It is arguable that the doctrine of God’s meticulous providence may be the most precious doctrine to the believer (second only to the inerrant verbal inspiration of Holy Scripture). That God reigns as comprehensively sovereign over all things breathes new life into how we approach trial, prayer, impossibility, obstacles, national and international problems, the spiritual barrenness of the church, and every other issues large or small.
But, it may be asked, what good is meticulous sovereignty if God never exercises it openly or if He is passive? For surely He is in uncontestable control of all things, but can He be counted on to manifest this sovereignty in concrete, evident, consequential, active, and vital ways—as surely as He sustains all things invisibly by the word of His power and orchestrates all things in a breathtaking tapestry of glory that will take eternity to unfold and understand? The Bible answer is an unqualified yes! AS Christians are workers together with God in His program of world redemption, they can be assured that God is for them and can be trusted to act on their behalf with all the resources of heaven and His omnipotence. This is even more the case than for Old Testament believers, as God Himself has now become a man, uniting heaven and earth with the sovereign power of His dynamic rule from heaven (Eph. 1:18-23).
In Mark 1:29-31, we see our Lord’s authority manifested in the immediacy of His actions. We will look at His immediacy, our right response to it in our own immediacy of service, and His intent behind His actions.
A. Immediate Approach (v. 29)
On the same Sabbath day as Jesus’ momentous and decisive demonstration of His authority in the synagogue, He and His men retire to Peter’s home in Capernaum. This was, for all intents and purposes, our Lord’s home and the headquarters of His ministry. Doubtless He was well acquainted with Peter’s wife and children, and had spent many happy moments here teaching them, loving them, and enjoying them.
Note that there is no lull in our Lord’s ministry. Immediately after leaving the synagogue He makes His way to Peter’s home. I do not think that according to His humanity He knew anything was unusual about this visit, but doubtless the divine and Holy Spirit who has anointed Him without measure is compelling Him in that direction. The Lord is “doing the next thing” in His earthly ministry. He is always on the move, serving His Father. This is the tireless attitude He brings to us and to our work with Him. How encouraging!
Peter’s own immediacy is worth mentioning. Our Lord has this relationship with him in part because of Peter’s own surrender to His call and willingness to serve Him regardless of the cost. This immediacy did not shield Peter from immaturity or sin, but it did place him on sure footing for victory and usefulness to our Lord’s kingdom. May we have that same spirit!
B. Immediate Encounter (v. 30a)
The Lord sees Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed, sick with what the physician Luke will call a “high fever” (Luke 4:38). In those days, there were no antibiotics or other effective medicines as we know them today. People either fought off the illness with a well-developed immune system, or else they succumbed to death when they became too ravaged. Today, the Lord can providentially heal us of a fever with some over-the-counter medicine. Back then, there was little in the way of preventing a fever from becoming overpowering and deadly. It was truly an illness only God Himself could fix.
But into this world God Himself has come to reverse the Curse and demonstrate a picture of what the world looks like under His rule.
C. Immediate Appeal (v. 30b)
The apostles and likely Peter’s family bring to our Lord’s attention the plight of Peter’s mother-in-law. Perhaps they appealed to Him because of His close relationship with the family. Perhaps out of confidence in the recent display of His kingly authority (recall that the Spirit has anointed the man Jesus without measure and that He exercises kingly rule thereby) gave them fresh faith and confidence in His power to help. At any rate, they appeal to Him, with open face.
From this I draw at least two observations. First, this is a portrait of intercessory prayer. If you are anything like the tenderheartedness to which the Holy Spirit calls you (Eph. 4:32), you ought to be quickly touched by the needs and issues of others, especially their spiritual needs. (I am especially thinking of a burden for the lost, particularly for those in strata of our culture that are unusually hermetically sealed from the gospel and a biblical worldview.) Do you take note of the needs of others? Our Lord would have us be alert in prayer, which first and foremost means being sensitive for specific needs to pray for (Eph. 6:18b).
