"An Expanding View of Jesus' Mercy"
(Delivered Sunday, July 31, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
Over the past few weeks, we've been studying together from some of the miracles that our Lord performed after preaching the Sermon on The Mount. Today's story from Matthew's Gospel seems - at first - to be nothing more than a simple and charming one. But the fact is that it also teaches us something about our Savior that is very profound and immensely practical. Everything that the Bible tells us about our wonderful Lord Jesus is valuable - and this morning's passage is no exception.
Matthew tells us;
Now when Jesus had come into Peter's house, He saw his wife's mother lying sick with a fever. So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them.
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, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
"He Himself took our infirmities
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Last summer, my family and I attempted our first hike up Saddle Mountain, not far from the Oregon coast. I'm not much of a hiker; but the thing that I'll always remember - far more than the hike itself - was the wonderful sights I saw that day.
To tell you the truth, this little hike surprised me. The first view I had of the distinctive peak was from the Sunset Highway - surrounded by walls of rolling hills and tall trees. It was beautiful; but even from the base of the climb, it didn't seem all that impressive. It almost felt, at first, as if the only impressive thing to look at is the peak itself; and even then, you could only see it through trees. As the trail took us up the climb though, and as I gained an elevated view above the tree-tops, I begin to gain a better view of the surroundings. We began to get a glimpse of the area around the peak. It was beautiful and breathtaking scene to behold.
As we hiked higher up the trail that looped around to another view, I saw the expanse of tree-tops that stretched across the valley to another peak. Then, as we looped around higher up to another view, I began to see the coastal range - and began to get a view of how vast the surroundings were. With each circle upward along the trail, the view simply got wider and more vast. Soon, we could even see the Pacific Ocean - about fifteen miles away - over the tops of the mountains.
I understand that, on a clear day, you can see Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson from the top of Saddle Mountain. You can even see the Cascade Mountain range; and I even understand that, on some days, the Olympic Mountains can be seen. It seemed like each circle up the trail brought me to a much more expansive view of the coastal range around me. I had no idea, from ground-level, of just how vast it all was.
I thought of that little hike when I read this morning's passage. Its main theme is the mercy of our Savior toward those in need, and Matthew expands our understanding by giving us three consecutive "pictures" of His mercy toward others. These three "pictures" remind me of hiking up a trail that circles around a high peak. Each circle brings me higher; and gives me a successively broader view of just how vast and expansive our Savior's mercy is toward those He loves - far broader than I could have had from ground level.
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I wonder if it might not be good to stop and explain what I mean when I speak of Jesus' "mercy". I suppose the simplest way to define "mercy" is as an active display of love and compassion for someone in need. It's certainly more than a matter of simply "feeling" that person's need. It's the idea of stooping down to actively do something to meet the need out of compassion and love. There's no idea in "mercy" of someone being 'worthy' or 'deserving'. Rather, it's the idea of someone being helpless and unworthy in their need; but being shown active love and compassion in the meeting of their need - even though they don't deserve to have it met.
One of the most visible ways that Jesus demonstrated mercy to needy people was when He healed them of sicknesses and illnesses, and cast demons out of them1. Once, when our Savior cast a demon out of a man, He told him to "Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you" (Mark 5:19; New American Standard translation). Often, when people would ask Jesus for healing, they would put it in terms of "mercy"; saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord . . ." (Matthew 15:22); or "Lord, have mercy on my son . . ." (17:15); or Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me" (Mark 10:47).
The most profound way that God has demonstrated mercy is by saving us hopeless and unworthy sinners through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Did you know that the apostle Paul refers those whom God chooses for salvation as "vessels of mercy" (Rom. 9:23)? Mercy, in fact, is presented to us as the basis of our salvation. God saves us from our sin, even though we are unworthy. Peter says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope . . ." (1 Peter 1:3). Paul writes that we are saved, "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy . . ." (Titus 3:5). As Paul writes, our salvation was brought about by "God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us . . ." (Eph. 2:4).
