In this period of Lent, the forty days before Easter, we are looking at major emphases in the ministry of Jesus. Elliot talked about Jesus getting away to pray on a regular basis. If we want to be more like Jesus, then we too need to take time to get away.
Last week I talked about healing and how this was a normal, daily part of the life and ministry of Jesus. There was no need to have a healing rally or a healing Sunday. Jesus taught and as he taught people came to him for healing and to be delivered from demons. Jesus walked along the road and people called out to him for healing.
If we want to be more like Jesus, then we need to learn from him about praying for healing. Healing is not in the possession of those who stand on a stage; praying for healing needs to be part of what every follower of Jesus does.
As part of my research for this sermon, this past Tuesday afternoon, I went down in the valley to get more rocks for the base of a fountain in our front yard. I carried three bags of rocks from the valley to the car and Wednesday morning woke up with a painfully sore back. I have barely been able to walk the rest of the week. I need prayers for healing of my back – and, I suppose, prayers to be a bit wiser. Carrying a couple hundred pounds of rocks on my back is not something I should be doing at my age – especially because I had two back operations when I was young.
I had lunch with a friend on Thursday and he prayed before we ate. I asked him if he would also pray for my back and he did. My back was still sore afterwards but there was a marked improvement in my flexibility. I asked him to pray for me because this sermon was on my mind, but praying for each other when we suffer from some physical or emotional pain should be something we do all the time. As with last week, my goal is to demystify healing and encourage more prayers for healing.
Preaching a sermon on healing raises the level of interest in a way that preaching a sermon on faith, for example, does not. There is a lot of emotion behind what we think about healing. It is a controversial topic and the reason it is such a controversial topic is because it has such a dramatic impact.
This is illustrated by what happened in the first eight days of the public ministry of Jesus. Jesus went to Nazareth, his hometown, and announced the beginning of his ministry. He was rejected by the people he had grown up with and left for Capernaum, a town forty-eight kilometers away on the side of the Sea of Galilee.
On the following Sabbath, eight days later, Jesus went into the synagogue of Capernaum and while he was teaching, (Mark 1:23-28)
a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
Casting out a demon is a dramatic event that people talk about. Elliot talked about a couple women in the church who laid hands on a woman who was possessed and she was delivered. The other students who observed this have continued to talk about this experience. It is not something that is easily forgotten.
The news about what Jesus had done spread quickly. As soon as the service at the synagogue was finished, people went into the streets and talked about what they had witnessed. The people they talked to talked with others and soon the whole region of Galilee had heard about what Jesus had done. What was the result?
Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon (later called Peter) and his brother Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever and they immediately told her about what Jesus had done. Jesus healed her and then (Mark 1:32-34)
32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
So in the morning Jesus cast out a demon at the service at the synagogue and that night people streamed to the house where he was staying.
If we were to pray today and someone who was blind regained their sight or someone who was lame regained the use of their legs, what would you do after church? What would you tell people about this afternoon and this coming week? How would next Sunday at RIC be different than this Sunday? Would we have more people in church than normal? Would there be anyone else asking for healing? If there were other dramatic healings that Sunday, the police would have to be called on following Sundays to deal with the crowd of people coming for healing.
Healing is a dramatic gift and for this reason it is controversial and is easily abused.
I talked last Sunday about a Biblical way to approach prayers for healing.
First, our struggles with illness and deformities are used by God in positive ways to help us grow in faith.
Second, this means that the development of our faith is far more important than being healed from any physical problem. Healing, when we want healing, could prevent God from growing our faith.
Third, healing in the kingdom of God began almost 2,000 years ago as the ministry of Jesus broke into the suffering of this world.
Fourth, every follower of Jesus will be healed from any and every illness or deformity.
Fifth, this means then that the question for healing is not if I will be healed, but when will I be healed.
With this as a foundation, let me make some additional comments about healing.
In his commentary on Acts, Peter Wagner points out that signs and wonders build the quantity of the church but not the quality of the church. One is not better than the other; both are needed, but it is important that we see the difference.
The quality of the church was built in Acts 1 when the believers met to pray.
The quantity of the church grew in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples in spectacular fashion.
The quality of the church was built in Acts 2 as the church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
The quantity of the church grew in Acts 3 when a lame man was healed.
The quality of the church was built in Acts 4 as the believers prayed and shared their material possessions.
The quantity of the church grew in Acts 5 as many were healed by the apostles.
The quality of the church was built in Acts 6 as the early church was reorganized to care for those in need.
