Another Dimension To Disease and Doctrine
The book Flatland was written in 1884. It's a science fiction book about a world that has no 3rd dimension. It's a plain, ugly world just being lines on paper. A person from Flatland visits our world. To him it's like walking out of a blueprint of our church into our church building, or like reading a book about a castle, a dragon, and a knight and turning the page to find a 3-D pop-up of the scene. Going into the 3rd dimension changes the Flatlander's perspective on everything. I would like to take you on such a trip today. I want to show you there is another dimension to 2 things you are very familiar with: disease and doctrine.
First we start with the ordinary 2 dimensional view: Disease is bad and that's why Christ heals it. Jesus comes to eat a Sabbath day meal at Peter's home and find Peter's mother-in-law sick with fever. You've had fever. It's not good especially when it's bad enough to keep you in bed. That's how it is with Peter's mother-in-law; she's good to no one. She can't serve. She can't help. She isn't good company. What's more people use to die from "fever." That's not good. It would deprive Peter's wife of the help she would need around the home and with the children while Peter was out learning to be a pastor.
The fever is bad, and so Jesus steps into the scene and heals her. He came up to Peter's mother-in-law and grabbing her by the hand He raised her. He didn't help her up as the insert translates. That implies she got up slowly, gingerly. No, Jesus grabbed her hand and with that touch sent the fever away instantly. The woman was healed so completely that she could get right up and wait on dinner guests. The fever didn't leave her drained, strained, tired, or spent.
The fever is bad; Jesus who is goodness itself comes on the scene and easily, effortlessly, completely heals the fever. At evening, once the sun had set, which means the Sabbath Day had officially ended, "the people brought all the sick and demon possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed...He also drove out many demons." What misery gathered at Jesus' door. What sorrow, what sadness, what badness. Yet, neither disease nor demons were any match for Jesus. His powerful goodness easily made the sick whole, the demon possessed free. He casts out demons as easily as we throw out trash; He heals the sick as easily as make-up artists remove a fake wound.
Disease is bad and that's why Jesus in His goodness heals it. This is the 2 dimensional view of disease. It's correct. The God who becomes Man to bear our sins ought to be able and willing to deliver fallen men from devils and disease. This is what we expect. This expectation is what the healers of our day bank on when they tell you that Jesus wants you to be better; Christians will be healthy; Jesus promises you victory over your disease right here and now. But where does this 2 dimensional view of disease leave you with chronic pain? Where does it leave you when you're dying? Where does it leave you in the depths of your sickness? If there are only 2 dimensions to disease, it's bad and Jesus heals it, why am I still sick? The only answer can be because of something in me. I don't trust Jesus enough, or I'm not asking the right way.
We would be at the mercy of the religious healers in our day if Jesus had not shown us another dimension to disease. It's this: Jesus left many people in their disease. He didn't heal everyone. We know He didn't heal His stepfather Joseph or raise him from the dead. We know He didn't heal the apostle Paul though Paul asked Him 3 times. We know He didn't heal Pastor Timothy of his frequent stomach ailments.
We know that in our text people were bringing their sick and demon possessed to be healed by Jesus. He healed late into the night. The next morning everyone was still looking for Him. Think of how the word spread from Capernaum. Think how that poor country mom and dad bundled up their deathly ill little boy and started out for the place Jesus was healing. Think of the father with 4 little ones at home taking his sick wife. At last and answer to his desperate prayers. His children wouldn't be motherless. Think of the wife with 2 little ones and another on the way bringing her sick husband. She has traveled all through the night. She can barely take another step, but finally she has hope. There is someone who can rid her husband of the dreaded disease that has kept him in bed for the past 3 months.
"Everyone is looking for you Jesus! You can help them; you can deliver them from their demons; free them from their diseases." But what does Jesus do? He says, "Let's go somewhere else." Jesus leaves that mom and dad with their dying little boy. He leaves the father with the 4 little ones and a sick wife. He goes away without healing that husband and father who had been bedridden for months. Jesus says, "Let's go elsewhere so I can preach. That's the reason I have come." Then look what it says about the rest of His travels throughout Galilee. It mentions Him preaching; it even mentions Him driving out of demons, but it says nothing about Him healing anyone.
Welcome to another dimension; you've stepped out of the Flatland view of disease into the 3rd dimension. In Flatland, disease can only be looked at as something that you have to be rid of, that can't be any good for you, that a loving Jesus must want you freed from. In this 3rd dimension Jesus shows us that He doesn't always deliver people, even His own people, from disease. He shows us that He, the loving Lord, willingly leaves some people in disease, in pain, in suffering.
