WRESTLING AGAINST Luke 4.4 Healing Peter’s Mother-in-Law

Luke 4:38,39

Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.

HOW DID THE WORK AND PRESENCE OF THE ENEMY BECOME APPARENT?

Physical sickness and disability are so prominent in our society that we sometimes find it hard to think of them as a work of the enemy. The gospel stories seem to categorise sickness in two ways. There are sicknesses, and physical ailments that are the direct result of demonic presence [1]. In such cases, Jesus commanded the incumbent demon to leave. When it left, the people were free from the condition or sickness. The other kinds of sickness were indirectly caused by Satan but not by actual demonic presence. In those many cases, Jesus laid hands on people or commanded healing. Sometimes he did strange things like making mud with spit and putting it on blind eyes. The kingdom of God is to be a kingdom without pain or suffering[2]. Sickness and physical disability result from demonic presence and influence in the world. The adversary, Satan is the instigator and the proliferator of this systemic destruction.

The idea of a disease-free, disability-free society is universal. Since forever, and no matter how primitive, people have fought against disease in every generation. Our hospitals, research laboratories and healthcare facilities are a testament to the ideal. No one thinks otherwise. Like the evil it manifests, sickness remains a virulent enemy. It seems that no matter how many cures we can develop new sicknesses arise to take their place.

Jesus fought a relentless battle against these for the full three years of his ministry. He exercised his kingly authority day after day to defeat all kinds of sickness. On more than one occasion we are told that everyone who came to him was healed. Jesus spoke about the future work that would be done by his followers in this way:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. [3]

Christian history has seen quite a few spectacular examples of this kind of ministry. As a follower of Jesus who believes the gospel records I fully share the view that sickness is a work of darkness. It is a manifestation of God’s enemy and part of the broken world resulting from sin. It is the testimony of all Scripture. God’s enemy either directly or indirectly causes sickness, and whenever God’s presence and power come to those circumstances, people are healed and made whole. Sickness and disability happen indiscriminately and steal the quality of life that God has planned.

Often when we experience sicknesses, the first question we think about is, “Who to blame?” We can see from the text of the gospels that there was a prevailing view in the Jewish world that sickness and disability was a sign of judgment from God. The incident recorded in the gospel of John about a man born blind [4] is a good example: “His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind.?’ “  Anyone in any age who has suffered serious illness, or a series of illnesses can identify with the sentiment: “What have I done to deserve this?”.  The presence and work of the devil and his minions create the unjust havoc we see everywhere. These many forms of injustice and suffering make known his nature and purpose – indiscriminately destructive of everything that represents the purpose of God. The answer Jesus gave to the disciples should stir us to sustain truce-less warfare: “As long as it is day we must work the works of him who sent me.”  We need to see all sickness and every form of disability as the work of the enemy. Regardless of the immediate outcome, we must pursue healing and wholeness on every occasion. That alone will manifest the presence and will of the God we have come to know through Jesus.

WHAT WEAPONS DID JESUS USE TO ENGAGE THE ENEMY?

“So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her.”

When he was asked to help, Jesus went to her bedside and spoke to the sickness. The idea of talking to a medical condition seems slightly strange in our kind of world. I say that not to imply that Jesus was acting weird for the sake of it, but to emphasise yet another way in which the “world” of the kingdom of God is different from the “world” that has shaped so much of our thinking and attitudes. To get a feel for this, we need to think our way into Jesus space and mindset. There were three actions here. Two were initiatives taken by Jesus and the third, the outcome – the sickness is forced to pack all of its belongings and vacate the premises immediately.

In the normal world, the expectation would be that with rest, the body would eventually overcome the fever and she would get well. Today, a doctor might prescribe some antibiotics. By the time we finished the course of medicine, the fever would be gone. Jesus did two things. He went to where she was lying and bent over her. As he was leaning over her, he rebuked the fever.

This battle is between Jesus and the fever. As I said, it is a strange idea for us to personalise a sickness, but that’s the way it was in this incident. There is no reference to the presence of an actual demon as was the case in the synagogue. [5] The fever had the power to affect the woman’s body. I have no real understanding of how a person might contract a fever. It seems to be the result of a virus or some form of bacteria. There is little doubt that our lifestyle choices can make us more or less susceptible to sickness. It is also true that even people who live a totally healthy lifestyle can succumb to a fever. What is more to the point here is that Jesus didn’t need to ask any questions. He went straight to her bedside without saying anything to her or anyone else. It is clear that her physical body was a sphere where he had authority. That authority was exercised through the word of command.

