Jesus went into Peter’s house and saw his mother-in-law laying on a bed with fever. Jesus touched her hand and the fever left her. She got up from the bed and began waiting on Jesus.
When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to Jesus and he drove out the spirits with a word. Jesus healed all the sick. His acts were to fulfill what Isaiah spoke when he said, “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”
What the story means to us today
Through compassion and prayer, we can produce a profound impact on others
Matthew had already documented healings of a leper and a gentile suffering from palsy. Now Matthew records the healing of a physical ailment common to all – fever. Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law with nothing more than a simple touch. The verses tell us that not only did Jesus heal her fever, but that her strength immediately recovered allowing her to rise and wait on her guests.
As the scriptures explain, Jesus’ actions demonstrate fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that Jesus would bear our pain for us. As Jesus continues moving about the area sharing the meaning of God’s message, we will see him continue to take on the burdens of others. We should demonstrate the same kindheartedness today.
Through compassion, prayer, and the proper mindset, we can produce a profound impact on others. – and we should. When Jesus touches our lives, we should share our good fortune – and faith – with others less fortunate.
Additional thoughts and considerations
Isaiah 53:4 – He took up our pain and bore our suffering
The prophetic verses Matthew refers to are found in Isaiah 53:4. Most believe the pain and suffering the verses refer to are of a more spiritual type but regardless, the message can be applicable to physical suffering as well. Matthew used Jesus’ actions that day to demonstrate partial fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (the remainder will be fulfilled in time). Written centuries prior to the events, the verses in Isaiah comprise one of the most eerily accurate prophecies in the Bible.
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Why did Jesus heal?
Although Matthew correctly applied Isaiah 53:4 to Jesus’ physical healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, the verses are more applicable to God’s promise of freedom from pain and suffering after death. After all, the benefit of healed physical ailments is rather insignificant given the ultimate reward (everlasting life) God promises us. So why did Jesus heal?
As demonstrated by Moses and other Old Testament prophets, Jesus’ miracles (the divine acts that cannot be explained by natural law) served to confirm God’s authority and to prove that Jesus was a conduit for God to speak to mankind. His tactic worked. John called Jesus’ miracles “signs” and when the disciples witnessed Jesus walking on water they exclaimed, “Truly you are the Son of God!” Even early enemies of Christianity such as Celsus and Porphyry could not deny Jesus’ miracles and instead, attempted to attribute them to other sources such as sorcery and dark magic. Jesus’ acts of healing were steps toward his ultimate objective – to help us understand what God expects of us and to demonstrate the behavior all Christians should strive toward.
After Jesus’ death, the apostles continued to perform miraculous acts as the Christian base spread throughout the world. Today, no one can argue that indeed, we’ve seen a continuous confirmation of Jesus Christ’s message through many generations of believers.
Can we experience biblical miracles today?
Can we experience miraculous healings in modern-day? Certainly, but it be presumptive to expect the same sort of miracles mankind saw when God interacted directly with humans (both in the Old Testament and the New Testament). Those miracles served to prove and authenticate God’s sovereign power over mankind through Jesus as God’s messenger. If the same miracles were experienced today, it would become tantamount to an everlasting continuation of the New Testament.
Still, there is nothing wrong with seeking miracles for the correct purpose and with the understanding that miracles are granted by God’s will. As evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem notes, miracles can still help confirm the truthfulness of the gospel message, bring help to those in need, and bring glory to God. At the same time however, Christians must be careful to avoid categorizing everything as a miracle *or* seeing nothing as a miraculous work of God.
In John 14:12, Jesus says,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do….”
The great works Jesus mentions surely include the expansion of Christianity and its message but can also include miracles if God wills it to be. Regardless, instead of focusing on miracles, understand that the ability to perform miracles as Jesus did is not expected by any branch of Christianity. Instead, “being like Jesus”, even though we recognize it to be impossible, is the ultimate goal, the objective that our actions and prayers should always be directed towards.
Wait, what? The apostle Peter was married?
Although ancillary to the primary message presented here, the scriptures provide a subtle revelation that many may not notice. The verses say the woman Jesus healed was Peter’s mother-in-law and thus, we can infer that Peter the disciple was married. Many are surprised to learn that a disciple was married. In fact, there is evidence that several disciples were also married.
Paul, who was not married, provided further proof of disciples’ marriages when he asked the Corinthians whether he had the right to be accompanied by a wife like “the other apostles, the Lord’s brothers, and Cephas.” Other early Christian writers also mention the disciples’ wives.
It is possible that the wives accompanied their husbands while travelling with Jesus and were simply never mentioned in the scriptures. In ancient Israel, women held less societal stature compared to men and thus, many female characters were not mentioned by name (although the Bible notably emphasizes several female figures).
As for Peter’s wife, the scriptures do not explain her circumstances. That the mother-in-law rose to help the guests could hint that Peter was a widow as the wife would have normally conducted these duties. However, it is equally possible that the mother-in-law simply pitched in and helped Peter’s wife. We simply do not know.
Jesus’ acts of healing demonstrate his value of people over tradition
Many scholars believe there would have been a fearful aversion to a person with fever. In an age when disease spread much easier than today, touching a person with fever may have been dangerous behavior. Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law may demonstrate his refusal to value tradition over people. Regardless of inherent danger, Jesus always helped those in need.
