32. God of Hope – the practice (2)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  32. God of Hope – the practice (2)

Jn 5:6,7    “Do you want to get well?”  “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.”

Taking Stock: We need, I think, to pause and take stock of where we are. We have been considering the ways that hope is conveyed as something God brings to our confused states within the human race, to help us be more reassured in today as we face tomorrow. Hope is always about tomorrow – or maybe the next hour or the next few minutes, and the question arises, will God be there for me? To conclude this little section, I want to focus us on some illustrations from the Bible that say that, not only is God there, but He is there for us.

The Hopelessness of Bethesda: Our verses above come from an incident involving Jesus who had returned to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the Jewish feasts. He goes to a pool in the city, identified as having five covered alcoves (5:2). Now something happened to this pool every now and then, it bubbled up, and seemingly when you managed to get into the water when it bubbled up, you were healed. Now whether this was a natural occurrence or something else we don’t know, but the fact was that many people who were sick or disabled came to this pool and sheltered under the alcoves (keeping out of the sun or rain, no doubt). In a day when there was no health service or health insurance, the sick and disabled were pretty much helpless and their circumstances hopeless. Those who were able, stumbled into the water when it was stirred but perhaps there were so many of them, it was often impossible to get near it. Whether anyone was healed is open to speculation. Nevertheless they came with hope that it might happen. This one man had been an invalid for thirty eight years and he was just lying there, clearly with all hope gone: “‘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.’” (v.7)

Then Jesus: Why Jesus chose this man and not others is unclear; perhaps he wanted to make the point that no one was beyond his help. He commands the man to get up and he is instantly healed. The cynic might suggest the man was just pretending to be sick, but to what purpose? Lying around, begging, in the midst of a sick crowd. It is bad enough sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, this must have been far worse. No, he was sick and now he has been healed. When we look carefully at the Gospels, we see that Jesus healed vast numbers of the sick, disabled and demon-possessed who either came to him or were brought to him – see Mt 4:24, 8:16, 12:15, 14:14,36, 15:30, 19:2, 21:14, as well as many individual healings. Jesus generated hope and when the people heard what was happening they flocked to him.

Only New Testament? Without doubt, this was a unique time that amongst other things verified that this was the Son of God, God incarnate on the earth, so was this three years a unique time when God healed? Well, no, because in Acts it is clear that the apostles continued Jesus’ healing ministry. In the teaching within the rest of the New Testament, there is reference to the gift of healing (1 Cor 12:9,30), and James specifically says that church elders should pray over the sick and heal them (Jas 5:14-16). So is healing restricted to the New Testament period? The categorical answer is no, healing is there in abundance in the Old Testament.  I think I will do what I don’t normally do and leave it to other writers. John Wimber’s ‘Power Healing’ is possibly one of the best known and very comprehensive books on healing. Dr. Jack Deere’s ‘Surprised by the Power of the Spirit’ is also worth a read, as is ‘The Kingdom and the Power’ by a compilation of writers. The point we need to be making is that the all-powerful God sometimes (but not always – and there are reasons – read the books) heals and bring hope to those who feel hopeless in their circumstances.

Naaman: There is one healing that stands out in the Old Testament that speaks volumes about God. Naaman was commander of the army of Aram (2 Kings 5:1), a nearby nation who came and every now and then raided Israel (5:2) i.e. they were enemies of Israel. The only trouble was that Naaman contracted leprosy (5:1c). However he had taken, on one of his raids, a young Israelite girl, who he made maid to his wife. This maid suggested to his wife that he go to visit a prophet in Israel named Elisha who might heal him. To cut a long story short (read 2 Kings 5:1-15) Naaman is healed. Now just consider this: the man is an enemy of Israel and has done harm to Israel – but God still heals him! What an act of grace and mercy! It screams at us, whoever will come and surrender themselves to God (or His representatives) will find God’s help.

Wider Issues: There are times when circumstances seem so confusing they defy us and yet James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (Jas 1:5) Wisdom is the knowledge of how to act, so what is James saying? Go to God in a believing state (see v.6) and He will tell you how to deal with your problem. So, the knowledge of ‘how to’ is available to believers.

But what about other physical or relational issues. I hate moving in this area because of never wanting to bring false hope, but twice I have been privileged to have a prophetic word for barren couples that they would conceive within a year (and they did) and once to a single girl who felt she would be single for the rest of her life, that she would be married within a year (and she was). Is there anything special about this? No, the Bible is full of couples who were childless and God turned up and enabled them to have a child. God is concerned about all areas of our lives and I believe no area is ‘off limits’ as far as God is concerned. There is nothing automatic here for, as we’ve sought to show before, it is all about relationship. And, seeking to be wholly honest, it is sometimes a mystery why God heals some and not others. The book writers suggest a variety of reasons but the simple instruction has to be – know He loves you, pray and keep on praying and be at peace. Easy to say, hard to do.

