FULL TRANSCRIPT HERE Preaching from ChristChurch London’s Sunday Service
Was the gift of healing just something for the first century? If not, is God as willing to heal today as he was in the book of Acts? This talk tackles various objections to, gifts of healings, (1 Corinthians 12-14), in operation in the church today.
Healing Sunday 25 Feb 2007
Refer to the fact that not everyone is healed, and that there are reasons for this.
First impressions are everything.
When I was single in my mid to late 20s, I lived in a shared house with 3 other guys. One time we invited some girls round. But then we thought, “what are we gonna do?” Big day. One of my mates, said “I know, I could do one of my explosions.” We said: Great. So the girls arrive, and he’s got some explosives, and he puts them in a metal cake tin, lights it, closes it, sellotapes it up, runs outside, leaves it in the back garden, and then as we all watched from the kitchen, it exploded. Cool!
Girls looked a bit non-plussed by that, so we said, “how would you like to play risk?”
“Risk, what’s that?”
Oh it’s a strategic board game about world domination.
We never saw those girls again.
First impressions are everything.
Now if you had never heard of Christianity before, and you started reading the gospels on a desert island, probably the first impression you’d get of Jesus is that Jesus is a healer. The first impression Jesus made was that he healed people.
Now that is pretty challenging when you consider that was also the first impression that people like Peter and Paul made when they took the gospel out in the book of Acts.
So whatever happened to healing?
SLIDE 1: Title: Does God heal today?
Today and next Sunday, we’re going to look at the subject of healing and this is relevant:
- Firstly, and obviously, for those of you who are sick, ill or injured – one way or another, you have a physical need. (Now that could be as many as half of you here). Now if God still wants to heal and does heal, then, you could be healed. And if you got healed, that could make an enormous difference to your life. Depending upon what’s wrong with you, you being healed by God could be the biggest thing that’s happened to you since you became a Christian.
- Secondly, God’s healing power is relevant for those of you who’d love to see your non-Christian work colleagues, neighbours, friends or relatives give their lives to Christ. But being realistic about it, at the moment that may look fairly unlikely from your point of view. What seems more likely is that they will carry on being non-Christians. But what if you start performing healings at work? What if you start seeing your colleagues healed in your office when you pray for them? That might rather change things, don’t you think? Now of course that possibility may sound incredibly far fetched. But in the New Testament, we see Christian lawyers, Christian fishermen and Christian tax collectors performing healings, and those healings attracted large numbers of people to Christ. In this talk, we will ask ‘is God still doing that today?’ And ‘does God want to heal through you and through me?’
- Thirdly, this subject is relevant for the many of you who already long to move in the supernatural. For you guys, moving in healing is already a huge ambition in your life. You read the Bible narratives about healing, and you think, “I would love to do that.” And there are a few Christians who you know of, who do move in this realm, and you would love to do what they are doing. But it all seems beyond you. There is a gap in your Christian life, between what you believe, which is that healing is for today, and the reality, which is that you are not seeing healings and breakthroughs on a regular basis.
Now, here’s the thing, none of the 3 reasons I’ve just mentioned are sufficient reasons to go after healing. The only sufficient reason to pursue healing is if the Bible teaches us to go after healing.
Pragmatic reasons are not enough. The allure of potential success is not enough.
Folks, no matter how ill we may be, now matter how appealing the idea of healing is, no matter how much evangelistic success it might produce, no matter how many spectacular healings we might hear reported, if the Bible doesn’t teach us to go for healing then we should steer well clear of it.
OK, where shall we start?
Well, if you did a statistical thematic analysis of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and Acts and you put every single verse in a category, you’d have to concede that more space is given to healing, physical healing, than virtually any other subject or experience.
Of course, if Jesus is the Son of God, then quite honestly, it’s no big surprise that he can do miracles. The big surprise in the book of Acts is that people like Paul, Phillip and Simon do miracles. Jesus gives his followers authority to heal the sick. In fact he commands his disciples to heal the sick. And they do heal the sick!
In the book of Acts we observe the missionary advance of the church through healing miracles.
And we all know that we’d anticipate major missionary advance here in London if we saw more miraculous healings.
Now in the light of what I’ve just said, you might expect this to be a tub thumping sermon, which is one long build up to an appeal to come to the front and be healed in Jesus name.
But the fact is that some of us aren’t ready for that yet. Because some of us, if we’re honest, feel that what the bible teaches us about healing doesn’t quite match up with our experience of people very often not being healed.
Some of us may well feel uneasy about raising expectations that God will heal. Therefore, our greatest need is to be more sure of what God has and hasn’t said about healing.
