“Get Up and Walk!” Faith and Healing
If you made a list of what you most dreaded in life, what would it look like? For many of us, the list would include a family member dying or even you, yourself, dying. And while that’s certainly understandable, think about just how earth-centered that is. It’s all about our lives now. Is this really and truly what we ought to dread most, the loss of life on earth, especially when it never lasts that long anyway?
If God were to make a list of what He most dreads, it would certainly deal with the loss of either our family’s or our own eternal life.
Sure, God cares about physical illness and death, but most of all He cares about spiritual illness and eternal death. Though Jesus healed many people, and even brought the dead back to life, it was only temporary. They all died a physical death, one way or another, with the exception of the saints that Jesus resurrected at His own resurrection. (See The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 550 and Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 786.)
Despite all that it accomplished in our behalf, the plan of salvation did not spare us from earthly sickness and earthly death. With this in mind, let’s consider several stories of healing, both physical and spiritual, and see what important lessons about faith we can derive from them.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, April 23.
After preaching the Sermon on the Mount, where He’d described the principles of the kingdom of God, Jesus reencountered the kingdom of Satan, a cold dark place filled with decaying people groaning for redemption, a place whose principles are often contrary to everything for which He stands. And at that time one of the greatest examples of just how wretched and fallen Satan’s realm had become could be seen in the disease of leprosy. Though occasionally used as a form of divine punishment, such as in the case of Miriam (see Num. 12:9–12), in the larger context of the Bible it’s a powerful and horrific example of just what it means to live in a fallen and broken world.
The leper kneels before Jesus and says, “ ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean’ ” (Matt. 8:2, NKJV). The Greek word for “can” is dunamai, like “dynamite” in English. It means full of power. “If you are willing, you are full of power and can change my life.” Jesus says He is willing to heal the leper and immediately does just that.
The fact that Jesus touched him must have sent shivers through the multitudes who saw what had happened. Surely, as He did on other occasions (such as the next recorded healing), Jesus could have just spoken the word, and the man would be healed. Why did He touch him though?
“The work of Christ in cleansing the leper from his terrible disease is an illustration of His work in cleansing the soul from sin. The man who came to Jesus was ‘full of leprosy.’ Its deadly poison permeated his whole body. The disciples sought to prevent their Master from touching him; for he who touched a leper became himself unclean. But in laying His hand upon the leper, Jesus received no defilement. His touch imparted life-giving power. The leprosy was cleansed. Thus it is with the leprosy of sin,—deep-rooted, deadly, and impossible to be cleansed by human power.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 266. Perhaps, by touching the leper, Jesus showed that no matter how bad our sin is, He will draw close to those who are willing to be forgiven, healed, and cleansed from it.
There’s a good reason the book of Daniel spends a lot of time dealing with Rome (see Dan. 7:7, 8, 19–21; Dan. 8:9–12, 23–25). And that’s because of its great power, which was prevalent also at the time of Christ. Nevertheless, a Roman officer, not only a symbol of the power of Rome but an expression of that power, comes to Jesus. The man is helpless in the face of the common trials and tragedies that beset us all. What a lesson about the limits of what earthly powers can do. The greatest and most influential leaders, the richest men and women, stand helpless against many of the common struggles of life. Truly, without divine help, what hope do any of us have?
A centurion was a Roman military officer who generally oversaw anywhere from 80 to 100 soldiers. Serving in the army for about twenty years, he was not permitted to have a legal family. Thus, the centurion’s servant might have been his only real family.
In that culture, the only person more despised than a Gentile like this would have been a leper; so, this officer perhaps assumes that Jesus wouldn’t want to enter his home, even though Jesus says that He will. By asking just for the word of Jesus, not His actual presence, the centurion demonstrates great faith that speaks to us today: Jesus’ word is as powerful as His touch. To this centurion, for Jesus to heal someone wasn’t a difficult thing. It was akin to a military officer giving orders to a soldier, which happened all the time.
Also, look at what Jesus says in Matthew 8:11, 12. What a stern warning to those who have been given great privileges. We, as Seventh-day Adventists, also are greatly privileged, and should take heed.
In Jewish thought it was the prerogative of God alone to rule over nature and demons. After calming a violent storm with simple words (Matt. 8:23–27), Jesus steps onto the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, in not only Gentile territory but where some demon-possessed men lived.
Mark 5:1–20 and Luke 8:26–39 add details to the story of the demon-possessed men. The demons identify themselves as “legion.” A legion in the military was 6,000 soldiers. The demons were sent into 2,000 pigs.
