MAYBE FIXING EVERYTHING DOESN’T FIX EVERYTHING

perfect life

Jesus truly cares about our trials and struggles, and sometimes he does alleviate them. We should not be embarrassed or ashamed to ask him for help with earthly problems. Jesus should be the most significant factor in any situation for us. Even so, having our troubles “fixed” often leaves us unchanged, and that’s not always a good thing.

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 50

 

Matthew #50 . Matthew 15:29-38

Greetings, dear friends. This week I will be writing about, among other things, how the presence of Jesus should be the most important factor to believers in all circumstances. In terms of energy, time, talent and finances it often seems like I am inadequate to the callings the Lord has for me. But just as the most important thing for the 4000 hungry people to know was that Jesus was among them, so it is with me, and you too, I might add.

For this reason, I invite you to pray with me for the ministry of Clear Bible.

Please pray that the Lord will provide every need to keeping making this ministry what He wants it to be. Pray it will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. God really is our true provider, so please do pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal. We can make this tax-deductible if you just mention that it want it to be so in the “note” part of the transaction.

You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

917 Canyon Creek Road

Lebanon, TN 37087

(this is a new address by the way. It is merely an administrative change).

Just put “Clear Bible” in the memo. Your check will be tax-deductible.

Thank for your prayers, and your support!

~

One of the arguments made by skeptics is that the Bible, as we have it today, was shaped and “redacted,” by early Christian communities. In other words, goes the theory, over the first few hundred years of Christianity, various Christian communities changed some of what was originally written, and made up other parts out of thin air. Of course, this theory is destroyed by the known facts of how the Bible came to be. With vast numbers of complete and partial manuscripts in various languages, with a few surviving portions of manuscripts dating back to the time of the apostles, and large numbers of surviving papyri dating to within one generation of the apostles, we know that early Christian communities changed nothing. If they had, we would find widely varying readings in the various surviving manuscripts, with significantly variant readings clearly centered in geographical areas. Instead, we find that by A.D. 250, virtually all Christians across the known world (at the time) were using essentially the same New Testament texts. This occurred while Christianity was still an illegal, persecuted religion, so no one got any wealth or power from what is written in the bible.

Matthew 15:29–38 is another one of those passages that would only be included if the Bible is in fact what it claims to be. In other words, if you were in an early Christian community deciding what the Bible was going to be, you would almost certainly leave this out. If you haven’t already, go ahead and read the text. Now, think about it. We already have the feeding of the 5000. In that story, Jesus healed a bunch of people, and then fed them all with a few fish and some pieces of bread. In this story, we have almost the same thing. Jesus heals a bunch of people, spends three days with them, and then feeds them all with a few fish and some pieces of bread. The main differences appear to be that the second crowd was with Jesus for three days (instead of just one), and there were 4000 men (plus women and children), instead of 5000 (plus women and children). We also have different numbers of bread and fish and of baskets of leftovers.

Why would we include this second story? We already have a story just like it. The answer is simple: the reason Matthew included this story is because it really happened. It wasn’t put in by an early Christian community because they had some sort of agenda; this story does not advance any agenda beyond that of the first mass-feeding. A made-up gospel would simply leave it out. No, the only reason to include this story is because this is what actually happened. By the way, Jesus and his disciples have a conversation in Matthew 16, in which they refer to both incidents.

We might ask, why then, did Jesus repeat this miracle? We can ask this in true faith; it is a reasonable question. Sometimes, however, I think we hyper spiritualize what we read in the Bible. Sometimes the answer is very simple and straightforward. I think the reason Jesus fed the 4000, even though he had previously fed the 5000, was because, at that particular time, he was with the 4000 and they were hungry. In other words, it wasn’t some sort of additional lesson, or spiritual parable. He wasn’t proving a point. He happened to be there with those people. They were in need, and so he healed them; they were hungry, and so he fed them. It was simply Jesus providing for needy people.

Now, I believe this is true, and I think it is the main reason we have this text. I also believe that the Holy Spirit can, and does, use every part of the Scripture, and so I also think that we can hear God speak to us through this text.

First, I want us to notice something about our desires and their fulfillments as we look at this passage. Matthew tells us that he’s only counting men (in a census, only men were counted, which was a good thing for the people when it came to war and taxes). Conservatively, if you assume only one woman and one child for every two men present, on this occasion, Jesus fed about 8,000 people. On the previous occasion it would have been 10,000. So, between the two incidents, Jesus miraculously fed 18,000 people (possibly many more). In addition, he healed many of those people. I am sure that many of them desperately wanted healing for themselves or their family members before they went to see Jesus. I’m sure that many of them were very tired and hungry before Jesus fed them. Well, they got what they wanted: they were healed and then fed. They came to the Lord, asking him to meet their needs, and he did. But what was the result?

Luke tells us that when the dust had all settled after the crucifixion and resurrection, there were about 120 people (men, women and children) who followed Jesus. We don’t know for sure who each one of those 120 people were, but we know that the twelve followed him before the feeding of the five or four thousands. We know also about many women who were already his followers before this, along with several people whom were not present when he fed the five thousand, or the four, but became followers later, in Jerusalem. What this means is that at most, out of 18,000 people who received miraculous healing and miraculous food, fewer than 100 ended up following Jesus. That’s about one half of 1%. It is possible, of course that not a single one of these 18,000 people were among the 120 disciples at the time of Jesus’ resurrection.

The reason I bring this up is because it speaks to the heart of a lie that we human beings tell ourselves so often. We think that if God would just show himself we would put our faith in him. We believe that if God would simply fix our difficult situation everything would change for us. There are many Christian circles where it is popular to say “you cannot minister to a person’s spiritual needs until you have ministered to her physical needs.” But all these ideas are destroyed by this fact: Jesus Christ himself ministered to the physical needs of more than 18,000 people, and virtually none of them followed him; virtually none of them were fundamentally or permanently changed.

Our true need is not for God to simply alleviate our suffering, for him to deal with the thing that we think is bothering us the most. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the alleviation of suffering, particularly my own. But I do not think it accomplishes as much as we suppose it does. In the lives of these 18,000 people, it did not accomplish much spiritually, it did not fundamentally change the lives, or eternal destinies, of very many of them.