Second, when you are aware of a problem (whether in your own life or someone else’s), do you pray about it first, or do you talk to everyone and their mother? Godly counsel and objective perspective can be invaluable, and I would never say to not seek them out in any sense. But, who should be the priority? Humans who, however godly and Spirit-filled, are not omniscient and will not have all of the pieces of any issues, or the Holy One who is not only aware of all things but is both able and willing to do something about them? O that we would be on our faces before God first, and then once we have unburdened ourselves with Him we then seek His answer in the faces and arms of our fellow believers in Christ.
Note as well that the apostles (and likely Peter’s wife and children!) were asking the Lord to address a largely physical, material need. A tragic and incipient Gnosticism has ravaged the church for centuries, arguing that God does not care about the earthly or the temporal, and that we must only concern ourselves with spiritual (which, it is assumed also means “nonmaterial”) things. How we need revival and reformation in this area! Ours is a God who will make all things new, and who cares about every part of life. Do we ask Him to rule and overrule in the physical and the spiritual realms? For there is no difference to our God who created and delights in both. The God who will restore all things wishes to demonstrate His authority over all of them (Acts 3:21), through your responsible working together with Him.
D. Immediate Empowering (v. 31a)
Note how quickly our Lord responds! (Do you realize that when you pray for something today, He replies just as quickly? 1 John 5:15 assures us that when we pray according to His will, we presently, right now have in our possession what we ask of Him. It just is the manifestation in time that we wait for.) Right away the Lord goes to Peter’s mother-in-law. He pulled her up out of the bed, taking hold of her hand (a gesture of affectionate tenderness from the One who controls hurricanes and mountain lions).
Luke tells us He “rebuked” the fever (4:39). I infer from this that for our Lord anything that is a result of the Curse (the Curse, of course, being a divine response to humanity’s rebellion) is (a) not welcome in His world, for He is king by both creation and redemption, and uses His authority to progressively now and ultimately in that final day eradicate the Curse and its effects by dealing with the sin that brought it, and (b) has, on some level, the fingerprints of the Enemy on it. You rebuke a demon, not an inanimate fever. I am not saying the fever was directly caused by a demon, but certainly given the reality of a fallen world and the long leash the Lord has given fallen spirits, and that His awareness of the spirituality of the world is much keener than ours (in our materialist, sterile age!), we must see both holy and wicked spiritual dimensions to all that takes place. The fever, in itself and in the spiritual wickedness behind it, is an unwelcome intruder into our Lord’s creation. Surely this is a picture of the restoration He intends for us in the resurrection onto a glorious redeemed earth, and even now as we appeal to Him according to His holy will. The promised king has come, and He is acting, and He does so willingly and with great tenderness for the image bearers He created and dearly loves! O Christian! This is the One to whom you appeal for anything you need! Does this not stir your heart to ask of Him great things?
E. Immediate Service (v. 31b)
One way I know Jesus was neither a charismatic nor a televangelist is that when He performed a miracle, it happened all at once and was instantly effectual. And this is just what we see here. The Lord had to merely speak a word (does this not arrest your heart with awe at the power of the One who simply speaks and the creation obeys? This One is for you!), and the fever is gone. Peter’s mother-in-law is restored to full health. She does not have to recover for a few days after discharge from the hospital. She does not have to take an antibiotic regimen and a juice cleanse. She is simply completely healed. And how does she use her new health? She serves the Servant! Is this not a beautiful picture of our being raised from impossible spiritual death by God’s sovereign power, to then serve Him generally (in our obedience) and specifically (with our spiritual gift and whatever unique application He intends for that)? O Christian, are you willing to honor the Lord who has so rescued you by serving Him willingly and because of His power?
The king has come into His world and is even now using His decisive power to demonstrate who is in charge. We await with eagerness the day He returns to do this fully and completely. In the meantime, we who have been raised by His power can be effective channels of it to accomplish His purposes in the world. What a privilege for the ungodly and formerly rebellious, whose spirits have been entirely turned toward Him in love by His grace alone!