WHAT IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN FAITH AND HEALING?

Jesus heals bleeding woman

First and foremost, this passage of Scripture, like all of the Bible really, is here to show us Jesus. These miracles drive the point home that Jesus is divine in nature, and has authority to forgive sins. He is the central figure, he is the star; our eyes are meant to be drawn to Jesus.

 

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Matthew #32 . Matthew 9:18-34

This time, we’re going to try and cover a larger piece of Scripture than normal. Truthfully, most of chapter nine should form one, complete passage, and I have artificially broken it up into several sections. So I will try and complete the main body of the chapter today. In reality all of what we covered today should go along with the incident where Jesus heals the paralytic.

There are two basic themes running throughout all of chapter nine up to verse 35. The first theme is that Jesus has divine authority and he proves it through miracles. The second theme is that his claims to have divine nature, and his controversial actions, are beginning to create opposition among some of the religious leaders of his time.

Altogether Matthew chapter nine records four instances of miraculous healing and one incident of deliverance from demonic oppression. But the point is not so much the individual miracles, as it is confirmation that Jesus has the right to say the things that he said at the beginning of the chapter, and indeed, the right to say everything he has said up until this point. I think it is important to understand the healings and miracles in that context. Their main purpose is to validate the words of Jesus Christ.

But there is something here that I think is worth examining further. Many people have claimed that if you want God to heal you, it won’t happen unless you first have faith that He will do so. But in these miracles, we find a curious thing. We don’t know if the paralytic man had any faith or not. Then we read about the woman who is healed, and Jesus indeed says, “your faith has delivered you.” The next person that Jesus heals is actually dead, which means, among other things, that she could not have had any faith to exercise. Most of the people around her clearly didn’t have faith, since they laughed at Jesus when he said he would make her well. Even so, Jesus heals her. And then, we come to the blind men, to whom Jesus says “as you have trusted, let it be done in you.” Finally, we come to the demon-oppressed man and find there is no record of him exercising any faith or his own deliverance. Altogether in Matthew chapter nine we have three miracles where no mention is made of faith, and two others where Jesus says something about the faith of the people he heals.

The truth is, the connection between faith and healing is complicated and difficult to understand. In fact, I would not claim to understand it myself. As we have seen, even this single chapter doesn’t especially clarify things.

In my own life, I have encountered this same difficulty understanding the connection between faith and healing. Several years ago, I was speaking at a church retreat. As I began one session, I suffered a kidney stone attack. By that point in my life, I had already had three or four kidney stones. I knew then, and I know now, what a kidney stone feels like. I shared with the group what was happening, and begged their forgiveness, and told them I was going to have to go lie down. Several people in the group asked if they could lay hands on me and pray for me before I did so. I agreed of course, but I was hoping that they would make it quick, because the pain was starting to become very intense. Before that point in my life, people had prayed for me for various ailments at one time or another, and I never could tell that the prayer made any difference. On this occasion, I wasn’t expecting much. However, when they prayed for me, I actually felt the kidney stone disappear. I have never experienced anything like it before or since. I was able to continue on with the retreat and suffered no ill effects. The kidney stone was completely gone. In short, I believe I was miraculously healed.

About six months later, I woke up, suffering from another kidney stone. It happened to be on a Sunday morning, so, as I fought the pain, my wife drove me in to church. There, the same people who had prayed for my kidney stone at the retreat several months previously prayed for me once more. After my experience at the retreat, I was filled with faith. I was fully expecting to be completely done with the kidney stone as soon as these people had prayed for me. I assume that they too, were filled with faith as they prayed for me, since God had used them previously in the same situation. And yet, on this particular occasion, I was not healed. I wasn’t able to stay at the church service, and I had to go home, take painkillers, and wait for the kidney stone to pass in the ordinary way.

If healing is dependent only on my faith, I should not have been healed the first time, but I should have been healed the second time. However, what happened was exactly the reverse. Both times I was facing virtually the exact same situation: I was about to deliver a scriptural message to the same group of people, I experienced the same ailment in both cases, and the same people prayed for me in both instances. But the result was different, and it did not seem connected in any way to how much faith I had.

So why does Jesus say “your faith has delivered you” to the woman with the bleeding problem? Why does he ask the blind men if they believe he can heal them, and then say, “as you have trusted, let it be done for you”?

I should point out that in the Greek, at least in this passage, Jesus never says, exactly, “your faith has healed you.” To the woman he says, “your faith has saved you.” The Greek word there is sodezo. It is the same word used when Jesus says:

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:35, HCSB)

It is the same word the disciples used in the middle of the storm when they thought they were going to drown, and called out to Jesus: “Lord save us!” Now obviously, Jesus could mean that her faith has saved her from illness, but he might just as easily mean that by her faith she is saved from the devil and hell. I suspect that he means both. In any case, the words “healing” or “healed” are not used.