A miraculous healing draws a lot of attention. People come rushing to see what has happened and to see what will happen next. There may even be a large number of people who say they want to become followers of Jesus. But what happens when there is a cost to be paid for following Jesus? What happens when some level of resistance or persecution comes? People who come to Jesus because of the thrill and excitement of healing may not persevere when it is time to pay the cost.
Miracles, signs, and wonders work on the surface. They draw our attention. But if we are to persevere in faith, we need a far deeper work of God in our lives. Signs and wonders attract attention but what is needed is teaching, preaching, discipleship, and prayer that takes those who follow Jesus into a deeper relationship with Jesus that can withstand the storms that will inevitably come.
This leads to a second point: There is a big difference between being healed and becoming a follower of Jesus.
When we read the gospels and the book of Acts and someone is named, it is a clue that this person was a member of the early church. So, for example, when we read in Luke 23:26 about Jesus carrying his cross there is a name that is mentioned.
As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.
There is some speculation that this is the same Simon who is mentioned in Acts 13 as one of the teachers in Antioch. The point is that Simon was known to the early church and this account of carrying the cross of Jesus was his personal, eyewitness testimony.
So in Mark 10 we read about the healing of Bartimaeus. Mark 10:46–52
46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
Bartimaeus was healed by Jesus and followed him. He persevered in his following of Jesus after his death and resurrection and was an eyewitness in the early church to the love and power of Jesus that had healed him.
Two chapters earlier Jesus healed another man who was blind. (Mark 8:22–26)
They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”
Here there is no mention of the man’s name. Does this mean he did not become a follower of Jesus? What we can infer is that Mark and Peter did not know this man as a member of the early church. This is not conclusive, but it opens the possibility that he did not persevere as a follower of Jesus.
Consider the account of ten lepers being healed by Jesus. (Luke 17:11–19) As Jesus traveled he met ten men who had leprosy.
They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
Do you remember what happened next?
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Ten were healed but only one came back to Jesus.
It seems clear to me that not all those who were healed by Jesus clung to Jesus after they were healed. In the parable of the soils, Jesus talks about seed being sown on the road, on the rocky ground, on soil with lots of thorns, and on good soil. This parable applied to those who were healed by Jesus as well as others.
Imagine a man who is healed, receives his sight. But in his heart he still carries the bitterness of the way he was treated when he was blind. When he hears the voice of someone who insulted him or stole from him, he rages against that person.
Do you remember the story Jesus told of a man who was forgiven a huge debt and then threw a man into jail who owed him a small debt? He was forgiven but his heart was still hard and he was unable to forgive.
To be healed by Jesus or to be forgiven by Jesus does not automatically mean that the heart of that person has been transformed.
Let me give one more example.
Jesus repeatedly went to Capernaum. In Matthew 8 he healed the servant of the centurion. In Mark 1 he cast out a demon in the synagogue and then healed Simon’s mother-in-law and the many who came to the house in the evening. In Mark 2 he healed the man who was paralyzed and lowered through the roof by his friends.
There were many spectacular miracles performed in Capernaum. Many were healed. Many were delivered from demonic possession. But what did Jesus have to say about Capernaum at the end of his ministry? (Matthew 11:23–24)
And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.
The miracles that were performed in Capernaum did not have the desired effect. They did not lead to faith in Jesus and so Jesus pronounced his judgment against Capernaum.
Remember that Jesus forgave the man who was paralyzed and lowered down through the roof. Only afterwards, to show that he had the power to forgive sin did Jesus heal the man.
We can place so much emphasis on healing that we miss the greater miracle, which is a heart that is healed and turns to follow Jesus.
Third, beware of the idolatry of healing.
Healing is a tool God uses to build his kingdom, but it is a sharp and dangerous tool. We have to be careful with how we use this gift.
What is our focus? Do we want to see Jesus? Or do we want to be healed? Do we want to see Jesus? Or do we want the thrill of seeing a miracle? When word got out that Jesus had cast out a demon in the synagogue of Capernaum, people rushed to the home where Jesus was staying so they could be healed. Great crowds followed Jesus wherever he went. When Jesus came into a town everyone came to see what he would do. There was no television, no radio, no internet. Jesus was entertainment. Jesus broke the monotony of the day. Jesus gave people something to talk about. Not all those in the crowd that followed Jesus were serious about following Jesus.
In the idolatry of healing we can be like King Herod. Herod was bored. Elaborate plates of delicious food and goblets of wine no longer excited him. The sensual pleasures of his life were routine. So when Pilate sent Jesus to him this was a welcome diversion. (Luke 23:8–9)
When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.
