Healings, The Atonement, And
The Implications Of Discipleship
Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. is a teaching elder at Believers Chapel, Dallas, Texas.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:8-22
The sweetest sounds to mortals given
Are heard in Mother, Home and Heaven.
—W. G. Brown, - “Mother, Home, Heaven.”
“Before we were married, you said mother could stay with us whenever she pleased.”
“Yes, but she hasn’t pleased yet.”
What a change takes place when mothers become mothers-in-law! Or, so we claim, although for most of us the jokes do not really carry conviction. Many of us who are married owe more to them than we commonly acknowledge. In my case, a great part in the chain of events that led to my conversion is traceable to the Christian witness of my mother-in-law. I can, therefore, appreciate this very tender and human story of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, and I can thoroughly understand how, when she has been healed, she arose and ministered to the Lord Jesus. It is a beautiful and instructive story of healing that illustrates the great realities of sin, salvation, and service.
The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law is the third of the miracles of healing (cf. Matt. 8:1-17), which precede the miracles of power (8:18; 9:17), and of restoration (9:18-34). The miracles, which follow the great Sermon on the Mount, in which the King expounds the precepts of the Kingdom of God, display His credentials. They mark Him out as the Sovereign King of Kings and Lord of Lords. They do not “prove” His Messianic right, for only the Holy Spirit can do that, but they do identify Him as the one promised by the Scriptures (cf. Isa. 29:18-19; 35:5-6; Matt. 11:1-6). This is probably the chief reason that Matthew includes them in his work.
The account we have just read has another point of interest. The question of whether healing is in the atonement is raised by the public healings of many others and Matthew’s comment that follows their description, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken Isaiah, the prophet, saying, He himself took our infirmities, and bore our sickness” (v. 17). Is it true, as many of the “faith healers” say, that physical healing is in the atonement of Jesus Christ? Can we say that, because Jesus Christ died for the sins of sinners, physical healing is one of the blessings we may claim from His death? And can we claim such healing now, before the resurrection of the body? We shall address this question in a moment.
It is not surprising that the miracles and wonders performed by the Lord Jesus should have a profound effect upon the observers, and so we are not surprised to read that a scribe came to Jesus and said, “Master, I will follow thee wherever thou goest” (v. 19). We are a little surprised, however, at least at first reading, to hear our Lord repressing the willing disciple. And in a moment we hear Him stimulating another disciple, this one a rather sluggish and unwilling one. And we, therefore, learn from the incidents following the miracles the two ways in which Jesus deals with men who face the highest of all commitments, commitment to the service of the Son of God. He bridles the one and tries to stir up the other, but He is stern with both. The service of the Lord Jesus is no lightly undertaken work. More shall be said about this later.
The Private Healing Of Peter’s Mother-In-Law
The characters (8:14). The Lord, according to a synopsis of the parallel accounts, performed this miracle on the Sabbath day. Having come from the synagogue, He healed the demon-possessed man (cf. Mark 1:21-28) and then the centurion’s servant on the way home. Entering Peter’s home, He no doubt hoped for some moments of rest following His busy day, but it was to be denied Him. Upon entrance into the home “they besought him for her” (cf. Luke 4:38). Simon’s mother had a great fever, probably a form of malaria. We are, therefore, introduced to several of the characters of the account. The disciples James, John, Andrew, and Peter were there (cf. Mark 1:29), and the woman was there.
That she was Peter’s mother-in-law must be noted. From this we know that the Apostle Peter was married. Imagine that! the “first pope” married! The Apostle Paul confirms the amazing fact in 1 Corinthians 9:5. And another thing! It is evident that Peter really loved his mother-in-law, for “they,” a word that surely includes him, “besought him for her.” According to our modern attitudes, as represented by our jests about mothers-in-law, we would think that Peter should have urged Him to leave well enough alone! Or, we might at least imagine him having mixed emotions about her healing! Perhaps you have heard the definition of mixed emotions, —”Your mother-in-law driving your new convertible over a cliff!”
Other characters in the account include the Lord Himself, the Great Physician, and the wife of Peter. Peter must have had a good natured wife. He was bringing home four extra guests for supper, and we do not hear a single complaint from her.
The cure (8:15). Responding to their call upon Him, the Lord Jesus “touched her hand and the fever left her.” Appeals to Him always produce healing (cf. vv. 2, 5-6), and this is no exception. The malaria left her with His touch and rebuke (cf. Luke 4:39). And again the cure was immediate.
The consequences (8:15) . There are many suggestive things in this account. For example, it is one of the few wonders that He performed on members of the group of His more immediate followers. The healing and restoration of Lazarus is another. And then, too, this miracle was performed in a home in privacy. And, finally, the recipient of the blessing was a woman. It all suggests the ennobling effect of the ministry of the Lord Jesus upon the home and family. Domestic life never finds its true meaning and purpose until it has settled into relationship to Jesus Christ.
The one thing, however, that I would like for you to note is the effect of the healing upon Peter’s mother-in-law. The text says that “she arose, and MINISTERED unto him.” What this service was is not given in any of the accounts, but after a long, tiring day of “unwearied mercy,”‘ to use Maclaren’s phrase, it is easy to imagine some of the things that it included. And since the evangelist puts the verb “ministered” in the imperfect tense, suggesting continued service, we are probably to understand that it continued through the duration of his stay in the home at the least. Her service is said by Luke to have begun “immediately” (4:38), another testimony to the difference between the divine healings and modern ones, so-called.
The entire incident pictures to us the saving effects of Christianity, for His miracles are always parables of spiritual truth. The weakness of the malaria suggests the great text of Paul, “For when we were yet WITHOUT STRENGTH, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). The weakness that men have, when without Christ, results in an inability to serve their creating and redeeming God. The contact with Jesus Christ is a manifest suggestion of the only source of spiritual strength, His redeeming mercy (cf. Tit. 3:4-5). And the following service reminds us of our responsibility to serve Him after redemption. The hackneyed statement, “we are saved to serve,” is, nevertheless, true and correct, although not the whole story (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9; 1 Thess. 1:9-10). And will you also notice that the motive for her service was not a legalistic attitude of seeking to gain merit by works, but an attitude of devotion and appreciation produced by grace. How true it is that,
“He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free!”
One final comment on the initial miracles of healing performed by the King. He begins with the unfit according to the nation’s view of things. The first to be healed is a leper, the second is a Roman centurion, and the third is a woman (cf. Luke 15:2).
( to be continued )