The Healing Hand of God
Does God still heal today?
In May, 1983, the Chicago Tribune ran a story of Dustin Gilmore,15-month old son of David Gilmore, who came down with flu-like symptoms in April 1978. The Gilmores took Dustin to their church and the pastor prayed for him. Their church believed faith alone heals any disease, and to go elsewhere for help — like a doctor — shows your lack faith in God. Over the next few weeks they prayed faithfully as the little boy’s temperature climbed, prayed when they noticed he no longer responded to sounds, and prayed harder when he finally went blind. On the morning of May 15, 1978 the Gilmores went into their son’s room and found their son dead. Again they prayed, for their church also believed the power of prayer can raise the dead. But Dustin Gilmore was not resurrected. An autopsy revealed the infant died from a form of meningitis that could have easily been treated by proper antibiotics.[i]
Does God still heal today? If you answer “yes” then how do you explain the death of Dustin Gilmore?
Some might say the parents didn’t possess enough faith, that if only they would have really believed their son would still be alive. Others might call their faith foolishness, that they should have immediately taken the child to the doctor. But these parents loved their little boy; they wanted to obey God, to believe God, and yet there was no miraculous healing. Does God still heal today?
You might struggle with the answer to that question when it becomes personal: when you or somebody you love gets really sick. When doctors aren’t sure what to do, or they tell you there’s nothing else they can do, you may begin to seriously struggle with this question: does God still heal today? If so, why are do so many Christians get sick? Is it a lack of faith? What does the Bible say about the healing hand of God? Let’s look for some answers to these questions in Luke 5:12-26—two stories back to back which tell us a great deal about how Christ healed back then, and about how He still heals today.
Within these two simple stories of healing, I see 3 truths that can help us understand the healing hand of our Lord.
1. It’s OK to ask Christ for healing.
Ray Stedman told the story about a prayer meeting where one show-off stood up and began to pray one of those long theological prayers full of phrases like: "O God who sitteth upon the circle of the earth for whom the inhabitants are like grasshoppers." He went on and on until finally, someone sitting behind him tapped him on the shoulder and whispered: "Just call him Father, and ask him for something."
Mt 7:7-8 7“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
Asking is the law of God’s kingdom. The Bible tells us it never hurts to ask, because God delights in giving to those bold enough to ask Him. Somehow this leper gets word about this “asking” policy Jesus promotes and he comes to Christ to see if it really works.
This poses a special challenge for this particular man. Leprosy was a devastating disease that you never got completely well from.
Not only were there disfiguring physical symptoms to deal with, but a leper was considered to “cursed of God” and “unclean.” Most people ran at the sight of a leper, and most Jewish rabbis were especially careful to avoid being contaminated by a leper. One rabbi refused to eat an egg which had been bought on the same street a leper had recently walked down, and other rabbis threw stones at passing lepers to keep their distance. Now this leper dares to brave the large crowd following Jesus, dares to hope that Jesus won’t throw stones at him or chase him away. It can’t hurt to ask.
His gambit pays off. Jesus doesn’t throw rocks, or drive him away. In fact, Mark 1:41 says Jesus is moved with compassion. His heart goes out to this sick man, and He reaches out and does what nobody else in their right mind would even think about doing: He touches the dirty diseased leper. His touch of compassion and power completely heals his disease. Ask the former leper if God still heals today and he’ll tell you oh yes! He healed me!
In the second story, these 4 famous friends interrupt Jesus’ sermon to dig through the roof of a house and lower their sick buddy down right in front of Jesus. They’re taking a risk also. After all Jesus is preaching, and preachers don’t usually take kindly to being interrupted. But Jesus doesn’t get angry and yell What do you think you’re doing? Can’t you see I’m preaching the Gospel here? According to vs. 20 Jesus is impressed with the faith of the man and his friends. Maybe He even laughed at their boldness and creativity! In any case, Jesus stops preaching and heals this lame man, adding a special bonus of not only making him well, but forgiving his sins!
What do these two stories tell us about the healing hand of God? It’s OK to ask Jesus for healing —either for yourself, or for somebody else.
It’s OK because He really does care about you—especially when you’re sick or hurting. Just as Jesus had compassion on this leper, He has compassion on all those suffering from diseases and physical ailments. Nobody else may know or care about your pain, but Jesus does. He invites you to bring all your problems and pain to Him in prayer, asking for His healing touch in your body. It’s OK to pray for healing for yourself or anybody else.