But hope: But this is the message of the whole Bible, that we live in a fallen world where we get it wrong often, things go wrong often, and a mess often ensues. Left like that it would be depressing but the bigger picture is that God is there for us and as we cooperate with Him, so He works to redeem every messy situation and bring good into it, as we allow Him. Those are the only limiting criteria – ‘as we cooperate with him’ and ‘as we allow Him’. He never forces His way into our circumstances, but always comes when we call with an open heart. That is the hope we have, that tomorrow can be better than today because of God. That is what hope is all about, a God of hope.  Without God it is all wishful thinking but thankfully the Bible and the testimony of millions down through the centuries says otherwise. Hallelujah! OK, it’s time to move on.

2. Motivation

Short Meditations in John 6:  2. Motivation

Jn 6:2  and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick

There are two things that always stand out to me when we come across these times when large crowds gathered with Jesus, as seen in the Gospels. The first is to do with people, the second, with Jesus.

So, first of all the people, and I suspect we are exactly the same as them. We are all very much people of the flesh, our self-centred concerns reach their height when we suffer physically in some way. Whether it be a cold or cancer, the focus turns inward. It’s a very natural thing. They speak of a self-preservation instinct within each of us and I guess the worries that arise within when something starts going wrong with our bodies are part of this.

So Jesus starts healing people, the word gets out, and larger numbers of people turn up to get healed. We all want the same thing – to get better; that’s why we rush to the doctor so easily. Now there is nothing morally wrong about this, it is quite natural. What it does do, however, when it comes to Jesus, is to block from their minds anything beyond the need to get healed and the fact that here is a source of healing. Now of course Jesus is far more than a source of healing, as wonderful as that is, he is the reflection of his Father in heaven and so everything he says is a reflection of the heart of heaven. His teaching has the potential for life transformation but that would never completely happen until the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Day of Pentecost, because our life transformation happens, not merely because we keep the Law (or the words of Jesus in say the Sermon on the Mount), it takes place because our heart direction has changed, and we have received the indwelling Holy Spirit. He changes us.

So the people come to have their lives changed, physically not spiritually. Next we come to Jesus: as the Son of God, we come to see he knows all things; he knows what we are about, and he knows why the crowds come – and he is happy to meet their needs and keep on healing them. Matthew’s Gospel shows him doing this again and again – healing all who came to him in the great crowds (see Mt 4:23,24, 8:16, 12:15, 14:14,35,36, 15:30, 19:2, 21:14.)

Now another thing that has bemused me about this is that although evangelical counselling so often focuses on the need to put right wrongs before healing can take place, there is no indication whatsoever in these general healings about needing to change. Jesus healed them and trusted that they would realize, understand and appreciate God’s love for them through it. He does want lives changed (see Mt 5:29,30,  9:2, Jn 8:11) and that he taught, but not in his healing ministry. Wow!

10. The Father’s Son

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   10. The Father’s Son

John 5:16-18  So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

We have moved on through the various pointers to Jesus being the one who comes to transform circumstances and lives, concluding at the end of the previous chapter with the spectacular healing from a distance of a royal official’s son, which John heralded as a miraculous sign. Now as we move on into chapter 5 we find yet another healing but John doesn’t bother to herald this as a miraculous healing; he has another purpose for including it.

What happened?  Jesus returned to Jerusalem (Jn 5:1) for another of the feasts (we aren’t told which one, it is obviously not significant). He goes to a pool that apparently had healing powers where a number of sick people gathered and to cut a longer story short, he healed a man who was a long term invalid (Jn 5:2-9) Again this is a spectacular healing in that the man in question had been an invalid for thirty eight years, an indicator that society could do nothing for him.

But then we find that this healing was carried out on the Sabbath (v.9b) and after he was healed the man was left to carry his bed to whatever home he had. As he did this religious Jews (and this was Jerusalem!) challenged him for they saw it as doing work and that was forbidden on the Sabbath (v.10). The man simply replied that the man who had healed him told him to take his bed with him (v.11). When they question him who that was he doesn’t know (v.12,13).  Later Jesus sees him and the man was able to tell those who had challenged him who it was who had healed him on the Sabbath. (v.14,15)

There are question marks over this man for Jesus told him to stop sinning lest something worse happened to him (v.14) and the man is quick to get Jesus in trouble afterwards. Jesus must have known what he was like but went ahead and healed him nevertheless. Perhaps Jesus wanted the following discussion to occur by way of testimony.

