Jesus Healed Why Don't We
Healing services in Lutheran churches are cyclical. They were popular in the 70's, and then they all but disappeared. They're surfacing again. Why don't we offer services where you could bring your ailments or your ill friends and relatives for healing? Jesus healed; why don't we?
Some say confessional Lutheran churches don't because we don't have the compassion Jesus did. Look at the compassion Jesus shows in the text. Although He's busy, although thousands of people need preaching to and hundreds need healing, what does Jesus do when people bring to Him a man who can't hear or speak? Jesus has compassion on him. He takes him aside to give him all His attention. Jesus communicates with the man in the only language He could: sign language. Jesus gets right in front of him, put His fingers into his ears, spits into the air, touches the man's tongue, looks up to heaven, and sighs, the man seeing Jesus' chest heave.
"You don't have healing services because you don't have that sort of compassion," say our detractors. It's true; we don't have the compassion Jesus has for the sick or anyone else. No one does; not even those having healing services, but lack of compassion isn't why we don't. Mistaken compassion is. Our hearts can be mistaken when it comes to sickness.
Can you tell which illnesses come from Satan and which are a consequence of sin? Jesus could. He said a woman He healed had been bound by Satan for 18 years. He told another man after healing, "Sin no more unless a worse thing befalls you." Jesus rebuked the fever of Peter's mother-in-law as you would a demon.
We can be mistaken when it comes to sickness. More often than not I think we have mistaken compassion. We assume God wants everyone healed. Yet God didn't heal Paul though he asked 3 times that his thorn in the flesh be removed. Paul didn't heal Epaphroditus of Philippi. Jesus didn't heal His stepfather Joseph of whatever he succumbed to. And He walked away from Capernaum while hundreds were streaming towards it with their sick to be healed. Though we don't know why, we do know that God doesn't want every person healed of illness. Healing services can give the impression He does or worse should.
Jesus healed; why don't we? We don't have the wise compassion Jesus did. Second, we don't have the same means of healing He did. Jesus is God in flesh and blood. When Jesus touches you with His hand, you're being touched by God. So when Jesus put His fingers into the ears of that man, God's fingers touched Him. It was God's finger that touched the man's tongue. God's fingers can open ears. God's touch can let lose tongues. This isn't true of anyone else's.
Jesus didn't leave us power and promise to heal by means of our fingers and touch. Nowhere are we commanded to use these unusual means. He did, however, leave us other unusual means with the command to use them. He left us Water, Words, Bread, and Wine. These are the only things Jesus commanded us to use. These are the things the New Testament church gathered at least weekly to use. They didn't gather to have healing services.
The only ones Jesus left with the power and command to go out and heal were His apostles. He told them, "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers." Neither you nor I have been commissioned to do these things. No person today has been. I've been commissioned - indeed you conveyed it to me to preach the Word of God in season and out, to baptize all nations, to loose the sins of the penitent and to bind the sins of the impenitent, and to be the steward of the Lord's Supper.
Jesus didn't leave us the power and promise of healing that He left the apostles. So we could go around putting our fingers into people's ears and touching their tongues and proclaiming "Be opened!" all day, but we would accomplish nothing because we have no Word of promise or power attached to our doing these things. The Lord did, however, attach power and promise to the means He left us.
Jesus told us that if we apply water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost people become new creatures; they are born again; they are clothed with the holy robe of Christ's righteousness, and they are rescued from the Devil and eternal damnation. Through the water and Word Jesus left us ears aren't opened but heaven is; tongues aren't loosed, but souls are.
Likewise with the Bread and Wine Jesus left us. He attached a Word of promise and power to using these too. He promises us that when we use these ordinary elements the way He did, His Body and Blood, the very same Body He gave into death at Calvary and the very same Blood He shed there, are present here, today. They are present with the power to forgive sins, to give life for today, and eternal life for all tomorrows.
Attached to this apparently sparse meal of Bread and Wine Jesus attached His grand power and glorious promises. O people won't cast down their crutches after communing, but they can sure cast down their sins. O they can't walk away from this altar seeing if they came up here blind, but they can walk away having seen the Lord's salvation just like we sing every Sunday in the Nunc Dimittis.