So; Jesus' mercy is shown to people when He actively displays love and compassion for them by meeting their need. He demonstrated this in the very visible way that He healed them; but He demonstrated it most magnificently in that He willingly gave His life on the cross to save them from sin.
"Mercy" is the key-note of this morning's passage. And the first view it gives us of Jesus' mercy is - if I may say it this way - from ground-level. We see it up-close and personal when He graciously healed a sick elderly woman. But by the time Matthew is through taking us up this little scriptural "peak", we almost gasp at the new view we discover at each successive turn; and we find ourselves saying, "I had no idea, at first view, that the mercy of Jesus is so wonderfully vast and broad!
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Let's begin, then, by looking at ground-level. We see, first, that Jesus' mercy is . . .
View #1: PERSONAL IN ITS FOCUS (vv. 14-15).
What an adventure it had been with Jesus so far! He had seen the multitudes collecting around Him; and so, He gathered His disciples around Himself and taught them the Sermon on The Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29). Then, scarcely had He come down the mountain than multitudes of people gathered around; and they watched as He healed a poor, pathetic, helpless leper who came to Him for healing (Matthew 8:1-4). Then, as He traveled on down further from the hillside toward the coastal city of Capernaum, He healed a centurion's servant from a distance with a mere word! (vv. 5-13).
Finally, He came to Peter's house. Peter and his brother Andrew had already begun to follow Jesus, along with James and John (4:18-22). Apparently, Jesus and His small band of disciples were able to make themselves at home in Peter's house. And there, inside the house, lay Peter's mother-in-law; sick with a fever.
Just as an aside, did you know that Peter was married? Later on in the story of the New Testament, we discover that, as Peter went about preaching, he took along his "believing wife" (1 Corinthian 9:5). Obviously, you can't have a "mother-in-law" without also having had a "wife"! I can't help but think that it would have taken a remarkable woman of God to be the wife of Peter! And it must have also taken a remarkable woman to be his mother-in-law too!
The Greek word that is used to describe her situation (ballõ) meant that she was "cast" upon a sick-bed. Her illness forced her into bed-riddenness. And when Luke - who was a doctor - told this story, he pointed out that Peter's mother-in-law was sick with "a high fever" (Luke 4:38). It may be that her situation was, in fact, very grave.
But this is where the mercy of Jesus was displayed. Matthew tells us that "when Jesus had come into Peter's house, He saw his wife's mother lying sick with a fever. So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them." (Other translations however, such as the NASB, the ESV or the NIV, more accurately say that she arose and served "Him". But in the end, I'm sure that when she served "Him", she also served "them".)
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Think about how immediately He healed her! She had been sick - apparently very sick - with a high fever. But when He healed her, she didn't need time to rest and recover. She wasn't drained and weakened. Instead, she arose and immediately did what a mom does: she ministered! My suspicion is that she was an excellent cook; and that, to everyone's delight, her healing meant that there was going to be some authentic Capernaum 'sea-food' for dinner that night!'
That reminds us of how immediately Jesus had healed others. When He had healed the leper, we're told that "immediately his leprosy was cleansed" (Matthew 8:3). And when He spoke the word to heal the centurion's servant of palsy, we're told that "his servant was healed that same hour" (v. 13). It's in the power of our wonderful Savior to heal someone immediately and completely. That's the wonder of Jesus' mercy!
But think also of how that mercy was applied to this woman in a very personal way. We're told that Jesus "saw" her. The word that is used (horaõ) is not a word that describes a mere passing glance. Instead, this particular word is one that refers to an intense kind of "seeing" - the kind in which one looks carefully at the thing being seen, and in which one thinks carefully about what is looked at.
That's one aspect of Jesus' personal display of mercy; isn't it? When one of His beloved ones is in need, He sees it. In fact, He sees it very intently. He sees it in such a way as to know, and deeply understand, and deeply feel the need in a personal and particular way.
