We’re going to begin this morning by reading the text starting in Luke 4:31 all the way to the end of the chapter:
And Jesus went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.
And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.
Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.
And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
As you can see, by reading the text this second time–two weeks in a row we’ve read that whole text–all this narrative really takes place on a single day. Jesus was teaching them on the Sabbath day in a synagogue in Capernaum. And his teaching there, as we saw, was interrupted by a demoniac. Jesus, not even fazed by it–he just stopped, silenced the demon, sent it away–an astonishing display of authority and power. It’s like a shockwave that hit that synagogue; it hit Capernaum and it traveled through the entire village in a day. But it also eventually spread to the whole surrounding region. And as that word was getting out around the village that day, Jesus went to Simon Peter’s house for dinner, and there he healed Simon’s mother-in-law. And, as we just read, after he healed her, later that evening there was a multitude of people that showed up and came to Jesus with all kinds of sickness and suffering. They came with very serious physical needs–he healed them.
Once again, I just want to remind you–I don’t want us to lose sight of what is written earlier in the chapter–that this is a graphic portrayal of Jesus on mission. This is Jesus’ mission–he came to seek and save the lost. He came to heal and to forgive; physical healing, spiritual healing as well. He came to conquer the curse, release the captives, and to set them free–and that is the mission that, as we saw earlier when he was in Nazareth–Jesus outlined there in Nazareth in his home town, back in verses 18 and 19. It says there: “He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor”—Jesus again reading from Isaiah. He says, “He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
Luke wants us to see that here–he wants us to see the literal, physical implications of that passage in Isaiah worked out in the ministry of Jesus on earth. There are more profound spiritual implications as well. We’re going to revisit that theme. But first, Luke wants us to know that this is not an empty promise made from God in Isaiah. It’s not an empty promise that Jesus quotes there–it’s not some kind of pie-in-the-sky-in-the-sweet-bye-and-bye kind of a pipe dream. This is real life. This is flesh-and-blood healing of real, actual diseases–things that cause death. We need to see here–Luke wants us to see here–that Jesus possesses that authority. He has that kind of power. Not only that, not only is he able, but he is willing to heal people. He is willing to set them free. We need to see that if he could do this kind of healing in the physical realm–that’s going to be an aid to our weak faith–to help us to believe that he can set us free, spiritually, as well. If he can take care of the symptom, he can take care of the cause as well. If he can heal the physical symptoms, well perhaps he has the will and the power to heal the spiritual disease that causes it all–right?
After all, what good is the physical healing of temporary illnesses and diseases when we face the power and the permanency of death? Every single one of these people who were healed that day all died eventually. Death is still the final equalizer, and we’re all going to face that dark and dreadful day. We need to know that our Savior has all power and all authority. He can conquer death. We get a good indication of that–that he’s not only able, but willing to do so—from passages like this one before us, and that’s what Luke wants us to see. Total salvation–it’s what our God promises–that’s what our Lord and Savior delivers and provides.
Having said that, I don’t want in any way—even as I talk about a deeper spiritual problem of sin and death that needs to be overcome–I don’t want in any way to diminish the very real nature of physical suffering that all of us face in this fallen world. Sickness and suffering–it’s an extremely distressing reality that we all live with. It’s not just the tremendous pain of physical conditions and afflictions, but also all the attendant pressures and stresses–all the inconveniences of sicknesses and things that we have to do to attend to those who are sick. There are all of the anxieties and the worries that we all face even with the increased access to medical care, insurance plans, pharmacies, prescriptions, drugs, Web MD and everything else you can answer by Googling it for yourself on the Internet. And you can know how to self-diagnose, and you can bring that into your doctor and you can help him do his job, right? I’m sure doctors love that.
But with all this access we have today—the medical facts and tips and helps–I really wonder how all this hurry and worry to save our physical bodies–how much it’s actually helping us? Is it really improving our quality of life? What good is living when you’re always worried about dying? How can you enjoy food when you’re always thinking about what’s coming to kill you in every single bite? I don’t know if you have people like this around you–always reminding you of every bite, with calories, and every carcinogen, and every cholesterol and every salt intake—”I just want to eat the burger–let me alone to enjoy my sinful, joyful stuff, okay?” Our minds can be driven to distraction by this constant attention to the condition of our physical bodies.
