Posts Tagged 'divine healing'

EXCEPTional Bible Verses, Part 5

walk-by-faith

Believing is Seeing

John 4:48

 

Jesus was traveling around and found Himself at Cana—the same Cana where He had turned the water into wine.  While he was there, a wealthy man approached Him.  We know he was wealthy because he was a government employee.  He had traveled some 25 miles on foot to ask Jesus to heal his ailing son.  To this question, Jesus responded:

Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.  (John 4:48  KJV)

His answer is our fifth EXCEPTional Bible verse.  It may be EXCEPTional, but it sure is a strange answer to serious question!  Put yourself in this wealthy man’s sandals; imagine traveling all this way to beg a well-known healer to heal your dying son, only to be given a answer like that.  The Living Bible paraphrases Jesus’ rebuff this way:

Won’t any of you believe in me unless I do more and more miracles?  (John 4:48  TLB)

Even Ken Taylor’s excellent paraphrase doesn’t help Jesus much!  Our Lord continues to come off sounding aloof and arrogant.  Now, we know Jesus wasn’t and isn’t like that; He was (and remains) loving and compassionate.  Therefore, something else is going on in this story behind, between, and around the words of verse 48.  Let’s take a look this truly EXCEPTional Bible verse, and we’ll learn something about our faith and our Lord.

1.  Setting the scene

At the end of the two days’ stay he went on into Galilee. Jesus used to say, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own country!”  (John 4:43, 44  TLB)

“His own country” is a bit  nebulous, but most scholars seem to think Jesus is referring to Judea.  He had not been very well received there, and especially in Jerusalem.  They did not receive His teachings and they certainly would have nothing to do with His Messianic claims.   The longer Jesus hung around Jerusalem, the greater risk He was exposing Himself to.  He was more or less forced to go elsewhere with His message.  In Galilee, we see an exact opposite reaction to the Lord.  Unlike the Judeans, the Galileans welcomed Him with open arms.  It’s a quirk of human nature, perhaps, that two people can see the same thing yet come to two totally different conclusions about what they just saw.  While Jesus was in Jerusalem, He performed many miracles that  had been witnessed by all kinds of Jews, yet only the Galileans were moved by them. 

In fact, Jesus had so much success in this area, His ministry there ran from late 27 to mid 29—almost a year and a half of Jesus’ earthly ministry was spent in Galilee. 

2.  Back to the beginning

In the course of his journey through Galilee he arrived at the town of Cana, where he had turned the water into wine.   (John 4:46a  TLB)

After His rocky experiences in Jerusalem, it’s no wonder Jesus wanted to return to a place where good things had happened.  Cana of Galilee was where it all began for our Lord.  It was here He turned the water into wine, something John points out.

Cana was also known for other things.  For example, it was the hometown of James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  And, it was also a major tax-collection center and quite possibly a Roman military post.  It’s funny that Jesus felt safer in a place like this than in Jerusalem, the very hub of His Jewish faith!

But there was another reason Jesus had to be in Cana.

While he was there, a man in the city of Capernaum, a government official, whose son was very sick, heard that Jesus had come from Judea and was traveling in Galilee. This man went over to Cana, found Jesus, and begged him to come to Capernaum with him and heal his son, who was now at death’s door.  (John 4:46b, 47  TLB)

This government official—a royal officer—probably worked for Herod Antipas, and was quite possibly a Jew.  He may have first encountered Jesus in Jerusalem during Passover and witnessed our Lord’s miracles.  No wonder, then, when Jesus came to town, this man wanted to talk to Him.  This man was a father whose son was deathly ill, and he sensed that Jesus was his son’s last hope for life.

The Living Bible uses the word “begging” and that’s quite accurate.  The Greek word is in the imperfect tense indicating a repeated and continual asking.  This father, in other words, was absolutely desperate; he asked and asked and asked Jesus to heal his son.  This father would NOT be dissuaded.

3.  A heartless response?

This brings us to our EXCEPTional Bible verse:

Then said Jesus unto him, except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. (John 4:48  KJV)

The question that pops into our heads is this:  Why is  Jesus answering a question He wasn’t asked?  Nowhere in the story do we read of this man, or anybody else, asking for a sign.  This father is asking for a miracle of healing, which may be considered a sign, but he asked Jesus because he apparently believed.  Or did he really?  Just what did this man have faith in?