So rather than a whizz-bang, one-off ministry session, the goal of this afternoon is that we leave this place more clear about what the Bible does and doesn’t teach about healing. At the end of next week’s talk we will offer to pray for the sick, but today is going to be a straight teach.
Now the initial problem when we come to the subject of healing, is that few of us start with a blank piece of paper. In an ideal world, we’d all start with nothing but the Scriptures in front of us.
Actually, for most of us, our experience of praying for people to be healed has been a bit of a mixed bag.
So here, for what it’s worth, is my story:
When I was at university, As a new Christian, I made a promise to God, that every time anyone said they were sick or injured in my hearing, then even if they were a complete stranger, Christian or Non-Christian, I would offer to pray for them right there and then. (i.e. not just say a prayer later, but actually offer to lay hands on them on the spot).
So I’d be there on the dance floor, “We’re no strangers to love, you know the rules and so do I, a full commitment’s what I’m thinking of, you wouldn’t get this from any other guy”
And then someone would say, “Oh, I’m feeling a bit ill I think I’ll head back to the bar.”
And then of course, I’d say, “Oh, excuse me, I couldn’t help overhearing that you said you were ill. And the thing is I’m a Christian, and God heals today.”
And they’d say: “What?”
And the music’s going: “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, Never gonna run around and desert you, Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye, Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.”
And I’d say, let’s go over there . . .
And then I’d say: “What’s your name?”
“Sarah, the good news is that Jesus heals today. Would you like me to lay hands on you and pray for you.”
And she’d say: “No”
And then I’d hear: “I am the one and only, no body I’d rather be.”
Chesney Hawkes, absolute classic, so I’d be out there again.
And then some bloke would say, “I’m feeling really hung over, I’ve got a real headache, I’m going to sit down.”
And I’d say: “Oh, excuse me, er, a Christian, and God heals headaches today.”
And he’d say: “What?
And I’d say: “Let’s go over there”
And then I’d say: “Hi my name’s Adrian. Can I just pray for your headache?”
What’s your name: “Hugo”
(It was that kind of university.)
“Lord I just pray that you’d take away Hugo’s headache now in Jesus name.”
And then it would be: “Back to life, back to reality.”
But I really wasn’t enjoying my disco healing evangelism. And so one night, in the words of Kylie Minogue, “I Put my hand on my heart and told God that my disco healing evangelism was all over.”
I told God the deal was off.
What a hero of faith! “God, I don’t feel like doing this anymore, so the deal’s off.”
And it’s only been in recent years, that, just by going through the New Testament, that I’ve really faced up to what the Bible really teaches about healing.
So I mention that because I want to share my weakness with you, something of my many years of faithlessness, my failures, just in case, for you too, your experience has been a bit of a mixed bag.
Whatever happened to Chesney Hawkes? If you know, could you email ME and put the word Chesney in the subject field?
I say a mixed bag, because, it may be that, like me, as you’ve gone through the Christian life, different people have told you different things about healing.
Perhaps you’ve met Christians who:
i) Don’t pray for healing at all.
Some Christians believe God has switched off the supernatural ministry of healing.
And it may be that there’s one or two of you here, who like me, have been influenced by this teaching in the past. If so, you will have questions, that the vast majority of people here today will not be asking. And I’d be delighted to speak with you at the end to pursue some of these questions . . .
But the argument in its briefest form is that healing was something God did to authenticate the apostles while the New Testament was being written, and that once the New Testament was completed, the gift of healing was no longer needed, so when the last of the apostles died, all gifts of healing ceased, probably around 95AD, when the book of Revelation was completed.
Now if true, this argument would explain why we don’t see more healings today, but the difficulty with defending this so-called “cessationist” position is that there is actually no verse in the Bible that says that healing was just something for the first century. There’s no verse in the Bible that says or even suggests that healing was designed to die off when the apostles died off or when the New Testament was completed.
SLIDE 2: Examples of non-apostolic healing: Acts 6:8, Acts 8:7, James 5:16, 1 Corinthians 1:7, 1 Corinthians 12:7,9 and 14:1, Galatians 3:5.
Moreover there are several verses of scripture that clearly indicate that healing was designed and expected to continue in normal everyday church life. Some of the most important verses here are James 5:16, 1 Corinthians 1:7, 1 Corinthians 12:7,9 and 14:1, and Galatians 3:5, all of which we will hopefully get to.
But for most of us here, cessationist theology is not what’s stopping us. It certainly wasn’t what was stopping me. For many years, I believed with all my heart that God can and does heal today, but I hardly ever laid hands on the sick, because I had so little expectation that God would heal when I did.
And this is the next group. Here we have Christians, who are . . .
ii) Telling people that God seldom heals today.
