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Christ’s Authority over Sickness
Mark 1:29-31 Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law
How many of you have experienced a really bad flu? Yes, but have you ever caught the “Martian Death Flu”? Dave Barry writes: The main symptom of the Martian death flu is that you wish you had another setting on your electric blanket, up past “high”–one that says “electrocution”. Another symptom is that you cease brushing your teeth because 1) your teeth hurt, and 2) you lack the strength. Midway through the brushing process you have to lie down in front of the sink to rest for a couple of hours.
I spend a lot of time thinking flu-related thoughts. One insight I’ve had is that scientists have been telling us the truth: air really is made up of tiny objects called molecules. I can feel them banging against my body. There are billions and billions of them, but if I concentrate I can detect each one individually striking my body, especially my eyeballs, at speeds upwards of 100,000 m.p.h. If I try to escape by pulling the blanket over my face, they attack my hair, which has become almost as sensitive as my teeth.
There has been a mound of blankets on my wife’s side of the bed for several days now. I think it might be my wife, but the only way to tell for sure would be to prod it, which I wouldn’t do because if it was my wife, and she was alive, the prodding would kill her.
Three or four times a day, I attempt to crawl fifteen feet to the bathroom. About halfway there I stop, get myself into the fetal position, and pray for nuclear war. Instead, I get Earnest. Earnest is our dog. Guided by the timeless nurturing instinct that all female dogs have, she tries to lick my ears off–while I am laying there praying.
For my son, Robert, this is the high point of his entire life. He has the sense of joyful independence a five-year-old gets when he suddenly realizes he could be operating an acetylene torch in the coat closet and neither parent would have the strength to object.
The Martian Death Flu has not been an entirely bad thing. Since I cannot work or think, I have been able to spend more quality time with my son, Robert. Today I taught him, as my father had taught me, how to make an embarrassing noise with your hands. We shot rubber bands at the contestants on “Divorce Court”. Then, just in case some parts of our brains were still alive, we watched professional bowling. Soon it was 3:30 p.m., time to crawl back through the air molecules to the bedroom, check on my wife, or whoever that is, and turn in for the night. Earnest was waiting about half-way down the hall. “Look at this,” the police will say when they find me–“his ears are missing.”
I remember being a part of a military-type training for high school men up at Forest Home Christian Camps called the blue helmets, when we together all got a violent stomach flu. Imagine eighteen guys in one small dorm, with just one bathroom. It made for some hysterical laughter in the midst of great misery.
Once my family was poisoned by some gas used to fumigate furniture. The seriousness of our situation was intensified by the fact we were brand new to the area, and were so infected by the gas, not only could we not communicate, but we were actually not able to think, making us unable to call for help–we almost died.
I have my two vertebrae fused in my neck from all my early horseback riding falls, motorcycle spills and weightlifting. One in a hundred who get this particular neck surgery will lose their voice, because it stretches their vocal cord nerve. I was that special one, so here I was as a teaching pastor and the Lord took my voice away from me for a month. I couldn’t speak except for a whisper, or a course gravelly sound like a broken garbage disposal.
I was determined to trust Him through this loss and not waver. But about the fourth week, I came down with my regular semiannual test of bronchitis. The day I was certain I had bronchitis was when my trust wavered. I began to doubt His love. He takes away my voice, and gives me bronchitis? Was that necessary Lord?
I never considered, even for a second, that at that very moment God was actually being extra loving and super gracious to me. Who could have imagined–by intentionally giving me bronchitis, my throat would swell, forcing my vocal cords to touch each other. The Lord was actually forcing my vocal cords to start working again, firing my vocal cords back into functioning properly by giving me bronchitis, resulting in the return of my voice three days later. When I doubted, he was healing me.
Some of the greatest lessons learned in this life, much of our greatest growth, occur when we’re sick, infirmed or handicapped. When you read about Joni Erickson Tada and you hear her thank God for breaking her neck, or Bethany Hamilton thank God for having a shark take her arm, you might think Christians really are crazy. But it is those handicaps, weaknesses, limitations, and sicknesses that God uses in mighty ways in the lives of Christians to make them more like Christ, and to bring Him great glory.
There are people all around you this morning who have had a life-altering sickness, illness, or debilitation that God has used in mighty ways to transform their lives and those around them. For some of you, it is that very weakness which became the fuel for your strong dependence upon Christ, causing you to look more like Him and less like you. For others of you, it was that sickness that brought you to Christ, or hopefully will very soon.
