Does God heal today, as He did through Jesus, when He walked on this earth? Some people are sceptical, some would like to believe it but are not really sure? I was both of those until a time back in the 1980’s when I saw the power of God bring healing in a most miraculous way.
I was still a newish Christian – in between my conversion and this event, I had been awarded a Business School Scholarship and had graduated with a Masters Degree in Business Administration. My studies were intense and I didn’t have too much time for church. We attended most Sundays, I tried to keep up my daily devotions and we had a Bible Study group going with a few fellow students but those things tended to be on the edge of my life.
During our time in Cape Town, Margie had become allergic to penicillin which turned out to be quite a frightful experience. We had however become quite aware of potential health issues.
Amongst other things, I was found to have a tumour on my appendix, which fortunately was benign and it was safely removed. Margie also was found to have a thyroid problem and had to undergo treatment with radioactive iodine.
And then Margie began to feel unwell and developed a very unhealthy yellow colour. I was very busy in my new job as the International Economist at a major bank and she took herself off for various tests. Then the doctor called and wanted to see both of us.
I took time off work and we went to the rooms together. He told us that they had some results which showed a potential serious condition but that they needed to take another test. He sent Margie out with a sample bottle and then told me that she had terminal cancer of the liver and he just wanted to know if I wanted to break the news to her or whether I would prefer him to do it.
I was dumbstruck and mumbled something.
When she came back he laid out all the results and the prognosis. She had about 12 months to live but they could ease any discomfort with various kinds of treatment. We needed to visit a specialist and he had already made an appointment for us.
We left the rooms in a state of shock and decided to go directly to our church, just up the road, to see our minister.
When we got there, he was in a meeting with several other ministers, including Teddy Saunders, an Anglican minister working with David Watson at St Andrew’s Chorleywood, who had come to South Africa to teach on healing and charismatic renewal. They all came out of the office and prayed with Margie. At the end of the prayers, Teddy’s wife, also a Margaret, stated emphatically that the Lord had showed her in a word of knowledge that Margaret was already completely healed.
We weren’t too sure whether to believe that, but we hoped. We then went off to the specialist, and produced the results of the battery of tests which Margie had already undergone. Mr Jersky studied them carefully and was not hopeful. He felt that he could introduce some treatment to maintain quality of life for as long as possible and so we were sent off to the hospital for further scans and tissue samples. A week later we went back and he said that there had been some error in the tests and that Margie would have to do them again. Off to the hospital again, a week later we were back with Mr Jersky.
To cut a long story short, there was no sign of any cancer. He was at a loss and began to explain that sometimes the tests do give false positives but he didn’t understand how the repeated tests ordered by our doctor had kept on confirming the condition.
We told him about the prayer and what Margaret Saunders had said. His eyes lit up, “Aha!” he said, “that’s it then.” He told us that as a Jew he believed without doubt in the power of God.
And so when I got home, I started to reread the Bible, to see what it says on this whole subject of healing and the kingdom of God.
Of course, God heals with the cooperation of doctors and nurses and the medical profession. But the more I’ve looked, the more convinced I am that we should expect that God will also heal miraculously today.
1. HEALING IN THE BIBLE
As I looked at healing in the Bible, I saw that throughout the Old Testament, God promises healing for his people. It’s his character to heal. He says, in Exodus 15, “I am the Lord who heals you”—it is part of his love for us. And there are several examples of miraculous healing in the Old Testament—for example, Naaman, who was healed of leprosy after bathing in the Jordan River seven times.
If God acted like that in the Old Testament, when there were only glimpses of the kingdom of God, we should confidently expect that he will do so even more now that Jesus has inaugurated the kingdom, and because we now live in the age of the Spirit.
When we turn to the New Testament, we find the very first recorded words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel are:
“The time has come, The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
The kingdom of God—or `the kingdom of heaven’, which Matthew uses interchangeably with `kingdom of God’ is used 82 times in the first three Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke.
The word `kingdom’ means not only a political or geographical realm, but carries this notion of ruling and reigning.
