Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 06/05/1994
4:38 And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon's home. Now Simon's mother in law was suffering from a high fever, and they made request of him on her behalf. 39 And standing over her, he rebuked the fever, and it left her. And she immediately arose and waited on them. 40 And while the sun was setting, all who had any sick with various diseases brought them to him; and, laying his hands on every one of them, he was healing them. 41 And demons also were coming out of many, crying out and saying, "You are the Son of God!" And rebuking them he would not allow them to speak because they knew him to be the Christ. 42 And when day came, he departed and went to a lonely place. And the multitudes were searching for him, and came to him, and tried to keep him from going away from them. 43 But he said to them, "I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose." 44 And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
Throughout all four of the Gospels people frequently ask about Jesus, "What manner of man is this?" We have certainly been asking that question in our study of Luke's Gospel, even when we have not articulated it as such. What manner of man is this that you cannot study his life or come to know him without asking, "What manner of man is this?" What manner of man is this who submits to a baptism of repentance without confessing any sins? What manner of man is this on whom the Holy Spirit descends like a dove? What manner of man is this to whom a Voice from heaven says, "You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased"? What manner of man is this who puts so much energy and concentration into resisting temptation that he forgets to eat for forty days? What manner of man is this who refuses to compromise even when it alienates his own hometown? What manner of man is this who teaches with authority, not as the scribes? What manner of man is this who casts out demons with a simple word of command? And today we ask it again: What manner of man is this who heals with a touch? As we try to answer that question we must consider:
The ministry of healing certainly had an important place in Jesus' mission. Part of the prophecy from Isaiah he had used to announce his purpose in Luke 4:18 was giving sight to the blind. Physical healing was surely an aspect of the fulfillment of that promise, as showed by multiple examples from Jesus' life, though it also has reference to giving spiritual insight to those blinded by sin. Then, starting with Peter's mother in law, physical healing was the aspect of Jesus' ministry that attracted the most attention. The point of it is that in the coming of this Messiah all the effects of the Fall are to be reversed, including physical illness.
But though healing had an important place in Jesus' ministry, it did not have the central place. When Jesus tears himself away from the crowd in vs. 43, he does not offer as justification that he had to heal in other cities too. He was sent to preach the Gospel, the good news, of the kingdom, that is the rule, of God in every city. Preaching the kingdom was primary; healing was secondary, a means to that end and a living illustration of it. And even more basic and important than either was making atonement for our sins--for that was to bring the kingdom he had been preaching. Healing was present in Jesus' earthly ministry as a sign that the true Healer was here and as a foretaste of the complete reversal of the effects of sin that the atonement would make possible, but which will be fully manifest only when Christ returns. That is one reason why Jesus reminded the Nazarenes that of all the lepers in Israel in the days of Elisha, only Naaman the Syrian was healed. Healing is one of the effects of the atonement, but it is not the central thing. There are two mistakes therefore that we can make concerning miraculous physical healing today. One is to believe that Christ no longer heals in response to the prayers of his people. The other is to make healing so central to the atonement that it can be "claimed" automatically by faith in the same way as the forgiveness of sin. Each of these errors, in its own way, is simply cruel.
There are a number of reasons for the emphasis that healing had in the Lord's earthly ministry. One is to vindicate his claim to be the sight-restoring Servant Isaiah had prophesied. One is to show the connection between the atonement and the curse, which is being undone. These are important purposes served by the healing stories in the Gospels. But when the Gospels speak of Jesus' personal motives for healing, the emotional wellsprings of his willingness to labor so tirelessly at it, two feelings stand out. One is simple compassion for the suffering of the victims. "And Jesus was going about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. And seeing the multitudes, he felt compassion for them" (Mat. 9:35-36). In Luke we see this compassion in the individual attention he gave to the people he healed, laying hands on each one individually (Luke 4:40) and staying up all night to meet their needs (vs. 42). And of everything that Jesus did, we know that his meat and drink was to do the will of his Father and glorify him (John 4:34). In Luke, the thing that moves Jesus to begin his ministry is that "the Spirit of the Lord was upon him" (4:18). For us too, compassion for people and zeal for God's glory must be the twin motives that drive whatever ministry the Father gives us. If either is lacking, true healing will not occur, for neither can be true, whole, or sustainable without the other.
