Why Did Jesus Heal?
This morning I want us to look at two related Questions:
1) Why did Jesus heal people who were sick?
2) Can the church continue this ministry of healing today?
1) Why did Jesus heal people who were sick?
a) A prior Question: Before we look at this question, there is a prior question that we should ask and answer: Did Jesus really heal people who were sick? Or have all the stories of Jesus’ miracles been made up after the event to support the preaching of the gospel message in the first 100 years after Jesus was crucified?
Anyone who has done any reading about Christianity will have encountered this theory, within the context of a movement called the “Jesus Seminar” or “the Quest for the Historical Jesus.” This movement attempts to recover the hard facts or the historically reliable material from the four gospels. It attributes most of the things Jesus said in Matthew, Mark and Luke to Jesus himself. However, most of Jesus miracles that are recorded in the four gospels (together with many of the things Jesus said about himself in John’s gospel) are thought to be accounts constructed by the early Christians, or the embellishment and exaggeration of much simpler accounts. The motivation for doing this is thought to be the desire of Christians in the first two centuries of the common era to make Jesus out to be far more than he ever made himself out to be: that is, to present him to the world as a divine being sent from God, rather than what he is actually thought to be – that is – a human being like you or I, but one with a radical religious message.
My response to this has always been that it is a much harder theory to believe than the straightforward acceptance of the gospels as a reliable historical record of the life and ministry of Jesus. When I read what some members of the “Jesus seminar” have written, I think that it requires more of a “leap of faith” to believe what they say, rather than simply to take the gospels at face value. In the second place, sound historical research can be marshaled in support of the historical reliability of the gospels. And when it comes to the stories about Jesus’ miracles, there is good evidence within the writings of secular historians of the same period that supports the view that the earliest followers of Jesus believed that Jesus was in fact a miracle worker – and if that is what was actually believed about Jesus from earliest days (rather than what was made up well after the event), then unless these first followers of Jesus were seriously delusional, Jesus did actually perform miracles and healings for them to observe and report.
b) So why did Jesus heal?
I agree with all of these suggestions. But let’s look at one passage in the gospel of Mark and see if we cannot get a bit more focus on the issue.
Read: Mark 1: 14-45
What an amazing piece of writing! This is what we call a ‘Zero to Hero’ Story. An obscure carpenter from Nazareth becomes so famous that he can no longer enter any town or village in Israel without being mobbed – inundated with people! When he called the first four fishermen (Simon, Andrew, James & John) beside the Sea of Galilee to follow him and learn his craft, he was certainly not exaggerating when he told them that they would soon be catching people! So what was the cause of Jesus meteoric rise to fame in Galilee? Because he was a miracle worker? Because he healed people – many of whom had serious or hopeless diseases? Or was there more to it than that? What does this passage in Mark’s gospel emphasise about peoples’ opinion of Jesus and why they were attracted to him? – why he became so famous?
How does the story emphasis this aspect of Jesus’ personality:
1) Jesus message (vss 14-15)
What message? “Listen folks, I think it would be a good idea if we all…” or “I would like to talk to you all about your Spiritual lives…” or “What do you believe about life after death?” ?
No: “The time has come. The Kingdom if God is near. Repent and believe this good news”; this is an authoritative statement by someone who knows what is actually happening. It is followed by a command to do something about it. It is similar to: “the house is on fire! Get out now!” or “There is a man outside giving away $100 bills! Go and grab some!” Aside: Why was Jesus’ message good news? (end of the present evil age and the beginning of a brand new one)
2) Jesus calls the four fishermen (vss 16-20)
“Colin, leave your job, don’t worry about how you will support your family, and come with me and we will walk the length of New Zealand telling people about Jesus” – Yeah Right! – sounds like a Tui ad. But here, four hard nosed business men who thrived on hard work and their sense of responsibility, turn and walk away from the family business, leaving their assets on the beach! Simply because Jesus calls them to come with him and do something that is seen to be really significant. You cannot get away with doing this sort of thing and not being ridiculed unless you command enormous respect and the people concerned hold you in high authority.