With the two blind men, Jesus still does not use the word “healed.” The most literal translation, would be something like this: “as you have trusted, let it begin to be created in you.” Of course, in context, Jesus must be talking about healing. But the emphasis here is that their faith has begun something inside of them. Healing is undoubtedly a part of that, but there is nothing to suggest that it is only about healing. Even the fact that Jesus asks them if they believe he can heal them is a more complicated question than we realize. I am certain that Jesus was not primarily concerned with whether or not people believed he could do miracles. Our faith is never supposed to be simply about what Jesus can do for us; instead, it is supposed to be first and foremost, about who he is.

The truth is, I don’t have a definitive answer about the connection between faith and healing. I am pretty certain that Jesus can and does heal even people who do not have the faith to believe that he will. I think we are egregiously mistaken if we think it all depends on us and our faith. On the other hand, I am also pretty certain that it is better to have faith in Jesus’ desire and ability to heal us, than to not have such faith. And in both of the instances here where Jesus talks about faith, it seems to include more than just faith that Jesus can and will do heal. It seems to also include the idea of trusting Jesus for everything: for life, for eternity, and for salvation.

In verse 30 Jesus says something that might seem strange to us. He tells the formerly blind men to keep quiet about how they had been healed. I’m a little bit torn about how to understand this. It simply can’t be that Jesus thought they could keep their sight a secret. Anyone who had ever known them, or seen them begging on the road, would surely notice that now they could see. I think, however, that Jesus really did mean that they shouldn’t tell people it was he who healed them. This actually makes sense. Jesus came to earth with two main purposes:

1. To train disciples who could and would communicate the truth about him to others, and who would train new Jesus-followers to do the same.

2. To sacrifice himself; to take our place and our punishment for the sins and failings we have, making us righteous in God’s eyes.

At this point in time, Jesus was clearly not done with the first task, so he could not do the second, since it involved his own death. The more popular he got, and the more influence he had, the more enemies he would gain. Eventually, the powers that be would decide they had to do something about him. This was part of his plan, part of how he intended to sacrifice his life for us, and it is exactly the route that led to his crucifixion. But since he had not trained his followers yet, it wasn’t yet time for him to be killed. Therefore, he did not want his influence to spread too quickly, which is why he told the men not to mention his name in connection with their healing.

In verse 34 we have the first indication of tension between Jesus and the Pharisees. In other words, his influence was already growing, and certain people were already starting to view him as someone who must be opposed. We have already seen several times that Jesus makes stunning claims about himself, and implies in many places that he is in fact divine in nature. If Jesus never did anything miraculous, this wouldn’t be so much of a problem. The Pharisees could simply dismiss his claims. But as we saw at the very beginning of the chapter with the paralytic man, Jesus connects his miraculous power to his divine nature. In that incident, he basically said, “let me prove to you that I have the authority to forgive sin.” In fact, most of chapter 9, even though we have broken it up into several sections, is an ongoing record of how Jesus demonstrated his divine authority to forgive sins.

So anyone who does not want to accept his divine authority must somehow discredit his miracles. The Pharisees, offended by his claims of divine authority, therefore attribute his miracles not to God, but to the devil. It is interesting that nobody claims that the miracles did not happen. Clearly the events themselves were quite convincing. Yet again, we find that it is not possible to consider Jesus just a good man, or a moral teacher. The people at the time understood that either he was who he claimed to be, or he was a devil.

Now let’s focus on what the Holy Spirit might want to say to us through this passage today. First and foremost, this passage of Scripture, like all of the Bible really, is here to show us Jesus. These miracles drive the point home that Jesus is divine in nature, and has authority to forgive sins. He is the central figure, he is the star; our eyes are meant to be drawn to Jesus.

In addition, I think this passage encourages us to seek Jesus as our only hope, our only resource. The father was desperate to have his daughter healed; Jesus was his only hope. The woman had exhausted all other resources, at this point, Jesus was her only resource. The blind men surely could have no hope of seeing, apart from Jesus.

One of my ongoing life lessons is to learn to see Jesus as my first resource, instead of my last. The man’s daughter was dying already when he came to see Jesus; the woman had already spent all of her money on doctors before she came to see Jesus (Luke gives us this detail in Luke 8:43). How much better if they had come to him first! How much better for us if we learn to go straight to Jesus with everything. I don’t mean that Jesus’ primary mission is to function like some sort of cosmic vending machine for us. As I’ve already mentioned, sometimes he heals, and sometimes he does not. Even so, I think he wants us to look to him first. He may answer our need the way we want him to, or he may not. But either way, he should be our first resort, not our last. And he should remain our hope, even when he doesn’t behave the way we want or expect him to.

Although faith is not really about getting what we want in this life from God, it is clearly something important. Jesus was delighted with the faith of the centurion, as recorded earlier. He is delighted with the faith of the woman here, and also the two blind men. As always in the New Testament, the Greek word for faith might just as well be translated “trust.” Jesus wants us to trust him with everything, and he is delighted when we do. These miracles show us that his word is good and reliable. We can trust what he says. We can trust his forgiveness for us. We can trust his grace and his love.

But the Holy Spirit speak to you today.

 

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