On this fallen, sin-stained planet, there is sickness, illness, disease, pain, weakness and handicaps. Sometimes they make Christians stronger in Christ, and sometimes they rush us into His presence, but they always bring God glory. And if you’re willing to put on your biblical lenses and see things through God’s eyes, you will even experience great joy in the midst of the suffering. Are you willing to look at sickness, pain and debilitation in a whole new way? Are you willing to look at a cold, cancer, the loss of your eyes, regular headaches, constant pain, a heart attack, seizures, disease, a once-strong body now gone weak—and look at those things the way Jesus does?
Then open your Bibles to Mark 1:29 and take your outline to follow along as you witness Christ’s authority over sickness. And as you travel to these verses, I have to ask you–do you like your mother-in-law? A friend asked me, “What’s the difference between an outlaw and a mother-in-law?” He said, “Outlaws are wanted.”
Today it will be obvious that the apostle Peter actually loves his mother-in-law. For as Jesus returns from the synagogue after speaking with authority and demonstrating His authority over demons, He returns to His home away from home, Peter’s house in Capernaum, and Mark says this in verses 29 to 31. “And immediately after they came out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Jesus about her. 31 And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.”
Mark is deliberating letting his powerful Roman readers know that Jesus Christ is the one who is really in control. That Jesus Christ has authority over all things. Like Americans, the Romans believed their legions could defeat any army, from any nation. They believed Caesar had more power than any man alive. But Mark is gently proving that Jesus Christ is a greater authority.
THE GREATEST AUTHORITY
The key phrase to this section of verses is found in verse 22–do you see it, “for He was teaching them as one having authority.” Then look at verse 27, “A new teaching with authority.” The message of Christ, that God Himself provides forgiveness and salvation for people–that Gospel message is authoritative in verse 15 as Jesus calls His listeners to repent and believe. And Christ’s call to His disciples in verses 16 to 20 was authoritative, as He compellingly commands them to follow Me.
Christ taught this message with powerful words of authority in verses 21 to 22, then demonstrates His supremacy with powerful actions of authority by casting a demon out of a possessed man in the synagogue in verses 23 to 28. And now Christ continues to display His authority over all that is wrong with this planet by healing the sick.
Maybe this doesn’t overwhelm you like it does the Roman readers. Just like our soft culture dulls us to our desperate need of Christ, modern medicine dulls us to just how sinfully sick and diseased this planet earth is. This is a fallen planet, corrupt with sin. Imagine right now losing all modern medicine, aspirin, penicillin, germ-free surgery, pain killers, antiseptics and modern medications–then picture just how much your life span would be shortened. There’re people sitting around you right now who would be dead, if it were not for modern medicine.
So as Christ enters this house and instantly heals a sick women, He is demonstrating that He is stronger than sin and its consequences. He’s showing He can overcome disease and illness, plus demonstrating He has authority over this fallen planet. He can reverse the fall, He can rescue the diseased body, He can undo what no man can. He can stop what no man can stop. Jesus is in charge of life, and Jesus is in charge of death, and Jesus is stronger than any illness, sickness, weakness or debility.
#1 Arriving at the place where there’s sickness
Read verse 29, “And immediately after they came out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.” This verse should actually read, “and He, Jesus came into the house with the brothers.” It is Christ who, taking James and John with him, enters the home of Simon and Andrew. They’re not dragging Christ home with them, Christ is actually headed to His basecamp.
Like church today, synagogue ended around 12 noon. The service might have lasted longer with all the excitement of Christ exercising authority over a demon. So now they’re all extra hungry as they head home for the customary Sabbath meal enjoyed after synagogue. I imagine they almost danced with excitement as they made the short walk to Peter’s house. You and I would have been bowled over by what they had just seen and heard. There must have been lots of smiles, wows, and recalling what just happened.
Because of the close relationship between gospel writer Mark and the apostle Peter, I wonder how familiar Mark was with Peter’s house. Had Mark been a regular visitor in Capernaum, enjoying the company of Peter’s family and friends? Had Mark stayed in one of the guest rooms? We don’t know. Regardless, it was a short walk.