Now, here, I would at least occasionally pray for people to be healed, but I’d do so with no real expectation that anything supernatural will happen. If this is where I’m at, I might be tempted to make people’s expectations “more realistic” by telling people that God seldom or very rarely heals today.
I’m going to argue that this too is selling the Bible short. The Bible takes us further.
The next step up is what I am going to call
iii) The Biblical position
And I’m going to try and outline what that is.
The first level, though, is . . .
SLIDE 3: Title: Does God heal today? Position i) Not praying for healing at all.
Now, as I’ve said, many of us believe God can and does heal today, and yet, we aren’t really pushing and shoving to get involved.
The danger for us is that we don’t pray for the sick, because we think it so highly unlikely that anything will happen. Besides which, we may well find it embarrassing to lay hands on the sick.
But seeing as healing is to glorify God, our embarrassment shouldn’t come into it. I mean if we followed that logic then we’d never witness because the person might not come to Christ, and we’d never counsel anyone, because the person might not take our advice.
The simple fact is that to be a Christian and not pray for the sick is direct disobedience to James 5:16 where we are commanded “to pray for each other so that you may be healed”
James tells us:
SLIDE 4: Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
What we need to notice is that this command “to pray for each other so that you may be healed” is a command to all Christians, to all believers. It’s not just a command for mega keen Christians. It’s definitely not a command just for apostles. The people James is writing to are not apostles, they are just ordinary Christians like you or me.
So if I don’t ever, or very rarely pray for others to be healed, James 5:16 commands me to change my ways.
It is always dangerous to disobey Scripture, especially plain, clear Scriptural commands, like this one, which are directed to all Christian believers.
The next step up, as I’ve said, is occasionally praying for people, but
SLIDE 5: Title: Does God heal today? Position ii) Telling people that God seldom heals today.
And this is where some of us are at. Now I used to say “in reality, it’s very rare for God to heal today so it’s unkind to raise people’s expectations.”
But where is this kind of thinking coming from? It’s certainly not coming from Scripture. No-one has yet produced a convincing case from the Bible that we should not expect God to heal today.
So, when we say “God seldom heals today” we’re making a comment based on our experience. And as soon as we start arguing from experience rather than the Bible, we are putting all our weight on a very wobbly stool.
And I have here a stool
GET OUT STOOL
What I plan to do now is to knock out the legs of this stool completely so that any of us who are here at level two, have to completely abandon our position and come up to level 3. And as I said earlier, I believe that the Biblical position is level 3.
Now each one of these legs are probably subconscious thoughts. I’m not suggesting that we’ve all thought through our doubts this clearly, but here goes anyway.
1. My first objection or leg of the stool was to say “OK, Jesus has given his followers all authority to heal the sick. In fact he commands them to heal the sick. But the disciples saw 100 per cent success rates, and we don’t. So maybe these days God doesn’t want to heal as high a percentage of people as he did in the New Testament. And that would explain why we don’t see more healings today.”
This argument is based on a false premise. Because, in fact, the disciples did not have a 100 per cent success rate.
After the twelve disciples have been given all authority (Matt 10:1) we find in Matthew 17 that they could not heal the demonized boy who has seizures, because they had so little faith (Matt 17:20). So it is undoubtedly possible to have all authority to heal and yet fail to see everyone you lay hands on healed!
SLIDE 6: Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:19-21)
So the disciples had authority but failed to use it. Let me see if I can illustrate this . . . One of the lovely things about having children is watching them sort of become aware of things. So Bethany, for example, who is five, had a moment of enlightenment recently when she came into the room and announced: “Daddy, you are the king of our family”. And I said, “Bethany, you are absolutely right, I am the king of our family. And blessed are you Bethany because this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my father in heaven.”
But it doesn’t matter how much authority I have been given, I know that if I leave my breakfast bowl on top of the dishwasher rather than putting it in the dishwasher, I will experience power loss.
Yes I have a position of authority in my home, but if I don’t put the orange sacks out, and if I don’t wipe down the surfaces in the kitchen, and if I leave my used towels on the floor of the bathroom rather than hanging them up neatly in rows, and in particular if I don’t replace the toilet roll when it runs out, but instead if I just leave the cardboard core of the old toilet roll on the roller, and I leave the new roll next to it, assuming that someone else will actually put the new roll on the roller, I know that if I fail in these areas, it doesn’t matter how much authority I have, I lose the ability to assert and implement my authority.
I’m just using some hypothetical examples to try and help you understand what was happening to the disciples here in Matthew 17. They had authority, but they disqualified themselves from using it, in this case by a lack of faith.