When I have a friend who is not a believer, and is suffering in some way, I usually pray that the Lord would alleviate his suffering. In that situation, I also often tell my friend I am praying for him. I have this idea that if God will simply intervene, my friend will become a believer, surrender his life to Jesus, and be changed forever. But this business about the feeding of the thousands shows me that that is not necessarily the case. Perhaps (!) the Lord is wiser than me when he chooses not to intervene miraculously. Maybe fixing everything doesn’t actually fix everything.

Jesus addressed physical pain, and physical needs, because he loved people, and the Father allowed him to help them. And I think this is another important lesson to take from the passage: Jesus cares, and sometimes Jesus does something about suffering. If nothing else, this passage shows us that he has great compassion on those who suffer. He did his miracles of healing and feeding, not because it led to more people following him, not because through it, more people received his salvation, but simply because it broke his heart to see them in need.

He did not need to do this miracle to show the people something about who he was as the Messiah – he had already done that with the feeding of the 5000. But he cared about the fact that these people were also hungry. He had just provided physical healing for number of them, and he did not want to send them off on a long journey with nothing to sustain them; he did not want hunger to undo the physical healing he had already brought. He cared about their hunger, he cared about their need, and combining his compassion with power, he met that need. The book of Hebrews says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).” That means that Jesus is still like this today: he still cares about our physical needs, and he still meets them, perhaps even miraculously at times. Maybe you need to hear this word for you today: Jesus cares about you, about every single thing in your life.

I don’t think I’m contradicting my earlier point. I think we need to put our own struggles and sufferings in perspective. We need to realize that if Jesus were to miraculously solve all our problems, we would still have a deep need for him. We need to recognize that the resolution of all earthly obstacles does not actually accomplish very much for us in eternity. Even so, Jesus truly does care about our present, earthly trials and struggles, and sometimes he does alleviate them. We should not be embarrassed or ashamed to ask him for help with earthly problems.

There is another thing I find interesting here: the response of the disciples when Jesus suggested that they should provide food for the crowd. It’s easy to judge them; after all they were in this same situation, probably no more than a year or two before (Matthew does not tell us how much time has passed since the feeding of the 5000). To me, their response seems almost incredible, at least on the surface: “Where could we get enough bread in this desolate place to fill such a crowd?” Seriously? Did they learn nothing from the first time?

However, I think perhaps when we judge the disciples in this way we are not being entirely fair. First, it isn’t like Jesus is producing food out of thin air every day. From day-to-day, week to week, month-to-month they are eating with Jesus in the normal way. In fact, we know from Luke that they were generally dependent on help from others for their daily necessities (Luke 8:1-3). It is likely that they themselves had experienced times when they wondered whether or not they would get a meal. Clearly, Jesus did not miraculously provide food on every single occasion when there was a need.

Second, I find that when I am in a place of need, I still often doubt the Lord, even though he has so clearly provided in the past. I think this is human nature, and it may be one of the reasons why the Lord grants so very few Christians the dangerous position of financial security. We are meant to keep looking to him for all we need, and very few of us really do look to him until we are in need. There is something about our relationship with the Lord that keeps inviting us to trust, and in order to truly trust, doubt must be possible. In any case, I have to admit, I’m still sometimes not expecting Jesus to do anything, still sometimes surprised when he does. How often do I, like the disciples in this text, expect that Jesus will not really do anything?

This is a reminder to me to keep looking to him. Once again, I don’t think this a contradiction to anything I said earlier. I don’t think God’s provision turns people into disciples. However, for those of us who have already begun to follow Jesus, it is vital that we remember God as the most important factor in every situation. We have eight thousand hungry people, what shall we do? Look to Jesus. We have a bill we can’t pay, what shall we do? Look to Jesus. We have a broken relationship that we can’t fix, what shall we do? Look to Jesus. Maybe you are lonely, or dissatisfied with life, or overwhelmed. The presence and will of Jesus should be the deciding factor for us in all circumstances.

WHAT IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN FAITH AND HEALING?

Jesus heals bleeding woman

First and foremost, this passage of Scripture, like all of the Bible really, is here to show us Jesus. These miracles drive the point home that Jesus is divine in nature, and has authority to forgive sins. He is the central figure, he is the star; our eyes are meant to be drawn to Jesus.

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 32

 

Matthew #32 . Matthew 9:18-34

This time, we’re going to try and cover a larger piece of Scripture than normal. Truthfully, most of chapter nine should form one, complete passage, and I have artificially broken it up into several sections. So I will try and complete the main body of the chapter today. In reality all of what we covered today should go along with the incident where Jesus heals the paralytic.

There are two basic themes running throughout all of chapter nine up to verse 35. The first theme is that Jesus has divine authority and he proves it through miracles. The second theme is that his claims to have divine nature, and his controversial actions, are beginning to create opposition among some of the religious leaders of his time.

Altogether Matthew chapter nine records four instances of miraculous healing and one incident of deliverance from demonic oppression. But the point is not so much the individual miracles, as it is confirmation that Jesus has the right to say the things that he said at the beginning of the chapter, and indeed, the right to say everything he has said up until this point. I think it is important to understand the healings and miracles in that context. Their main purpose is to validate the words of Jesus Christ.

But there is something here that I think is worth examining further. Many people have claimed that if you want God to heal you, it won’t happen unless you first have faith that He will do so. But in these miracles, we find a curious thing. We don’t know if the paralytic man had any faith or not. Then we read about the woman who is healed, and Jesus indeed says, “your faith has delivered you.” The next person that Jesus heals is actually dead, which means, among other things, that she could not have had any faith to exercise. Most of the people around her clearly didn’t have faith, since they laughed at Jesus when he said he would make her well. Even so, Jesus heals her. And then, we come to the blind men, to whom Jesus says “as you have trusted, let it be done in you.” Finally, we come to the demon-oppressed man and find there is no record of him exercising any faith or his own deliverance. Altogether in Matthew chapter nine we have three miracles where no mention is made of faith, and two others where Jesus says something about the faith of the people he heals.

The truth is, the connection between faith and healing is complicated and difficult to understand. In fact, I would not claim to understand it myself. As we have seen, even this single chapter doesn’t especially clarify things.

