Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
March 23, 2014
And when Jesus entered Peter's house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”
— Matthew 8:14-17, ESV
There is one thing that followers and foes of the Lord Jesus Christ could agree on. Jesus was not boring. Our Lord did not do things in the usual way. Almost everything He did during His earthly ministry caused a high degree of positive or negative excitement.
The eighth chapter of The Gospel of Matthew rolls out a series of miracles that were performed to mostly positive reviews. A leper lost his leprosy, a paralyzed servant got up and walked, and in this account a mother-in-law and a mother-load of others are healed. It was not business as usual in Israel, and this latest account highlights the unusual ministry of Jesus.
Jesus had an unusual way of dealing with women.
Most homes in Palestine were small, single-family dwellings in which multiple generations lived, along with any houseguests. In Simon Peter’s house in Capernaum, Jesus was a frequent (if not permanent) guest. Given the customs of the day, and given that the event about to transpire happened on a Sabbath day, this house would have been quite crowded, quite still, quite segregated, and quite unusual.
I’ve actually seen an excavated house that some believe to be this house, so I know it was small and crowded when Peter’s family and Jesus were inside. I know that Sabbath customs would have called for little or no activity, and no healing activity, no matter how little the fever. And I know that in those patriarchal and pharisaically legalistic times, men were not supposed to reach out and touch women, not because of moral propriety, but because women were man’s property. But, Jesus was unusual.
Instead of resting on the Sabbath in the way the legalists defined rest, Jesus reached out and touched someone to heal them. The person He touched was, by definition of a mother-in-law, a woman. And instead of looking down his nose at a woman with an attitude of inequality, instead of telling some stale mother-in-law joke, Jesus, the unusual, loved her, valued her, and completely healed her.
It is profoundly worth noting that the mother-in-law did what all people who have been touched by Jesus should do. She served Him. Perhaps she knew that by serving Jesus, she was serving God. Perhaps we should know that when we serve Jesus, we serve God. When we serve the church, which is the body of Christ, we serve God. When we serve the less fortunate, according to Jesus, we serve God. Consequently, when we ignore any of these, we ignore God, which is what people usually do. But Jesus didn’t do what people usually do, and neither should we.
Jesus had an unusual way of dealing with demons.
After the miraculous mother-in-law episode, and after the sun set on the Sabbath, people flocked to Jesus in unusual numbers to present Jesus with their unusual problems. Some of these problems involved demons, devils, fallen angels, or whatever else you want to call them. Contrary to the Christian people who want to point out a devil behind every bush, I think personal brushes with personal demons is a rather unusual event.
Jesus had an unusual way of dealing with demons because He had an unusual number of demons to deal with. I think after Jesus spurned the devil in the wildness, Satan summoned all of the imps in his arsenal to the vicinity around the victorious Son of God in order to try to defeat Him with sheer numbers. The alternative view is to dismiss all the demons and blame them on the fictitious superstitions of the day, which attributed every problem to the devil. And while I think the devil gets too much due, I believe he and the problems he causes are all too real.
Jesus handled this problem in an unusual way, at least as compared to modern day miracle workers. Catholic exorcisms are huge rituals that can take hours if not days. Elmer Gantry-like faith healers make melodrama in addition to merchandise out of so-called victims of the demonic. Jesus just said “a word,” and they were gone. Helping people without trying to cash in or create a name for Himself was one of the many ways that Jesus was unusual.
Jesus had an unusual way of dealing with sickness.
Jesus had a most unusual way of healing sickness, too. He “healed all who were sick.” Jesus healed those who asked, like the leper. Jesus healed those who didn’t ask but were asked for, like the servant. Jesus healed those for whom no one asked, like Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus healed the light cases, Jesus healed the heavy cases, Jesus healed in every case.
This is unusual compared with all the nut cases on the current religious stage. Modern faith healers, and many of you know many of their names, have a usual motif. They perform in front of crowds, collect large sums of money, and verifiable, organically heal absolutely no one. I’m sure some people get a psychological lift, and for some it is so strong that a temporary healing appears to take place. But compare them with Jesus. Jesus healed relatively quietly (and told people to keep quiet about it). Jesus collected no money for His services. And, Jesus absolutely healed all people completely.
It is highly unusual to see people perform real miracles. Moses and Aaron did it. Elijah and Elisha did it. Christ and the Apostles did it. That does it, really. Miracles do happen, every day, but a miracle worker like Jesus in our day would be more than unusual, it would be impossible.
Jesus had an unusual way of dealing with salvation.
