By Pastor Glenn Pease
I never heard of Thomas Sydenham, even though he probably saved my life, and yours as well, if you have ever had a bad fever. The highest fever that anyone has ever survived is 109.8. Most people will die if they reach 109.4. But many have died with far less because of bizarre methods of treatment. In England in the 1600's, the standard method of treating a fever was the hot bed. You piled blankets on the patient, and kept a roaring fire in the fire place, and if necessary you posted guards to make sure the patient could not escape this stifling inferno.
Dr. Sydenham made an interesting observation about this treatment. It almost always was effective in killing the patient. Even more interesting was his observation that poor people who could not afford a doctor, and thus, had to forego this special treatment, were more likely to recover from a fever. One poor lad was stricken with small pox while traveling. They took him to an inn where he was smothered with blankets. When he went into a coma they thought he was dead. They took him out of the hot bed and laid him on a table with just a sheet over him. The boy recovered because of his fortunate escape from the hot bed. Dr. Sydenham put his observations together, and finally persuaded the medical community that the way to fight fire was not with more fire, but with ice, air, quinine, and anything that would lower the fever.
When he died in 1689, he was immortalized as the father of clinical medicine. There is no way to know how many millions of lives have been spared because of his observation on how to cure a fever.
In this message we want to focus on the most famous fever in all the Bible. It is the fever of Peter's mother-in-law. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all record this event, and Dr. Luke gives us a doctors perspective, for he tells us it was no mere minor fever of 99 or 101.3, for he calls it a great fever. The Greek word is megas. It was a mega fever. She was very seriously ill.
The New Testament has two words for fever: Puresso and puretos. Puresso is used twice, both times of this particular fever. Puretos is used six times, four of which refer to this fever, and so six of the eight uses of fever in the New Testament refer to this fever of Peter's mother-in-law this is the most famous fever in the Bible.
It is also the first physical illness that Jesus healed in the Gospel of Mark. Earlier He had cast out demons in the synagogue, but this was the first disease that He cured. Jesus began His healing ministry as a fever fighter, and he knocked it out with a single punch.
This is the only record we have of Jesus healing one of the family members of His Apostles. We have no account of any of the Apostles ever needing His healing. They were, no doubt, healthy men and we only have a record of three years of their being with Jesus. It is possible they never had any major problems with illness. There is no record of Mary, or any of Jesus's brothers and sisters being healed either. Joseph died somewhere along the line before His public ministry began, and so Jesus did not do any healing before His anointing as the Messiah. What we have here then, is not only the first of His healing miracles in Mark, but the only one of a family member of His greater family.
You may not want to make anything of that, but to me it speaks very clearly of the respect Jesus had for women. Not only was a woman the first to receive His healing power, she was one of the least respected, and most often put down, women- a mother-in-law. Someone said one of the hardest times in life to disguise your feelings is when you are putting your mother-in-law on the bus. This mother-in-law likely lived with Peter and his wife because she was widowed. Peter was the oldest of the Apostles and so this woman was likely quite elderly. But the Great Physician is here making a house call that leads to her healing.
Here is a godly woman who just got sick on the spur of the moment. It ought not to be a shock that good people get sick, for they always have. Spurgeon said, "However good a man may be, he will not escape trial in the flesh. You may have a house full of sanctity and full of sickness at the same time." He adds, "Certain persons attribute all sickness to the devil, and impute special sin to those who are grievously afflicted. This teaching is as false as it is cruel." There is no hint here that she was in any way responsible for her illness, or that she needed forgiveness. This was just a common problem all people have at some point in their life.
Dr. Luke tells us that Jesus stood over her and rebuked the fever. This implies quite clearly that the fever was of the kingdom of evil. It is a sign of infection to have a fever and it can be helpful in killing bacteria that cause us to be sick, but it is not good to have a fever, for that is a sign of something wrong. Jesus rebuked it and got rid of it immediately. Dr. Luke pictures most sickness as the work of Satan, and so even here he sees a fever as his dirty work. When it left her she got up immediately and began to serve. That is what health is for, to make us so we can use our bodies in service. Health is not of much value if we do not use it for service. We are saved to serve and healed to serve, or healed to help.