So the kingdom of God is the rule and the reign of God. And this kingdom, where God is in charge—even though it can be hard to understand is best described as both “now and not yet”.
Here are a couple of diagrams just to try and make it easier to understand.
THIS AGE_______________|_____________AGE TO COME
The Jewish expectation was that this age that we are living in would come to an end and that would be followed by the age to come. The age to come would be when the messianic king arrived and there would be a completed kingdom.
Jesus’ teaching was a modification of this. What Jesus was saying, in a nutshell, was that this age would not come to an end with his arrival. This would be the inauguration of the kingdom, so the age to come started—the previous age, this age, continues—until the second coming of Jesus. Then the kingdom of God will be complete.
THIS AGE________A___________B________AGE TO COME
Point A signifies the first coming of Jesus. Point B is when He comes again to usher in the fullness of the Kingdom.
We live in this period between the times, when the kingdom has come but it is not yet complete. So we live between the first coming and the second coming—it’s a time which is both this age and the age to come.
The first time Jesus came, he came in weakness. When he comes back, he’ll come with power and great glory. History is moving towards this glorious climax. There are over 300 references in the New Testament to the second coming of Christ.
When Jesus returns, it’s going to be obvious to everyone. History as we know it will end. There will be a universal resurrection and a Day of Judgement. There’ll be a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus himself will be there, together with all those who love and obey him. It’ll be a place of intense happiness which goes on forever. And we will have glorious new resurrection bodies that will never die, there’ll be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. All who believe on that day will be totally healed.
But until then, there’s this element of waiting. As Paul puts it in Romans, he says: We groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies. In other words, the total redemption of our bodies has to wait for that second line, the second coming of Christ.
It’s important to keep this eternal perspective as we look at this subject of healing. Because at this present time not everybody is healed.There are people of great faith who have received much prayer for healing but who have not been healed – the Kingdom is not yet complete! John Wimber, who himself died of cancer despite much prayer by people all around the world explains that “the real gift is the gift of salvation. If we’re healed in this life, that’s a bonus.”
So while there’s this future aspect of the Kingdom, there is also this present aspect where we see the signs of the approaching kingdom. Jesus repeatedly tells us: “The kingdom of God is among you.” The kingdom is something which can be discovered and experienced now!
Jesus clearly saw his ministry as a fulfilment of the promises of the Old Testament. And he went on to demonstrate this present reality of the kingdom by all that he did during his ministry on earth—forgiveness of sins, healing the sick, dealing with evil.
We live now between the times, when the completed kingdom has not yet arrived, but the kingdom of God is at hand.
This age goes on, but the power of the future age has already broken into history.
And what Jesus’ ministry shows is that this future kingdom is coming, it’s near. And Jesus demonstrated that by preaching the good news, healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons.
Do you know, over 25 percent of the Gospels is about healing. Jesus didn’t heal everybody in Judea, but we often read of him healing individuals or groups. It was part of his kingdom activity.
There is an interesting literary device which Matthew uses about the ministry of Jesus, and His expectation for us to continue that ministry. Its called an inclusio – where the same words are used to bracket a section … So
Matthew 4:23 says
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
This, says Matthew is what Jesus did. Then he sets out how he did that. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 is the Sermon on the Mount—this is how Jesus taught and preached. Then he tells us how Jesus healed—chapters 8 and 9 are about nine healing miracles. And then …
Jesus went through all the town and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
They didn’t have punctuation in those days, so it was a way of saying `I have finished that section.’ He is saying, `This is what Jesus did in his ministry: he told people the good news, and he healed the sick.’
Then having finished that section, Matthew says, `Now, this is what Jesus told his disciples to do’—
He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
And verse 7, he says:
“As you go, preach this message: `The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.”
So Jesus did it, and then he commanded his disciples to do it. But not just the twelve disciples, there were others as well—
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
Then Luke 10:1
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.
And verse 9—this was his command to them:
“Heal the sick who are there and tell them, `The kingdom of God is near you.’”