We need to acknowledge, though, the significant advances in medicine that have contributed to our individual and public health–they’re not small, by any measure–they’re vast! When was the last time you heard of someone dying of tuberculosis or rheumatic fever? It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Discovery of vaccines and the development of antibiotics have helped contain those diseases, making incidents of death very rare. But those, you need to understand—and I know that some of you with grayer hair remember a time those took loved ones, affected your family. My grandmother had a brother die of diabetes and she, herself, had tuberculosis. It affected the whole family when she was down with TB, and my mom had to raise the kids–a very serious issue. All of these diseases that are past-tense for us were leading causes of death not very long ago, especially among children. It would probably have been difficult to find any family, even as much as 50 years ago, that had not been visited by some serious, even life-threatening, illness. Today, though, through immunizations, through regular doctor check-ups, through all kinds of prescriptions and ways of healthy living–it’s imperfect, but it’s a fairly effective medical system. We have pharmaceuticals, we have over-the-counter drugs, we have other things that are prescribed, and these days it’s hard to find people who are suffering from tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, many other dangerous diseases. We have tetanus, rabies, and polio, yellow fever, whooping cough, smallpox–all the rest–those are forgotten worries in some sense, right?
In just a hundred years, it’s amazing to see what has happened–life expectancy world-wide has increased by 30 years. Life expectancy used to be around 40 years of age at the beginning of the 20th century–now it’s about 70 years of age–and that’s world-wide. It’s astounding! People seem to be living longer, healthier lives–and yet, let’s never forget–people are still dying, right? Deadly diseases remain. Serious medical conditions continue to plague us. We’ve learned, somehow, in this process of medical advancement and technology and science–we’ve learned to trust this ethereal, nebulous realm we call “science.” It points for us the way to salvation–to discover the fountain of youth; lead us all to it that we can drink freely and fully. And as many advances as we’ve been granted by God in the area of medicine, and we’re grateful for every single one of them–but sometimes I wonder if modern scientific advancement has become a false hope for us–a mirage that promises healing but ultimately cannot deliver what it promises. They say the death rate is still 100%–I’m inclined to believe them. That hasn’t changed.
What has changed is our cultural perception of death. We either ignore it altogether or else we believe that we can find the cure for it and save ourselves by our science. You talk with people in this country, and you find many people who feel fairly in control of their lives. They believe they have the power to control their own destiny. The more technology we add to our lives, the more Smart phones we put into our hands and into our pockets, the more we feel that we can chart our own course–we can solve it all. The greater our sense of control, the greater our sense of personal sovereignty, autonomy, self-mastery—and the stronger we believe that, given enough time, science will eventually provide us with the answers to fix any problem and overcome any obstacle that we have.
And that’s why I like to call the god of the western world an idol called “Progress.” We bow at the idol of progress in our culture, in our society. Many people worship the god of progress today–it’s a secular god, but it’s one that many religious people bow before as well. Progress has its temples in the universities and research facilities and the medical schools. Progress has its prophets, who are busy working in the research labs–they’re experts in biology and chemistry and statistics–and they all crunch all that data for the biomedical engineers and all the priests and the practitioners. Progress has its priests, as well. They bring that prophetic word, those messages to the public forum. They introduce the prophetic findings to the culture, making them understood on a popular level. The priests sell everything from pharmaceuticals to insurance to biomedical appliances to healthcare packages. And by this constant, and incessant and aggressive promotion, they build, they maintain and perpetuate this medical infrastructure that we’ve all come to believe that we can never live without. Progress employs its practitioners as well–doctors and nurses and pharmacists. These are the people who touch people’s lives at the practical level, at the day-to-day realities of normal life. And it’s especially the practitioners who see most clearly, most poignantly, most practically, the effects of worshiping the god of progress at the practical level. Some of them, to be sure, are just happy to have a job–they’ve got a family to feed as well, and they’re happy that there’s a huge medical infrastructure in our society that employs so many people. They’re happy to see the system perpetuate itself because people, after all, are always going to be sick–they’re always going to be worried about being sick, so they’re always going to need doctors and nurses and hospitals–that’s just a fact of life.
Some people have accepted that reality. They’re just happy to make a living from it–it’s a good thing–it’s part of the grace of God. There are other people in that system that truly lament the way the system doesn’t serve people well. It’s a system that has been reported on numerous times. My brother is a journalist for a very prestigious and prominent journalism company and non-profit organization, and he does medical journalism. And he’s exposed a number of these things that are kind of the underbelly of the system, and there are many people writing articles on this.
This has become a system of consumer demand–high expectation on the consumer’s part, but also easy litigation. It’s very easy to sue, and so because of the lawsuits, there are high insurance rates, and the insurance companies protect the doctors and practitioners from medical malpractice lawsuits. This legal, medical, pharmaceutical infrastructure that we’ve all come to accept has become, for many of these practitioners, a tyrannical overlord. Doctors feel safer treating symptoms rather than finding and treating causes—it’s business, after all. They have mouths to feed as well.
