Why do you think Jesus healed people during His public preaching ministry? There are quite a few people in our own day who, because they are not healed in some way or because God allowed someone to die because of some horrible sickness, choose to be angry with God or choose not to believe that God is real. This is where you see my own broken heart. I, in no way, wish to condemn those who feel this way. I do think that a misrepresentation of God’s word is at least partly to blame for this anger or hatred that people have toward God because He chooses not to heal or not to keep someone from passing away. If this caught your attention, please read to the end.
When Jesus came into Peter’s home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she got up and waited on Him. When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.”
The miracles (v. 14-16)
When Jesus came into Peter’s home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she got up and waited on Him. When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill.
In these few verses, there are several miracles described. Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law and many who were demon-possessed and ill. There are a few details that we should be aware of, here.
First, even though the disciples left their old lives behind to follow Jesus (4:18-22), Peter remained married, retained a home in Capernaum, and stayed connected with his extended family. When we talk about leaving everything to follow Christ, what we mean is that we count everything as loss in order to know Christ and Him crucified (Philippians 3:8-10). It does not necessitate that we neglect family, sell houses, and leave our jobs. It does mean that Christ is preeminent, He is our priority, and we are willing to leave behind everything that He calls us to leave behind. This is different for each person according to God’s will and will never contradict the instructions we read in God’s word. As an example, God will never instruct anyone to leave a spouse in order to marry another person. Yes, that seems to be a popular claim that people make when they file for divorce (even pastors), but God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).
Second, Peter’s mother-in-law does not ask to be healed or make any statement about Christ’s ability to heal as we saw in the previous two passages. Jesus is the one who saw her sick and healed her. This healing was immediate.
Third, Peter’s home in Capernaum served as Jesus’ base of operations. People would come to meet Jesus at Peter’s home, bringing the demon-posessed and sick to Him. Jesus healed them.
The purpose (v. 17)
In the previous two miracles, we saw that Jesus was painting a picture of the Gospel and a picture of what He taught in His sermon on the mount. In this part of the text, Matthew makes this very clear for us. We remember that Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience in order to prove that Jesus is the Messiah of whom the Law and Prophets were a witness. Jesus is the one who fulfills the Law and Prophets. Matthew gives a reason, here meaning purpose, for Jesus’ performing of miracles during His bodily ministry on this earth.
This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.”
So we ask, “Why did Jesus perform miracles?” Matthew gives us a direct and explicit answer- to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah. He quotes Isaiah 53:4. We’ve seen this over the course of the past two weeks. The reason Jesus heals as part of His bodily ministry on this earth is that we might recognize Him as the one who bears the griefs and carries the sorrows of His people.
Matthew identifies that Jesus is doing this because it is what was written beforehand concerning the ministry of the Messiah so that the Messiah would be identifiable. According to Matthew, Jesus did not heal people only for the purpose of healing people. He didn’t heal people to get people to follow Him. He didn’t heal people because they prayed and asked for healing. Matthew is explicit, here. Jesus healed the leper, the centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and all the demon-possessed and ill people who were brought to him at Peter’s house in Capernaum because He was fulfilling the Law and the Prophets.
There are a few people who will see what I did not write here. People are so good at doing that. They are also very good at assuming that they know a person’s entire theology based on what they hear in one sermon or lesson. I did not claim that miracles have ceased. I did not claim that Jesus does not still heal people. I did not claim that Jesus does not care about people or listen to prayer requests. I am simply explaining the purpose that Matthew gives in his gospel for Jesus’ miracles during His bodily ministry. I realize more and more how God must feel when people add to and take away from His word. People are so good at seeing what is not there to see and missing what is. Genuinely seeking understanding and striving to avoid confirmation bias is hard and worthwhile work.
Through the New Testament, we see Jesus doing these types of public healing miracles in conjunction with His preaching ministry. We will also see the apostles performing public healings in conjunction with their preaching ministries (Acts 3:1-11, 5:15-16, 9:33-34, 36-41, 14:8-10, 16:16-18, 19:11-12, 20:9-12, 28:7-9). It became common place during the ministries of Jesus and His apostles for public healings and exorcisms (not in a Roman Catholic sense) to accompany the preaching of God’s word, particularly the Gospel. The Scriptures, here, lead us to ask an interesting question that may be uncomfortable for some. Should public healings and exorcisms accompany the preaching of God’s word? Most solid, biblical preachers and teachers I know would never be able to heal someone’s leg, cause a lame man to walk, or raise Eutychus to life after he fell asleep in church and fell to his death. Even most faith-healers are proved to be con-artists.
Scripture identifies the apostles and prophets to be the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20). Hebrews 1:2 clarifies that what was written by the apostles spoken through Jesus Christ was the final word from God. Since healing and exorcisms accompanied the coming of God’s word as a witness of Jesus as Messiah, it is not likely that most preachers have these sign gifts following the apostles. That is what it means to take a cessationist viewpoint. It is the belief that sign gifts, which does not include all miracles, ceased with the apostles because the faith had been once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). We are instructed to contend earnestly for the faith as it has already been given in God’s word (also Jude3). This means that most, if not all, people who make a public spectacle of apparent healings during their religious meetings, revivals, or crusades, are placing themselves on the level of Christ or the apostles. Nowhere does Scripture instruct us to perform healings and exorcisms to accompany the preaching of God’s word or in place of it. To do so is blasphemy and contrary to our instructions in God’s word. I might recommend a documentary if you haven’t seen it. It is called American Gospel, Christ alone.
I have to clarify again. There are a few people who will see what I did not write here. People are so good at doing that. I did not claim that miracles have ceased. I did not claim that Jesus does not still heal people. I did not claim that Jesus does not care about people or listen to prayer requests. I am simply explaining the purpose that Matthew gives in his gospel for Jesus’ miracles during His bodily ministry and the reason we see this with the apostles. I am not claiming that God cannot or will not literally heal people through someone’s ministry. I am not claiming that demons cannot be cast out. I realize more and more how God must feel when people add to and take away from His word. People are so good at seeing what is not there to see and missing what is. What I am claiming is that sign gifts, particularly designated and specifically defined, ceased with the apostles. People often hear the term cessationism and assume that the cessationist does not believe in miracles. This could not be further from the truth.
When Jesus healed the people, it was not for the sake of healing. Jesus did this to fulfill the prophets. The Messiah would bear humanity’s physical ailments (Isaiah 53:4). So, healing was a sign gift that accompanied the Messiah (and also the apostles) to prove His authority- the actual authority of the Messiah and the instructive authority of the apostles. No human person has this authority today, so we understand that the sign gifts have ceased because they fulfilled their purpose- accompanying the coming of the Word (Jesus Christ).
Why are most people not healed? Why does God choose to let so many people with dear loved ones die around the world? The answer is simple. It is what the whole Bible is about. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:23). Those who believe in Christ, that God raised Him from the dead, and confess with their mouths that He is Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9). People get sick and die because they have rebelled against holy God. God is not merely healing people physically (though He does do that on occasion). That would only be a facelift and not a solution to human unrighteousness. God is bringing His people to dwell in His righteousness alone and giving them eternal life. God is doing something bigger than merely healing some people, and that is the point.
If you are angry with God or have chosen not to believe in God because of some suffering on this earth, please know that God is working together something far greater than we can ever imagine. Through sin and death, God is imputing His own righteousness to His people by His grace according to His mercy and for His glory (Romans 11:32-36). I plead with you now. Repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Life in Him is worth more and more profitable than miraculous healing. It is because of the healings that accompanied Jesus’ preaching ministry that we can believe real, substantial, eternal life is truly found in Him alone.