The Good News That Heals

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Introduction

In Singapore today, it is quite likely that the first time you hear about Jesus is that Jesus can heal you or your sick loved ones. This is a decided shift from the time when you are more likely to hear about the love of God or the forgiveness of sin as the Good News of Jesus Christ. Nobody is dumping the love of God and the forgiveness of sin, but it is worthwhile asking if this new opening point of contact is good, and if so, how exactly can we make the right claims of healing and avoid making false promises on God’s behalf.

Prayer for healing is a settled practice in the church from the earliest of times, and this has gone without challenge through to the present day. No Christian has ever rejected that God heals, and from time to time, he does it in extraordinary ways. It can be a healing from a disease that leads to death or permanent disablement, or it can be the sudden and immediate recovery of a disease that should normally take a long time. We call these “miraculous healing.”

jesus-heals-the-blindThe Good News of Jesus Christ is not linked to healing until more recent times. In the Gospel accounts, it is clear Jesus heals and that healing is part and parcel of his proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Over time, healing has been decoupled from the Good News. In more recent times, Christians have rediscovered the role of healing in the proclamation of the Good News. All good things tend to produce the danger of an over-emphasis. Healing is no exception.

The Contribution of the Pentecostal Tradition to the Issue of Healing

The Pentecostal Tradition began in America in 1900. It focuses on the speaking of tongues as evidence that a person has been “baptized by the Holy Spirit.” Like other Christians, they too pray for healing. But unlike other Christians, they emphasize miraculous healing as part of the life of the church. Because of certain excesses, other Christians tend to reject too close an association with them, and they were no more than a minor denomination among different Christian traditions. They are indiscriminate in “stealing” Christians from other churches, saying they are lacking in a second blessing, and in proclaiming the Good News. The American expression about these Christians is that they are on the “other side of the [train] tracks,” meaning the poor, dangerous, and uneducated part of town. This is represented by the “Assembly of God,” and they were not well received by the rest of the Christian community.

Over time, some business people became part of this tradition, and they applied business marketing methods. They rightly emphasized proclamation of the Good News (rather than steal members from other churches), and this is sometimes called the “Charismatic Movement.” Some broke away from the AoG, and some AoG reformed to adopt the Charismatic method. They have a more contemporary presentation of the Good News, are not shy about using paid advertising, and continue to emphasize tongues, miracles and “deliverance” as the norm. Their worship, like the Pentecostals, tend to be highly emotional with claims of healing, demon casting, etc.

After this, came the “Third Wave” within the Pentecostal Tradition. The biggest problem of the Pentecostal Tradition is that they are very weak in biblical knowledge and many of their claims run counter to Scripture and the test of reality or truthfulness. The Third Wave is “practice in search of the Bible.” At least two things happened with this wave. First, some of the excesses were reigned in as they cannot find Scripture to support their practices (e.g. slain by the Spirit, holy laughter). Next, a strong link is created between healing and the proclamation of the Good News. This is called “Power Evangelism.” The emphasis is that healing (and deliverance from evil spirits) is the main method of evangelism. Jesus, they say, is proclaimed as power over every human ill.

A fourth and current development within this tradition is the “Word of Faith” or “Prosperity Gospel.” In addition to promising health, the emphasis shifts to wealth. “God wants you to be healthy and wealthy through Jesus Christ.” Sadly, this seems to be a move away from Scripture. But alongside this development is a healthier one. Some now reject the need to speak in tongues, which is the serious theological point. Ability to speak in tongues or not is a minor point of dispute. But the grave theological divergence of this tradition is their insistence that every Christian must speak in tongues at least once. The move away from this is an important move in the right direction, and other realizations of the truth should follow.

What does the Bible Say about the Good News and Healing?

The Gospels tell us that Jesus did three related things. (1) He proclaimed the Good News of the kingdom of God; (2) He healed the sick miraculously; and (3) he cast out demons. For example, in Luke, we see Jesus began His ministry by teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:14ff). Next, Jesus cast out a demonic spirit (Luke 4:31-37). Third, Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and many more (Luke 4:38-44). Of course this three-part action is seen in the other Gospels as well.

When Jesus sent out his disciples to proclaim the Good News of the kingdom, he empowered them. “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 proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9:1-2).

These three aspects are parts of a coherent ministry, and not disconnected bits. Jesus was not doing three separate things. He was declaring that the kingdom of God has come, and showing the people he was the king of that kingdom. He was also showing what the kingdom of God looks like. It will be where (1) the truth of God is taught, (2) the devil is defeated, and (3) the result of sin (sickness and death) will be banished because sin would be forgiven. This will come about when people repent of their sins and acknowledge Jesus as their true king.

