Jesus’ compassionate healing ministry
Vast crowds are coming to Jesus. Mark gives a narrative account but Matthew adds the prophetic understanding using the Servant of the Lord prophecies of Isaiah.
Vast crowds are coming to Jesus. Mark gives a narrative account but Matthew adds the prophetic understanding using the Servant of the Lord prophecies of Isaiah.
Hello and welcome to Series 3 and Episode 11, which we're calling ‘Jesus' Compassionate Healing Ministry.’
Introduction and Recap
We're going to look at two summary statements about Jesus' healing ministry during his ministry in Galilee, which we've been describing in earlier episodes: how this has been gathering momentum with many remarkable healings, many remarkable deliverances from evil spirits, crowds gathering from further and further afield and Jesus having a huge impact on the community through the miraculous things that he did.
We're going to look at Mark's narrative, first of all, in Mark 3: 7 - 12, where he describes the sheer scale of what is taking place in a very interesting explanation of how enormous the crowds were and the issues that it raised. This is a narrative introduction. In the second half of this episode, we're going to look at Matthew 12: 15 - 21, where Matthew takes a prophetic perspective on what is happening through Jesus' miraculous healing ministry. We're going to put them together and see what we can learn from these two accounts which have a real significance in terms of understanding Jesus' ministry at this time - particularly the significance of his healing ministry and the way it revealed his true identity.
I want to start by turning to Mark 3: 7 - 12. This is Mark's summary statement, a very interesting account of how things had developed as the crowds got larger and larger. Mark 3: 7,
‘Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed (him). When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him.’Mark 3:7-12, NIV
As soon as you read this passage, you become aware of the fact that the crowds around Jesus now were almost unmanageable. There were just so many people and, wherever he went, he seemed to be besieged by crowds. His reputation for healing meant that people came from further and further afield and they were desperate, so they were pushing forward. I don't know whether you've ever been in a crowded situation, where the crowd becomes somewhat out of control for one reason or another? Maybe it's a transport situation, or a public rally, or a traffic jam; but crowds are tense situations when they become out of control - and this is what Jesus was experiencing. He found it difficult to move around freely and he was interrupted everywhere he went; people were pushing forward to see him. The risk was that he would be surrounded by a crowd and simply wouldn't be able to move anywhere and people get frustrated at not being able to get access to him because there are so many other people in front of them. Maybe you've been in this kind of situation. It can be quite terrifying; it can be difficult to handle. Jesus did something here which we have no account of him doing before, he asked the disciples to get a boat. He positioned himself by the lake, this is the Sea of Galilee (the freshwater lake, the fishing lake) that was in the middle of Galilee and he operated in and around the lake much of the time. Capernaum, his headquarters, was a village, or small town, right on the lake. He asked his disciples to get a boat ready and he positioned himself near the lakeside because this was the only way that he could escape from the crowd, by literally getting on the water and, of course, very few of them could follow him when he was sitting on the lake. We know, from other accounts, there are different reasons why Jesus went on the Sea of Galilee on a boat and various things happened which we'll discuss in future episodes but here's an early incidence of where Jesus was struggling to actually deal with the sheer number of people that were coming to him. He was giving an immense amount of time and energy to heal the sick and so, one of the reasons to escape to the lake would be to get some rest and, no doubt, Jesus did that on occasion.
We notice also, in the description of the crowd, that they came from very far and wide. We've already noticed this in an early episode: in Matthew 4, he describes crowds coming from similar locations. In fact, Mark adds in another district here, Idumea, which is south of Judea - which is even further away than the other locations that have been described. It's possible that people may be travelling not just 150 kilometres, which I mentioned with the previous description, but even up to 200 kilometres from that southern district in order to get to Jesus. There's something urgent, something desperate, about the crowds as they're seeking urgently the healing and the touch of Jesus but it's becoming almost unmanageable. Jesus gives a huge amount of time to help people and he's not just healing the sick; he is setting them free from demonic influence.
As we've already noticed, the New Testament writers are quite clear that Jesus' ministry was two-fold in this miraculous dimension; some of it was just healing the sick and some of it was releasing people from the control of evil powers. It's noticeable, here, that the impure spirits within people, wrongly occupying them, when they came in contact with Jesus they acknowledged his authority and his power, acknowledged that he was the Son of God. They were removed by Jesus from those people - thus setting them free from all sorts of oppression, whether it's mental, psychological or physical. It's a remarkable scene - almost a chaotic scene - implied by this narrative; so many people rushing around, trying to find Jesus and causing difficulty for the village communities as people pass through in their hundreds trying to get hold of food and water in large numbers. There was a lot of disruption going on at this time, as a result of the healing ministry of Jesus and the vast number of people who were coming to seek healing from him.
That's the description given in Mark. It's just a narrative description, but gives you a feel for what's happening at this time. This was a time of Jesus' great popularity; there were very few critics - there were the religious authorities who were already criticising him and challenging him - but there weren't many other people criticising him. Most people were very much on board thinking this was a very remarkable man: a healer, a teacher, a prophet and, perhaps, the Son of God, the Messiah.
