The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 7-8, 2009
Text: Mark 1:29-39
Dear Friends in Christ,
When I want lunch, I go get something out and prepare it, or if I am away from home, I go to a place that serves food. I go to McDonald’s or Jim’s Chicago Hot Dog or Little Caesar’s. This time of year Little Caesar’s especially comes to mind because Mike Ilich, the owner of Little Caesar’s also owns the Detroit Tigers. So eating at Little Caesars is sort of an act of loyalty to my team. Now some people don’t like to cook. They’ll do anything to get someone else to cook or find an excuse to go out. Teresa, my brother Tim’s wife, is rather like that. But Jesus, well, He really outdoes everyone on this point. He wants something to drink, He turns water into wine. He wants to put on picnic, He multiplies five loaves and two fish to feed about fifteen thousand people. (Five thousand men.) And when He just wants lunch, He heals the cook. All I can say is that she must have had a really good recipe for pita bread.
We now continue our look at how Jesus displays His divinity in His great signs. To understand our text, we must first understand the nature of illness. Now, I’m not talking about bacteria and viruses and all that, though perhaps that is a good place to start. Science has taught us that bacteria and viruses are actually good. Often we are most healthy when we are exposed to many micro-organisms. Most of these tiny critters don’t make us sick at all. We think of the important role that they play. Without mircro-organisms we wouldn’t have cheese or wine, or beer. They occur naturally. In Belgium, the traditional way of brewing beer is to build the brewery in the middle of a farm field. When they have all the ingredients together they open the vats and the windows and let the wind carry the natural yeast off the field into the vats. Of course, our silly, persnickety health department would never allow such a thing in the U.S. Human digestion depends upon having certain bacteria in your body. Genetic engineering has opened up a whole new set of benefits from bacteria. Many of our medicines, such as most insulin used by diabetics, is made by bacteria. So what went wrong? Why do we sometimes become infected with micro-organisms? Why did things get out of whack? The answer to this is sin. When sin entered this world, so also did physical corruption. Nature no longer had the perfect balance with which God created it. Bacteria still do lots of good things, but because of sin entering the world, they also do great harm.
The point of this is to say that human illness is a side effect of sin in the world. Illness is simply part of the process we call death. See when God said that Adam and Eve would die if they ate of the Tree of Knowledge, it wasn’t zap you’re dead. But the whole process of illness, infirmity, physical corruption and the like began to take hold of the world. This is really what death is in the Biblical sense. So we rightly say that a person is dying from the moment they are born.
Christ healed people, like Peter’s mother-in-law to show that He has power over death. In healing people Christ was saying that He could undo the effects of sin. Healing is not just about flashing His power as God. It’s about why He came. Think about this. Christ could have said, see that mountain? And then moved it to another spot. He could have put a strip of land right down the middle of the Sea of Galilee. He could have transported everyone to the palace of Tiberius Caesar and back again. He could have done all sorts things that would be a lot more flashy. Plus, many of these things could be verified after the fact. It used to be one lake, now it’s two! Just think of all the new beach front homes we can build! But Christ’s miracles are normally tied directly to His mission to save people from their sins. So when He heals Peter’s mother-in-law, Christ is saying I have power over sin and death. He’s also showing that power to the world. Christ is not just a worker of wonders, like some Los Vegas showman. He is the One who breaks the power of sin and death. The healing miracles display this, by showing us a Christ who can undo the effects of sin.
Why are there no miracles today? First that is an assumption that may or may not be true. The question has to be rephrased. Why do we not have miracles today as we saw at the time of Christ and the apostles? Why do we not have visible miracles that are instantly obvious? Why don’t we see people getting up out of wheelchairs and regrowing limbs and the like? Miracles are signs. They were performed to point us to Christ. But Scripture is clear that miracles do not produce faith. That only comes through Baptism and the hearing of the Word of God. So we must ask, would miracles even be helpful today? Probably not. They’d just be a circus. Will there ever again be a miracle worker as their was in the days of Christ and the apostles? My gut feeling is no. But this I can say with certainty. God will only raise up such a miracle worker if in that time and place it would serve to point people to Him and make them listen to His Word.
For indeed, as we see in our text, this is what happened. Christ was able to preach the Word, because people had heard about the miraculous signs. He was able to travel about proclaiming the forgiveness that God intended for them. The signs pointed people to Him. In fact, the response was so extreme that He has to slip out of town, under cover of darkness just to have time to pray and to travel to the next village. They served their purpose.
Christ performed many signs during His ministry. More than one appears a little bit tongue in cheek. Christ healed Peter’s mother-in-law who then got up and made dinner. She must have been related to my mother-in-law. I am convinced that when she got to heaven the first thing she did was look for the kitchen. The point of miracles in general is to point us to Christ. They tell us that He is indeed God among us. They also tell us to listen to His Word. His miracles also tie into some aspect of His mission. The healing miracles are there to point us to Christ as the One who has the power to defeat sin, death and all their effects. This is important, for this is indeed our real enemy. For of what value would some earthly gift be if it does not lead us to a heavenly gift. This is Christ’s healing miracles. They are about restoring people as a foretaste of the restoration that we will receive in heaven.