“And he arose out of the synagogue, and entered into Simon’s house. And Simon’s wife’s mother was taken with a great fever; and they besought him for her. And he stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her: and immediately she arose and ministered unto them.” (Luke 4:38-39)
Each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke) records the occasion of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. A quick glance may leave one with the impression that the record is simply another example of God’s approval of Jesus by “miracles, wonders, and signs” (Acts 2:22). However, a closer and more diligent observation of the text provides spiritual lessons that serve to strengthen our faith.
First, consider the sickness. Matthew and Mark note simply that the woman was “sick of a fever.” (Matt. 8:14; Mark 1:30). Identifying her fever as “great,” Luke the physician, reveals a more severe nature to her illness. According to Hobart (The Medical Language of Luke), the ancient Greeks divided fevers into great and small. The wording of Luke indicates the fever was continuous, severe, and possibly even a recurring condition. The language of the physician also denotes a sense of urgency; her life hung in the balance. And Luke’s use of the word “besought” carries the sense of intreating or even begging for help, further emphasizing the severity of the situation. A fever is a common illness, but the severity of her fever needed to be addressed without hesitation.
A spiritual lesson to be drawn here is the parallel of physical sickness to sin. Just as sickness is common to the human population, even so, sin is common to all humanity (Rom. 3:23; 1 John 1:8; et al.). Additionally, how one becomes sick provides a parallel for us to consider. Causes of sickness vary from low immunity, associations with others who are “contagious,” and a failure to take care of one’s health properly. Each of these has a spiritual parallel.
Temptation often comes when we are at weak points in our lives when our “spiritual immunity” is low. Satan’s temptations of Jesus provide an excellent example (Luke 4:1-2). Closely associating with those who live in sin is most certainly a means by which many have fallen from steadfast faithfulness. David instructed, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (Ps. 1:1). On no less than two occasions, Paul emphasized to the Corinthians how associations may corrupt: “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6), and “Evil companionships corrupt good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33, ASV).
A failure to grow in the knowledge of God’s word leaves one at a high risk of being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14) and “overtaken” (Gal. 6:1) by the adversary (1 Pet. 5:8). To prevent sin sickness, Paul encouraged the consumption of “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1), and being “sound in the faith” (Tit. 2:2). Likewise, Peter admonished “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:2). Just as physical sickness is common to all, sin (spiritual sickness) is common to all—the sickness may at times be more severe, and the cause may vary, but all are susceptible.
In addition to considering the sickness of Peter’s wife’s mother, consider the Savior. Luke records that Jesus “stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her” (Luke 4:39). We do not know the length of this woman’s illness, yet the seriousness is evident (Luke 4:38). It is equally clear that none but Jesus could provide the cure for her malady. Jesus had already demonstrated His power over sickness and diseases (cf. Luke 4:23; Matt. 4:23-25). Those diseases unchecked through the care of physicians were easily vanquished by His power (cf. Luke 9:43-48).
How similar is our sinful condition! Sin, a malady of the soul, can only be extinguished by Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He is both our sacrifice (John 1:29) and our High Priest (Heb. 3:1). It is the blood of the sacrifice of the lamb of God without spot or blemish (1 Pet. 1:19) that provides the cleansing and soul saving power for the sin-sickness of humanity.
Finally, consider the servant. At first, Peter’s wife’s mother was in no condition to serve. Sick with a great fever, she was not fit; she lacked soundness of body and mind. Only after Jesus healed her did she have the strength. Afterward, however, she was not only able to serve but doubtlessly compelled. Strength of body returned. She had hope for tomorrow. How could she not serve the One who had restored her health and saved her life?
Again, this stands as an incredible parallel to man in sin. In sin, man is unfit to serve God. Walking in the darkness of sin, man has no fellowship with God (1 John 1:5-7). Paul instructed Timothy that a man must purge himself of dishonorable things that he might be “useful for the Master” (2 Tim. 2:21 – NKJV). Sinful man has neither the spiritual strength nor the right to serve God.
However, delivered from sin through the power of Christ’s blood, man is not only fit to serve but compelled. John declared Jesus to be “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Hebrews writer affirmed that our sins and iniquities are “remembered no more” (Heb. 8:12)! When we are made whole by the blood of Christ we are made fit to rise up and serve God. Surely such a great salvation (Heb. 2:3) received through the grace, mercy, and love of God should compel us to serve.
From the biblical account of Peter’s wife’s mother, we learn the lessons of man’s sin-sick condition, his need for a Savior, and our accountability to serve. Realizing our lost condition, we have come to Christ for salvation. Applying His blood to our sins through obedience, we enjoy spiritual health and strength. Let us rise up and serve.