This incident in Matthew 17 shows it is entirely possible that God really has given us all authority to heal even though we don’t see everyone healed. The fact that we don’t see everyone healed should not cause us to doubt whether God really wants to heal. And the fact that we don’t see 100 per cent healed should not lead us to wonder whether God’s changed his mind about healing.
A second argument or leg of the stool is also about the difference between healings in the Bible and the healings we see today.
2. So a second reason some of us struggle with this business of healing today is because we wrongly think that “in the New Testament, healing was automatic.” We think that Jesus, Peter, Paul and the rest could automatically heal people, and we don’t see that happening today. We don’t know of anyone alive today who can just lay their hands on absolutely anyone they like and see them healed. And that again may bother us. Again we’re tempted to wonder whether God really is as keen to heal now as he was in the first century.
But if we were to read our Bibles more carefully, we’d realise that healing in the New Testament was not automatic at all. In fact, not even Jesus could heal automatically.
We know that because when Jesus went back to Nazareth:
SLIDE 7: “He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Matthew 13:58)
We know Jesus didn’t do as many miracles in Nazareth as he did in other towns, but we are told here that the reason was because the Nazarenes lacked faith. Jesus wanted to perform more miracles at Nazareth than he actually did. Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus “could not” (Mark 6:5) perform more miracles at Nazareth because of their lack of faith. Mark tells us that Jesus was “amazed at their lack of faith.”
If healing was automatic then Jesus would have healed the Nazarenes anyway, simply because he was Jesus. But Jesus didn’t, in fact, Mark 6:5 tells us he “couldn’t”.
3. A third leg of the stool is the objection that the quality of miracles we see today are not as impressive as those we find in the New Testament.
This sounds like a stronger argument at first, but at best it is an argument from silence. It’s true that we read about totally astonishing miracles in the New Testament, lepers cleansed, paralytics walking, the dead being raised.
But it’s also clear that the authors are deliberately picking the most amazing stories out to tell us. The Bible tells us that God did extraordinary miracles through Paul. So it’s at least possible that there were other healings going on which were more like the healings we see today. For example, we know from 1 Corinthians that healing is a spiritual gift and 1 Corinthians 1:7 tells us that all the spiritual gifts were in operation at Corinth Community Church. So we know that ordinary Christians in Corinth had gifts of healings (plural). It seems to be the same situation in Galatia. In Galatians 3:5, Paul asks: “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” We don’t know anything about these miracles. By definition these were not extraordinary miracles performed by apostles. How do we know that they weren’t more like the gifts of healings that we see today?
And besides, I can give you examples of cripples walking today, and the dead being raised today.
But let me also say that even in the New Testament there is a distinction between different degrees of healing gift. It does seem that Paul and Peter moved in a greater measure of the gift of healing than the other apostles, for example.
But did the other apostles therefore not bother with healing? No Acts 2:43 tells us they did many wonders and miraculous signs. Nor were the twelve apostles the only people to work these so called “signs and wonders.” Stephen and Philip were not apostles, but they performed “signs and wonders.” They didn’t think, “well we’re not part of the official twelve, so seeing as we’re not apostles, there’s no point in us laying hands on the sick.”
4. A fourth objection: Spectacular healings are always somewhere else, always abroad.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument that this was true. That no healings ever took place in Britain. They only happen abroad in third world countries. If that were the case, would that really be a good Biblical argument for seldom praying for the sick here in Britain. If anything it should spur us on to redouble our efforts, and become even more active in praying for the sick.
Let me mention two people, who I know personally, who’ve been healed in this country:
Jennifer Rees-Larcombe, lives in Kent, and was crippled by five attacks of encephalitis. Eight years in a wheelchair, written off by the DHSS. Suddenly and totally healed when a brand-new Christian called prayed for her. There was a famous photo on the front page of the Daily Mail the next day of Jen holding the wheelchair she no longer needs above her head.
Or what about Edie Nunn, from our church in Woking, who had Multiple Sclerosis for twenty years? A friend of mine called Martin Scott prayed for her and Edie Nunn was healed that night. Let me just read you her GPs comment: Read quote from “Miracles”.
These are just two people who I know. And they both have healing testimonies comparable to anything you might hear from abroad or read about in the New Testament.
But all this is beside the point. The fact is that there are no Scriptural ground for thinking that God has ceased NT quality miracles.
“So why don’t we see more of them?” Well, part of the explanation could be that unbelief has crept into Western Europe and into the church and into us.
We’ll come back to this.
So far, I’ve argued that level one isn’t Biblical enough, and at some length, I’ve tried to show that level two isn’t Biblical enough, by knocking out four arguments that support it.