Now if that looks unloving to us, and it surely does at times, that's because we're only looking at it from Flatland. We've not risen above Flatland to that marvelous other dimension we sing about in hymns. You know were "pain is pleasure" and "Bane is blessing." The dimension Jesus preached of where losing your life is saving it, where His power is made perfect in weakness, where our wisdom is foolishness, and our sickness health.
Friends, it's not inconsistent with having a loving Lord to also have pain, sorrow, sickness, and disease. Jesus plainly shows us that He may indeed leave us in these, but what He never leaves us without is preaching, is hearing the Good News of the Gospel. In our fallen flesh, we think we're getting the short end of the deal. We'd rather have the healing than the preaching, but consider this. All the miracles that Jesus did in Capernaum, healing a whole city full of people, did nothing eternally for them. In Luke 10:15 Jesus says, "And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven. You will be brought down to hell." In Matthew 11 Jesus says that the city of Sodom would fare better on Judgment Day than Capernaum.
On the one hand, Jesus leaves His beloved children in sickness and suffering. On the other, some who will be damned eternally He delivers from suffering and sickness. What He never leaves His children without is preaching. He came into the world not to heal everyone but to preach to all. He sent His disciples out to baptize and to teach. He binds Pastor Timothy not to heal in season and out of season but to preach. What we need is preaching: We need to have ringing in our ears the Good News that Christ came into the world to bear all our sins, griefs and sorrows. All manner of sorrow and pain that we deserve to bear because we are sinners, was put instead on the back of Jesus. Although He lived the perfect life that we can't even imagine living, He was tortured, tormented, and damned in our place.
Can you hear what Good News that is? If God the Father made Jesus so suffer for my sins, then the pain, the sickness, the disease, the suffering I go through cannot be to pay for my sins. If by the resurrection of Jesus the Father showed that all accounts of sinners were paid in full, then He can't be bill collecting in my hospital room or doctor's office. If sickness and suffering isn't to pay for sins, then there is another dimension to it. Could it possibly be, dare I think, that these too serve my eternal salvation? Well, if the Father can use the horrible sufferings and death of His beloved Son to pay for my salvation, it is but a small thing for Him to use the suffering and disease in my life to bring me into salvation.
There is another dimension to disease. It has been redeemed by Christ the crucified so that it too must serve your eternal well-being. I said there is another dimension to doctrine as well. It's connected with our view of disease. When you view disease as something that you have to be rid of, then whatever delivers you from disease must be from God. But the mark of God in these latter days is not miracles but the pure Word of God, correct doctrine. Welcome to the 3rd dimension where healing is not always good, disease is not always bad, and where the guarantee that God is working isn't healing and miracles but pure doctrine.
Our fallen flesh longs for and is impressed by miracles, but in these latter days miracles are not the mark of God's presence. Jesus says in Matthew 24 that false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders. Paul warns us that the Antichrist comes with false powers, miracles and wonders. The second beast in Revelation 13 performs great signs and deceives those who dwell on the earth. But you don't dwell on the earth; you're not a Flatlander. You dwell with Christ above the earth in the 3rd dimension where disease and doctrine look different than they do on earth. Where many Christians in our day want to shun disease and pure doctrine, in Christ we seek to embrace both.
While it is true that the mark of the apostles was signs, wonders, and miracles as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12, he doesn't tell his churches to evaluate teachers by whether they do miracles. No, he tells them to go by the words of the apostles. He tells the Romans to turn away from those who go against the teaching they learned. He tells the Thessalonians to keep away from those who don't live as he instructed them. He tells Pastor Timothy that if anyone teaches contrary to the Words of Christ and godly teaching he isn't worth listening to. While Jesus did send His apostles out with miracles to accompany them, He didn't send them out to do miracles but to teach the Word and to do Baptisms, Communions and Absolutions. And notice when Paul sends Pastors Timothy and Titus, he doesn't even mention healings or miracles but guarding and teaching true doctrine.
How wonderful this 3rd dimension is. Viewed from above disease doesn't look exclusively dreadful; I can see that it can be useful in the nail-pierced hands of Jesus. Healing is only one of many things He can do with it. Furthermore, I can see that the most certain way Jesus shows me His love is not by healing me but by preaching pure doctrine to me. Because it is only by pure doctrine that I can rightly see my sickness and suffering. It's not the mark of God's displeasure but of His love. Don't try saying that to someone who still lives in Flatland. In their world of only 2 dimensions they can no more see that God could show love by not taking away suffering than they could see a ball. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany V (2-9-03), Mark 1:29-39