Let’s leave this man and his son alone for a moment and just consider verse 48 as a stand alone statement.  It’s actually a very deep, probing question that prompts other ones:  Do miracles—signs and wonders—produce faith or are they the result of faith?  Is the event—the miracle—the thing to be sought after alone, or is the miracle just the by-product of faith properly placed in God and His Word?  These questions are important to consider because their answers will influence, not only how you pray and when you pray, but also your view of God.   If, for example, you think God is sort of like a 911 operator whom you pray to when you are in desperate straits, in need of a miracle, then your relationship with Him will be built on a soft, unstable foundation to be sure.  Your God, to you, must seem fickle, indeed.  You think, based on a handful of verses, that all you have to do as ask God for a healing and, based solely on the merit of your faith, God will ante up the healing.   It must be very frustrating for you when, more often than not, the healing doesn’t come.

Or, maybe you think God simply stopped healing after the last apostle died; that miracles belong to a bygone era.  Hopefully you enjoy your intellectual relationship with God because to you, your God consists of doctrines sayings.  It’s as though your brain was saved but your heart—your emotions—were left behind.

You see, how you view the question of miracles is vitally important to your view of God.  Is He a big old Santa Clause or is He bearded, wizened old sage.  Is He really concerned with the details of your life or is He the great cosmic director and you the actor on the stage of life?

The fact is, Christians are to pray to God for healing; for divine provision; for needs to be met whatever they may be. But our faith must be in God and His Word—His character and His promises—not in the power of any faith we think we have.  Our faith must be objective and it must be directed in the right direction.  No amount of positive thinking or good thoughts will produce a miracle. And we must understand that God has a plan for every person; sometimes that plan involves healing, sometimes not.  We must have faith, not only in the power of God to  heal, but also in His will, and that means accepting the proposition that God is kind and compassionate and He, not we, knows what’s best for us.

Let’s get back to this father.  He was drawn to Jesus by an outward need not by the desire of his soul.  His interest in Jesus was in what Jesus could do for him, or specifically for his son.  We’re sympathetic with this man, but let’s be honest, he is like the passengers on an airplane in free fall; they may have never entertained a thought about our Lord until they needed something from Him.  Actually, that sounds a lot like many Christians who aren’t necessarily interested in building and maintaining a relationship with God, but only in making sure He’s nearby just in case He’s needed.  This man who came to Jesus in Cana seemed to have some faith in Jesus, but only in His presence, not in His Word; really it was a faith in the miraculous—in the event.  He didn’t really want Jesus; he didn’t want to have a relationship with Him; he wanted his son healed.  That may sound a little harsh because we can all relate to the love this father must have had for his son.  But Jesus sees the heart; He sees the motives behind the questions and prayers.

If we can keep this in mind, suddenly this EXCEPTional Bible verse makes sense.  Our Lord was primarily concerned with the state of this man’s eternal soul.  Yes, He knew all about the sick son back at home, but of primary concern was this father’s salvation.  This man needed to have faith in the living Word!  He needed to see Jesus as Someone who was far more than just a healer.  Jesus was trying to teach this man something:  His Word was just effectual as His presence.  Isn’t that, after all, what the Old Testament had taught for centuries:

He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.  (Psalm 107:20  KJV)

4.  The healing

Verse 49 tells us this man had a one-track mind:

The official pled, “Sir, please come now before my child dies.”  (TLB)

He wasn’t interested in talking to Jesus further; in engaging our Lord in discussion.  All he wanted was what he could get out of Him.   But then Jesus speaks again and His statement is further test of this man’s faith:

Then Jesus told him, “Go back home. Your son is healed!”   (John 4:50a  TLB)

At this very moment, our Lord is healing the boy back home.  Of course, his father doesn’t know this, so this really is huge test of his faith.  Will the man go, or will he stay and beg some more?  His response, taking Jesus at His Word—shows that something our Lord said to the man struck a cord.  The words Jesus spoke were for this man, for this exact moment in time.  This man, who came to Jesus for the sole purpose of getting a miracle out of Him—He came to Jesus for the event—left without getting a thing from our Lord except His Word—His promise that the boy had been healed.   But that was enough because this man’s heart had been forever changed:

And the man believed Jesus and started home. (John 4:50b TLB)

In fact, it gets even better:

And the officer and his entire household believed that Jesus was the Messiah.  (John 4:53b  TLB)

Jesus was true to His Word!  What Jesus had promised this man, He fulfilled perfectly.  And He never set foot in the man’s house!  What started out as a belief in what Jesus could do turned into faith in Jesus as a Person.  This man’s faith, which started out as cold and impersonal, turned into a very personal faith in the character of Jesus.  It reminds us of something His mother had said sometime before; the last time Jesus was in Cana:

The wine supply ran out during the festivities, and Jesus’ mother came to him with the problem.  “I can’t help you now,” he said. “It isn’t yet my time for miracles.”