Many have wondered why the demons asked to be sent into the pigs. One tradition taught that the demons most detested empty wandering; they preferred a home of some type, even if it was an unclean pig. Another tradition taught that demons were afraid of the water, and Jesus Himself even makes references to demons passing through waterless places looking for rest (see Matt. 12:43, RSV). There were also Jewish traditions that taught that demons could be destroyed prior to the final apocalyptical day of the Lord.
Yet, the most important point is this: the destructive condition of the men in this story is exactly the destructive condition that Satan desires for God’s children. But Jesus completely changed their lives. All that Satan seeks to do in our lives Jesus can and will undo for those who choose to give themselves to Christ. Otherwise we are helpless against Satan.
We are either on one side or the other in the great controversy. No matter how stark and uncompromising it sounds, Jesus couldn’t have expressed this truth more clearly than He did when He said: “ ‘He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters’ ” (Luke 11:23, NKJV). Which side we’re on depends upon us.
In Monday’s study, we noted that Jesus said that He hadn’t found anyone in Israel with such great faith. But, during these same hours in Israel, there was a man who had reached a place where his desire for healing of the heart was even greater than for healing of his bod
How fascinating that the first thing Jesus dealt with when the paralytic was brought before Him was the man’s spiritual condition. Jesus, obviously, knew exactly what the real problem was. Despite the man’s wretched physical state, Christ knew that the deeper issue was the man’s guilt over what must have been a very sinful life. Hence, knowing the man’s desire for forgiveness, Jesus utters what would have to be the greatest and most comforting words for anyone who understands the reality and the cost of sin: “ ‘Your sins are forgiven you’ ” (Matt. 9:2, NKJV).
Ellen G. White adds: “It was not physical restoration he desired so much as relief from the burden of sin. If he could see Jesus, and receive the assurance of forgiveness and peace with Heaven, he would be content to live or die, according to God’s will.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 267.
A Seventh-day Adventist pastor often preached about having enough faith to not be healed. This is the greatest faith of all: when we look deeper than our physical circumstances and instead focus on our eternal circumstances. So often our prayer requests are about our physical needs, and God does care about these things. But in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said we are to “ ‘seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness’ ” (Matt. 6:33, NKJV). Thus, in the end, despite our immediate physical needs, how crucial that we keep eternal things ever before us in a world where so much is only temporal and fleeting.
First, in Matthew 8:18–22, we see two men approach Jesus with the desire to be His disciples. Both are sincere; and yet, both seem to be held back by something. Jesus, who knows all our thoughts, goes straight to the heart of the matter. He questions whether the first man is really willing to give up everything—including his own bed!—to follow Him. This does not necessarily mean that a person will lose all earthly possessions if he or she follows Jesus but simply that a person needs to be ready to do so.
Jesus then asks the second man whether he’s truly willing to put Jesus ahead of his own family. At first glance, His words to the second man seem very harsh. All the man wanted to do was bury his father. Why couldn’t he do that first, and then follow Jesus, especially when in the Jewish faith it was considered part of obeying the fifth commandment to ensure that one’s parents were properly buried?
However, some interpreters argue that the man’s father wasn’t yet dead, or even at the point of death; instead, the man was basically saying to Jesus, Let me get everything with my family all worked out, and then I will follow You.
Hence, Jesus’ response.
Another call to discipleship is found in Matthew 9:9–13, with the call to Matthew, a despised tax collector. Jesus knew the man’s heart, which was obviously open to truth, as his reaction to the call showed. Jesus surely knew what reaction His calling someone like Matthew would bring, which it did, as the texts reveal. From our perspective today, it’s hard to see just how upsetting to the status quo the call to someone like Matthew would be to the people back then. What we see here is another example of just how universal the call of the gospel really is.
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “ ‘Thou Canst Make Me Clean,’ ” pp. 262–271, in The Desire of Ages.
The Germans have a saying, “Einmal ist keinmal.” It means, literally, “One time is no time.” It’s an idiomatic expression for the idea that if something happens only once, then it doesn’t count. It doesn’t matter. If it happens only once, it might as well never have happened at all. Whether you agree or not, think about this idea in context of Thursday’s study, when Jesus said to the man who wanted first to bury his father and then to be a disciple: “ ‘Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead’ ” (Matt. 8:22, NKJV). What did Jesus mean by implying that the man, a living man, was dead? Well, if “Einmal ist keinmal,” if “one time is no time,” then to live upon this earth only once, with no eternity to follow, then you might as well have never been born at all. You might as well be dead now (see John 3:18). Secular thinkers, who believe in no afterlife, have groused over the meaningless of a life that exists here only once, and for quite a short time too, before dissipating for eternity. What can it possibly mean, they have asked, if after this short stint we are forever gone and forever forgotten? No wonder, then, that Jesus said what He did. He was seeking to point the man to a reality greater than what this world, in and of itself, offered.