I saw an advert recently that read: For Sale. Complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Excellent condition, £100 o.n.o. No longer needed, got married; wife knows everything!
Somebody sent me a collection of amusing bulletins that were announced or appeared in church notices. I thought you might appreciate one or two of them, like the church notice that said:
- Don’t forget the second-hand bring and buy sale on Saturday. It’s a chance to get rid of all those things lying around the house not worth keeping. Bring your husbands.
- At the service tonight the sermon topic is “What is Hell?” Come early and listen to choir practice.
- Mothers Union “Good-as-New” Sale: The ladies from the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They can be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.
Finally, I love the funny story about a husband and wife who were out shopping and they agreed to meet up at a certain place and time. The husband wasn’t there when he should have been and his wife got crosser and crosser until, eventually, she called his mobile and said, ‘I’ve been waiting here for 20 minutes, where the heck are you?’
The husband said: ‘Darling, I’m sorry. You remember that jewellery shop where you fell in love with that diamond necklace and I said I couldn’t afford it but I’d buy it for you one day?’
His wife replied: ‘Oh yes, sweetie, I remember.’
The husband said: ‘I’m in the pub next door!’
Some healing needed there, for sure!
Tonight we are looking at the subject: Does God Heal Today? I want to start by saying… God has ordained that our prayers play an important role in his providential answers. To put it another way, the reason God answers prayer, including prayer for healing, is because his children ask him to. There’s lots of…
Healing In The Bible:
In the Old Testament we find God’s promises to bring healing and health to his people if they obey him (e.g. Exodus 23:25-26; Deuteronomy 28; Psalm 41v3). Indeed, it’s in God’s character to heal, for He says: ‘I am the LORD who heals you’ (Exodus 15:26). We also find numerous accounts of healings in the Old Testament: two such examples are given in your Alpha manual and you can look these up later if you want to do. (2 Kings 5; the story of Naaman healed of leprosy; and Isaiah 38-39; the story of Hezekiah who on his death bed was healed).
In the New Testament, of course, there are several accounts of miraculous healings and I want to do something slightly different this evening; I want to begin by looking at Luke’s Gospel, chapter 18v35-43, about a blind beggar receiving his sight (PPT slide):
As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ He called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Lord, I want to see,’ he replied. Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.
Let me start by giving some context to this Bible passage. Jesus is on his way up to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, which will become his Last Supper. As they approach the final leg of their journey Jesus and his disciples reach the city of Jericho, which is about 15 miles northeast of Jerusalem, and this is where we picked up our reading in Luke 18v35. It’s a great passage, only nine verses, but loads to pick up on and so we’ll spend some time unpacking the narrative.
We are told (v35) that as Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man – Mark’s gospel tells us he was called Bartimaeus (Mark 10v46) – was sitting by the roadside begging. The presence of a blind beggar outside the city gates, and on a road that pilgrims followed, going up to Jerusalem, would have been a common sight in those days. Unable to work for a living, all they could do was sit and beg from passers-by, and a pilgrim’s way would have been a great place to solicit… lots of traveller’s cheques! Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is passing by but Bartimaeus doesn’t want to be passed-by – not again. He doesn’t want to be ignored, left behind or forgotten about; put out to pasture. Is that, maybe, how you are feeling this evening; that you have been left behind, ignored, forgotten about; that no one really cares or understands? That’s the enemies work! God has not forgotten about you. He cares. He understands. He created you. He loves you. Yes, God makes us wait sometimes but that’s because it strengthens our faith. Faith is like a muscle, it grows stronger with constant use.
Bartimaeus maybe blind but he’s not deaf. He hears that Jesus is in the house; and he senses there’s an opportunity so he seizes the moment and starts shouting (v38): “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Now to sit quietly like a good little beggar and to wait patiently for people to show pity… that’s all well and good, but to actually shout out for help and make a nuisance of yourself… well that’s just not on; and it’s downright offensive to the locals. But Bartimaeus has other things on his mind. He’s heard all about Jesus and he knows who He is – the blind man can see spiritually (‘Son of David’ is a Messianic title) – he knows Jesus is merciful, and so he calls out for mercy. (v39): ‘Those who led the way rebuked him’ – they yelled at him – ‘and told him to be quiet, [what are you doing? Pipe down you noisy little beggar. Who do you think you are?] But he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus doesn’t care. He will not be put off by people who tell him that Jesus is not interested in him. We sometimes convince ourselves, don’t we, that God will not hear our cries. We aren’t worthy. We feel weak and inadequate. For sure, we are all those things, but what does this story about the blind beggar tell us? It tells us God is interested in us. We are loved, and the Lord is filled with compassion and mercy towards even the most wretched of us… even the lowest beggar on the street.
Jesus hears Bartimaeus calling him (v40). Jesus always hears us when we call out to him, and He is instantly interruptible. Jesus stopped and He ordered that the man be brought to him. Notice that Jesus didn’t go to the beggar… (He could have done but He didn’t), He had the beggar come to him. Jesus can easily meet our needs as we sit in pew, so to speak, but often it’s in the act of coming to him; receiving prayer ministry, which is the step of faith that often opens the way for God to act… publicly, not privately, so there is an opportunity for God to be praised and glorified publicly, which edifies and encourages the whole church and increases all of our faith. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus (v41). – Friends, what do you want Jesus to do for you? Will you get to your feet, come to Jesus and ask him? – Bartimaeus doesn’t hesitate: “Lord, I want to see,” he asks boldly, expectantly and with faith. “Receive your sight;” said Jesus (v42), “your faith has healed you.” – “Your faith has healed you.” This implies that faith is required for healing to happen. (Often I have prayed for people who have had little or no faith and they have been healed. Faith was/is still required, even if it’s our faith because those we are praying for don’t have any faith of their own.)
Jesus called Bartimaeus to come. He still calls people to come to him today. In the New Testament letter of James (chapter 5) we read: 15‘the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well… 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.’ The prayer of a righteous person is the prayer of a believer – all of us who believe are accepted as righteous, not because of anything we have done but because of what Christ has done for us. As Christians the Holy Spirit resides within us; we have been made righteous because we have accepted Christ and His blood cleanses us from all sin. We are God’s people. Certainly, we are not perfect, not yet, but we are righteous because we have been made right with God by accepting Christ. Now, our prayers, when they are combined with faith, are powerful and effective. So let me ask you this, does God still heal today? What about major miracles, such as healing the blind or the crippled or raising the dead: does God still do those kinds of miracle healings today?
For the remainder of our time together this evening we going to do something a little bit different: we are going to do a Bible study on the spiritual gift of faith for healing, and we are going to look at what Jesus said, taught and commanded us to do. Let me begin by sharing a recent example with you: Pastor Surprise Sithole works for Iris Ministries (founded by Heidi Baker) and in the last twenty-five years he has planted more than ten thousand churches in Malawi, Mozambique and throughout southern Africa. In his recent book, Voice in the Night, he shares his own personal story about how God called him to be an evangelist, and how miracles and healings are demonstrating the power of the gospel and impacting the church all over Africa.
In one of many incidents described in the book, Surprise Sithole was on the outskirts of a village when he heard a woman screaming and then he heard someone else shouting his name. When he arrived at the scene, a group of people had gathered around a young woman who sobbed in excruciating pain and cried out, ‘I don’t want to die! Oh God! Please don’t let me die.’
The young woman had been bitten by a deadly snake; a poisonous puff adder. Her right leg was already twice the size of the left one and, with the nearest hospital some distance away; she would never have made it in time to receive the antidote treatment!
One of the women asked him, ‘Will Jesus make her well?’
Surprise knew that Jesus can do anything, and so, in faith, he sat beside the poor girl, put his hands on her swollen leg and simply prayed over and over again, ‘Lord Jesus, please bless your child; please bless your child.’
As he prayed droplets of fluid, like beads of sweat, began to drain out of the injured leg and a few moments later the fluid began gushing out and the crowd gasped in amazement as the girl’s leg returned to its normal size! She stopped sobbing; the pain had gone and she immediately got back on her feet and walked around feeling fine. It was a miracle!
That very same night Surprise Sithole held a public meeting which was full of people who had heard what had happened and who wanted to know more about Jesus. The healing of the young woman demonstrated the power of the gospel and opened the way for effective evangelism, and the end result was that the church in that village grew very rapidly indeed.
Yes, God still performs miracles and yes God still heals people.
Surprise Sithole says he’s often been asked why so many miracles happen in Africa when they seem to be so rare in the West. Interestingly, he believes it’s because in Africa people have a simple faith: they believe what God’s Word says and God blesses them for their faith. Whereas in the West, he says, ‘people think they are too clever and sophisticated to simple believe and accept God’s Word, and so they question everything, including what the Bible says, and this displeases God.’
We are going to look at what the Bible teaches on this subject of healing shortly, but at this point, it’s worth remembering what Jesus also said about our need to receive the kingdom of God like a small child (Mark 10v15); not that we are to be childish, but we are to have childlike-humility and put our absolute trust in God and in His Word.
Healing In Church History:
Certainly God heals today through the use of medicines and the medical profession – guiding and controlling things behind the scenes – but what about divine intervention; God-given miracles.
It has to be said, there is much fear and scepticism many of us in the twenty-first century bring to the whole subject of healing. Indeed, there is a fine sounding argument saying that we no longer need miracles or the ‘greater spiritual gifts’ that the Bible talks about, because we now have the full and final word of God. It is suggested, by some, that this is the reason we don’t see major miracles anymore.
The argument goes something like this: ‘Yes it is still God’s hand that makes the world go around and the sun come up each morning and yes, God still answers prayer, but we don’t see the major miracles such as were performed in Jesus’ day and which (seemingly) stopped with the dying out of the apostles, because we now have the full and final word of God; we now have the complete Bible, and so we are to put our trust in God’s Word and not in signs and wonders.’
It sounds credible, maybe even convincing to some, but no credible explanation is ever given to account for the many wonderful healings that do still happen today, and every day, all around us. And nor is any credible answer given to the numerous written records and eyewitness testimonies of major miracles and healings throughout church history, dating all the way back from the Early Church Fathers right up to present day. (For a really good sampling of some of the miraculous signs and wonders documented by major personalities and Christian movements throughout the centuries right up to the current day, see the Appendix at the back of John Wimber’s book, Power Evangelism, (1985) published by Hodder and Stoughton). God hasn’t changed. God still performs miracles and healings today.
In 1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14, some of the wonderful and supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed for us, and we are told to eagerly desire them, especially the ‘greater gifts’ as Paul calls them, which includes the gift of healing (1Corinthians 12v31). Why are we to eagerly desire these gifts? The answer is for God’s glory, not for our entertainment: because in receiving and using these spiritual gifts we edify and build up the church and bring great honour and glory to God. This begs the question then, if we don’t eagerly desire the greater gifts the Holy Spirit bestows, well then, we are not actually doing what the Word of God implores us to do, and we can then end up quashing the Holy Spirit… or suggesting maybe that God doesn’t do miracles anymore!
It is entirely possible that major miracles, such as healing the blind or the crippled or raising the dead, ‘may seemed’ to have dried up here in the West, for a time maybe, but the Bible says nothing about such miracles ceasing altogether or that the ‘greater spiritual gifts’ are no longer needed or available. In fact, quite the opposite: Andrew Marsden witnessed someone who was blind receiving back their sight at New Wine a few years ago (2015). They came to New Wine with a white stick and left without it.
A few years ago, there was something of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in South Wales, at Victory Church in Cwmbran. It started on 10th April 2013 at a mid-week prayer meeting when a man in a wheelchair, named Paul, who had been paralysed from the waist down in a motor vehicle accident ten years previously, was prayed over and was miraculously and instantly healed. He stood up unaided for the first time in ten years, lifted his wheelchair above his head, and to the amazement of everyone he ran around the church giving glory to God. The church went ballistic! And the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit, the outpouring, continued every night for several weeks, running into months. A great many testimonies and accounts of healings were recorded and hundreds of people came to faith. Literally thousands of people travelled to Cwmbran to see for themselves what was happening. I went on 9th May 2013 (week 4):
- There were around 700-800 people there from all over the country
- I didn’t witness any healing miracles there and then, but around a dozen people were saved; lots of people went forward for prayer; and there were many powerful testimonies from previous nights (people were asked to write in).
- The meeting was all very spontaneous and raw (even irreverent maybe, in places), but real; genuine – and with a deep sense of humility and hunger for God from the crowds – many had travelled 100’s of miles to be there.
Let me ask you; are you hungry for the Holy Spirit? Do you want to know God’s touch on your life? Are you seeking healing? Do you want to know God more intimately? Coming back to the Bible…
Jesus said, John 14v12, ‘I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.’ Does that actually mean we will do even greater miracles that Jesus did? Well maybe not greater in quality but certainly there has been a greater quantity of miracles since Jesus walked the earth! (We don’t know how many people Jesus healed altogether but there are accounts of thirty healings recorded in the four gospels.)
When it comes to major miracles, maybe God has chosen to be ‘silent’ for a time here in the West, but isn’t that His right, if He chooses? God in a sense was ‘silent’ when He allowed the Israelites to remain in Egypt for 430 years… but then God sent Moses who performed many miraculous signs and wonders and the people were set free. I wonder if the Israelites in Egypt said God doesn’t do major miracles anymore! We mustn’t quash the Holy Spirit; we mustn’t limit God or use the argument of ‘silence’ to suggest that God is no longer active in performing miracles. Let’s look at the Bible:
(Slide) In Matthew 10v1, Jesus sent out the twelve disciples, and He gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and heal every disease and sickness. Jesus commissioned them specifically to preach; (Slide) to heal the sick; to raise the dead; to cleanse those who have leprosy and to drive out demons (v8). But it wasn’t just the disciples that Jesus specifically commissioned! (Slide) In Luke chapter 10, Jesus appointed seventy-two others with the same commission, (v9) to heal the sick and preach the kingdom. It is the very same charge that is given to Christians today; to us: we are to heal the sick and evangelise. The spiritual gift of healing was never intended nor limited only to the apostles.
In Mark 16v15–20 Jesus again spoke about miraculous signs that would be performed by those who have faith: (Slide) He said, ‘These signs will accompany those who believe’ (v17) – ‘those who believe’ means all believers, all Christians; it means us. The early church saw healings as part of the normal activity of the kingdom of God, and Paul tells us, in 1 Corinthians 12v9 (Slide), that some people have actually been given the gift of healing. – Some of you may have the spiritual gift of the healing and you’re not even aware of it because you’ve never tested or tried to use the gift.
And let’s not forget the famous passage in Matthew 28v18–20, known as the Great Commission: 18 ‘Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ The one who is in authority is the one who is able to delegate authority. The Father has given all authority to Jesus and Jesus delegates his authority to us. We don’t have the power to heal – only God has the power to heal – but we do have the authority to heal because Jesus delegated his authority to us. Jesus said (Slide): ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ It’s a command! We are told not just to make converts and baptise them, we are told to make disciples and to teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded us to do; and that includes healing the sick. Jesus commanded us to heal the sick.
Now – having said that – it is not always God’s will that sick people are healed. Sometimes it is God’s will that people are healed and sometimes it’s not. We don’t know why that is; it’s all part of the divine mystery, but one thing I regularly find to be true is the more people we pray for the more people are healed.
We live in that period of time known as ‘now and not yet.’ The kingdom of God has already arrived, it’s here now, but it’s not yet fully here. The kingdom of God has come in power – it was initiated with the coming of Christ – but it’s not yet come in all fullness; it’s here ‘now and not yet.’ When we pray for healing and healing happens, we are reminded that the kingdom has come in power now. But sometimes we pray for healing and it doesn’t happen and then we are reminded that the kingdom of God is not yet! We have to live with this tension. Sometimes God heals, sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes healing is instant, other times we have to persist in prayer before we see breakthrough. But one thing is for certain: the more we pray for healing the more healings happen.
The apostle John helps us to get a proper perspective on this: In 1 John 5:14-15 he says (Slide): ‘This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him.’ Again, sometimes it’s God’s will that people are healed and sometimes it’s not. One of the consequences of the ‘fall’ (sin entering the world) is that sickness, disability, disease death and decay are a reality for each one of us. And unless Jesus returns beforehand, everyone who is alive today will eventually die as a direct result of some kind of health related issue, even if we just wear out. Again, it is not always God’s will that people are healed – we are not meant to live forever in this earthly body – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray for healing, and keep on praying.
There is often a difference between a healing and a miracle of healing. A miracle usually happens very fast whereas healing, at times, can be a progressive work. ‘Healing is warfare: No one goes into war and wins with a single bullet… so don’t get discouraged that you may have to pray several times.’ But even when people are not healed, they are often still touched by the compassion and love of God, or by the presence and peace of God, ministered to them through our prayers.
In Acts 4v30 the new believers prayed: (Slide) ‘Enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ This is a prayer we too should pray, believing that God will answer, and knowing He will glorify his servant Jesus.
Remember Jesus did not say pray for the sick; He said heal the sick – because He has delegated authority to us to do that. We don’t need to ask for it because we already have it; we just need to step out in faith and do it. Faith is spelt R.I.S.K. God is not offended, by us taking risks. We need to display reckless abandonment and take risks… And always assume that God wants to heal, because to not do so, is to assume that God is indifferent.
‘When you read the gospel stories about healings, you notice that Jesus and his disciples never prayed petitionary prayers for healing. Instead they commanded in prayer every time. Their prayers were not directed towards God, but towards people’s conditions.’ – Robby Dawkins who has a powerful healing ministry says ‘you’ve got to tell the body what to do.’ – ‘You are not commanding God to do what you say. You are commanding the body that needs healing to respond because you are an ambassador – a representative of God’s Kingdom with authority to heal the sick.’ Citation
When it comes to getting involved in healing ministry the Holy Spirit will often prompt us with what He wants us to do: We get a word of knowledge about some particular condition to pray for, or a picture that if we are willing to share it, will mean something to the intended recipient – the person the Holy Spirit wants to minister to; it could simply be an impression that is laid on our heart, or sometimes even a ‘sympathy pain’ that tells us what we are to pray for. We need to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and willing to take risks if we want to see people healed.
You know, when we pray the model prayer Jesus taught us we say: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When we pray this with faith, we are praying for God’s power and authority and lordship (His kingdom) to break into this world; we are praying for things to be done here as they are in heaven. And when we pray with faith and in the power of the Spirit for healing, it’s like we are reminding God of this, we’re saying: “Lord, you commanded us to pray for things here on earth as they are in heaven, where there is no sickness or disease, so we pray in the name of Jesus…” This is actually a great way to pray for healing.
End by offering prayer ministry. (Seek insight/words of knowledge from the Holy Spirit prior to the session and then offer prayer for healing.)