By Pastor Glenn Pease
The story is told of a group of mice who got together to plan how to prevent the cat from catching so many of them. One spoke up and said, "I have a great idea. If we put a bell on the cat so we can always hear him coming, we can escape." The mice were so delighted with the idea they began to celebrate. But then one of the older and wiser mice asked the question: "Who is going to bell the cat?" That was definitely a wet blanket on the flame of their enthusiasm. But somebody has to face reality and deal with the way it is, and not just with the way we want it to be.
Reality is often hard and disillusioning, and those who point it out will be accused of being kill-joys, and those who lack faith. But there is no escaping it, for the Bible forces the believer to be balanced by demanding that they look at the whole picture of reality. Right in the midst of one miracle account after another Mark records an equally spectacular account of the miracle that never happened. It is a case of dramatic non-deliverance and non-healing. Peter was in prison and he was set free by the miraculous intervention of an angel. But not John the Baptist. Not the man of whom Jesus said he was the greatest born of woman. Jesus loved this man of God, and John obeyed God as faithfully as any man who has ever lived. We have no record of any sin in his life. He was an ideal servant of the kingdom of God. If anybody ever deserved a miracle of deliverance, it was John the Baptist. But he did not get it, and he died at the hands of an evil man for a trivial reason.
This bad news is not hidden in some obscure corner like back page news. It is given front page coverage by Mark. It is a monkey wrench thrown into the machinery of miracles everywhere for everybody. This is the realism the Bible forces us to deal with. If you like the fairy tale fantasizing of how the Christian who walks in the will of God will always be healed, or always be delivered at the last minute, then you will have to avoid the Bible. The Bible will not support the superficial optimism of those who say it is always God's will to heal, or the child of God will always win over the child of the devil.
The Bible hits us in the face with the reality that even the best of God's people may never be healed or delivered. We may hate to read this realism, for it sounds like the Bummersville Gazette, but God knows it is the only way we can be balanced in a world that has fallen, and where even God's people tend toward extremes. The Bible reveals side by side, miracles and non-miracles, healing and non-healing, answers to prayer, and non-answers to prayer, and the thrill of victory, but also the agony of defeat. Developing an awareness of, and acceptance of, the total picture is the basis for a balanced life spiritually and emotionally. Christians who do not develop this balance tend to go to extremes, and do not exhibit faith but presumption.
Presumption is what Jesus would have displayed had he listened to Satan's use of Scripture and jumped off the pinnacle of the temple. This would have been tempting God. Many Christians do this and get themselves so worked up to a fever pitch of presumed faith that they do things that are contrary to common sense. They claim miracles that are not there, and demand the fulfillment of promises that are never given. Then they collapse in disillusionment and despair because they feel God has let them down. Many have emotional breakdowns and become mentally ill because they refuse to face the reality of the Bible, and instead, build their castles in the air out of nothing but fantasy.
Are we to suppose that John the Baptist did not have enough faith, and that is why he got no miracle? That is not the revelation at all. On the contrary, and what we have here is the revelation that no matter who you are, and no matter how great your faith in God, you may just have to endure sickness and suffering and death with no deliverance in this life. All believers will be delivered from all evil forever, but in this life there is no promise anywhere in the Bible that God's people will be delivered from all the negatives of life. So we have the paradox of non-Christians who do get healed, and very Godly believers who do not. You have some of the leaders in the world of healing who are channels of healing to others, but who cannot heal themselves, or some of those closest to them.
Paul could not heal this own thorn in the flesh. He could heal pagans by the score, but his dear friend Epaphroditus, who was so sick he almost died, he could not heal. In II Tim. 4:20 he writes of another friend in Christ, "I left Trophimus sick in Miletus." Paul, the man with the gift of healing, did not seem anxious to hide his failures. He states openly without embarrassment that he could not heal his fellow servants in Christ. It is obvious that Paul understood that all healing is up the sovereign will of God, and that there is no promise that all of God's people will be healed and set free from their illnesses. Paul did not go around preaching that it was God's will for all to be healed. Paul was a man of balanced perspective, and the result was, he could experience miracles, and take non-miracles in stride.