The science and history behind the story
Demons in the ancient world
The scriptures say Jesus drove spirits out of many “demon-possessed” people. Ancient people often attributed sickness, disease, and unpleasant events to what they called “demonic activity”. However, the concept of “demons” still existed in rational thought too. Whether Matthew’s writing indicates metaphorical demons or not is unclear. Regardless, the message remains the same – Jesus healed many.
The pragmatic belief in the power of healing – and the importance of faith
Most Christians believe in the power of healing through prayer although opinions diverge on the applicability (or relevance) of healing today. For most Christians, the belief in the power to heal steams from our objective to mimic Jesus’ actions to the best of our abilities. We recognize we are incapable of mirroring his behavior completely and we understand that Old and New Testament miracles served to verify the authenticity of God’s message. Still, we have an obligation to do our best to “be like Jesus” and this includes the practice of prayer and faith.
Notice the requirement for faith that accompanies prayer. Mark 11:24 tells us:
“Whatever you ask in prayer, believe you have received it, and it will be yours.”
This concept of mindfulness during prayer is common to many religions throughout the world. For instance, Buddhism, which bares many similarities to Christianity, places a great emphasis on maintaining control over thoughts. Buddhists believe the mind can be made to consciously influence the body.
Historian William Durant tells a fascinating story in Our Oriental Heritage when he explains how Buddhism began its spread throughout the world. About 250 years before Christ made his appearance on earth, King Ashoka Vardhana ruled over India. His rule was cruel, but fair. During his reign, it was understood that if a person entered a prison for a wrongdoing, they would pay dearly for their crime and would never leave the prison alive. In one particularly cruel instance, a Buddhist who had been falsely accused was thrown into a boiling cauldron of water. But the man “refused to boil”. The jailor fetched the king who witnessed the feat and was so astounded, he joined the Buddhist Order. He later introduced Buddhism into the government process and initiated a successful campaign to encourage the religion’s spread throughout the lands.
Buddhists separate “pain” and “suffering” in their mind and through control of their thoughts, “accept the pain” while discounting the suffering. The faith our Bible frequently mentions is a variant of this process. To employ faith with prayer, we must force ourselves to believe in an outcome before proof of the outcome is to be had. This requires a concentrated focus on the future outcome. While Buddhists direct their thoughts to the present, Christianity’s concept of faith requires a fixation on the future. No doubt, both methods are difficult tasks to master and require deliberate control over thoughts.
Surprising to some, even science backs the concept of prayer and faith. Scientists posit that a positive outlook and thoughtful mindfulness can produce a profound impact in the brain, one that allows us to perform feats beyond what would normally be expected.
Even if religion is removed from the equation, most recognize that the mind can, at the every least, influence performance, health, actions, and in turn, the environment around us. Thus, those that feel they must rationalize the logic of prayer can recognize there is much support of the practice.
Peter’s home in Capernaum
In the scripture prior to this story, we are told Jesus left Nazareth and went to “live in Capernaum which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali.” Various outside texts, written in Arabic, call the location Talhum which indicates the area referenced is almost certainly located at the Tell Hum site in Capernaum (pronounced kə-PUR-nee-əm). In addition, several early historical writings from people who visited the area confirmed that Peter’s home was located in Capernaum. Combined with information from the Bible, archaeologists believe they know the exact location of Peter’s home.
The evidence is circumstantial (many archaeologist findings are) but highly suggestive that Peter’s home was revered among early Christians. Layers of evidence show a structure that began as a small private home before early renovations converted the house into a significant communal gathering place – and eventually a prominent early-Christian church.
The innermost layer of the structure reveals a small home with an earth and straw roof. The home had a few rooms circled around a courtyard (a common design for early Roman-period houses). Around the time of Jesus’ death, the home was converted into a more elaborate structure. The walls were plastered from floor to ceiling, a rather costly addition, to create a more stable and permanent structure.
Over time the building continued to be buttressed and enhanced. The inner room was converted to a central hall for a church. Elaborate arches were installed in doorways and the roof was replaced with an expensive stone roof. The walls were painted with elaborate and beautifully-colored floral designs. On the walls, archaeologists found graffiti with messages such as “Lord Jesus Christ help thy servant” and “Christ have mercy”. Some of the writings were accompanied with pictures of crosses and in one case, a boat.
About 300 years after Jesus’ death, the structure was replaced with an octagon-shaped church. In ancient times, churches such as this were commonly built to commemorate an important site. Given the dating of the structure changes and the location of the building, it is believed the structure was the house of Peter – the very home where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law.
14 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. 15 He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.
16 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. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
“He took up our infirmities
and bore our diseases.”
The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.
By this time they were in front of Peter’s house. On entering, Jesus found Peter’s mother-in-law sick in bed, burning up with fever. He touched her hand and the fever was gone. No sooner was she up on her feet than she was fixing dinner for him.
16–17 That evening a lot of demon-afflicted people were brought to him. He relieved the inwardly tormented. He cured the bodily ill. He fulfilled Isaiah’s well-known sermon:
He took our illnesses,
He carried our diseases.
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.
The NET Bible
8:14 Now when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying down, sick with a fever. 8:15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her. Then she got up and began to serve them. 8:16 When it was evening, many demon-possessed people were brought to him. He drove out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick. 8:17 In this way what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet was fulfilled:
“He took our weaknesses and carried our diseases.”
Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.
King James Version
14 And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever. 15 And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them. 16 When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: 17 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.