He touched her hand and the fever left her.
He touched her hand as He only can,
With the wondrous skill of the great Physician,
With the tender touch of the Son of Man.
And the fever pain in the throbbing temples
Died out with the flush on brow and cheek,
And the lips that had been so parched and burning
Trembled with thanks she could not speak.
And the eyes where the fever light had faded,
Looked up, by her grateful tears made dim,
And she rose and ministered in her household,
She rose and ministered unto Him.
She was as minor a character as you can find on the stage of the New Testament drama. If she had not been so sick when Jesus came to Peter's house, she never would have been heard of. We only know of her existence because of her fever. It all seems so trivial to be the first healing miracle for Mark to select. Why not start off with a spectacular like leprosy, and make it, not just a mother-in-law, but somebody big and important.
But all such thinking as this is based on an misunderstanding of the healing ministry of Jesus. We want to examine this case of the most famous fever healing in order to get answers to two important questions about healing that effects how we feel today about healing. The first is-
I. WHAT WAS THE MOTIVE FOR JESUS'S HEALING?
The ministry of Jesus can be summed up with these three words: Preaching, teaching and healing. Out of 424 verses in the first ten chapters of Mark, 139 deal with healing. That is, one third of Mark's revelation about the ministry of Jesus is about healing. 33% of the greatest life ever lived is about healing. It was not a side line for Jesus. It was a major aspect of His ministry.
Why? What was the motive for His conquering so many diseases, and restoring people to health? I am sure there are several legitimate answers to this question, but this first healing that Mark reveals also reveals what I see as the major motive for most of the healing of Jesus. He healed people because He loved them, and hated to see them sick. Now this may not sound like a very profound insight, but let me assure you that it is. Many of the greatest Christians in history miss this.
It has an impact on almost everything we do if Jesus healed people simply because He loved people, and treated all people as having absolute value. If Jesus only healed people as a means to some other end, then He was treating them with relative value. They were useful tools to achieve a goal. If Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law in order to draw a crowd, she was just a means to an end, and not an end in herself. But as we look at this scene, it is clear that Jesus healed her for the simple reason that He saw her sick and desired to make her well. He had compassion on people, and enjoyed giving them victory over sickness. His motive was love.
This is confirmed by an examination of the people Jesus healed. They were not people of importance. Peter's mother-in-law was a symbolic beginning, for most of the people Jesus healed were like her; nobodies as far as the community was concerned. There were no Queen of Sheba type healing in the ministry of Christ. No big name people of fame, no celebrities are ever mentioned. Jesus did not select His targets for healing based on their status in the community, or their office, or riches, or popularity. On the contrary, it almost seems as if He deliberately chose people who had none of these, and healed them just because they were sick, and because He put an absolute value on every person, regardless of their rank or role in life.
Most of the people who are healed by Jesus are people society has rejected. They are lepers, or those born blind, and mere beggars who contribute little to society. People who have long been victims of disease, and thus, written off as of no great social value. The lame man by the pool of Bethesda; the woman whom Satan had bound for 18 years are good examples. Only a couple of times did Jesus get involved with people with any known status, and even then it was not them that He healed, but their unknown children, such as Jairus's daughter and the nobleman's son.
The point is, Jesus was the Good Samaritan. The man He found beaten and left for dead had no relative value to him. There was nothing about him that indicated that he had status or wealth, or could in any way benefit the Good Samaritan if he helped him. He did not stop and treat his wounds, and get him to an inn because he saw something in it for himself. He did it because the man had absolute value. That is, he was a human being, and not one to be treated as a means to an end, but as an end in himself. His motive was very simple and pure. He did it out of love for another human being in need.
In the great scheme of history what difference does it make if this robbed and beaten nobody is left to die, or is restored to health by acts of love? Probably none, but that is just the point. If it was done because the man was important, or because he had connections, or power, or some other relative value, then the motive for his restoration would be just logical, and not necessarily loving. What we need to see is that all other religions and philosophies deal with people for their relative value. Christianity alone, teaches that all people have absolute value just because they are made in the image of God. Because this is so, all people are to be recipients of love.