So that is what Jesus did, what he commanded the Twelve to do, what He commanded the 72 and then at the end of Matthew, He commissions the disciples
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.
Now, what did he command them to do? Make more disciples and teach them how to tell people the good news, and heal the sick.
And as you look on in the New Testament, that’s what they did. After the Gospels you get the book of Acts: the book of Acts is called Acts because they didn’t just talk about it; they did it. They preached the gospel and they healed the sick. Healing is one of the signs of the kingdom inaugurated by Jesus, which continues to this day.
This going and making of disciples and teaching them to do what Jesus did extends to the whole church still today. Its an almost forgotten instruction but we should expect God to heal miraculously today as part of his kingdom activity.
2. HEALING IN CHURCH HISTORY
So that’s healing in the Bible. Then as we look at church history, we see that healing was a normal part of the activity of the early church.
So, for example, we read in Irenaeus, who was writing in the second century, it says: `Others still heal the sick by laying their hands on them, and they’re made whole.’
Origen, who was born around 185 AD, says: `The name of Jesus can take away diseases.’
St. Augustine of Hippo, perhaps the greatest theologian of the first five centuries, wrote a book called The City of God, and in that book he talks about it—he says: `Even now miracles are wrought in the name of Christ.’ And he lists example after example after example of blind people being healed, all kinds of miracles. And many of them are in great detail. Christians in every age have continued to obey Jesus’ command to heal the sick.
As time went on, it was mainly by setting up hospitals and other institutions to relieve suffering. This has been one of the great achievements of the church. But God is still healing people miraculously today.
Raniero Cantalamessa, who was the preacher to Pope John Paul II for about 24 years, writes this: `Today we have two ways to face up to the problem of ill health: the way of human nature and the way of grace. By human nature, in this sense, encompasses science and technology and all our resources. But then there’s this second way: grace, which indicates faith and the prayers by which, as God may will, we sometimes obtain healings in a way that goes beyond the scope of human resources.’
`A Christian cannot be satisfied to use only the facilities of nature—to set up hospitals or work alongside with the structures of the state to provide care and comfort. Christians have a very special power of their own, given to them by Christ. He gave them authority to cure every disease and every sickness. It would be an omission to fail to have recourse to this power and so fail to hold out hope, especially to those to whom science denies all hope.’
3. HEALING TODAY
I’ve told you Margie’s story and there are many others, even in this congregation. Nicky Gumbel tells the story of a woman called Jean Smith from a town in Wales. She arrived one Alpha evening as a visitor, and told him that sixteen-and-a-half years before she went blind. She had an infection which had eaten away the retinas and mirrors behind the eyes, and apparently they cannot be replaced. So she had a white stick and a guide-dog.
She had been on an Alpha course at her local church. At the Holy Spirit Day she experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in a way she’d not experienced before. And the amazing thing was that the pain that she had been in for all those years just went. And she was so thankful to God she went to church that night to give thanks to God. And it was a communion service, and the minister in her church said he would like to anoint her with oil as a sign of this healing that had taken place over the weekend. And he anointed her with oil.
And as she wiped away the oil, she looked up, and she could see the communion table in front of her. She went home that night utterly amazed. She had not seen her husband for sixteen-and-a-half years and she could not believe how grey he had become!
God is a God who heals. One day we shall have a new, perfect body. In this life we never reach perfection. But when God heals someone today like Margie and Jean Smith, we get a glimpse of the future, when we will receive the redemption of our bodies.
Of course, no human being can ultimately avoid death. Our bodies are decaying, and at some point it might be right to prepare a person for death rather than to pray for healing.
We need always to be sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
We need to remember however that if we pray for no-one, no-one will be healed but if we pray for lots of people, some will be, even if not all are healed. And when we pray for someone, even if they’re not healed, it’s always a blessing.
Some people are given very special gifts of healing—its one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They have healing as a ministry but that doesn’t mean that we should leave the praying to them. Jesus’ commission is to all of us, just as the commission is to all of us to tell the good news, although some have a particular gift of being evangelists.
