Miracles for a Mother and a Multitude
March 21, 2021 / No. 4081
Mark, chapter 1:29-34:
And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell him of her. And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.
And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him.
In the preceding verses last week, we looked at the morning of the Sabbath Day. Mark records Jesus coming to the synagogue in Capernaum as the beginning of His public ministry. We noted that Jesus demonstrated His authority in the synagogue of Capernaum in two ways. First, by His teaching. He taught them with authority, not as the scribes and Pharisees. And, second, He demonstrated His authority by commanding an unclean spirit to leave a man. And we noted the connection between that miracle of the casting out of the demon and the Word that Jesus spoke with authority. The miracle confirmed both the message that Jesus spoke and the claims of Jesus concerning Himself. It confirmed the authority with which He brought the message.
And we emphasized last week that Jesus came not as a miracle-worker primarily, but as the revelation of the truths of God, as the Word who became flesh with a heavenly authority as the herald of the gospel with a heavenly message. And that, we saw, needs to be emphasized because the church’s work today, too, is primarily to preach the gospel.
In the text that we consider today, we have more recorded miracles. I want first just to tell the wonderful story of what happened that day in Capernaum.
The way that Mark tells the story here, after Jesus has preached in the synagogue, reminds me of visiting and preaching the last two summers in a little village in Mexico. We drove four hours, we showed up at a church building to a small part of the population in the town. They walked from different parts of the village. We worshiped God together. I preached through a translator. Afterwards we were invited to the home of one of the elders of the congregation. We had good food and fellowship and it was one of the richest experiences of my life. And all of this really is the part of the beautiful celebration of the Sabbath—hospitality amongst strangers. And you ought to be encouraged by what we read here to not only do this yourself—show hospitality on the Lord’s Day—but also yourself to experience the same by visiting believers in other places.
The story here is kind of like that. It is a very domestic scene. Jesus has preached in the synagogue, He is a visitor in these parts, and Simon invites Him to his home for the noon meal and an afternoon of fellowship with his family and the three other disciples, Andrew, James, and John, who are also there. As they come into the house, they are told that Peter’s mother-in-law, who probably lived with the family, is ill. Mark says that she lay sick of a fever. Luke describes this as a great fever, a high fever. Now, a fever is usually temporary and very rarely is it life-threatening. But she obviously feels ill enough that she cannot do anything. And, if you look at the last part of verse 30, there is a beautiful description of how they told Jesus about it. “And anon they tell him of her.” They are waiting for Him to come so they can tell this. Jesus is coming, the right one to come to their house. And they tell Him. There is faith and hope in that as they communicate that to Jesus.
Verse 31 describes the miracle. It is a very low-key kind of description, not dramatic, somewhat like the scene itself in this domestic setting. What we see here is the compassion of Jesus. “He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up.” Matthew describes it as His touching her on the hand. Luke, the doctor, says, He stood over her and commanded the fever from her—rebuked the fever. What is on the foreground here in the verse is the suddenness and the completeness of her healing. There was no time of recovery. She got up and immediately resumed her domestic duties. That is the idea of “she ministered unto them.” She served them. That is a beautiful part of the picture here of fellowship, too. She shows hospitality as a mother in the house. She humbly and faithfully ministers to others. And in this, she shows her love and her gratitude to the Savior for the health that He has given to her.
Really, it is a vivid picture, is it not, of what we read in Romans 12:1, where the apostle says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Here God has given her life and health and salvation. And she is grateful and she shows a love to the Savior by serving not just Him but others as well. A beautiful picture of a mother in her love and service in the home.
Then in verses 32-34, we find out that something else is going on in Capernaum this afternoon while Jesus is at Simon’s house. It is this. The people who were at the synagogue that morning, or perhaps those who had heard about what took place in the synagogue that morning, are making plans to bring the sick to Jesus and, under the Pharisaic regulations, they were waiting for the sun to set so they could implement their plans. Verse 28 speaks of the fame of Jesus being spread abroad immediately and everywhere in the region. Someone who has a sick family member or who knows someone who is demon-possessed, they are talking to one another and they are saying, “He is down at Simon’s house. And as soon as the sun sets, let’s go. I’m going to take my blind brother, I’m going to take my demon-possessed daughter.” So verses 32 and 33 describe that. “At even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door.” There is a picture here of a crowd gathering at the door of Peter’s house. In verse 32, where it says “they brought unto him,” it is in the present tense. The idea here is that they were bringing to Him. And a great crowd was forming at the door. So, what you have here is the idea that as the darkness settles on the city, the people come from every direction to the house where Jesus is.
