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The Healing Promise
Does God heal today, and how do we understanding healing?
Mark 6:53 to 56
Dr. C Everett Koop, when Surgeon General of the United States hired an investigative writer to examine the claims of faith healers. What they discovered was cruel, if not abusive. With the announcement of a coming healing campaign, people were encouraged to apply for the opportunity to be healed. Among those who applied for healing was an elderly Christian man who lived out on the prairie. His vision was becoming dim, and he most likely was developing cataracts. The only lighting in the little cabin where he lived was a kerosene lamp.
He was a devout Christian, read his Bible daily, or tried to, and had all the faith necessary for healing, if faith indeed does secure healing. His major complaint was that his sight had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer read his Bible. On the night of his appearance before the healer, the old man was brought up in the atmosphere of a sideshow. The faith healer said, “Well, Pop, you can’t see anymore. You’ve gotten old–you can’t even see with your glasses. Your vision is failing.”
Then he reached over and took off the old man’s spectacles, threw them on the platform, stamped on them and broke them. He then handed the elderly gentleman a large-print Bible, which under the lights necessary for television in those days enabled the gentleman to read John 3:16 out loud to the astonishment and applause of the audience.
The elderly gentleman praised God, the healer praised God, the audience praised God, and the old man went back to his dimly lit cabin. But when he returned, he could not find his Bible because his glasses were destroyed. The man went back to the healer, but was told the most discouraging thing a godly man like that could possibly hear: “You didn’t have enough faith, or the healing would have stuck.”
This raises the question of healing today. From Mark 6, we’re going to witness Jesus healing hundreds today, but before we get to the passage in our verse-by-verse study, I want to look at what the New Testament teaches about healing. I’ve studied the New Testament, many journal articles and resources, and am indebted to Dr. Mayhue for his fine book called, The Healing Promise. Let me affirm, God can and does heal today.
God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, and always as He pleases–and if He pleases to heal, then there will be healing. But God does not heal through the gift of healing or through gifted healers today. Yet when God chooses to heal for His glory and our good, He can and will heal.
There is so much misunderstanding over this issue, it’s impossible to address all the errors, though today I will seek to expose some. So much of the error about healing is half-truths embraced and spouted by many–so much so that some of them may be embraced by you. Maybe you’ve heard or believe these errant half-truths—listen:
because . . .
God wills that Christians enjoy His blessings, sickness shows that you are out of His will
sin is the root cause of sickness, therefore you must resist sickness as you would sin
since Christ died for your sickness and your sin, you can be freed from both
if you had enough faith, you would be healed
what you confess is what you possess, so talk sickness and you will get sick–talk health and you will get well
all adversity comes from Satan, so sickness like Satan should be rebuked
if you only knew the secret fact of God’s healing power, you could be healed
since Christ and the apostles healed in their day, Christians can heal today
since sickness is from Satan, nothing good can come from sickness
since God wants you well, never pray, “Thy will be done” in regard to healing
since sin is the cause of sickness, if you are sick then you have a pattern of sin in your life
God has healed you, but the devil is not letting the symptoms leave
So what is the truth? By way of lengthy introduction . . .
First There are legitimate healings in the Bible
Healing is noticeable in the Old Testament (scattered over a 4,000 year period). Healing is overwhelming in the gospels (in a three-and-a-half year period). Healing is occasional in Acts (in a thirty-year period), and healing is negligible in the epistles (in a forty-year period). From that simple observation, it seems reasonable to assume that miraculous healing by direct human intervention ceased when the apostolic age ended.
And all the few intermittent, alleged healings recorded by a few Early Church historians do not match the biblical record in regard to the miraculous quality of instant, total, and undeniable healing we find loaded in the gospels, and occasionally in Acts, and a few in the epistles. In the Old Testament, you’ll find God afflicting people more than He healed them physically. Though God did heal occasionally, at the same time many of His chosen remained ill, like Isaac, Jacob and Elijah, and others were cured like Moses, Job and Daniel.
In the New Testament, never in human history have so many people been healed from such a multitude of diseases in so short a time as during Christ’s three-plus year public ministry. This outburst of healings has never been repeated. Christ’s healing ministry stands truly unique because it remains unequaled today.
Why did Christ heal? Christ’s healing ministry served various purposes, all of them primarily authenticating Jesus as the true Messiah, and proving Christ is God come in the flesh. Though they express the compassion of God toward the hurting, healing miracles were never performed merely for someone’s physical benefit.