But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you to.”  (John 2:3—5  TLB)

You have to love the faith of a mother!   In spite of what Jesus said, she knew His character.  She knew her Son just couldn’t help Himself.  She just knew Jesus would do something.  So she gave the servants a heads up:  Do whatever he tells you to.

This is good advice for all of us:  Do whatever Jesus tells us to do.  Let’s have faith in His Word.  Let’s have faith in His character.  The better we get to know Jesus as  Person, the greater our faith in Him will be.  And our prayers will always be effective and never leave us disappointed or frustrated.

LUKE AND THE SOLDIER

A Roman Centurion

A Roman Centurion

Luke 7:1-10

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  (Matthew 19:26 NIV84)

This is a very practical statement concerning the right kind of faith.  If we look at the context of Jesus’ encouraging word, we note that it has nothing to do with anything worldly.  Jesus is not suggesting that any impossible thing we may face in life is conquerable if we just trust in the Lord.  Peter had asked a specific  question about salvation, specifically how can a person be saved?  A rich man cannot be saved by virtue of his wealth, and he cannot be denied salvation on account of it, so just how can a person be saved?  The answer:  all things are possible with God.  It is God who saves.  A rich man cannot trust in his wealth any more than poverty is a virtue.  God is the one who judges hearts and souls.  All things are possible with God – anybody may be saved, rich or poor – anybody.

In the Roman centurion, we see somebody as practical as Jesus.  He had a very matter-of-fact way of dealing with the Lord.  His servant was sick, so what did this centurion do?  Did he talk about it?  Did he worry and fret?  No, he sent at once for the Great Physician.  Did this Roman centurion love Israel?  Yes!  He built the synagogue.  He didn’t just talk about how much he loved Israel; he showed how much he loved the nation.  Does he have faith?  He doesn’t just talk about his faith, he demonstrates his faith; he shows that he has faith.

Yes, this man was practical and he was logical – his logic based what he knew to be true concerning this man, Jesus:

…say the word, and my servant will be healed.    (Luke 7:7 NIV84)

Like any soldier, this one recognized authority when he saw it, and he saw that spiritual authority that resided in Jesus.  Even Jesus’ own people didn’t see that!  In response to this Roman centurion’s simple, practical, and logical faith, Jesus responded in kind:

“I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”   (Luke 7:9 NIV84)

Jesus’ important sermon on the plain was over, but an important encounter is about to take place.  This is a pivotal point in the ministry of Jesus.  It is also recorded in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 8:5-13), where Jesus says something that Luke omits:

“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (Matthew 8:11-12 NIV84)

In other words, Jesus’ ministry and the Word of the Lord will move beyond the Jews.  This centurion was a Gentile, yet he received the Word of the Lord and his servant was healed!   It wasn’t Cornelius in Acts 10 who was the first Gentile to have faith!  It was this most impressive Roman – a Gentile – soldier.

1.  The servant’s need

(A)  He was completely helpless

There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.  (Luke 7:2 NIV84)

Of this much-valued servant, Matthew observed:

“Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”  (Matthew 8:6 NIV84)

The sick servant had NO hope; he had NO future.  He as not only sick, but he was suffering terribly; he was in constant pain.  The KJV says this sick servant was “grievously tormented.”  His employer, this Roman centurion, had the respect of those around him, but there was absolutely nothing he could do for his servant.  He had no favors owing him.

This sick servant is the classic picture of the sinner, who is so spiritually sick there is nothing any human being can do to save them.   An unrepentant sinner who knows of his sin and guilt is similarly “grievously tormented.”  It may feel bad at the time, but the conviction of the Holy Spirit is a very good thing for it can lead to repentance and salvation.

(B)  He was ready to die.

