Thursday, July 17, 2014

Healing the Sick

Pool of Bethesda

If there is one thing that characterizes the ministry of Jesus more than any other, it’s his healing ministry.  This is what gave his ministry an international reputation. 

According to John, this all started at Cana of Galilee.  This was the hometown of Nathanael, one of the followers of Jesus, about 8 miles (14 km) north of Nazareth.  Today, there’s not much left of Cana.  At the time, it was a larger and more important village than Nazareth.  It’s where Jesus turned water into wine, the first miracle of his ministry according to the gospel of John (John 2:11). 

A short time later, when Jesus was in Cana again, a government official came all the way up from Capernaum to ask Jesus to heal his son, who was about to die (John 4:46).  This government official is called in Greek a basilikos, which comes from the Greek word basilica, a market building.  He was in charge of weights and measures in the market place at Capernaum, to make sure no one was cheating on the weight of the produce they were selling.  When he asked Jesus to come and heal his son, Jesus said to him, “Go, your son lives” (John 4:50), and the man believed what Jesus said. 

As the official returned home, his servants met him on the road and told him that his son had recovered.  When he asked them when the boy had started to get better, it turned out it was at the same time that Jesus had spoken the word (John 4:52).  This was the second miracle of Jesus' ministry according to John (John 4:54). 

The third miracle was in Jerusalem, at the Pool of Bethesda, just a short distance north of the Temple (“Now there is in Jerusalem by the place of the sheep a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes,” John 5:2).  For centuries no one could figure out what it meant when it says that the pool had five porticoes, that is, five covered walkways around the pool.  But when the archeologists found it, it was obvious:  it was actually two pools with a portico in the middle, dividing the pools.  Tradition claims that the sick man was lying in this central portico. 

These were huge, deep pools.  It’s actually a little unnerving when you come up to the edge of the pool and look down.  They’re 43 feet deep (13 m)!  Only a very small section of the southern pool has been dug out.  It continues much further to the south.  But the width of the pool in this excavated section is the full width:  150 feet (45 m). 

Why were these pools so large?  Remember, this is a desert land.  Water is essential to life, and they needed to store as much of it as they could. 

John 5:3,4:  “In these [in the porticoes] lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, {waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.}” 

The last part of this verse between the brackets doesn’t appear in all the manuscripts, so we’re not quite sure where it came from.  But that this place was associated with healing is clear from its name.  Bethesda in Hebrew is Beth Khasda, which means “House (or Place) of Lovingkindness.”  Khesed in Hebrew is the word for lovingkindness.  This refers to the lovingkindness of God in healing people here. 

We don’t know when the belief started, but by the time of Jesus, people believed that when the water was stirred up, the first one to enter the water would be healed.  We have no idea how often this happened.  Many years after this, Christians visiting the place said the north pool sometimes turned mysteriously red.  We don’t know if this is what the belief referred to or not.  But what we do know is that there were lots and lots of sick people here.  And they came because they were hoping for a miracle from God, a miracle of healing. 

John 5:5:  “Now a certain man was there, who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness.”  The man that Jesus came up to had been sick for thirty-eight years!  That’s a long time to be sick!

John 5:6-7:  “When Jesus saw this one lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time that way, he said to him, ‘Do you want to become well?’  The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’”

Why did he need someone to help him?  These were deep pools.  There was no shallow end.  If the water level was low, you might have to go down many steep steps to reach the water.   

But did you notice what Jesus asked him?  “Do you want to become well?”  Now that seems like a pretty strange thing to ask a sick person.  But it focused the man’s attention on being healed. 

How did the man answer?  He didn’t have a way to reach the water quickly enough.  He had tried to do it, he had tried to get to the water, but every time someone else got there first.  He realized that in his own strength, he just couldn’t make it.  And he didn’t have anyone to help him.  So it probably looked like he would never get healed.

John 5:8: “Jesus said to him, ‘Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.’”  Up until now, this man had all his attention focused on getting into that pool to be healed.  But now Jesus gives him a completely different way to be healed.  Would he take it? 

John 5:9:  “And immediately the man became well, and he took up his pallet and was walking.”   The verse doesn't give the details, but I imagine the man felt something happening in his body, or perhaps simply felt the intensity of Jesus' presence —something that gave him hope and a reason to believe.  Then he responded in faith to what Jesus told him to do, and he was well!  This was an incredible miracle!  Just imagine how happy he was to be healed after 38 years! 

Before long, huge crowds of people were gathering, bringing sick people to him, and Jesus healed them, every disease and every sickness (“And the news about him went out into all Syria; and they brought to him all who were ill, taken with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and he healed them,” Matt. 4:24). 

