1. What is/was Healing? I guess we all know or think we know about healing. We certainly all know what it is to be sick. We have each been or know someone who has either been acutely or chronically ill with a grave, even deadly or incurable disease or disorder. To have the weight of such a burden removed is a source of great relief and joy.
That being said, healing in the Bible does not appear to ever be for its own sake. In the Old Testament healing appears to have been very rare, most of it associated with the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. In that incredibly evil time in the northern kingdom, Israel, healing and other miraculous signs served as bona fides for the testimonies of those two prophets. The logic was, those who could heal must be speaking truth to Israel’s corrupt establishment. Yet, as we know from the stories of the prophets, even dramatic displays of prophecy and power were not enough to turn that nation back to God.
In the New Testament, the healing ministry of Jesus reminds one in several ways of the times of Elijah. It was an evil time and the leadership of the nation was far from God, decidedly uninterested in his prophetic message. The people, moreover, were plagued with illness and many were oppressed by one or another form of “unclean spirits.” When he came into a town it appears that before Jesus could say much to anyone about anything, he spent time healing the people and delivering them from those bad spirits.
So, although Jesus cured and delivered countless people, he was not in the healing business any more than Elisha had been. He used healing as a sign of the kingdom which he announced whenever he spoke. It is fairly clear that the crowds which flocked to him did so not as much to hear his words as to receive his help.
In Acts, healing was a means of attracting people to the new movement. The story which leads to the apostles addressing people with the message of the kingdom soon after the hubbub of Pentecost begins with healing as an overt sign. In chapter 3, Peter and John healed a man who had never been inside the Temple because he had been lame since birth and thus considered “unclean.” The healed man “jumping and leaping and praising God” inside the temple precincts caused such a commotion that Peter found a ready-made audience of those who were eager to learn all about the source of the apostles’ power.
On at least two occasions in the early chapters of Acts, outreach was not a direct motive for healing. In chapter 9, Aeneas, a man who had been bed-ridden for eight years and Dorcas, a woman renown for her sewing and her acts of charity were healed by the apostle Peter. The second of these incidents, in which Peter not only healed Dorcas but raised her from death after she had been dead for a time and her body was already being prepared for burial, did result in, “…and it became known all over Joppa and many believed in the Lord.”
In spite of this not necessarily intended (but also desirable) result, the purpose for these two healings seems to have been a strengthening of the Christian community and their assurance of faith.
The best example of healing as an element of outreach in Paul’s ministry is the singular period of his ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19) when all the people of the district heard about Paul and his gospel. His gift of healing was so powerful that handkerchiefs which he had carried could be taken from him to the sick and “their diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.”
On the other hand, Paul also healed for the sake of the overall well-being of the community. A boy with a slave name which means “Lucky” (Eutychus) fell from a third-story window when Paul spoke into the night in Troas (Troy). Paul appears to have healed the young man and then gone back upstairs to celebrate midnight communion before talking until dawn.
My point is, in the earliest generation of the new covenant healing was a common sign of the coming of the kingdom for the sake of Jesus’ overall reputation among the general populations of the regions where churches were planted as well as for the edification of the saints themselves.
2. How was Healing Lost? Of course, many would say that healing was lost on purpose; that this early sign of the kingdom was only available to the people of God for the generation of the apostles and that after their time it ceased.
Others would argue healing has never ceased, that it goes on, here and there, especially in churches which seek to practice it. Stories of healings, great and small, are common and many Christians have heard stories of healings even if they have not directly experienced them.
I am not a part of a church tradition which emphasizes healing as a regular practice. Nevertheless, I believe the many stories I have heard and see no reason to believe healing is not real. I have also participated many times in a service of forgiveness and healing during the prison ministry of which I am a part, laying hands on my troubled brothers in the Lord. I have anointed many for healing, praying in faith. I believe God has used me to heal those to whom he has called me, even though I have never witnessed a dramatic “throwing down” of crutches or jumping out of wheelchairs. Others have seen much more than I have.
Years ago, I met a humble man named Gordon. He was a part of a charismatic community in England. He recalled to a group of which I was a part a visit he had recently enjoyed with another gentle soul, a missionary to Africa.
When asked how things were going, the missionary had replied quietly, “We have seen wonderful things: the lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see. We have seen the dead raised… but we are looking for a greater work of God.”
