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5th Sunday after Epiphany

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, How do you enjoy being sick?  I don’t think there is a person here that thinks being sick is actually fun.  Yea, you might be able to miss a day of work or stay home from school for a day, but being sick is just plain not fun.  Take a moment with me and remember a time when you were sick.  How’d you feel?  Lousy, miserable, irritable, cranky, sore, uncomfortable, down, discouraged, agonized, frustrated, fatigued, perhaps your stomach turned, your throat ached, your body had the chills and you couldn’t stay warm, perhaps your head throbbed…no, not fun at all!  It’s at those times when about the only thing on our mind is getting better.  So we usually try to sleep and try to rest, perhaps visit a doctor for a prescription, but it all involves waiting, waiting to get better.  There isn’t any magical thing we can do to immediately cure ourselves.  In that sense we are helpless and simply have to wait it out.

Finally, all sicknesses, diseases, and health troubles of any kind that cause us suffering and pain are the result of sin being present in us and in our world.   In heaven there will be no more pain or sorrow or sicknesses for the old order of things will have passed away and new will have come.  But while we are here on this earth we are faced with these problems.  And sometimes, as was the case with Job from our first reading, these sicknesses are sometimes sent by the devil.  In our Gospel, as well, we heard about how many people in Jesus’ day were possessed by demons.  And yet as terrible as these problems may be God remains in control and as we heard in our 2nd lesson this morning God can and does use all things in a believer’s life for his/her good.  This is what we see Jesus doing in our text this morning.

This is early on in Jesus’ ministry.  On one Sabbath day (Saturday) he went to the Synagogue in Capernaum where he taught the people and drove out a demon using His words.  After leaving the synagogue he went to Simon Peter and Andrew’s home in the same town.  Likely it was towards the evening and just before the main meal of the day, but there was a problem: Peter’s mother-in-law, his wife’s mom, was down sick with a fever, which prevented her from serving the Lord and hearing His message.  In fact the word for “fever” literally means “burning heat.”  If you’ve ever had a fever you know how miserable it is.  In short order Jesus went to her and saw her and gently touched her and raised her up and immediately the fever left.  She was so fully recovered from it that she was immediately able to serve the Lord and the others that were there.  The terrible fever was gone completely and totally at the touch of the Savior.

Later that evening Jesus continued to show His power to reverse the painful effects of sin.  No doubt many people were telling others about how Jesus had just cast out a demon from a man in the synagogue that morning.  The news spread fast and soon, after sunset, when the Sabbath day had ended (their days were about from 6 in the evening to 6 in the evening, whereas ours’ is 12 midnight to 12 midnight).  After the Sabbath day was over they were able to carry and bring their sick to Jesus.  Perhaps parents, children, husbands, wives all came bringing their sick ones to Jesus.  So much so, that the whole town was gathered outside the door of Peter’s home.  Jesus didn’t turn anyone who came to Him away but healed all of them.  There were even some who came that were possessed by demons.  At a word Jesus forced these demons to leave the people they were abusing.  Jesus didn’t even allow them to speak- would you want a demon confessing who you are?

The next day very early in the morning, we’re told that it wasn’t even sunrise; yet, Jesus left the house and went out to a place all alone to pray.  Not only has Jesus come to serve people in their need but he does so keeping His eyes upward toward God the Father doing all things as an act of worship to God.  Jesus found it important to often set aside time on His own to spend in prayer with God.  But when they couldn’t find Him, Simon and the others went in search of Jesus.  No doubt many people returned to Peter’s home the next day in order see Jesus do some miraculous sign and Peter was at a loss as to what happened to Jesus.  So they searched for Him and when they found him you can almost hear the reproach in Peter’s voice, “Everyone is looking for you!” In other words, “What are you doing here when you should really be entertaining the people?”  But Jesus didn’t come in order to set up a clinic in Capernaum to heal sick people.

So Jesus responded, “Let us go somewhere else- to the nearby villages- so I can preach there also.  That is why I have come.”  Jesus didn’t come in order to heal people, he came to preach the Gospel to people, to seek and to save the lost, to proclaim freedom and release for those caught in sin’s prison, to preach the good news of the kingdom, to forgive sins and give eternal life.  So Jesus went throughout Galilee, the northern part of Israel, preaching in their synagogues and driving out the devil.

So what is God teaching us in this portion of His Word?  How does this apply to us?

What are the obstacles in our lives that hinder Jesus’ call and His words to us?  Notice all of the obstacles and hindrances to Jesus’ message in this text.  It seemed like the whole town was down sick and even Peter’s mother-in-law had a fever that prevented her from hearing Jesus and serving Him.  Yet each one of them was actually a blessing in disguise, wasn’t it?  So many people suffering the results of sin in the world, so many people helpless on their own to cure themselves, and without hope…until Jesus shows up.  He makes use of each problem to show His glory and power over sin, its effects, and the devil.  The One who has the power to do miracles also has the power to be what we need Him to be: the Son of God; and to do what we need Him to do: forgive sins.