So the Jews come after Jesus (v.16) and he takes this opportunity to speak about the relationship he has with God, his Father: “Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” (Jn 5:17) Now John seizes on this comment to point out that the reason for opposing Jesus was greater than merely working on the Sabbath: “For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (v.18)  There is no question here; they see Jesus calling God his Father in a unique way, a way that suggests that he too is divine. In their eyes this is blasphemy, and of course it is –unless it is true!

Now in case there is any question about this Jesus piles the teaching in: “Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.” (Jn 5:19-23) See his claims:

  1. The Father and Son work in complete harmony.
  2. The Father shows him everything He is doing and the Son joins in His work.
  3. This work will involve even greater things than they have so far seen.
  4. This will involve raising the dead.
  5. This also involves judgment and the Son judges in the same way as God (the Father).
  6. This also means that the Son will be honoured in the same was as God (the Father)
  7. If you don’t honour the Son it means you aren’t honouring God (the Father)

When we see it like this there is no question about Jesus’ claiming divinity – he is!!! Jesus continues to expand this (read v.24 to 31), reiterating these claims. But then, because he knows the Jews will start questioning the validity of his testimony, he goes on to speak about John the Baptist’s testimony of him (v.31-35) but goes on to say that his very work testifies to having been sent by the Father (v.36) In the closing verses of this chapter he pushes the point even more.

The point of this miracle in Jerusalem is not to much to reveal a miraculous sign as to open a way for Jesus to proclaim there his relationship with the Father and thus reveal his divinity. This entire chapter is all about the Son of God, the divine Son of God.

49. Sad Cynics

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 49. Sad Cynics

Mk 3:1,2   Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.

We have a continuation in “Mark’s studies of the Pharisees”!   When he says, “Another time” he is simply giving another example of the sort of opposition Jesus had been receiving from the religious people of the day. How tragic that sometimes Jesus’ activity is opposed by the very people who ought to be the most open to it!

Again it is a Sabbath incident. As was his habit he went to the synagogue. This time there is a man there who has a shrivelled hand. Already the opposition to Jesus has hardened so that they are actively looking for reasons to criticise him. No what is interesting about this is that there was no question about Jesus’ ability to heal people and so even the opposition expect it to happen now, and that fact puts them on the alert to see what he is going to do today. Today is a Sabbath and work is forbidden on the Sabbath. Yes, I know we’ve been through that but they haven’t got the message yet!

So here they are watching, knowing there is a man in their synagogue with a shrivelled hand and knowing Jesus has the power to heal people. Will the two things come together? Now there are obviously two sad things about this. First there is the matter of Jesus’ power. Surely he wouldn’t be able to do what he is doing in this whole healing realm if it wasn’t God at work in and through him. These religious people are cynically watching for him to step out of line, but can healing a person ever be stepping out of line?  So, secondly, here is the man with an obvious infirmity and these religious people appear to have not a jot of compassion for him and so when the possibility of him being healed walks through the door, all they are concerned with is that it is the Sabbath.

Now this only goes to show us how easy it is for people who live by rules to lose perspective. I always remember a story from the early days of House Churches of a group meeting in a sitting room when an elderly person upstairs was taken ill and had to be stretchered out through the meeting in the sitting room, which steadfastly continued as if nothing unusual was happening! The order of Sunday morning was not to be disturbed. That is the same spirit as appeared here in this synagogue and it appears in churches today! How crazy!

 

30. Compassion

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 30. Compassion

Mk 1:40-42 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

There is healing and there is healing! I mean, it is all very well to stand at a distance and speak a word of command and watch someone be healed, but it is something else to go up close and touch them – especially when they have a possibly infectious skin disease! There is clearly more to healing than simply speaking words of command when you have the authority.

Jesus, it appears, is much more concerned with the man as a whole person than with just his skin. If it had just been his skin he could have spoken a word and that would have been it – healed! But Jesus feels for this man, he is moved by this man, he feels compassion for this man, he enters into his plight and that plight means that here is a man who is isolated by his disease. People would have kept a distance from this man and so as much as having his skin healed, he is in need of human contact, and so Jesus gives it to him – he touches him and then heals him.

You know, you can be in a room full of people and yet be lonely. Some of us struggle with a sense of isolation. The way we have been brought up, or the things that have happened to us in life, means we are left feeling isolated. We either long for or fear human contact. For some it may be a “if only…” as we dream of someone putting an arm around us. The church should have many arms to offer on Jesus’ behalf, but even so, isolated people sometimes need to be made to feel secure before they can respond to such overtures of friendship and contact.