Matthew's account, which relates to a similar type of situation, gives a completely different perspective which I want to spend time thinking about. Matthew 12: 15 - 21, is Matthew reflecting on the significance of Jesus' widespread healing ministry: What did it say about him? He then quotes a prophecy from Isaiah and that's what we're going to study for a few minutes now. Matthew 12:15 to 21:
‘Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.”’Matthew 12:15-21, NIV
Matthew frequently identifies Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled through Jesus - we've already noticed that in some earlier episodes - for example, the birth narratives. Here's another good example. Matthew was writing with Jews very much in mind and with a keen interest in Old Testament prophecy and its fulfilment.
Here he quotes, extensively, from a prophecy in Isaiah 42. He's quoting from one of a series of prophecies which I mentioned in several episodes and I will repeat some of the things that I've mentioned elsewhere, just for us to be clear. There's a series of prophecies, in the book of Isaiah, which have a common theme: they are identifying the work of an individual person, who Isaiah calls the Servant of the Lord. This is a representative of Israel (the servant nation, God's servant nation) who were called by him to serve him in his purposes to bless the whole world; but there's a representative person, called the Servant of the Lord, who arises out of Israel and turns out to be (as we understand it now) the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Man. The Servant of the Lord is just one of those titles of Jesus. These passages, which I'll give you references for, so you can study them yourselves (and I'll give these references every time we have a significant discussion of one of these passages). These passages have an increasingly clear picture of who this Servant of the Lord is. The first Servant of the Lord passage, or prophecy, is this one. It's from Isaiah 42: 1 - 7. There's another passage in Isaiah 49: 1 to 7, and the third one is Isaiah 50: 4 - 9. The longest one is the fourth one - the one that we're probably more familiar with, if we know much about the Bible - Isaiah 52: 13, to Isaiah 53: 12. That's more than a whole chapter! Finally, there's Isaiah 61: 1 to 3, which we already discussed in an earlier episode when Jesus quoted it in the Nazareth synagogue and that was the beginning of us understanding how Jesus identified himself with this character: the Servant of the Lord. These prophecies speak of various different things that this Servant would do.
I'm going to focus on chapter 42, because this is the text that we have in mind now. To make it clear, as these prophecies progress we see that the Servant is going to suffer and die a sacrificial, atoning death and be raised again from the dead in order to bring salvation to people and that becomes clear in the third and fourth passages (Isaiah 50 and then, particularly, Isaiah 52 and 53) which describes this fully - we'll come back to that in a few moments. In this particular passage there are a number of things of interest. ‘I will put my Spirit on him,’ verse 18 - so the Holy Spirit is going to empower the Servant and we've seen this very clearly demonstrated in the Gospels, from the time of Jesus' baptism onwards. ‘And he'll proclaim justice to the nations’ - his focus isn't only going to be to the people of Israel, it's going to be to the nations of the world. Interestingly enough, in Mark's description (in Mark 3, that we've just looked at) we have nations described there that are beyond the borders of Israel, so there's already an indication that Jesus is reaching beyond just the Jewish people. ‘He will not quarrel or cry out, no one will hear his voice in the streets’ - this refers to not being a strident political voice, someone who's drawing attention to himself. No, it's someone who comes very gently and very quietly and very humbly into their society. But ‘a bruised reed (he'll) not break and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out’ - this speaks of compassion for the broken. The Servant of the Lord, Jesus, would have great compassion for the broken. This part of this prophecy is one of the things that strikes Matthew very strongly because he sees tremendous compassion in the healing ministry of Jesus - and I want to underline and emphasise that. We can see the numbers; we can see the scale of the miracles and we can be impressed by those, but it takes real compassion to give hours and hours, days and days, weeks and weeks, of your time to endless crowds who come to you - people you don't know, people from different nations (some of whom don't even speak the same language as you do) and for you to give time to pray for them, to engage with them, to talk to them, to encourage them, to hold people's hands - and that's what Jesus had to do with hundreds (thousands) of people. There's real compassion in his ministry and that's why this episode is entitled ‘Jesus' Compassionate Healing Ministry.’ He showed great compassion and this prophecy identifies it. ‘In his name the nations will put their hope’ - the ministry of Jesus, according to this prophecy, through his compassionate healing and through his speaking and sharing, is going to reach the nations of the world. It's not just about the Jews and about Israel and ‘he (will bring) justice through to victory’ (verse 20, second half) - so it looks like Jesus is going to reach all the nations of the world and he's going to bring some kind of just society through his Kingdom, which is going to be characterised by compassion for the weak and a healing ministry. These are amazing characteristics and it's all going to be through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been given to Jesus, he came back to Galilee (according to Luke 4) ‘in the power of the Spirit,’ he performed miracles by the power and the calling of the Spirit.