So how in practice do we go about it?
Of course, it’s God who heals and not us. So there’s no technique involved; we pray with love and simplicity. The model of Jesus was compassion. That was his motive for praying for people—he loved them. We pray simply: because it’s not our prayer that heals people; it’s the power of God, the name of Jesus.
Words of knowledge – another gift of the Holy Spirit – can be very helpful. It’s one of the ways in which God speaks. Some of us have been praying this week that God would give us words of knowledge about people here today. Sometimes a word comes through a picture, an image, maybe of a part of the body that God wants to heal. Sometimes it’s a sympathy pain—that’s to say, a pain that somebody feels in their body which they know is not theirs, but maybe God’s speaking to them about something that he wants to do. Sometimes it’s through just an impression, a word that is seen or heard in the ear. Some of them can be quite specific.
On previous Alpha courses in which I have been involved we have had many words of knowledge about specific needs – from persistent toothache to deafness and even to gout. And many of these were amazingly healed.
The words of knowledge are not always as kind of specific as that; they can be quite general. Sometimes, its just `right knee’ or `left elbow’, and people think, `Oh, what is that! You know, anybody can say that! I can’t believe that’s going to have any impact.’
But often these are the most amazing because the people haven’t told anyone because they thought it was just a sore right knee or left elbow, and nothing to bother about. It can be quite faith-building to have your “secret” ailment revealed.
One time we didn’t have any words of knowledge and so we just joined into the small groups, and in one group, it was a family sitting together. It was, as you can imagine, quite embarrassing for them to pray for healing for each other. So the elderly mother took the lead. “You know,” she said, “that I’ve always had problems with my back” – she was almost bent in two – “why don’t you pray for me, and lets see what happens.” They sheepishly stood around her and her daughter put her hand on her mother’s spine. “Its moving,” she shrieked. I rushed over and you could actually see her spine rippling under her daughter’s hands. Her back never straightened fully but she was free from pain from that day on, until she died a few years later.
When we pray for someone we have a very simple pattern.
First, we ask, `What would you like to pray for?’ Sometimes we may need to ask God if there’s a root cause.
There was another woman who was a member of our congregation —and I’m telling you this because I’ve had permission from these people to tell these stories—who suffered with very painful feet. She had special shoes made.
And she was being prayed for by a woman who had the word `forgiveness’ for her. It didn’t mean anything at the time and her feet remained painful. The following day however, she realised that there was somebody from her past whom she needed to forgive. She had no way of contacting this person and she came to me. We prayed together and she forgave this person before Jesus and her feet were totally healed.
Second, how do we pray? There are various models in the New Testament. The usual is to pray in the name of Jesus, to ask the Holy Spirit to come, and we normally lay hands on people. Sometimes we anoint with oil.
Third we ask the question `How are you feeling?’ Some are healed; some are not. Some get better but are not totally healed. Jesus once prayed for a man who was blind, and he said, `Do you see anything?’ and the man said, `I see people, but they look like trees walking around.’ And Jesus prayed again a second time, and this time his eyes were opened and his sight was restored and he could see everything.
So sometimes we might pray several times for a person.
Fourth. After praying it’s important to reassure people of God’s love for them, regardless of whether they’re healed or not, to give them the liberty to come back, to pray again. We need to avoid putting burdens on people.
We must remember that we are free and able to ask the Holy Spirit at any time to heal us. But if the Spirit does not do it, there’s no reason to think that’s because we have no faith, or that God does not love us, or that God is punishing us. God is always answering the prayer … sometimes in ways we do not know, sometimes in processes which are much more effective in making the Kingdom of God real in the circumstances.
Always we go on praying, and we try to ensure people’s lives are rooted in the healing community of the church, where long-term healing takes place.
It’s important to persist in this area of prayer for healing. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate, dramatic results. The reason we go on praying is not so much that we’ve seen masses of people healed; but because Jesus commanded us to do it. And that’s why I would go on doing it even if nobody was healed.