Carrying Our Diseases

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Matthew 8:14-17 (Peter’s Mother-in-Law)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called Ten Miracles of Jesus and today we come to the third miracle in the series. We said earlier that the first three miracles are all healing miracles, and that they are all healings of unlikely people. Jesus heals a leper, a Gentile and then a woman. All three of these were outsiders, people on the margins of society who were excluded from full participation in the life and worship of the community. And yet Jesus reaches out to all three and meets them at their point of need. Today we come to the third outsider, Peter’s mother-in-law. (Read Matthew 8:14-17 and pray.)

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When sin entered this world it brought a whole host of consequences with it. Sickness, sadness suffering and death – these are all consequences of sin.

We know that Jesus came to take away our sins. But what about the consequences of our sins? Did Jesus come to take those away too? The good news of the Bible is, “Yes.” Jesus came to free us from sin and the consequences of sin.

Today we are going to look at one particular consequence of sin that affects this world in so many terrible ways, and that is sickness and diseases. Matthew 8:17 says that Jesus “took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.” (Matthew 8:17) So what exactly does that mean? How does it work in our lives today?

The context for this verse begins back in verse 14, and so we are going to look at verses 14-17 in three sections this morning. 1) Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. 2) Jesus heals many. And 3) Jesus heals in fulfillment of prophecy. And as we look at these verses together we will seek to understand biblically what it means for Jesus to carry our diseases.

I. Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law (14-15)

So first, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. Look at verses 14-15 with me: “When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.” (Matthew 8:14-15)

This is another amazing miracle of Jesus. Peter’s mother-in-law is suffering from a fever, but when Jesus touches her hand, the fever completely leaves her. She is restored to full strength. There are no remnants of weakness left, and she immediately gets up and begins to wait on him.

   A. Jesus cares for the individual and the outsider

This particular healing story is highlighted right before Matthew tells us about Jesus healing the multitudes. And you might wonder at first why it is even included in this section. Surely Jesus healing all the people who came to him in the evening with all sorts of diseases is more impressive than Jesus healing this one person from a fever.

But that is exactly the point here. Yes, Jesus had compassion for the crowds who were so lost and so desperately in need of a shepherd. But Jesus never lost sight of the individual. And Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law reminds us that Jesus cares for the individual and the outsider.

This was an important story to the gospel writers. It is one of the few stories that is shared by Matthew, Mark and Luke in their gospels. (Matthew 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-39) We tend to minimize the fever when we read this passage. We think of it as just a headache, but a fever often meant serious illness in those days. The gospel of Luke tells us that it was a high fever, and even today a high fever can be dangerous.

As usual the different gospel writers emphasize different parts of what happened that day. For example, Luke tells us how Jesus rebuked the fever, but Matthew here emphasizes Jesus’ physical touch. “He touched her hand and the fever left her.” It is a beautiful detail, but it also ties in with Matthew’s larger themes here.

First of all Jesus’ physical touch here prepares us for verse 17 which talks about Jesus carrying our diseases. We carry things with our hands, and so Matthew focuses on Jesus touching Peter’s mother-in-law here with this hands.

But it also ties in with Matthew’s focus on Jesus caring for the outsider. Remember these first three healing miracles are directed towards a leper, a Gentile and a woman – all three who were considered outsiders in Israel’s society.

Now unlike the Gentile servant last week, Peter’s mother-in-law is Jewish. Last week’s healing of the Gentile’s servant taught us that the gospel would go out to the Gentiles and that many Jews who do not believe would be left out of the kingdom. This week’s passage reminds us that Jesus still came for the Jews as well. He is the Jewish Messiah who came to save both Jew and Gentile alike and make us one in his kingdom.

But even though Peter’s mother-in-law was Jewish, she was still a woman. It was taboo for a Jewish man to even touch a woman’s hand, but Jesus keeps breaking down the walls that kept people out of the kingdom. Jesus cares for the individual and the outsider.

   B. Jesus saves so that we may serve (Ephesians 2:8-10)

This miracle also teaches us that Jesus saves so that we may serve. Matthew tells us that after Jesus touched her hand and the fever left her, she got up and began to wait on him. Notice the order of what happens here. She did not serve Christ first and then receive the healing. No, Jesus healed her first, and then she served him.

It’s the same way with our salvation. We looked at Ephesians 2:8-9 last week which tells us we are saved by faith alone. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

But Ephesians 2:10 goes on to teach us an equally important truth. Jesus saves so that we may serve. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) We are saved by faith alone, not by works, but we are saved in order that we may do good works that God has already prepared for us to do. Jesus saves so that we may serve.