In my own life, I have encountered this same difficulty understanding the connection between faith and healing. Several years ago, I was speaking at a church retreat. As I began one session, I suffered a kidney stone attack. By that point in my life, I had already had three or four kidney stones. I knew then, and I know now, what a kidney stone feels like. I shared with the group what was happening, and begged their forgiveness, and told them I was going to have to go lie down. Several people in the group asked if they could lay hands on me and pray for me before I did so. I agreed of course, but I was hoping that they would make it quick, because the pain was starting to become very intense. Before that point in my life, people had prayed for me for various ailments at one time or another, and I never could tell that the prayer made any difference. On this occasion, I wasn’t expecting much. However, when they prayed for me, I actually felt the kidney stone disappear. I have never experienced anything like it before or since. I was able to continue on with the retreat and suffered no ill effects. The kidney stone was completely gone. In short, I believe I was miraculously healed.

About six months later, I woke up, suffering from another kidney stone. It happened to be on a Sunday morning, so, as I fought the pain, my wife drove me in to church. There, the same people who had prayed for my kidney stone at the retreat several months previously prayed for me once more. After my experience at the retreat, I was filled with faith. I was fully expecting to be completely done with the kidney stone as soon as these people had prayed for me. I assume that they too, were filled with faith as they prayed for me, since God had used them previously in the same situation. And yet, on this particular occasion, I was not healed. I wasn’t able to stay at the church service, and I had to go home, take painkillers, and wait for the kidney stone to pass in the ordinary way.

If healing is dependent only on my faith, I should not have been healed the first time, but I should have been healed the second time. However, what happened was exactly the reverse. Both times I was facing virtually the exact same situation: I was about to deliver a scriptural message to the same group of people, I experienced the same ailment in both cases, and the same people prayed for me in both instances. But the result was different, and it did not seem connected in any way to how much faith I had.

So why does Jesus say “your faith has delivered you” to the woman with the bleeding problem? Why does he ask the blind men if they believe he can heal them, and then say, “as you have trusted, let it be done for you”?

I should point out that in the Greek, at least in this passage, Jesus never says, exactly, “your faith has healed you.” To the woman he says, “your faith has saved you.” The Greek word there is sodezo. It is the same word used when Jesus says:

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:35, HCSB)

It is the same word the disciples used in the middle of the storm when they thought they were going to drown, and called out to Jesus: “Lord save us!” Now obviously, Jesus could mean that her faith has saved her from illness, but he might just as easily mean that by her faith she is saved from the devil and hell. I suspect that he means both. In any case, the words “healing” or “healed” are not used.

With the two blind men, Jesus still does not use the word “healed.” The most literal translation, would be something like this: “as you have trusted, let it begin to be created in you.” Of course, in context, Jesus must be talking about healing. But the emphasis here is that their faith has begun something inside of them. Healing is undoubtedly a part of that, but there is nothing to suggest that it is only about healing. Even the fact that Jesus asks them if they believe he can heal them is a more complicated question than we realize. I am certain that Jesus was not primarily concerned with whether or not people believed he could do miracles. Our faith is never supposed to be simply about what Jesus can do for us; instead, it is supposed to be first and foremost, about who he is.

The truth is, I don’t have a definitive answer about the connection between faith and healing. I am pretty certain that Jesus can and does heal even people who do not have the faith to believe that he will. I think we are egregiously mistaken if we think it all depends on us and our faith. On the other hand, I am also pretty certain that it is better to have faith in Jesus’ desire and ability to heal us, than to not have such faith. And in both of the instances here where Jesus talks about faith, it seems to include more than just faith that Jesus can and will do heal. It seems to also include the idea of trusting Jesus for everything: for life, for eternity, and for salvation.

In verse 30 Jesus says something that might seem strange to us. He tells the formerly blind men to keep quiet about how they had been healed. I’m a little bit torn about how to understand this. It simply can’t be that Jesus thought they could keep their sight a secret. Anyone who had ever known them, or seen them begging on the road, would surely notice that now they could see. I think, however, that Jesus really did mean that they shouldn’t tell people it was he who healed them. This actually makes sense. Jesus came to earth with two main purposes:

1. To train disciples who could and would communicate the truth about him to others, and who would train new Jesus-followers to do the same.

2. To sacrifice himself; to take our place and our punishment for the sins and failings we have, making us righteous in God’s eyes.

At this point in time, Jesus was clearly not done with the first task, so he could not do the second, since it involved his own death. The more popular he got, and the more influence he had, the more enemies he would gain. Eventually, the powers that be would decide they had to do something about him. This was part of his plan, part of how he intended to sacrifice his life for us, and it is exactly the route that led to his crucifixion. But since he had not trained his followers yet, it wasn’t yet time for him to be killed. Therefore, he did not want his influence to spread too quickly, which is why he told the men not to mention his name in connection with their healing.

In verse 34 we have the first indication of tension between Jesus and the Pharisees. In other words, his influence was already growing, and certain people were already starting to view him as someone who must be opposed. We have already seen several times that Jesus makes stunning claims about himself, and implies in many places that he is in fact divine in nature. If Jesus never did anything miraculous, this wouldn’t be so much of a problem. The Pharisees could simply dismiss his claims. But as we saw at the very beginning of the chapter with the paralytic man, Jesus connects his miraculous power to his divine nature. In that incident, he basically said, “let me prove to you that I have the authority to forgive sin.” In fact, most of chapter 9, even though we have broken it up into several sections, is an ongoing record of how Jesus demonstrated his divine authority to forgive sins.

So anyone who does not want to accept his divine authority must somehow discredit his miracles. The Pharisees, offended by his claims of divine authority, therefore attribute his miracles not to God, but to the devil. It is interesting that nobody claims that the miracles did not happen. Clearly the events themselves were quite convincing. Yet again, we find that it is not possible to consider Jesus just a good man, or a moral teacher. The people at the time understood that either he was who he claimed to be, or he was a devil.

Now let’s focus on what the Holy Spirit might want to say to us through this passage today. First and foremost, this passage of Scripture, like all of the Bible really, is here to show us Jesus. These miracles drive the point home that Jesus is divine in nature, and has authority to forgive sins. He is the central figure, he is the star; our eyes are meant to be drawn to Jesus.

