Luke 4:37-41 “And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area. Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them. When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.”
Though there was a host of witnesses in the synagogue at Capernaum, and a widespread desire to see a healing miracle, Jesus had delivered a man from demon-possession and then he left the building. He did nothing more. He wasn’t a Messiah sent to do stunts to please the sensation seekers. He walked out of the synagogue and went with his disciple Simon Peter to his home. There they discovered that Simon’s mother-in-law had developed a high fever and in the privacy of that house Jesus healed her; it was one of his earliest healing miracles. Though it was done in a home the news of what had occurred spread like wild fire so that by the end of the afternoon people were arriving at Simon’s house from near and far bringing to Jesus all sorts of sick people. Our Lord proceeded to heal them all, and to deliver all who were demon-possessed.
i] When Luke brings such events before us the moment is opportune for us to examine the fact of the healing ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Luke himself was a physician and it is evidently his conviction, having carefully examined the life of our Lord and interviewed the people who were closest to him, that no disease whatsoever frustrated Jesus’ healing power, whether the sick were in terminal cancer, or Down’s Syndrome, or their limbs were withered with the effects of a disease like polio; we are told by Luke that Jesus healed “all who had various kinds of sickness” (v.40). Surely if this is a reliable account then it must be of interest to every one of you. If you are simply prejudiced and refuse to believe that these healings took place then you might as well throw your Bibles away. You can speak condescendingly of the influence of the Scriptures in human history, and the noble figure of our Lord sticking to his convictions to his gory end, but if you are correct that such accounts of Jesus’ healing are a pious exaggeration, that some of the sick were helped while others were not, then the New Testament is a book of fables and nonsense. There is no doubt that one of the primary messages the Bible announces is that Jesus had compassion on the people and he healed them of all their diseases. None came to him very sick and left him very sick. That is the claim of the word of God, and so the first thing necessary if you are going to benefit from Jesus’ healing is to understand this fact and believe it. The world had never witnessed a healer like Jesus and it never will again.
ii] The other thing you need from this passage is this; you must understand the meaning of Jesus’ healing ministry. Jesus’ healing ministry didn’t just mean something to the poor dying people who were actually relieved of their pain through his work. The healing ministry of Jesus is recorded so extensively for other reasons; for example, it is an irrefutable declaration that the Lord Jesus is the divine Messiah; it is an impressive demonstration of his love for men, and it is a sign of his salvation and triumph.
Today I want to regard the miracles of healing from three points of view because the New Testament uses three different words to describe them, each word emphasizing a special aspect of these miracles. Peter on the day of Pentecost described the crucified and ascended Lord in this way, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). They are called ‘miracles’ and ‘signs’ and ‘wonders.’ Each particular miracle emphasized each of these aspects very plainly.
THE MIRACLES WERE ‘MIGHTY ACTS.’
Each miracle of Christ was a mighty divine act. It wasn’t that the stimulation of religious excitements prompted the body to suddenly put its own constantly operating healing mechanisms into top gear so that the person suddenly got better. Maybe such things happen, but Jesus’ healing had no naturalistic explanation. Nor were they delusional temporary restorations, nor were the people who claimed to be healed actual cronies of Jesus only pretending to be blind and then crying out, “I can see! I can see!”, and then the collection box was passed around. No doubt money-making fraudsters and hucksters have become rich out of cruel deception throughout the centuries. These healings of Jesus were none of those things.
They were an accomplishment of the immediate creative power of God. We see this in the healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. It is described quite economically. We are told that Jesus “bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them” (v.). It is all done by the mighty power of Jesus. This is emphasized by the utter passivity of the patient. She made no contribution at all. The lady was lying down as weak as a kitten in her fever and Jesus didn’t ask her to do anything. He didn’t urge her to ‘lay everything on the altar,’ or to believe with all her heart, or to have faith ‘for healing,’ or even to believe at all. There was no request. He didn’t ask for a fee. She was quite impotent, while he was omnipotent and because of that fact alone she was raised up! A miracle was impotence meeting omnipotence.
