The Life of Jesus

By Harris Franklin Rall

Chapter 8


The humanness of Jesus is one of the striking facts that stand out in the gospel story. He was a teacher as were the rabbis; he was a preacher as was John the Baptist. And yet how different he was! There was a difference in his message, as we shall see, but an even greater difference in his life. The contrast with John the Baptist Jesus himself pointed out: "John ... is come eating no bread nor drinking wine; and ye say. He hath a demon. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say. Behold, a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!" John lived apart; Jesus lived with men and entered into every part of their life. He wept where men sorrowed. He shared in the Joy of the wedding feast. He lived with the poor and took their humble fare; but he did not hesitate to accept the hospitality of the rich. He ate with Simon the Pharisee, a church pillar; but he accepted also a dinner given in his honor by one whom church and society both scorned, the taxgatherer Levi.

Two facts help to explain this life of Jesus. (1) He was not afraid of the world. It was God's world; he did not have to run away from it to find God. (2) He loved men. Their joys, their sorrows, their needs were all dear to him. The service of men was a passion with him, not a mere duty. All this we shall see as we study in the following chapters his ministry to the sick, his ministry to the sinful, and his life with his friends.

The Life of Service

The Messiah as Servant. —The personal service which Jesus gave was not a mere incident in his life; he accounted it his business. Here again we see how deep the gulf was between Jesus' thought and that of the people. They thought that the Messiah would come to rule, making others serve him. Jesus knew that he was come to serve, to minister to others. Recall the scene in the synagogue at Nazareth, where Jesus stands up to read the lesson from Isaiah (Luke 4. 16-31). Those beautiful words of the prophet he took as a program for his own life; the words were fulfilled that day in him. We get the echo of these same words in the message that he sends to John, when he speaks of the blind that see and the poor that have good tidings preached to them (Luke 7. 18-23). When the evangelists sum up his ministry, they point to the same life of service: "And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered as sheep not having a shepherd'* (Matt. 9. 35, 36).

A Ministry to All Need. —One other fact is to be pointed out as to this life of service: it was a ministry to the whole life of man. Jesus never separated the spiritual from the material; he was not come simply to serve the souls of men. Life is one and men are not to be saved piecemeal. He fed the multitudes to whom he had preached, he comforted the sorrowing, he healed the sick, he stopped to bless the little children. No wonder that all who were in need flocked to him. The gospel pages are full of these poor folks: publicans and harlots, the wretched poor, parents in distress for their children, the blind, lame, paralytic, epileptic, insane.

Jesus and the Sick

The Sick in Jesus' Day. —Among all these needy ones the sick in body and mind stand out first. There is sickness enough in our own day. Of late we have been learning that, despite our progress, scores of thousands of lives are needlessly lost each year and many millions of dollars of loss are represented in needless disease. And yet ours is like another world compared with that day. Men knew nothing of sanitation or medical science. The hot climate and the lack of cleanliness made diseases of the eyes especially common. Equally common were the mental and nervous diseases, insanity, epilepsy, and melancholia. And here was little help for all such. There were many who could say with the poor woman (Mark 5. 25) that they had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that they had, and were nothing bettered, but, rather, grew worse. The healers of that day joined physical and spiritual means together; but the physical was mostly quackery and the spiritual was superstitious incantation. It was this mass of unrelieved suffering that touched Jesus. The Demoniacs. —Jesus seems to have been especially moved by the plight of the demoniacs, those men who felt themselves possessed with evil spirits, such as the one whom he met that first Sabbath in the Capernaum synagogue. The matter of demon possession is beset with great difficulties, and men have differed in interpreting these incidents. The Jews of that time shared in the ideas regarding evil spirits that were common in the Orient of that day. Where we seek for natural causes, they often sought an explanation in spirits. This was especially true of mental or nervous diseases like insanity and epilepsy, where it seemed that another spirit had entered into the sufferer. Mark 5. 2-5 seems to show a case of insanity, and Mark 9. 18 one of epilepsy. Some cases, no doubt, were those of serious moral lapse, where a man had been mastered by some vice or evil passion. Such an instance Jesus seems to have had in mind in the parable of Matthew 12. 43-45, and the demoniac at Capernaum may have been such a man. But aside from these mental and moral disorders, they sought for the cause of physical ill also in evil spirits. This was especially true when the illness was sudden, or with some stubborn complaint like rheumatism; in other words, when the usual explanations were wanting. These sufferers had to bear not only physical ill but superstitious fear as well.