In addition, I think this passage encourages us to seek Jesus as our only hope, our only resource. The father was desperate to have his daughter healed; Jesus was his only hope. The woman had exhausted all other resources, at this point, Jesus was her only resource. The blind men surely could have no hope of seeing, apart from Jesus.

One of my ongoing life lessons is to learn to see Jesus as my first resource, instead of my last. The man’s daughter was dying already when he came to see Jesus; the woman had already spent all of her money on doctors before she came to see Jesus (Luke gives us this detail in Luke 8:43). How much better if they had come to him first! How much better for us if we learn to go straight to Jesus with everything. I don’t mean that Jesus’ primary mission is to function like some sort of cosmic vending machine for us. As I’ve already mentioned, sometimes he heals, and sometimes he does not. Even so, I think he wants us to look to him first. He may answer our need the way we want him to, or he may not. But either way, he should be our first resort, not our last. And he should remain our hope, even when he doesn’t behave the way we want or expect him to.

Although faith is not really about getting what we want in this life from God, it is clearly something important. Jesus was delighted with the faith of the centurion, as recorded earlier. He is delighted with the faith of the woman here, and also the two blind men. As always in the New Testament, the Greek word for faith might just as well be translated “trust.” Jesus wants us to trust him with everything, and he is delighted when we do. These miracles show us that his word is good and reliable. We can trust what he says. We can trust his forgiveness for us. We can trust his grace and his love.

But the Holy Spirit speak to you today.

 

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal.

You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

625 Spring Creek Road

Lebanon, TN 37087

Just “Clear Bible” in the memo. Your check will be tax-deductible. Unfortunately, we cannot do the tax deductible option with the paypal donate button, however the money does go directly to support this ministry.

 

Thank for your prayers, and your support!

WHY DOES JESUS HEAL?

healing

Healing in this life, or making this life better somehow, is ultimately meaningless unless we respond to Jesus in faith. Jesus is focused on the eternal person, the spiritual person. That’s where his priority is, and I think that is where our priorities should be also.

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 30

 Matthew #30 . Matthew 9:1-8

This time, we will take the incident with the paralyzed man and his friends. Mark and Luke include the detail that the paralytic man’s friends couldn’t get him through the crowd, so they lowered him from the roof to set him in front of Jesus. Once again, there is no reason to assume that this contradicts Matthew. Matthew often omits details supplied by Luke and Mark. Again, I think it is the result of the fact that Matthew is relying primarily upon his own memory of these events, whereas Mark and Luke had to do research before writing, thus turning up details that Matthew either forgot, or did not think were important. Matthew is usually concerned most of all with focusing on what Jesus said and did, rather than giving extraneous details.

What Jesus says first is quite surprising. These men had brought their paralyzed friend and laid him in front of Jesus. What would you say? I might say something like:

“You are blessed to have such friends – take comfort from them!” Or maybe “See how many people love you!” If I had healing in mind, I might have said, “Do you believe you can be healed?”

But Jesus looks at him and says: “Have courage, son, your sins are forgiven.”

Matthew records that this caused a murmur among some of the onlookers; they called it blasphemy. Luke and Mark explain why:

“Why does He speak like this? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone? ” (Mark 2:7, HCSB)

We need to be clear here. This is one more answer to the question: “When did Jesus claim to be God?” By telling this man his sins were forgiven, Jesus was claiming to speak as God, and many of the people at the time understood that was exactly what he was implying; that’s why they called it blasphemy.

So, I do think that one reason Jesus says this is to let people know who he is, and to set up the opportunity with this paralytic to more or less prove it. But I think there is something else here. I think Jesus also says it for the sake of the paralyzed man. John records an incident where Jesus’ disciples encountered a blind beggar:

As He was passing by, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples questioned Him: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? ” (John 9:1-2, HCSB)

In that culture, it was common to think that if someone had a great physical disability, it was the result of some sort of sin. It was considered punishment from God. It is very likely that this man felt not only the misery of his condition, but also the misery of knowing that he had caused it by his sin, and public shame that everyone else knew what a bad sinner he must be.

Into this situation, Jesus spoke in front of large group of people, publicly removing his sin and shame. Now, everyone sins, and there is no doubt that this man, like every other human being, committed sins. Jesus did not say, “you didn’t sin.” That would have been a lie, and the man would have known it was a lie. But Jesus says, in front of a big crowd: “You are forgiven. You sin isn’t on you anymore.”

There is an old debate among Christians about whether it is more important to care for a person’s physical need, or address her spiritual condition. One argument says that you should start with caring for the physical need, and only then, once that need is addressed, will she be able to really hear the gospel and respond appropriately to it. I want to point out that Jesus did not take that approach here. To Jesus, the most important thing to do for this paralyzed man was to free him from the paralysis of sin and shame. Of course, he did eventually address the physical need also, but he started with the spiritual problem, which goes against a lot of today’s conventional Christian practice.

There’s another thing about Jesus’ approach that I think is very important for Christians in America and other well-off countries. We put so much focus on this life, and what we can get out of living on earth. Many American Christians have even come to see Christianity as a means to attaining a safe and comfortable life here on earth, and many of them abandon God when that doesn’t seem to work out. In fact, I believe that Christianity as a whole has never been more focused on this life, and making things comfortable here on earth; and I believe that is a huge mistake. The truth is, that paralyzed man’s body has been dead for two-thousand years now. The healing he received back then is meaningless to him right now. What Jesus really wanted to give him was something eternal – forgiveness, leading to reconciliation with God and the promise of a body that will never die or become ill. Suppose Jesus had not healed the man. He would have had a hard life, lasting maybe 80 years, and he would have experienced a high level of suffering, for sure. Even so, presuming he did respond to Jesus in faith, for the last 2,000 years he has been in glorious grace and joy, and he still has an eternal, imperishable body to look forward to, one that will be forever healthy. The eternal, spiritual gift is much greater than the gift that lasts only for one mortal life. Healing in this life, or making this life better somehow, is ultimately meaningless unless we respond to Jesus in faith. Jesus is focused on the eternal person, the spiritual person. That’s where his priority is, and I think that is where our priorities should be also.