On this occasion, Jesus came as close to her as propriety would permit. If the fever possesses adversarial personhood, then Jesus was definitely stepping into the fever’s domain. I don’t think he was doing this for the woman’s sake. It seems clear that she took no active part in the process. The spiritual realm and the physical world co-exist, and it is clear that actions taken in the physical also have application to the spiritual. Perhaps this is what Jesus was talking about when he told the disciples about the intended ministry of the church: “Whatever you bind on earth (physical) will be bound in heaven (spiritual) and whatever is loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven.”[6]  The actions of Jesus represented both aggression and authority. I am sure it wasn’t an attempt to bolster his own confidence. He was acting in accordance with kingdom reality. There is something refreshingly earthy about the way spirituality happens in the Bible. Sadly, the impact of western culture has caused us to live too much of our lives in our heads. When Jesus went to where this woman was lying and bent over her, he was engaged in a spiritual act, not just a physical one. The same can be said for laying hands on people when we pray for them, lifting our hands to worship God and many others. They are acts of faith that tangibly express a reality that can’t be seen.

The second thing Jesus did was to REBUKE the sickness. As I have said, this is a little difficult for those of us who have been trained in a system based on rationalistic materialism. The word used in the original language is also used when Jesus spoke to a storm on the lake that was violent enough to make seasoned sailors fear for their lives.[7] It was the same when he spoke to actual demons.[8] This action and others like it help us to see the battle. This disease has a will. It wants to steal health and strength. It wants to make us languish in pain and discomfit. In former generations, thousands and sometimes millions were killed. As Jesus leaned over Peter’s mother-in-law, a different will was on this battlefield. This was the presiding will of God represented by Jesus. Jesus had the prevailing firepower, and the enemy was defeated. Whatever the biological process involved, the fever was broken to the point where she was able to get up and help prepare the meal.

As to the specific weapons used, it should be no surprise that Jesus once again puts on the “whole armour of God” to fight this battle. The truth he proclaimed was to declare that sickness could be dealt with. The message was proclaimed through his actions. Righteousness was expressed through the grace and love shown to her by wanting her to be healed. The gospel was the message that the kingdom of God would come and she could be delivered. Faith was clearly demonstrated by his posture and the fact that he rebuked the fever. Salvation was evident in the fact that he carried authority from his Father based on the oneness of their relationship. The word from his Father was that the woman would be healed and upon this, he based his actions. There is no specific reference to prayer as part of this strategic warfare operation, but we know that Jesus prepared himself for these activities by spending time with his Father in prayer.

HOW MIGHT I RECOGNISE A SIMILAR WORK OF THE ENEMY AND DEAL WITH IT?

Well, there is no shortage of opportunities for us to engage in this battle. As I said earlier, disease, sickness and disability are all around us. The issue for us will be having a sense of authority to do something about it and bold faith to express that authority. If I am going to be totally honest with myself, I have a high level of confidence and commitment to pray for people who are sick. I am fully convinced that God wants them well. My previous experience makes it hard for me to have the same level of confidence that they will be healed immediately.

I have listened to most of the explanations as to why more people don’t get healed as a result of the faith of Christian people like me. I don’t think there is one that is worthy of the revelation we see in Jesus or the apostles. The best of them are sincere rationalisations based on our level of discomfit with the mystery of the supernatural. The worst of them are nothing short of deistic[9] unbelief. By contrast, the Bible tells story after story of God’s loving involvement in the affairs of the world he loves. The contrary view (and more consistent with the testimony of Scripture) is called ‘theism.’ While the word strictly applies to the idea of a belief in God, it has become used to contrast with deism. It similarly asserts that God is the Creator of the world but that he is actively and constantly involved with its affairs – in particular, in and through ‘his people.’

Every time I get to hear a testimony of someone who was supernaturally healed, I am thrilled and encouraged. I have witnessed God do some amazing things. Each time I think that I will never doubt again. The next time faith is on the line; it’s more like the first time all over again. I still feel more like a first-day apprentice than a qualified tradesman.

Try and ask yourself what it would be like to be ‘Jesus-looking’ in the matter. To do that, we need to return to the incident itself to discover what that might be like. For example, when Jesus went to Peter’s home and was told about his mother-in-law’s condition we don’t get to know the inside story. Obviously, we don’t have a copy of his memoirs to tell us his deepest thoughts but we can know certain things from his actions and reactions. One of the ways of approaching this is to put yourself in his position and see how you might have reacted if you were in his position. I reckon I would definitely feel compassion for her. I could also say with some confidence that I would have offered to pray for her. Like Jesus, I would have gone to her bedside. According to cultural propriety, I would have either sat and prayed or laid put my hand on her head and prayed. I doubt that I would rebuke the fever. Even if I used words that sounded like I had authority I am not sure I would have said them with the certainty that the fever was going to leave her immediately. I have been in enough situations where symptoms of sickness have gone in response to prayer and on each occasion I have been thrilled and grateful – usually after the event.