The Demoniac of Capernaum. —It was in the synagogue at Capernaum that Jesus had his first encounter with one of these demoniacs. In this case apparently the '^unclean spirit" meant the bondage of an evil life. The searching words of Jesus had stirred the dormant conscience, and the holy presence of Jesus had done even more than his words. Helpless and hopeless, he yet protested against being thus disturbed in his old life: "What have we to do with thee, ) . . . the Holy One of God?" How far Jesus shared the common view of his day as to evil spirits we do not know. One thing is clear: he had none of the superstitious fear with which others looked upon these helpless suiferers. God was greater than all evil, and God could deliver this poor bound child of his. He uses no magical formulas and passes, such as the scribes employed. In simple trust in his Father he charges the evil spirit to depart, and the sufferer stands before him clean and whole (Mark 1. 21-28).

The Healings of Jesus

How Jesus Healed. —The cure of the demoniac was but the beginning of a great ministry of healing. Whatever the evil that came before him, Jesus faced it with the same joyous conviction as to the power and mercy of God; he healed the lame and blind just as he forgave men's sins. How did he do it? For many of these cases we have analogies in the power of suggestion as used even to-day. There are others that cannot be accounted for in any such way. Such explanations are interesting, but not necessarily final for Christian faith. If we believe that the God of mercy and power was present in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world, then we shall not wonder at any such deed of power. Jesus himself so regarded these healings as the deed of God. "If I by the finger of God cast out demons, then is the kingdom of God come upon you" (Luke 11. 20).

The Cost of Healing. —Two further facts should be noted about Jesus' healings. In the first place, it was no mere word lightly spoken by which Jesus healed. It was personal service and it meant a personal cost. He did not heal men in the mass; he gave special attention to each. It was exhausting labor; it demanded his thought, his faith, his deepest sympathies. It took time, keeping him from other labors, and often from taking needed rest and food. He did not think of it simply as the curing of a disease, but as the helping and saving of men. In the second place, such healing demanded something of others as well; it was religious healing. Again and again its relation to faith is brought out. "Thy faith hath made thee whole," says Jesus to blind Bartimseus and to the woman with the issue of blood. Sometimes he asks men whether they have faith (Matt. 9. 28). Often it is the faith of another that is involved. Again it is said significantly that he cannot do many mighty works in Nazareth because of their unbelief.

The Place of Healing in Jesus' Work

The Healings at Capernaum. —This ministry of healing seems to have been thrust upon Jesus all at once and to its full extent there at Capernaum. After the synagogue service he goes to Peter's house and heals the latter's mother-in-law. Meanwhile the city is stirred by the report of his teaching and the healing of the demoniac. Impatiently the people waited for the close of the Sabbath, which came with the sunset. For them to have carried the sick to Jesus on the Sabbath, or for him to have touched them with his hand to heal them, they would have considered a breaking of the law. But with the sunset they began to come. "And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were sick with divers diseases, and cast out many demons." And with the earliest daylight the throngs came again looking for Jesus.

A New Danger Faced and Conquered. —The four disciples were stirred with joy and pride. The great city of Capernaum was turning to their Master. It was a noble beginning for his work. To Jesus himself this success brought very different feelings. It had set before him a problem not unlike those of the wilderness days. His power of healing had moved all the people; he might make all Galilee his own in a little while. But was he not in danger of gaining the kingdoms of the world and losing the kingdom of the soul? These people were looking for signs and wonders, but was he reaching their conscience? Jesus had one way of meeting these questions: that of meditation and prayer. While darkness still lay upon the city he steals out to a desert place to pray. There, at length, the disciples find him as they come with their eager message, telling of the crowds that are looking for him. But he has found his answer: he will not be a mere wonderworker or healer. His first business must be to prepare the hearts and minds of men. "Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for to this end came I forth.'' He continues his work of healing, his heart answers as before to the suffering about him; but he keeps his task of preaching first, and he does not want men to follow him because of these works. He heals the leper, moved with pity for him, but he dismisses him at once and charges him sternly to speak to no man about it (Mark 1.40-45).

Directions for Study

Read Mark 1. 21-45; Matthew 9. 35-38; Luke 4. 16-21; 7. 18-23.

Try to form for yourself pictures of the following, using every suggestion which these passages give: (1) the sickness and misery of that time; (2) the sympathy and pity of Jesus (collect all the expressions in these passages which refer to this); (3) the stir made by these healings and the sudden fame of Jesus; (4) the difficulties in the way of Jesus' work caused by this sudden fame and by the throngs curious to see wonders, but indifferent to his message.

Consider all the passages that you can find which suggest the bearing of faith upon these healings. As to the faith of others than the one healed, note Matthew 8. 13; 15. 28; Mark 5. 34, 36; 9. 23; and compare John 11. 40.

Make at least a partial list of the agencies which are carrying on this work of help and healing to-day. Begin in your own community and follow it out till you reach such work as that of mission hospitals or the Red Cross work. How much of this is due to the example and inspiration of Jesus? To how much of this work is your church related directly, or through its members, or by its gifts?