You can just hear the Saviour rebuking the fever, and see her flustered, becoming conscious again, the great rabbi standing over her smiling, her daughter and her husband standing at the other side of the little room, and she thinking to herself, “What am I doing lying down here and the food not ready for our guests?” and getting up immediately without any weakness she is putting the charcoal on the fire and getting out the pots and pans and checking that there was enough water from the well in her water pot. She had not been asked to ‘really believe’ in order for this mighty act to be done by our Lord. Of course Peter believed in Jesus; he had been with him in the synagogue; he had seen Christ deliver the man from that demon; he had seen the change and the electric amazement in the congregation. For minutes no one spoke. So when illness came into his own family he immediately asked the Mighty One for help. Someone is ill . . . Jesus is there . . . and you don’t tell him? Get real! Simon Peter’s faith in Christ’s power was total; Jesus could do this. Peter naturally believed in his healing power because he had been a witness of it in operation in the synagogue, and he turned to Jesus.
What about you? Here is this unsurpassable teacher – as I refer to him virtually every Sunday, ‘the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount’ – but also the one from whom such healing power emanates. He never failed to heal anyone, and so the question is what are you thinking and doing about this Mighty One, because most of us would make some intellectual assent to the healing power of Jesus. Even non-Christians, when they are pressed about this historic person, will acknowledge that Jesus was a great healer, but he was very, very great, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What are we doing with this evidence? You probably believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has had tremendous influence on people for 2,000 years – some folk we know very well who take their religion very seriously, but what are we doing? Are we ourselves going to this Christ, the teacher, the transparent man of God, that life-changing Christ? Have we gone to him with our souls, and our sin, and our need, and our poverty, and our infirmity? If not, why not? Are we coping with life without Jesus? As we face the future and the losses and the crosses and death itself are we going to be able to survive all by ourselves? Serious illness came into Peter’s house; someone he loved was very ill, and he went to Jesus. Who will you turn to?
When I was five years of age I had pneumonia and my parents in their desperation paid for a specialist to come 24 miles from Cardiff in a chauffeur driven car to examine me and prescribe some phenol barbitone. Then they cried mightily to God to have mercy on me. I am here today. Have you gone to him? Have you gone to him for everything? For losses, and joys? For good news and bad? Have you brought your burden to him? Have you taken your guilt to him? Have you cried to him for new life and faith? Have you refused to be deterred by any kind of minor difficulty, whatever the inconvenience, or the possible consequences? Is your faith in the Mighty One going to persevere? Will nothing deter you from going to the Saviour so that you cross those mountains of difficulty that lie before you?
Let me ask you this: are you going to bring Jesus to your friends in their need? Surely that’s a lesson for us too. Do you believe today that in spite of the ordinariness of this congregation – and you know that we are so tremendously ordinary – yet you can invite your friends to come here and meet with Jesus Christ? The Lord of glory is present, not because of the tingle factor, but because he has promised, not because of any heightened atmosphere or marvelous tension but because he has said that where two or three are gathered together in his name he’ll be there. Are we thinking in our hearts how can we bring Jesus and certain people together? Have we puzzled at this? It’s no use saying, “Well, that member of the congregation hasn’t done it, so why should I?” because I don’t answer to that person. I answer to my God and Saviour who challenges me to go and bring him into contact with people in need. I wonder can we start at this elementary level, that every one of us would try to bring one person per year to this place attended so regularly by the Mighty One? Then perhaps at least we’d have our integrity and peace of mind.
Luke tells us of this extraordinary healing power proceeding from the Lord Christ. You see the sheer extent of it; “When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them” (v.). There wasn’t an invalid left in Capernaum, they were all brought to him and Christ did nothing but touch them, one by one, and rebuke the illness. They were healed. There were no rituals, no agonizings, no mechanics whatsoever, simply the touch of the Master’s hand and there was invariable efficacy. He never ‘had a go’ and failed. He never rebuked any individual for not believing enough. He touched and he healed; he touched and he healed, and we are told in our illnesses and our family illnesses to take men and women and children to this same Lord! Take them to God directly, not to some permanently-installed faith-healing agency in the church. We tell Jesus himself about the problem. What is our hope and confidence? It is that God will answer. We no more need the mediation of faith healers than we need the mediation of a priesthood. We can go straight to the Prince of life.