In the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” Herod sings:
So you are the Christ you’re the great Jesus Christ
Prove to me that you’re divine – change my water into wine
That’s all you need to do then I’ll know it’s all true
C’mon King of the Jews
Prove to me that you’re no fool – walk across my swimming pool
If you do that for me then I’ll let you go free
C’mon King of the Jews
We need to examine our motives for healing. What are we looking for? Are we looking for the thrill of seeing a miracle? Are we looking for a healing? Are we looking for proof that Jesus is God? Or are we looking for a deeper, more intimate relationship with Jesus.
The prostitute who came to Jesus when he was eating, washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and then anointed them with perfumed oil was not looking for anything from Jesus. She only wanted to love Jesus. She ignored the critical judgment of the others at the table and focused only on Jesus.
That is the kind of follower Jesus wants us to be. When many followers of Jesus left him because of the hardness of his teaching, Jesus asked his inner core of twelve disciples’ (John 6:67–68)
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
We follow Jesus because he has the words of eternal life. We follow Jesus because we are loved by him and love him in return. We follow Jesus because we have nowhere else to go.
In our idolatry of healing we can be drawn to healing because of the power and prestige it brings to be the bearer of such a gift.
Simon Magus, a sorcerer and magician in Samaria observed Philip as he (Acts 8:12-13)
proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
Peter and John came from Jerusalem when they heard the news of what was happening in Samaria. (Acts 8:15-23)
When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
From time to time I receive emails from someone who wants to come to our church because they have “a powerful ministry of healing and deliverance.” My response is usually to tell them that if they really had a powerful ministry of healing and deliverance, they would not need to promote themselves. In these emails and sometimes in personal contact I do not sense humility. What I sense is someone who is very full of himself. I sense someone who has put himself up on a pedestal as the bearer of a powerful gift.
When we pray for healing and when we think about praying for healing, we imagine what it would be like if God healed someone we prayed for. Someone who could not walk would begin to walk. Someone who could not see would regain their sight. Someone dying of cancer would be healed and have no trace of cancerous cells.
As we imagine what it would be like we think about ourselves. We imagine how it will be when everyone sees me use this powerful gift. People will not ignore me. When I come into a room people will sit up and pay attention to me. We will, of course be humble, but it will feel wonderful to be so respected and looked up to.
There are some people who make a lot of money from healing ministries. John Wimber who had a dynamic ministry of healing said,
I have made it a matter of policy never to accept gifts for healing. Greed and materialism are perhaps the most common cause of the undoing of many men and women with a healing ministry…When I pray over people for God to release the healing ministry, I always instruct them never to accept money for healing.
There is the need for continual humbling for those involved in a ministry of healing. We need to be careful that we do not seek the gift of healing so that we can be elevated and lifted up. We need to be reflective and examine our motives for praying for healing. Are we focused on Jesus? Are we hungry for power and acclaim? Healing is a tool God uses to build his kingdom, but it is a sharp and dangerous tool. So we have to be careful with this gift.
As I come to the end of this sermon, I want to encourage you to pray for healing. Don’t be turned off by the abuses of the gift of healing. All the gifts of the Holy Spirit are sometimes abused, but that does not mean we reject them. Pray for God’s gift of healing to be unleashed as the church expands into new territory.
As you pray for healing for someone, here is where you can start. There is no magic formula. There are no magic words. You can use oil or not use oil. Oil does not heal. The words you say do not heal. It is Jesus who heals and if it is his will that now is the time for healing, he will not wait for you to get all your syllables in order before he acts.
Here is what you can do: pray for a heart that is filled with compassion for those who are physically and emotionally injured. Healing comes out of compassion. Let that be your starting point. Read through the gospels and see how often compassion is mentioned in the actions of Jesus. (Matthew 9:36–38)
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Evangelism begins with compassion and so does healing begin with compassion.
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
33 “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”
34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the father waited for his son to return. (Luke 15:20)
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
Compassion is the starting point for the work of God in the world and it needs to be the starting point for our actions as well.
So don’t practice your healing prayers. Don’t memorize five steps of evangelism. Draw close to Jesus and take on the heart of Jesus for the world. Jesus does not want people to come into the church so the church will grow; Jesus wants people to come into the church because it is where they can be rescued and fed.
Jesus doesn’t want people to be healed so he can show he is more powerful than any other gods; Jesus wants people to be healed because his heart is full of compassion and he wants them to be whole.
Forget all about a powerful ministry of healing and deliverance. Take on the heart of Jesus for the world and then pray as he leads you. With a heart full of compassion, pray. Relax. You are not the one who heals. Pray as you are led to pray and then allow God to do what he will do.