So many problems turned out to be actual blessings in disguise in Jesus’ hands.  But is that the way we view our trials, troubles, problems, sicknesses, hardships?  Do we view them as blessings in disguise in our Savior’s hands or curses as if God doesn’t care about us?  No one here is immune from suffering trials and hardships.  When we do get sick or have health trouble isn’t it often the fact that the last thing we do is to take it to the only One who has power to do something about it?  “Ugh!  The last thing I need is to get sick now!”  “What am I going to do about this…what medicines can I find…should I schedule a doctor visit…should I research my symptoms and figure out a remedy…should I do this, should I do that?”  Not that any of those things are bad or wrong, but the priority list is wrong.  When anything happens to us, is our first course of action to take it to the Lord?  To seek Him for help and healing?  To place our troubles and hardships in His hands?  But, what is perhaps even worse is when we think that our lives are going so well that we forget our need to rely on the Lord and pray to Him constantly.  If that’s the case, then we’re in a very dangerous position.  One of the first indications of getting spiritually “sick” is when our prayer life disappears.  “I just can’t simply seem to find the time”  “I have more important things to do.”  “I’m not sure that it’s worthwhile.”  “It doesn’t seem very effective.”  If those are our thoughts, how helplessly sick we are!  How desperately we need a Savior!  How desperately we need someone who woke up early in the morning, who put first things first, who went out by Himself and prayed to the Lord perfectly.  You see, Jesus didn’t just do this as an example for us…He did it in our place.  Jesus perfectly relied on the Father at all times, Jesus perfectly prayed to God and He did this for you!  He did that so that God now looks at you and He doesn’t see the times you and I have failed to pray, failed to keep God our #1 priority, instead He sees Jesus’ perfection covering you!

And notice something else.  When Peter’s mother-in-law was helplessly sick in bed there was only One person who could do something about it: Jesus.  And notice that she gets the point of Jesus’ help immediately: She needed Jesus’ help and Jesus’ help led her to serve.  What an illustration for us!  Finally, Jesus has helped us in the most profound way: He went to the cross and rescued us from our sins and gave us eternal life.  That’s help!  He’s rescued us not so that we can sit around or curl up in the sick bed, but He’s rescued us so we can serve.  He’s rescued us to serve Him and serve those who are around us.  Just like after recovering from an illness you want to get out and do things not lay around in the hospital bed any longer, so also Jesus’ saving us leads us to want to serve Him and others and not continue in the very sins God saved us from!

And sharing this soul-healing message of Jesus is best way to serve Him.  Our mission and purpose in life is not so much to make the world we live in a better place to live.  If that were the case, Jesus would have gone back and started a clinic at Capernaum.  But he didn’t.  Those people Jesus healed in our text aren’t still walking around today; they eventually died.  But notice what is far more important to Jesus.  It’s not so much miracles that Jesus did that are important, but their meaning, how Jesus is the Son of God.  Most often when Jesus did a miracle it was because someone came to him, it wasn’t Jesus’ habit to go out of his way to heal someone.  However, we do see Jesus often go out of his way in order to preach the good news, the Gospel, the life saving message of sins forgiven to people.

If a doctor found a cure for cancer, what would he do with the information?  Keep it to himself?  No, he’d share it and probably become very famous.  Well, Jesus has cured you in a much greater way, He’s cured you of your sins, made you eternally healthy, freely given you a heaven free of pain and disease, and He’s promised to use all things in your life to guide you there.  Wow!  And He’s entrusted that message of eternal life to you!  He’s given it to you to enjoy and to spread, to relish and to share, to keep and give away! It is this message that gives us meaning for life.

I don’t know, maybe you came here this morning with troubles of life on your mind, maybe you suffer from some medical condition, maybe you’ve prayed time and again that the Lord might take it away.  Why doesn’t Jesus heal us when we want him to?  Indeed He does heal us.  Without God’s help no doctor could achieve anything nor would our own bodily immune system be able to defeat any sickness.  God does often heal us and yet, for His own purposes, he may not relieve the suffering that we ask of Him.  Why?  Well, some things we may have to wait until we get to heaven to fully understand- then looking back we will have clear vision and specifically see how God did all things right- and at other times we see how our trials make us despair of ourselves, give up on ourselves and our own abilities seek help in our Lord alone.  Then the Lord Jesus comes to us, places his hand on us and says, “My child, don’t be afraid, for I have dismantled fear, take courage, I paid for everyone of your sins with my own blood on the cross, I took upon myself the worst suffering possible- suffering hell itself- for you!  You have been healed from your greatest disease, that of your sin.  In God’s eyes you are perfectly healthy, white-robed with my perfection, washed and cleansed with my own blood, I know your pain I’ve been there, I’ve felt it, but know this: that pain and suffering you feel now there is a cure and I have healed you, perhaps you’ll have to wait until your short life is ended, but the glory I have won for you beyond your grave is far more than your earthly mind can imagine, the eternal gift that awaits you with me in heaven will be so great that you won’t even remember the suffering you are enduring right now.  That’s my promise to you!  When obstacles come, see my love and grace that has overcome them all!”  Amen.