The healing ministry of Jesus confirms this, for that is clearly the primary motive of why He healed people. It is because they had a need He could meet, and when you love people you meet their needs whenever you can. Mark's Gospel is the Gospel of miracles. He has more space devoted to the miracles of Jesus then any other Gospel. But you will seek in vain to find any big shots on the list. The people that Jesus healed were just ordinary people who could give Jesus nothing in return but gratitude. And that is all He expected, for His motive in healing was not to get anything. He never charged for His healing. He healed because He loved.
If we have any other motive behind why we serve people, and seek to meet their needs, we are probably going to have some problems. It can be hard enough when you do it out of pure love as Jesus did. He was disappointed that nine of ten lepers He healed did not even return to say thanks. But he did not give up and stop healing lepers because of their ingratitude. Reward was not His motive, nor was it popularity. He healed because He cared, and wanted to demonstrate in a practical way that God is love, and the kingdom of God is a kingdom of love where people are of absolute value.
This healing of Peter's mother-in-law is called the simplest and purest miracle story in Mark. There is no commentary on it. It is just recorded as an act of love. It has no significance in the great scheme of things. There is no reason to believe she would not have gotten better after a few days. It is such a minor matter, yet three Gospel authors record it, because it sets the tone for the whole healing ministry of Christ. It reveals that the master motive of the Master in His healing was simply love for people who had a need.
If you love people, and seek to meet needs, you will find your work is never done, for there is never an end to need. Jesus had just come from the synagogue where He literally had a devil of a time, as He cast out a demon from a man. Now He heads to Peter's home with His other disciples for a little peace and quiet for the remainder of the Sabbath. As soon as He walks in the home, He sees another need as He sees Peter's mother-in-law sick in bed. We all like to fantasize about getting away from it all. We go to church and then go home expecting a problem free day, and sometimes it happens, but often it does not. Jesus got some rest that afternoon, but when the Sabbath ended the people came in mass to receive healing, and Jesus was busy into the night healing all manner of diseases.
Find a need and meet it was the philosophy of Jesus, and He proved it worked, for He healed people out of sheer love. There was no charge, it was all of grace. In the 13th century the most famous and influential theologian, Thomas Aquinas said Jesus just did miracles to prove that He was divine. Once that was proved there was no longer any need for healing, and so it has no place in the church. He has had a major impact on both the Catholic and Protestant church into modern times, for most Christians have bought into this view, and healing has not been a vital part of the ministry of most churches since.
But will it hold water in the light of Scripture? If healing miracles prove you are divine, then all of the Apostles were likewise proven divine, for they did healing miracles, and so did their successors. If that was the motive for Jesus healing people, then He should have chosen a means that was a little more exclusive, and that He alone could do. The fact is, He expected His followers to get into healing as a part of the Gospel ministry, and there's no hint that healing is proof of deity. Healing is proof of only one thing, that the healer cares. Fortunately, many Catholics have entered into the healing ministry, and some of the best books on healing are by Catholic authors.
To heal for any other reason than that you care for people is to pervert the gift of healing. It is not a fund raiser idea, or publicity tool, it is a sign that the kingdom of God has come, and that the God of all has compassion toward those who suffer. Even professional doctors who make their living by healing have learned that the greatest satisfaction in the profession is that which you give for free-compassion. This is often the key to healing, and is more valuable than the medicine.
Dr. Francis Peabody, a medical researcher at Harvard, back in the 1920's said, "The treatment of a disease may be extremely impersonal; the case of a patient must be completely personal.... the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient." Dr. Bernie Seigel, a famous surgeon who specializes in cancer, wrote a book called Love, Medicine & Miracles, to describe his radical transformation from treating patients as machines to treating them as people. He discovered that his love for dying people often cured them when his surgery could not. He was ready to leave his profession because he was so discouraged with it. Then he discovered the power of compassion.
He stopped being a machine and began to practice a doctors cardinal sin: He got involved with his patients. He started to care for them as persons and not just cases. Soon he discovered he enjoyed his work again, and his patients were getting well faster and more often. He was healed himself when he began to practice medicine with the motive of love. It changed his whole career, and he quotes with approval, David Ben Gurion who wrote, "Anyone who doesn't believe in miracles is not a realist." I will be quoting this doctor often in the future, for he has by the power of love seen many miracles.