Another way His mercy was personally applied was in the fact that He "touched" her. Mark tells us that He actually "came and took her by the hand and lifted her up" (Mark 1:31). Just prior to this, we were told of how Jesus healed the centurion's servant with a word from a distance. But we also read of how this same Jesus was willing to "touch" the leper who came to Him. And Jesus certainly didn't have to touch Jesus' mother-in-law. But He did.
And once again, this is an aspect of Jesus' very personal display of mercy. He not only "sees" intensely the needs of his loved ones; but He also goes out of His way to "touch" them. He made His "touch" a part of His act of mercy. I believe He shows the same sort of loving, personal care and personal mercy to any of His loved ones who are sick and suffering. I believe He still "touches the hand" of His own in their times of affliction even today.
And finally, another way His mercy was applied in a personal way was in the very obvious - but also very wonderful - fact that He healed her. The fever "left" her immediately. He met her need completely! And I can't help but notice that her response to His mercy toward her was for her to get up and minister to Him.
That is a very wonderful view of Jesus' mercy. His mercy is very personal. It's very individual and relational. He intensely observes the needs of His loved ones; He cares about them enough to touch them in a very personal and intimate way; and He does for them what is needed - completely.
Wouldn't you agree that you and I should be encouraged by this to turn to Jesus often for His personal mercy toward us? We should make it our regular practice to "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). He is glad to be merciful to us in a very personal way.
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Now, that's the view of Jesus' mercy from the ground-level. But let's climb up the peak just a little bit further for a much broader view. The next thing we find in this passage is that Jesus' mercy is not only personal in its focus, but it is also . . .
View #2: DIVERSE IN ITS APPLICATION (vv. 16).
We don't know how big Peter's house was. But as we look at Mark 1:29, we find that his brother Andrew also lived there; and clearly, so did his mother-in-law. His fishing business may have been a very successful one; and it may be that the house he was able to provide for his family was a fairly big one.
I'd bet that it began to feel pretty small very quickly, though. Word had apparently gotten out about Jesus' presence at Peter's place. And word had, no doubt, already begun to spread about the miracles of healing He had performed. Perhaps word had even spread about His healing of Peter's mother-in-law. Mark tells us that, by the end of the day, "the whole city was gathered together at the door" (Mark 1:33).
Mark lets us know that it was on the sabbath day that all this had happened. Jesus and His disciples had been at the synagogue; and immediately after they left the synagogue, they had gone to Peter's house (Mark. 1:29). (I suspect that, in terms of our Lord's own intention, He went to Peter's house specifically because He had a divine appointment to keep: He wanted to heal a dear little 'mother-in-law' and enjoy her ministry to Him!) And because it was a sabbath day, people waited until the setting of the sun to bring their needs to Jesus. And so, Matthew tells us, "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 . . ." (Matthew 8:16).
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Now, this is where we are given a more expansive view of the mercy of our Savior. First, we saw Jesus' mercy to one person - a dear little 'granny' with a fever. But Matthew now tells us that "many" came to Jesus with a variety of very serious needs. And whatever the need was, He met it completely. Luke tells us that "He laid hands on every one of them and healed them" (Luke 4:40).
This reminds us of what we read in Matthew 4:23-25:
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of diseases among the people. Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. Great multitudes followed Him - from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan (Matthew 4:23-25).
He was now doing at Peter's house at Capernaum what He had done throughout Galilee. If anyone came to Him who had a demon, He cast it out. If they had a fever, He lifted the fever from them. If they were paralyzed, He took their paralysis away. If they were blind, He gave them sight. If they were deaf, they went away hearing. If they were leprous, He sent them away clean. He laid hands on each one, and He met each one's unique need perfectly. He didn't show mercy to just one person in one way. He displayed His mercy in diverse ways to diverse people with a diversity of needs.
