Preaching and Worship Resources about Healing
The biblical testimony of healing, especially in miracles, confronts us with both the blessing and the mystery of God's healing work in Jesus Christ. Healing is another way of describing the redeeming work of God. The Creation is infected with sin that causes spreading disease in every area of life, from physical illness to social disorder, from mental anguish to spiritual sickness. In the midst of this disease, we look to God for healing grace.
Disease and Sin In the Bible there is some connection between disease and sin. The common disorders of body, mind, and spirit seem to have a connection with the infection of sin. Yet Jesus makes clear that the connection is not one of direct cause and effect. His fellow Jews seemed to think the connection was direct — that illness or other natural disasters were the direct effect of a person's wrongdoing (see, for example, the story of Job). Jesus denied a direct connection while upholding a general connection (see John 9 and Luke 13:1-4). Disaster and disease are two ways we experience the brokenness of a fallen creation.
Jesus' Miracles of Healing In the Bible there are a number of healing miracles, especially by prophets like Elijah and Elisha. But God's healing power comes to a forte in the healing ministry of Jesus. Right from the start of his ministry, Jesus is the healer, most often in miraculous ways. Soon he is surrounded by crowds of people seeking healing of their diseases, disabilities, and demonic possession. It's important to understand that Jesus' healing ministry was not focused on the eradication of disease. Everyone he healed, even those he raised from the dead, would ultimately succumb to some disease leading to their death. Jesus' healing miracles, like his welcome of sinners, were meant as a sign of the coming of the kingdom of God. This is what God's kingdom rule will be like. The gospels also link Jesus' healing with his compassion for the suffering. A healing often follows the words "Jesus had compassion on them."
Jesus' Healing Ministry: Jesus healed in many ways. Sometimes he healed from afar, sometimes with touch or by secretly being touched. He used oil and even spittle. Sometimes the healing was immediate, and other times it was gradual (like the blind man whose sight returned bit by bit). In all these ways Jesus was completely attuned to the unique needs of the person he was healing. He often wanted to keep his healings private, telling those he healed to tell no one. This was, evidently, in part to protect people from the jostling, excited crowds that thronged wherever Jesus went.
Even Greater Works Jesus also gave the ministry of healing to his disciples, but they often struggled with it, not seeming to have the same power or authority. Still, Jesus promised they would eventually do even greater works.
The Healing Ministry of the Church Luke introduces the Acts of the Apostles by saying that the book is an account of all that Jesus continued to do and to teach through his church. After Jesus ascends to heaven, we soon see his apostles continuing his ministry of healing, but not, it seems, with quite the same intensity and frequency. In his letters Paul acknowledges unique spiritual gifts of miracles and healing. In the later epistle of James, this healing ministry seems to especially belong to the elders of the church. James says that if someone is sick they should call the elders who will, after a confession of sin, anoint them and pray for their healing. James does not thereby promise healing, but does promise that "the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective" (James 5:16).
The book of Revelation closes with a wonderful vision of the culmination of God's healing work: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away" (Rev. 21:4) "On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations" (Rev. 22:2).
Points to Ponder
Christian Community Healing, whether instantaneously miraculous or through prayer and waiting, has always been part of life in the Christian community. Christians typically believe that God continues to heal people. Another perspective is that this sort of miraculous healing, while not absent, is more evident in areas that are being newly evangelized, as demonstrations of God's power and his kingdom. On the other hand, in more "advanced" societies, God's healing ministry is carried on more typically through the gifts of medicine and hospital care, much of which can be traced back to the compassionate care of the church for the sick.
Physical Healing It is easy to see that physical healing is not the most important kind of healing we need. The biblical word "whole" defines a kind of healing we need to be more deeply well: the healing of mind, body, and spirit that outshines physical health. Physical healing is, after all, temporary. Even Lazarus was raised from the dead temporarily. Wholeness is a gift of God's grace, and it lasts for eternity.
|Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.|