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The Life of Jesus: His Healing Ministry

March 23, 2014

Sermon:  The Life of Jesus: His Healing Ministry
Text:  John 5:1-15

I have chosen as our text today John 5:1-15, which addresses the healing ministry of Jesus.

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”

12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.


While I was at the grocery store last night, I thought I would get some juicy tabloid headlines to share with you. They were not fit for human consumption, however, so I have fallen back on my favorites: Pitbull Eats Mobile Home; Grandmother Kidnapped by Aliens, Returned to Earth Seven Years Later – Younger than Her Grandchildren; Rabbi Spits – The Blind Can See and the Deaf-Mute Can Speak and Hear. The last headline sounds like something taken right out of a tabloid, but in fact it comes out of the ministry of Jesus. The message today on the healing ministry of Jesus continues our series The Life of Jesus.

I must tell you that this most important aspect of Jesus’ life is one of the most confounding. Some deny that these healing miracles are authentic. In an attempt to de-mythologize the New Testament Rudolf Bultmann pretty much omit any reference to the healing miracles. Even William Barkley, the great Scottish New Testament scholar, soft-pedals these miracles of Jesus. Others go to the other extreme, saying, “If Jesus could heal like this, so can we.” Claiming to have inherited this power, they come across as charlatans. Whether we deny or abuse the healing ministry of Jesus, we create misunderstanding and confusion for those outside the church.

We will consider several passages of Scripture as I suggest twelve concepts that I believe to be the gospel truth. Consider these controversial concepts, pray about them, and come to a decision about what you believe.

First, healing was a key component in the ministry of Jesus. Matthew 9:35 puts it clearly: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness.”

Second, the purpose of Jesus’ healing miracles, which John’s Gospel consistently calls “signs,” was to display the divine power of Jesus and to attest that he was indeed the Son of God. John specifically stated this purpose in Chapter 20, Verse 31 so that his readers would believe that Jesus is the Messiah, “the Son of God; and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Third, the healing miracles of Jesus always had a greater purpose. We see that concept clearly in Luke 5 where Jesus healed a paralytic brought to the home of Simon Peter in Capernaum. The man’s friends could not get into the house because of the large crowd, so they tore away the tiles on the roof and lowered their friend to the feet of Jesus. Jesus looked at the man and said, “Your sins are forgiven,” a statement that outraged Jewish leaders. His boldness in declaring that he could forgive sin was blasphemy. Jesus went on to say, “In order for you to know that I have the authority to forgive sins, let this man be healed.” He then told the paralytic, “Rise! Take up your pallet and walk.” Jesus cares about the sickness in our souls before he addresses the sickness in our bodies. He forgives our sins before he heals our diseases. Psalm 103, our Call to Worship this morning, states that same order.

Praise the LORD, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,

Fourth, Jesus’ acts of healing proceeded from a heart of compassion for those in need. Jesus was deeply moved. Matthew 9:36 says he went throughout the cities and “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” These people needed help. On one occasion Jesus restored the life of a widow’s only son out of sympathy for her. Jesus cares deeply about people and wants us to do the same. The parable of the last judgment tells us, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these…” (Matthew 25:40).

Fifth, Jesus met people within their own frame of reference.

Our son Erik had epilepsy. In the course of a Sunday School lesson on Mark 9, Erik’s teacher stated, “Anyone who has epilepsy is demon-possessed.” Erik, in the eighth grade at the time, objected to her comment. He told the teacher, who did not know that he had epilepsy, “That is not true. You have just set medical science back 2000 years.”

It is true that Jesus talked about demon possession and casting out demons. I am not negating the power of evil in this world. We all need the whole armor of God because we are constantly in spiritual warfare. In the same way that we no longer talk about germs causing illness, we no longer talk about demons causing many of the common illnesses that afflict human beings. Talking about epilepsy as demon-possession or defining mental illness as demon possession is to negate all that we have learned over these 2000 years. You might well ask, “Didn’t Jesus know that?” Of course he did, but he met people in the first century within their own frame of reference.