Look–it’s an imperfect system, and many of the things in the system are a grace from God, and we may feel like we’ve come a long, long way since first-century flu and fevers–but it’s only an illusion. We still suffer physically. We still worry. We still have high anxiety over sickness and disease. We still fear death. The god of progress can create and promote the illusion of conquering death, but it can never deliver on that promise. It seems like every year or two there’s a new virus that we hear about, ready to visit us through tiny little mosquitoes landing on our bodies. Every time we see them land, we’re like, “Is that Zika? Is that West Nile? What am I going to get this time?” Google probably has a metric to track and report on the spike of those frantic searches. “What do I do if I…how do I avoid…what do I…what are the symptoms…” These things get very personal, don’t they?
And all of a sudden, too, you hear those terrifying words from the doctor–“It’s cancer.” All of a sudden it comes home to you–breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer–all of this stress inducing, at the very least–even terrifying for some who are prone to worry and fear. And when that news comes, in an instant, your life is changed. There’s a new normal you need to face in your life. You need to talk about subjects that you’re not even trained for. Things like “metastasizing.” “What is that?—I’ve got to look it up–figure out what’s wrong with me–figure out what’s going on. We need to find out whether surgery is necessary or optional–how am I going to know that? Better trust people that are better equipped that I. I need to know whether I’m going to have radiation or chemotherapy or even both. I need to know if I’m going to have something cut off or whatever.”
Listen, physical suffering is such a stubborn reality, is it not? No matter what modern science does to fight sickness and disease, to mitigate for us the effects of the curse, I’m afraid that the curse is here to stay. It will not be removed until we are finally freed by Jesus Christ when he returns and puts an end to all of this. He conquered it on the Cross, but it will not be consummated fully until he returns again. The fact is that sickness and illness and disease remains and death still stands as a grim and foreboding reaper–nameless, faceless, dark and brooding and ready to visit us one day. We cannot escape it.
As a pastor, I see all of this up close and personal. I see the pain and suffering. I see the fear and the worry in people’s eyes. And it’s not just from those who are actually afflicted with the condition–it’s also from the anxious family and the friends, as well. They endure another form of suffering, altogether, don’t they? It’s all sourced in the sickness and disease that comes from the curse. Of all the gifts from the apostolic age that I wish were still operative and I would love to have right now, it would be the gift of healing. I would love to walk through the Northern Colorado Medical Center and literally empty that place! It’s makes you wonder why those who claim to have the gift of healing don’t do that. To alleviate the suffering of hurting people, to deliver them from the pain of sickness and illness and disease and all other kinds of physical and mental maladies, to remove the cause of worry and fear suffered by friends and loved ones, to take away all their cause for sorrow and dread–wouldn’t that be wonderful! With a touch to get rid of it all–to deliver people like Jesus did this day in Capernaum.
It’s no wonder texts like the one in front of us this morning–have been the inspiration for so many poems, hymns, so much artwork depicting Jesus, the Great Physician, delivering people—suffering people—from their afflictions. One of them is actually entitled, “The Great Physician,” a hymn written by William Hunter in 1859. The first stanza says, “The Great Physician now is near; the sympathizing Jesus. He speaks the drooping heart to cheer; O hear the voice of Jesus.” That’s a voice we want to hear right now as we work our way through the text.
Let’s take a closer look at these verses, starting in verse 38— to hear this voice of Jesus and see his healing power at work. This is point one in your outline: Jesus, the healer of the physical. Jesus, the healer of the physical. We’re looking at verses 38 to 40 here, and we see Jesus healing in a private home, the home of Simon Peter. Then we see him healing publicly as well, but let’s set up the scene here first. It says there in verse 38, “And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf.” Let’s stop there for a minute. Some of the commentators I read noted that Capernaum—which sits at about 700 feet below sea level, very near to the water and all that–the high rate of sickness and disease caused by the malarial environment there. Some saw this place as a cesspool of bacteria–an incubator of viruses and various diseases. I couldn’t find much on it from other sources other than commentaries, but what we read in verse 40 seems to indicate that there was an awfully high rate of sickness in town. Many with various diseases came and brought them to Jesus later on. Jesus is going to have a long night ahead healing all these people. Whatever the case–if it were the environment or just an affliction that came upon the town–in any case, the sickness had visited Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. As I said, it got personal. She may have been a widow, living with Simon and his family.
