Jesus spends time in solitary prayer. He travels around Galilee but many travel long distances to see him. Momentum is building and many are healed.
Jesus spends time in solitary prayer. He travels around Galilee but many travel long distances to see him. Momentum is building and many are healed.
Hello and welcome to Series 3 and Episode 5. This is: ‘Jesus starts touring around Galilee.’
Introduction and Recap
We're going to read the accounts of this from Mark 1 and Matthew 4 in a few moments but let's capture the context first of all, to remind ourselves of everything that's happened and what the significance of this is in the bigger story.
We're now quite well into the description of Jesus coming back and starting his public ministry in Galilee - having been baptised by John the Baptist, been in the desert, been tempted by Satan, been in Jerusalem. He's now back in Galilee. He's established himself at the fishing town, or village, of Capernaum and he has been to Nazareth (his home-town), spoken in the synagogue, explained his ministry and had a difficult rejection at Nazareth. He's now based in Capernaum and the reputation of Jesus is spreading far and wide very, very quickly. He's causing quite a sensation; no one like him has been seen in Israel for many hundreds of years. The healing miracles and the deliverances from evil powers, are causing people to give amazing stories about what Jesus can actually do. However, he's been based primarily in Capernaum and the episode immediately before this one describes a key moment in the story because Jesus goes into the synagogue on that day, and he sets free a man who has an impure spirit - an evil spirit. He sets him free from that and the man is very delighted. Then he heals Simon Peter's mother-in-law in her home in Capernaum. We saw at the end of the last episode, after sunset - which is the end of the Sabbath day when people are not supposed to move around, to do any work or any special energetic activity - people came to Jesus. They found him, and numerous people in and around Capernaum were healed, and set free from demonic spirits on that day.
That's the immediate event that's actually happened. Jesus has had a phenomenally successful day of ministry in Capernaum. He's performed many, many miracles; he's gained a good reputation; he's taught in the synagogue and people are coming to him. Most of those people would be people in and around the Capernaum area and the question is, what does he do next? It would be very easy for him to stay in Capernaum, to find a public place where he can teach regularly - perhaps by the lakeside, perhaps in the marketplace. He could teach in the synagogue on the Sabbath day; he could teach on the main road coming in and out of the town - there are all sorts of possibilities. He could settle in the area because he's been very successful and people are likely to travel to hear him, to meet him and for him to lay hands on them and heal them if they are sick.
What happens next is very important and Mark 1: 35 to 39 describes what happens immediately after all the people had gone home from a late night's healing session which took place between sunset and bedtime, a short period of time. Let's read Mark 1: 35 to 39:
‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.’Mark 1:35-39, NIV
The obvious thing would be for Jesus to stay put in Capernaum and for people to come to him but notice what happens: he's been having a very busy day on the Sabbath that involves praying for a lot of people after sunset in the evening, as our last episode showed, and yet it says here that ‘Very early in the morning while it was still dark Jesus, left the house and went off to solitary place.’ After only a very few hours of sleep, a very short night after a very busy day, Jesus deliberately got up before everybody else and he went to find a solitary place. For Jesus to find a solitary place from this moment onwards was always going to be difficult. People were always pursuing him, wanting to meet him, listen to him, receive help from him, be prayed for by him. I imagine that this meant he went out of the village, or the town, and into the nearby countryside, which is very hilly so there are places you can go, quietly, in the fields, or with the animals, or out on the hillside - and he prayed.
We don't know exactly the dynamics of that prayer, said by Jesus, or what he felt his Father was saying to him, but we can easily guess. He's basically saying to his Father, “What do you want me to do next?” and he received a very clear message, “Go from this place and travel around, spread the message far and wide.” Jesus, here, does something which he does many times and it's described quite clearly in the Gospels (especially the Gospel of Luke) - he took time to pray to his heavenly Father and to find the exact will of what his Father wanted him to do. Although everyone was looking for him, he didn't respond to them - he moved on. There was an expectation in Capernaum that Jesus, having made this sensational entrance and having done these sensational things, would stay in and around the town and spend time with the people but it was not to be. He travelled throughout Galilee. As we've said before, Galilee is the northern district of Israel with many villages and towns. There are lots of places for Jesus to go; he'd hardly been anywhere before now (all we know of is him visiting Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum) and there are many villages and towns to visit.
