Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases. (Psalm 103:2-3)
In my previous post, I stated that the gospels make it clear that preaching and healing in the name of Jesus go hand in hand. Proclamation of the good news (the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe) is accompanied by signs (healings and other miraculous events) which provide evidence that the message is trustworthy.
The members of the early church continued with this pattern, which Jesus set for his followers, of preaching and healing. Luke records for us in the Acts of the Apostles how Peter and John healed, in the name of Jesus, a man who was lame from birth. And they went on to preach to all the people who gathered around the man in astonishment. However, in the middle of their sermon, the priests, the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came upon the two apostles and arrested them. Although they were
eventually released, before they were let go Peter and James were commanded by the Jewish authorities not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus (4:18).
Afterwards, the Christian community gathered to pray with these apostles and in their prayer they petitioned God to “enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (4:29-30) Think about what might happen if we were to include this petition in our prayers when we gather for worship!
However, in most mainline and non-denominational churches today
the second part of the charge Jesus gave his followers – heal the sick – seldom accompanies the preaching of the good news. When I was a student in seminary twenty-eight years ago, I could choose from several classes on preaching, but not one class was offered on healing. It never occurred to me the two went together (even though I had thoroughly read the Bible) and my seminary professors never mentioned this point. Only within the past year – after I was stricken with cancer and began to search the Scriptures for God’s word about sickness and disease – have I come to see that preaching and healing both convey the message, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
So at what point did the Christian church lose sight of the relationship between preaching and healing in proclaiming the good news? And why has the charge to go forth and heal in Jesus’ name been largely forgotten? These questions are important yet the answers to them are not easy to sum up in the space allotted here. However, I will attempt to provide a few thoughts for consideration.
“…enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30)
First, there has been a subtle, but pervasive, notion among Christians since medieval times that life on this side of the resurrection is supposed to be unpleasant and filled with hardship. Therefore, one must accept a physical ailment as a “cross to bear.” (See Matthew 16:24) However, the “cross” which Jesus declared every follower of his must be prepared to bear concerns the hardships and persecution they will encounter because they carry on his work of preaching and healing. The apostle Paul and his helpers shed some light on what it means to bear a cross. They were cruelly thrown in prison and bound in chains, whipped to within an inch of their lives and deprived of shelter and food because they refused to stop proclaiming the kingdom of God has come near through Jesus Christ. However, they would not have accepted sickness as a cross to bear. Instead, they would have called upon Jesus to heal them, just as they called upon Jesus to heal the people to whom they preached.
A second point to consider is that many of the reformers elevated preaching above all else the church did in Jesus’ name. Furthermore, some reformation Christian groups began
to teach that the “miraculous” gifts of the Holy Spirit, which would include the gifts of healings (note the word in Greek is plural; 1 Corinthians 12:8), were only given to the church for use while the twelve apostles were alive. The idea that signs and miracles ended with the death of the apostles is called, “Cessationism.”
Yet, Jesus gave the charge to heal as well as preach and there is no reason to think we shouldn’t do both in his name today. But, we cannot do either without the Holy Spirit. The gifts the Holy Spirit gives, both ordinary and miraculous, as well as the Spirit’s impartation of Jesus’ power and authority, are needed in every age in order to do what Jesus called his apostles and followers to do (See Luke 9:12 and 10:1, 9).
However, some people think that passages in Scripture in which the terms, “healing” and “sickness” are used (see Matthew 8:17, Psalms 103:3 and 107:20, Jeremiah 30:17, and 1 Peter 2:24, for example) address spiritual healing, only, and not the physical healing of the body. Furthermore, some theologians believe that while the healing of the soul and spirit can occur in this life, Christians cannot expect their bodies to be healed by Jesus until they are resurrected in heaven.
Yet, the Greek and Hebrew words for healing and sickness in the passages mentioned above all refer to physical, as well as spiritual, healing and give no indication that one form of healing is for this life and another for the life to come. So, while we will all eventually die, there is no reason to think that those who believe in Jesus Christ, and call upon him to heal, cannot go on to live their life well into old age, without succumbing to a debilitating disease. Jesus came to overcome and heal the effects of sin, evil and death in this life (in spirit, soul and body) and to win for us eternal life with God, where our healings will be complete and permanent.
Lastly, if physical healing was supposed to be rare and unexpected in this life, then why did Jesus’ brother, James, give clear instructions in his epistle for the healing of those who are sick? James wrote, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” He concluded his instructions about healing with the following: “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” (James 5:14-15) What this tells me is that James expected those who were physically sick to be made well by the Lord, when the elders of the church, filled with faith that Jesus can and will heal, called upon Jesus to do so with the laying on of hands and anointing with oil. If we say that the rest of James’ instructions apply to us, in this day and age, then this one does, too.
Next Tuesday (or the one after that): What did Jesus mean when he said, “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15) – and what does that have to do with healing?