Matthew 4:23-25; Luke 9:1-2; Revelation 21:4
Some years ago, when I was sitting with a family faced with an extremely difficult health diagnosis, I was struggling to find something to say. Which can be a mistake, as when we try to find something to say we can say the wrong thing; there are times when it’s all right to say nothing at all. But I couldn’t bring myself to be quiet. I remember saying - and wondering afterwards if it was the right thing to say - that I was convinced healing would come to their loved one. That, I said, was the good news. The bad news, I added, is that healing doesn’t always come in this life. One of the great Christian promises about eternity is that we are granted healing. Healing connects the temporal - this world - with the eternal. To get a better understanding of healing I believe we need to reconnect the temporal and eternal and remember that one of the great promises of eternity is healing. In fact, Revelation 21:4 reminds us that in eternity there will be some things that will no longer exist - there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain. These are things associated with illness and eternity does away with them all.
I believe in healing. I believe that God heals people. I believe in the power of prayer to heal people. I have seen people who have experienced what can only be described as miraculous healings. I also believe, though, that we define healing too narrowly if we think of it only in terms of illness and disease. When we speak of healing we speak almost exclusively of healing from a physical problem, but the Bible presents healing as something far greater than just healing from a physical ailment or illness.
I am always amazed at the number of people in the hospital on any given day. If you visit any hospital in Louisville or the surrounding area on any weekday you will find them packed with people preparing for surgery, recovering from surgery, or dealing with some kind of illness. It’s a lot of people. But for all the people who are dealing with difficulties related to physical health I believe there are even more people struggling with emotional and spiritual health problems. Though we have more doctors, more hospitals, and more medicines we have more unhealthiness, because we live in a world full of emotional and spiritual unhealthiness. Our world is one full of dis-ease*. There is more dis-ease, I believe, than disease. In spite of all our health care, we are not very healthy because we lack a holistic view of healing.
There is so much in the Bible about healing, especially in the gospels and in the book of Acts. Our Scripture reading this morning is about the scores of people healed by Jesus, and the commission for his followers to go and heal as well. Anyone who has read the healing stories of the Bible has probably wondered why physical healing seems to have been so much more prevalent in those days than in our own. I don’t really have an answer to that question, and my emphasis today is not really on that question anyway.
Today, I want us to look at the healing that God brings to our lives. Yes, sometimes that healing is a physical healing, but let’s think also of the great need for emotional and spiritual healing as well.
There are many passages in Scripture about healing even though we don’t generally associate them with healing. Think about the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). That’s not just a parable about who we consider our neighbor; it’s a parable about how the love of God can break down the barriers that divide people and bring healing to relationships that previously seemed impossibly broken. The division that exists between people is a spiritual illness that needs healing, and the occurrences of this kind of illness probably outnumber any kind of physical illness. Think about the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). That is a parable about love and grace but it’s also a parable about the healing of the relationship between a father and son. It tells us of a young man who in callous disregard of his father goes his own way, but God eventually heals his wayward mind and soul – God brings the young man to his senses as Luke tells us (Luke 15:17). This young man finds healing in his relationships with his father and with God. But we often forget that there are two sons in this parable. While the younger son was reconciled with his father, and their relationship healed, the older son was not. The older son was angry with his father for welcoming his brother back into the family home. When Jesus told the parable about the rich man who planned to tear down his barns to build bigger ones to hold his possessions (Luke 12:13-21) Jesus is telling about how to be healed of the tyranny of our possessions and how we can be healed of the desire to possess more and more things; it is a parable of healing a soul sick with materialism and greed. When Jesus healed Bartimaeus of blindness (Mark 10:46-52) it wasn’t just a case of physical healing, it was an opportunity for Jesus to point out that even people with sight can be blind because the hardness of their hearts and minds prevent them from seeing truth, and a hard heart is a heart that needs healing.
Here is a tragic truth – many people spend a great deal of their lives healthy in a physical sense, but unhealthy when it comes to their emotional and spiritual lives. I believe that if we want to experience the abundant life of which Jesus speaks (John 10:10), we must find healing.
1. Do you want to get well?
While that seems like a very strange, maybe even inappropriate question, it is, actually, a very Biblical question. In fact, it comes straight from Jesus. In the fifth chapter of John’s gospel we read of Jesus’ encounter with a man who had been ill for 38 years. He was at the pool at Bethesda, in hopes that he would find healing there. Jesus saw the man, and knowing he had been sick a long time, asked what sounds like a very strange question. Jesus asked the man, Do you wish to get well? (John 5:6). He had been sick for 38 years; you would think he would be more than ready to be made well. But here is a strange truth about humanity - when it comes to illnesses that are emotional and spiritual, we don’t always want to get well. I’m more and more convinced of this strange truth as I observe people - including myself. For various reasons, we even nurture our spiritual illnesses. How many times, for instance, do we call up a hurt and anger from something that may have happened long ago? That hurt and anger can poison our souls, but we hold on to it and even nurture it.