In Matthew 8, Christ healed in fulfillment of the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53. In Matthew 9, Christ healed so people would know that Christ had the authority to forgive sins. To authenticate the messianic ministry for the imprisoned John in Matthew 12, Christ healed to fulfill the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 42. In John 9:3, Christ healed so that the works of God might be displayed in the person of Christ. In John 20, Christ healed so that men might believe that Jesus is Christ.
Christ’s healing always had purpose and a direction. Although many, Christ did not perform miracles indiscriminately, nor did He always heal everyone who needed healing. There were others by the pool of Bethsaida who were not healed in John 5. Jesus did not perform signs upon request in Matthew 12, nor would He use His powers to avoid the cross in Matthew 26.
God always directed His miracles toward the purposes of authenticating Christ’s person and purpose. Christ’s healings were immediate, and if it wasn’t instant, the miracle was only a short delay of minutes–never hours or days. Christ even healed some who were not present, but miles away. And Christ used a huge variety of methods–touching, Christ touching others, Christ spitting, touching his cloak, fingers in ears, spoken words, anointing with clay and more.
And in the midst of all this, Christ still approved of doctors. Jesus recognized the normal means of physical healing, which is a doctor and medicine. Matthew 9:12, ”It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are ill.” Luke 10:30 to 37, “The Samaritan used oil, wine, and bandages to help the abandoned Jew.”
But Christ’s healings were always for God’s glory. Although sickness can result directly from personal sin, as evidenced in the Old Testament, nowhere in the gospel accounts does Jesus attribute sickness directly to personal sin. However, Scripture states twice that sickness occurred in order that God could be glorified, like in John 9 with the man with congenital blindness. But all healings were for God’s glory, never for a man or men.
That’s the Old Testament and gospels–what about the New Testament letters? In the Early Church, God used signs, miracles, and wonders to authenticate the apostles and their ministry. Second Corinthians 12:12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” Hebrews 2:4, “God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”
The miraculous actions of these men were primarily to certify they were the approved representatives of Christ. The goal of healing was not merely to heal the saints from an illness. Whether the apostles themselves or those with whom they ministered did the signs, the signs were designed to attest the authority of the apostles as revealers of truth. Acts 2:42 and 43, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.”
Have you considered this? If all Christians are supposed to perform healings and sign gifts, then those deeds could not have served as signs of apostleship (2 Corinthians 12:12).
The signs gave the apostles’ words equal authority with Jesus Himself, for He had chosen them as His spokesmen and the writers of New Testament revelation. So was everything about healing–no! The New Testament shows us. In the midst of occasional healings in Acts and New Testament letters you will also find that medicine was approved.
Paul recognized and recommended medicine. First Timothy 5:23, “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” And there was such a thing as sin-related sickness. In James 5:14 to 20, it outlines the biblical response to severe or untimely physical infirmities that probably, but not necessarily, had their source in God’s chastisement for personal sin.
And you’ll discover in the New Testament that healing declined as the New Testament canon was completed and the apostles died out. Paul’s frequency of healing declined with the passing of time. In Galatians 4 Paul was ill, in Philippians 2 Epaphroditus was ill, in 1 Timothy 5 Timothy was ill, and in 2 Timothy 4 Trophimus was ill–2 Timothy 4:20b, “Trophimus I left sick at Miletus.”
Later letters from John nor Peter mention historical instances of first-century healing in their letters or Revelation. Again, healing is noticeable in the Old Testament (scattered over a 4,000 year period). Healing is overwhelming in the gospels (in a three-and-a-half year period). Healing is occasional in Acts (in a thirty-year period), and healing is negligible in the epistles (in a forty-year period). The apostolic age ended, and miraculous healing by direct human intervention ceased.
Then what about the gift of healing? Listen carefully–there is a danger I could lose you here. How come apostles could sometimes heal and sometimes not? The “gifts of healings” is mentioned only three times in the New Testament, and all three instances appear in 1 Corinthians 12:
Verse 9—“to another gifts of healings”
Verse 28—“God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps”
Verse 30–“All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?”
The verses provide no further explanation of what the manifestations involved–nor does the gift appear in any other New Testament gift list. There is very little biblical evidence to draw from, but several biblical observations/keys may help—listen.
First Both Greek words in the expression “gifts of healings” are plural
The plural surely does not require the gift to be manifest on more than one occasion by the same person, for that would mean “word of wisdom” in 1 Corinthians 12:8 (same context) was only a one-time occurrence. It could be that “gifts” refers to: 1) various methods of healing, 2) various occasions of healing, or 3) various bestowals of the gift. Because there are no other New Testament texts or contexts, no one knows for certain.