He was not shaken or surprised by either, for they were both a part of life.
Dr. David Allen Hubbard, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, began a new class in 1982 called The Miraculous And Church Growth. The course broke all enrollment records as students going to the mission field especially flocked to learn how miraculous healing could be a tool to open up cultures to the Gospel. Now here is the paradox: Dr. Hubbard, a leader in this field, has a record of more sickness than the average pagan he is training his students to reach.
1. His father died of a sudden heart attack.
2. His brother got the mumps and serious complications.
3. His foster sister died of Tuberculosis.
4. His mother was severely scarred by pressure cooker explosion.
5. His sister had to drop out of college because of a serious eye problem.
With many prayers behind them, hands were laid on her, and she was
anointed with oil. Satan was rebuked, but her eyes remained crossed.
6. His eight week old son died.
7. His wife Ruth has chronic bouts with ill health.
8. He has severe allergy reactions and other problems.
For a man like this to be promoting the healing power of Christ, looks at first like a bald man promoting hair growing tonic. It seems inconsistent and contradictory, but it is not so. It is the Biblical perspective where some obscure 12 year old girl who hasn't touched anybody for God is raised from the dead, and the greatest man ever born of woman, who has altered the course of history for God, is aloud to die a violent death with no attempt to spare him, or to raise him up afterward. Did John have less faith than this 12 year old girl? Did her father have more faith in Jesus than did the thousands of followers of John? Nothing is more offensive than to say, if a person had more faith they would have been healed.
Such words as that are unbalanced fanaticism that rejects the clear revelation of the New Testament. Dr. Hubbard and his wife have seen people with little faith healed, while others, including themselves, with great faith are not healed. Fortunately, he had a wise father who carried olive oil in his pocket because he was ready at all times to anoint for healing. But he taught his son to love and serve God in the working of miracles, or the withholding of miracles, for God is sovereign and no man and no method, and no means can control God, or manipulate him to do the will of man.
Malcolm H. Miner, an a Episcopalian priest, who has seen many miracles as a result of his laying on of hands, saw his own wife stricken with a fast growing cancer. It was already beyond surgery when it was discovered. They went for radiation, and she attended his healing services and was anointed. She was on a prayer list throughout the world. People all around her were being healed, but in three years she died. Did Malcolm throw in the towel, and say all this healing business is a sham? Not at all! He had the Biblical view which goes on seeking and experiencing healing, even while he had to endure the reality of non-healing, and a miracle which never happened. If you cannot accept both sides, you don't want reality. You want fantasy, and this will lead to fanaticism, abuse, and eventually disillusionment. The man who expects heaven in a fallen world will find reality to be hell. The man who expects a fallen world to be somewhat hellish will still be able to taste of the things to come, and experience something of heaven on earth.
Jesus could have done a lot of things He did not do, and He could do a lot of things today that He does not do. The point is, all that could be is not reality. Reality is what is, and what is is that Christians of great faith get sick and never get well. They get into accidents and die, and they suffer most all of the ills of a fallen world, and do not escape. That is reality, and that is the Biblical picture. To teach or believe otherwise is to impose man made fantasy on Biblical reality.
The point of all this is not to hinder our faith in healing and deliverance, for we are to pursue them with diligence, and never cease to call upon God for healing and health. We are to be bold in seeking miracles, but we need to have the balance so we do not lose faith when all we hope for is not granted. The lopsided Christian is the one who loses his faith because he thinks it is all or nothing, and is not ready to accept both miracles and non-miracles. His false view of God's promises leads him to expect what God has never said he should expect, and the result is the reality of the non-miracle crushes his unrealistic faith.
Realism demands that we face the facts, and the facts are that John the Baptist died at the hands of evil people. Everyone of the Apostles died likewise, and every Christian who has ever lived died of some disease or accident. The point is, we need to recognize that healing, though a vital part of the ministry of Christ, and a valued ministry in the church all through the ages, is not the ultimate goal of Christ or the church. If you put all your eggs in this one basket, you are setting yourself up to be crushed. This is the basic criticism of the evangelical Christian concerning the Pentecostal stress on healing. The evangelical has backed off healing because the Pentecostal had carried it too far. Both need to strive for balance.