There are signs that help us to see when we are holding on to our hurts. Are you angry and bitter? Anger and bitterness very often are signs of a spiritual sickness that has not been healed, but very badly needs to be healed. You may not be able to identify why you are angry or bitter because the source has been pushed down and so deeply buried.
Are you self-absorbed? Well, if you are you probably wouldn’t notice; that’s one of the problems of being self-absorbed. A symptom of spiritual sickness is self-absorption. People who are spiritually ill are self-absorbed, just as churches that are spiritually ill are self-absorbed.
Can you see the goodness in your life? I’m often touched by people, even in very difficult circumstances, express thankfulness for what their lives. That’s a pretty healthy way of looking at life.
Some people – even when they have seemingly everything – can’t be thankful for anything. Their demeanor and their words and their attitude is negative and angry and bitter and resentful. That will eat away at our souls!
2. Embrace the wholeness of salvation.
It’s interesting, I think, to study words. We learn a lot when we learn about the roots of words. Salvation, for instance. The root of the word salvation is a Latin word, salvus, and it comes from a word meaning – can you guess? Healing. Isn’t that fascinating?
Salvation is the act of God granting us eternal life but it encompasses more. The saving work of God is not only to grant us eternal life but also to put things right in the world, to undo the damage done by sin and the fall - to bring healing to his creation.
This is why Jesus was the very embodiment of healing. Read through the gospels; you hardly find a page where there isn’t some kind of healing that is taking place. Being saved means allowing God to bring healing to our hearts, our minds, and our souls. We need to pray for this. We see the physical ailments and pray about those, as we should, but we must go beyond them. Keep a prayer list of people for whom you pray, and don’t just pray for the physical ailments – pray for the emotional and spiritual ones as well. And keep praying. We can track the progress of a fractured bone, but when does a fractured heart really heal? It takes six weeks, approximately, for a bone to heal; a fractured heart takes a lot longer.
Don’t give up on healing; keep praying for healing. A lot of people, I’m afraid, give up on healing. They live day after day and year after year never believing that any change can come to their life. Don’t give up.
3. Be an instrument of healing.
Some years ago I witnessed a powerful experience of healing. I was taking a class that met from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for three weeks. It was an intense class. Before the class began each of us wrote a paper about an event in ministry and explained how we reacted to the event. Each person in the class received a copy of our paper and would then spend half of a day discussing how we reacted to the ministry event. The discussion wasn’t to decide if we were right or wrong, but sought to understand why we did what we did.
One of the class members told a horrific story of his upbringing. We were quite surprised as he told of a terribly abusive and alcoholic father, and how he hid with his younger siblings in a closet while his father, in a drunken rage, searched for them. As they huddled in a closet they listened to their father yelling that he was going to kill them when he found them.
We were surprised by the story because this young man was such a great guy. He was well-liked by everyone in the class, was very funny, friendly to everyone – just an all around great guy. None one could have guessed that his upbringing was filled with such horror.
At the end of the class that day, one of the two professors asked him to go home and write a letter to his father (by this time his father has been deceased for a while). The next morning we were all very curious about how the professors were going to deal with this difficult story. They asked us to follow them out of the room, and I noticed that one of them was carrying a large tin coffee can. We walked silently down the hall, down the steps, out of the building, and across campus. We stopped at a spot beneath a few trees, and formed a circle. The professor asked the young man if he would mind reading the letter. He did. It was a long, heart-wrenching letter, and at the close he told his father that he loved him, and that he forgave him. As tears flowed down his cheeks, the professor handed him a lighter, asked him to set fire to the letter, and to place it in the coffee can. He asked him to allow the flames to burn away all the hurt of the past, and it was a remarkable moment to witness the years of pain removed from him.
We are called to be like Jesus. We are called to love like Jesus, to live like Jesus, and also, I believe, to heal like Jesus. And part of our process of healing is being an instrument of healing to others. I have a sense that in helping others to heal, we heal ourselves. The more healing that comes to our lives the more healing we are able to bring to others and the more healing that comes to others, the more that can come back to us.
Think of this question – are you an instrument of healing to others or an instrument of dis-ease? Think and pray hard about this – are you projecting your unhealthiness upon others or are you seeking and offering healing? One of the reasons God was able to us Peter and John in such a powerful way is because he had brought healing to their lives. He healed them of the fear that kept them locked away in the upper room after the crucifixion and made them fearless ambassadors of his healing power.
Every person in this room has a need for some type of healing in their life. Perhaps it’s a tattered or fractured relationship that needs healing; perhaps it’s forgiveness that needs to be offered or accepted; perhaps it’s guilt that needs to be let go of; perhaps it’s grief that has stayed with you for so long. There are as many different needs for healing as there are people here. Come, come to Jesus, and experience the gift of healing.
*I don’t know where I first became aware of disease as dis-ease, but it has been a very helpful way of thinking about healing.