Mark 1:29-39: Why Jesus Came

Imagine if we had a Jesus in Kimberling City.  Imagine that!  What if we had a Jesus who would open His door each day, so people could see Him for healing?  People could bring others who were sick for Jesus to heal them of their illnesses.

If that were so, we wouldn’t need Skaggs at Branson: we would have Jesus.  We wouldn’t need to pay for health insurance: we would have Jesus.  Indeed, a Jesus in our town would give a new definition to phrase, “health-care provider.”

And wouldn’t such news spread rapidly?  News of these healings would spread like wildfire around the region!  Soon, people would stop seeing their medical specialists in St. Louis.  They would come, instead, to Kimberling City where we would have Jesus.

In our Gospel reading for today, people were flocking to Jesus in much the same way.  News was spreading rapidly.  People were coming in vast numbers.  But here’s what they missed–that wasn’t why Jesus came.  Jesus came for another reason, which our Gospel reading hints at in the home of Simon Peter and Andrew.

The mother of Peter’s wife was sick in bed with a fever, so they told Jesus about this.  So, Jesus went to see her, took her by the hand, and raised her up.  What comes next in the Greek text has enormous implications.

The Bible translation we use in our services, the ESV, translates what happened next in this way: “And the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”  And that’s what happened–if you are content with a two-dimensional, black-and-white account instead of the three-dimensional, full-color version.

The word translated as “left,” “the fever left her,” is also the word for “forgive.”  That day, Jesus didn’t simply heal her; He pronounced forgiveness on her and the fever left.  That’s an enormous difference.  One translation simply looks at the results–that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law.  The other brings out the cause: Jesus forgave her–and through His forgiveness–He healed her!

We often think of a fever as the body’s reaction against an infection.  But Jesus reminds us, by how he healed Peter’s mother-in-law, that a physical sickness is the result of our inherited sin from Adam.  Adam and Eve had eaten of the fruit of the forbidden tree.  So, because of them, the entire world descended into a sinful chaos.  Sin brought death, both spiritual and physical, even including me and you.

Because of this inherited sin, we have an inborn defect that defies the life-giving ways of God’s creation.  God created us to have everlasting life–complete, perfect, and undefiled.  When God created the world, He did not create it to die.  It’s sin that brought death, and the many other bringers of disease and decay.

Satan’s attack on God in the Garden of Eden was to distort and disfigure God’s creation by bringing death.  Now creation, because of illness, decay, and death, works against God as Life-Creator.  Do you now see why God will have to create a new heaven and earth when Jesus returns on the Last Day?

The woman’s fever of long ago shows the fallen nature of our sin-infected creation.  Now it’s true that a fever is useful for the body–up to a point.  But a fever also means that something is wrong.  It shows that you are infected!

When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, He didn’t simply remove the fever as if it were some inconvenience.  Instead, Jesus forgave her.  In the Greek text, Jesus said, “her,” not “it.”  Jesus didn’t forgive the fever; He forgave her.  After all, the fever was the result of sin, not the cause.  Our inherited sin is the cause of sin and death within us.  That’s why we always need Jesus’ life-giving forgiveness.

Yet, there’s even more going on in this text.  After Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law of the fever, she then got up and began to serve.  Again, we have to go to the Greek text to get the fullness of this.

The word that Mark used for “serve” is the word for “deaconess,” but as a verb.  After Jesus forgave Peter’s mother-in-law and she was healed, she began to “deaconess” them.  I suppose we could even translate the text to say, “And she began to be a deaconess to them.”

Peter’s mother-in-law began to live out the faith in a vibrant and beautiful way.  She wasn’t simply fulfilling a woman’s role in society back then.  She was living out the faith.  She was serving them in love, responding to the forgiveness she had received.  She was simply being a Christian.

There’s a deeper meaning to this healing–and the point isn’t merely physical.  There’s a deeper truth calling for our attention.  It’s this: When Jesus forgave Peter’s mother-in-law, His forgiveness changed her.  She began to serve others with a selfless love by looking after their needs.  That’s what happens when Jesus comes to you.  He grants the gift of forgiveness, and you are also changed.  That’s the real Jesus.  That’s the real, faith-based response to His forgiveness.

Sadly, most people don’t know or even care about their deepest and worst problem: sin.  So, most people don’t care about the forgiveness of sins.  That’s why when most people come to church, they want something else, not God’s forgiveness.

So to be relevant, or so we think, we begin to give them a Jesus they’ll go for, not Jesus as He is.  We sometimes think that we have to market Jesus to make Him appealing–as if the Holy Spirit isn’t real.  And when we succumb to this temptation, we give people the wrong Jesus.

People usually want the Church to be entertaining.  They want some physical or emotional benefit to make their church attendance worth the while.  But if people come to church based on how they feel or what they do, then they become like the people in our Gospel reading who came to Jesus for the wrong reasons.

It’s just like the news spreading quickly if we had Jesus here to perform physical miracles.  People would come from all over.  We see that happening in our Gospel reading.   But did you notice what Jesus said at the end of the reading?

Jesus went away to a deserted place to pray.  Peter and his companions then chased after Jesus and asked Him to return because people wanted more healings.  Jesus replied, “Let’s go to the neighboring towns, so I can preach there, too.  For that’s why I have come.”  The physical miracles were not the reason Jesus came.  His miracles point to the greater miracle of forgiveness.

As we live in this world, all of us have physical needs.  Our bodies, as they age, will not work as well as they once did.  Unless Jesus returns first, we cannot escape physical death.  But to this reality, Jesus brings a greater miracle.  He comes to us through preaching, in absolution, in His body and blood, where we have the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.

When Peter and his companions urged Jesus to go back and do more healings, they also failed to see why He came.  Today, it’s not much different.  The world and even many in the Church still fail to see why Jesus came.  How so?  Jesus is here, every week, in the Divine Service, where He performs the greater miracle.  He forgives sin.

So then, why don’t we have people from all the surrounding regions coming to receive Jesus?  It’s because the world doesn’t understand the greater miracle of the forgiveness of sins.  That’s why most never want it.

But you have Jesus here in the Divine Service.  He comes to you in the Holy Supper.  He comes to you in His holy preaching.  He comes to you through Holy Absolution.  It is in these sacramental gifts that Jesus takes you by the hand, raises you up, and not only makes you spiritually whole, but He does more with you than is obvious on the outside.  He changes your spiritually decayed soul and makes it righteous through His blood.

Of course, you will continue to battle the flesh, both its illnesses and its sinful lusts and yearnings.  But such is the fallen world in the aftermath of Adam and Eve.  Yet, despite how life appears on the outside, a greater miracle is at work on the inside, that which is unseen.

Because of Jesus, you are forgiven.  You have received what Jesus became incarnate to give you.  You are now part of God’s incredible “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17), which has been restored through Jesus Christ, your Lord.

Like Peter’s mother-in-law, you are forgiven.  Every week in the Divine Service, Jesus comes to you for that purpose.  Like Peter’s mother-in-law, your time to serve is after Jesus has served you, which is the rest of the week in your day-to-day life.  You do this by serving others in love, responding to the forgiveness you have received, here in the Divine Service.  Yes, like Peter’s mother-in-law, live out the faith in a vibrant and beautiful way.  Amen.