By the way this part of the healing miracle also went against the rabbis’ taboos. The rabbis forbade women from serving men lest they “become accustomed to being around men.”

And so this is a very meaningful miracle recorded by Matthew for us here. It may seem like a small miracle, but it teaches us these two very important truths. Jesus cares for the individual and the outsider. Jesus saves so that we may serve.

II. Jesus heals many (16)

But then also, look what it led to! Because in the very next verse, we go from Jesus healing the individual to Jesus healing many. Look at verse 16 with me now: “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.” (Matthew 8:16)

   A. Jesus is unlimited in his healing power

This verse also teaches us some very important truths. First of all, that Jesus is unlimited in his healing power. Notice the unlimited nature of Jesus’ authority here. He drives out the spirits with just a word. He doesn’t heal some who are sick. He heals all who were sick. There are no limits to Jesus’ healing powers. He can heal one. He can heal many. He can heal all. He can heal insiders and outsiders. He can heal all types of illness. It doesn’t matter what you throw at him, Jesus can handle it all.

There is no such thing as too hard a case for Jesus. Jesus drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. Jesus is unlimited in his healing power.

   B. Difference between illness and evil spirits

The other truth we learn from this verse is that there is a difference between illness and evil spirits. Notice that Matthew distinguishes those who are ill from those who are demon-possessed. He distinguishes physical suffering from spiritual suffering. There is a difference between illness and evil spirits.

Now we know from other Scriptures and from experience that demonic possession can sometimes present itself as illness, but we should not make the mistake of thinking that all illness is demonic in nature. I had a bad cold once during a prayer meeting, and someone put their hands on me and started casting out the demon behind the cold! I appreciated the prayer and the concern, but sometimes a cold is just a cold. Sometimes a fever is just a fever. We shouldn’t be looking for demons under every bush and approach every illness as demonic in origin.

“Jesus drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.” There is a difference between illness and evil spirits.

III. Jesus heals in fulfillment of prophecy (17)

We’ve looked Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. We’ve looked Jesus healing many. Finally let’s look at Jesus healing in fulfillment of prophecy. Look at verse 17 with me now where Matthew writes about the previous verses: “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.’” (Matthew 8:17)

This is a very important verse about healing that is often misunderstood, and so we will take the rest of the message to focus on this verse in particular. We especially want to understand what does the Bible mean when it says Jesus carries our diseases, and even more importantly, what the Bible does not mean.

   A. Healing is a sign of God’s kingdom
      – Matthew 4:23

First of all, it means that healing is a sign of God’s kingdom. The Old Testament prophecies looked forward to the coming of the Messiah who would bring in the kingdom of God. One of the signs of the kingdom would be miraculous healings.

And so it should come as no surprise to us that when Jesus came as Messiah in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies that he would come healing. In fact that’s exactly what Matthew said when he summed up Jesus’ ministry back in Matthew 4:23: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23)

Jesus is the king, and so when Jesus came the kingdom came with him. Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom, and he demonstrated the truth and reality of that kingdom by healing every disease and sickness among the people. Healing is a sign of God’s kingdom.

   B. Jesus’ healing ministry was prophesied by Isaiah
      – Isaiah 53:4-6

Jesus’ healing ministry was prophesied by Isaiah, and Matthew quotes a portion of Isaiah 53 here in Matthew 8. Let’s look at a longer portion of the prophecy in Isaiah now so that we may better understand the context for Matthew’s quote here.

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)

The rest of the Bible makes it clear that Jesus is the Suffering Servant who was prophesied in Isaiah 53. According to Isaiah 53 Jesus came specifically to take away our sins, but by extension he also takes away those things which accompanied sin, that is, the consequences of our sins – sickness, sadness, suffering and death.

Now when Matthew quotes this passage and says that Jesus “took up our infirmities and carried our diseases,” he is not saying that Jesus healed people by taking their sicknesses on himself, so that Jesus became sick instead of them. When Jesus healed the leper, Jesus didn’t get leprosy. When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, he didn’t get her fever.

Rather the fuller context from Isaiah 53 makes it clear that Jesus’ healing ministry looks forward to the cross. The healing miracles are a sign of the kingdom. The reason Jesus healed was because he was going to the cross to take away our sins and eventually remove all the consequences of sin. But it’s important to note that at the cross Jesus substitutes himself for our sins, not for our sicknesses.

   C. Difference between sickness and sin, healing and forgiveness

There is a difference between sickness and sin, between healing and forgiveness. The main difference is that sickness is a result of sin and not sinful in and of itself. All sickness and suffering in this world is caused either directly or indirectly by sin. A particular sickness is not necessarily the result of a specific person’s sin but rather the result of sin in the world in general.

There is sickness in our world because there is sin in the world. But sickness and sin are two different things, and they are treated differently in the Bible. For example, there is no guilt attached to being sick. We are never told to confess our illnesses, only our sins. Just as there is a difference between illness and evil spirits, so also there is a difference between sickness and sin, between healing and forgiveness.

Unfortunately, some well-meaning Bible teachers sometimes minimize these differences in their teaching. These teachers are usually part of what we call the “faith healing movement” or “prosperity theology.” Now I also believe in miraculous healing by faith, and we will get to that in a moment, but not the way that it is often presented by certain teachers.

For example, one prominent teacher in the faith healing movement writes this about Matthew 8:17: “Jesus bore your sicknesses and carried your diseases at the same time and in the same manner that he bore your sins. You are just as free from sickness and disease as you are free from sin. You should be as quick to cease sickness and disease in your body as you are to cease sin.” (Gloria Copeland)

But that’s not what the Bible says here in verse 17. Jesus did not bear your sicknesses and carry your diseases at the same time and in the same manner that he bore your sins. The two are different. You are not just as free from sickness and disease as you are free from sin. The two are different. Let me summarize the Bible’s teaching about this for you in three brief statements.

      1) Jesus bore our sins on the cross, not our sicknesses
         – 1 Peter 2:24

First of all, the Bible teaches that Jesus bore our sins on the cross, not our sicknesses. For example we read in 1 Peter 2:24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) Here is a verse that speaks about the cross and it speaks about healing, but we need to be careful to see what it specifically says and what it does not say. It says that Jesus bore our sins on the cross, not our sicknesses. Now it is likely that Peter refers to spiritual healing in this verse, in the sense of forgiveness of sins. But even if physical healing is also intended here, the verse still says Jesus bore our sins on the cross, not our sicknesses.

The word Peter uses for Jesus bearing our sins in this verse is a word that means to “carry up” or to “offer up” as in a sacrifice. Matthew uses a different word for bearing our sicknesses than the word Peter uses for bearing sin. Rather than a word meaning to offer up as a sacrifice, Matthew uses a word that means “to carry a heavy load or burden.” It’s a beautiful word in its context. It’s as if Jesus says to us, “Here, that’s too heavy. Let me carry that for you.” So yes, Jesus carries our diseases but not in the same way that he bears our sins for us at the cross.

Jesus did not bear our sicknesses on the cross so that we could be healed. Jesus bore our sins on the cross so that we could be forgiven. Jesus died for sins directly. He only died for sickness indirectly. Once we are forgiven of our sins, then Jesus can free us also from the consequences of sin. Those consequences include sickness, sadness, suffering and death. But freedom from sickness, sadness, suffering and death doesn’t happen all at once. Jesus bearing our sins on the cross doesn’t mean that Christians will never get sick any more than it means that Christians will never suffer, get tired or die.

Notice that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy about carrying our diseases during his life, not during his death on the cross. According to Matthew it was during the three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry that he fulfilled the prophecy of carrying our diseases. It was on the cross that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of dying for our sins.

So that’s our first summary statement on the difference between sickness and sin, between healing and forgiveness. The Bible says that Jesus bore our sins on the cross, not our sicknesses.

      2) Healing is a result or benefit of the atonement
         – Psalm 103:2-3

Secondly, healing is a result or a benefit of the atonement. Psalm 103 says: “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 103:2-3)

When it comes to healing and the atonement, the question that is usually debated is whether it is proper to say that healing is in the atonement. Some will say yes, and some will say no, but the answer really depends on what you mean. If you mean that Jesus died for sickness in the same way that he died for sin, I would say no, healing is not in the atonement. But if you simply mean that healing is a result or benefit of Jesus’ death on the cross, then I would say that is okay.

Before we can answer the question about whether there is healing in the atonement, we must first understand what atonement mean. The atonement has to do with removing God’s wrath against sin by Jesus’ death on the cross – that is, removing that which separates you from God. The Bible says we are separated from God because of our sins, not because of our illnesses. And so the atonement by definition really has to do with sin rather than sickness.

For that reason I am uncomfortable saying that healing is in the atonement or healing is part of the atonement. I like what pastor and theologian Dr. Sam Storms says about this. I think he strikes the right balance when he writes the following: “Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that there is healing through the atonement rather than in the atonement, insofar as the atoning death of Jesus is the basis for God healing us. In this way we avoid suggesting that because of Jesus’ death we are guaranteed healing in this life.” (http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/is-there-healing-in-atonement)

The reality is that many Christians do get sick and are not healed. If we are to treat healing and forgiveness the same, then that would mean that many Christians are also sinful and not forgiven. And we know that’s not true. And so I think it is better to view healing as a result or a benefit of the atonement rather than being part of the atonement itself.