There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.  (Luke 7:2 NIV84)

The servant’s time was almost up.  Perhaps he had been sick for a prolonged time and his body, now deteriorated, was on the verge of complete collapse.

Again we see the picture of the sinner, who needs Jesus; who needs salvation.  His life could end at any moment; his soul is in constant peril of eternal damnation!

2.  The centurion’s request

This Roman official was employed by Herod himself.  He was a man of good reputation.  Scripture actually has good things to say about Roman centurions.  It was a Roman centurion who, after Jesus died on the Cross, remarked:

Surely this was the Son of God.  (Matthew 27:54)

A centurion also told Pilate the truth about Jesus’ Body (that it was really dead) and the Cornelius of Acts was a Roman centurion.  But of all the centurions mentioned in Scripture, this one must surely be the most remarkable, given his request, which reveals the love he had for his servant.

The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.   (Luke 7:3 NIV84)

We learn in the following verses that it was out of humility that this centurion didn’t go personally to make the request of Jesus.  Of special note is what these elders said of the centurion:

When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”   (Luke 7:4-5 NIV84)

His heart was right, both in regard to his servant, but also in regard to himself.  He could have approached Jesus on his own merit; touting his accomplishments and speaking for himself.  Instead, he approached Jesus through another.  Mark this and think about it.  He felt unworthy to come to Jesus personally; his request came through others.  Nothing we can do makes us worthy to approach God.  Only through Jesus may any human being approach God.  This centurion with such a good, well deserved reputation did not think he had it in himself to ask Jesus for anything.  This humility, like the simple, uncomplicated faith of a child, is what the kingdom Heaven is all about.   Remember, it was when Saul was puny in his own sight the Lord exalted him.

Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.”  (1 Samuel 15:17 NIV84)

This centurion had some incredible faith!

That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.   (Luke 7:7 NIV84)

“Say the word.”  What a remarkable thing to say.  As far as this centurion was concerned, all Jesus had to do was “say the word,” and the servant would be healed.  No oil.  No laying on of hands.  Just “say the word.”  But this attitude proceeded from the centurion’s own experience.  When he, the centurion, needed something done, all he had to do was bark a command and his subordinates jumped to and the work got done.  He reasoned it worked the same way with Jesus!  His faith and his view of Jesus came from his life’s experience.   How good is God?  That He would go along with this man’s vision of how he thought it should be done?

It’s tempting to spend a lot of time on the faith and character of the centurion or the need of the servant, be we should never overlook God’s amazing grace and mercy in this story.  A stanza from Faber’s, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” says it best:

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

But this centurion was on to something very profound, even more so considering he didn’t have the New Testament.  He somehow knew the power of the Word.  Jesus said this:

“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”   (John 6:63  NIV84)

The centurion never heard Jesus say this, but somehow, he knew the truth.

3.  Jesus’ response

(A)  It was prompt

So Jesus went with them.  (Luke 7:6b NIV84)

The focal point of the story switches from the centurion’s need to the Savior’s response.   It was as prompt as the centurion’s faith was logical.  The servant may have been at death’s door, but Jesus was about arrive at the right time.  Jesus never comes to early or too late.  God always does things at precisely the best time for all concerned.  God sent His Son to save us at just the right time:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6 NIV84)

(B)  It was encouraging

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”   (Luke 7:9 NIV84)

Jesus gave credit where credit was due!  He knew faith when He saw it, and He wasn’t afraid comment on it.  This man had faith, and Jesus noticed it and acknowledged it.  He encouraged the faith of this centurion.  It wasn’t perfect faith.  It was mustard seed-sized faith, but it was enough to amaze the Lord.  The man was filled with “personal unworthiness,” but God saw his faith.

Returning to the centurion for a moment, he must have been a very thoughtful individual.  At beginning of the incident, the centurion sent word asking Jesus to come to his home (verse 3). But by the end of the story, when Jesus is almost there, he sends word saying the opposite, “don’t come.”  Why?  It’s pure speculation, of course, but it may well be that this Gentile had time to think about Jesus – His greatness, His power, His holiness, and His mercy – and in comparison, he saw himself as even more unworthy than he did before.  The greatest of us shrivels in comparison to the wonder of Jesus.  Other people, the elders, thought this centurion “worthy.”  But the centurion knew the truth about himself as surely as he knew the truth about Jesus.

