You might say it was a very busy Sabbath day for Jesus. First he preaches in the synagogue in Capernaum and casts out a demon. Then he goes from the synagogue to the house of Simon and Andrew to pay a house call on Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. “She’s a bit down with a fever lately, which is why she missed services today,” they tell Jesus. Jesus comes to her bedside and takes her by the hand and raises her up. And the fever left her. And she put on some tea and made some sandwiches and laid out some fruit and cookies and she served them. Simon and Andrew, and their two new friends James and John, along with Jesus, who was so kind to come and visit and heal her.
What a nice story that is! Wouldn’t it be nice to have Jesus come to you when you’re sick in bed, and take you by the hand and raise you up? So much better than all the hassles with the HMOs and waiting in doctor’s offices and tracking done those prescriptions. Now is it three pills two times a day or two pills three times a day? Just have Jesus bend down next to you, and not even say anything. Just reach and take your hand, and gently lift you from your bed. And your fever just goes away, just like that, and you go off to the kitchen and fix everyone nice lunch. Wouldn’t that be nice?
And isn’t that more or less what we expect? Or at least have in the back of our minds when we pray for the sick, when we ourselves are sick or someone we love is sick? That Jesus would do that kind of miracle for us? Just take us, or our loved ones, by the hand, and the fever goes away. It’s too bad He doesn’t make those kind of house calls today. It would sure be a lot easier. Who knows, maybe more people would come to church if He would just heal a few cases of the cold or flu. We would feel a lot better about things. And we could serve Him, too, just like Simon Peter’s mother-in-law.
The word got around town that Jesus was in that little house of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. By sundown, when the Sabbath had ended, people started coming from all corners of Capernaum. The whole town took up residence at the little house. People were all over the front lawn and up the driveway. Trampling down the bushes and the flower beds. People being carried on mats, or draped over shoulders. Demonized people spitting and cussing and foaming at the mouth. People with horrible, disfiguring diseases whom your mother told you to avoid. Contagious people. The front lawn looked like a trauma center. It looked like an episode of ER. It looked like hell, that’s really what it looked like. All the diseased and demonized people of Capernaum were gathered in front of the house of this poor woman who had just gotten over her fever, thanks be to Jesus.
And Jesus healed them all. He healed their broken bones and runny noses and leprosy. He silenced their demons and cast them out, because they knew who He was, and He wasn’t about to have a bunch of demons telling everyone and making an even bigger ruckus than there already was. He patiently worked into the dark hours of the night. The Good Physician on his rounds, making house calls, working the late shift, working to the point of exhaustion. Touching, healing. Casting out unclean spirits with little more than a word. Going from one person to the next. Just a touch or a word, nothing more than that. Not like the TV guys with their big shows. Jesus was never into celebrity. He shied away from that. Just a moment with Jesus and everything was better. And even more came, late into the night. There was no end to the diseased and the demonized.
Finally, early in the morning, when the crowds had gone, Jesus went to a quiet place to pray. That’s what He did when things got crazy. He went off by Himself and prayed. We could learn something from that. When the going gets busy, go off somewhere and pray. But Simon and the others ran after Him and found Him. He could have no peace. No time for prayer. “Everyone is looking for you,” they said. There was no end to the diseased and the demonized.
And then Jesus said a remarkable thing. “Let’s go to the next towns, so that I may preach there also, because that’s why I came.” He left all those diseased and demon possessed people behind in Capernaum and went on to the next town! Couldn’t He have healed them anyway? Like a general absolution. A corporate healing. Just wipe out disease in Capernaum and then push on.
But He didn’t do that. He left them they way they were. Suffering, searching for Jesus. He went on from one town to the next, preaching in the synagogues, casting out demons. To preach is why He came. Jesus came to preach. To preach that the kingdom of God had come in His coming. That’s what the miracles showed. They were signs of the new creation, signs of the resurrection, sneak previews. Not the main event. Jesus came to preach.
Preaching. What goes on between the Creed and the Offering. That’s was number one on Jesus’ priority list. Preaching, not healing. Healing we like. Miracles we like. Preaching, well that’s another matter. We generally don’t ask our pastors how many hours and days they prepare for preaching. We’re more worried about other things. Problem solving. Programs. But not preaching. Yet Jesus said that’s why He came. To preach.
Our priorities are upside down. We expect all the wrong things. We want band aids from God. Happy pills. A quick fix. Something to make me healthy, wealthy, and wise. We want answers to all our perplexing questions. We want solutions to all our stubborn problems. We want healing for our diseases. We want our demons silenced. And all Jesus wants to do is preach.
Answers. Miracles. We’re hooked on these things. They’re the stuff of religion. Religion promises us answers and miracles, for a price. Answers to our questions, miracles for our problems. And when we don’t get the answers or the miracles we are looking for, we look somewhere else. We wander from religion to religion, from church to church, from god to god. Seeking answers and miracles. And all Jesus offers is a sermon. He came to preach. He sent His apostles to preach. He sends ministers to His Church to preach. He sends His church to preach.
