Jesus cures the crowds.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 July

When he healed everyone in Kfar Nahum.

Mark 1.32-34 • Matthew 8.16-17 • Luke 4.40-41

In ancient Israel there was no such thing as healthcare.

If you got sick, your only recourse was either for God to miraculously heal you, or folk medicine. Science hadn’t been invented yet, so folk medicine was unproven. Some of it actually did work, like willow bark (which we nowadays call “aspirin”) or poppy juice (which we nowadays call “opium”). The rest were guesses, hearsay, rumor, or homeopathy—if something was poisoning you, a lot of poison oughta make your immune system fight it off all the harder! Or kill you, but them’s the risks.

If you were wealthy, you could go to experts. But like I said, no science yet: These “experts” didn’t really know what they were doing. Read Hippocrates or Galen sometime; their philosophical theories are sorta entertaining, but the idea of people trying to cure the sick through this so-called “knowledge” is frankly frightening.

We tend to translate the Greek word yatrós (plural, yatrói) as “physician.” Today physician means a doctor of medicine; in King James’ day it meant “one who gives you physic,” and physic means “medicine.” They’d inflict more folk remedies on you. They’d dope you up till you didn’t care about pain. It’s the best they knew.

Among pagan yatrói, one of the tools in their iffy arsenal was daimónia/“demons.” To our culture (and Jesus’s), demons were nothing but evil spirits. But to pagans, demons were considered minor gods, little helpers like guardian angels. If you were sick, the yatrói would ask their gods Apollo or Aesculapius to stick a few demons in you, and maybe they’d fix you right up. If they didn’t… well, add a few more demons. And more. A legion’s worth, perhaps.

A far more proper translation of yatrós would be “witch doctor.” It’s the one I tend to go with.

So if you’ve ever wondered why the gospels contain so many stories where Jesus had to throw out demons, and why getting rid of demons is so frequently linked with supernatural healing, this is why. Jesus lived in the Galilee, where Jews interacted with Syrian Greek pagans on a regular basis. Some of these Jews weren’t all that devout, so sometimes they went to witch doctors for help. When sick people get desperate, they’ll try anything… and it seems Galileans regularly settled for demons, and wound up with way bigger problems than they ever bargained for.

Even if they hadn’t resorted to witch doctors, the Galileans had no healthcare, no wherewithal to get it, and little hope. They might be born with a birth defect, suffer through a crippling childhood disease, have a mental illness, be otherwise sick or injured or stricken… or have a devil in ’em pretending to be any of the above so no one would never realize the real problem. For those people, Jesus was the greatest thing ever. The fact he could cure, meant they had hope. Really, it was no surprise he had an entire town’s worth of problems at his door.

I could bring up the United States’ own problems with healthcare for the poor… but you already know ’em, so let’s just let it go without saying.

Healing and exorcising all comers.

Mark 1.32-34 KWL
32 When it became evening, when the sun set,
they were bringing Jesus everyone who had something wrong, and demoniacs.
33 The whole town had been gathered at the door.
34 Jesus cured everyone who had something wrong; all sorts of disease.
He threw out many demons, and wouldn’t permit the demons to speak because they knew him.
Matthew 8.16-17 KWL
16 When it became evening, they brought Jesus many demoniacs.
He threw out the spirits with a word, and cured everyone who had something wrong.
17 Thus he could fulfill the word of the prophet Isaiah, saying,
“He took our weakness and carried our disease.” Is 53.4
Luke 4.40-41 KWL
40 While the sun was setting, everyone who had an illness, all sorts of disease, brought them to Jesus.
Placing his hands on each and every one, he cured them.
41 Demons also came out of many, screaming and saying, “You’re God’s son!”
In rebuke, he didn’t let them speak, for they’d known him to be Messiah.

The three gospel accounts describe this taking place once evening fell. Why that’s important is ’cause in Mark and Luke, Jesus had taught in synagogue, then healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law… and done both these things on Sabbath. Sabbath lasted till sundown Saturday. So none of this happened till Sabbath was over.

Some of the reason nothing happened till Sabbath was over, may well have been because the people believed as the Pharisees did: Healing is work, and you’re not to work on Sabbath. But some of it is also because walking was also considered work, and Pharisee custom was to walk no further than “a Sabbath day’s journey,” Ac 1.12 about 2,000 cubits (1 km) beyond the town wall. So the instant it was no longer Sabbath, they were at Jesus’s door, ready for treatment.

Notice the whole town was there. Mk 1.33 But the whole town wasn’t sick. Many were spectators. Remember, after Jesus did that exorcism in synagogue, word got out. Mk 1.28 Gossip doesn’t stop at a Sabbath day’s journey. People wanted to check out the rabbi who could do exorcisms—and they knew people who needed an exorcism. Or were hoping to watch Jesus throw out another demon. Either way. Jesus let ’em watch.