I think when Jesus heard about Peter’s mother-in-law he approached the matter with certainty. They asked for his help, and he offered it without hesitation. He knew he could help. He went to her bedside.  In keeping with the culture of the kingdom of God, he entered the battle zone by bending over her and fired his weapons of war (which are not humanly derived but are have the power to ‘pull down strongholds’[10]. On this occasion, it was to personalise the fever and command it to leave. I think he did that without any hesitation. This was a sphere where his authority was not in any doubt. Like a good tradesman hammering a nail or a brain surgeon using an arthroscope. He knew what to do. He did it, and the outcome was the proof of his authority and ability.

That’s what I want for myself and for all of us who follow Jesus and deal with human pain and distress. I want to know what to do, to do it with confidence and for the outcome to glorify God by making his will known on earth as it is in heaven. I can only get this from God and I will only get it by continuing to pray with persistence and obey without hesitation.

HOW MIGHT I RECOGNISE A SIMILAR WORK OF THE ENEMY AND DEAL WITH IT?

As previously mentioned, we have a lot of ground to make up here. The record is unambiguous when it comes to examples of supernatural Christian ministry: the western cultures see much less of it than non-western cultures. It seems we have allowed our day to day experience of faith to devolve into a set of propositions accompanied by some fairly non-supernatural activities. As a way of measuring your own experience, just think how long it has been since someone was supernaturally healed, or delivered from oppression through your ministry.

This incident highlights the different ways to engage in battle against sickness and demonisation. Whether you stand over someone and rebuke the sickness, (less common) or whether you lay hands on people (much more common) you will find that there was always some tangible point at which the enemy was lined up in the sights of faith. We should be less concerned about the particular method and more concerned about the opportunity to engage the enemy in battle. In the Mel Gibson film about William Wallace, called “Brave Heart,” there is a scene where all the Scottish nobles are figuring out how they can profit from a dishonourable truce. William Wallace goes to the same English commanders with one purpose: to “pick a fight.” I need to be clear that it is my job, as a follower of Jesus, to pick fights as Jesus did. He picked fights with sickness, with demons, with empty religious traditions and with the traditional attitudes that alienated the wrong people (sinners, marginalised and poor) and affirmed the wrong people (the self-righteous religious).

In our comfort-driven culture, it seems we are all too prone to avoid these battles as much as possible.  As a result, our spheres of personal responsibility grow smaller, and our faith becomes weaker.  We then rationalise our posture with the idea that our comfort zone is a sign of God’s blessing.  When some form of hardship or difficulty comes our way, we consider it grossly unjust. We need to listen to the words of there apostle, Peter a few hundred times.[11] Our culture has worked hard to convince us that the comfort and self-indulgence are to be equated with the blessing of God to the point where hardship and battles or various kinds are unwarranted intruders. Instead, like Jesus and the apostles, we need to understand that if we were not born for battle, we were definitely born-again for battle. That battle has been raging from the beginning between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. Jesus referred to its violence when he spoke about John the Baptist in Matthew 11, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.”[12]

If we look at the ministry of Jesus, we will see that he definitely picked fights – not with people but with the prince of this world. He wasn’t on a crusade against the devil. He just kept proclaiming and exercising a ministry that declared the presence of the kingdom of God. There were some issues that he didn’t pick a fight with. He didn’t protest outside the temple or the Roman governor’s residence.[13] He didn’t become an advocate for family squabbles over inheritances.[14] This is what we need to do. We need to pick fights with everything that represents the illegitimate authority of the kingdom of this world. We need to do it by proclaiming the genuine kingdom – the kingdom of God – not just proclaiming but offering.

[1]         See  Matthew 12:22-29, Mark 3:22-27, and Luke 11:14-22 The demon’s presence prevented the man from speaking. When this demon was cast out, he could speak.

See also Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:14-29, and Luke 9:37-43. The boy’s epilepsy was caused by the presence of a demon.

See also Luke 13:10-17. A woman was bent over (we might presume it was some form of scoliosis) because of the presence of a demon.

[2]         See Rev. 21:4

[3]         See John 14:12-14

[4]         John 9:1,2  “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

[5]         See comments on the previous incident: Luke 4:31-37

[6]         See Matt. 16:18-20  “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

[7]         Luke 8:24  “The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.”

[8]         See Matthew 17:18  “Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.”

[9]         Deism was a philosophical response from the period of the Enlightenment (late 1600’s to early 1800’s) to the issue of “transcendence.” At its core is the idea that even though God is ascribed as the Creator of the world, he does not have any direct involvement with it. Everything that happens in the world can be explained by scientific and rationalistic principles.

[10]       See 2 Corinthians 10:4 “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”

[11]       See First Peter 4:12-19 “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

[12]       See Matthew 11:12

[13]       See John 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

[14]       See Luke 12:13,14 “Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”

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About Brian

Passionate follower of Jesus. Member of a family that keeps on growing because I keep on meeting up with more great people from every nation and background who I belong to because of Jesus. Husband of an amazing woman, father of four forgiving kids and eight almost perfect grandkids. And loving it.