And Mark says that He healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils. Many. The idea here is not that some were healed and some were not healed. But the idea has to do more with the multitude. He healed so many that evening. Luke and Matthew both tell us that He healed all of them. The emphasis is on the great number here. And Luke tells us that He went out and walked among them and He laid His hands on the sick. And Matthew says that by His word He cast out the evil spirits. Then Mark notes one more thing here: He “suffered not the devils [or demons] to speak, because they knew him.” That probably has to do with the fact that He did not want His miracles, and the fact that He came to do miracles, to be spread abroad. That was not the purpose of His coming. That confirmed who He was, and it confirmed the word that He spoke, but He did not want to be famous for miracles.
This is what happened that day in Capernaum. What a day! It started in the morning with His going to the synagogue, with the people shocked at the way that He preached. Then a confrontation with a demon-possessed man. And Jesus commanding the demon to go from him, and the man screaming as the demon departs. Then a quiet afternoon of beautiful fellowship at Peter’s house. And then the evening, as the sun sets, throngs coming to the door and Jesus walking among them. We should think about what, perhaps, the headlines in the newspaper would say the next morning: “A small-town boy from Nazareth challenges the Pharisees, shocks the people, dispels demons, heals the multitudes.”
What we have here in this passage and its parallels is a careful, biblical description of the miracle-working ministry of Jesus. It stands in striking contrast to the faith-healers of our day who prey on the physical suffering of desperate people in order to get money from them. That is emotional crowd manipulation with no genuine power to heal. I want you to see here some of the notable differences.
First, the undeniable reality of Jesus’ miracles. He not only healed a woman with a fever here, but He made the blind to see and the lame to walk and deaf to hear. He cured people with terminal illnesses, He reversed the effects of their diseases, for example, leprosy. He reconnected an ear so that it was perfectly restored after it had been cut off with a sword—no surgery, no stitches. Even more extreme than this: He raised the dead. Nothing like this had ever been seen before. The faith-healers today, with their miracles, are nothing like this at all. And then also, you will note, Jesus’ miracles were instant. They were complete. They were sudden and they were total. There was no time of recovery, no instruction to those who had a miracle performed on them to sit and take it easy for a little while. Peter’s mother-in-law goes from languishing in bed under a fever to full strength and work and service. She felt fine, she felt healthy, she felt strong. Then, also, there is no screaming, no controlled environments, no preselection of candidates to be healed. But Jesus, in full view, heals anyone with any kind of illness in any place.
Then, also, His miracles (and this is quite striking in this passage) did not depend on the faith of the recipient. The faith-healers will tell you that if you just have enough faith, which is demonstrated, in their mind, by the amount of money you give to their ministry, if you just have enough faith, you will be healed. But what we see Jesus doing here without any return is healing, walking around and healing every person who came to Him that night. And they were not all believers. Maybe some of them believed on account of the miracles of Jesus, but many of them came to Him only for His miracles and the benefits they could get from them, for physical health, for food. Throughout His ministry, Jesus will rebuke those who have only miraculous faith.
Then there is one more thing, and that is the distinction between disease and demon-possession. These are two distinct conditions in Jesus’ ministry. Many today will attempt to cure people of sickness or illness, or even of besetting sins, by exorcism, by expelling demons. And we see here that these are very distinct. Some came with illness and others came possessed with demons. We talked last week about demon-possession. What we should see here is that the miracles, and probably demon-possession too, belonged especially to the age, the period, of Jesus’ ministry and the apostolic age. They were part of this new revelation of God to affirm the gospel that was preached, to affirm and confirm the identity of Jesus. And today, rather than looking for them to be repeated and continued, we should ask, “Why are they here in the biblical record? What can we learn from them?”
As we ask that, we remember two things: the Gospels were written to demonstrate who Jesus is, not just stories and biographies. The miracles are commonly called in the Gospels signs, which means they direct us to something else. To find the things that these miracles point to, the spiritual significance of the miracles performed on this Sabbath in Capernaum, we need not look far, because Matthew tells us what it is in Matthew 8:17: “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.” Isaiah 53 takes us to the cross, does it not? It is a suffering Savior. And there is the spiritual significance. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy from Isaiah 53:4 in at least four ways. “Himself took our iniquities and bore our sicknesses.”