Peter’s house is in downtown Capernaum–today it is actually covered over with a large church built on stilts over the site, which features a see-through floor so you can view the remnants of the original structure of his house, which includes several layers of walls. It is all diagramed out, so you can actually make out the original structure from Peter’s time period. They are pretty certain they have discovered the right place, because they dug down to the right period. Writings in the wall plaster mention Jesus as “Lord” and “Christ” in Aramaic, Greek, Syriac and Latin. The structure is very close to the ancient synagogue at Capernaum and contained first century fish-hooks and graffiti references to “Peter”.
The house was made of stone. It was big enough to accommodate Peter, his wife, his mother-in-law, his brother Andrew and a guest. Typically there were stairs that led to a flat roof, where large gatherings or shared meals would take place. Very likely, from the roof you’d enjoy a great view of the lake, along with the neighbor’s yard, the synagogue, the waterfront and surrounding hills. We can be sure Jesus was much loved in that home.
In urging Christians to be hospitable, the Holy Spirit prods us in Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” What is so awesome in verse 29 is Peter, his family, and friends are about to entertain the One whom the angels worship. Look again at verse 29, “And immediately after they came out of the synagogue.” Straightaway, just after casting out the demon in the synagogue, miracle after miracle followed in quick succession. Mark is describing a thrilling day–how could you not be excited after witnessing the power and authority of God?
Look at verse 29, “They came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.” This is the house of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. Two brothers shared this home. It may be describing that they both owned the home and had joint possession. Or perhaps, Andrew simply resided in the home with his married brother. The gospel of John tells us Peter and Andrew were originally from Bethsaida. Most believed they moved a few miles to Capernaum when Jesus made it his base camp. Or they might have had a house in both cities, on either side of the Jordan river as it flows into the north side of the Sea of Galilee, which makes sense if they were successful fishermen.
Do you enjoy friendships with people that you minister with? So did the disciples–Mark is the only gospel writer who tells us that James and John came along, giving us a small glimpse into the social life enjoyed by this team of men. Plus, it is a reminder to all Mark’s readers that all four of these men witnessed this next miracle. So now, Jesus, taking James and John with him, enters the home of Simon and Andrew.
#2 Becoming aware of the sickness
Families are typically a joy, and they are also a pain–they are a massive support and they can be a real drain, but they are always a responsibility in some way. And verse 30 begins by reminding us, Peter has a family. Verse 30 says, “Now Simon’s mother-in-law.” Sometimes we picture these future apostles as freewheeling, undistracted singles, who gave all to Christ.
But Peter wasn’t single, he was married. Apparently Peter’s father-in-law had died, so his mother-in-law had come to live with her married daughter and her loud, successful fisherman leader husband. Peter was not a widower, since later the apostle Paul tells us that Peter took his wife along on his apostolic preaching tours.
In the midst of His discussion on the importance of faithful, sacrificial, regular giving–while he is addressing how crucial it is for the church to support those who are giving themselves to the Word and the ministry of the Gospel, Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 9:5, “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?”
Paul confirms Peter is married. We don’t know his wife’s name, what she was like, how long they’d been married, was she a local girl–but the church father Eusebius in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs tells us she not only ministered with Peter, but that she died with Peter, being crucified just before he was. As they were both dying, it is said Peter called out to her “to remember the Lord Jesus.”
So Mark now reminds us, Peter has a mother-in-law and domestic responsibilities. She is at Peter’s house, and she is sick. Verse 30 says, “Now Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever.” It makes you wonder how this all went down.
1 I’ve wondered, did Peter intend to bring Christ to his home in order to have Christ heal his mother-in-law?
2 Or did the idea only spring to mind after they’d seen the power and authority of Christ over the demon in the synagogue?
3 Or was the plan merely to come to Peter’s house for Sabbath lunch after synagogue? Then as they arrived home, seeing the seriousness of her fever caused them to speak to Christ about her condition, in the hopes that He might heal her.
Most likely, Peter had no idea his mother-in-law was ill, but there she was in one of the side rooms, sick with fever. She had some bad stuff. Today, we’d be going to the doctor. Literally, she was lying prostrate, burning with fever. The word for fever is built off the word for fire—pyro. The verb was laying, tells us she is physically forced to lay down. She can’t get up–this is not by choice, but she is down and is unable to lift her head, because she is literally burning up.
In Luke 4:38, Luke the doctor called it a great fever–great is the word mega, mega fever, mega burning means mega bad. She is too sick to do anything. We don’t know the cause of the fever, but Mark tells us her fever was high, and Luke tells us it was mega bad. And since she was too sick to get up, the text suggests she had an extremely serious and probably life threatening illness.
Again, place yourself back in Capernaum 2,000 years ago. The demands of everyday living did not allow people the luxury of going to bed whenever they felt bad. Physical pain and discomfort were a regular part of life. So, unless it was severe, an illness did not normally interfere with a person’s responsibilities. And she is no spring chicken, she’s the mother-in-law–she’s not a young thing with the strength to fight off a serious fever.
Studies have been made that preaching a one-hour sermon is equivalent to working an 8-hour day. So what do you do when you come home after preaching with authority and crushing your most powerful enemy in spiritual warfare? You say, “Where’s lunch? Let’s get the meal started, I’m starving.” Well, whether lunch was ready or not, or Mrs. Peter was too pre-occupied with her mom, once Peter and the boys became aware of the mom’s serious fever, verse 30 says this, “And immediately they spoke to Jesus about her.”
They not only tell Jesus about her, but Luke tells us they asked Jesus to help her. They specifically made a request to Jesus concerning the mom and her fever. Verse 30 says, immediately upon learning about her serious fever, they ask Christ for help. That is a good habit to develop. Every day, all day, ask Jesus Christ for help. Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
But never forget, do not be deluded, remember, these men were not aware of her serious fever, but Jesus was total, fully, completely aware. Christ is omniscient–He knows everything, the beginning from the end. He knows how many hairs are on your head. He knew Joni would dive off that platform and break her neck to be a spokesperson for His glory. He knew that shark would take Bethany’s arm off so she could be a witness. And He knows your physical struggle, your illness, your sickness and intends it for His glory and your good.
Again, Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Peter’s household becomes aware of what Christ already knows, so what does the Lord do? “I’m hungry and tired, let’s have lunch.” No, the Lord begins . . .
#3 Showing His compassion for her sickness
Read Verse 31, “And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand.” No prep, no stage, no lights, no word of prayer, no speech–she is down with a serious fever and boom. Jesus heals her. But feel the compassion with these words, and let me highlight all the gospel accounts so you can picture the scene.
Matthew tells us Jesus touched the woman’s hand–and what a touch. With a single touch, you witness the gentle tenderness of Christ, and the power of Christ as Creator and sustainer of all. The wonderful physician, Dr. Luke, tells us Jesus was standing over her just like a caring doctor would. Then Luke says Jesus rebuked the fever–just like the Lord rebuked the winds of a storm on the Sea of Galilee making it calm. Jesus rebuked the storm of illness in this woman’s body, returning her to health. It makes no difference if it’s fever or waves, or for you, trials, strained relationships, or illness–Jesus Christ is in complete control of all of it.
And finally, Mark describes His healing this way in verse 31, “And He came to her and raised her up taking her by the hand.” Mark heard about this true event from Peter, and I’m certain Peter shared it with Mark with tender emotion. Jesus could’ve healed her with a single word from another room. Jesus could have shouted, waved his arm, or made a big show–but our Lord gently takes her by the hand and raises her up. The composite picture oozes with compassion, for Christ stands close to her bed, takes her by the hand, rebukes the fever and gently raises her up before Peter and his wide-eyed friends.
What a day this was. Are you there with them? From the violent shrieking convulsions of a demon-possessed man, to a seriously sick older woman gently raised up from her sickbed–in all of this you see Christ’s compassion. And you see Him . . .
#4 Demonstrating His authority over sickness
What happened? I love what Mark says simply, verse 31, “and the fever left her, and she waited on them.” This is far more gripping than you can imagine–the fever left her. Burning fever has a vice grip on her. She’s down, she can’t move, she is burning up, she is sweating profusely and she is in agony. It’s mega bad–and it’s not getting better or growing less intense.
So Jesus stands over her, rebukes the fever, takes her by the hand, raises her up, and in that moment the fever vanishes. It does not gradually come down, the fever is gone. There was no lingering weakness, no recovery period, all her symptoms disappeared all at once. (All of it left, sent away, let go.) She was completely healed. She did not need a period to recover the strength she lost in the battle with the infection. She didn’t say, “Oh the fever left me, now I’m completely exhausted.”
She received no medication, no sedatives for pain, and no fluids; absolutely nothing was given to her. One moment she was flushed with heat, drenched in sweat, dry in the throat, and possibly shivering violently–the next moment she was gently lifted up and all of it was completely gone. The cure was total, the cure was instant, the cure was perfect. She was literally deathly ill one moment, and the next moment she was feeling awesome.
