Bible kevinroosecomToday’s post continues with a study of passages from St Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

This entry is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to an understanding of Scripture.

Today’s verses are from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 4:40-41

40Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. 41 And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

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Last week’s entry described Jesus’s healing of St Peter’s mother-in-law after Sabbath worship just before lunch.

Verse 40 tells us that once sunset occurred, those with sick friends or relatives arrived so that our Lord could heal them, too. Sunset is mentioned there because it signified the end of the Sabbath. Observant Jews then as now do not carry or operate anything on that day. Once the Sabbath is over, life resumes as normal for another week. Therefore, these Jews carrying the sick people to Jesus were observing Jewish law by doing so after the Sabbath had ended at sunset.

Note that Jesus healed all who were brought to Him (verse 40).

Some of these people had demons which came out when He laid hands on or spoke to them (verse 41). Once again, Jesus rebuked the shrieking demons; He wanted nothing to do with them. He also did not want to converse with them lest people get the idea that He was conspiring with them, although the Pharisees would later throw this accusation at Him (Matthew 9:34).

Matthew Henry points out the universal and egalitarian character of Jesus’s healing, which is important to remember in our class-conscious era (emphases mine):

He cured all that were sick, poor as well as rich, and though they were sick of divers diseases; so that there was no room to suspect that he had only a specific for some one disease. He had a remedy for every malady. The sign he used in healing was laying his hands on the sick; not lifting up his hands for them, for he healed as having authority. He healed by his own power. And thus he would put honour upon that sign which was afterwards used in conferring the Holy Ghost.

In his sermon John MacArthur lists six characteristics of Jesus’s healings. These are sometimes referred to as ‘creative miracles’ because they fundamentally altered a person’s being. These characteristics are as follows (the sermon elaborates further on each):

First, Jesus healed with a word or a touch…on some occasions He did both …

Secondly, He healed instantly…

Thirdly, Jesus healed totally …

Fourthly, Jesus healed everybody…

Fifthly, He healed organic disease …

And sixthly, Jesus raised the dead …

Okay, pedants will point out that MacArthur should be using ‘second’ instead of ‘secondly’ and so on. Let’s not let that get in the way of what he is telling us about Jesus’s creative miracles.

Until I began studying the Bible a few years ago, I believed that Jesus only partially healed. Surely there must have been some recovery time. I was wrong. I do not know why I believed that, but it was probably the result of too much ecclesiastical modernism over the years.

If you also believe that our Lord only partially healed people and that they had to rest and recover, please note what MacArthur says as you read the Gospel accounts of creative miracles. There is no reason to doubt our Saviour’s complete and infinite power over disease, demons and infirmity.

There are three other characteristics that correspond with these miracles. Jesus:

1/ Never required a confession of faith from the supplicant; most were unbelievers and stayed that way.

2/ Never had a screening process or an advance team of Apostles to choose whom to heal.

3/ Healed spontaneously in public so that everyone could see; He was not hidden away in a tent or up a mountain with the afflicted.

This should tell us something about faith healing as practiced today. Later on, I’ll include MacArthur’s explanation of why such healing cannot occur today.

Yet, how many churches offer services with the ‘laying on of hands’ today? Quite a few. This started in the 1980s in Catholic and mainline Protestant churches, having previously been the province of independent Protestant Charismatic and Pentecostal congregations and fraudulent healing ministries (e.g. the late Kathryn Kuhlman). I was disappointed when the theologically conservative Episcopal church of which I was a member began offering them in the latter half of that decade. Now, many years later, I see that my Anglican parish here in England has regular ‘laying on of hands healing’ services.

Note that many attending or officiating at these widespread ‘healing’ services say that if an ill person really has faith, he will be healed. As no one walks away healed, everyone can put it down to inadequate belief. Try again next week or next month. The cycle goes on. The most that can happen is that you have more peace of mind when a minister lays his hand on you to bless you.

Is this right? Are we to expect we can still heal with the laying on of hands? Is it biblical? MacArthur says it is not. There were very few healings in the Old Testament. For 750 years there were none at all until Jesus’s healing ministry. This extraordinary gift continued with the Apostles for a certain amount of time, but we read of few in the latter part of the Book of Acts. Furthermore, St Paul records none in his letters.

MacArthur describes miracles in both the Old and New Testaments:

as you get into the three-year ministry of Jesus there are nearly 90 New Testament texts in the four gospels about His healings. He did this everywhere through His ministry. It was literally a healing explosion that essentially banished disease from Palestine. Now let me tell you something, and listen very carefully … you need to get this. Never in human history was there anything close to that, never. And these people today who say, “Well, Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever and we ought to expect Him to heal today just as the way He healed then,” they don’t get it.

In the Old Testament:

There are no healings recorded in the first 1600 years of biblical history up to the Flood, no healings recorded. And there were billions of people alive when the Flood hit. The first healing is recorded in the time of Abraham, that’s about 2200 B.C. So for the first 2200-year history of the world there are no healings recorded. Now listen, from Abraham to Isaiah would be from 2200 B.C. to 750 B.C., okay so 1450 years, or 1500. During that period from Abraham to Isaiah, 1500 years let’s say, there are recorded twenty healings, 1500 years 20 healings…five of them from Job, actually five of them…yes, from the time of Job and Abraham which would be the patriarchal time, five in Moses’ day, two in Samuel’s day, eight from David to Isaiah for a total of twenty. Twenty healings in 1500 years.