Sixth, Jesus did not blame the sick for their illness. It is true that sometimes we get sick because of our own behavior; we neglect and abuse our bodies. It is also true that other people cause our illnesses, especially when we are growing up. We live in a flawed world where people mistreat others.

Paul makes it clear that the creation itself is subject to sin. We see plagues, pandemics, and all kinds of psychosomatic illnesses. Blaming the victim never helps.

Perhaps the best example of this concept in the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus is found in John 9:1-3 where Jesus refused to fix the blame on someone when he met a man who had congenital blindness.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Seventh, Jesus makes us responsible for maintaining our own good health. Consider Jesus’ comments to the invalid by the Sheep Gate, near the pools of Bethesda in John 5:6: “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus was asking the man if he had the motivation to get well.

I know that some people actually delight in ill-health. They do not want to get well. I asked a patient in a state mental hospital one time, “What would happen if you got better?”

The man answered, “I wouldn’t want to do that! I would have to go to work!”

When Jesus asked the man at the pools, “Do you want to be healed?” the man did not answer. He was malingering, perhaps, making excuses. He told Jesus, “I don’t have anybody to help me.”

Jesus put the burden of health on the man, commanding, “Rise! Take up your pallet and walk.”

After thirty-eight years of being helpless, the man got up and walked. Jesus then directed him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. He expected the man to take part of the responsibility for his own health. I will just add an aside here; we see no mention of faith in this healing miracle.

It is interesting to note in Matthew 8:2-4 that a man with leprosy came to Jesus. His faith is evident when he says, “Lord, if you are willing you can heal me.”

Jesus touched the man, then healed him, saying, “I am willing. Be clean.”

Immediately the man was cleansed of his leprosy.

Jesus again put the responsibility on the man, directing, “Go show yourself to the priest. Offer the gift that Moses commanded.”

Very early in my ministry I visited a man in the hospital. Driven by ambition and work, this man had small intestines that were pretty much pock-mocked with bleeding ulcers. Jesus had told a person similar to this man, “If a man gains the whole world and loses his soul, what does it profit him?” (Mark 8:36).

I did not quote that verse to this patient, but I did paraphrase it in order to illustrate that we are responsible for participating in our own health and healing: If a man gains the whole world and loses his family, if he gains the whole world and loses his integrity, if he gains the whole world and loses his stomach lining, what does it profit him?

Eighth, Jesus healed many people but not everyone. Return to the Sheep Gate and look at the man who was healed after being paralyzed for thirty-eight years. Jesus singled out this one man to heal. Imagine that you are among the others in the multitude of sick people: the lame, the sick, the paralyzed. Can you imagine someone calling out to Jesus, “Hey, what about me? I have not been here for thirty-eight years, but I have been here for sixteen-and-a-half. Could you help me?” Jesus did not heal everyone.

Ninth, sometimes the healing ministry of Jesus requires a second touch or even a third, fourth, or fifth. Healing is not always instantaneous. Mark 8:22-25 contains a wonderful story about a blind man in Bethesda whom Jesus led by the hand outside the village. A hallmark of Jesus’ healing ministry was healing in private because he was not trying to attract a crowd, not selling a patent medicine here, not acting in a sideshow.

After spitting on the man’s eyes and putting his hands on the man, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

The man answered, “I see people, but they look like trees that are walking.”

Jesus said, “Let’s try this again.” Once more he placed his hands on the man’s eyes. Then the man’s eyes were opened and his sight restored. The man saw everything clearly.

Tenth, the healing ministry of Jesus was often, but not always, based on faith. Matthew 9 contains five instances in which Jesus heals others: the paralytic whose friends brought him to Jesus, the woman who reached out and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, two blind men, a demon-possessed man, and the daughter of Jairus, the ruler or president of the synagogue. No exchange occurred that involved the word faith though Jairus did say to Jesus, “If you will speak the word, my daughter will be healed.” During these instances of healing we see no mention of faith.