How great was she feeling? I love this, and I know you do as well. The last phrase, in verse 31, “And she waited on them.” Talk about proof of power. Talk about evidence for complete and total healing from the inside out. Talk about the authority over illness, sickness and weakness. Not only was her temperature normal and her fever gone, but she experienced such a surge of new strength coursing through her entire being that she herself insisted on getting up. But not merely to get up and walk around, but to perform the duties of a busy hostess–she began to wait on all those present.
She immediately began preparing and serving the Sabbath meal. Most likely, she was helping her daughter with her hostessing duties, but the text seems to imply Mom took the lead. Maybe as an expression of thanks, maybe over the joy of not being sick, maybe from a desire to return compassion to the One who showed her compassion, or from the joy many experience from serving others, or from the heart of the redeemed who love to serve because the Lord made us into servants–or all the above. But it is clear, she is back, or better than she was before, and she waited on them—diakoneo, to willingly work like a personal and loving slave for the benefit of others.
I am not certain, but my impression is, she immediately returned the household back to its proper focus—not on her but on her Lord–on the almighty, all-powerful Savior of the world. Instead of telling everyone to “look at me, I’ve been healed,” she is serving the One who has the authority to heal, the authority over sickness and demons, the almighty God.
This must have been a great meal–she who had a fever now serving feverishly. She who’d been laid low is now scurrying about serving everyone with joy. I can picture her asking her daughter and son-in-law, “Feel my forehead–I was burning up and now I’ve never felt better. The Lord be praised–all glory to God.” There must have been joy and laughter and tears, and quiet reflection as to the awesome power and authority of their Master and Friend, Jesus Christ.
Let your heart be impacted today–you should know . . .
1 The gift of healing is very unique
More on this later as we progress in Mark, but this healing points to the unique way Jesus and the apostles healed, which is totally different than what you see being proclaimed today as healing. God still heals today when it serves His sovereign purposes, but the gift of healing faded from the scene as the apostles died off. Part of the reason we believe this is because of the very unique way Jesus and the apostles exercised that gift. What do I mean? When Jesus or the apostles healed someone,
#1 They healed with a mere touch or a word, not a show
#2 They healed instantly, not progressively–she got up and served
#3 They healed totally–all her symptoms were completely gone
#4 They healed everyone–we will see next week. Jesus didn’t leave long lines of disappointed people who were not healed.
#5 They healed organic diseases, not ambiguous invisible ailments, but paralyzed limbs, sight to blind eyes, full hearing to deaf, and complete removal of leprosy
#6 They raised the dead–not coma victims, but people in the casket or in the tomb
#7 They healed in the course of life, and not in a carefully orchestrated, staged environment
God heals today when He chooses to for His own glory. But the gift of healing Christ and His apostles manifested is not for today. More detail on this as we progress in our study of Mark.
But do you remember how you felt when you couldn’t drive and your parent screamed at you? Or you battled with a topic and all you got was a lecture? Or you couldn’t accomplish a test, and everyone just mocked you. Remember that when you speak to the sick or diseased.
2 Do not abuse those who are infirmed
When you flippantly say, “Hey, just trust the Lord,” all you’re doing is adding weight to the load they’re already carrying. Telling others who are suffering under physical pressure to rejoice always, is pushing them down and not lifting them up. When you want to minister to the suffering, come alongside, love them, serve them, touch them and encourage them. Paul said it clearly in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” And 2 Corinthians 1:3 and 4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Make it your goal to bear their burden, not tear them down. Spend enough time with them to share the way God comforted you. Take time, make sacrifices, send e-mail, texts, notes, make phone calls and send gifts–show them (don’t just tell them) how much you love them. Don’t abuse the hurting with words. And when you are battling with illness, or some weakness, remember . . .
3 When you are weak, He is strong
One of the ways God makes us strong is by making us weak so that we have to depend on Him and follow His Word. This is part of what Paul meant in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Even the psalmist said in Psalm 119:67 and 71, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. 71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes.”
We rarely learn the most important lessons during good times. And we only grow when we are desperately hanging onto Christ, which sickness, illness and crisis bring about in our lives. This week, each day thank Him for your weakness.
4 Great goodness in difficulty only comes to those in Christ
Paul said it plainly in Romans 8:28, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” God’s promise to turn all things for good is only for those who are called to Christ. Won’t you turn to Him today and see what good He will do with you, through your test. Let’s pray.