That’s why Jesus was so astonished.  How refreshing this centurion must have been to Jesus.  He had no religious pride at all.  But Jesus saw beyond the humility to the faith, and He was pleased.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  (Hebrews 11:6 NIV84)

Long before this letter to the Hebrews was written, the centurion was practicing it!  He had faith in Jesus and Jesus was about to reward that faith!

(C)  It was effectual

Matthew’s account of the story at this point is a little more powerful:

Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.”  (Matthew 8:13 NIV84)

This reminds us of the psalmist’s words:

He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.  (Psalms 107:20 NIV84)

This is a remarkable story on so many levels.  We see the utter helplessness of one who is dying.  We see the depth of faith in a man who had no relationship to the Law or to Judaism in any way.  We see the power that Jesus wields – able to speak healing from distance.  But we see something else:  we see how Jesus responds to those who respond properly to His Word:  He praises them.  Even though this centurion’s faith did not come from within himself – faith is a gift from God – Jesus exalted the centurion for responding the right way.

Jesus also said this:

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”   (Luke 7:9 NIV84)

Jesus was so amazed at the centurion’s faith, He “turned to the crowd” and told them how amazed he was.  But what was it that amazed Jesus so?  Was it that he knew Jesus could heal his servant from a distance?  Yes, but to stop there is to miss the true heart of this Gentile Roman centurion.  He also had great compassion for his servant, he had respect and generosity toward Israel, a conquered nation, and he had a deep-seated awareness of his own unworthiness.  So when you stop to think about it, great faith consists of merely possessing the right attitude:  toward Jesus; toward others – both believers and unbelievers; and toward yourself.

Great faith is probably as rare today as it was in Jesus’ day.

 

A Man Full of Hopelessness

Luke 5:12—16

Man without Jesus Christ is not only lost, but hopelessly lost, living in despair. To someone like that, Jesus’ words offer the only hope:

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies… (John 11:25)

Man’s withered hopes can be resurrected at the touch of Jesus. A man full of despair can be made clean by God’s grace.

In this stirring incident, Jesus heals a man full of leprosy, void of hope; a lost man. Matthew tells the same story, but he places it right after the Sermon on the Mount. Luke, the physician-historian adds a detail to Mark’s account: the man was “covered with leprosy.” He as literally FULL of leprosy. In other words, the disease had run its course and was in a very advanced state. This man had no future.

This kind of man offered Jesus a chance to demonstrate His compassion and healing power in a way that caused onlookers to think twice about who this Jesus was.

1. Misery does not love company, verse 12

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. (verse 12a)

This incident is recorded in Mark 1:40—45 and Matthew 8:1—4. Mark’s account is the most vivid and all three Gospels place these events during different periods of Jesus’ ministry. This is not unusual. It was not uncommon for Biblical writers to record history, not chronologically, but logically, grouping together teachings and incidents that had common themes. Regardless of precisely when the healing took place, the fact is it did and one man’s life was radically changed by our Lord.

Luke doesn’t tell us what town Jesus was in, but He was probably on the outskirts of the town since lepers were not generally to be found IN any town. This man was not destined to remain in this world for much longer; his leprosy had eaten him up. His health was almost gone. He had no friends, yet he was able to get close enough to Jesus to be touched by Him! The fact this this leper was able to get so close to Jesus is remarkable given what Leviticus 13:45, 46 says—

The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.

It’s interesting to compare what happened in this incident with a similar one later on in the ministry of Jesus:

As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance… (Luke 17:12)

Like sin, leprosy works slowly but irresistibly. It can be deadly. It poisons the blood, ultimately polluting the whole body. Sin affects the heart, which in turn directs the whole course of one’s life. Sin corrupts a person’s entire being, inside and out. A sinner without Christ is not only in a hopeless state, he is already dead. During the early days of the Church, Rome considered lepers as dead and actually had “rites” said over them!

A person living in sin is dead to God, regardless of how he may feel.

When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (verse 12b)

Seeing Jesus was enough to inspire hope in this man’s heart. No doubt he heard about this “miracle working” teacher and somehow he realized that in this Man rested his last, best hope for life. This poor leper had no guarantee that he would get the help he needed. But he stepped out in faith in a most humble manner: he fell on his face before Jesus.