Jesus used at least three methods in his healing ministry, and each of them has something to teach us. Often he healed simply with a word, as with Peter's mother in law in vs. 39. Here as with the exorcism we saw last week, there is an instructive contrast with contemporary Jewish exorcists and miracle workers, the "faith healers" of their day. Here is a formula that was actually used by one of them. To cure a fever, tie an iron knife by a braid of the victim's hair to a thornbush. Repeat over the bush on successive days Exodus 3:2, 3:3, 3:4, and finally 3:5. Then cut down the bush while reciting a secret formula, and the fever will die with the bush. Hmmm. Chances are that by the time that rigmarole was finished the fever would have subsided naturally anyway. The power and authority of Christ stand out by contrast in such bright relief that no commentary is really needed.
Another method Jesus employed was healing at a distance, as with the centurion's servant who will be healed in chapter seven. This is another sign of the astounding power and authority Jesus had. He does not even have to be present. When the centurion's messengers get back they find the boy in good health. In some such accounts it is noted that the healing occurred at precisely the time when Jesus, who had not been there, had pronounced it.
But by far the most common method, Jesus' preferred method, is healing by a touch (vs. 40). He goes out of his way to do this. He does it even with lepers; he does it when it is less efficient, as in this passage. Why? Because there was something at stake here more important than healing people's bodies. This was a way of personalizing the act, of establishing a relationship with the one being healed--or at least giving him the opportunity to enter into one. Why not just snap his fingers and heal everyone in Judea in one fell swoop? Why leave this town with people yet unhealed? (That's why they were looking for him the next morning.) Because there was something more important than physical cures at stake. And that leads us to the next point.
What was the message of Jesus' healing ministry? We have already hinted at it, but let us bring it into focus at this point. That message had at least three parts. Every healing Jesus performed was an Expression of Mercy, it was Evidence of Messiahship, and it was an Offer of Meeting. It was an Expression of Mercy. Each healing was an acted parable, saying, "God cares." It was Evidence of Messiahship. Every healing was an acted sermon, declaring, "This day is fulfilled in your ears . . . " And it was an Offer of Meeting. That was the reason for the laying on of hands. It is all because then as now the primary issue was not physical health and comfort but a relationship with Christ. Every healing was an opportunity for someone to accept him as God's Messiah. Look for this issue to come increasingly to the fore in future healing narratives. And let us make sure it stays at the forefront in our own lives, when we seek healing for ourselves or for others.
What is the meaning of Jesus' healing miracles for us today? We can answer that question in a series of questions.
Does God still heal miraculously today? Yes. He is the same God, and the Christ he sent is still present in our lives through his personal representative and agent the Holy Spirit. All healing comes from God, whether it happens naturally through the body's own repair mechanisms, whether it happens naturally through the aid of medicine, or whether it happens miraculously. But there is no automatic guarantee of healing in this life just because we have enough faith. Paul had to bear his thorn in the flesh with the realization that God's grace was sufficient. And sometimes God heals us by releasing us from a diseased body to come and be with him in spirit. Unless Christ returns first, this will eventually be the answer to all our prayers for healing. Even Lazarus was resurrected only to face the prospect of getting sick and dying all over again. There may be many healings, even miraculous ones, along the way to encourage us and to give us foretastes of what is coming, but we will not be finally healed until we see Christ face to face.
If Jesus is so compassionate, why doesn't God always heal us when we ask him in faith? We could restate that question in another way: Why didn't he heal everyone in Judea in the first century? Surely part of the answer is that if he had done so he would have left them satisfied--and still in their sins. Even those he did heal did not all follow him. Of the Ten Lepers, only one returned to give thanks. God knows that we are not mature enough to handle automatic guaranteed healing. We would stay babes in faith if we had faith at all; people would be "believing" for all the wrong reasons. God sends us healing to encourage us, but if it always came we would cease to share in the groaning of creation. We would then minister with less compassion for a lost and needy world, and we would cease longing for our full redemption when Christ returns as it deserves to be longed for. And neither of those things would be good. Either would be worse than any sickness we are called to endure.
Finally, what does healing mean when it does come? It is an acted parable saying that Jesus cares. It is an acted sermon saying that Jesus is the Messiah and that the words of Isaiah are fulfilled in your ears. It is a demonstration that God cares about the whole man, not just the spirit but the body too, not just Sunday but the rest of the week too, not just "religion" but all of life. It is a downpayment on a future when there will be no more tears. It is an opportunity to grow closer to the Lord. And, finally, it is an opportunity to worship him, to ask in awe, "What manner of man is this?" And to ask it with some inkling of the answer.
God's interest in the whole man, body as well as spirit, is shown by the healing ministry of Jesus. It is also shown by the physical elements of bread and wine by which we celebrate the Lord's Supper, that feast which points forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, when sickness will be no more. Let us think of the Lord's Supper in those terms today as we recommit ourselves to him by partaking of it.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams
Updated 10/5/2004 2:39 PM