When does Jesus heal? Where does the Lord heal us? Sometimes Christ heals us, without question, in a manner we cannot understand which we might call ‘miraculous.’ There is no reason to believe that divine supernatural healing is impossible, and every reason to believe that the risen Christ has the power today to intervene directly in the whole process of the disease. There are some occasions when the Lord heals like that; the symptoms disappear and there is a recovery; medical science cannot explain the reason for the cure.
It is precisely there that a temptation lies, and the temptation is this, to imagine that God never heals explicably. Do you understand? We can think that only when recoveries are breath-taking that God has heard our prayers. I am acknowledging that there is a minority of instances when God will heal miraculously, but when a person goes to the doctor and begins a course of treatment, or has an operation, or has chemo-therapy and goes along on the whole process of recovery which might take years, am I going to say that that isn’t God’s work? When there were drugs, and when the patient went to see a specialist in England, and when a large sum of money was paid to have earlier treatment – am I going to say then that the recovery was not God’s work because of all the therapy?
That is the whole problem again of God in the gaps. There are Christians who see God at work only where they can’t understand it. There is a gap; we don’t know how they got better, and the medical men don’t know why they recovered and then Christians will say “God did it,” but they won’t say “God did it” when there was excellent medical diagnosis and treatment and recovery. Let us pray for those who are ill, and sometimes God will heal them miraculously, and other times God will heal them through the skill and training and experience of those who are full time health workers. There will be the operation of wholly natural processes – drugs meeting disease; a scalpel meeting a tumour – and God is surely in that too, the same Lord who healed Peter’s mother-in-law. He has the whole world in his hand and we all live and move and have our being in him. He is the God of the atoms and molecules; sub-atomic particles are in his hands. He knows every cell in our bodies and he also controls the universe. That same God who is imminent in the whole medical process is to be praised and glorified when medical means are blessed for the help and healing of someone.
Then the question is why doesn’t our Lord always heal today? Why are our prayers unanswered? How often does it happen that people will turn in their desperation to healers, and healing crusades, and pilgrimages and so on, and they don’t recover? Then they are told it was lack of faith. Do you see the logic of that? That if only everyone had faith that no one would ever die! Do you see the perniciousness of that? We may find at times our mortality hard to bear, but that mortality is inescapable. God has never said that where there is strong enough faith there will be no mortality and so people won’t die. Let’s be so careful that we do not protest against disease in a way that means we are protesting against mortality itself. “It is appointed unto men once to die.” Every time I pray I know that. Every time I pray I pray submissively and conditionally. My example is the Lord Jesus himself praying, “If it be possible take this cup from me, but nevertheless not my will but thine be done.” There is a mortality from which none of us may escape and against which we have no right to protest. Throughout our threescore years and ten God heals us again and again, but then a time will come when we will not be healed. We will die. That will happen to all of us without exception, some will be young and others old, and your philosophy of life or your religion must embrace that reality, but I believe than nothing but the Lord Jesus Christ who did these mighty works can prepare you for that.
THE MIRACLES WERE ‘SIGNS.’
The healing of Simon’s wife’s mother and the healings of everyone in Capernaum at the end of that never-to-be-forgotten day were not mighty supernatural acts alone, they were also signs. In what sense? What was Christ doing in Capernaum? He was preaching the word. See how the chapter ends; Jesus said, “‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’ And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea” (vv. 43&44).
His constant message was the good news of the kingdom of God, and the miracles were a sign that what he said to men and women was approved by God. He healed all these sick folk and it was a confirmation of that good news; it was an attestation that it was true, that the kingdom of God had come in Jesus Christ. The King was showing his power over the devil and over disease. Soon he would be showing his power of nature when he stilled the storm, and walked on water, and brought a fish with a coin in its mouth into Peter’s net. Then he would show his power over death itself by resurrection might. The King of creation is here and behaving in a most royal manner. This was the primary function of these miracles, that they were insignia of the regality of King Jesus. Here is Jehovah incarnate in his Son Jesus Christ and his actions were a validation of his claims.