Now listen to this. From…Isaiah, to Christ, 750 years, guess how many healings are recorded in the Bible? Zero…there aren’t any…none. This is not something God did willy-nilly all the time. During all that time from Isaiah to Christ there was sickness, there was disease and there was death and everybody died. But there were no healings.

Now to Jesus’s time, as recorded in the New Testament:

That is why…when Jesus began to heal in Matthew 9:33, the people said, “Nothing like this was ever done in Israel.” They knew there had never been anything like this, never…never. Even the people of God, the people of Israel had absolutely no expectation of this. They had no experience of this. They had never seen anything like it. Mark 2:12, “We have never seen anything like this.” Never. In Luke 10:23, “Turning to His disciples…Jesus had been healing…He said to them, ‘Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see. I say to you, many prophets and kings wish to see the things you see and didn’t see them.'” Nobody had ever seen this, never been done. In the gospel of John in the ninth chapter when the blind man was healed, this was absolutely incredible and remarkable. “Since the beginning of time…John 9:32…it had never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.” How about that? Since the beginning of time nobody ever heard of a blind person healed, nobody. This idea somehow that you have all through the Bible healings, and healings, and healings, and healings just flooding the world and somehow that should be the way it is today. Just not true…just not true.

Certainly, Jesus healed out of love and mercy for the sick. However, there was a more universal purpose for these miracles which carries through to this day, which is why they were recorded in the Gospels. MacArthur cites John 20:31:

These have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and believing you might have life in His name.

MacArthur says the purpose was for God to reveal that Jesus is His only begotten Son:

how is God going to prove that Jesus is the Messiah? By granting Him the privilege to do what His power commanded that He could do, and that is to create. And to manifest that creative power in healings. And so when Jesus came into the world there was an explosion of healing that banished illness from Palestine.

This would continue during the early apostolic ministries to expand the Church:

Jesus gave to the seventy that He sent out and to the twelve Apostles the power to do that kind of healing as well because they were preaching Him. They were preaching His gospel and establishing the Scripture. And at the explosive time in human history when the Messiah came and the scriptures were penned that are the New Testament, healing came to attest to the divinity of Jesus and the divine character of the gospel and the Scripture.

Then:

as you go past that time, what happens? Paul is ill and he doesn’t get well. Trophimus is ill later in the New Testament. Timothy is ill. And Epaphroditus is ill. And you come in to 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus, the epistles for the church, no mention of healing ministry…no promise of healing.

So it would be a mistake to think that everything will progress as it did in the time immediately following the first Pentecost.

Note that this lack of healing afterward never bothered the early Doctors of the Church or, centuries later, the first Reformers. Why are we so obsessed with it, especially when our lifespans are getting longer than ever before in recorded history?

However, by the time of the Reformation, the Catholic Church was already circulating relics said to have healing powers. Even today, certain holy sites dedicated to Mary are said to have healing powers. Lourdes has healing water. Even Protestants visit Lourdes in the hope they or their relatives will be healed of infirmity.

In 20th century fringe Protestantism, the idea of continuing healing gifts gained currency. Great public ministries arose with ministers — men and women — dressed in white robes claiming a great healing power. However, people put forward at these healing revivals were — and are — either plants, part of the minister’s team or dupes who sadly ended up no better after the laying on of hands. Sometimes, they became worse.

God might choose to heal certain people, but only He decides. He does not rely on flashy intermediaries or humble ministers at the church down the street. The best thing to do is to pray for yourself if you are ill or for those loved ones who are. MacArthur says:

You can know that if we pray and God chooses to hear and answer that prayer, He may choose that a person should get well. It’s unlikely that He’s going to use some miraculous means to do it. He may providentially allow that person to recover under medical care. He may aid that in wonderful ways. But I don’t know anybody who has ever seen under any effort of prayer a quadriplegic get up out of a wheelchair and walk away. That’s not what God does today. I have never seen such a miracle, I don’t know anybody who has. So we know that this is not the norm, but that’s okay.

Earlier in that sermon he observed of today’s faith ‘healers’:

… when you track back, you can’t find any legitimate healings. You can sure find some tragic people left without hope. Why aren’t they in the streets of India? Why aren’t they in the streets of Bangladesh? Why aren’t they in the leper colonies and the AIDS hospices in Africa where masses of people are racked with these diseases?

That’s not happening. Why? Because those who claim the gift of healing don’t have it. The gift of healing, listen very carefully, was a temporary sign gift for Christ and those who were around Him to authenticate Him as the Messiah and to authenticate the Apostles who were writing the Scripture. Once He was authenticated as Messiah and the Apostles were authenticated as the true preachers of the gospel and the Scripture was penned, the gift of healing ceased. And you find this if you study the New Testament. In the gospels, everybody gets healed. You go into the book of Acts and into the epistles and you begin to see people who are sick and they stay sick. And yet through history because people so desperately want to be healed, you can make a lot of money claiming to do it whether you’re selling some phony cancer cure, or some phony spiritual cure.

I hope that this goes some way towards explaining Jesus’s creative miracles and why we cannot expect similar healings today en masse.

It’s a shame that many of the Gospel verses cited here, thanks to MacArthur, do not appear in the three-year Lectionary. If they did, Catholic and mainline Protestant clergy would then have the opportunity to teach their congregations more about the absence of healing miracles. We would also have the added benefit of seeing fewer ‘laying on of hands healing’ services and be able to put a stop to making ill people feel worse by telling them if only they had enough faith they would be healed.

The most we can do is to pray for the infirm — often and with all our hearts.

Next time: Luke 4:42-44