3) The session in the synagogue (vss 21-28)
In many ways this section of the account is the centerpiece of the whole story: “they were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not like the scribes.” The Scribes cited authorities to give their own teaching weight. They relied upon the authority of the traditions they related and the scribal schools within which they were trained – “Goodness me he did his PhD at Otago – he must be worth listening to!” Not so with Jesus. He simply assumed authority. Eg. “you have heard it said to those of ancient times… but I say to you…” (Sermon on the Mount – Matt 5); Jesus assumed to himself an authority in his teaching that was at least on a par with, and perhaps exceeded the authority of Moses and the prophets – and this did not go unnoticed and unappreciated.
Then within this centerpiece comes the climax: “Just then there was in the Synagogue a man with an unclean spirit…” and we all hold our breath don’t we? Because we know that it is one thing to assume authority and quite another thing to have it challenged. And here we have Jesus, teaching in a Galilean synagogue with no reference to scribal tradition; assuming an authority to teach the truth about God and humanity in that context in the same way the the greatest prophets and spiritual leaders in Israel have done back in the day. This is either inexcusable arrogance, sacrilege or even blasphemy. Or it is entirely justified – there really isn’t any middle ground. Which is it? But the power encounter that now overtakes this story makes the answer to that question plain: “the demonized man cried out: ‘What have you to do with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are the holy one of God.”
It seems clear that everyone there realized that this was a demonic utterance because it is placed in the mouth of a man “with an unclean spirit”. Whether he was known as ‘one of the local men with an unclean spirit’ (because of a particular condition he may have had) or whether this became abundantly clear to everyone there in the Synagogue because of the way the man spoke we don’t know. But Mark is making it quite clear that everyone there knew that they were witnessing a power encounter between Jesus and a spiritual being who was acting as a representative of Satan and Satan’s demonic horde: “what have you to do with us… Have you come to destroy us…” And this particular demon is an arrogant one at that; or even perhaps one who is pretty up the demonic hierarchy: “I know who you are…” (the others may not yet, but I do; perhaps this demon is one of Satan’s lieutenants? – perhaps one that is termed a “principality or power” in other parts of the Bible)
OK, so here we find ourselves in the midst of a first order spiritual challenge of Jesus and his assumed authority – Why?
a) The demon openly insults Jesus: “Jesus of Nazareth”; Nazarene was an insult in Israel: ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth’ (Nathanael).
b) The demon openly taunts Jesus, challenging his right to even be here: “What have you to do with us?” = “What are you even doing here; this is our patch and we intend to keep it that way!” “Have you come to destroy us?” = Daring Jesus to extreme action that they know he will not do. “Over our dead bodies!!”; “I know who you are, the Holy One of God” = knowledge is power; taking the wind out of Jesus sails by exposing him…
c) Note that the only other record we have of a verbal encounter between Jesus and the demonic realm is the account of Jesus temptations – and this was a verbal contest with Satan himself.
How does Jesus respond? He doesn’t parley. He doesn’t respond point by point. Jesus responds with a rebuke that clearly demonstrates who is in authority here – whose territory this really is! “Be Muzzled and Be gone” – the same way you would deal with an annoying dog! And with a convulsion and a cry of defeat the demonic presence is gone.
The point is made and not lost on anyone who is there. “They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching and with authority! He commands (not only us but) even the unclean spirits – and they obey him!”
4) Authority over sickness or (physical infirmity) – vss. 29-31
Jesus and his four friends and followers immediately escape from the ‘media storm’ in the Synagogue and take refuge in the home of the four fishermen (two sets of brothers). However, there is sickness in the home and Jesus is immediately informed of it: “Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever. And they told Jesus about her”. Why did they inform Jesus of the fact? Two possibilities: a) What do you do when you are sick and possibly infectious? We are not stupid – neither were these people. They understood about infectious diseases as the laws regarding leprosy make clear. You tell people so that they have the option of keeping clear of you so they won’t catch it. So, possibly out of respect for Jesus they tell him that there is sickness in the house – he may want to go somewhere else… b) They are thinking ahead and wondering: “Can the man we have seen at work in the Synagogue do something about this? I suspect the former scenario. They hadn’t witnessed a healing yet and there is no hint of a suggestion that they are asking Jesus to do anything about Simon’s mother-in-law’s condition.
