It is said by some that many people love to serve God, but in an advisory capacity only.
This story is told in the Discipleship Journal of 1987 (39), p. 5.
Franklin Roosevelt’s closest adviser during much of his presidency was a man named Harry Hopkins. During World War II, when his influence with Roosevelt was at its peak, Hopkins held no official Cabinet position. Moreover, Hopkins’s closeness to Roosevelt caused many to regard him as a shadowy, sinister figure. As a result he was a major political liability to the President. A political foe once asked Roosevelt, “Why do you keep Hopkins so close to you? You surely realize that people distrust him and resent his influence.” Roosevelt replied, “Someday you may well be sitting here where I am now as President of the United States. And when you are, you’ll be looking at that door over there and knowing that practically everybody who walks through it wants something out of you. You’ll learn what a lonely job this is, and you’ll discover the need for somebody like Harry Hopkins, who asks for nothing except to serve you.” Winston Churchill rated Hopkins as one of the half-dozen most powerful men in the world in the early 1940s. And the sole source of Hopkins’s power was his willingness to serve.
This truth is true of both of our main characters in this healing miracle. It is true of Jesus. For the power of Jesus Christ comes from His willingness to serve others. It was that willingness that led Him to the cross to serve us poor, needy, sinners by dying on the cross for us. As a result of that service, God the Father exalted Him above every name that can be named. In this little story of healing, however, we see Jesus demonstrating this desire to serve by using His almighty power to heal a fever.
Now, as a side note, we should notice that Peter was married. This was his mother-in-law who was sick. Paul, in his epistles, confirms that Peter was married, as well. This is significant for us, because the Roman Catholic Church forbids its priests to marry. They claim that the apostles left their authority to their followers, and the followers did likewise, all the way down to the present pope. However, if Peter, who is supposed to be the first pope, was married, then why can the Roman Catholic priests not get married? This is an unbiblical tradition of theirs, and it has caused many problems. As you know, some Roman Catholic priests have been guilty of molesting children. I believe that stems from this unbiblical tradition. Yes, Paul was unmarried. However, Peter was married. Therefore, there ought not to be a command one way or the other for pastors, or for laypeople, for that matter. Marriage is an honorable institution, given to us at creation, not after the Fall. It is something that God created, and it was good.
So, Peter’s mother-in-law was suffering from a fever. We don’t know exactly what kind of fever it was. Malaria was common in those days, as were several other dangerous fevers. Literally, she was burning up. Notice the differences between this healing and the previous healings. Peter’s mother-in-law does not even ask Jesus to heal her, wheeas the centurion and the leper do ask. That tells us that healing can come unlooked for from God. We don’t necessarily have to ask God for healing. Oftentimes, when we are at the end of our rope, and simply do not know what to do next, God will touch our lives and heal us.
Notice, however, that Jesus never heals us so that we can go on in our godless lives, ignoring the fact that God has healed us. What does she do immediately after Jesus heals her? She gets up and serves her Lord. And isn’t that the proper reaction to being saved? If God saves us, then shouldn’t we, out of gratitude, serve Him? In that way, Jesus is not like Harry Hopkins. Jesus really does expect something from us if He serves us. He expects our loyalty, devotion, adoration, worship, and service. Peter’s mother-in-law is a wonderful example for us. Jesus healed her, and she uses that healing for the glory of God by serving her Lord.
Well, that’s very well for her, because she had Jesus right in front of her. But what about us? We don’t have Jesus Christ right in front of us, do we? No, we don’t. But imagine yourself in her position. The great King of the universe was right in your room, and had just healed you of a deadly disease. What would you feel? Could you possibly feel indifferent to the God-man standing right in front of you? And yet, just because we cannot see Him, we usually do not get very excited about what Jesus has done in our lives. I would challenge us to remember what Jesus has done. We should be ecstatic for joy. Use your imagination and transfer the joy you might feel if you were in the shoes of Peter’s mother-in-law to your own situation. Imagine how joyful you would be! Imagine how ready you would be to do anything for the one who has healed you! And yet, that is exactly what Jesus Christ has done for us spiritually. Every one of Christ’s miracles is a picture of how salvation happens for us. We were burning up in our sin and misery. And we faced the much worse burning of hell itself. And Jesus touched us with one touch of His mighty hand, and we are forever different.
One more application comes out of looking at this miracle as part of a series. Notice that Jesus heals the leper, who was as good as dead, and the worst outcast of all. Jesus also heals the servant of a centurion. A centurion was not as much of an outcast as the leper, but he still could not enter the real temple of the Lord. Inside the court of the Gentiles, however, is the women’s court. Women of the Jewish faith were allowed to be closer to God than the Gentiles were. However, even they were still not allowed into the Holy Place. Jesus, you see, can make people from every class of people clean. He heals the leper, raising him from death to life. He heals the centurion’s servant. He heals the woman, Peter’s mother-in-law. We move closer and closer to God as we go through these miracles. And the lesson is that Jesus can make anyone clean. Therefore, we should not give up on anyone. Instead, we should serve without any prospect of getting something back, just as Harry Hopkins did.