But of course, some of the people in the crowd doubted that Jesus could provide the eternal gift. The healing miracle wasn’t primarily about making life easier for the paralytic. It was to prove to the people – and to the paralyzed man himself – that the forgiveness and eternal life Jesus offers is real. In fact, Jesus himself tells us that this is the reason for the miracle:

But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — then He told the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your mat, and go home.” And he got up and went home. (Matt 9:6-7, HCSB)

What Jesus said was basically this: “You think I don’t have the authority to say this man’s sins are forgiven? Well let me show you what kind of authority I have: get up, son, and walk.”

Think about what a gift this was to the paralyzed man. Of course, it is huge that he has the full use of his body. But imagine him a year or two later, feeling aware of his failings, wondering if he is truly forgiven. All he has to do is think: “Can I walk? All right then, as sure as I can walk, I am forgiven.”

Pause for a moment and internalize this message. We all have things that we want changed in our lives. That’s normal and natural. We don’t have to feel badly for wishing that we were healthier, or had better opportunities, or that our marriage would be better, or any number of things. But we need to take our cue from Jesus – the eternal is greater and more important than our temporary struggles and trials.

The apostle Paul understood this. He wrote:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18, HCSB)

If you know anything about Paul, you know he had a lot of suffering in his life. But he didn’t consider that his sufferings had any comparison to the eternal joy and grace that were waiting for him. The difference between the suffering and the glory is so vast that the suffering doesn’t even deserve mention.

Fixing our lives here and now is pointless if we are not made right with God by trusting in Jesus. And even just one hundred years from now, it won’t matter to us one bit whether or not we had a better house, or a healthier body or an easier time paying our bills. However, everything will hinge upon whether or not we trusted and followed Jesus and received the grace and forgiveness he offers us.

I don’t mean it is wrong to try to relieve suffering on earth. I don’t even think it is wrong to try and better your own life. But I think both things are pointless if we don’t start out by receiving Jesus, and continue by trusting and obeying him. If your struggles and aspirations for this life here and now are getting in the way of Jesus in your life, listen to what Jesus says. “My child, let’s start with the eternal issue. Let me start by getting you in right relationship with me. We can deal with the other stuff – or not – later, as I see fit. Only trust me.”

Let Jesus speak to you first about the important issues, the eternal ones. Forgiveness and reconciliation with God are central to all our needs. These are more important than your immediate problem with this life. Jesus thought this was true, even for a man who was paralyzed.

We can’t pretend we don’t sin. And the excuse “everybody sins, anyway” doesn’t get us anywhere either. We may repeat that to ourselves, but if we’re honest, we know it isn’t good enough. What we need is true forgiveness, true acceptance. It starts with realizing that we are as helpless as a paralyzed man lying on a mat. True acceptance means that someone knows us truly for who we are, and yet forgives us anyway, and that is exactly what we have through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Pause and listen to Jesus for minute. Hear him say to you: “Take courage, my child. You are forgiven. Your shame is removed. Yes it is – it really is. I have the power to make a paralyzed man walk, of course I have the power to forgive you and remove your shame.”

Can we get it through our heads that what Jesus offers us is infinitely more valuable than the ability to walk is to a paralyzed man? He offers us something that will continue to bless and impact us through the infinite corridors of eternity, while we ask for shiny toys we will play with today and break tomorrow.

There is one other thing here. The way the paralyzed man’s friends acted is a great example for us. The man himself was helpless. They were helpless in that there was nothing they could do for him either. But they did the one thing they could – they simply brought him, and laid him in front of Jesus. This is a tremendous and encouraging picture of what we do when we pray. We take our friends and our own burdens, and set them down in front of Jesus. Jesus did what he wanted to with the man. He started out by addressing a need that none of them even thought about – the spiritual need.

Next time you pray, think about these friends of the paralytic. Picture yourself taking your loved ones and your own personal burdens and setting them down in front of Jesus. Be sure and bring them to him, but let Jesus decide what to do with them, and trust that what he will do is best for all eternity.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today.

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal.

You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

625 Spring Creek Road

Lebanon, TN 37087

Just put“Clear Bible” in the memo. Your check will be tax-deductible. Unfortunately, we cannot do the tax deductible option with the paypal donate button, however the money does go directly to support this ministry.

 

Thank for your prayers, and your support!

WHICH IS MORE IMPORTANT: LOVE OR TRUTH?

 

truth-love (1)

The fact is this: Love and Truth are equally important. We need to hold on to both. Love without truth is just meaningless and ineffective sentiment. Truth without love is arrogant and cruel.

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 26

 

Matthew #26 . Matthew 8:5-13

When He entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible agony! ”

“I will come and heal him,” He told him.

“Lord,” the centurion replied, “I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. But only say the word, and my servant will be cured. For I too am a man under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go! ’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come! ’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this! ’ and he does it.”

Hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those following Him, “I assure you: I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith! I tell you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus told the centurion, “Go. As you have believed, let it be done for you.” And his servant was cured that very moment. (Matt 8:5-13, HCSB)

Last time we saw how Jesus reached out and physically and spiritually touched someone who was literally untouchable – a leper. Now Matthew records another incident where Jesus interacted with someone whom the Jewish culture of his time saw as unacceptable. The man in question is a centurion – an army officer. Automatically, this means two things. First, he was not Jewish. The Jews at the time were an occupied people, a people under the oppression of Rome and Rome’s vassals. The Jews were not permitted to have their own army, so any army officer would certainly be a Gentile.

Second, because he was an army officer, not only was this centurion a non-Jew, but he was also one of the oppressors. Part of his job was to enforce laws that the Jewish people had not made, and to keep them from rebelling. He was part of the conquering and occupying army that was kept in the Jewish homeland. He would have been viewed by the Jews much the same way patriotic Frenchmen would have viewed a German officer in the army that occupied France during the Second World War. To put it another way – he was the enemy.

So here is Jesus, heading home with his Jewish disciples, and along comes the enemy. I think it is worthwhile to look both at how the man approached Jesus, and what Jesus said to him and about him.

Let’s begin with the centurion. He was probably in charge of the local garrison of soldiers. Jesus was a young, homeless, Jewish Rabbi with no official standing. The centurion could have come to Jesus and said, “Look, I’m the law in the town. Some officials might consider you a troublemaker. But I could make things easier for you if you take care of me, too.”