Jesus came to move us out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is where our sins are forgiven. When our sins are forgiven, the devil loses his grip and he is defeated. When our sins are forgiven, the effects of sin (death) will be abolished through our resurrection. In the resurrection of Jesus, death is defeated, and the way to eternal life is opened to all who share in his resurrection. Jesus’s healing and the raising of the dead are all precursors to the resurrection of Jesus.

There is good reason to connect our salvation with healing because healing is a foretaste of the resurrected life. It is the expression of God’s forgiveness of our sin. It expresses our moving from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13)

jesus-commands-the-wavesHowever, it is another thing to say we replicate the actions of Jesus. The signs and wonders campaign does not produce any real signs and wonders as Jesus did: walk on water, calm a storm, or catch fish at a command. There is no true replication of Jesus’s ministry. And it is right that we are unable to replicate Jesus’s ministry. After all, if everybody can do what Jesus did, there will be nothing to show he is the Messiah sent from God!

When we come to the Acts of the Apostles, we still see miraculous healing, but there is a distinct difference from the ministry of Jesus. Jesus performs many signs and wonders beyond healing: turning water into wine, stilling a storm, walking on water, making food multiply, etc. There is also an abundance of the casting out of impure spirits. When we come to Acts, which is also written by Luke, and from whom we can expect the same style of writing, we should expect a repetition of what Jesus did—especially when he tells us he intends to present the work of the disciples as the work Jesus continues to do through his disciples (Acts 1:1).

In Acts, we see miraculous healing and the casting out of demons in many places. But there is not a single incident when the disciples perform the type of miracle that suspends the laws of nature. The closest we have is Peter’s miraculous escape from prison (Acts 12:6-10), and Paul bitten by a poisonous snake, but remained unharmed (Acts 28:3-6). In both these instances, Peter and Paul were not the agents of a nature miracle, they are only recipients of God’s miraculous deliverance.

The distinct difference between the ministry of Jesus and those of his disciples is that only Jesus performed the nature miracles. But there is no substantive difference in healing and the casting out of demons.

When the kingdom of God is fully come, we are told, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”(Revelation 21:4). It goes without saying that when there is no death, sickness is banished. When Jesus comes in his glory, all creation will be healed. The earth, the land and sea, plants and animals, will all be healed from what the sin of man imposed. But leading that charge of the healing of God’s creation will be God’s people, the heirs of his kingdom. Fallen man destroy God’s creation. Redeemed man will be the agents of the restoration of God’s creation.

What I find remarkable is that Christians today tend to fall into one of two camps. One camp makes a big show of healing and another camp practically does not want healing to happen because they don’t believe God continues to heal today.

When we look at Scripture squarely, we can easily see that the Good News brings healing at all levels. The Good News of John the Baptist heals relationships. “[A]nd he (John the Baptist) will go before him (Jesus) in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:17, ESV).

The prophet Isaiah gives a preview of what Jesus would do (Isaiah 53:3-5, NLT)

He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.

There is a tendency for some to forget everything except the last clause, “He was whipped so we could be healed” and there are some who only look at “he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sin.” The first group looks at the body and the second looks at the soul. There is no wholeness without body and soul. A broken body with a redeemed soul is still not whole. A healthy body who does not know Jesus is also not whole.

What we need to observe is that there was a healing for the sick – once. That is, we do not see multiple miraculous healings for the same person, not even once. When people are sick and call upon the Lord, and the Lord heals them, it is to point them to Jesus. It is to let them know that God is able to heal their whole person, body and soul. Eventually, the body will waste away and we all die (unless the Lord returns before that time). We must not hold out healing as a gimmick to bring people to Jesus. At the same time, we must not shy away from the reality that God used, and continues to use healing as a means of expressing his power over sin and death, and his ability to forgive and to heal the whole person, body and soul.

Let’s take a look at what Scripture has to say about healing in the preaching of the Good News in Acts:

Event Other Signs Healing Conver-sion
Peter’s preaching at Pentecost (2:14-41) No No Yes
Peter heals lame man (3:1-10) No Yes Yes
Peter’s mass healing (5:12-16) Yes Yes Mixed
Peter curses a sorcerer (8:20-24) Yes No No
Philip evangelizes the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26ff) No No Yes
Saul converts through blindness not healing (9:1ff) No No Yes
Peter with Aeneas and Dorcas (9:32-43) No Yes Yes
Peter’s evangelism to the centurion (Acts 10) No No Yes
Believers evangelize through persecution (11:19-21) No No Yes
Paul curses a sorcerer (13:6-12) Yes No Yes
Paul in Pisidian Antioch (13:14-49) No No Yes
Paul/Barnabas in Iconium (14:1-7) Yes ? Mixed
Paul heals in Lystra, creating chaos (14:8-20) No Yes No
Paul exorcises demon in Philippi (16:16ff) Yes No No
Paul evangelizes in Thessalonica, conversions recorded in epistles (17:1-9) No No Yes
Paul evangelizes in Athens 17:16-34) No No Yes
Paul evangelizes in Corinth for 1½ years (18:1-17) No No Yes
Paul raises Eutychus from the dead (20:9-10) Yes No No

