Blees, dir. Douglas Sirk, staring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, based on the 1929 novel, The Magnificent Obsession (1954).


[2] This quote was found in an article on the internet at huron2.aaps.k12.mi.us/smitha/HUM/PDF/Growth-of-Chr.pdf (downloaded December 10, 2014).


[3] In certain translations of the Old Testament “Jehovah” is used for the unspeakable name of God, “YHWH.” Jehovah Rapha simply means, the “God who Heals” or the “Healing God. “Rapha” is a feminine noun that refers to the source or remedy of an illness, physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual.

[4] Gary Wiens, The Healing Ministry of Jesus International House of Prayer Northwest, www.ihopnw.org (Downloaded December 10, 2014).

[5] See, William Barclay, “The Gospel of Mark” in The Daily Bible Study rev. ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975), 34.

[6] The term “exousia” means both the authority to do an act and the power of its performance. In the political sphere, a king has both the authority to punish misdeeds and the power to inflict the punishment he has determined just. In the New Testament, this is the power Jesus possesses to a divine degree—his power is effective even over and against death. See, Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament abridged ed. trans. Geoffrey Bromily (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1985), 238-240.

[7] By my count, there are at least eighteen healings in Mark.

He Came to Forgive our Sins

images-1Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:3-12).

Most Christians remember a time when they did something wrong, something that involved sin, when they experienced a kind of new life when they asked for forgiveness. Forgiveness is central to the Christian experience of God’s grace. Last week, we talked about the fact that Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Near the end of the sermon, we were reminded that Jesus explained that the way we enter the kingdom of God is to repent, believe, and receive the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:15). This repentance is an act of turning away from our sins and receiving the forgiveness of God.

Friday December 5th was a First Friday Prayer Day. There was also a Prayer Vigil at the House of Prayer in Memphis that Kathy and I attended with Don Kerns, who leads our Arlington congregation. This particular prayer vigil was held to celebrate the anniversaries of the Renewal Weekends our congregation helped sponsor in West Memphis, Arkansas and Arlington, Tennessee. While we were there, Don shared some of the things that have happened in Arlington since the vigil. One story he told was especially meaningful. One Sunday this past year while Don was preaching a man came into the church, came down to the front row, and began to mutter and pray. After interrupting the service a couple of times and being assured that the congregation wanted to help him, he got up and left. Several of the men followed him outside and convinced him to come with them to the fellowship hall. For those of you who have not been to Arlington, there is no door between the sanctuary and the Fellowship Hall, just a hallway. The congregation could hear the noise of the conversation. The story is complicated, but the person was an alcoholic and felt that he had done things that could not be forgiven. Don and the men of the church assured him that he could be forgiven, and they began working with the man. Today, he is sober.

The Story of the Man with Friends of Faith

Healing of the Paralytic Man Mark 2:1-5Like most people of my generation, I have a memory of a Sunday School picture of this story used as a teaching aid when we were children. In the picture, Jesus stands in a home teaching. Above Jesus, you can see that some men have created a hole in the flat roof of a Palestinian home and are lowering a friend to the feet of Jesus. In the picture, Jesus is beginning a conversation with the man. The story goes like this: Jesus was teaching in Capernaum, where he had a home. When the people of the village learned that Jesus was back, they gathered to hear him preach. Apparently, he had made a local reputation by his first sermons, exorcisms, and healings.

Some men of the area had a friend who was paralyzed. They decided to bring him to Jesus, but they could not get into the tiny home. Therefore, they walked up on the roof. This may seem odd to us, but many homes in Jesus’ day had steps to the roof, and people often slept or relaxed on the roof during the hot summer months. These flat roofs usually consisted of beams, with brush laid between them, and the entire thing covered with mud, something like what we would call “adobe.” It was not difficult to dig a hole in such a roof. [1] This is exactly what the men did. Then, they lowered the man to the feet of Jesus. When Jesus saw the faith of the man’s friends, Jesus said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:6).

This was disturbing to the religious professionals who were present. According to Jewish law, only God could forgive sins. Jesus was a traveling, itinerant rabbi, not even a priest or scribe or Pharisee. Clearly, he should not be forgiving sins. They began to accuse him of blasphemy in their minds. Jesus realized what they were thinking, and asked a question, “What is harder to do forgive a person’s sins or heal the person?” Obviously, from a human point of view it is easier to forgive sins. No special power is needed to say, “I forgive you.”

In order to prove that he has the power of God, Jesus said to the man, “Get up, take up your mat, and go home” (v. 11), and that is exactly what the man did. Everyone was amazed because Jesus demonstrated both wisdom, the power of God to forgive, and healing power they felt came from God alone.

The Center of Christian Faith

imagesIn this story, Mark brings us to the center of Christian faith: In Jesus, God came to forgive sinners. Just a few verses later, in another confrontation at Levi’s house, when the teachers of the law see Jesus eating and drinking with sinners and complain, Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (v. 17). Paul, in reflecting on this says the following: “Here is a trustworthy saying, Christ came into the world to forgive sinners of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). Over and over again in Scripture, Jesus forgives sins.

Early on, the Church Fathers determined that the revelation of Christ, and the writings of the New Testament did not invalidate the teachings and laws of the Old Testament. They did not abrogate the moral law. They did not create a situation in which sin did not matter or was not punished. [2] What Christianity added was the belief that we are not trapped in our sins, nor do we need to live with the shame and guilt of our sins, nor do we have to engage in constant, repetitive sacrifice for our sins. They can be forgiven—and Jesus came to reveal and make perfect that forgiveness.