      3) Forgiveness is guaranteed now; healing is guaranteed later
         – 1 John 1:9; Romans 8:18-24; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Revelation 21:4

What does the Bible teach about the difference between sickness and sin, between healing and forgiveness? 1) Jesus bore our sins on the cross, not our sicknesses. 2) Healing is a result or a benefit of the atonement. And then finally 3) Forgiveness is guaranteed now; healing is guaranteed later.

Forgiveness is guaranteed now. 1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) When you put your trust in Jesus Christ as Savior, all your sins are forgiven – past, present and future. You don’t have to wait until heaven to be forgiven. God is faithful and just and forgives all your sins right now. Forgiveness is guaranteed now for those who trust in Christ.

But the Bible never says that healing is guaranteed now. In fact it says the exact opposite. The Bible tells us that our bodies are subject to suffering and decay in this life, which is why we are told to wait patiently for the resurrection. As Paul says in Romans 8: “Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:24-25)

Paul didn’t expect to be healed and delivered from all bodily weaknesses in this life. In fact he talks instead about boasting in his weaknesses. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul tells how Jesus said to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In response Paul writes: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The word that both Jesus and Paul use for “weaknesses” in this verse is a word that speaks of the weakness or frailty of our human bodies. And it is the exact same word Matthew uses when he says that Jesus “took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” back in Matthew 8:17. Matthew says that Jesus took up our infirmities or weaknesses, and Paul says he will boast about his infirmities or weaknesses. It’s the same word. And why does Paul boast about his continuing weakness and infirmity? So that’s Christ’s power may rest on him, because Jesus’ power is made perfect in our weakness – the same Jesus who took up our infirmities and carried our diseases in Matthew 8:17.

Remember Jesus’ healing miracles were signs of the kingdom. The kingdom of God came when Jesus came, but it will not come in its fullness until Jesus returns. Jesus’ healing miracles in the New Testament and Jesus’ healing miracles today are previews of the coming kingdom of God where we read in Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) That is the future hope of every believer in Christ.

And so when it comes to healing as a result of Christ’s atoning death on the cross for sin, the question is not whether we will receive healing but rather when. We will all be healed, guaranteed, when Christ returns. When Christ returns all the results of sin will finally be taken away – all sickness, sadness, suffering and death. But in this life we still deal with the results of sin. Forgiveness is guaranteed now; healing is guaranteed later.

   D. Two mistakes to avoid – 1) Jesus never heals; 2) Jesus always heals

When it comes to divine healing today, there are really two mistakes to avoid: 1) believing that Jesus never heals, and 2) believing that Jesus always heals.

First, it is a mistake to think that Jesus never heals. The Bible is clear that Jesus still heals today in response to prayers offered in his name and in faith. Jesus does not have less power in heaven than he had on earth. In fact our whole passage today is about Jesus carrying our diseases and his unlimited power to heal. It would be a pretty poor interpretation of the Bible to turn that around and say that Jesus doesn’t heal.

We have been privileged in this church body to see many miraculous healings from God in answer to prayer. I pray for people in faith believing for healing every week. We should never be surprised when Jesus heals in answer to prayer, because he has already told us he will do it. It is a mistake to believe that Jesus never heals.

But it is also a mistake to believe that Jesus always heals. There are many believers who earnestly seek Jesus for healing in faith believing and God chooses not to bring healing for that person in this life. When that happens we are disappointed, but once again we should not be surprised. God has already told us in his word that our present bodies are weak and decaying. One day we will get our resurrection bodies, and we will never get sick again. We will all get healed eventually. But it’s a mistake to believe that Jesus always heals today.

And so when it comes to divine healing today, there are two mistakes to avoid: 1) believing that Jesus never heals, and 2) believing that Jesus always heals. They are both mistakes because neither reflects reality or biblical truth. Jesus does heal miraculously in answer to prayer today. But not always. And so we need to trust him in all situations.

CONCLUSION: This is such an important section of Scripture, because it teaches us so many important things about God and Jesus.

Most of all it teaches us that Jesus cares about the whole person. Jesus came not only to take away your sin but also the sorrows that affect you because of your sin. Many times he will heal you in this life. Sometimes you will need to wait for the next. But one day we will all be completely set free from sickness, sadness, suffering and death.

Jesus came to free us from sin and the consequences of sin. So cast your cares on him, because he cares for you. Give your burdens to Jesus, and let him take them on his shoulders. Whatever your burden, whatever your trial, whatever your sickness, whatever your sin, Jesus says to you: “Here, that’s too heavy. Let me carry that for you.” And then he does.

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