Matthew tells us a little bit more about this first preaching tour. Matthew 4: 23 to 25, is a parallel account, but Matthew doesn't tell us about the time of going to pray, he tells us in more detail what happened when Jesus travelled around. Matthew 4: 23
‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.’Matthew 4:23-25, NIV
Travelling to See Jesus
This is a sudden explosion of ministry and influence. From a small base in Capernaum, Jesus now extends his influence, dramatically, all the way across Galilee. Notice how far people came. In verse 25, the list given includes not only Galilee (which is a big district), but an area called the Decapolis (that means ten towns), Jerusalem and Judea in the region across the Jordan. This means that people were travelling from different provinces; some of them were travelling from outside the nation of Israel (the Decapolis area, part of it, and other areas beyond the Jordan) and they were travelling up to 150 kilometres to meet Jesus - in my estimation, based on the geographical descriptions given here. That poses a number of questions. How did they travel? Travelling a long distance in those days was challenging: on foot, on the back of an animal (a camel or a donkey whatever other animal perhaps); it took time; it took energy; it took commitment; it took finance; and it took you away from your farming and your work and your family. Yet many people already, were willing to go on a very long journey in order to meet Jesus. This is remarkable, as there was a sense they had, that here was a unique individual, a unique man called of God - perhaps the Messiah, perhaps the Son of God, perhaps just a great prophet, perhaps just a great healer. There was a sense of urgency because when they heard people had been healed that was very exciting. In any society, that is a very exciting reality because we're all wrestling with sicknesses that other medical healing and natural healing and time and other factors are sometimes not able to heal. We're all wrestling with these issues and even more so in the ancient world, where medical science was very basic and so little was known about common diseases.
People travelled and they were not disappointed. This is very interesting. They really experienced healing. There's no doubt about it, and Matthew is willing to discuss some of the details: ‘various diseases, those suffering severe pain’ and anyone reading this, who suffers severe pain will know that's a very significant phrase. This is a tremendous form of suffering, when your body is in severe pain; maybe because of an illness, maybe because of a problem with your back. There are all sorts of reasons why we can have severe pain. ‘The demon possessed’ or, alternatively translated, 'the demonised', those who've been infiltrated with demons. ‘Those having seizures,’ so they're not able to control their bodily movements. People who are paralysed - and that begs a question, how did they get there? 100 kilometres, 150 kilometres, even 50 kilometres. Getting a paralysed person so far required a huge amount of effort but the wonderful thing that Matthew describes is a very simple phrase ‘and he healed them.’ There was a massive experience of healing.
This story tells us of momentum building up, as we come to our time of reflecting on what we're learning from this. Momentum is building up. From a small geographical beginning at Capernaum, Jesus is now spreading his influence quite deliberately. He's moving around; he's meeting different people; he's creating access to himself and he's giving huge amounts of time. It's not stated in this passage but it's pretty obvious, that if hundreds of people come and you have to give them individual attention it's going to take vast amounts of time. The few disciples who've gathered around him at this time would have had a pretty big job managing this process and helping Jesus. Where would he stay? Where would he sleep? Where would he rest? Where would he eat? How would he keep the crowds at bay at different times of the day? When would he have time to pray? There are a number of questions that we can't answer directly but we might want to think about.
This was a mass movement beginning to develop in support of Jesus' ministry and to seek healing from him. He proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom; that's what it says in verse 23. It wasn't just about healing. Healing is a sign. This is one of the most important things to remember about healing. It's not a right for us to be healed at all times, and in all places, of all things, for all of our lives. We're all going to die and we may well decline (before we die) in our health - this is part of natural life but healing comes through the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit and in the Gospels, it's proclaimed and taught to be primarily a sign of something greater. It's a great blessing to us when we're healed, but it's a sign of the coming Kingdom of God which is about us entering into a new relationship with God. That relationship is through Jesus Christ: through his death on the cross, through the forgiveness that he brings, through atonement - things that we'll describe in more detail later in our series. He proclaimed the Kingdom. Not everybody believed in that Kingdom but they all received the healing that he offered.