Eleventh, the healing power of Jesus often requires faith but not perfect faith. A mustard seed, just a little faith, is often enough for Jesus. The truth is that most of us are positioned between belief and unbelief.

My favorite story, of course, appears in Mark 9. A desperate father brought his epileptic son to Jesus, pleading, “Something is wrong with my child! Please, if you can help us…”

Jesus rebuked the father, “‘If you can’? All things are possible to those who believe.”

That father gives the affirmation of faith, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”

Perfect faith is not required to receive the healing power of Jesus.

Twelfth, Jesus has the power to heal not only then but now as well.

Years ago a young physician named Jim, married and the father of two children, was very active in the church I was serving. He was just beginning his practice when he was diagnosed with leukemia and became very sick. We all prayed for Jim, and the doctors treating him offered the very best medicine. After a short time Jim went into remission. His wife declared that he had been healed because of her faith. Wanting to prove her faith, she convinced her husband they needed to have another baby; and she became pregnant.

Early in her pregnancy, Jim’s leukemia returned with a vengeance. He died soon after Christmas. The wife’s profound grief was complicated by her absolute certainty that her faith had made her husband well. She left the church because she said that we did not have enough faith.

During my forty-eight years of ministry I have learned much about healing. First, the fact that Jesus has the ability to heal should never be confused with the fact that Jesus will heal. We should pray for our friends and loved ones who suffer severe illness or disease, believing that God can heal. We can certainly ask for healing and believe that healing can occur; but we must understand that it is not our decision, our place, to demand healing. Sometimes we get really confused and think we deserve to be healed. We think we can have healing on demand. Jesus never healed on demand, and God does not heal on demand either. We must yield, as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, to the will of God.

Second, God calls individuals to serve in the health-care profession. I know many physicians who pray for their patients. God, who called the physicians who read Scripture for us this morning, works through them and through the medical arts. Think about open-heart surgery, bypass surgery, as a miracle. It has not been so long ago when those procedures were totally unavailable to us. Believing that advances in medical science are not connected with the healing power of God is a drastic mistake.

Third, a great difference exists between hope and wishful thinking. The difference is reality. People with hope face reality. People with wishful thinking deny reality.

Fourth, anointing with oil is not magic. During the forty-eight years I have prayed with the sick – the sick in mind, body, and spirit – I have occasionally anointed them with oil in keeping with the teachings in James. I do so only by request, and I ask other church leaders to assist me. I always make sure that the person who asked to be anointed knows that the olive oil is not magic. The oil, like the water of baptism, is an outward symbol of an inward grace.

I have also learned that a miracle, by definition, is unusual, out of the ordinary. Believing that Jesus is able to heal is exercising faith.

Six, death is not our greatest enemy. We must distinguish between the battle that we fight with an illness and our tendency to avoid death. For those of us who are Christians, death is a transition to a new and greater life. The Bible says that death has been defeated. One of the kindest things we can do for our families is to have a living will, which states our intention that we do not want any heroic measures taken. For the Christian the ultimate healing is heaven because we get a complete transplant, a whole new body.

Some years ago I spoke with a man who was at the verge of death.

I asked, “How are you doing?”

He answered, “I have been thinking a lot about dying. If someone had given me the choice to be born, I think I would have said, ‘No thanks.’ I was safe, warm, and secure. All my needs were met. Why would I want to be pushed out into the cold world and greeted with a slap on the bottom? If someone had given me a choice, I would have probably said I did not want to be born. Death is similar. Do I want to die? No, I like life here. I like this place and the people I know. Like birth though, I will look back and say I was glad I went through death when I get to the other side. Life on the other side is going to be so much better than life here.”

Our resurrection faith comes to us through the healing of the Lord Jesus. Do you know Jesus as Lord and Savior? Do you know him as the Great Physician in your life? If knowing him is your desire, I invite you to respond to the invitation. You know what God has laid on your heart.

Kirk H. Neely
© March 2014


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