They’re making a new Indiana Jones movie. Harrison Ford is appearing for the fourth time as the professor/archaeologist/adventurer in a release scheduled for May 22, 2008. Archeology has long been an interest of mine, perhaps because of the popularization of the science by the Indiana Jones films.
Although when the science of archeology first emerged in the nineteenth century it was thought that it would soon disprove many assertions of the Bible, in reality many of the historical facts of the Bible have been confirmed scientifically through archeology. One example of this comes from the city of Capernaeum where most scholars agree that the home of Simon Peter has been uncovered.
During the fourth and fifth centuries it was common for churches to be built over “holy places.” Underneath a church built during that time period was found a house that dated back to around 100 B.C. The excavators could tell that the house was remodeled some time in the late first century A.D.. This remodeling probably indicates that it was converted from a private residence to a public meeting house. 134 fragments of plaster from the second century had writings with the name of Peter and references to Jesus on them. The conclusion by archaeologists is that this was the home of Peter and was later converted into a church. If this is the case, it is the home where the miracle of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law occurred. This is the miracle to which we now turn found in Matthew 8:14-17.
Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. (15) So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them. (16) When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, (17) that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “HE HIMSELF TOOK OUR INFIRMITIES AND BORE OUR SICKNESSES.”
I. The Healing of Peter’s Mother-in-Law, vv. 14-15.
The healing of Peter’s wife’s mother is the third in a series of three strung together by Matthew which shows Jesus concern for the outcasts of society. In vv. 1-4, Jesus heals a leper. In vv. 5-13, Jesus heals a Gentile, the servant of the centurion. Here in vv. 14-15, Jesus heals a woman.
It’s interesting to note that in these three healings: the first was in answer to one’s own petition, the second was of another, and the third was not in response to any recorded petition.
Jesus “touched her hand” (v. 15). In so doing, he broke three social taboos. First, he was touching a woman. Second, he was healing on the Sabbath (which we know from comparing the account in Mark 1:21-35). Third, he was touching someone with a fever which was forbidden by the rabbis of the day. But as in the case of the healing of the leper, in the words of D. A. Carson, Jesus’ “touch did not defile the healer, but healed the defiled” (Matthew, 204).
This fever was a serious one. In ancient days, fevers were not understood as a symptom, but as a disease in and of itself. Thus, Matthew simply calls it a fever. However, it was probably a fever caused by malaria, which was common in the region at the time. The language in the Greek for “lying sick with a fever” is much more graphic. It is a form of ballo meaning “I throw.” Peter’s mother-in-law was literally “thrown down” with a fever. This fever had completely incapacitated her.
Then Jesus touched her hand . . . “and the fever left her.” The disease in her body causing the fever immediately fled. So complete was her healing that she immediately “arose and served them.” This signifies the completeness of her healing. There were no lingering effects. There was none of the physical weakness normally associated with recovering from a fever. Instead there was strength to serve.
II. The Healing of the Many, v. 16.
At sunset the crowds began to bring the demon-possessed to Jesus. They had waited until the Jewish Sabbath day had ended at 6 pm before they brought the people to Jesus (see Mark 1:21-35). They brought the “demon-possessed.” Jewish intertestamental writings linked illness with demons. The crowd may have thought all which they brought to be possessed by demons. But Jesus seems to have made a distinction by casting out demons of some and healing others who are merely sick.
He “cast out the spirits with a word.” An example of this is seen in the story which ends this chapter. Jesus caused the demons possessing the two men to leave them and enter a herd of swine with the simple command: “Go!” (8:32).
III. The Purpose of the Healings and Exorcisms, v. 17.
But what was the purpose of these healings and exorcisms? In one sense we could say that Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons because of His compassion. Matthew 14:14 says, “And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.” That is certainly one reason why Jesus healed. But the main motivation in Scripture given for why Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, or performed any kind of miracle was to reveal something about who He was. In the Gospel of John the miracles are signs which point to the deity of Jesus. In Matthew 9 Jesus heals a paralytic to show that He has the divine power to forgive sins. And here in Matthew 8:17 we are told that Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons in order to fulfill Isaiah 53:4. That is the text which is quoted here. Matthew clearly sees the healings and exorcisms as Messianic miracles, miracles which revealed Jesus to be the promised Messiah of the Old Testament.
Whenever the New Testament writers wanted to reference a particular section of the Old Testament, they didn’t have the luxury of being able to cite chapter and verse (a relatively modern convention). Instead they would cite a verse, with the understanding that the surrounding context be understood to also be in the mind of the author. That’s why it is important when we see an Old Testament text cited in the New Testament that we go back and see that verse in its original context.
That is true in this case, because Matthew does not only want us to see Jesus as the Mighty Messiah, but also as the Suffering Servant. Chapter 53 of Isaiah is one of the great prophetic descriptions of the sufferings and death of Christ upon Calvary. Matthew uses Isaiah 53:4 not only to reveal the power of the Messiah over disease and demons, but also to reveal the Suffering Servant as a Sacrificial Substitute.
This is the way Isaiah 53 is used by Peter in 1 Peter 2:21-25,
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: (22) “WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH”; (23) who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; (24) who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. (25) For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Isaiah 53 points forward to the death of Jesus who “bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” Matthew himself understands it this way which is seen by at least three allusions to Isaiah 53 in his description of the Passion of Christ (Is. 53:7 in Matt. 27:12; Is. 53:9 in Matt. 27:57; and Is. 53:10-12 in Matt. 20:28).
By quoting Isaiah 53:4, Matthew is showing that Jesus is announcing to the principalities and powers of this world that the King has come to make things right. This little house of a fisherman had become a battlefield in the war between the Seed of the Woman and the Seed of the Serpent.
The Scriptural storyline is clear:
- Sickness and death were not a part of the original creation
- Sickness and death will not be a part of the new creation.
- Sickness and death are a result of sin which Satan brought into the world.
- Jesus came to defeat Satan and thus break His power.
Therefore these healings are the shots over the bow of Satan’s ship announcing that the war is almost over. These miracles point forward to Jesus’ death on the cross where sin, sickness, demons, and death will be finally defeated. Richard Halverson explains why Jesus did not just stay on earth healing diseases, etc.:
Why did Jesus Christ not remain alive and eliminate, generation by generation, all the evils which harass humanity? Simply because He was the Great Physician, and in the finest tradition of medical science, He was unwilling to remain preoccupied with the symptoms when He could destroy the disease. Jesus Christ was unwilling to settle for anything less than elimination of the cause of all evil in history. Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 2.
Jesus dealt with the root cause of sin, suffering and death when He defeated Satan on the cross! As 1 John 3:8 says, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” This reality is what the healing miracles and exorcisms were pointing forward to.