Many passages specifically say that he healed them all (Matt. 9:35; also Matt. 8:16, 12:15; Acts 10:38).  This is an absolutely amazing record that put Jesus in a completely different class of miracle worker from all that had gone before him.  Others in Israel had done miracles here and there, but from Jesus, there was a continual outpouring of miracles. 

Soon he commanded his disciples to go out and heal the sick, just as he did:  first the twelve (“And he called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons, and to heal diseases. And he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to perform healing,” Luke 9:1,2).  Then he sent out the seventy (“Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them two and two ahead of him to every city and place where he himself was going to come,” Luke 10:1).  He told them to go into different cities, “and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:9).

After his resurrection, he gave the same instructions again, which apply to all of us until today (“And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature... And these signs will accompany those who have believed: in my name they will cast out demons... they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover,’” Mark 16:15,17,18).  So how do we do that?  How do we heal the sick, how do we cast out demons? 

During his earthly ministry, Jesus connected healing with preaching the Kingdom of God, first with the twelve (“to preach the kingdom of God and to perform healing,” Luke 9:2), and then also with the seventy (“heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you,’” Luke 10:9). 

After his resurrection, too, he said that we should preach the gospel, and that these signs would follow (Mark 16:15,17,18).  Do you see the pattern here?  The message is confirmed by the signs that follow.  They’re a package deal:  both go together. 

Yes, it’s true that healing became more and more rare in the Christian church after the time of Jesus.  But that’s because the church drifted further and further from the truth of the gospel.  The message soon became to serve the Church and obey the Church rather than serving and obeying Jesus.  How could God honor that?  —although he did sometimes continue to heal out of his mercy and his grace. 

But wherever the true gospel is preached, healing is still today an important part of the gospel message.  In areas where people are familiar with the spiritual world, it shows God’s power over the evil spirits and the false gods of pagan religions.  But in many other areas, belief in materialism is strong.  This is the belief that there is no God and there are no miracles.  Many who hold this belief identify themselves with “science,” as if science had anything definitive to say about miracles.  In fact, true science only disclaims the ability to investigate miracles because they cannot be reproduced in the lab.  But many have misunderstood this to mean that science has somehow disproven miracles, and refuse to believe in them or anything supernatural.  People with this belief are often extremely proud of it, as if by denying the experiences of so many others throughout history, and sometimes even their own experiences, they have discovered something amazing.  But this makes as much sense as denying that your eyes can see, ignoring what they see, and then claiming that no one else has ever been able to see:  that sight is just an illusion.  But even these, many times when they experience a miracle, begin to question their materialistic worldview, and open up to the gospel of Messiah Jesus. 

After all, if you think about it, any worldview that excludes God is Satanic.  It’s a spiritual prison that keeps people bound.  But Jesus came to set the captives free:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden” (Luke 4:18).  His healing sets us free not just from sickness, but from false ideas about the world, spiritual strongholds that take captive the minds of men.  And the more time we spend with Jesus, the more he shows us not only what is false in the world, but also what is false within ourselves.  His desire is always to draw us closer and closer to himself. 

This is what Paul was talking about in 2 Cor. 3:  that we are changing into the image of the likeness of the glory of God.  “But we all, seeing with unveiled face the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image, from glory to a glory just as that of the Spirit, by the Lord,” (2 Cor. 3:18).  This is a constant process of healing and restoration in our lives. 

So how does this healing process work?  One good example is the healing of the paralytic in Capernaum.  So many people had gathered together to hear Jesus speak that the house where they were meeting was completely full.  There were teachers and scribes from all over the place.  Luke says that “there were some Pharisees and teachers of the Law sitting there who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem” (Luke 5:17).  This means there were hundreds of people listening to Jesus teach.  Luke also says that “the power of the Lord was there for him to heal” (Luke 5:17).  This seems to indicate that Jesus’ message had ended, and he had begun to heal people. 

This is when the friends of the paralytic wanted to bring him to Jesus for healing, but there was no way to bring him in because of the crowd (Luke 5:18).  So they carried him on a bed of some kind, probably a small one or a pallet of some kind, up onto the roof, and then made a hole in the roof (Luke 5:19).  Mark says that they “dug” a hole in the roof (“and not being able to get to him because of the crowd, they removed the roof where he was, and having dug it out, they let down the pallet where the paralytic was lying,” Mark 2:4).  Why does he use this word?  Because people in that area had roofs made with branches, reeds, and dirt.  They had to dig through the dirt to make an opening.  And then they let the man down before Jesus.