As we reflect, can I suggest some things to learn from this passage. First of all, going back to Mark's account, we see the significance of personal prayer and finding privacy - a place to pray. Let me put it to you like this: if Jesus needed to find a place to pray, and if he needed to make an effort to do that, then so do you and so do I. I find this a constant challenge but I notice in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6: 6, which we'll study in due course, that Jesus instructs his followers to find a room, or a place, and to close the door. This is like a decision to find a private place and it seems Jesus did something similar. He didn't have his own home, he didn't have his own room; but Jesus would find solitude and privacy, very often, by separating himself from people and going out into the countryside somewhere, or perhaps up a hill. It doesn't really matter what method you use, but what seems to matter very much is that we need that solitude and privacy to relate to our heavenly Father in prayer. There's a lot of teaching about this in the Sermon on the Mount which we'll come to in due course. I'm just opening this discussion because we see Jesus living this life and realising that the power he has doesn't come just from himself; it comes from his heavenly Father and his fellowship with his Father and his obedience to his Father's particular wishes. That's even more true of us. If we want power in our Christian lives, then that power comes very much from us having fellowship with God in prayer: having the time to reflect; to meditate on the Bible; to pray specific prayers; and, as Jesus did here, to ask for specific guidance - shall I do this or shall I do that? Jesus was asking, “Shall I stay at Capernaum or shall I go to another village or shall I travel widely? Shall I go to Jerusalem?” All these possibilities existed and he felt he had an answer after his time of prayer. There's something to learn about prayer - just through the story of what Jesus did, something we can easily pass over but it's very important.
There's also something to learn here about travelling from place to place. The Gospel of Jesus is always on the move through disciples and believers, like you or me. Christians are often called to travel from place to place and to spread the Good News wherever they go. We might be travelling from place to place because of work, because of family, because of things happening in our culture, because of holidays; there are all sorts of reasons why we might be travelling. We might be travelling for very negative reasons - we might be forced to leave our homes through civil war, or conflict, or persecution. I want to point out the significance of travelling and moving around. Jesus did it very consciously and deliberately and in the Christian mission (amongst churches, church leaders and evangelists, and people on the frontline of the Christian mission) movement is very important.
In the book of Acts, this is particularly accompanied by church planting - planting churches in new places. Here we are in the 21st century; we still need to plant many thousands and thousands of churches across our world, in order to be close enough, socially, to reach people for Christ. Some of you may be called to travel, to plant churches and to evangelise, as well as to find travelling in your life an opportunity to share your faith with other people. Travelling and moving stimulates the development of God's Kingdom and the advance of his Kingdom. We see this pattern time and time again in the Gospels. This is the first time we see it clearly; we are going to see it through Jesus' own life again on different occasions. We'll also get to see it through his disciples when he gathers them and sends them out two by two into all sorts of different places, and then subsequent events following that as well.
My concluding comment would be just to say that this amazing but brief story here is another example of the Nazareth manifesto (Luke 4: 16 onwards) being fulfilled, where Jesus said that he'd come with the Spirit of the Lord who'd anointed him to preach good news to the poor and to set the oppressed free and to heal the blind etcetera. We have the miraculous dimensions of the Gospel being lived out and experienced dynamically. No one can calculate the impact of this. Jesus' reputation was spreading far and wide incredibly quickly and in this way the Kingdom of God was advancing. This is a very brief account, taken from two different perspectives - Mark's perspective and Matthew's perspective - and it's just a link in the chain and another part of the story which is important for us to reflect on. There are many things we can learn from this passage and I hope you've enjoyed sharing it with us on this occasion.