Instead, he came to Jesus and called him “Lord.” We’ve already talked about what this word means in Greek. It could mean “sir,” or it could mean “The Lord” as in, God. Even for a Gentile army officer to call a homeless Jewish Rabbit “Sir” is startling. But I think as we go through the text, we’ll see that this Centurion meant not only “Sir” but also “Lord” in the sense that he personally believed that Jesus was The Lord.

Let’s continue to look at the humility of this man. He doesn’t even actually make a request of Jesus. He simply tells him the problem. He says, “My servant is paralyzed with pain.” He doesn’t tell Jesus what to do about it – he just brings his burden to the Lord. I think this is very useful to us when we come to God in prayer. So often I am tempted to tell the Lord how to deal my prayer request: “Sally has leukemia, Lord, would you please touch her bone-marrow and remove the problem, and let those white and red blood cells come into balance?” But this Centurion shows us the way of simple trust. He simply says, “Lord, my servant is ill and in pain.” He figures that Jesus will know exactly what to do about it. He seems to think that simply just bringing the problem to Jesus will be enough. I can learn a lot from this.

Jesus, confronted by this enemy soldier, by a man who enforces the oppression of his people and who, by his cooperation, keeps them in crushing poverty, responds immediately: “I will come and heal him.”

The Centurion again displays both humility and faith. First, he knows that if Jesus enters his house, it will cause trouble for Jesus. Jews were not supposed to go into the houses of Gentiles. In those days, that would make them ceremonially unclean, and they would have to go through a cleansing ritual before they could worship again, or even eat with other Jews.

So the Centurion demurs. He could have said, “My servant is not worth all that trouble,” but what he actually said was, “I am not worthy, and besides, there is no need.” This is where he reveals that he already sees Jesus as the “The Lord.” He describes his own command. He is in Palestine under the orders of the Roman Caesar, and so he has authority to tell his soldiers what to do. He recognizes that Jesus is on earth under the orders of God the Father, and so Jesus has the authority to tell the very creation what to do. He only needs to give the order, and the sickness will leave.

Most of the New Testament was originally written on a paper-like material called “Papyrus.” It was much more rare and expensive than paper and ink today. So Matthew doesn’t take the time to give us this man’s back story. But clearly, he had spent some time around Jesus, and he believed absolutely that Jesus had all the authority of God.

The next line is worth analyzing a little bit. It says that Jesus was amazed. The Greek doesn’t have a direct English equivalent, but it might be best translated, “Hearing this, Jesus marveled at it, and said…” You almost get the sense that Jesus was surprised. But how could Jesus be at the same time the one true omniscient God, and yet also be surprised? I think this question is very important, so we’ll take it as a side-topic for a minute. When Jesus came to earth, though he came in the fullness of his God-nature (Colossians 1:16-20) he chose, for the entire time he was on earth, to set aside all the advantages of being God, and to remain every bit as dependent upon the Father as we are (Philippians 2:6-11). And so, every miracle He did, He did not from His own power as God the Son, but rather, as any human would do – by completely depending upon the Father:

Then Jesus replied, “I assure you: The Son is not able to do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does these things in the same way. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He is doing, and He will show Him greater works than these so that you will be amazed. (John 5:19-20, HCSB)

So Jesus was not using his divine omniscience when he spoke with the Centurion. He had chosen to set that aside, and not use it. Therefore, he did not know the future any more than you or I, except when the Father chose to reveal it to him. This was part of Jesus’ sacrifice for us – that he became like us, even to the extent of setting aside his Godly powers, and depending instead on the Father, just like any other human being must do. Remember the temptations of Satan in Matthew chapter four? They were aimed at trying to get Jesus to use his own power, rather than depending upon the Father. Jesus agreed to live a life that required trust in the Father, so that he was like us in every way.

Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death — that is, the Devil — and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. For it is clear that He does not reach out to help angels, but to help Abraham’s offspring. Therefore, He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested. (Heb 2:14-18, HCSB)

This business of being amazed at the Centurion is just one example of how Jesus made himself like us, dependent on the Father. He knows what it is like to not know what God is going to do. He knows what it is like to blindly trust that God will do the right thing, the best thing, even when he personally doesn’t know what that will be. He has truly “walked in our shoes.”

With that, let’s get back to the Centurion. Speaking (as always) what the Father leads him to speak, Jesus makes a statement that would have been startling, and even offensive, to many of the Jews around him.

First, Jesus unequivocally makes trust in Him the requirement for entering the Kingdom. Second, he adds, basically, “A lot of non-Jewish people will be there in the Final Kingdom of Heaven – and many Jewish people will not be there.”

Over the fifteen-hundred from Moses to Jesus, the Jewish people went through an difficult and tragic arc in their attitudes toward non-Jews. God’s promise to Abraham was designed to bless both Abraham’s descendants, and the nations around them. The laws given through Moses commanded the people of Israel to be different from those around them, in order to show the nations something of what God was like, and so encourage those pagan people to come into God’s blessing. But the Hebrew people did not really obey those laws. Instead, after they entered the promised land, they embraced the cultures around them and let go of the things that made them unique, the things that would show foreigners the truth of God. They let the cultures around them influence them, and ultimately, lead them astray into abandoning the One true God. They went through many cycles of repenting and coming back to God, and then straying away again. Finally, they were utterly destroyed as nation roughly 587 years before Jesus (587 BC). When the nation was re-formed seventy years later, it seemed they had finally learned their lesson. The Jews after that maintained a very distinct identity. They no longer seemed inclined to mix with the cultures around them, nor worship false gods. But now, they went too far in the opposite direction. Not only did they not mix with the non-Jews around them, but they no longer cared if those outsiders ever learned anything about the One true God. They became self-satisfied, and by the time of Jesus, felt that Heaven was the birthright of all Jews, and all those who were not born Jewish were generally out of luck. It is true, there were still converts to the Jewish religion from other nations, but as whole, at the time of Jesus, Jews did not pursue non-Jews or make much effort to tell them about God. If an outsider expressed a passionate interest in Judaism, he could probably find a Jewish person to help him convert, but in general Jewish folks were not very eager to spread the word, being content to have it to themselves.