But here’s another reason it’s OK to ask for healing: He has the power to heal.
Jesus heals this leper with only a touch. No X-rays, no CAT scan, no penicillin, no treatments---just a touch, and the disease is all gone. He doesn’t even bother to touch the paralyzed man—just speaks to him---and he gets up and walks away. It’s OK to ask Jesus to heal you because He certainly has the power to heal any sickness, disease, or physical condition.
It doesn’t hurt to ask. Don’t let doubt or discouragement keep you from praying when you or someone you love is sick. Jesus cares about sick people, and He has the power to heal any and all who pray for healing.
Are you burdened down with sickness or pain tonight? Listen to the advice of the leper, and the paralytic: it doesn’t hurt to ask. It’s always OK to ask Jesus for healing because He really does care about you, and He really does have the power to heal any sickness or disease. But even though it never hurts to ask, you also have to remember
2. Christ doesn’t heal all physical sickness.
A lady called into one of these “ask the pastor” radio programs and said, "Pastor, I was born blind, and I've been blind all my life. I don't mind being blind but I have some well meaning Christian friends who tell me that if I had more faith I could be healed."
The pastor asked her, "Tell me, do you carry one of those white canes?
"Yes I do," she replied.
"Then the next time someone says that hit them over the head with the cane," He said. "Then tell them, 'If you had more faith that wouldn't hurt!'"
Do you know anybody like this? There’s no reason for any child of God to be sick. All you have to do is believe, to have faith, and you can send cancer running, arthritis packing. All you have to do is have enough faith.
That’s the message of what some people call faith healers. They claim Jesus not only died to save us from our sin, but also from our sickness. In their minds, it is never God’s will for you to be sick, and if you just pray and have faith, anybody can be made well.
But is that really how healing works? In this passage I see some hints that may not be so.
The first hint comes in the exchange between Jesus and the leper in vs. 12-13. The leper doesn’t come demanding Jesus heal him. He has faith Jesus can heal him, but listen how he asks: Lord, if you are willing You can make me clean…No arguing for his rights, no demanding or begging---just as simple trusting acknowledgement that Jesus can heal him if He wants to. And Jesus responds using the same language: I am willing. Be cleansed.
This conversation prompts a question: is Jesus always willing to heal us? Are there are ever times when we ask for healing and He says, “No. It is not My will for you to be healed”?
The second hint comes in vs. 17, when Scripture describes the crowd that was sitting there listening to Jesus preach and then adds this detail: and the power of the Lord was present [or was with Him] to heal them.
Why does Luke include this detail? Isn’t the power of the Lord always present to heal? Isn’t healing power always present when Jesus is present? Or is it possible that sometimes the time isn’t right for Jesus to heal?
One reason I ask those questions is that I’ve noticed good people don’t always get healed, no matter how much they pray or how strongly they believe. Is it possible that it is not always Jesus’ will to heal? Is it possible that there are occasions when the time is not right for our body to be healed? I think the Bible answers those questions very clearly.
First, the Bible clearly says there are times when God doesn’t heal.
2 Kings 13:14, 20 14Elisha had become sick with the illness of which he would die… 20 Then Elisha died, and they buried him.
Elisha got sick? The same Elisha who raised a boy from the dead in 2 Kings 4:18-37, the same prophet who cleansed Naaman’s leprosy in 2 King 5:1-19—the same Elisha who had watched his mentor Elijah go up to heaven in a chariot of fire without getting sick or dying? There is no fiery chariot for Elisha. He gets sick and dies, apparently according to God’s plan.
In the NT, according to Paul’s last letter to Timothy, another faithful servant of God’s sickness isn’t healed. As Paul wraps up his last recorded letter, he adds in
2 Timothy 4:19-20 19Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20Erastus stayed in Corinth, but Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick.
These words are written by the same Paul whose handkerchiefs had once healed sick people according to Acts 19:11. Paul prayed for countless sick people to be healed and they were, but now here is his friend and fellow minister Trophimus for whom his prayers do not bring healing.
Apparently, it’s not God’s will to heal everybody. Apparently, there are times when God, for reasons we don’t usually understand, allows His faithful servants to suffer sickness. Sickness was never part of God’s original plan for creation, but sickness is often part of His will.