And I want to stop for a moment and say, “Yes, Simon Peter had a mother-in-law–which means he was married!” Yes, the one who would become the leading apostle of the Twelve–he’s the, you know, impetuous one, the one with the foot-shaped mouth. He’s the guy that, when everyone else is thinking it, he risks and says it–it just comes out of his mouth even before he can stop it. He became the spokesman of the Twelve. He became kind of the leader among leaders, and many, particularly today—Roman Catholics–they’re surprised to find that Peter was married–the one they look to as a prototype for the succession of Roman Catholic popes–all of them claiming to be devoted to clerical celibacy, not having wives. As the vicar of Christ, they’re to be separate from the affairs of mundane human life and devoted to Christ alone–that’s what they believe. History is filled with evidence to the contrary that many of these so-called clerically celibate popes were not celibate at all. Some of what you read is utter debauchery. But it’s interesting that the one that they believe is the prototype of the papal office–Simon Peter–had a mother-in-law–he was married. It’s a fact so widely known in that day that Paul used him as an example in 1 Corinthians 9:5 of the rights that were enjoyed by the other apostles, the right of financial support not only of the apostle but of his believing wife as well, and Paul names “just like Peter.”
So Jesus leaves the synagogue on this particular day, after this experience with the demoniac, and he enters Simon’s house. Simon and his brother Andrew had a fishing business. They seemed to be in partnership with the two sons of Zebedee, James and John. And let me just take a moment to describe the style of the house to you because it’s going to help you picture what happened just a few hours later when the whole town showed up with its sick and needy. Simon’s house wasn’t far from the lake–just a short walk to the water’s edge, the sea wall and the harbor there. And the house itself would have been, according to one source, part of an insula complex, which means there were several houses grouped together and connected in like a square–like a block. And they would be close. There would be an entrance at the front of it toward the street. So just imagine this kind of common courtyard outside Simon’s front door. It was a bustling hive of activity, especially following the Sabbath services at the synagogue, as the women were busy making preparations to feed their hungry families.
And inside Simon’s home that day, lying down on a bed—sort of a pallet that was laid on the floor in the coolest place in the room—was his feverish mother-in-law. The medical name for fever is pyrexia. It gets its name from the Greek word pyretos, which is used right here in this text. Many commentators have noted a number of medical terms used here in the first century, which you would expect from the author, Luke, who was a doctor. When you compare this account with the parallel accounts in Matthew and Mark, you can see the perspective of Luke, as a beloved physician, coming through the text. He’s a first-century physician, and as such, he has special appreciation for Jesus as the divine healer, as the Great Physician.
Luke, here, notes the severity of the fever. Our English doesn’t convey it as strongly as he wrote it. He uses the normal term for fever here, but he strengthens the term by adding this intensifying adjective, “a great fever.” It’s the word megas. It’s a mega-fever—a severe fever–very, very serious. So he doesn’t tell us, like the ESV says, just that she was ill with a high fever–that translation is rather a mild way of putting it. Luke is not only using those terms of a mega-fever, but he also uses a verb that pictures her being pressed down by this fever. She’s held captive; she’s afflicted and confined. It’s the imperfect tense, too, so it means this fever had been attacking her for some time. It’s unrelenting, it’s getting worse; she’s in the grip of this subduing, all-consuming fever, and everyone around her is clearly worried. Her life is literally hanging in the balance.
Into verse 38 they come, they appeal to Jesus on her behalf, and why not? I mean, why wouldn’t they ask him after all they had just witnessed in the synagogue? Simon and Andrew, along with—Mark 1:29 tells us—James and John were there as well. So these four disciples are all there. They exercise some very practical reasoning. They say, “Look, if he can do the one, well, then he can do the other as well.” That’s the simple, straightforward reasoning of these blue-collar fishermen. It’s the kind of reasoning that kept the bills paid. “Look, if that guy over there has the strength to pull that plow, plow those fields, he’s probably got the strength to pull heavy fishing nets. I’ll hire him. He can do the one–he can do the other.” It’s simple, straight-forward reasoning. It’s the same thing here. If Jesus has the power to drive out a demon–a demon, a personality, a being that is holding this person in affliction—if he can set that malevolent spirit fleeing, maybe he has the power to deliver a woman suffering from a morally benign, non-willful virus. Viruses aren’t personal. Bacteria aren’t trying to get at you like a demon is. It was sound thinking on their part, so they asked him.
Now, let’s start working through the sub-points you can see in your outline there in your bulletin. First, notice how Jesus provides immediate relief–immediate relief! Verse 39: “And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she began to serve them.” There’s actually a parallel between this healing in Simon’s house and the exorcism that happened in the synagogue. There’s a clear parallel between the problem presented, what Jesus did to accomplish it, and the immediate effect. That’s led some commentators to believe the fever here is demonically induced. After all, why would Jesus rebuke a non-personal entity like a fever? I don’t believe that’s actually the right way to see this. I don’t believe there’s a demon inspiring this fever–I believe it’s just a fever. As the Creator, Jesus spoke non-personal entities into existence, did he not? Why would not he command anything else with a word as well? If he commanded earth, water, sky, along with everything that fills them–sun, moon, stars, birds, animals, everything–if he commanded them into existence, why couldn’t he command a bacteria, a virus, or anything else. From the greatest galaxies to the smallest atomic particles, he commands everything by the power of his Word, right?—Colossians 1.