You see this throughout his ministry. For example, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). It is a staggering claim, “whoever you are, if you take the Lord Jesus into your life, feed on him, really devour him then frustrated longings for ultimate reality and peace will never trouble you again.” Now I could make a claim like that. I could say, “I am the bread of life.” Anyone could lay claim to those words. How do we know that what Jesus said was true? It might just be rhetoric. We know by his signs. There were 5,000 hungry men listening to him teaching and saying to them, “I am the bread of life,” and then there came a time when he needed to address their pangs of hunger. He took five loaves and two fishes; he gave thanks, broke them and put them into baskets that his disciples took around the crowd as they sat on the ground. They kept coming back to Jesus for new supplies of bread and fish and Jesus kept breaking those original five loaves and two fishes and filling their baskets. In the end everyone had eaten all he could and there were twelve baskets left over of broken fragments. Jesus met their needs at different levels. The miraculous sign confirmed the incredible claim, “I am the bread of life.”
Or again the Lord Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn. 11:25). It is the sort of claim that only a madman or God could make. If we believe in him, even though we die we shall live, and whoever lives and believes in Jesus will never die. I suppose again I could urge you to believe in me, and say to you that I was the resurrection and the life, but I haven’t preached the Sermon on the Mount, or told the parable of the Prodigal Son, or lived an utterly blameless life, and so you would think I was crazy or an egomaniac if I said that. However, the Lord Jesus went with Martha to the graveyard where her brother Lazarus had been buried three days earlier and there he said, “Lazarus come forth!” Jesus raised him from the dead. Many were witnesses of this, and they spoke with Lazarus in all the years that followed. Who is this man who can raise the dead? He tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He is the incarnate power and life of God, with authority over the realm of the dead. His sign confirmed the truth of his word.
They were also signs of his love. How many of his miracles were done in a family circle. He saw the widow of Nain following the coffin of her only son and Jesus gave him back to his mother. He gave Lazarus back to his two sisters. He gave Jairus’ daughter back to Jairus and his wife. He healed the daughter of the Syro-phoenician woman; he restored the man born blind to his parents. When the healed Gadarene demoniac wanted to immediately start following Jesus he told him to go home to his family. So many of his miracles were expressions of his sympathy and love for suffering mankind. The miracles are proof of it, and when we are sick we may not doubt it.
So here is Jesus in Capernaum, first of all inside Peter’s home, healing his wife’s mother, and then at the end of the day outside saving the sick who have come to him. How does Jesus save? By power. How did he heal this woman? By a word of rebuke directed to this illness – “Get out of her life! What do you think you are doing to her?” – and then he transformed her physically, medically, biologically and organically. He made her whole by his power, and the underlying message is that in Jesus’ salvation there is transforming power, not simply new attitudes, and a new sense of forgiveness but power given to serve others as we have been served by God. In other words, Christ never saves but he transforms; a person’s whole being is transformed and God is glorified. He never forgives but he also makes men new.
We didn’t have the privilege of seeing Jesus healing in Simon’s house, but Simon and his wife saw it and other disciples. They saw the heat disappearing from her face and the weakness overcome by her old energy. They saw his mother-in-law bouncing out of bed and noisily getting on with the cooking ashamed to be the centre of attention. Luke tells us of the words of these witnesses and we believe that this happened on the testimony of those who were eye-witnesses. Her deliverance was an authentication of the transformation that is in Christ, but does that mean that we carry no sign that we are forgiven? Hasn’t a power acted upon our souls that’s made us new creations before a watching world? By this shall all men know that we are Jesus’ disciples. Our change of life from selfishness to loving others is the sign to the world that we have met Christ. But what if I am acting as ungodly as any unbeliever in my university? What if there is an absence of newness of life, and morality, and dignity, and spiritual grandeur, and holiness, and elevatedness, and power then what right do I have before God to think that I am a forgiven sinner? There is no sign of Jesus at work. I am claiming that wherever there is forgiveness there is power. The powerful signs of Jesus are a confirmation that the one living and true God has sent him into his world.
The blessed miracles of healing are dramatic signs of the totality of Christ’s victory. Since the fall of man into sin all humanity has lived beneath the death-bringing power of the curse, but in Christ sin is vanquished and death is destroyed, Jesus gives us one sign after another that nothing can ever stand in his way. He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. We all love life. Never forget that Jesus is the person who through his work of redemption has made life a possibility. He proves it by healing the sick and raising the dead.