This was, of course, not the normal thing to happen in a religious meeting.  It certainly got everyone’s attention—you couldn’t miss it.  Everyone would have been watching them do it.  But Jesus noticed something in particular:  “And having seen their faith” (Matt. 9:2).  What did Jesus see?  He saw their actions, of going to all that work to get their friend near him.  They wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t believe Jesus could do something to help him.  And I’m sure he saw the hopeful looks on their faces, the urgency in their spirits to get in there while the healing power of God was flowing. 

The first thing Jesus did was to encourage the sick man, saying “take heart” (Matt. 9:2; a word of encouragement like “chin up” or “don’t worry”).  And then he forgave his sins (“your sins are forgiven,” Matt. 9:2).  But wait a minute:  On what basis did he forgive his sins?  The man didn’t say anything, he didn’t repent of anything.  So why did Jesus forgive his sins?  It was simply on the basis of the man’s faith.  Faith in Jesus is the basis on which our sins are forgiven.  So Jesus saw his faith, and forgave him. 

But why, when the man obviously came there for healing, did Jesus talk to him first about forgiveness?  This was not an accident, but a pattern.  As it says in the book of James 5:16:  “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed.’”  Healing and forgiveness of sins are connected.

When Jesus forgave the man’s sins, this made the Pharisees upset.  According to their teaching, you can only forgive sins committed personally against you.  But Jesus was forgiving the man’s sins in general.  Then he healed him with a word, not with any special action or long period of prayer:  “Rise, take up your bed, and go home” (Matt. 9:6) 

But aside from this general connection between healing and forgiveness, Jesus’ method of healing cannot be standardized or systematized.  Many teach that to be healed, the person who is sick must have faith for healing.  And that does often seem to be the case.  But with the paralytic, Jesus responded not only to the faith of the sick man but to the faith of men that were bringing him there, too (“their faith,” Matt. 9:2).  In James it talks about the faith of the one doing the praying (“the prayer offered in faith,” James 5:15), rather than the one receiving the prayer.  So faith is another key component, but this is not only the faith of the one being healed.  When Jesus healed the son of the basilikos (the official), it was his father who believed Jesus’ word.  The son wasn’t even there at the time.
Another issue was that people didn’t always get healed immediately.  Even Jesus had to pray twice for the blind man at Bethsaida (“Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly,” Mark 8:22-25).  One time, Jesus’ disciples weren’t able to cast the demon out of a boy.  When they asked why they couldn’t cast it out, Jesus said it was because of the “littleness,” which probably means their lack, of faith (“But he said to them, ‘Because of the littleness of your faith.  Amen I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will speak to this mountain,  move from here to there, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you,’” Matt. 17:20).  But Jesus’ solution to the problem wasn’t that they should develop great faith.  He said they only needed faith the size of a mustard seed, the smallest of the agricultural seeds in Israel.  In other words, you don’t need a lot.  You only need a little, but that little can accomplish much.

Some people feel that when we pray for healing, we have to work ourselves up into a frenzy to increase our faith.  They have a lot of shouting and a lot of loud music.  But Jesus’ meetings were quite calm compared to this—although I’m sure they were also quite exciting.  But faith cannot be measured in decibels.  It may be that sometimes we need to rebuke Satan, as Jesus himself did.  But volume alone is not the key to success.  Faith is a direction of the soul, combined with hope, which brings you into the presence of God.  The rest is God’s part.  We don’t do miracles.  We just draw close to God, and watch him do his thing. 

Remember what it says in Zech. 4:6:  “not by strength, and not by power, but rather by my Spirit says the Lord.”  Faith is not any power or strength that we have in ourselves.  Faith is an acknowledgement of our dependence on God, that we are inadequate, that we lack power on our own. 

That’s why the Bible recommends prayer and fasting for difficult cases (“But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting,’” Matt. 17:21).  What happens in prayer and fasting?  We weaken ourselves and our reliance on our own abilities, and we increase our reliance on God.  In other words, for God to move, we need to get ourselves out of the way, and let him have his way.  This has been a common theme in true Christian spirituality from the beginning.  We need to war against the flesh so that the Spirit can prevail (“For if you live according to the flesh, you are about to die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live,’” Rom. 8:13). 

What this means, of course, is that we are all in need of God’s healing power to be at work inside us.  We all have areas of our lives that need healing.  For some of us, it’s physical healing, for others it’s emotional healing, for others it’s healing in our relationships, for others it’s healing in our work relationships and our work situation, for others it’s healing in our relationship with God.  There are many different kinds of healing that we need.