I now want to argue for level 3, which, I believe is
SLIDE 8: Title: Does God heal today? Position iii) the Biblical position.
In a nutshell, I think the Biblical position is to be much more active than we are at the moment in praying for the sick and believing God not just can heal, but that he actually wants to.
If we really want to know what God’s will is about physical healing we should expect to find that will revealed in the life of Jesus. And if Jesus truly reveals the character of God to us, then we can stop speculating and arguing over God’s will in sickness and healing. Jesus healed people because he loved them. Very simply he had compassion for them; he was on their side; he wanted to solve their problems.
Jesus came to inaugurate the presence of the kingdom of God among us and to show us what the kingdom of God would be like.
Therefore it is truly amazing that Christians are often reluctant or embarrassed to offer to pray for each other to be healed. Especially as the Bible explicitly tells us “you do not have, because you do not ask.” (James 4:2)
Jesus not only commanded his 12 disciples to heal the sick, but the 72 disciples also, and in the great commission says:
SLIDE 9: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation . . . And these signs will accompany those who believe . . . they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16:15-18) which [even if this saying is not in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts] is exactly what we see happening in Acts.
We have been given authority.
Jesus frequently healed all who were brought to him. We know of no-one Jesus sent away.
And please note that Jesus never sent people away saying it would be good for them to remain ill for a bit longer!
Let me finish my defence of position three by giving you four reasons why God heals. And we’ll get into them next Sunday:
SLIDE 10: God heals because of . . .
A) His eternal desire to glorify himself and his son (e.g. John 11:40)
B) His deep compassion for those who are suffering (e.g. Matt 14:13-14)
C) His constant willingness to respond to those who have faith (e.g. Acts 14:8-10)
D) He heals in response to his own command and promise to the church (James 5:14-16)
None of A B C and D have changed since New Testament times. We have the same God today as the God revealed in the New Testament. Hebrews 13:8 says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
Death and disease have no part in God’s original purpose for us, and they play no part in his ultimate purpose for us in the new heaven and new earth. God is against sickness and disease. And Jesus has inaugurated the kingdom.
I want now to suggest finally, 3 things we should do differently:
AND AS I DO PERHAPS THE BAND COULD COME UP
- We’ve got to be much more Biblical in our thinking about the role of faith in healing.
Like it or not, the fact is that faith levels do have a very important, and often, decisive role in Biblical miracles.
Actually, the Bible is so clear about faith levels, that we can almost say categorically that if both you and the person you’re praying for both think nothing’s going to happen, it is extremely unlikely that a healing will take place.
Sometimes the faith of the sick person is decisive (for example the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, thinking “if I touch him I’ll be healed.”)
Sometimes the faith of the people doing the praying is decisive (For example Acts 3 Peter and John going up to the temple, a crippled beggar asks them for money. Peter says “I haven’t got any money, but in the name of Jesus of Nazareth walk!”)
OK, Adrian, How do I get more faith? Romans 10:17 Faith comes by hearing the word of God. Study the Bible, especially healings in the New Testament.
Too many of us have been at position 2. Thinking that it’s highly unlikely anything will happen does not provide an atmosphere conducive to faith. We cannot avoid the fact that faith is important in the healing process.
2. We must stop saying “Oh well, I think God wants me to be ill. We have no Scriptural grounds for thinking “I think God wants me to go through this.” I’m not saying this is never the case, but we are far too fatalistic about this, and not Biblical enough.
What’s really ironic is that most of us who say “Oh well, God must want me to be ill,” then go off to the doctor. Which shows us that in our heart of hearts we do think God wants us to be physically well. Otherwise we wouldn’t ever take an aspirin or go to the doctor. Whenever we seek any kind of medical help we prove to ourselves that we genuinely think it is God’s will that we seek to be well.
And there are doctors in our church who’d have something to say to you if you tried to argue that they were actually opposing God’s will by helping Christians get better!
It is true that while we are ill, we may think about God more and become more sanctified as we seek him, but I suspect we have paid far too much attention to this. Because, the emphasis of the New Testament, both in Jesus ministry and in the ministry of the disciples in Acts, encourages us to eagerly and earnestly seek God for healing in every case. And that we should confidently expect Him to bring good out of the situation whether he grants the physical healing or not. In everything God should receive glory and our joy and trust in him should increase.
3. We mustn’t be so reluctant to ask for healing.
Next week we will pray for the sick. I want to encourage you, between now and next Sunday, why not prepare your heart either to be prayed for, or to do some praying. This is something for all of us. My prayer is that Christ Church London would be a healing church, That Christ church London would be a James 5:16 church, with a bit of Chesney Hawkes thrown in.