First of all, we see in these miracles the sympathetic Savior, the One who understands our pain and our agony and our suffering. That is part of what it means in Hebrews, where it says that He was touched with the feeling of our infirmities. In the incarnation He came into our flesh and He suffered with us. Do you not see this sympathy of the Savior displayed in the Gospels here in the tender way in which He touches the hand of Peter’s mother and takes her and raises her from the bed? We can look down to verse 41. We read there: “And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him,” talking about a leper! That was unheard of—to reach out and touch a leper! Jesus sympathized with the man, He touched him. You think of the compassion that Jesus had for the multitudes when they were hungry (Matt. 15:32), or it is expressed in the figure of a shepherd in Matthew 9:36: “When he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them because they fainted,” they were weary, they were hungry. And it says there, “they were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd.” He is the good Shepherd, who cares for His sheep. He knows their pain. And we see here the pity of the Savior, to reach down into our suffering to help us.
And it is more than just a sympathy for and a suffering with us. It is also this, that He understands the cause of our suffering. He comes to save us, body and soul, from that cause of our suffering, which is sin and the curse. And that is the second way in which He fulfills that prophecy in Isaiah. He grieves at the destructive power of sin, which is the curse of God upon us. And every time He witnesses human suffering or every time He has to suffer Himself, He is deeply conscious of the curse of God that rests on man and the effects of sin.
So, when Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, it was not so much because He had lost a friend, but because He witnessed the effect of sin and death, and He witnessed the suffering that it brings into human existence and to history and to all people, and what especially grieved Him was the unbelief and the rebellion of man to His Father. In Psalm 119:136 we read: “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.” Jesus grieved at sin, which is the cause of our suffering.
Third, He fulfills this prophecy in Isaiah by taking on Himself, not only human suffering, but the curse of God. And that is really what Isaiah is talking about when he says, “He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows. The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all,” that is, the guilt and the condemnation. He will conquer sin. He will overcome the curse. He will defeat all illness. He will cast out Satan. And the way He will do that is by going to the cross and bearing the curse and the wrath of God that we deserve. Already in the miracles at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus is demonstrating the truth of substitution—that He will take our place. And that is where that key verse from Mark 10 fits into the Gospels. He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, to serve. And to do that especially by giving His life a ransom for many. And it is by that that He delivers us from the power of sin.
That is really the fourth thing that we should see here. We see Christ here not just as a teacher and a healer, but especially as a Savior and a deliverer. He liberates His people here from disease. He sets them free from the effects of the curse. That is how these miracles are signs. They look forward to the cross and to our liberty through the cross from the curse of sin and the dominion of sin. He comes to rescue us from sin and Satan, to rescue us, not just body, but body and soul. He is strong to save, and He shows here by His miracles and the two kinds of miracles, the two presenting conditions: illness and demon-possession. He shows His dominion over the physical and the spiritual realms that have been devastated by sin. He shows that He delivers us in our bodies from the curse, but also in our souls from the dominion of sin.
Now, listen to how that is beautifully described for us in Hebrews 2:14 and 15: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Do you see that here? That is the significance of the miracles. This is what Isaiah means when he says He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows. Really, what this is telling us is that all we can see here in the miracles of Jesus, what is on display here, is the grace of God. Not to all that receive them, but as signs. As signs of the saving power and grace of God that affirms the message that Jesus preached. That He is the Messiah, who comes to lay down His life, to deliver His own from sin.
Then, there is really one more thing in these miracles that we must not miss. It is this. That these miracles, in a beautiful way, look forward to the day of perfection and final delivery. On display in the miracles of Jesus here is the power, the same power, with which He will come on the day of His return, when our bodies will be raised from the grave in perfection. Body and soul will be reunited. And all the dominion of sin will be gone. There will be no more sorrow, pain, or suffering. And that day will be something like this evening in Capernaum as the sun sets. As the sun sets in history, then we, as it seems, will be surrounded by darkness. We will be waiting, as it were, at the door at the end of time and Christ will come through that door. He will lay His hands upon us. And on the multitudes of His people. And they will be perfected. Dead bodies will be raised. All illness will be gone. All sorrow and crying will end. All demons and the devil himself will be expelled to the lake of fire. And we will enjoy fellowship together with our Savior—something like what these disciples must have experienced this Sabbath afternoon in Capernaum. And because of that, we pray, Come, Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly.