Does God Heal Today?

Ref: John chapter 9 verses 1 to 16, 24 and 25

Today, I want to consider this passage in which Jesus heals a man who was blind from birth. It focuses on the issue of Healing: does God heal the sick?

This passage opens with a fundamental human question. When the disciples saw this man who had been born blind they asked Jesus, "Whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents sin?"

When people suffer serious illness or misfortune today, they are still inclined to ask, 'What have I (or what has that person) done to deserve this?' or 'Why has God done this to me?' wondering if God is punishing them in some way.

The Jews connected suffering with sin. If someone suffered, they believed that s/he had sinned and couldn't be healed until his/her sin was forgiven. There were times in the Old Testament when God clearly punished the sinfulness and disobedience of his people through sickness, defeat in war, and death. This was during the period of the Old Covenant relationship when God related to the Jews as a whole nation, as a people-group. God was their god and they would be God's people. God would bless them when they obeyed his ways and God would discipline them when they were disobedient and did their own thing.

But even within the Old Testament, especially in the Book of Job and the Psalms, we see the Jewish people struggling with the issue of the suffering of the innocent and of the faithful servants of God. 'Why do the innocent suffer?' they asked?

The disciples must have known of this blind man because they knew he had been blind from birth. So they asked Jesus whose sin was responsible for his blindness, his own or that of his parents. It seems strange to us that they would even ask about his own sin as he was blind from birth. But some Jews believed in pre-natal sin, that it was possible to sin in the womb. (Now many mothers may agree with that after being kicked around by their unborn baby during pregnancy!) But for some Jews, sinfulness was related to the question of when life begins: at conception or birth?

Some Jews had also accepted the Greek idea of the pre-existence of the soul; that souls existed from before the creation of the world and resided in a special place, waiting to enter a body. Some believed that these souls were already good or bad. (From the Jewish Book of Wisdom chapter 8 v 19, "Now I was a child good by nature, and a good soul fell to my lot.") So some Jews believed in pre-natal sin.

The alternative option was that the man's blindness was due to his parents' sin. The idea that children inherit the consequences of their parents' sin was woven into Jewish thought. We don't have any trouble accepting this view today with our understanding of genetic and personality influences and the influences and consequences of a family environment.

The second commandment says, "I am the Lord your God and I am a jealous God (I tolerate no rivals). I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation. But I show my love to thousands of generations of those who love me and obey my laws". (Exodus 20 v 5 & 6) It is a profound truth that no person is an island. When a person sins, he or she can set in motion a train of consequences which affect future generations. And if we understand the power of evil, we know that curses can affect families for generations.

But in verse 3, Jesus says, 'No!' to any of this. The man’s blindness is not due to his own sin nor his parents' sin. Jesus rejects this direct link between an individual's suffering or illness and their personal sin. He does so in other incidents also (see Luke 13 v 1 to 5, when some Galileans were killed by Pilate). Jesus mentions a person's sin in connection with any of his healings only twice: the paralysed man lowered through the roof on a stretcher in Luke chapter 5 and the sick man beside the Sheepgate of the Temple in John chapter 5.

In the first of these passages I think that Jesus was making a teaching point to the Pharisees and theological teachers to whom he was speaking at the time (see Luke 5 v 17 to 26). Jesus does not try to explain any connection between sin and sickness. The second passage is more direct as Jesus says “so stop sinning or something worse may happen to you”. (John 5 v 14)

Under the New Covenant relationship individuals from all nations can enter God's Kingdom through personally turning from sin and putting their faith in Jesus. Under the New Covenant there is NO consistent indication in Jesus' ministry or teaching that God causes sickness in a person's life as a direct punishment for some sin they have committed. That is not to say God does not discipline us at times when we are disobedient. The story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5 is a challenging one.

God does allow sickness and can use them for his purposes. God also leave us at times to suffer the consequences of our sins and mistakes.

However, we do live in a fallen sin-infected world as a result of human beings mis-using and abusing the freedom of choice that God has given. Human sin has, in a mysterious way, even affected the natural world. So all people whether Christians or not, are subject to natural disaster, unexplained illness and human evil, as well as to evil spiritual forces and the natural consequences of our own mistakes and wrong choices in daily living. Generally speaking, we can say that God allows sickness and suffering but God does not cause it.

This brings us back to Jesus' reply to the disciple's question. Jesus says, "This man is blind so that God's power might be seen at work in him.” This may sound as though Jesus is saying that God caused the man to be blind so that God could show his power. What Jesus means, is that the fact of the man's blindness gives an opportunity for God's power to be seen at work in him.

