Jun 2, 2011

The Biblical Basis For Healing

I never thought I'd write this message. I'm grateful and humbled to have the opportunity to share with my friends these thoughts on a subject I so dearly love. As a former atheist, I'm the last person anyone would expect to write about divine healing. Even as a Christian, I was skeptical of the miraculous for years. But one night, all that changed as God appeared to this skeptic and said,

"Yes, I still heal and I'm going to use you to do it."

As Christians, we're instructed to carry the gospel of grace to the world as Jesus and His disciples did. Wherever the gospel goes it's to be confirmed by demonstrations of God's power. (See Mark 16:20 and Acts 14:3) One of those demonstrations is healing. When I became interested in healing, I noticed something I'd never seen in the gospels before. Jesus healed a lot of people. That's not a big secret, but it's easy to miss just exactly how many people he actually healed. As I studied His life, I realized that there wasn't much else Jesus did that we could call 'ministry'. He taught in the synagogues and preached the kingdom as people followed him. But He spent an enormous amount of time engaged in and teaching people about healing. The more I studied His life, the more I knew there was something important missing from mine.

The Old Testament is rich with passages that taught God's people about His character and nature. Each of God's names describes something about Him that was unknown to them at the time. In Exodus 15:26, God revealed that one of His attributes concerned healing:

“If you listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”

God revealed dozens of things about himself through His names. Now He wanted them to know that along with being Jehovah Jireh (the Lord who provides) and Jehovah Shalom (the Lord who is their peace) He was also Jehovah Rapha - the Lord who healed them. Healing is one of God's unchanging attributes, for God's plans may change, but He himself never changes. (Mal 3:6) If God's nature was to heal then, He is still our healer today.

Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many. His death demonstrated God's unconditional love for us and His desire to forgive. He came to reconcile those who were alienated and redeem that which was lost. He came to teach those who lived in darkness. And He came to reveal the Father's heart to His creation. Nowhere is the father's abundant mercy and compassion more clearly seen than in the healing miracles performed by the Rabbi who called himself the 'son of man'.

When Jesus suffered beating and death on the cross, he not only obtained salvation for us, but He obtained our healing from sickness and death. In Isaiah 53:5, the prophet declared the things the Lord would suffer and how His suffering would benefit us:

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

With His suffering and death, Jesus purchased our healing. But healing, like forgiveness, must be obtained by those who want it. In the same way we are given the ministry of reconciliation, whereby we assist others in being reconciled to God, we’re also ministers of healing, whereby we help others to obtain mercy from God in the form of healing. God has always used man as His agent to enforce His will upon the earth.

In John chapter 5, we read that Jesus did nothing of himself, but only what He saw His Father doing. Apparently, Papa was into healing; Jesus healed everywhere he went, even when it got him in trouble. He healed all who came to Him. No one was turned away. It was often said that all the sick from the villages were brought to him and He healed them all. I find that incredible. It was God's will to heal anyone who wanted it.

In healing the multitudes, it's likely that he healed a few people who thought sickness was part of God's plan for them and others who believed they had something to learn from their disability. Healing destroys these ideas. Jesus brought the kingdom of God to earth and wherever the kingdom goes, it destroys belief systems that are opposed to it. In life we will have tribulation. God allows our character to be refined through testing. Jesus didn't miraculously solve all the problems of those he ministered to, but He always healed the sick, raised the dead and cast out demons - without exception. One might argue that God uses hardship for a divine purpose, but it's hard to demonstrate from scripture that sickness is a part of that process.

The life of Job is often used as an illustration of how sickness can be used by God for His divine purpose. That debate won't be settled here. But I would like to mention one undeniable truth that came from Job's experiences. The agent of Job's affliction was revealed to be Satan - not God. Jesus said He came to give life and that more abundantly. He then said that it was the thief who came to steal, kill and destroy. (John 10:10) Jesus is the agent of life and Satan is the agent of death. In calling His enemy a thief, He revealed that Satan's activities are unauthorized or illegal. The fact that stealing is illegal, doesn’t stop people from committing robbery. There are agents authorized to fight that illegal activity. Sickness is likewise illegal and unauthorized. That doesn't prevent the enemy from breaking the law and causing sickness. In the same way police fight crime, which is illegal, we are commissioned to fight sickness. Healing is a matter of enforcing God's laws and His kingdom on the earth.