Sometimes God uses sickness to chastise us. In 1 Cor. 11:30 tells us some of the Christians in Corinth were sick and even died because they abused the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. More often sickness is just part of living in a fallen world where bad things happen to good people. God does not owe us healing, and often He uses sickness to help us grow stronger in our faith. The words of Paul about his “thorn in the flesh” could apply here:
2 Corinthians 12:8-9 8Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
It’s OK to ask Jesus for healing, but you have to be sure you remember you are making a request from your Master, not demanding service from a servant. He reserves the right to say No. And when He says no, it is important to remember God can always be trusted to do what’s right and what’s best.
Tim Hansel writes: I have prayed hundreds, if not thousands, of times for the Lord to heal me--and he finally healed me of the need to be healed.[ii]
It’s not easy to be spiritual when you’re sick. But you can hold on to the promise that even though God doesn’t always heal us or those we love, He always cares, He’s always in control, and He will always do what’s best---even when He chooses not to heal us.
God is often…nearer to us…in sickness than in health. ... He often sends diseases of the body to cure those of the soul. - Brother Lawrence[iii]
In fact, through Christ, God offers us a better, more permanent healing because
3. The greatest miracle is not the healing of the body, but the healing of the soul.
Do you notice Jesus does something a little unusual when he heals this paralyzed man in
vs. 20? This guy cannot walk; he needs his legs healed. But the Bible says Jesus looks at him lying there on his mat and when He saw their faith what does He say? Man, your sins are forgiven you. Why does He say this?
One reason was to provoke the reaction He got from the Pharisees. He knew they would blow a gasket when He said these words because they believed (quite correctly) that only God can truly forgive sins. They saw Jesus as a miracle worker, a healer, a preacher and rabbi, but He wants to be sure they understand He is more than all of this: He is God.
But another very important reason is that when Jesus looks down at this paralyzed man, he sees beyond the broken body and sees a broken soul—a soul broken by the guilt of sin, a soul enslaved to the power of sin. He sees a soul that He would die on the Cross for. He sees a faith here enough not only to heal a body, but to heal a soul. This is why He came---not just to mend broken bodies, but broken souls.
Does Jesus care about our sick, ailing bodies? Yes, He does. But He also realizes that your sick body is just a temporary home for your soul. Even if your body is healed of sickness or disease, it will eventually die of something else. Eventually you and your body will part ways.
But your soul—the invisible part of you, your mind, your heart, your will—it will live forever. It is your soul that Jesus ultimately came to earth to bring healing to.
Isaiah 53:5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.
The Bible says that the soul of you and I and everybody in the world is infected with sin. Sin has broken us, crippled us, blinded us, and if we don’t find healing somewhere, it will destroy us. But where do we find that healing for our souls? Only by nail-pierced, healing hands of Jesus Christ.
Only He can heal your soul from the fatal infection of sin in your soul and the only way you can be healed of your sin is the same way this crippled man was healed: by faith.
You can’t do a thing to heal your soul except reach your empty hands out to Christ and believe in Him. But when you reach out to the Great Physician with nothing but faith, He will heal you. This is the greatest miracle of healing—the healing of a soul from sin.
A preacher named Tony Campolo tells a story about being in a church in Oregon where he was asked to pray for a man who had cancer. Campolo prayed boldly for the man's healing. That next week he got a telephone call from the man's wife. She said, “You prayed for my husband. He had cancer.” Campolo thought when he heard her use the past tense verb, but before he could think much about it she said, “He died.” Campolo felt terrible. But she continued, “Don't feel bad. When he came into that church that Sunday he was filled with anger. He knew he was going to be dead in a short period of time, and he hated God. He was 58 years old, and he wanted to see his children and grandchildren grow up. He was angry that this all-powerful God didn't take away his sickness and heal him. He would lie in bed and curse God. The more his anger grew towards God, the more miserable he was to everybody around him. It was an awful thing to be in his presence. After you prayed for him, a peace had come over him and a joy had come into him. Tony, the last three days have been the best days of our lives. We've sung. We've laughed. We've read Scripture. We prayed. Oh, they've been wonderful days. And I called to thank you for laying your hands on him and praying for healing.” And then she said something incredibly profound. She said, “He wasn't cured, but he was healed.”[iv]
Does God still heal today? Yes. It’s OK to ask Him to heal your body. He cares about your hurts and pain. But even when He doesn’t say “Yes” to your physical healing, He offers you a better, more miraculous healing—the healing of your soul. God still heals—are you ready to come to Christ and be made well?
[i] Christianity Today, 11/25/83, pp. 14ff
[ii] Tim Hansel, Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 4.
[iii] Leadership, Vol. 9, no. 1.
[iv] Weekend Encounter, by Dick Innes