This leper demonstrated not only faith but submission. He was sure Jesus had the power to heal him, but he wasn’t so sure of Jesus’ willingness to heal him. He had begged Jesus to heal him, but at the same time he was willing to submit himself to Christ’s sovereignty. What an important lesson for all believers to learn! This very short prayer reveals two important things:

(1) A knowledge of Jesus. He didn’t know much, but this leper had some knowledge of Jesus, and intelligent faith grows out of knowledge. The problem with too many believers today, and why so they are so often disappointed with their prayer lives, is that they really don’t know much about the Savior they are praying to! The more you know about Jesus through what the Word reveals about Him, the greater your understanding of Him will be, and the stronger your faith will be.

(2) The burning desire of the leper. He wanted to be healed. The leper prayed a focused prayer. It wasn’t long, but it was to the point. The leper confessed his need simply and succinctly.

But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:6—8)

2. Instant healing, verse 13

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.

Over and over again, the Gospels attest to the “healing touch” of Jesus! Every miracle in the Gospels is linked not only to Jesus’ “I am willing,” but also to His coming into contact with the one who was in need. However, it is interesting to note that sometimes, the one in need wasn’t touched by Jesus; sometimes they (the needy ones) took the initiative and reached out to touch Him. Either way, somehow there had to be a connection between the needy one and the healing power that flowed from Jesus. It wasn’t magic! It was the willingness of Jesus and the faith of the leper. Mark gives us an important detail Luke leaves out:

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. (Mark 1:41a)

The man may have been full of leprosy, but Jesus was full of compassion. The compassion was where need met power.

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15, KJV)

(1) The touch. Jesus touched the leper. Unthinkable! No healthy person would dare touch a leper. According to the Law, the moment Jesus touched this man, Jesus became defiled. But, the power of God, flowing through the Jesus, cleansed the disease.

(2) The word. Jesus told the man: “I am willing to heal you. Be clean!” Jesus not only touched the man, He gave the man assurance by His word. We are saved by the blood of Jesus along with the power of His Word. Jesus speaks and it is done.

(3) Total healing. What a miracle! Immediately the leprosy left this man’s body. One moment this man was full of sickness but his heart was empty. The next moment his situation was completely turned on its head! The disease was completely gone and his life was full of hope.

Jesus was a rule-breaker! He loved to “go rogue” around the religionists. Here He touched a leper, in defiance of the Law. Later on (7:14), Jesus would touch a coffin, another forbidden act. Jesus would not let any rule or man stop Him from His work. He did what He had to do. And He still does.

3. A curious command, verse 14

Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”

Why would Jesus tell this healed man to keep quiet about his healing? That surely goes against not only human nature, but also the mandate to witness and share one’s faith. Some have asserted the idea that Jesus wanted to prevent or at least forestall a national “crown the Messiah” frenzy. Jesus may have wanted to prevent some other crisis. Jesus may have wanted to correct the misconception that He was some kind traveling miracle worker. This wasn’t the first time Jesus wanted a miracle kept quiet; it happened back in 4:41.

But hand-in-hand with the command to keep quiet about the healing, this former leper was to do something else.  Jesus was mindful of the Law of Moses, and He commanded this man to go and present himself to the priest so that the priest could confirm that he was clean; that the leprosy was gone and so that he could be restored to full social and religious fellowship. In addition, he was to make a special offering, two clean, living birds, according to Leviticus 14:1 – 7.

If the command to be silent about a healing was a recurring pattern in the Gospels, so was the urge to disobey it. Instead of silence, there were voices. Lots of voices!

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses.

Even Jesus couldn’t stop people from talking! Of note is the telling phrase, “all the more.” Clearly, during these early days of His ministry, Jesus was a genuine phenom, at least among the common folk.We read this in Mark’s account:

Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:45)

Huge crowds were now looking for Jesus. They came from all over for two reasons: to “hear Him” and to “be healed of their sicknesses.”

Here is where and why Jesus began His practice of withdrawing from the public arena to be alone and to pray by Himself. As a man, Jesus would need to rest. We may be sure that the Gospels record merely a fraction of Jesus’ work among the sick and lost. Anybody who has every engaged in public speaking of any kind, but especially of preaching or teaching the Gospel, knows how exhausting a few minutes behind a podium or pulpit can be. Add to that the compassion and heartfelt love Jesus had when He saw the sick and dying coming to Him as their only hope, and we can totally understand why Jesus the Man needed to rest.

