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“The Question of Sickness”
Mark 1:29-34


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany—February 5, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In this morning’s Gospel Reading, Jesus miraculously heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever, and he also heals “many who were sick with various diseases.”  During these winter months, many of us are afflicted with various sicknesses.  Most of these are not too serious; they usually fall into the category of minor irritations, and soon we are in good health again.  But, sometimes, we or a loved one suffer from a more serious sickness or other affliction.  Then we often ask the question “Why?”  Why do people get sick?  Why have I or my loved one gotten this sickness?  You are invited to follow along on the bulletin insert as we look at “The Question of Sickness.”

Point #1) The Phenomenon of Human Sickness is a Consequence of Humanity’s Fall into Sin.

Greek mythology explained sicknesses and the other maladies of our world with the story of Pandora’ box.   Evil was trapped in this box by the gods, and Pandora was warned not to open it.  But, she couldn’t resist the temptation just to peek inside, and when she lifted the lid, evil, and with it such bad things such as sickness, came into our world.

I think it is not just a coincidence that the story of Pandora’s box sounds a lot like the Bible’s account of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.  It’s NOT that the Bible borrowed from pagan mythology—it’s the other way around.  All of humanity has a common ancestry from Adam and Eve, and therefore a common memory going back to that tragic event in the Garden of Eden.  The Bible is reporting the real, historical facts, God’s inspired record of what actually happened.  But, although pagan mythology has turned things around a bit, the essential facts have been passed down and preserved even in the story of Pandora’s box.

There are sicknesses and other maladies in our world because humanity brought them into our world by disobeying God.  The Lord warned Adam and Eve regarding the forbidden fruit, “when you eat of it you will surely die.”  Not that they would die immediately, but that the phenomenon of death would be introduced into our world.  Without humanity’s fall into sin there would be no death, and no sickness.  We are still suffering the consequences of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God.  As Paul says in Romans, “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men.”

Point #2) God Never Sends Specific Illnesses Upon Christians as a Punishment

Paul continues in Romans, “Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.  For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”  Of course, the “one man” through whom we are made righteous, by his obedience, is Jesus Christ.  His sacrifice on the cross was the “one act of righteousness” that brings “justification” and “life for all men.”

As Hebrews says, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  You are right with God, because his Son suffered the punishment for you.  Your sins are all forgiven, you have been made holy in God’s sight by his Son’s sacrifice; trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior.

But, because we live in a world in which our daily lives are governed by rewards and punishments, when something bad happens, especially something we even call an “act of God,” like sickness, which it seems only God has control over, our first reaction is to assume God must be punishing us.  The Gospel of John reports an incident that reflects this human tendency: “As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’”  Notice how the disciples just assume that someone’s specific sin must be the cause of this man’s condition.  But, Jesus sets them straight: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

While it is true that humanity’s fall into sin is the overall cause of all human sickness, God NEVER sends specific illnesses upon Christians as a punishment.  When Jesus died on the cross he said, “It is finished.”  Your sickness simply cannot be a punishment, because there is no more punishment left for you to suffer; Jesus Christ paid it all, for you, on the cross: “It is finished.”

Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not counting men’s sins against them.”   As a Christian, your sickness absolutely cannot ever be a direct divine punishment, because your sins are not counted against you!  Today’s Introit from Psalm 103 says explicitly, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. . .  as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”  Paul says in Romans, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  God never sends specific illnesses upon Christians as a punishment, because you are at peace with God, through your Lord Jesus Christ.

Point #3) Miraculous Healings Are Possible

James directs us to, “pray for one another, that you may be healed.”  Many scientific studies have actually demonstrated the healing power of prayer.  One study divided heart patients into two groups.  Totally unknown to the heart patients themselves, one group had prayers said on their behalf, the other didn’t.  Those who were prayed for had significantly faster and better recoveries.

“Pray for one another, that you may be healed.”  Miraculous healings definitely are possible.  But, it is also important to note that Scripture nowhere promises that every disease and infirmity will be healed miraculously.  I remember a case when a minister of another denomination visited a member of a previous congregation in the hospital, a woman who was terminally ill.  He was the minister at her son’s church, and at the son’s request he came and performed a so-called miraculous healing upon her.  When it didn’t work, the minister proclaimed it was the terminally ill woman’s fault, because she supposedly didn’t have enough faith.  If only she enough faith, he said, then it was guaranteed God would heal her. 

But, St. Paul the Apostle himself says that he had some kind of severe, persistent illness, so painful he calls it “a thorn in my flesh.”  And Paul says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”  Certainly St. Paul did not have a lack of faith.  So God does not promise that every disease and infirmity will be healed miraculously.

Point #4) Medicine Is Also God’s Instrument of Healing

You may remember a few years when a Hollywood couple’s teenage son died from an easily treatable disease.  His famous parents are members of a cult, and they refused to get him medical attention because the cult forbids it.  There are various cults, churches, and denominations that forbid their members to seek medical help. 

But, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  Although it was not the main point that statement, with those words Jesus does affirm the use of physicians, and he affirms that the sick, as a rule, need a doctor. 

Luke, the author of the Gospel and the Book of Acts, was himself a doctor.  It’s probably no accident that Luke became one of the traveling companions and close assistants of the Apostle Paul; Paul had some severe illness, and the Lord provided Luke to serve as his personal physician.

If someone says to you that seeking medical attention shows a lack of faith in the Lord’s healing powers, just ask them if they eat.  Does eating show a lack of faith in the Lord’s sustaining powers?  Surely its possible that God could keep you alive without eating.  But, God normally works through means.  Just as farmers and food are the means God uses to sustain our bodies, physicians and medicine are the means God uses to heal our bodies.

Point # 5) God Is Lovingly Working Together All Things, Even Bad Things Like Sicknesses, for Your Good

Paul says in Romans, “And we know that God is working all things together for the good of those who love him.”  “All things” includes both good things and bad things.  Usually, we cannot understand how something like a sickness fits into God’s plan.  But, by faith we trust that he is working all things together, even bad things, for our good.

As Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are preparing us for an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Point #6) Heaven Is the Ultimate Cure for What Ails You

The Bible describes heaven mostly in terms of what it will not be like: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  In heaven there will be no bodily ailments, no sickness, no disease, no infirmities, for as Paul says in Philippians, “He will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

That is our true source of comfort and strength in all the trials of this life, including sickness: the hope we have of relief and blessedness in the life to come.  As Paul says in Romans, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.”

Amen.

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