And look, what does Jesus do when he is told? Clear out? No, “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her and she began to serve them.” Jesus touched her, lifted her up. The fever left her rather than infecting Jesus. So this is not just a random act of healing on Jesus part – the miracle worker heals his first patient. Rather, this is Jesus making it plain that he has authority over sickness. Jesus has made in plain that he has authority to announce the presence of the Kingdom of God and call people to repentance; made it plain that he has the authority to call disciples (cf the rabbis whom potential disciples approached); authority to teach in the synagogue without qualifications; authority over unclean spirits; now Jesus makes it plain that he also has authority over sickness and infirmity. Jesus has the authority to banish sickness from a person’s body, just as he has the authority to banish unclean spirits from their psyche.
And as soon as Capernaum gets the message there is no stopping them. At sundown they all gather at the doors of the brothers’ home. Why at Sundown? (authority over the Sabbath)
5) Driving the point home – vss 40-45
Finally the account at the end of Mark 1 drives the point home. A leper: The ultimate example to the Jews of Jesus day of sickness and uncleanness. A physical infirmity that rots away the flesh of the body’s extremeties rendering the affected person unfit for human society and fellowship with God – the leper was an outcast. “Unclean Unclean” the leper cried so that everyone could give them a wide berth. However this leper comes right up to Jesus and kneels before him, making Jesus unclean according to Jewish ceremonial law. But he has certainly got the message about Jesus and his authority over sickness and defilement: “If you choose you can make me clean” = “I can neither contaminate or infect you, but you can heal and cleanse me so that I will no longer be an outcast separated from God and shunned by society”; Jesus is moved to pity and immediately the man is healed. Aside: irony being that the man then chooses not to recognize the authority of Jesus’ personal command to keep quiet about the miracle!
So, Why did Jesus heal? Because he has authority. Not just authority to heal. But because he has authority full stop. Authority to announce and usher in the Kingdom of God. (The presence of the Kingdom of God among us is associated with Jesus’ presence). Authority to call people to follow him and commit their lives to him unconditionally. Authority to teach the Word of God without reference to the words of anyone else. Authority over all spiritual powers which oppress humanity and the created order, full stop. Authority over sickness (and ultimately authority over death itself – story of Lazarus). This is an absolute authority over everthing that devalues a person’s life in the sight of God and other people. Aside: Why did Jesus not want this proclaimed widely? Before Jesus’ death and resurrection this authority was always veiled. People had their share of Aha experiences of Jesus’ authority but Jesus did not willingly go public. So people still had a genuine choice regarding his message. However after his death and resurrection he went public. Matt 28:18-20: (on the same page of our Bibles as the passage from Mark 1) “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded. And remember, I am with you always, to the very end of the age”
2) Can the church continue Jesus healing ministry today?
a) Again, as before there is a prior Question: Is it necessary for the church to get involved with such a controversial sphere of activity? After all, so much can go wrong and well meaning Christians have done as much damage as good by dabbling in this area. Furthermore, advances made by medical science and in medical practice have surely rendered supernatural healing unnecessary. Even our missionaries have come to recognize this. We no longer preach the gospel with signs and wonders following, but with antibiotics and surgeons following – along with the construction of schools and hospitals. All of these things are good and necessary and we thank God for them. But I do not think in the least that spiritual healing has become in any way redundant. Why?
i. It seems to me that there are as many medical conditions beyond the reach of modern medical science as there are medical conditions that our doctors and hospitals successfully treat. That is not to belittle medicine at all – it is wonderful to live in a developed country with a wonderful health service that alleviates much suffering and saves many lives. However, despite all that, we have not defeated sickness. We have a raft of conditions – the product of our age – that we did not have 200 years ago, that medical science does not understand and cannot treat. And we all know people with chronic conditions (many of them serious and debilitating) that may have been helped in some measure by medical treatment but have not and probably cannot yet be cured of them by those means.
ii. There is a consequential upsurge in “self-help” therapies that are proving (in the absence of clinical trials) to be effective in combating many of these chronic conditions like: Chronic fatigue, Chronic Pain, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Depression, Eating Disorders and conditions associated with the bodies aging and decay.