Perhaps the best way to explain the unusual methods and miraculous powers of Jesus would be to put it into the context of salvation, which Matthew masterfully does here. Remember that Matthew’s motive in making his Gospel was to make people believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah who came to be the Savior of the world. Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant and inaugurated the New Covenant, and God’s covenant with man is not so much about equality, not so much about victory over the demonic, not so much about healing physical sickness, but all about saving souls from sin and giving them eternal life.
Matthew painted this Gospel passage with an Old Testament outline found in Isaiah 53:4. He was fluent in Hebrew and wrote his own Greek translation here. The point of connection between the miracles that took place and the messianic prophecy is Jesus’ conquest over “illnesses” and “diseases.” But the larger context of Isaiah 53 and Matthew’s Gospel is not healing from sickness, but the atoning death of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
So the unusual question we have to ask is this: why did Jesus die and what benefit is ours through His atoning sacrifice on the cross? Taking this text into its full context, we can see some of the usual misconceptions and the ultimate unusual nature of the cross.
In a minor miscalculation, some see the cross as paving the way for the absolute equality of women and men. I say this is minor because there are other major texts in Holy Scripture which are more hotly debated between egalitarians and complimentarians, and the particular passage we are dealing with here is not a common battleground. In the context of salvation, however, it is clear that Jesus loves and saves women as much as men, Gentiles as much as Jews, and nobodies as much as somebodies. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I believe women and men are of absolutely equal value and worth to our Lord and Savior, but His holy word does prescribe certain subordinate roles for women in the home and in the church. Thankfully, the efficacy of the gospel is not at stake based upon one’s opinion on this matter!
In another slight of handling the Scriptures, some see the cross as crowning believers with absolute authority over the devil and demons. Subsequently, certain saved persons go forth and attack Hell with a water pistol, claiming victory over devils at every turn. In turn, devils and devil fighters take the front page while Almighty God is relegated to the spectator section. I will just make a brief pass here and say, whether you are a Christian or not, you are no match for Satan and his legion of doom. Reflect for a moment on Job’s many tragedies and Paul’s thorn in the flesh. God’s power over Satan, and over all things, is unlimited. Ours is not. Resist the devil, and he will flee indeed, but this is because he is scared of God, not you.
The big problem with an uneven handling of this passage deals with miracles in general, and the healing of sickness is particular. Many claim that healing is in the atonement, that those who believe in Jesus can claim deliverance from any disease, and this passage helps prove it. Even though this theology did not appear on the historical scene until the past century or two, it is a stronghold in Pentecostal, Charismatic, and many other Christian traditions. And though it is a belief held sincerely by many true believers, it is sincerely and truly wrong.
Jesus’ healings were not normative, they were unusual. Again, biblical and earthly history proves that the presence of a genuine miracle-worker is extremely rare, highly unusual. So, to think that the cross grants us the power to conduct healings as business as usual is wrong. Although, I gladly concede that God still heals people, directly, without the need of any televangelist intermediary.
Jesus’ healings were not conditional, they were unusual. In other words, Jesus did not, as modern faith healers claim, heal people based on their faith. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law did not expect a miracle. The paralyzed servant in the previous text made no claim upon the name of the Lord. Jesus healed people who believed and people who didn’t, and He still does today, which, when you think about it, is quite unusual.
Jesus’ healings were not universal, they were unusual. If healing were the thrust of Jesus’ public ministry and crucifixion, then it seems to me He would have just healed everybody who was sick. But, He did not. Jesus was quite selective and secretive in His healings, as well as temporal. The leper, the servant, and even Peter’s mother-in-law all eventually died of some other sickness or disease. So if Jesus’ death was to eradicated disease, He would have failed.
But Jesus succeeded in an unusual way. He made the most of what mattered most. Our Lord performed certain, select miracles of healing to draw people to the truth that He is the Messiah, He is the Suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah, He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and His death served the grand purpose of one thing, the forgiveness of sin and salvation for any soul who comes to God by grace through faith in the Christ of the cross!
People today, even church people, focus on today. They want to be healthy, wealthy, and comfortable, and believe Jesus came and God exists to satisfy these wants. If anything gets in their way, they whip out the cross and claim Jesus’ name to restore their health, gain them wealth, and keep them in the comfort zone. This false belief has become downright boring.
But Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And, He is very unusual. Whether you are male or female, tempted or delivered, suffering or recovering, He cares about your body, but even more about your soul. He is concerned about your business as usual, but has an overarching concern about the unusual business of salvation. This salvation requires an unusual cost and an unusual commitment to Christ. This passage, and especially in the next one in Matthew, takes unusual steps to the unusual feet of our unusual Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.