Jesus does not dwell on blaming and looking for causes. Jesus moves on from the disciples' question of past causes to the matter of future possibilities. Jesus accepts people as they are, whatever the causes and whoever is to blame, and is willing and able to transform their lives by his presence. And Jesus can do this even when the mess in our lives is entirely our own fault! So Jesus moves on to display God's life-changing power by healing the blind man.

WHY DOES GOD HEAL? Some reasons are clearly seen in the life and ministry of Jesus, who claimed to be, and whom the New Testament claims to be, God become a human person.

1. God heals because of his compassion and mercy. Time and again we read in the gospels that Jesus had compassion on a sick person ('pity' is the old word) or responded to their cries for mercy and healed them.

Jesus never saw the sick, the disabled or the demon-possessed as offensive, disgusting or unimportant. Jesus was moved with compassion, literally, “was moved in his bowels”, to feel their pain and even to reach out and touch them, to get involved and heal them. The compassion of Jesus finally took him to death on a cross, so that we might be healed from both the penalty and the consequences of our sins.

Do you know why God still heals TODAY? Because God has not changed. God has not given up being compassionate and merciful towards people. God still wants people to be well and whole and healthy as He created us to be.

If we wish to be used by God in healing ministry today, we need to ask God to give us His sense of compassion for the hurting.

2. God heals to bring glory and honour to Himself and to his Son. Verse 3 says, "He is blind so that God's power can be seen at work..." Constantly we read that the people praised and glorified God when they saw Jesus heal someone: the paralysed man, the women bent over by an evil spirit, the blind man, and when raising the widow's son to life (read Matthew 15 v 30 & 31). In fact all Jesus' miracles had the same double aim, to express God's compassion and to draw people's attention to God so that they would praise him. They also pointed to Jesus being God's Messiah and Son.

Still today, the purpose of God's healing work, or of any miracle, is to draw people to himself that they may come to worship and honour him in their lives. God heals people for His glory not for the reputation of the healer.

This is a good test of the genuineness of a healing ministry. Does the person with the healing gift glorify themselves or God when people are healed?

3. God heals in response to faith. Consistently, throughout the gospels, Jesus said to those whom he healed, "Your faith has made you well". He said this to the woman with the haemorrhage who secretly touched his cloak. When a Roman Officer asked him to heal his servant who was at home and unable to move, Jesus offered to come to his home. 'No' said the officer, 'I don't deserve to have you come into my house. Just give the order and he will get well." Jesus answered, "I have never found anyone in Israel with faith like this... Go home and what you believe will be done for you." (Luke 7)

When Jesus saw the efforts to which four friends went to demolish some of the roof of a house in which he was teaching, to lower their paralysed friend on a stretcher to meet Jesus, the passage says “when Jesus saw their faith (the faith of the friends) he healed the man.” (Luke 5)

God heals in response to faith. Having faith in God for healing, means not only believing that God has the ability to heal but that God is willing to heal and does so today. We are unlikely to ask God for anything that we do not believe God can do today.

This is not to say that God must heal in response to our faith. Why God does not heal is the great mystery of the healing ministry. And while God does heal in response to faith, it is very wrong and very distressing to blame a person for a lack of faith if they are not healed. It is also important to remember that there are no magic formulae or special techniques which guarantee God's healing. When Jesus healed, he didn’t use just one standard approach. (Some say this healing of the blind man led the first denomination – “the mudites” – those who insisted that healings must follow this formula!)

4. Finally, God heals in response to his own promise. In the New Testament, God commissioned the whole church to be involved in the healing ministry. Paul speaks of a gift of healing which some individuals in the church are given and which need to be identified, encouraged and used in the church.

Then in James chapter 5 we read this, "Are any among you sick? They should call the elders of the church who will pray over them and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up". Now why would God give this direction to the church to pray for the sick, and promise healing if they prayed in faith, unless God intended it to be a normal part of church life?

And why would God give gifts of healing to the church unless he intended that people be healed? This prayer for healing is not as an alternative to seeking medical help. James states clearly in chapter 1 that every good and perfect gift comes from God and this surely applies to medical gifts. We are to seek medical help and also to pray.

The elders are called not just to visit the sick, not just to pray for comfort and strength for the sick, but to pray with faith that they be healed. This is a practice which we follow and encourage here at St Albans, both for elders to pray and for the sick to request their prayers. And of course we can each pray for God's healing for those who are sick. One major reason that people do not believe in or expect healing today, is that they have not experienced people being healed. I want to consider this question next week and the wider question, 'Why does God not always heal?'

 

If you would like someone to pray with you for healing, please come forward as we sing this final song?

 


Steve Jourdain. 12.11.06