“Healings” most likely refer to various afflictions. In the same context, there are other plurals like “effectings of miracles”, “distinguishings of spirits”, and “kinds of tongues”, and this could very well indicate that the manifestations were temporary (one-time only) and had to be renewed by God at His will. This helps us understand the New Testament.
For example, Paul healed multitudes in Acts 19, but he couldn’t heal himself in Galatians 4, nor heal Epaphroditus in Philippians 2, nor Trophimus in 2 Timothy 4. That would also explain why Paul did not direct Timothy to a person with this gift of healing in 1 Timothy 5, but told him to drink a little wine. Someone who had exercised the gift of healings on one occasion would have no reason to suspect that it would be manifested again. God is sovereign–God chooses to heal, not people. This may also explain James 5. In this very early letter (about A.D. 50), James exhorted sick individuals to call for the elders rather than for a person who manifested “gifts of healings.”
THE GIFTS OF HEALINGS
Other than their association with the apostles, the “gifts of healings” rarely appear or function in the New Testament. Only Philip is mentioned specifically in Acts 8. Stephen in Acts 6 and Barnabas in Acts 14 might also have exercised this sign gift. That probably explains why Barnabas, who may have healed others with Paul in Iconium, did not himself heal Paul when he was nearly stoned to death in Lystra later in Acts 14.
The “gifts of healings” seems to be a sign that was given primarily to authenticate the apostles. Therefore it is not surprising to discover its absence from the gifts list of Romans 12 and 1 Peter 4, which are both written later than 1 Corinthians. Once the apostles were authenticated and the Early Church established, the apostolic signs gradually disappeared, for they had served their God-intended purpose.
Neither are we surprised to see the absence of sign gifts from the Pastoral Epistles written by Paul to Timothy and Titus. If those gifts were to be perpetuated, certainly Paul would have mentioned them, especially since Timothy suffered from stomach problems and other frequent afflictions.
If God intended “gifts of healings” to function as something other than a miraculous sign gift, we would expect to see it manifested in the lives of Paul’s numerous associates. But there is not the slightest hint of its appearance after AD 59. An argument from silence alone is not conclusive, but it is one more piece of evidence that needs to be seriously considered, since it is consistent with these other facts.
Most likely, “gifts of healings” involved a temporary sign gift which was used by God to authenticate the apostles, was evidenced sparingly apart from Peter and Paul, was bestowed on a one-time-only basis, and was to be renewed only by God’s sovereign will. Therefore the “gifts of healings” in 1 Corinthians 12:9, 28 and 30 were not intended by God to be operative today.
The temporary nature of the “gifts of healings” does not mean that God is not healing today. God does heal, but He doesn’t use healers, or the spiritual gift of healing today. And think–because the sparse number of healings in the Old Testament and the innumerable healings of Christ did not depend on the “gifts of healings,” neither would divine healing today be dependent on that sign gift.
Yet because the term “gifts of healings” and its context remain so ambiguous, no Christian should ever build a theological case or establish some open idea or practice on such a thin foundation. Those who develop their healing theology for the church today from 1 Corinthians 12, do so only by reading their conclusions into the text, rather than by finding any clear direction from the New Testament. Now, to make certain you are still listening, please never forget . . .
Second There are warnings about healing in the Bible
I believe most of you are aware that false religions worldwide and many cults today claim to heal. I have visited churches of false religions where crutches are hung up in remembrance of healings that have been accomplished. How can that be? How can false religions claim to heal? One critical answer to that is Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7 of fake healings and healers.
Matthew 7:21 to 23, “’Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
My friends, just because someone claims to heal or be healed does not mean it is from God or genuine. There are fake healings! Truly, if the same healing ministry you see in the gospels existed today, then it would raise the dead, cleanse lepers, re-grow limbs, cure every disease and empty hospitals. Just a basic look at healing in the New Testament will show you it is different than what we see today on TV and elsewhere.
What was healing like under the ministry of Christ and the apostles? It was immediate. It was public. It took place on ordinary, unplanned occasions. It included illnesses that were untreatable by the medical community. It was complete and irreversible. It was undeniable, even by detractors and enemies. Again, the New Testament instructs us to trust God’s Word over our experience, even over what we see, hear or think. When will we heed Peter’s example and warning? In 2 Peter 1, the apostle tells us, shows us and presses us to never allow experience to trump God’s Word.
Peter shares his genuine experience at the transfiguration of Christ, yet says in light of that true experience, 2 Peter 1:19, “So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” Peter says he trusts God’s Word over his own true experience—so should you. Never forget, God desires a greater healing–greater than physical.