“What we’re powerless to control, he commands with a word. That is the magnitude of his power, the immediacy of his effect.”Travis Allen
Later in Luke’s Gospel, in Chapter 8, there is a severe storm that comes up on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is asleep in the back of the vessel–it’s actually the best place to sleep in a ship, right?—in the back where it’s pretty much, you know, not in motion. So his disciples awakened him, seeking his help, and in Luke 8:24 it says that Jesus got up and he rebuked the wind, the raging waves—and what did they do?—obeyed. They ceased, there was a calm. That word for rebuke–it’s the same word used here, and it’s the same word used to rebuke the demon. Jesus rebuked the demon, epitimao. He rebuked the fever, epitimao. And then he rebuked the wind and the waves, epitimao. Same word–every single time. The demon stopped talking, departed from the man. The fever left Simon’s mother-in-law. The winds stopped howling, the waves stopped raging–it was calm. It’s the power of Jesus’ command–immediate deliverance from the demon, immediate relief from the high fever, immediate calm from the storm. What we’re powerless to control, he commands with a word. That is the magnitude of his power, the immediacy of his effect.
When we put this scene right here with the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark, we get the fuller picture. Jesus entered into the room where Simon’s mother-in-law was sleeping, and he stood over her as if to assess what he was seeing there, and then he commanded the fever, and it left her. According to Matthew 8:15, Jesus “touched her hand,” as if to gently alert her to his presence and not to startle her. It’s really a mark of tenderness pictured there in Matthew. And then according to Mark 1:31, “…he took her by the hand and lifted her up.” Again, picture the consummate gentleman there. He’s treating her with gentleness and dignity–bringing her up, raising her up. This is an intimate scene, here, of our Lord’s meekness–incredible power, but under divine calm and control. The power to command this interloping fever–his word came in like a spiritual scalpel to precisely, skillfully cut out this fever and cast it away. Then the tender touch of humanity to touch her gently, to take her by the hand and raise her to her feet again–that’s how our Lord restores, isn’t it? Can’t we all attest to his gentleness but great power in our own lives?
Well, the text says, “…immediately she rose and began to serve them.” It would be an easy point to make an application here about the response of gratitude–that when Jesus heals us, we show our gratitude by serving him immediately. And I like that point! And while it’s true—while it’s a good application for us–I believe it kind of misses the point here. I think there’s something else going on that we need to see. Because the focus here is not so much just on Simon’s mother-in-law–we don’t even get her name. The focus here is on Jesus. It’s all about him–and Luke wants us to see and not to miss here the unparalleled authority and the absolute power of this very person. What Luke wants us to see here, and what he himself, as a physician, finds so incredible, is the immediacy of her healing, which is indicated by her return, not to just get rid of the fever–but to full strength. This is something that, as a doctor, he has never, ever seen before–and he wants us to notice it.
The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law: she’s flushed, red, weak, sweating–you know how a fever is; it just takes over. She’s like a furnace—so hot, unable to be cooled. She is utterly debilitated at one moment and then, the very next moment, she’s up and serving. Immediate, absolute, complete–that’s how he cures. Folks, this doesn’t happen–this is a medical wonder! When the body has a fever–and you all understand this–the body temperature is elevated because it’s fighting a virus or a harmful bacteria. That’s what God does–he causes our body to turn into basically an oven and cook it out. Our body generates a protein called pyrogen, again related to this fever word here in the Greek, and that increases the synthesis of a compound called prostaglandin in the hypothalamus in the brain, and it raises the body’s temperature to fight the viruses and bacteria that cause infections. When the temperature goes up in us, it generally tends to stay up until a fever is dead, and then it doesn’t come down quickly, it doesn’t come down immediately. Our bodies, like I said, turn into ovens that kind of cook away the harmful stuff–they even burn away toxins and stimulate that immune system to overcome, to rescue us.
When the body’s starting to lose the fight, though, like it was here–it overcooks, and the fever, instead of being what was intended for our healing and our deliverance, becomes a threat. It starts to become dangerous for our brain. High fever is dehydrating, and that’s dangerous for the body. Eventually, the high temperature cooking the brain can lead to hallucinations, to seizures, and eventually to death. So to go from the severe, unrelenting fever in one moment and jump immediately to serving everyone in the next moment–folks, the body doesn’t cool down that quickly–the energy doesn’t return that fast–the brain doesn’t recover that quickly.
