Washing Soles and Souls
Matthew 4:23, John 13:34-35
Dr. Jim Denison
Houston Baptist University, my alma mater, required an identification card of every student every year. I still have mine for 1978, my junior year, with my picture complete with mustache and sideburns. Why have I kept it? Because my ID number that year was 666. Remember Revelation 13 and the prediction that the beast who will accompany the antichrist has the “mark of the beast,” 666. My receiving this number bothered some of my friends, but was no surprise to others.
Today let’s discuss the opposite subject: the mark of a disciple, a fully-devoted follower of the Lord Jesus. There is such a mark, and only one. How do we acquire it? With a washbasin and towel. Let’s see why this is so, and how we find our towel today.
Take God’s word to people
Matthew 4:23 says that our Lord “went throughout Galilee.” The Greek grammar shows that he continually, incessantly did this. Through all Galilee, the northern part of Israel, an enormous task. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, documents 204 cities and villages in Galilee, none smaller than 15,000 residents and a total population of three million.
Why did he go to them?
They were despised by their Judean neighbors in the south, since the majority of their population was Gentile. Greek language, pagan customs, and non-Jewish influences were everywhere.
But this area was extremely strategic. The Way of the Sea, one of the oldest trade routes in history, passed through it. Those reached here could touch people from across the known world. Jesus always sought to be strategic—so should we.
And their spiritual needs were great. Matthew 4:15 calls them “the people living in darkness,” “in the land of the shadow of death.” The Jews here were caught in the legalism of their Pharisaical leaders; the Gentiles were trapped in paganism. And Jesus always brought his light to those in the darkness. As we should still.
How did he go to them? With a three-part strategy we must follow today. First, he taught in their synagogues.
The synagogue service began with prayers, then readings from the Law and the Prophets. Then the address would be given by someone selected by the synagogue leaders. They had no “pastor” or permanent preacher, but rather invited guest rabbis or synagogue members to speak.
And so Jesus was given opportunity each Sabbath to speak in their synagogues, to teach them the word of God. In Isaiah 55:11 God calls the Scriptures “my word that goes out from my mouth” and promises, “It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
To reach our Galilee we must teach the word of God to all who will come to hear it. To all who will join us in this “synagogue” for worship and Bible study. We must have space for all who want to come, from preschoolers to senior adults. And in that space we must teach the word of God, for the gospel it proclaims is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Second, he spoke in their countryside, “preaching the good news of the kingdom.” Jesus brought God’s word to those who would not or could not come to the synagogue to hear it. The “good news” that God loves us and has provided us a way to spend eternity with him in his glorious heaven. The good news “of the kingdom,” that God is our King and we are his subjects.
To reach our Galilee we must preach the good news of the kingdom to those who will not join us here to hear it.
Evangelism training and strategies are empowering our people to share the gospel with their friends and neighbors through their personal witness.
Media initiatives are being planned right now to communicate the gospel itself to our community effectively.
Missions strategies in our community and partnerships around the world are preaching the good news of the kingdom to multiplied thousands who will not come to our “synagogue” to hear the word of God.
And so we must have space for all we can train to do their ministries, to equip Christians to fulfill the Great Commission. We must have the latest technology to utilize distance learning in training believers across the city and around the world. In this way we will preach the good news of the kingdom more fully than ever before.
Heal bodies, heal souls
So Jesus taught in their synagogues and preached in their countryside. Last, he reached Galilee by meeting their personal needs: “healing every disease and sickness among the people.”
“Healing” translates the Greek word “therapeuo,” meaning to serve, to treat medically, to heal and restore. He healed their “diseases”—”nosos,” chronic, serious, life-threatening diseases. Cancer, strokes, heart attacks. And their “sickness”—”malakia,” occasional illnesses and problems. Every need gained his attention.
He did this healing ministry repeatedly.
Matthew 9:35 repeats this exact ministry strategy a second time in his work: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.”
The Gospels record 23 different healing episodes in two years. Not to mention episodes like the next verse of our text: “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” (v. 24).
And when he healed their bodies, he was then able to heal their souls.
Jesus healed the paralytic on his mat, and the crowd “praised God” (Matthew 9:8).
He asked two blind men, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They replied, “Yes, Lord”—kurios, God. And he healed them (Matthew 9:28).
He healed two blind men outside Jericho: “Immediately the received their sight and followed him” (Matthew 20:34).
He healed a leper, who “came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him” (Luke 17:15-16).