So when Jesus states that many Gentiles (non-Jews) will be in heaven, and many Jews will not, this was a shocking and offensive idea. Many people may have felt that they would automatically be in Heaven, just because they were Jews by birth. By the same token, they felt that non-Jews would not be there, simply because they were born to the wrong kind of parents. But Jesus challenges their entire basis for salvation and heaven. He says it is about trusting Him.

There are so many applications to this passage. Let’s go back to the Centurion. He was a soldier in an especially brutal army in an especially brutal era of history. Sometimes we think, “I want to follow Jesus, but it’s really tough to do that in my profession. No one around me understands. It just doesn’t fit my circumstance.” But this man in the Roman Army found it possible to trust Jesus and follow him, even in his exceptionally brutal and profane circumstances. If you find yourself saying, “It’s hard to follow Jesus while I do _______ for a living,” I encourage you to pause and consider this Centurion.

Now let’s think about Jesus welcoming this enemy soldier, this oppressor, when he comes in faith. We Christians struggle with both of the same extremes with which the Jews had difficulties. When Jesus welcomes this outsider, this enemy, it reminds us of his words that we should love our enemies. It challenges us to welcome and accept people who are very different from us, people whom we might even tend to think of as enemies. Have we become self-satisfied and content to believe we are going to Heaven because we go to a Christian church, while meanwhile, we don’t care if our friends and neighbors and co-workers take the road to hell? Too many Christians seem to have this attitude. We think it is about organizational membership, rather than trust in the person, Jesus Christ.

We forget that Jesus Himself tells us to reach out and tell those who don’t know Him yet. Are you willing to tell Muslims about the grace of God that comes through Jesus Christ? What about black folks or white people? Are you ready to show God’s grace and love and forgiveness to gay people and Democrats? Or maybe your problem is with people who oppose gay marriage, or with Republicans, or members of the National Rifle Association – can you show them the love and truth of God?

But there is another side to all this, one that we must not forget. The Jewish people before 587 BC had a problem too, and it was the opposite problem. They welcomed all cultures, regardless of the Truth, regardless of their attitudes toward the One true God; and they let those cultures influence their own beliefs and their own relationship with God. This passage does not teach us that everyone is saved, regardless of their attitude to Jesus. It does not tell us to give up truth or give up the standards of the bible. Instead, it teaches us that we are all the same in our need for Jesus. The Centurion did not come to Jesus and say, “This is who I am and I’m not gonna change for you. You must accept me, but you may not change me or command me.” Instead, as we have seen, the Centurion came to Jesus in trust and humility.

Many Christians these days have difficulty accepting this. They can accept people who are different from them, and even embrace different cultures. But they have a hard time insisting that all people must repent of their sins and receive Jesus in trust. Jesus welcomed this Centurion precisely because he trusted Him in humility. If we welcome people regardless of their attitude toward Jesus, we are not helping them. If we tell people who are sinning that they are not sinning, we ourselves are distorting God’s Word and are endangering our own position of humbly trusting Jesus and what He says.

The fact is this: Love and Truth are equally important. We need to hold on to both. Love without truth is meaningless and ineffective sentiment. Truth without love is arrogant and cruel.

This incident with the Centurion challenges us to hold on to the truth that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we must trust Jesus and humbly receive Him and His truth. At the same time, it also challenges us to accept anyone in the world who wants to come to Jesus with faith and humility. It encourages us to bring our burdens to Jesus with humble faith.

Listen to the Holy Spirit today as He uses this passage to speak to you.

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal.

You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

625 Spring Creek Road

Lebanon, TN 37087

Just “Clear Bible” in the memo. Your check will be tax-deductible. Unfortunately, we cannot do the tax deductible option with the paypal donate button, however the money does go directly to support this ministry.

Faith Healing? Miracles? 1 Corinthians #21


Download 1 Corinthians Part 21

 

 

To another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers…” (1Cor 12:9-10)

healing

 

We have been looking at “spiritual things.” Paul tells the Corinthians he does not want them to be ignorant of them. I think it is safe to say that we should not be ignorant of them either. Because the goal of this passage is to alleviate our ignorance, these next two messages or so will seem very informational in style. Even so, as you read this, pray that the Lord not only informs you, but also inspires you and fills you. We don’t want to only know about spiritual things – we want these things of the Holy Spirit to be active and real in our own lives.

A gift of faith. When Paul includes faith among his examples of the workings of the Holy Spirit, he clearly does not mean saving faith in Jesus Christ. The faith we place in Jesus, the faith we exercise in giving Jesus control of our entire life, is indeed a gift of God, and it is a gift which is given to all who will receive it. In other words, if you are a Christian, you already have the gift of saving faith – faith that trusts everything to Jesus alone. The point Paul is illustrating is that God gives many different kinds of gifts, and they are all given to the church as whole. No single individual exhibits every possible gift of God for touching lives. Therefore, here, Paul is speaking about a gift of faith that some Christians do not possess – a faith that blesses the Church in a unique way beyond the faith that entrusts one’s life to Jesus. Perhaps the best way to describe this gift of faith is to offer some examples of Christians who possessed it.

James Hudson Taylor was a missionary to China in the nineteenth century, who clearly possessed the gift of faith. Hudson Taylor founded one of the world’s largest and most effective missionary societies in the face of a complete absence of financial backing, while holding to a principle that forbade members of the society to ask for any kind of material support. Taylor had only a firm conviction (a gift of faith) about God’s desire for the China Inland Mission to be formed – while all of common sense, and past history suggested that his goal was impossible. The gift of faith through J. Hudson Taylor was used by God to bless the church at large in mighty ways. Many Chinese met Jesus through the work of the China Inland Mission (CIM); many new missionary organizations were formed, inspired by God’s provision for CIM; glory was given to God as He was given opportunity to show how He provides for his children. The work of the China Inland Mission continues today, though under a different name. The gift God gave the church was one of faith to lay hold of something beyond human vision, and the result was that lives were touched!

George Müller was another through whom God gave the church at large the gift of faith. Müller founded and maintained a large orphanage, depending on God in prayer alone, for the resources to build buildings, maintain facilities and operate from day to day. The orphanages he founded, provided for and ministered to literally thousands of children in Müller’s lifetime, and the work has been continued (albeit in different form) to this day.