When it says in verse 39 that she arose and began to serve them, listen, we’re not talking about fixing a couple of tuna fish sandwiches and scooping up some potato salad. This is Middle Eastern hospitality–that puts Western hospitality to shame, by the way. I know some of you are really good at that, but listen–this is something we in America don’t understand real well–how the rest of the world serves the people that it receives as guests. If you’ve been the recipient of this kind of hospitality–if you’ve even read about it or heard about it–you know that this kind of hospitality is one of the most useful, most noble endeavors to show honor to guests; to take care of their physical needs and to put them at ease, facilitating relationships and good fellowship. I realize that out here in the West—pioneer country–we’re all used to being pretty independent. But the rest of the world lives together. And I think it’s how we’re to do church, too—together, life-on-life, sharing our homes and bringing people in and getting into other people’s homes as well. And people in other parts of the world—they get this. Life is about relationships; it’s about fellowship. It’s not about getting stuff; it’s not about entertaining stuff. Life is about people.
I was once talking with a man named Nabil Costa. He’s the executive director for the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development. That’s a big, highfalutin title that gets him access to do things in his country that he normally wouldn’t be able to do. He’s a native of Lebanon, and he’s traveled the world. This man has been everywhere, he’s seen everything, he’s done everything. He’s got so many frequent-flyer miles he could probably take us all on trips all around the world on his frequent-flyer miles. I once asked him, “Of all the places you’ve seen, what’s your favorite?” He said, “Home, with family.” He said, “The place isn’t important–it’s all about the people.”
Look, hospitality–serving people, bringing them into your home, getting in other people’s homes, sharing life like this–hospitality acknowledges this truth. Hospitality facilitates these relationships. The cultures of the Middle East understand that because they are connected historically with ancient ways of thinking. That’s something that we Americans, as such a young country—and we Coloradans out here on what we in our “Theology on the Open Range” call our “open range,” where we’re used to circling the wagons and shooting at the bad guys and the Indians and stuff–we want to keep people away. We came out here to get away from people, historically.
But listen, we need to learn this from our Middle Eastern and Chinese and African brothers and sisters in Christ–hospitality is so important. We need to look back on our lives from the clear perspective provided by the hindsight of old age and rejoice that we worked hard to develop and facilitate relationships, to show hospitality to one another. We will never, ever regret that. We will regret too much time at work. We will regret too much time getting stuff, taking vacations and doing all the rest of the things that Americans do. But we will never regret a lot of time built into relationships, built into people; that’s a true investment. This kind of hospitality was a daily, practical reality in the first century Middle Eastern context.
Showing hospitality was absolutely rewarding, but it was also energy-sapping. It was a sacrifice, and that’s why, all the more, to see this: Peter’s mother-in-law to go flat on her back with a deadly fever, and all of a sudden to serving a house full of guests. Look, I don’t know all the physiology involved, but when you stop to think about this, this is nothing short of a staggering recovery. It was immediate, it was absolute, it was complete. It’s how Jesus healed. Not like the faith healers we see on television–the frauds who are bilking the foolish and the naive out of millions of dollars and billions of dollars. Look, Jesus didn’t do that at all. He didn’t charge–just provided immediate and complete relief.
Second sub-point in your outline to mark Jesus’ healing: Jesus provides comprehensive healing. Comprehensive healing. When Jesus healed people physically—you’re going to see this all throughout the Gospels—he not only heals immediately, completely, but he heals comprehensively. His healing is not confined to subjective sensations like sore backs, lower back pain, fibromyalgia, headaches, and things like that. It’s not an ill-defined set of symptoms where temporary relief comes and goes. Jesus healed all kinds of known and recognized diseases. And not only that, he healed them all publicly. His healings were wide open to public verification and validation. Notice in verses 40 and 41:
Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them.
“When Jesus healed people physically…he not only heals immediately, completely, but he heals comprehensively.”Travis Allen
Word had gotten around town, and definitely about what had happened in the synagogue that morning, but probably also the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. You know how small villages are, right? One of the proverbial realities of small-town life is called small-town gossip, right? We all know that. Word spread from house to house here, excitedly talking about this real exorcist, a real healer in their midst. That opening line there in verse 40—“…when the sun was setting”—that’s not merely to tell us the time of day. That tells us the people waited until after the Sabbath was over. Sabbath lasted from Friday at sunset untilSaturday at sunset, so the people waited until the Sabbath was over lest they violate the Sabbath, or they be perceived as violating the Sabbath. When Luke tells us “all with various diseases” and then speaks of him healing, touching every single one of them, he’s giving a picture of what actually happened there. The entire city of Capernaum descended on Simon’s house–just packed into the courtyard right outside his front door–spilled out onto the public streets. His home was basically turned into something like an infirmary on war day, right? Like a make-shift emergency room–like a triage center. People were bringing their loved ones, with all manner of sickness and disease, including those that had demons. They came there for healing.