But to receive this healing, we don’t have to work ourselves up into a frenzy.  We just need to make contact with Jesus, like the woman that touched the tassel of his garment.  Do you remember her story?  She had been sick for a long time, 12 years.  She tried everything to get healed.  She had reached the place where most people would give up.  But then she heard about Jesus.  And she snuck up and reached out and touched his garment when he wasn’t looking.  And she received her healing (Luke 8:44).  Jesus hadn’t even prayed for her or said anything at all.  But she had made contact with him.  When he felt power go out of him, he called out, “Who touched me?” (Luke 8:45).  When she finally came and identified herself, he said to her, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace” (Luke 8:48).  Most translations say, “Your faith has healed you.”  But the word used here is the word for salvation (sodzo), not the word for healing.  What does this mean?  It’s that connection between faith and forgiveness again.  Like the paralytic, she was looking for physical healing.  But Jesus talks to her about salvation, about forgiveness.  He’s shifting her attention from the physical realm to the realm of the spirit.  Why?  Because Jesus is the source of healing in every area of our lives. 

Do you remember that Jesus said we need to become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven (“And he said, ‘Amen I say to you, unless you change your ways and become like children, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of the heavens,”  Matt. 18:3)?  What did he mean by that?  We have to have faith and hope and trust like children do. 

We don’t have to do radical things to get God’s attention.  We already have his attention.  He already cares.  He knows the number of hairs on our heads (Matt. 10:30).  All we need is to come close to him, to seek less of us and more of Jesus.

We can’t make a healing or any other miracle happen by our own willpower.  We can’t earn it.  We can’t manufacture it.  We can only trust and not give up.     

Sometimes we don’t get the answer to our prayers right away, like that woman with the judge that Jesus talked about.  Do you remember that parable?  She came back to him over and over trying to get his help against her opponent.  But finally she got his attention because she didn’t give up (Luke 18:2-5).  What is the meaning of this parable?  “That it is necessary for them always to pray and not be discouraged” (Luke 18:1).  We should keep on praying and not give up. 

Sometimes we do get answers to prayer right away.  In my life, I’ve found this usually happens when it’s something really important or time sensitive.  When the plane is about to leave, at the last minute God comes through, time and time again.  God is so faithful. 

But we don’t always get answers to prayer right when we want them:  sometimes the answer itself needs time.  When I was praying for a wife for so many years, God was using that time to prepare me.  I wasn’t ready yet for the answer.  It’s all part of a process of laying down our lives and trusting Jesus, drawing closer to Jesus, making contact with Jesus.  That’s when things happen with God.  The answer won’t always be exactly what we expected, but it will be what he wanted, and that's what’s best for us. 

Sometimes we’re looking in one direction, while God’s moving in another.  As the Bible says, “all things work together for good for those who trust God and are called according to his purposes” (Rom. 8:28).  Sometimes we just have to trust God, without knowing what’s going on.  But that trust itself, a giving up on ourselves and trusting him, releases the power of God.  When I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10).  When we stop trying to make something happen our own way and let God do what he wants to do, he will do it:  because he is always doing something, and it’s for our good.  We’ve just got to get out of the way so he can work. 

Sometimes when we see all the terrible things happening in our world, it steals our hope and our trust.  Even sometimes the things happening in our own lives can be very discouraging.  What’s going to happen to us?  We get worried, we get fearful.  That’s the flesh, rising up. 

But we need to put down the flesh, and let the Spirit come in and heal our thinking, heal our emotions, cleansing us.  Then as we are cleansed and healed, we are better able to help others.  Remember, we don’t need such great faith.  We don’t have to be super-Christians.  All we need is faith like a mustard seed, and God can do great things with us.  Amen?

Let’s pray:  Lord God, we need more of your healing power in our lives.  We pray that you would draw near to us right now, so that we can draw near to you, so we can touch you and receive your healing power.  Restore our child-like wonder and awe of you, we pray Lord.  We want our faith to be restored and our hope to rise up, even in areas of difficulty we’ve had for years and years.  Do miracles in us we pray.  And not just once or twice, but immerse us in your presence every day.  Fill us with your Spirit and change us completely, Lord.  We lift up to you right now the concerns that have come to our minds as we’ve been looking into your word today, areas where we need your healing touch, areas where we need change in our lives.  Lord, we reach out to you right now, to make contact with you about those concerns.  And we pray that you would move to solve these problems in our lives.  May we decrease and you increase in us.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  And everybody said?  Amen.  

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