And do you realize from this that His mercy is not only personal enough in its focus to be applied to you, but it's also diverse enough in its application to meet your every need - and the need of every person you might bring before Him in prayer? You can have absolute confidence in the sufficiency of Jesus' mercy; because it's broad and diverse enough in its application to meet every single need you could ever have for the rest of your days on earth!
Now, really think about that! You believe that the mercy of Jesus was great enough to cast out any demon, don't you? Then don't you also think that same mercy is sufficient to help you through the trying circumstances you might be going through? Do you believe that the mercy of Jesus was great enough to completely heal a man of leprosy? Then don't you also think that this same mercy is sufficient to heal you of all the damages of a painful past? Do you believe that the mercy of Jesus was great enough to give sight to the blind? Then don't you also think that such great mercy from our Lord is sufficient to guide you through difficult decisions, and to give you the wisdom you need to make the right choices?
With such a merciful Shepherd as Jesus guarding you and guiding you, you can claim the words of the psalmist as your own: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life . . ." (Psalm 23:6). All He is waiting for is for you to go to Him and ask for Him to show His great mercy toward you!
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We've climbed pretty high up the peak so far. And we've gained an increasingly breathtaking view of Jesus' mercy, haven't we? We've seen that His mercy is very personal in its focus on our needs, but also very diverse in its application to those needs. He is sufficiently great in His mercy to show personal mercy to every single person who comes to Him. That's a wonderfully broad view of His mercy.
But now, let's climb up the peak to the higher elevations. Here's where we gain the most breathtaking view we can have of just how broad and vast Jesus' mercy truly is. This is where we see that Jesus' mercy is . . .
View #3: UNLIMITED IN ITS REACH (v. 17).
Before we read this last verse, let me just remind you that Matthew was Jewish. He wrote in a Jewish way to Jewish readers that already knew the Jewish scriptures. I say this because Matthew now tells us something that the other Gospel writers didn't mention. It's something that a Jewish reader would immediately recognize.
Matthew tells us why it is that Jesus displayed His mercy in such a diverse manner. He says that it was ". . . that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 'He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses'" (Matthew 8:17).
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Matthew is here quoting from a passage that would have been well-known to his Jewish readers as an Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah. It comes from Isaiah 53:4. Please allow me to read the larger passage in which this verse is found:
Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:1-6).
Isaiah wrote about our Savior's sacrifice on the cross - over seven-hundred and fifty years before He was crucified - as a 'substitutionary atonement' for our sins. The focus of Isaiah's words about Jesus 'taking our infirmities and bearing our sicknesses' was clearly spiritual in nature - that is, that Jesus was crucified in our place because of our sins; in order that the guilt of our sin might fall upon Himself, and that He might pay the death penalty for it on our behalf. And this is how the apostle Peter understood Isaiah's words when he quoted from this same passage. He said that Jesus "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" (1 Peter 2:24; citing Isaiah 53:5).
But when Matthew quotes this verse, he seems to see it as a prophecy that was fulfilled in the earthly healing ministry of Jesus. So; which is it? Is it a prophecy about Jesus' healing ministry, or is it a promise of His saving ministry? I suggest to you that it is both! And it's here that see just how marvelously broad and expansive Jesus' mercy truly is!
For one thing, Matthew wasn't being unfaithful to the things that Isaiah said. The original language of Isaiah's words carried with them the idea of 'healing'. What Isaiah said can be legitimately translated, "Surely He has born our sicknesses and carried our pains"; because the Hebrew word for "griefs" (hõlî) really does mean "sicknesses", and the word for "sorrows" (kã'ab) really does mean "pains". Isaiah spoke in the language of physical illness and physical suffering to describe the grievous consequences of sin that Jesus has delivered us from. When Matthew said that Jesus "took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses", he was being true to the literal words of Isaiah.
And for another thing, consider where it is that all sickness and pain in human experience ultimately comes from. It was all introduced into the human family as a result of the sin of our first parents in the garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sinned, they brought the curse of death upon all of their offspring. All of us fell in Adam's sin; and as a result, all of us suffer the "pains" and "sicknesses" that are the consequences of sin - not only spiritually, but also physically.