It seems to me that there is still room for the ministry of Jesus and the exercise of Jesus’ authority over sickness and infirmity. There is still room for the church to exercise ministries that involve healing and helping people find physical and emotional wholeness where the medical community is unable to help.
b) So, can we do it? Do we have a mandate to continue Jesus ministry of healing as his representatives on the planet here and now?
I believe that we have the mandate. The mandate is the great commission that we read earlier. This is an event grounded in history in which The Risen Son of God bestowed upon his church the authority to continue the work of Christ – in its fullness – within human history as long as history lasts; As far as Jesus is concerned, authority is authority; If as his followers we have been given the charge and the authority to proclaim the gospel, call people to repentance, baptize and teach them everything Jesus taught the twelve, then that means, in Jesus name, the church also has authority over the demonic oppression of people and of our environment, and authority over sickness. We cannot deny that we have the mandate, and it is quite clear that the first followers of Jesus picked this mandate up after the day of Pentecost.
c) But do we have the power?
I believe that we have the power. We have it already… we don’t have to jump through any more hoops or attain any higher standards of holiness. The church was given the power to continue the ministry of Jesus on the day of Pentecost, and this also is an event grounded in history.
The event is recorded at the end of Luke’s gospel and the beginning of the book of Acts – Luke: “Thus it is written that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:46-49) Acts: “So … they asked him, ‘is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times and the seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – witnesses to all that Jesus said and did… saying it again… doing it again (Acts 1:6-8)
Was this empowering simply meant for the first followers of Jesus but not for believers down through the following centuries? Again, it is clear from those events on the day of Pentecost 2000 years ago, that the empowering is for all believers everywhere in every time: On that day Peter stood up and after proclaiming Christ crucified, said to the people who wanted to respond to the message: “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord God calls to him.” (Acts 2:38-39).
We have the mandate and we have the power.
So why don’t we see it?
Well there may be any number of reasons for the church at large, but let’s focus the question on us… here… today. Why don’t WE see it?
I believe that we don’t see it, because we are in many ways the exact opposite of that man with leprosy in Mark’s gospel. We simply do not believe that Jesus wants good things for us, or wants to do good things and even great things through us – “greater things than Jesus did because he goes to the Father” (John 14:12). Note the NIV (mis)translation: Indignant. Jesus is indignant because his desire to heal and cleanse the man is being doubted. I believe that there are those of us here today that actually doubt in our heart of hearts that Jesus wants good things for us and wants to do good and great things through us. And those good things include healing and those great things include ourselves being instrumental in seeing other people whole in body and mind in Jesus name. For others perhaps, but for ourselves no.
In many ways it’s ironic, for again unlike the man with leprosy in Mark’s gospel, we have no real problem with obedience. Many of us have sought to be obedient to the commands of Christ all our lives – we’ve made a study of it and that is good. But we still can’t bring ourselves to believe that Jesus will be good to us, will have compassion on us, will work powerfully in our lives and grant us the privilege of seeing him work with power in the lives of others?
What can we do about this? Change the way we think? Change what we believe deep down? No. Simply confess it as an attitude which blocks the grace of God in our lives; blocks it flowing to us and flowing through us. Confess it and ask God to give us that simple childlike trust in his goodness. Isn’t that too simple? Surely we must DO something. Oh yes… The grace of God when it is experienced is followed by a command. After God has graciously worked in our lives there will always be the opportunity – just as the man with leprosy had – of personally obeying Jesus. So don’t worry, there will be plenty of opportunity for obedience when we experience God’s grace.