Summary: Jesus has the power to heal us from every physical and mental disease. But he doesn't always use that power. Often, what we need more is to be healed from our spiritual blindness.
[This sermon was preached on 19 August 2018, 13th Sunday after Pentecost / 3rd year, ELCF Lectionary]
Last Monday I returned to work from my five-week holiday. When I opened my email, there was a pleasant surprise waiting for me. A woman from our congregation wrote me with some very good news. The doctor had discovered a suspicious growth in her body the size of a thumb. He had told her that she would need surgery to get it removed. But on the day she had to see the doctor again, they took a new scan, only to find that the growth had disappeared completely. When the doctor gave her the good news, she said: “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! That is the power of Jesus working in me. He has delivered me before, and he has delivered me again.”
That was a very encouraging story. And it is enticing to use stories like this when preaching on the topic of Jesus the Healer. But there are numerous other stories of unanswered prayer, where people did not recover.
One is from my own family. My parents had to wait for ten long years before their prayers for a child were answered. But two days after their first baby boy was born, he got a brain hemorrhage. The rest of his life he would be severely handicapped physically and mentally. My father told me once how, day after day, he would go on his knees to ask God for a miracle of healing. It took seven long years. Then, my oldest brother died.
That’s perhaps more like the reality most of us experience most of the time. We believe in the power of God. We belief that Jesus healed countless people from all kinds of diseases in the few years of his public ministry. And yet, most of the time we see unanswered prayer in our own lives and all around us.
And how do we cope with this distressing discrepancy between what we believe and what we see?
A dear friend of mine used to say over and over again: “You must pray more! You must have more faith! God will answer your prayer if it is lifted up in faith, without a shade of doubt.”
I have heard another friend say to people with severe illnesses or with loved ones suffering from cancer: “There must be some sin in your life. That is why God brings sickness and suffering. That is why God does not hear your prayers.”
I disagree. I will be the last person to question the truth of what the Bible says. But I don’t buy that. I see the Bible say a lot of things about healing and prayer and faith and sin—a lot of very different things. We need not go further than the three Bible readings we read today. Let me say three things about the healing power of God in our lives.
First, I want to look at the relationship between sin and sickness. Secondly, I want to look at the relationship between faith and healing. And thirdly, I want to look at the true purpose of sickness and healing.
The Bible can sometimes be quite confusing. It looks at one question, and in different situations and contexts gives different answers. Sometimes those answers seem to be contradicting one another.
That’s the case also with the relationship between sin and sickness. We see numerous examples in the Bible where God punishes individuals or even a whole people for their sin by bringing sickness and death on them. In fact, the Bible ascribes the existence of sickness and death on earth to the sin of the first human couple Adam and Eve. God had threatened that if they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would certainly die. But they did not believe God and ate. The Bible reminds us time and again that rebellion against God was the cause for sickness and death to enter God’s perfect Creation.
But there are also concrete examples where sin is punished by sickness. For example, Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, spoke defiantly against the men that God had chosen to lead the people. As a result, God punished her with a skin disease that made her physically impure. It forced her out of the camp, away from the people, so that others would not catch it also.
In the life of king David, we even see an example where a child is punished for the sins of its parents. King David had sexually exploited the wife of another man. The woman got pregnant, and David solved the problem by having the woman’s husband killed and then marrying her. When the baby was born, it got seriously ill. David fasted and prayed for healing, but God refused. He made it clear that this little baby boy had to suffer illness and die for the sins of his father.