The woman was very sick. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law couldn’t have gotten up to serve Jesus if she wanted to. The effects of sin in her life and in this world had a grip on her, and there she lay, too ill to have attended the synagogue from which Jesus and the disciples had just come.
Saint Peter places his urgent request before Jesus. “Please, Lord, heal her.” And he does just that. Yet our Lord gives us a picture to remember as He records this story for all time. Saint Mark likely heard this true story many times throughout his days aiding Saint Peter. And Simon Peter used a word with deep meaning as he recounted this miracle. He does not merely say, “Jesus healed her,” or leave it at, “the fever left her,” but he adds: “Jesus… took her by the hand and lifted her up” “Lifted up!” The very same word used by Saint Mark in chapter 16 to say that Jesus is raised! The angel’s words can be translated: “He has been lifted up; He is not here!” [Rev. Erik Rottmann’s translation.]
With this miraculous healing, our dear Savior gives a picture of raising us from the dead! The mother-in-law was as good as dead, lying there, weak, limp and helpless. But our Great Physician enters the home, speaks His Word, and raises her up to a new life in Him.
There you are. Helpless. Hopeless. In a day and age of modern medicine, there are still enemies of your health that rob you of your strength, and sometimes even your lives! Sometimes these enemies are not even physical. Emotional and spiritual enemies lie in wait, attempting to drive a wedge between you and Jesus; wanting that fever to increase until you are boiling in complete and hopeless unbelief.
Dear friends in Christ, the fever still wants to consume you. For some, the fever increases as you point fingers and blame others, claiming that you’d be healthier if only you were able to have this item or that desire. Perhaps your fever rises as you slip back into your shell, not wanting to be friendly even to the people you see in church on Sunday. For some, the fever burns away as you talk about others behind their backs, or even entertain harsh thoughts about those around you. For others, the fever burns as you ignore or ridicule organizations like scouts, 4 H, or various service clubs. The devil, the world, and your own sinful self keep feeding that fever, until you can be delirious with illness, unable to get up and serve the Lord.
The fever started from the moment that you were a single cell in the safety of your mother’s body. It continued as you were lifted up out of your mother’s womb, but remained in the grasp of sin, death, and the devil. Indeed, you were unable to serve the Lord, conceived and born in sin! And then it happened!
No one may even have realized just how sick you were. They might not have fully understood
the gravity of your situation. But your limp, sin-filled, feverish body was carried to the Holy Font, where our dear Lord Jesus took you by the hand, washed you with water and His Word, and lifted you up!
In this miracle, our Savior worked forgiveness of sins, rescued you from death and the devil, and gave eternal salvation to you. He raised you up! He lifted you up and gives you the sure and certain hope of the resurrection! Saint Peter’s mother-in-law was given a new lease on life when Jesus lifted her up. You were given not only a new lease on this life, but the joy of starting your new life, as a new creature – eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord!
And we look forward to this new life’s fulfillment – its completion. As your body lies in its grave, appearing to the world as if you are helpless and hopeless, you know better. Just as Christ Jesus was lifted up on the cross, and then lifted up out of death, so He will lift you up. Because He has lifted you up in Holy Baptism, He looks forward to lifting you up from the dust of the earth, that you may live with Him, body and soul, eternally!
But what about now? What does this mean for our day to day lives? Jesus has broken the fever and lifted you up. But the devil doesn’t give up without a fight. You daily face struggles, temptations, sin, and illnesses that make life rough. So did Peter’s mother-in-law. She didn’t suddenly have a perfect body that never got sick again. She eventually died. You too. Our Savior doesn’t promise a life free from sickness and pain, no matter what any TV preacher might tell you. Quite the contrary; Jesus says there will be suffering. But He is there, bearing that burden for you!
Our Lord Jesus Christ has suffered and died for you. He is risen, for you! And now He bears all your burdens, including this nasty fever, for you.
Daily, like every man, woman, and child on earth, you have times that you don’t want Him there to bear those burdens. You’d just as soon have an absent Jesus, to go along with the vacant pews. But the same Savior who came and washed you in that font, and lifted you up to new life, keeps on coming for you. He takes you by the hand, and raises you to be with Him. And He is thrilled to have you join Him forever.
Just as He is thrilled to have Keith join Him forever. He lifted Keith up in Holy Baptism. He lifted Keith up as He took him to Himself this week. And He joyfully looks forward to lifting Him up forever, body and soul in heaven.
Be comforted, dear friends in Christ! Our Epiphany Lord keeps on revealing Himself as our God Incarnate. He shows Himself as our only hope; our only Physician; our only Savior. He uses you to lift up many others. And He delights in lifting you up!
[Thanks to the Rev. Erik Rottmann for his translation of “lifted up,” and for some intriguing thoughts that worked into this sermon.]