Those who have taught that it is always God's will to heal have made the body of Christ sicker. They say that if you have enough faith you will be healed, and so if you are not healed it is because you do not have enough faith. Blame falls on the Christian who is not healed, and the result is many Christians who are guilt ridden with feelings of depression. This unbalanced view of healing leads many Christians to be sicker than ever. Many got their strong view of healing from A. J. Gordon's book, The Ministry Of Healing, published in 1882. He was the first to propose the idea that healing was in the atonement. Just as Jesus died for our sins, so He also died for our sicknesses, based on Isa. 53:4-5.
This poetic prophecy was taken as an absolute, and the teaching became popular among faith healers. Kenneth Hagin in Healing Belongs To Us writes, "It is equally true that Jesus has borne our sicknesses and carried our pains. When Jesus bore our sin, our sicknesses and our pains, He bore them away. That is the reason divine healing belongs to every child of God. There is no need to question God's will in the matter when you know this." Ken and Gloria Copeland are his followers, and in her book God's Will For Your Healing she writes, "When Jesus bore away our sins, He also bore away our diseases....The church of Jesus Christ has been made just as free from sickness as it has been made free from sin." She says that sickness could never be the will of God, and so if you are sick you are to blame for not being healed.
Charles and Francis Hunter stressed that Jesus took on Himself every disease, every cancer, and every debility of the human race. That is why He looks so terrible on the cross. All the brain damage, all the diabetes, all the crippling diseases of the world were placed on Jesus. He carried it all as He did all sin, and, therefore, to carry it yourself is a rejection of what Christ did for you. This teaching sounds very Christ honoring, and it exalts the cross as the cure-all of all sin and sickness. There is nobody who would not want this to be true, for if we can be healed of all of sins consequences as easily as we can be forgiven of sin, who would not want it to be so? It would mean heaven on earth. We would be able to live in a fallen world free from the fall with all sickness carried away with our sin.
The problem is that this seems to be a premature paradise not authorized by Scripture. It sounds too good, but we have to look at the whole picture of what Scripture reveals. When we come to Paul's writings we discover that he must have missed the implication that modern healers read into the Isaiah passage. Paul was as great a healer as there ever was. He saw miracles galore in his ministry, and so nobody could say he was not optimistic about the healing power of faith. Nevertheless, Paul was a realist, and he never claimed all Christians could be healed and escape all sickness. Instead, he said just the opposite. He said we have bodies subject to the laws of a fallen world, and that we suffer like everyone else until our bodies are redeemed.
In Romans 8 he says that Christians suffer along with the whole creation, and we live in hope for the day when Jesus will deliver us from this fallen world. But until then we live in hope, and wait in patience. Paul did not promote a premature paradise, but helped Christians to face the reality of a world of non-healing and non-miracle for people of faith. Nobody gloried in the cross more than Paul, but he made it clear that what Jesus did for us there will not be completed until the resurrection. Healing is in the atonement, but we only get a taste of what is to come in eternal life. The Evangelicals followed Paul in his realism, but they went too far to practically eliminate healing as a legitimate ministry. They promised nothing because of others who promised too much. The church is ever in the battle for balance, and that is especially true in the area of faith healing.
My goal in this message has been to try and get a picture of the whole. To see the great variety and the many means that can be used by Jesus to open the door for healing power to flow, and to recognize that sometimes the power does not flow even when the right means are used. Paul used faith, prayer, and repetitious pleading, yet he could not be healed of this thorn in the flesh. This illustrates that it may not be God's will to heal, and so faith and the right means is no guarantee of healing. The bottom line in healing is that it is real, and it is for today, and Christians should use every means possible to be in on what God may do for them in Christ, but they should not lose faith and feel they are inadequate in faith if the healing does not come. Our text clearly reveals that John the Baptist was the best of believers, but he had to accept the realistic experience of the miracle that never happened.