Jesus healed; why don't we? Because we can't heal all things completely they way Jesus did. When the man in our text went away from Jesus, his hearing wasn't better; it was totally restored. His speech wasn't clearer; it was clear as a bell. Jesus doesn't make people better; He makes them all better. Moreover, Jesus took on any and all illnesses, and even went looking for them. While churches offering healing services, do invite any and all to come, they don't take their services to children's hospitals or cancer floors, and it's good they don't. They have no commission to heal anyone.
The only thing Jesus has given His Church on earth the complete power to heal is sin. The only thing Jesus has promised His Church on earth the total victory over is the Devil. The only thing Jesus has given His Church on earth the unconditional power over is the Second Death not the first, over eternal death not earthly dying.
And isn't that enough? Why should we have services dedicated to asking God for what we're not sure He wants to give us when we can have services where we offer what we're sure God has promised to give? Why should we have services where we do what everyone can do on their own pray for healing, when we can have services dedicated to doing what people can't do on their own? O any Christian can baptize; any Christian can absolve, but you can't baptize yourself, absolve yourself, or commune yourself, can you?
Aren't the forgiveness of sins and the delivering from Death and the Devil going on in our services enough for you? They should be. The things going on here are the reason miracles were performed in the first place. Jesus did miracles and gave His apostles the power and promise to do miracles so that people would be drawn to where God's Word was preached. In 1 Cor. 12 Paul says his ministry among them was valid because: "The signs of a true apostle were performed among yousigns and wonders and miracles." But no sign exists for its own sake. A sign exists to point people to something else. For example, an ordinary road sign pointing people to our church would be worthless if people stopped at it and never went on to the church.
Jesus never wanted people to focus on miracles. See in the text how He tried to stop people from spreading the word that He was a miracle worker. Jesus, in fact, rejected all who came to Him seeking signs and wonders. He turned no one away, however, who came to Him as their Savior from sin, Death, and the Devil. This is the Jesus proclaimed in our services.
But what about the need for signs indicating where God's Word is today? Once the Bible was finished, they were no longer needed. Before the New Testament was done, there was no way to mark where the true Word from God was being preached except by doing miracles that only God could do. Once the Holy Spirit started recording the New Testament signs and miracles decreased. From 33-66 A.D. healings, exorcisms, and resurrections are reported in Scripture. From 66 A.D. on none of these things are mentioned. We see the decline in the apostles themselves. Paul could heal everyone on the pagan island of Malta, but later he can't heal his own believing coworker. Hebrews 2 describes "signs, wonders, and various miracles" as past events by which the Lord confirmed the testimony of the apostles.
God the Father didn't send His only beloved Son into the world to heal every illness, cure ever disease, bring health to every body. He sent Jesus, a perfect healthy human being to bear our sins and carry our sorrows. You have sicknesses and you have sorrows, but in them you are not to find your sins, your failures to keep the law, your failings as father, mother, sister, brother, or punishment for such sins. Though Jesus had a perfect body and perfect life, God put on Him your sins, their sins, our sins, the world's sins. In His afflictions and sorrows, is where all these sins were found, punished, paid for. Jesus gives us the power and promise of victory over them in the Water, Words, Bread and Wine He left us to use daily.
Jesus healed to show He was bringing God's kingdom to earth where the sicknesses and diseases that sin brought into the perfect world are no more. Entrance into this kingdom is not gained by healthy living, is not found by being cured of disease, is not by signs, miracles, and wonders that Scripture says the Devil can counterfeit. Entrance into the kingdom of God on earth is by that little font. Being forgiven of all your sins by Absolution puts you in the kingdom of God. And by seeing the Body and Blood of Jesus on earth in Communion, you see the kingdom of God on earth.
Jesus healed; why don't we? Prophets, apostles, martyrs, and Jesus Himself say we do in every single Divine Service. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20120916); Mark 7: 31-37