The three gospels say Jesus cured everyone who had something wrong, but only say he threw demons out of many. Some Christians figure illness and demonism are two different things, so they figure Jesus only cured some of the demonized. Others (like me) figure “everyone who had something wrong” Mt 8.16 includes the demonized. He accepted all comers, and cured them.

The reason people doubt Jesus cured everyone, is ’cause nowadays we don’t see Jesus curing everyone. Sometimes he’s cured me; sometimes he hasn’t. Sometimes he cures the people I pray for; sometimes he doesn’t. I’m no Calvinist; I can’t believe God says no for arbitrary reasons. Curing people isn’t always in our best interest, much as we’d really, really like to get healed.

So why’d Jesus cure everybody in Kfar Nahum? Three reasons.

Jesus came to preach the gospel: God’s kingdom has come near. Mk 1.15 What’d be a mighty demonstration of the kingdom? Curing everybody, without exception. That’s what the kingdom looks like; that’s what Jesus was trying to show ’em. For one day, they got to see an end to sickness and pain, and all the devils powerless and gone. Want that forever? That’s the kingdom.

Secondly, Jesus adopted Kfar Nahum as home. What’s the fastest way to endear yourself to everyone in town, and make it so they’d never want you to leave? Cure everybody. True, he gradually got on the bad side of legalists (and the witch doctors, if they had any), but this would substantially make him welcome in this town.

And make people more apt to listen to him. Y’know, there are a number of cessationists who insist the reason Jesus tried to hide some of his miracles (and I’ll get to those stories soon) was because people were less apt to listen; because people would greedily demand miracles instead of listening to Jesus’s wisdom. They make this assumption based on zero practical experience. In practice: When I pray for someone and they get healed, they immediately wanna know everything about the God I’ve called upon. They assume I’m an expert; after all, he just listened to my prayers, so I must know him. Fortunately for them, I’ve been doing my homework, and can point ’em to what the scriptures say about him. (Unfortunately for followers of certain TV faith-healers, those folks don’t do their homework, and blunder frequently.) Cessationists simply don’t know what they’re talking about, and misread Jesus’s motives in way more than this one area.

Lastly: Watching God cure people is fun. They’re so happy! If you could cure everybody in a room, with everyone praising God (or at least awestruck at him), and no one going away disappointed or faithless, why on earth wouldn’t you?

Demons begone!

Certain faith-healers act as if every single illness is a devil, or has a devil at the back of it. Clearly that’s not true. Jesus didn’t perform exorcisms every time he cured someone. He rebuked illness, but that doesn’t mean there’s an illness-demon for every disease; as we know nowadays, there are bacteria, viruses, microbes, and parasites which each need to be exorcised in their own way.

But devils pretend to be illnesses so they can go undetected. Still happens, you know. Doctors will treat symptoms and have no idea why their patients show no improvement whatsoever, and really it’s because the symptoms aren’t caused by a disease, but a devil mimicking the disease. Jesus could detect every single devil, and be rid of them.

True, nowadays not every devil gets exorcised. Some folks don’t want ’em gone. They like the sins which led them to become possessions of evil spirits. They like the evil spirits themselves. They can’t imagine freedom, so they stick with slavery. And in some cases, Jesus will permit ’em to stay enslaved till they’re finally ready to repent and seek release. If that day ever comes.

Jesus wouldn’t let these demons talk. Mainly because they knew who Jesus is: God incarnate, the Son of God, the Messiah. You know, facts the Galileans simply couldn’t yet handle. They were trying to scare people away from Jesus, and intimidate him away from driving them out by threatening to spill the beans. Plus, you don’t really want a devil’s testimony: “According to the demons, Jesus is Messiah… but you know you can’t trust demons.” No you can’t. In general, their statements create more problems than not, as exorcists nowadays can tell you. So rather than listen to their attempts at distraction or offense, Jesus simply shut ’em up.

Don’t just tell. Show.

Jesus had come to preach good news to the poor. Lk 4.16-21 But actions speak louder than words. Telling people God has come near is one thing. Showing them God is another—and far more meaningful, tangible, and life-changing.

We can show them God in lots of ways. Not just supernatural ways, if that’s what you’re worried about. Fruitful ways—like being loving, patient, kind, and forgiving—make a mighty big impact on their own. When people aren’t used to those attitudes, and see ’em in Christians, they go a long way.

But presenting the gospel with nothing more than nice words… well, that’s only a segment of the gospel. The gospel doesn’t come through clever talk and logical arguments, but the acts and power of the Holy Spirit, 1Co 2.4 and an impotent gospel might get you some places, but nowhere near as far as a Spirit-filled, wonder-working gospel.

Stuff we need to keep in mind when we proclaim this gospel. It’s not enough that we tell. We also have to show, as Jesus did.