Many contemporary medical people are learning that the motive of the healer is often the key power in healing. It is being established by studies and statistics. Modern medicine is no longer skeptical of the power of love. This was the power behind the healing of the Great Physician. And because it is so, there is healing power in all of us, for all of us have the capacity to care. The second question we want to consider makes healing very relevant to us. The question is-
II. WHAT IS THE MESSAGE OF JESUS'S HEALING?
The motive is the message, really, but we need to spell it out. If Jesus healed people because He loved them, then there can be no end to healing as long as there is a need for love. In other words, the idea that healing ended with the ministry of Jesus is based on a reading into the healing of Jesus a different motive. If Jesus only healed people as a means of making a big splash, then, of course, when that end was achieved, He could forget healing. Many feel this was the case. Jesus just needed a way to get people's attention, and so healing was the means to this end. Once He had this accomplished, healing could end. It was meant then to be just a temporary ministry, and not part of the history of the church.
The problem with this view is that it makes Jesus treat people as a means to an end, and thus, with only relative value. If this is true, Jesus loses His place in history as the only person in history who taught that people are of absolute value. If all the people Jesus healed were just pawns in His plan, and means to an end, then Jesus was not unique in His value system. If you believe Jesus was unique, and one of a kind, you will have to reject this view, and see that the message of His healing ministry is that it is meant to go on for all time until He comes again, and all of God's people will experience a final healing, and have bodies that will never suffer again. But meanwhile there is no end to the need for healing.
The facts will not support the idea that Jesus had some other motive for His healing that ended the need for perpetual healing. Jesus healed the ear of Malchus in the garden of Gethsemane. It was a totally wasted miracle if Jesus had any other motive than love for the man and his need. He was on His way to the cross, and this healing did not do a thing to prevent that. He failed if He had any other motive than love for an injured man.
If His healing was for achieving some goal, then, of course, healing could cease when the goal was achieved. But if the motive for healing was loving concern for people in need, than the healing can never cease. The facts of history show that the church went on healing people. It went on through the book of Acts where people were healed by the Apostles, and for centuries after that the church was committed to be a channel of the healing power of Jesus.
If love is the motive for healing, then the message is, healing can only end when the need for it ends. This means healing will not end until history ends, for it will be a need as long as time lasts. We dare not let the problems and complexities of the issue blind us to this basic message. Healing is a part of the ministry of Christ all through history. If it is true that the church is an extension of the incarnation, and Christ expects His body to represent Him in history, then healing has to be a perpetual part of the church's ministry.
It is a problem passage that we have to struggle with, for it raises a lot of questions, but Mark has Jesus add to the Great Commission that these signs will accompany those who believe, and one of those signs He lists in Mark 16:18 is, "They will place their hands on sick people and they will get well."
I have laid hands on only a few people for healing. Some of them have been healed and others were not. This is not surprising in that even professional healers have had to confess this mystery of healing, that no one has ever been able to guarantee a healing will take place. Healing is always in the hands of God, and no man can manipulate the hands of God, as if He was a puppet, and they were holding the strings. No healer has ever been 100% successful except Jesus.
Few pastors feel they have the gift of healing. I know of none myself, who feel they are healers. But healing is nevertheless to be a part of the church. Gift or no gift, we are to care enough to pray for and seek for the healing of people just because they need it. The greatest cause for the limitation for healing is that people do not seek it. We have not because we ask not said James. In chapter 5 of his epistle James writes as if every church should experience the healing power of Christ in their midst. In verse 14 he writes, "Is anyone of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well..."
To reject healing as a part of the ongoing ministry of the church is to reject the motive for Christ's healing, which was love. It is to reject the great commission of Mark's Gospel, and the fulfilling of that by the Apostles. It is to reject the clear message of James, and the vast history we have of healing in the name of Jesus. In my mind, this cannot be honestly done if one is truly desirous of knowing the truth. The message comes through loud and clear to me. We should take advantage of what Christ wants to do for us, and through us, in the realm of healing. If Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and His motive for healing was love, then the message of His healing is, He still heals today.