Look, it’s comprehensive, limitless efficacy. That’s what Luke wants us to see here about Jesus–like no physician who has ever lived. Jesus was able to treat every single infirmity, every single disease. His ability to cure was absolutely comprehensive–nothing beyond his power to heal–and virtually, here, if not literally, eradicated all sickness and disease from Capernaum in a single night. Again, just imagine having that ability to walk into the Northern Colorado Medical Center and eliminate it all. The amazing power he possessed–still possesses–to exercise the will of the Father.
One more sub-point to mention, a very important one here–immediate relief, comprehensive healing, and thirdly, Jesus provides impeccable care. Impeccable care. You might wonder and validly ask the question, “If Jesus had the power to command the fever away from Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, why didn’t he do the same thing with all people that came?” That’s a good question. He could have simply walked outside, seen all the sick and the infirm gathering around, and he could have maybe got up on the rooftop, waved his hand over Capernaum and said, “Sickness, be gone!” and then go downstairs, crawl into bed and get a good night’s rest.
Now, instead, he’s up all night. He’s moving from case to case. And like an army medic on a battlefield, he’s moving from victim to victim, tending to each one, touching every single person with his hands. Why? Listen, Jesus didn’t need to speak a word of rebuke, did he? He didn’t need to touch anybody. He didn’t need to use any other means at all. He simply thought the thought. He could have cast out the demons, healed the sick, calmed storms, recreated the universe with a thought. Whenever in the Gospels you see Jesus using means, when you see him speaking a word, when you see him touching, when you see him making mud with his saliva and then applying it to a blind man’s eyes–whatever the means, there is a reason for the means that he uses because he’s teaching something. You just need to meditate on it for a moment–don’t hurry past. Pray about it, ask the Spirit to help you understand what Jesus was trying to teach.
In this case, we’re meant to see how Jesus provided impeccable medical care. As the Great Physician, his bedside manner was perfect. He involved himself intimately in each and every case. Luke is explicit on this point in verse 40: “He laid his hands on every one of them and healed them.” We noted earlier the same thing with Simon’s mother-in-law–he commanded the fever, he touched her hand, he raised her by the hand, caused her to stand, strengthened her to serve. That same compassion and tenderness is evident here, as well, because for Jesus, it wasn’t just about healing the disease–that was just a starting point. It was about knowing the people. It was about the people knowing him–individual attention to each and every case. But he didn’t treat them like a case–he treated them like a person. He treated each person like a person with a soul–like a person with an eternal need, each one ultimately needing reconciliation with God.
It was laborious work, walking around each one–a sacrifice of time and energy–but he loved people. He loved them as individuals, and he loved them up close and personal. As A. B. Bruce writes, we’re seeing “the benevolent sympathy of Jesus; Jesus didn’t heal en masse, but one by one, tender sympathy going out from him in each case.” Very true.
Not only that, but we see here the evidence of Jesus’ sound judgment as he thinks through the situation. The people waited until the sun was going down to bring their sick to Jesus. They were thinking that they would be violating the Sabbath law, the law of Moses. It’s a subtle—quite sad really—point that people here would be that bound by a religious system that elevated strict adherence to rules over acts of mercy and compassion–that they’d been trained to think that way. Jesus actually condemned religious leadership for perpetuating this false view of religion as something God actually approved. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus pronounced this scathing rebuke. He said,
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you out to have done without neglecting the others.
Look, are all things of equal weight in Scripture? No! There are weightier matters, as our Lord says. And the weightier matters are issues of justice, mercy, faithfulness. As the Great Physician, he understood that. And he exercised sound judgment. He was never worried about violating the Sabbath; he was concerned about attending to these weightier matters of the law, like showing mercy to the hurting. As we’ve just seen, he’d already healed on this Sabbath twice. It’s this kind of sound judgment–discerning what truly matters to God–that made Jesus such a great physician.
One more quick point about Jesus’ impeccable care for those afflicted by disease. There is an entire section in the holiness code, and I’m going to read it–Leviticus 12 through Leviticus 15–let’s read it all together. I’m just kidding–I won’t do that to you. Leviticus 12 through Leviticus 15–you should read it sometime. It reads like a medical manual for the priests. One of the functions of the Old Testament priesthood was to serve like a public health organization. They were almost like medical examiners–physicians who carefully examined all kinds of diseases, determining whether the person was clean or unclean. They’d perform the examination, they’d make a proper assessment, they’d prescribe necessary procedures for cleansing the person, for cleansing the physical environment. Sometimes it required even tearing down the whole house and rebuilding the wall because there was uncleanness in the wall. It was a matter of ceremonial and ritual purity, yes, but also a matter of practical health and cleanliness. And in all that examination, never, never would a priest defile himself by touching the afflicted individual. It was a matter of staying free from infection, but it was also a matter for him of ritual purity–that he would remain pure and able to bring his own sacrifice to the altar and also to officiate on behalf of the people as well. So he never wanted to touch any of them—he kept them at a distance. Such, though, is the purity and the power of our Lord’s holiness that touching the sick didn’t transfer impurity to him; it didn’t transfer disease to him. Rather, his holy touch drove the impurity and disease far away.