When we asked Gordon what the missionary could have possibly meant, he said, “These signs were but the good works of a few in the leadership. What the man was seeking and praying for was an outpouring of healing ministry on many if not all, throughout that African Christian community.”
Healing is real but for most Christians it is not a part of the regular, common identity and outreach of their Christian communities. When people today think, “Christian,” they do not automatically think “healing” the way I believe people did when Jesus’ own generation thought of “Jesus of Nazareth” or as they would have when the apostles were abroad. If healing is a sign of the coming of the kingdom of God, then as the day for that kingdom to be fully revealed approaches, healing should become more common, something Christians do for each other and for those who seek their help.
And it should not be the work of a few superstars but of many if not most of the people of God. It should become almost matter-of-fact within the community whose lives bear witness to a new creation at work supplanting the old.
3. Should Healing be reclaimed? In my last post, on Guidance I quoted from Richard Foster on our times and the Spirit of God:
In our day heaven and earth are on tiptoe waiting for the emergence of a Spirit-led, Spirit-intoxicated, Spirit-empowered people. All creation watches expectantly for the springing up of a disciplined, freely gathered, martyr people who know in this life the life and power of the kingdom of God. It has happened before. It can happen again.
If I am going to pray for Guidance to again flow as a discipline through the Christian community as a result of a great work of God’s Spirit, why would I not pray for the spread of the practice of Healing? We can be the people who are identified and who recognize ourselves as kings and queens of creation, the lords and ladies of God’s court who heal. Call me a bungler and a visionary, an old man, dreaming dreams.
Yes, I am. I pray for healing and guidance and for a deeply Christian democratic political and economic movement which lifts up the 99% and restores the power-balance in society, in the name of Jesus, receiving back the society’s assets from the greedy 1%, without violence. You name an area of life and I dream of its transformation.
I am talking about the actualization of the words and deeds of the story of God, of the coming to life of the word become flesh in our midst. I am praying for shocking things to happen which close the mouths of those who think they are so smart (Isaiah 29:14-16). Because God loves them. Because God loves us. Because once God has created, he never gives up on anything or anyone he has made and blessed.
Almost two thousand years after Jesus announced the kingdom, is it too late for the power of God to become manifest again? Of course not. We are told it has happened before when the people of God have groaned, have cried out. Then God, who is always close-by, reveals himself and his people are recreated and God’s Spirit renews the face of the earth.
Come, Holy Spirit! We are so very desperate for you!
Please join me in praying that the Spirit of God will fall afresh on his people; that we might be melted, molded, filled and used as the transforming body of Christ to change the world again.
Anyone have a healing story they want to share with the rest of us? Part of the purpose of healing is surely the building up of the Body of Christ.
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1 Back to Post It is primarily old-style Dispensationalists that hold this view. 18th century traditional Dispensationalism agreed with others that the work of the Spirit in tongues, healing, knowledge, discernment, etc., is a sign of the coming of the kingdom of God. However, they believed that the kingdom was meant only for the Jews and that it had been postponed to some future time by Jesus when the majority of Jews rejected his kingdom message. And if the kingdom is postponed then the signs of the kingdom are as well. So, no healing after the time of the apostles.
This view is shallow and it is in error on most all levels. It fails to understand the story of God, the purpose of Israel, the writings of Paul, Peter, James and the writer of Hebrews as well as the writings of John. James the Just himself declares the proof of the kingdom come is the rush of Gentiles into the restored “tent of David” (Acts 15:15-18).
For years, moreover, Dispensational Christians found themselves locked in a perpetual losing battle with charismatic Christians, because of the mounting evidence that God is moving by his Spirit in our times. As evidence for the work of the Spirit has grown over nearly a century and a quarter since the refounding of Pentacostalism in the 1890s, Dispensationalists have also found themselves in a trap of their own making, often stoutly claiming that these modern healings, etc., are not done by the power of God’s Spirit but by the power of the Devil. Can anyone say, “The Unforgivable Sin?”
Eventually, Chuck Smith, Chuck Swindol and some other “new Dispensationalists” began allowing for the works of God’s Spirit in our times on other grounds… Yes. Good move. When creation itself starts screaming you are wrong, it is past time to revise your doctrine.
My old mentor, the late Peter Steen once summed up this sort of denial of the power of God through catagorical doctrine when he remarked, “Those people are trying to give the Holy Spirit birth control pills!”
Amen to that, Pete!