Third There is a healing promise in the Bible for you
Turn to 1 Peter. The Bible does contain a misunderstood healing promise. In 1 Peter 2:24, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” Do you see it? “By His wounds you were healed.” How does that apply to you and to me in this life? If it applies physically, then why aren’t all Christians healed? Are the Scriptures mistaken? Has God lost His healing touch?
Two foundational truths help us understand Peter and divine healing. First, every human being, when conceived, possesses a congenital spiritual defect–a sin disability that needs to be healed. Second, Peter addresses our need for spiritual restoration in 1 Peter 2:24 with his discussion of Christ’s provision of salvation’s healing.
With those two thoughts in mind, look closely at the parts of 1 Peter 2:24 to 25. Then when reassembled, you’ll be able to understand the whole, because the parts have been identified. Our text explains five elements of salvation:
1 The fact of salvation (verse 24a):
“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross . . . ”
2 The purposes of salvation (verse 24b):
“ . . . that we might die to sin and live to righteousness . . . ”
3 The means of salvation (verse 24c):
“ . . . for by His wounds you were healed.”
4 The need for salvation (verse 25a):
“For you were continually straying like sheep . . . ”
5 The result of salvation (verse 25b):
“ . . . but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls”
First Peter 2:24 has everything to do with spiritual healing, which the Bible calls salvation. In fact, 1 Peter 2:18 to 25 means just the opposite of what most healing advocates teach. Peter argues that since Christ physically and spiritually suffered for our spiritual healing (verses 21 to 24), then we should be willing to suffer physically in this life at the hands of men (verses 18 to 21), because we have already received God’s healing promise for eternal salvation (verses 24 to 25). Peter actually validates the divine purpose in human suffering, rather than eliminating it.
My beloved family–God never promises to heal, but He does promise that we will suffer and be persecuted. The good news is all true Christians are securely saved. The other important-to-know news is that not all of salvation’s benefits are received until our bodies have been raised from the grave. After God initiates our salvation, all Christians still sin, still suffer ill-health, and all eventually will die unless raptured. However, in the end, divinely perfected believers will dwell in the presence of Christ in bliss forever.
So how does healing then relate to the gospel of Mark and the ministry of Jesus Christ? When John the Baptist questioned whether Jesus truly was the Messiah, or whether he should look to someone else, John sent his disciples to Jesus for an answer in Matthew 11 and Luke 7. In reply, Christ first healed, then told John’s men to report these miraculous events back to John, remembering Isaiah 35.
On another occasion in Matthew 12, Jesus healed in order to fulfill Isaiah 42. The healing in Mark 7 alludes to Isaiah 35. On those occasions, Jesus healed to preview His kingdom power as an appropriate credential in order to be rightly recognized as the true King and Messiah of Israel. These brief bursts of power in the gospels pointed to something yet future, which the Old Testament had predicted.
The Bible anticipates two future periods when human health will be dramatically improved–the millennium and eternity future. Do we have a great future to look forward to, Chris? Yes–how do we know for certain? Turn to what Jesus did in Mark 6 at the end of the chapter, verses 53 to 56, “When they had crossed over they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore. 54 When they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, 55 and ran about that whole country and began to carry here and there on their pallets those who were sick, to the place they heard He was. 56 Wherever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places, and imploring Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured.”
#1 The Place of Christ’s Healing Ministry
Mark 6:53, “When they had crossed over they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore.” Jesus just walked on water. After Jesus stepped into the boat with Peter, the storm immediately stopped and the boat immediately and supernaturally arrived at Gennesaret–that’s a small, but very beautiful plain located near Capernaum. It measures about three miles in length along the Sea of Galilee, and one-and-a-half miles in width away from the shore.
According to Josephus, it was a lush and extremely fertile area that produced a wide variety of crops. The fields and vineyards were irrigated from no less than four large springs, enabling farmers to produce three crops a year. As Josephus described it, “There is not a plant that is rejected by its fertile soil.” The soil was so rich it produced walnuts, palms, figs, olives, and grapes–and they were so tasty that the rabbis did not allow Gennesaret produce in Jerusalem during the festivals lest a person might be tempted to attend the festivals just to enjoy the incredible food from Gennesaret, like Bob’s avocados.
Because the soil was so rich, it was all devoted to farming, and the area contained no towns or villages. It was a quiet, peaceful region, perfect for a getaway rest. So it was here the little company decided to cast anchor. Jesus probably intended to spend some time there alone with His disciples–but again His plans were interrupted.