But Jesus the Son of God needed to get by Himself so that He could commune with His heavenly Father; so that He could seek His Father’s will and direction and receive divine strength. If any man knew about the importance of prayer, it was Luke. Luke had that in common with his friend Paul, whom he would later travel the world with, taking the Gospel to other people who were lost and full of hopelessness.

Jesus, the Son of God, is still full of compassion and still has the power to heal.  Maybe you don’t have a disease like leprosy, but maybe you feel a sense of hopelessness, or a sense that your life is far from what it could be.  Maybe you need to come into contact with Someone with the power to heal you and make your life right.  These are things things Jesus is so good at!  And these are things He still does.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.  (Revelation 3:20)

STUDIES IN ACTS, Part 5

Acts 3:1—10

An Amazing Miracle

In Acts 2, we are given a glimpse by Dr. Luke the historian into the routine of the early Christians.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42—47)

In chapter 3 we have a short story illustrating this. Luke picks one particular miracle to give the reader an idea of what life was like for the very early Church. He could have related any number of miracles, but he chose the healing of the lame man.

Also in this third chapter of Acts, we have a record of Peter’s second sermon. The theme of this second sermon is the theme of all the apostolic sermons in Acts: Jesus Christ. Specifically, Jesus Christ incarnate, crucified, risen, and glorified.

But the miracle cannot be separated from the sermon. Miracles were never performed by Jesus or His apostles to appease or amaze the people. These “signs and wonders” were performed to draw attention to the exposition of the Word of God.

1. The setting, 3:1

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.

Luke’s attention during these early days was focused primarily on Peter, the spokesman of the twelve apostles. Peter was accompanied by John, the son of Zebedee. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, Peter and John were part of our Lord’s “inner circle,” and were with Jesus at the time of His transfiguration (Matthew 17:1), and they were with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33). No doubt Peter and John worked well together, and the church in Jerusalem recognized them as leaders from the very beginning. They were often paired together, although Peter was the one who generally spoke while John listened.

That these two church leaders made a habit of going to the temple to pray regularly is suggested by the use of the phrase “were going up.” This phrase, in its Greek form, is in the “past progressive form,” which indicates that this “going up to the temple to pray” was a regular part of their daily routine. Not only was it the daily habit of Peter and John, but of all the early Christians, who considered themselves as Jews who worshiped the Messiah, and would have never given up traditional prayer times at the temple.

Herod’s Temple was still standing in Jerusalem, and it would remain for the next 40 or so years. Josephus wrote that even during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, the priests continued to offer their sacrifices on the altar. The Jews and Jewish Christians both made full use of the temple and its grounds. At three o’clock in the afternoon, when Peter and John were heading into the temple, the evening sacrifice was being offered. These sacrifices, however, were now valueless to all who worshiped Jesus, for He fulfilled all the types and shadows of the Law. Nonetheless, these two men go into the temple, not to offer a sacrifice, but to pray, as was their custom.

Remember, this is the Church in its infancy. Initially, the Kingdom was to be offered only to the Jews, then it would be offered to the rest of the world. At this point, the Church is full of Jews; few if any Gentiles. So, it should make perfect sense that in these very early days the Jewish-Christians would remain faithful to both Christ and elements of the Law. Very shortly, however, the Gospel would break into the Gentile world.

2. The confrontation, 3:2, 3

Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.

Like the two apostles, a man “lame from birth” made going to the temple part of his daily routine, but for very different reasons. Strangely enough, this man wasn’t brought to the temple to pray for healing or to worship God, but to beg for money. This was a very common practice in New Testament days. Handicapped people were not taught a trade but taught to become beggars. Close friends or relatives would bring the lame person to the temple and place them where the most people would walk by them and, hopefully, give them some money. The fact that almsgiving was seen as a very virtuous act by this time shows how far Judaism had fallen from God’s ideal. When the Law was given, God made it clear to the Israelites that there should be no poor people living among them.

However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you. (Deuteronomy 15:4)

For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you. If anyone is poor among your people in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. (Deuteronomy 14:6, 7)

The Jews, however, ignored God’s command and the result was, as Jesus observed, that “the poor you will always have with you” (Mark 14:7). Interestingly, the early church was determined to wipe poverty out from its ranks by making sure the truly needy had their basic needs met. And it seems that for a while, they were successful. How it must have grieved God, however, to see His House so misused. A minor, but powerful lesson for the Church of Jesus Christ today. Let’s make sure the Church does what Jesus Christ founded it to do and not what makes us feel good.