And Jesus died on the cross to 'take' the 'infirmities' of our sins away from us, and to 'bear' the 'sicknesses' of our sins on our behalf. God made "Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). And the visible proof that He was a merciful Savior, who was going to completely take away the moral and spiritual consequences of Adam's sin, was seen in the way that He was able to completely take away even the physical consequences Adam's of sin and fall - that is, the physical illnesses that Adam's offspring suffered under ever since.
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Do you remember the story of how Jesus healed a paralyzed man? Jesus was in a very crowded house; and some friends of a paralyzed man brought him to Jesus for healing, but they couldn't get him in to Jesus. So, they peeled off the roof, made a hole in the ceiling, and lowered him down to Jesus by ropes. When Jesus saw the faith of the man's friends, He said to the paralyzed man, "Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you" (Matthew 9:2). The religious leaders who heard this were very upset, and thought that Jesus blasphemed! "Who can forgive sins but God?", they thought.
But Jesus was able to forgive the man's sins because, in mercy, He was going to pay the death penalty for his sins on the cross. And so, knowing the thoughts of the religious leaders, Jesus said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you.' or to say, 'Arise and walk?' But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" - then He said to the paralytic, "Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house" (vv. 4-6). And the man got up and walked out to his house!
In other words, Jesus' display of mercy in healing people of their sicknesses was simply a way of proving His power to take away the thing that caused all the sickness in the first place - the curse of Adam's sin. This gives us a view of Jesus' mercy at its widest possible expanse! His merciful acts of physical healing were simply His way of giving 'advanced notice' that He was going to perform the merciful act of healing our spirits by permanently taking away the guilt of our sin! And so, when we read what the Bible tells us about all of His saints finally glorified and in heaven with Him - when we read of Jesus' great work of salvation finally completed - we read that "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (Rev. 21:4).
What mercy! And what a merciful Savior! He is merciful to save to the uttermost! His mercy is unlimited in its reach!
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My wife has been sharing with me from a book she has recently read. It's a classic book of Russian spirituality titled, "The Way of A Pilgrim". No one knows who wrote it; but it's the story of a Russian peasant who traveled along the countryside and sought to learn how to 'pray without ceasing'. In time, he was taught to pray what he learned to call "the ceaseless Jesus Prayer".
He was told, "The ceaseless Jesus Prayer is a continuous, uninterrupted call on the holy name of Jesus Christ with the lips, mind and heart; and in the awareness of His abiding presence it is a plea for His blessing in all undertakings, in all places, at all times, even in sleep. The words of the Prayer are: 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!' Anyone who becomes accustomed to this Prayer will experience great comfort as well as the need to say it continuously. He will become accustomed to it to such a degree that he will not be able to do without it and eventually the Prayer itself will flow in him." 2.
My wife and I have been talking much about that simple prayer for Jesus' wonderful mercy. The words of the prayer are not the important thing; but the trust in and appeal to our Savior's mercy is!
And this morning, as we have - like pilgrims ourselves - climbed this particular scriptural 'peak' together, we've gotten a greater view of the vastness of Jesus mercy! His mercy is more than sufficient for anyone who calls out to Him. It's personal enough to touch you and me with His love and compassion as individuals. But it's also diverse enough to meet every need you or I could ever have. And what's more, it's unlimited enough to move Him to go to the absolute limit for us - that is, to die on the cross for us, and take away all our sins, and make us fit to live in heaven with Him for all of eternity - if we will just turn to Him, and trust Him, and humbly say, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!"
May this simple prayer express cry of our hearts more and more! May we lean increasingly on the personal, diverse and unlimited mercy of Jesus our Savior! How vast and sufficient it is!
1See Philip H. Towner, Walter A. Elwell, ed., Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), pp. 521-2.
2Helen Bacovcin, trans., The Way of A Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way (New York: Doubleday, 1992), p. 18.
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