The above is not comprehensive, but I want to show you that the Good News that heals is a sound message. However, the Good News is not always declared with temporal healing; and the Good News is never delivered with a promise of healing. Healing is never a carrot dangled as a motivation for conversion. Healing just happens. It often occurs without notice. It is never offered to the masses. Where there is mass healing, it just happens without planning. Evangelism is more often seen without physical healing than it is seen with physical healing.

Two events deserve special mention. Peter’s mass healing and Paul’s mass healing. These mass healings happened only once in their lives as far as we can tell. In Jerusalem, “As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed.” (Acts 5:15-16). We do not know if Peter’s shadow healed people, but we are told that it is what the people believed. However, it is clear that Peter healed all he set out to heal. Yet we note it is the villagers who convert, the people in Jerusalem were no longer converting. “But no one else dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them.” (Acts 5:13). There was a season of signs and wonders through Peter, but it was also a time of limited effect in conversions, much less than at Pentecost and thereafter when there were mass conversions. In other words, the best conversions happened outside of this mass healing.

Paul stayed in Ephesus for 3 years. That was his base to reach the Gentiles for Christ Jesus. There, “God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled” (19:11-12). For a time, there was mass or unusual healing. Every miracle is unusual, but there are some more unusual than others. In the life of Paul, this happened in Ephesus (not everywhere, otherwise they won’t be unusual).

If we look at Luke’s record of works of power by Peter and Paul, we see a pattern emerging. Peter is the chief apostle to the Jews and Paul the chief apostle to the Gentiles. Their ministry is authenticated by God in that both of them confronted sorcerers, cast out demons, healed the sick and raised the dead. There was even a time when there were unusual miracles. In the case of Peter, it was in Jerusalem, and in the case of Paul it was in Ephesus. Jerusalem was clearly the Jewish center of religion. Paul had made Ephesus the center for his Gentile mission, and that was where God chose to authenticate Paul. In both instances, the people, not Peter or Paul, were the movers of the healing. People place the sick along the path Peter walked, so his shadow might fall on them. This was not Peter’s doing. In the case of Paul, they took his work apron (for tent making) and handkerchiefs, and used them to heal the sick. Neither is ever repeated. God is creative and does not need to duplicate his creative works.

Summary

We see Jesus and his apostles proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God, often with healing and even raising the dead. The main difference is that Jesus talks of himself and the apostles talk of Jesus. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Our resurrection through King Jesus is the core of the Good News. Resurrection is total healing: body and soul.

Healing, or signs and wonders, happen sovereignly. We can see God using healing to relieve the sick, to facilitate the Good News, to bless believers, and to authenticate the apostles. All these are done in the proclamation of the kingdom of God. Jesus has come to claim his kingdom, and it is the kingdom that will be inhabited by the resurrected, by people made whole in every way. The casting out of demons and the healing light the way ahead so we can understand God’s redemptive plan for the world.

While healing should be included in the Good News because it is about total healing through the resurrection, I am concerned with the practice of making the wrong link of the temporary physical healing of the body to the Good News. Healing is sometimes used as a carrot for people to convert. That is not biblical. Worse, we sometimes see a bait-and-switch tactic. A person comes with stories of God’s wonderful healing (true, but a bait) and invites people to come for physical healing; but at the same time makes a disclaimer that it is God who heals, so if they come to Jesus, they may not be healed anyway (true, but a switch). It sounds like a product that declares loudly: “See, so many people are helped by this supplement … but it depends on you, and everyone is different.” Sounds familiar?

I am also concerned with a Good News that is devoid of healing. Healing is completely consistent with the promised kingdom of God at the resurrection. Healing is a token of God’s grace pointing us to the resurrection. The Good News is the total healing of body and soul (through the forgiveness of sin). Miraculous healing points to the resurrection, not an inducement for conversion or a promise of perpetual good health for the believer. Healing shows us God’s goodness. Healing makes us humble and grateful. Healing causes us to glorify God. Healing shows us there is more to this world than pain and death. Praise the Lord! His goodness endures forever.

The Good News heals everyone who comes, not only the lucky few who win the lottery of physical healing. Our immediate blessing is the forgiveness of sin, and the healing of body and soul in some way that points us to our full healing at the resurrection. The Good News that heals is for everyone who comes to Jesus.

Pastor Peter Eng

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