Healing is an act of mercy on the part of God, to relieve suffering, pain and even premature death. It comes to us through grace, which is freely given to all who accept it. In the same way that salvation is freely given and not earned, healing is freely given. In other notes, I discuss why it seems that God doesn't want everyone healed.

Jesus taught His disciples to heal by example. After choosing the twelve, He gave them power and authority to heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead and preach the gospel. (See Matt. 10) That was their commission. A short time later, He commissioned the seventy with the same instructions. Their task was to travel through the towns of Israel, meet strangers, build relationships and if they found any who were sick, demon-possessed or dead, they were to fix the problem and preach the kingdom of heaven. In regard to healing, there were no illnesses or people excluded. The only restriction was geographic; they had to remain in Israel's borders, because the gospel went to the Jews before the Gentiles. This was what Jesus intended His church activities to look like. As amazing as the ministry of Jesus was, He told his disciples, they would do even greater things:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. (John 14:12)

The most common objection to modern healing is the doctrine of cessationism, which teaches that miracles and manifestations of the Holy Spirit ended with the death of the original apostles or a few centuries later when the New Testament cannon of scripture was established.

Some point to the fact that early church leaders suffered illness. They use this as evidence of a decreasing emphasis on healing as the gospel spread and that once the gospel had been preached sufficiently, there was no more need for confirmation by signs and wonders. A similar idea is that once the New Testament cannon had been established, there was no further need for the miraculous.

This line of reasoning is flawed in a couple of ways. First, it assumes that the only benefit of healing is to confirm the message of the gospel. The truth is; healing is an observable demonstration of God’s character. God is merciful and part of His nature is to heal the sick. We see what the invisible God is like when we witness the miracle of healing. If God stopped healing, would we not conclude that His nature had changed?

The second problem with cessationism is that its adherents make a series of assumptions; none of which are supported in scripture itself. A cornerstone of cessationism is the observation that sickness was present among early church leaders. From this they infer that healing began to decline, causing the church to live with sickness as the ‘apostolic age’ came to a close. But the narrative passages mentioning the illnesses of Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus don’t elaborate on whether their illnesses were chronic or acute or if they were eventually healed. There is no direct teaching to support the assumption that healing decreased in the early church.

The third problem for cessationism is that healing miracles, including resurrections are still happening today. Iris ministries based in Zimbabwe, has documented hundreds of resurrections while bringing the good news to the most impoverished nation in the world. If healing had ceased centuries ago, this would be impossible.

Many denominations in the church still deny healing today. Religious traditions die hard. The major hurdle for most of us is daring to believe the word of God instead of what well – meaning leaders tell us. It’s a process of renewing our minds to the plain truth of scripture and lining up our hearts with the heart of the Father.

The other issue is identity. Many of us believe we are powerless sinners, saved by grace; unworthy of the high calling to heal the sick and raise the dead. God has given us power and authority, but we’ve never seen that power in action. We’re called to be God’s ambassadors, enforcing His victory over sickness and death, but we’ve never seen a common cold healed. We are commissioned to cast out demons, but our friends and family suffer the torment of the demonic as we watch in helplessness. God has given every believer authority and power to conquer all these things. What we’ve done in the past does not dictate what we’ll do in the future. We are more than conquerors and we are the ones who must enforce the victory Jesus won for us at the cross.

I once stood opposed to God, but now I'm His servant and friend. I once was opposed to healing, but now God heals through me almost daily. At times He has healed people I haven't even prayed for. His presence follows me, his Spirit works in me and His loves flows through me to all whom He loves. Once you put your feet upon the path of healing like I have, you'll never want to live any other way.

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