Good Illness

Sermon based on Mk 1:29-39 for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Dear children of God who suffer from illness: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Illness is bad. That’s why Jesus, upon entering the house of Simon Peter and being told that Peter’s mother is ill, touches her hand and heals her of her fever. That’s why Jesus, upon the whole city arriving at the door of the house with their sick and diseased, healed them.

Simon’s mother had a fever, which could be very serious especially in those days. She was unable to get out of bed. Jesus grasped her hand, and she was immediately healed. She didn’t need to be lifted out of bed or supported on her unsteady feet as she slowly regained strength. She sprung out of bed herself, and with full energy began to serve them. One minute she’s lying in bed weak and delirious with a high fever, the next minute she’s serving them and making boeuf bourguignon. What a good, wonderful thing! Jesus heals her of this bad illness and everything is immediately better.

The whole city rushes to the door of the house. They bring their sick and diseased to be healed by Jesus. People who are suffering from bad diseases are made well. The lame walk, the blind see, the lepers are cleansed. Jesus heals and makes things better, because illness is bad.

Or is it? Is illness really bad? Jesus left the city in the middle of the night by Himself to pray. When Simon and those who were with him finally found Jesus, they said that everyone is looking for Him. The news of Jesus healing in the city had spread even further. Everyone was looking for Him. People travelled great distances on foot, carrying their sick and diseased. Mother’s carried their sick infants. Husbands, leaving behind their children with others to care for them, carried their sick wives to be healed by Jesus. Widows brought their only children, the only ones left in their lives, ravaged by serious fever.

Jesus, the great healer, did not heal them. He left the city. And when Simon and the others found Him and told Him that everyone is looking for Him, He responds, “Let us go on to the next towns”. If illness is so bad, why didn’t Jesus go back and heal those who sought His help? If disease is such an evil, why didn’t Jesus eradicate the city of disease? And then the next city, and then the next?

Jesus gave Simon the answer. He said, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” Jesus said that He came to preach. That is why He came. He came to proclaim the Gospel – the good news of the forgiveness of sins. He came to tell us that through Him, our sins are forgiven. Jesus came to earn salvation for us. He came to promise us eternal life with Him.

Jesus did not promise that we will have no illness. He never promised that our lives will be disease-free and healthy. Jesus did not come to heal us now. He came to preach to us about eternal life. Yes, there are many He did heal. Yet there were countless others He did not heal. His primary purpose in coming was not to heal those around Him, but to preach.

And Jesus’ miraculous healings did not mean that those who were healed received eternal life. Jesus spent much time near the Sea of Galilee performing miracles and healing. He performed miracles and healed many in His own hometown of Capernaum (Mt. 4:13). Yet, concerning these towns where He healed many, He said, ““Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” (Mt. 11:21-24)

Despite the healing that Jesus had done in these places, these people did not believe in Him. They looked to Jesus for health in this life only. They looked to Jesus for earthly benefits. Jesus came primarily to preach, but they didn’t care about His preaching. They didn’t heed His warnings to turn away from sin. They just saw the miracles and sought Him for the earthly benefits that they might receive from Him.

But Jesus came to preach. He came to forgive us our sins. This is still the same today. He still sends His Word to you. He still sends you preachers to bring you the good news of the forgiveness of sins. He sends you pastors to lead you in studying His Word through Bible classes. He’s given you His Word. We’ve got His very Word in our homes. Most of us probably have so many copies of the Bible in our homes than we don’t know what to do with them all. Yet we neglect His preaching and His Word. We also would rather that He blessed us with temporal benefits than eternal benefits. We skip Sunday services as often as there is anything else offered at that time, whether it be for earthly benefit or merely leisure activities. We won’t attend Bible class where we might actually learn something. We won’t read the Bible at home because it interferes with our earthly priorities. Jesus came to preach, not to heal. Yet we’d sooner take the healing than the peaching.

Do you see why we need illness and disease? We desperately need sickness to make us think of God at all. We need weakness and disease to remind us that we need God. We need illness to make us think about eternal life; life away from this world of sickness and affliction.

All disease and sickness is the result of our sin, yet God uses it for our good. God the Father used the horrible suffering and death of His only Son to bring us salvation, so do not be surprised if He brings us to that salvation through sickness and suffering. His power is made perfect in our weakness (II Cor. 12:9). When we are weak, then in Christ we are strong (II Cor. 1:10). Romans 8(:18) tells us, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

So don’t make bodily healing or this earthly life your highest priority. Jesus has not promised us that in this life He will heal us of all our illnesses, but He has promised us that He will always send us His Word of forgiveness. He has further promised that everything that happens to us is for our good (Rom. 8:28). Thus our illnesses must be good for us. They must be for our eternal good; for our eternal salvation.

Jesus will heal us. Maybe not in this life, but our eternal life will be life without illness or disease. Jesus died to save us from this world of sin and suffering. He took all our sin on Himself. He took all our illnesses, diseases, and sicknesses as well. He died to save us eternally from every evil. So we can rejoice in our suffering, because it is through our suffering that He pulls us to His Word, where we receive the forgiveness of our sins. So, as crazy as it sounds, thank God for illness. Illness is good. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and you minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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