There’s no way for us to know what was on his mind here as he touched people–but his lack of concern about violating Levitical law—I don’t believe it was just because he knew the over-powering nature of his personal holiness. I believe, instead, that it was because he was compelled by the need to demonstrate the tender mercy of God, and that was what mattered to him. So that’s what he did. His heart was his Father’s heart, and he knew his Father would vindicate him, so he reached out and he touched them–every single one of them–and he healed them. He looked them right in the eye. He wanted to talk to them. He wanted to know them, and he wanted them to know him. Is that not a tender picture of our Lord’s compassion? Can there be any greater encouragement to come near to him for our troubles, trials, afflictions? Is there any greater inducement for us to come and cry to him in our time of need? He’s truly our merciful and faithful high priest in the service to God.
We only have time left to introduce the second point in our outline; we’re going to come back to this next week. This dramatic display of power–as dramatic as it is–we need to note that physical healing is not enough. We’ve all been talking about that, but the people who were healed that day–delivered from their particular disease or affliction–they all eventually succumbed to the curse; they all died. The cure needs to go deeper than the physical, doesn’t it? Sickness and disease are merely physical symptoms of a metaphysical problem, which is the problem of sin and the curse. So our second point in the outline, as you’ll see, we’ll just introduce this: Jesus, the healer of the metaphysical.
Metaphysics–it sounds like such a fancy word, but it’s really the right word to use when we talk about first causes, when we talk about fundamental principles. You see, it’s in that sense that we see the fundamental problem of sin as the metaphysical issue. Sin is a fundamental principle. It is the first cause of all our other problems, spiritual and physical. Listen, this is why secular science can never and will never ultimately cure disease and sickness–because they don’t have the ability to observe what’s not observable under a microscope–a sin principle. In fact, many in our modern day deny the existence of sin altogether. So, if you have cut away the heart of the problem, you’re just left to treat symptoms for the rest of your earthly existence. That’s why medicines and medications and pharmaceuticals and all that stuff will not solve all these psychological and physical maladies that we try to treat all the time out of a pill bottle.
Diseases and sicknesses are symptoms of a deeper issue. The science of the observable, the physically testable–it cannot discover it. We need to get a deeper look into the issue of the sin that leads to death, and we need to look only to the One who has not only diagnosed the issue, but who also has the power to heal at the metaphysical level. Since this is beyond the physical, since it’s in the realm of the metaphysical, scientific inquiry is limited; it’s unable to provide solutions to point the way for us. Only one person can deal with the human condition at that level–and that’s God.
After highlighting this dramatic display of healing power, Luke is quick to bring our focus into the deeper spiritual nature of the problem, and he does that first by emphasizing the outcry of the demons in verse 41, and then by showing us Jesus’ priority in verses 42 to 44. As much as I’d love to get into that right now, we’re going to have to wait until next week to finish our outline.
So, if you would, just bow your heads for a moment, close your eyes and just listen. Before I pray, these are some verses from a hymn by Henry Twells, which was inspired by this healing scene in Capernaum, and the title is simply, “At Even, Ere the Sun Was Set,” “even” being a shortened word for “evening.” It was written in 1868:
At even, ere the sun was set,
the sick, O Lord, around thee lay;
O in what divers pains they met!
O with what joy they went away!
Once more ’tis eventide, and we
oppressed with various ills draw near;
what if thy form we cannot see?
we know and feel that thou art here.
O Savior Christ, our woes dispel;
for some are sick, and some are sad,
and some have never loved thee well,
and some have lost the love they had;
And none, O Lord, have perfect rest,
for none are wholly free from sin;
and they who fain would serve thee best
are conscious most of wrong within.
O Saviour Christ, thou too art man;
thou hast been troubled, tempted, tried;
thy kind but searching glance can scan
the very wounds that shame would hide.
Thy touch has still its ancient power;
no word from thee can fruitless fall:
Hear, in this solemn evening hour,
and in thy mercy heal us all.
Father, we thank you for the mercy and grace you’ve shown to us in sending your Son, Jesus Christ, that we all might be healed as well.