As they went into the temple through the Beautiful Gate, the beggar set his sights on Peter and John. He expected them to help him out financially. The beggar “asked them for money” is a phrase written in the imperfect present tense, which suggests the beggar asked Peter and John repeatedly for money; over and over again.

3. A surprising response, 3:4—6

Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Here is Peter the mouthpiece of the Church, while John remained silent. There are a couple of points that should be noted. First, we need to note what Peter did NOT do: he did not give the beggar any money. Obviously, Peter had resources. He had access to all the money from the people who sold lands and other valuables. What better use for the church’s money than to help out a poor, crippled man? That’s how modern Christians think, but that’s not the purpose for which the Church was founded. Those resources were to be used to help members of the Christian community, not people outside the Christian community. Does that mean that God, or Peter and John, were cold and heartless? Not at all!

Second, what Peter gave the beggar was what the beggar really needed. The beggar thought all he needed was money, but the beggar’s need ran deeper than the need for material things. Peter healed the man in the name of Jesus Christ. Does this mean that the man needed to be healed? No, it means something more than that. The word “name” in Semitic thought is significant because it involves the whole revelation of the person mentioned. So when Peter says to the beggar “name of Jesus Christ,” Peter is referring to everything knowable about Jesus: His virgin birth, sinless life, His ministry and teaching, His suffering and atoning death, His resurrection and ascension. So what Peter offered the crippled man was not merely healing, but salvation.

4. The beggar’s response, 3:7, 8

Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

The offer made by Peter called for faith on the part of the crippled man. He needed to put his faith in Jesus. To encourage his faith, Peter extended a hand to the man, who reached out in faith. Jesus did a very similar thing when He healed Peter’s mother-in-law in Peter’s own home:

So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. (Mark 1:31)

This must have made an impression on Peter! He later used the exact same technique when he healed the lame man. In both instances, the one needing healing had to reach out first, before a miracle took place. In the case of Peter’s mother-in-law, she took Jesus’ hand and then He helped her up. After the lame man took hold of Peter’s hand, “the man’s feet and ankles became strong.” There was a responsibility on the part of ones needing healing to do something, no matter how minor, to demonstrate their willingness to receive what was being offered them “in the name of Jesus Christ.”

For the first time in his life, this once-crippled man was able to stand up. Now that was a miracle! But that was just the beginning. As soon as the man was able to stand up, a second miracle took place: he began to walk. This ability to walk is a learned skill; it normally takes time for a child to learn how to walk. But this man started walking right away. In fact, he didn’t just walk, he jumped and walked and praised God all at the same time. Think of the change. Just a few minutes ago, all this crippled man wanted was a few dollars to get him through another day. He had never walked. He had to be carried everywhere. Although he was at the temple every day, he had never gone inside; never praised God with his family or his friends. And what was the very first thing this man did after he was touched by Jesus? He ran inside the temple, praising God!

5. Other responses, 3:9, 10

When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

There were many, many people in the temple for the afternoon hour of prayer and sacrifice; many Jews and many Jewish-Christians. This once-crippled man was well-known to all Temple-goers. We can imagine that he hit many of them up for an offering in the past. They now recognized this man who was now walking, jumping, and praising God as the man who had never walked in his life. They were completely surprised, amazed, and astonished at this miracle.

This may well be the most significant miracle in the whole Bible, not because it is any more amazing and astounding than other miracles, but because of what Isaiah wrote centuries before;

Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:6)

When the Spirit fell during the Day of Pentecost, not only was the Church of Jesus Christ empowered to its work, but it would be last time the Kingdom of Heaven would be offered to the Israel. Time and time again, the children of God rejected the Kingdom. They ultimately rejected the King Himself, preferring to crucify Him than worship Him. But Jesus made it clear that after the Spirit fell, Israel had one last chance. The newly energized Church was not to take off running with Gospel to the four corners of the earth; that would happen later.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

It was to start in Jerusalem. This would be Jersualem’s final chance to accept what Jesus Christ was offering. Many who heard Peter preach believed; 3,000 the first time, 5,000 the second time. And here was one man who believed and immediately was able to “leap like a dear…and shout for joy.”

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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