So what’s with the miracles? They’re a sign, a “sacrament” that reveals who Jesus is. He is the active agent behind all healing, the Creator / Redeemer of the world. Simon’s mother-in-law would probably have gotten better on her own. Take two Tylenol, get a good night’s rest, and all will be better in the morning. Even if Jesus had never visited her house to bend down at her bedside, her healing would have been by Jesus. Jesus was simply showing Himself for who He is, our Creator and Redeemer, the One who made us and the One who saves us. Every healing, no matter how it happens, no matter on whom it happens, is the work of Christ. The miracles simply leave out the middle man – the doctor, the HMO, the pills – and point directly to Jesus.
Jesus didn’t heal everyone in Capernaum because it wasn’t necessary to heal everyone. That’s not what He came for. That’s not how He deals with diseases and demons. The way Jesus deals with demons and diseases is the die, and to drop all our diseases and demons down into the black hole of His death. The way He heals us is not to give us band aids and a bromides, but a death and a resurrection. Death and resurrection is the way Jesus works. The miracles just point the way to Jesus. Faith in Jesus is not faith in miracles. Faith that is born of miracles needs miracles to keep it going.
Which brings us to Job. Our OT reading was a brief bit from the book of Job, a pretty desparate and depressing reading about how life is empty and full of suffering. It’s part of Job’s answer to the one of his friends, and he isn’t a happy camper. He’s lost his property, his sheep and cattles. His sons and daughters are dead. His body is covered with oozing sores. His wife tells him to curse God and die. And his three friends show up full of their religion, telling Job that if he would just get his religion right, God would be right with him. And all the while Job howls in protest and demands vindication. And only the reader knows the real reason Job is suffering. It’s because Job is righteous, justified, right with God. And God and the devil have this little wager going to see if Job really trusts God and isn’t just in it for all the good stuff God gives him.
The book of Job is God’s great protest against religion – the notion that if we just the right things the right way, we can shift the house odds in our favor. The book of Job refuses to deliver either answer or miracle. There are no answers for Job’s suffering. He never finds out why he suffered so much. And when Yahweh finally appears on the scene in a whirlwind, He offers no explanations. Only that Job and his friends wouldn’t understand even if God did explain things. And there are no miracles, either. Job gets no miracle treatment from God. He simply gets better. His disease runs its course. He repents of everything he and his friends said. He prays for his friends and offers sacrifices. His fortunes are restored. His family throws a big party. And Job goes on to live a good, long life, have seven sons and three gorgeous daughters and die at a ripe old age. And that’s the end of the book. The book ends with Job’s death. No miracles. No answers. Just dumb, blind trust that Yahweh is good and gracious, that He forgives sinners and raises the dead.
Jesus didn’t kneel down at every bedside, as He did at Simon’s mother-in-law. Nor did He cast out every demon and heal every disease. Sometimes He just pressed on to the next town with His disciples. And maybe you weren’t one of the lucky ones. But that didn’t matter. Because every healing, when it comes, however it come, comes from Jesus. And every prayer for healing are answered positively in the resurrection of the dead.
I tell people that. It isn’t God’s desire that you are sick, nor does God cause disease. And sickness isn’t punishment from God. And when we pray for health and healing, that prayer is always answered “yes.” The only thing we don’t know, and the only thing we can’t say, is when or how. Perhaps you might be like Simon’s mother-in-law and simply rise up from your bed and head straight to the kitchen. Or you may spend a few days in bed before you rise. Or maybe months. Or you may die. But that’s not the worst thing that could happen to you. In fact, it’s the best.
He died and rose from the dead. He took all creation with Him. He bore not only our sins on the cross, He bore our sicknesses, our frailties, our weaknesses. He defeated the devil and the demons that hound us. He defeated death itself. And if He leaves things as they are for a moment, if he leaves a few devils lurking around and a few diseases uncured, the victory remains. Christ has conquered death. And He gives us the victory. And there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from God’s love in Christ – not the devil and his demons, not planes that fall out of the sky, not cancers or bullets or viruses or whatever else.
Job died one day at a good old age. Simon’s mother-in-law died one day. Simon and Andrew, James and John died. All those diseased and demonized people that Jesus healed on the front lawn of that little house in Capernaum, they all died too. One day you and I will die too. And there won’t be any easy answers or quick-fix miracles. But Jesus will be there as He always is.
He will reach down to you, as He did with Simon’s mother-in-law. He will reach down to you and take you by the hand, and raise you up from your grave. And then all those prayers for health and healing you ever uttered, and all the prayers others prayed for you, will find their “yes” and “amen” in your resurrection. Jesus heard them all, all those sighs and groanings and prayers. He heard them. And He’s already done something about them. He died and rose from the dead, and took you with Him. You know that. Now believe it. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.