By Mark Ellis
After Jesus preached the greatest sermon of the last 2,000 years, he came down the mountain followed by huge crowds. He spent the rest of the day in active ministry, healing the sick and driving out demons.
His interactions that memorable day provide important answers to some vexing questions: Does Jesus always heal? In addition, why does he heal some and not others?
In Matthew 8:2, it says, “A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
First, it’s important to recognize the man came before Jesus with humility. He knelt before Him and called Him Lord. The word for “knelt” there is a Greek word that literally means he worshipped Jesus.
Notice he said, “Lord, if you will…” If it’s your will, Jesus, you can make me clean. I have often been in prayer groups praying for someone with a serious illness, and I felt guilty to pray, “If it be your will, God, heal my friend…” There were times when I even looked down on others who prayed that way.
But this leper asks for God’s will to be done. Frankly, we shouldn’t be afraid of God’s will in any situation. I really don’t want to step outside of the will of God.
The leper also came with faith. He said, “You can make me clean.” And the Greek word for ‘can’ there more literally means, ‘You are able Jesus, You have the power Jesus to make me clean. After all, He carries the power of the Mighty God!
Now look at the compassion of Jesus in Matthew 8:3, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.”
What joy must have filled the man’s heart. Instead of crying out “Unclean,” now he cried out “Clean! Clean! Praise the Lord God Almighty…Jesus made me clean.”
On this remarkable day, Jesus also healed a Roman Centurion’s servant and Peter’s mother-in-law. Then in the evening, “many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.’
Notice Matthew quotes from a famous passage in Isaiah, chapter 53, looking forward to the coming Messiah, written hundreds of years before Jesus walked the shores of Galilee.
“Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Some commentators will argue that this passage only relates to spiritual healing. But as Pastor Chuck Smith has said, “the finest commentary on the Old Testament is the inspired New Testament.”
Matthew tells us these physical healings by Jesus fulfilled this prophecy in Isaiah. So Matthew extends the prophecy of Isaiah to include the physical — and we know it includes spiritual healing as well.
But is this any kind of guarantee for us? Should we conclude then that God always heals?
There are some who teach that it’s actually wrong to pray, “If it be your will, God, heal me.” They teach that we should “claim” our healing, that God always heals if we have enough faith.
Yet we saw the example of the leper who prayed “Lord, if you are willing…”
Former Pastor Ray Stedman makes this point: “Jesus did not rebuke him or tell him he had approached Him in the wrong way, or that he ought to claim his healing. In fact, you never find this idea in Scripture.”
The problem is that this view sets up people for heartache and crushing disappointment when loved ones of great faith are taken from them.
Sometimes, as hard as this is to handle, God allows his children to be sick. In Job’s life, he passed through a terrible season of physical affliction. The Apostle Paul asked three times for God to remove a physical thorn in the flesh (2 Cor.12:7) and the answer came back from God, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
We all know that Christians of outstanding faith suffer various diseases and sometimes are taken from us much sooner than we want. I believe it’s clear from Scripture and our everyday experience that not everyone is healed.
Sometimes that makes me angry. Sometimes that makes me want to even blame God.
When I was 25 I lost one of my best friends. He struggled with mental illness for several years. He jumped off theVincentThomasBridgein San Pedro.
Growing up, his mother was the strongest Christian woman I knew. She was a pillar of faith. After my friend killed himself, she couldn’t open the Bible for one year.
I understand that now. It’s OK to be mad at God, to even blame God. David poured out those kinds of raw emotions in the Psalms.
Why does God heal some and not others? I will never have the answer on this side of eternity. Isaiah 55:8-9 says this: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.”
So I have to go back to His character…and trust that He is good, that He has a bigger plan that I don’t always see.
Sometimes, at the root of my questioning is a wrong understanding about God. So I must meditate on Jesus, his character, and his attributes. Otherwise, if I just focus on circumstances – the way things appear on the surface — I could get depressed, even cynical or bitter about life.
In spite of all these issues and conflicting emotions, I have faith to the 11th hour that God is still able to bring healing miracles, so I pray that way, and at the same time I trust in His character, in His sovereignty, in His timing. I also know that Jesus can use doctors and medicine as instruments of His healing touch.
In 2004, I had an attack of pancreatitis that landed me in the hospital for a week. Just that very short period of suffering left me with questions. Why did this have to happen, God?
Afterward I remembered that the week before I went in the hospital I had prayed, “God, I want to experience your love in a more real way. I understand you love me at the intellectual level, but I don’t really feel it.”
While I was lying in that hospital bed, my father and mother came to visit. And for the first time in my life dad said these words to me: “I love you.” Then a steady stream of people from our church came to sit, talk, and pray with me at the side of my bed.
When I got out of the hospital, people from the church brought meals to us. It was a tangible outpouring of the love of Christ, and I could really see it and feel it in ways I’d missed before.
Now I know God didn’t cause my disease. But I realized God used this illness in my life to answer my prayer. He can take the afflictions we suffer in life and turn them around for His greater glory.
I still have faith in his power to heal – miraculously at time – but I have learned to trust in His character, His sovereignty, and His timing.