Every so often someone comes to see a pastor and confesses some sin which they have committed, which they have confessed to God, and which they have lived beyond by a changed life. However, they cannot forgive themselves for what they have done. They just cannot believe that God could or would forgive this particular sin. When that happens, it is important to remind them that God promises to forgive our sins if we confess them, ask for forgiveness, and turn, or repent, and live the New Life Christ offers us.

This offer of forgiveness through the sacrificial death of a Savior may not seem logical to us; but it is evidence of a wisdom and logic deeper than human wisdom. It is a reflection of what C. S. Lewis calls, the “deeper magic.” [3] The Apostle Paul calls it the wisdom of God, which the world calls foolishness. He puts it this way:

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:20-25).

The Suffering Servant

images-2Nevertheless, what bothers people most is the notion that our forgiveness is free. Sometimes when I talk to folks about this I like to say, “Your forgiveness is free; but it is not cheap.” There was a price to be paid far greater than our own amends and the self-control it has taken us to change our lifestyle. God himself in the person of the Word Made Flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, or Christ paid the price.

In Isaiah, the prophet, looking forward to the Messiah, describes him like this:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:2-5).

The vision of Isaiah is a vision of a Messiah that is not a military or political leader. He is not the kind of person that looks good on TV and draws crowds based on charisma. He does not wear expensive suits and spend the weekends at Camp David. He is not what he was expected to be in Jewish folklore—a victorious military commander. He was a person the crowds rejected and misunderstood. He was not handsome, beautiful or majestic. He suffered and was acquainted with grief and suffering. He was not honored for his work. Yet, he was stricken for the transgressions and sins of his people. He was literally crushed by the burden of other people’s sin. He received the punishment he did not deserve—all for those who reject him.

Most people who have seen Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ are struck by the horror of the scourging and crucifixion. [4] We read by his stripes or wounds we are healed; but it is not until we see it that we fully understand the horror of what happened to Jesus on the Cross. This suffering is what Isaiah described. Our forgiveness and salvation may be free to us, but it was not free to God. In Christ, God came into the world to pay the price for our sins and our freedom from their bondage, now and forever.

When Jesus allowed himself to be captured and tried, and then appeared before Pontius Pilate, he delivered himself to the world system of his day and ours, to the “Powers and Principalities of this present dark age” of which Paul later speaks (Ephesians 6:12). The horror of Calvary and what preceded it is the response of the wisdom of God fully present in Christ who gives himself as a sacrifice for our sins in a way that no one could possibly have foreseen. [5]

He Came to Bear a Cross

Kathy and I have recently watched a lot of episodes of a TV show about a burned spy called “Burn Notice.” [6] The “hero,” Michael Weston, is a burned spy who is a kind of modern Robin Hood. Unfortunately, in his anxiety to clear his name, he is forever making mistakes. He betrays his mother, his girl friend, his best friend, his brother, and others. He even gets his brother killed as he tries to recover his job as a spy. After every mistake and betrayal he goes to someone he has wronged and says, “I am sorry.” I don’t think the writers really understood the statement they were making. Michael Weston does not change until the very end of the series. He is just “sorry.” His family and friends, who are often angry with him, being nice people, inevitably forgive him and go on.

imgresThis is not what the Bible means when it talks about repentance and forgiveness. Too many people think forgiveness is just saying “I’m sorry” over and over again to a God who forgives us like a co-dependent parent. This not what the Bible teaches. Our sin is serious. It has serious consequences for us and everyone around us. God came in Jesus and died for our sins sure enough. He came to see that the price for sins was paid in full, and we are debtors to the God who paid the price. If we are sorry and forgiven, then we have an obligation to respond in faith and gratitude to the God of Mercy who has forgiven us. Our response is to live differently than we lived before our forgiveness.

You see, behind the Christmas story is a sober reality: the Babe came to forgive sins—and he came to pay the price for the sins he came to forgive. It was not easy. It was not fun. It involved suffering and sorrow. He came, to forgive our sins, but he also paid the price for them. This reminds us that there is a moral universe in which sin is real and its consequences are real. The Bible teaches that, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The miracle of grace is the way that verse ends: “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). When we give Christmas presents to our children at Christmas, they are free to them—but they are not free to us. Someone worked long and hard for the presents we receive. While we should celebrate Christmas and be happy in our celebration of our Savior’s birth, our celebration should not blind us to a sober reality: the cute baby in the manger came to be rejected, suffer, and die so that we could have a new life in the midst of the suffering we bring upon ourselves and others.

Copyright 2014, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] See, William Barclay, “The Gospel of Mark” in The Daily Bible Study Series rev. ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1954), 46-47.

[2] In Romans, Paul deals with the notion that the result of grace is that sin is without consequence when he says, “Do we nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (Romans 3:31). In church history, what is at stake in the inclusion of the Jewish scriptures within the Bible is the continuing validity of the Old Testament witness to God and the Torah. Many modern Christians live as if this were not true.

[3] C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (New York, NY: Collier Books, 1950), 159-160.

[4] The Passion of the Christ, wr. Benedict Fitzgerald & Mel Gibson, dir. Mel Gibson Starring James Patrick “Jim” Caviezel (2004).

[5] See, Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 8 which puts it this way, “The Lord Jesus, in His human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, above measure, having in Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell; to the end that, being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth, He might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a Mediator and Surety. Which office He took not unto Himself, but was thereunto called by His Father, who put all power and judgment into His hand, and gave Him commandment to execute the same. “This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake; which that He might discharge, He was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfill it; endured most grievous torments immediately in His soul, and most painful sufferings in His body; was crucified, and died, was buried, and remained under the power of death, yet saw no corruption. On the third day He arose from the dead, with the same body in which He suffered, with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sits at the right hand of His Father, making intercession, and shall return, to judge men and angels, at the end of the world.

[6] Burn Notice Created by Matt Nix, starring Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, and Bruce Campbell (2007-2013).