Here in this particular part of the Gospels we just have two summary accounts: Mark identifying the sheer scale of the healing ministry - just the vast numbers and the logistics of it; and Matthew providing prophetic perspective and rooting Jesus' ministry in the prophecies of the Old Testament. As we reflect on these things and we ask ourselves what can we learn from these passages, I want to say two things. First of all, to talk about miracles. Miracles were absolutely central to the ministry of Jesus. At every stage in his life, he performed miracles - we see them recorded all the way through the Gospel accounts. The reason this is important is that, obviously, it demonstrated his compassion and the love of God - it was a sign of God's grace to people - that in itself is important but also that this was an indicator that Jesus had, as John said, ‘the Spirit without limit.’ Jesus was able to operate in all the gifts of the Spirit. John 3: 34, says: ‘For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.’ There was nothing Jesus couldn't do as the Son of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit. He had ‘the Spirit without limit.’ There was enough power, enough gifts of healing, to deal with everybody who came to him. This won't be the only time I make this point, but it's an important one: what's our expectation to be in the Church? We don't have ‘the Spirit without limit’ in each one of us - and when we looked in that passage in John 3, I did teach on that and explain that a little. We are the Body of Christ, the Church, and the Spirit distributes gifts according to his will. Individual Christians have different gifts: some of them, obviously, miraculous gifts; some of them serving gifts; some of them teaching gifts; some of them leadership gifts; some of them gifts of mercy to the poor and needy; some of them gifts of hospitality and giving and generosity. There's many different types of gifts, but some of them are the performing of miracles and gifts of healing and the discerning of spirits, which are relevant to the healing ministry of Jesus. It's important for us to seek those gifts and to encourage those who clearly demonstrate an ability to have faith to pray for the sick to be healed in miraculous ways. We should be expecting signs of the Kingdom in the Church today like the signs that we see in the Gospels. No single person will perform the number of miracles, or the scale of miracles, that Jesus does because none of us have ‘the Spirit without limit,’ but many of us will be given supernatural gifts of miracles and healing and these will point people to Christ. Can I encourage you to have this positive perspective and to seek to be one of those people who brings about those miracles for the glory of God?
My second reflection, and my final one, is to think more about the prophetic understanding, that Matthew brings to our attention here: that Jesus is the Servant of the Lord according to Isaiah. Isaiah 42, the first of these prophecies, focuses on Jesus' compassion and his mercy reaching down to the broken - we've discussed that briefly. The second passage, Isaiah 49, focuses on Jesus extending his ministry well beyond Israel. In fact, Isaiah 49 describes it as ‘too small a thing’ just for him to restore the Jewish people to God. ‘“It's too small a thing (Isaiah 49: 6) for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and (to) bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”’ Here's another emphatic example, implied in Isaiah 42, as we saw a few moments ago, but stated overtly and directly here, prophetically: Jesus will be ‘a light to the nations’ and ‘(his) salvation will reach the ends of the earth.’ Here we are, in the 21st century, and this prophecy is being fulfilled in our lifetime and has been being fulfilled for many centuries up until now. The salvation of Christ is reaching the ends of the earth. That's wonderful to think about and it's part of the reason that we are here today - you from many different nations in the world and me giving this teaching - we're sharing together in a salvation that goes across all ethnic groups and all nations and all races and all language groups as his salvation reaches ‘the ends of the earth.’ Isaiah 53 - which we'll come back to later on in our studies - identifies, unambiguously, that the means of this salvation coming to the world was not just through miracles and signs, powerful teaching and prophetic insight (all the things that we've seen Jesus perform in Galilee and do in Galilee which drew these immense crowds which we've been talking about). He could have continued doing that for many years but he chose to cut short that ministry, after about three years, and he chose a different end to his life than you might have imagined. He chose to allow himself to die and Isaiah 53, part of this same series of prophecies that Matthew would have had in mind when he quoted Isaiah 42, (he would have seen the link between all these different prophecies), says very clearly - and I leave this for us to think about now, we'll discuss it in more detail in future episodes. Isaiah 53: 3,
‘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 53:3-6, NIV
This Servant of the Lord role has many dimensions, not all of them are mentioned in this passage. This is just an introduction to the Servant of the Lord role but, Isaiah has much more material which develops it. Isaiah 53 shows that a key part of his salvation - in fact the central part - is that he should die as a substitute, as an atonement, for you and for me so that we can obtain forgiveness; then he rose again and ascended and the Church came into being to fulfil that ministry and get the message out to the nations of the world.
Thank you for reading.
The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.
- Share experiences of being part of a crowd. What was it like and what did you feel? Crowds flocked to see Jesus.
- What is compassion? How does Jesus show it in his healing ministry?
- What signs of the Kingdom of God do you see today? Are you using God’s gifts to help bring these into being?
- Read through the prophecies from Isaiah which speak about the Servant of the Lord. What do you learn about Jesus from Isaiah 42:1 - 7?