#2 The Cause of Christ’s Healing Ministry
Verse 54, “When they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him.” When Jesus steps ashore, He’s immediately recognized. By this time, He’s become widely known as the Healer. Already there had been remarkable individual healings–a demoniac man in the synagogue and a leper were cleansed in Mark 1, a paralytic in Mark 2; a man with a withered hand in Mark 3; a sick woman healed and a little girl raised from the dead in Mark 5. Plus there were mass healings in Mark 1 and Mark 3, and now here. It’s not surprising that the news of His arrival quickly spread. Although Jesus had previously healed thousands of people in that general area, there were obviously still many others who were sick with various afflictions.
So what happened? Verse 55, “And ran about that whole country and began to carry here and there on their pallets those who were sick, to the place they heard He was.” People ran to spread the good tidings, and as a result everyone from everywhere ran to bring the sick to Jesus. They brought the sick on pallets—thin, straw-filled mattresses like beach mats, but stronger. And they carried the sick to wherever Christ was reported to be. It was a flood of sick seeking out the Savior. So what happened?
#3 The Power of Christ’s Healing Ministry
Christ blows everyone away with His power and compassion. No matter where He went, people were bringing the sick to Him.
Mark 6:56, “Wherever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places.” What a rich ministry! There may have been teaching, but nothing is said about it. Healing is what is emphasized. It took place in villages, towns, and countryside. Those who had dear ones who were ill would lay them in marketplaces, expecting those spots would be where Jesus would come. The word marketplace may also refer to a square or open space in a village where people would congregate. No matter, it was a massive event with a huge hope.
Verse 56b, “[they were] imploring Him that [even if] they might just touch the fringe of His cloak.” I think it may have been commonly known at this point what happened to the woman with the hemorrhage–how she was healed. She’d been healed merely by touching the fringe of Christ’s cloak. The crowd assumed anyone could be healed in that way–so they implored continually. These people had such faith in the healing power and sympathy of Jesus Christ that they were convinced if the sick would be permitted to merely touch the tassel, which is the fringe or edge of Christ’s robe, healing would immediately result—any way!
Mark does not even tell us whether permission was given. Whatever their thinking and whatever their motives may have been, Jesus had compassion on them and honored their expression of faith, because the healing was . . .
Third All Inclusive
Verse 56c, “and as many as touched it were being cured.” As many as touched Him or touched the fringe, as verse 56 says, touched “it,” they were instantly and completely healed. The verb cured is passive, meaning healing happened to them–Christ healed them, not their touch. Christ cured their ailment. Cured also means either healed or saved–God was at work physically and spiritually. Friends, look at number one . . .
ONE Prioritize spiritual healing over physical healing
Jesus wanted to do much more for people than to heal their diseases. He wanted to heal their sin-diseased hearts. This same day in John 6, Christ offered Himself to the crowds as the Bread of Life which came down from heaven, which to eat would cause them never to hunger or thirst again, and would give them eternal life. But when they realized what it meant to eat that heavenly food and drink that heavenly drink, the majority of these shallow followers were offended and left Him. Like so many people today who look to Christ only for what they can get and care nothing for what Christ desires, most of the multitude had little to do with Jesus after He healed them.
Although Christ did not withhold healing from them, Jesus was grieved that people sought no more from Him than physical healing. Because they did not ask for a full meal, He did not refuse them a piece of bread. Because they did not ask for spiritual help, He did not refuse them physical. In spite of their superficiality, ingratitude and self-centeredness, He mercifully healed them in order to reveal the compassionate heart of God. Such is the heart of God, even to those lost and bound for Hell.
TWO Trust in the power of the Word of God and the Gospel to transform lives
Because we don’t put stock in the gift of healing and healers today, that does not mean God does not heal, nor does it mean that God is not powerfully and supernaturally at work right now in our midst, changing lives from His Word and saving souls with His Gospel. That is the power of God for salvation, and the power of God to bring Himself glory by transforming lives, overcoming sin, molding His children to live more like Christ–that’s power, and it is happening all around us. Do not minimize the power of God through His Word and through His Gospel by focusing on lesser gifts that don’t even exist today—trust His Word.
THREE God does heal, and He has healed you with the Gospel
If you’re here today without Christ, or you’re here today and you know about Christ but do not have an obedient heart–meaning you don’t love others, serve in the church, faithfully attend worship, nor are you connected to other Christians in a church, give sacrificially toward God’s purposes through a church, only because you want to–then you need to turn to Christ. He will heal your sin-sick heart, cut out your pride and selfishness–He’ll cleanse you from guilt, forgive you and open your eyes to see and open your heart to intimacy with your Creator.
Turn to Him, cry out to Him, ask Him to save you right now. Trust that God became a man, died on the cross for your sins, rose from the dead and is alive in this room awakening you to eternal life. He can heal your sick, diseased, crippled, sin-saturated heart. Let’s pray.