THE MIRACLES WERE ‘WONDERS.’
We see that constant response of awe as soon as Luke begins to report Jesus’ miracles. He tells of the amazement that they caused. In verse thirty-two and again in verse thirty-six we read, “They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority . . . All the people were amazed and said to each other, ‘What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!’” Time and again that was the impression that Christ made on his congregations. They knew his background, his life at Nazareth, his mother and her husband and that made them all the more amazed at his authority and power. He constantly filled them with astonishment by his teaching, and by his authority over devils and over disease. He even controlled the elements, and then the very grave gave up its dead at his word.
In other words, what kind of man was Jesus? If I said that he was an amazing man, then that is such a familiar cliché that it would have little impact upon you. If I said that he was awesome then again that is another common cliché. I am saying that Jehovah Jesus wasn’t simply a brilliant teacher and a beautiful personality, loving and caring, but that there was another dimension to him that gave people goose pimples. He made them afraid; a sense of stupefaction came upon them after they had watched what he did and listened to his preaching. We later find this word amazed in the Garden of Gethsemane when we are told that Jesus was amazed as he realized more clearly what death lay before him, the death which he had to taste. We find it again in the narrative of the resurrection morning when the disciples came to the grave and found an empty tomb. They were amazed; could he possibly be risen from the dead? Surely not! They didn’t know what to make of it; they were staggered and fearful.
What is this amazement? It’s the feeling that comes over us when we stand before the utter otherness of Jesus Christ. There is no category we can fit him into. He is in a class all by himself. He is utterly unique. He is not like Muhammed. He is not like Buddha. He is not like Marx and Mao and Stalin and Freud or like any men alive today. He is not like Nelson Mandela or any formidable political or religious figure in our world. I picked up a book on the hundred most famous men of history, and the editors had included Jesus. I was curious to know how they would report the end of his life. What could they write of his resurrection? They had lumped him together with Attila the Hun and Elizabeth 1 and Oliver Cromwell but Jesus rose from the dead. The entry about Jesus concluded, “After his death his followers believed that he rose from the dead.” The editors couldn’t say, “He is the only one of the hundred who rose who once was dead!” If they believed that then he is discontinuous with all the rest of mankind. They all died and stayed dead. It is demeaning to list Jesus the Risen One with Julius Caesar and Henry VIII and Winston Churchill. You cannot put the Lord Jesus Christ in a collection with any group of people and label them ‘The Great Men of the World’ because he walked on water, and the winds and waves obeyed him. He triumphed over death; he conquered it and came out of the jaws of death never to die again. What do you say about such a man? At least you say, “He makes me scared.” Peter saw him make all the fish of Galilee swim into his nets so that they began to burst and the boat began to sink. Peter was a fisherman, but he had never seen anything like this. The fish in the depths were obeying Christ? Peter was frightened and he said, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man O Lord.”
Do we feel today any sense of wonder before Christ? I am not asking about our admiration for him and fascination with him, but do we know anything of the grandeur and overwhelmingness of Jesus, his absolute greatness, his might, his supremacy, his otherness and his authority. He will say to many in the great day, “Depart from me, I never knew you;” he will determine the destinies of all men and women; they will hear from his lips the place that they will spend eternity. Don’t you tremble before such a man? Do we know that? Do we know that we shall see him as he is? Do we know that one day we shall stand before the judgment seat of this Christ? Do we know that on that day everyone will be silent, even the most eloquent of his detractors, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, and Victor Stenger? Every mouth will be stopped and the whole world will be guilty. They’ll have nothing at all to say, and if they are pressed all they’ll say is, “I just wish it weren’t me.”
Do we have a sense of amazement? That is good, but it is not enough because the devils tremble. Let’s know something of Peter’s cry of amazement and guilt, but that doesn’t save us, only confessing him as our Saviour, believing right into him and following him is eternal life. Why don’t we? What is wrong with our world? What is wrong with our hearts? They have a bias against God and a leaning towards sin. Jesus Christ has come into the world with the cure. He himself is the cure. Come unto me and I will give you rest. He can make us whole.
2nd March 2008 GEOFF