We can see then, that the gift of faith is given by God to his Church, to touch lives by trusting God for things that may seem impossible, perhaps even things that have never been done before. The gift of faith may be given to someone in the church for the salvation of someone who seems absolutely beyond hope. The gift of faith is exercised in starting new churches and ministries. It is a powerful gift.

Graces of healings”. The next “grace” mentioned is healing. It is interesting to note that in the Greek, both “graces” and “healings” are plural. The implication is that rather than giving one individual a certain “gift of healing,” God considers each time a person is miraculously healed to be a gift. There are some individuals through whom the gift of healing seems to be given fairly often. However the emphasis seems to be on the incidence the healing itself, rather than the person through whom it comes. Though some people clearly have “healing ministries,” any Christian might be used to bring this gift to another as they lay hands on, and pray for, a sick person.

When I pray for others to be healed, I usually do it in a small group. The Lord has healed a few of people I have prayed for in this way. Once we prayed for a lady with Crohn’s disease, the night before she was to have surgery. The next day, the doctors sent her home, saying she didn’t need surgery any more. I once prayed for a friend who was trying to quit smoking, but couldn’t seem to do it. That was 15 years ago, and he hasn’t had a cigarette since that prayer.

There is just one time in my life when I am positive I experienced miraculous healing myself. Some of you were there – it was at a church retreat a few years ago, and I was immediately healed from a kidney stone.

But quite often, when I pray for people to be healed, I don’t see anything happen. The same is usually true when others pray for healing for me. I am not alone in my mixed experiences. You could fill a library with books written about this subject. Some people claim that the problem is lack of faith. I don’t buy it. I had no faith that my friend would quit smoking when I prayed for him. I didn’t even ask for prayer about my kidney stone – I asked for pain meds (some of you can testify to this). At other times I have felt tremendous faith, either in praying for others, or in being prayed for – and nothing has happened.

I don’t think we can boil it down to a formula that always works. That is the nature of our faith-relationship with Jesus. If we had a formula for healing, then who needs Jesus? Jesus told us many times to keep praying and not give up. So I keep praying, and though sometimes people are not healed, sometimes they are.

It is important also to remember that any healing that takes place during our life on earth, (whether supernatural or “normal”) is always temporary. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but eventually, years later, Lazarus died again. The judgment of sin on our physical bodies is death, and death’s effects will always be manifested sooner or later. There is no such thing as truly complete physical healing until Jesus gives us new bodies when he comes again. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Jesus did not devote his full energy to healing while he was on earth.

Miraculous powers. The Greek term describing this action of the Holy Spirit conveys the sense of dynamic power in operation. Since the term is distinguished from healing, we must assume that Paul is speaking of supernatural power manifested in some way other than healing. The New Testament brings to mind several incidences of such power. After a shipwreck, Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake and suffered no ill effects. On the island of Cyprus, Paul caused the “magician” Elymas to be struck blind. But the most pervasive New Testament example of the Spirit’s dynamic power (apart from healings and conversions) is exorcism. Jesus dramatically and unequivocally demonstrated his power by casting out evil spirits. He himself connects the exorcism of demons with the life changing activity of the Holy Spirit saying, “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). The apostles, at Jesus’ command, made exorcism a significant part of their ministry, both before and after his death and resurrection. There can be no doubt that the Lord wants to continue the offensive against the powers of evil, and that he wants to do so by power of the Holy Spirit through His Church. He may indeed want to bless us with miracles of many kinds, but it is also safe to say that he wants gifts of exorcism (power) to be part of the pattern of a church that touches lives.

My former professor and mentor, Dr. Eugene Bunkowske, was a missionary in Nigeria for 22 years. When he first went there, he moved in among a tribe which had no Christians. The most prominent witch doctor of the area heard they were coming. He said, “I will put a curse on this man’s wife and his children, they will get sick and they will die, and then the missionary will go back to where he came from.”

Shortly after Bunkowske arrived, the witch doctor got sick; and then he died. Many people came to Jesus as a result of seeing the power of God manifested in this way. My friend only found out about the witch-doctor’s words later, but he believes firmly that it was the Lord, demonstrating his power and relevance to people who had been trapped in animistic religion.

More needs to be said about using the gift of powers, particularly exorcism. Jesus gives all of those who know him, spiritual authority over evil spirits. The principle is simply that Jesus is in us, and His power is greater than that of the devil (1 John 4:4). Our power is not sufficient to drive out Satan or demons, as the sons of Sceva found out (Acts 19:13-16). Jesus does promise us the power to overcome evil (Luke 10:18-20), but he cautions that if we simply drive out an evil spirit and do not see that the Holy Spirit enters in afterward, the individual will be no better off than before (Luke 11:24-26). We must also use discernment (that gift will be discussed later) in determining whether the problem is truly caused by the presence of demonic power, or something else.

There are some individuals who have a special calling to help others address demonic strongholds. It is an exhausting ministry, but also intensely rewarding. Our neighbors a few years ago were people with that calling. Some other friends of ours were struggling with their adopted son. He was diagnosed with reactive-detachment disorder, a traumatic and violent psychological syndrome that is very difficult to treat. Our friends were in despair over their son, and were on the verge of placing him permanently in an institution. I suggested that before they did that, we should take him to our neighbors who had the gift of dealing with demonic issues. We spent about three hours with boy. I can’t say it was a comfortable time. But when we were done, he no longer had the disorder. A psychaitrist later confirmed that he no longer had it. The boy’s life, and the lives of his parents, were completely changed. This is a wonderful gift for the body of Christ!

Years ago, I preached through this passage of 1 Corinthians with the goal that the church I was leading at that time should learn about these “things of the Holy Spirit.” The church was full of ordinary people. They weren’t super-Christians. They had jobs, and rent payments and car trouble and kids, just like most people. But we all agreed that we wanted the Lord to be doing these “spiritual things” among us, just as he did in the early church. And so, when someone wondered once if just maybe God wanted to say something, he spoke up, and it turned out to be a message of wisdom from the Lord. Another person was physically ill, and we laid hands on him, and prayed for him, and he was healed. Over time, the Lord did all kinds of amazing things in that church because the people were informed about these spiritual things, and they asked God to do them among us, and they were willing to take risks and possibly look foolish in order to learn.

The Lord can do that anywhere, if he has people who are willing. I pray that you are willing.