And then there are some of us who deep down fear the contact, fear the change. If I open myself up to others, then the inner me will be revealed and I am not sure I want that. When Jesus approaches such people he does so ever so gently. He understands our needs and understands we can only cope with slow change and so it is just the lightest of touches to start with – the thought of a complete embrace would make us run a mile!

Lord, thank you that you understand each of us and you meet us in the way you know we can cope with. Thank you that you feel with us.

26. Mass Healings

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 26. Mass Healings

Mk 1:32-34 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

A  number of years ago some people I knew went out to Africa to witness a healing campaign that was happening in one particular country. When they came back they testified to amazing things they saw but one particular comment stayed with me.  They said that for the first three days their minds struggled to keep up with what their eyes saw.  I think that that was how it must have been with Jesus.  See what the text says.

That evening after sunset – after the working day had ended. The people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon possessed.  Note the ‘all’.  His reputation had so spread that the people were in no doubt that he could heal whoever came to him, so they brought anyone who was sick – it was a lot of people.  The whole town gathered at the door!

And he healed ‘many’ and he also drove out ‘many’ demons.  Now this account doesn’t say ‘all’, just ‘many’ which suggests that were some who weren’t healed at this stage.  But don’t be put off by that, still ‘many’ were healed and delivered from demons.  This was a major healing event.  As we commented previously, Jesus had the power to bring literal physical change to bodies. One minute there was sickness, the next there wasn’t!

Now this account is a simple factual account of what happened but it doesn’t lay down any principles for healing. The difficulty for those of us who are sick or who have long-term illnesses or infirmity, is to grasp that it is possible for us to be delivered from whatever it is.  When we have such an illness it is very difficult, if not impossible to have faith to believe for healing, unless God turns up and speaks and generates faith. In every healing, faith is an ingredient – even if it only comes from Jesus. In the Gospels Jesus initiated healings and the fact of him healing people released faith in others for them to be healed. He alone is the healer and in him alone can we trust for our healing.

Lord, thank you that you do heal. Please speak to me to release faith in me for you to move how you want to move, whether it be in healing or in any other way.

54. Confession

Meditations in James: 54: The Place of Confession

Jas 5:15,16 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Confession, in some parts of the church, has sometimes been turned into a ritual. If you “go along to confession” it becomes a ritual, something that is done because it is expected of you and it makes you feel better for a minute of two.  True confession comes out of a broken and contrite heart. In Scripture, probably the greatest example of confession comes in Psalm 51, where the heading tells us that David wrote this after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin over Bathsheba. It starts out, Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (v.1,2) Confession comes to God with an awareness of needing God’s mercy, for having offended God. There is an awareness of needing to be cleansed and forgiven.

Look how he continues:For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight(v.3,4). David realized that all sin is against God and that it is evil! When the Holy Spirit convicts, this is what follows. Later he goes on, Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” (v.10,11) Real confession is concerned to be cleansed from the sin and reinstated in right relationship with the Lord (where the sin will not be repeated!)

Having heard a number of people on counseling situations, confessing to the Lord their sins, I have to say that rarely is there whole-hearted, unrestrained pouring out of sorrow to God for those sins. Mostly we have a great deal of difficulty in genuinely facing what we’ve done and genuinely saying, “That was wrong, that was evil, and it affronted God.” but that is real confession!

James’ references to confession flow in the context of healing and after the words we considered yesterday he says,If he has sinned, he will be forgiven”. Suddenly forgiveness and healing are linked. Not every sickness is linked to sin, but some is. Sometimes our sin has caused or made us vulnerable to the sickness, and so for the healing to flow, the sin has to be dealt with first. There is a very strong principle here which accounts, we suspect, for why there is so much illness in the world today. Having said this, James realizes that this needs further explanation.

He continues, Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. There can be no other explanation for what he says other that what we have said in the above paragraph. There is a divine order here: sin – sickness – confession – prayer – healing. It is interesting to note that TWO things are needed: confession AND prayer, confession by the sick person and prayer for healing by the elder. An Old Testament example of this is,Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again,” (Gen 20:17) after Abimelech had had dealings with God. He confessed but God required His representative, Abram, to pray for him. The prayer of the elder adds significance to what is happening and he acts as God’s representative to declare forgiveness and healing.

In the New Testament the classic example of this is Jesus and the man let down through the roof. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said,Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Lk 5:20). The man’s willingness to come to Jesus was equivalent to his confession but before he is healed, Jesus pronounces forgiveness. Jesus knew there was a sin and forgiveness issue here and so dealt with it. He subsequently brings the healing: He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (v.24). There is a clear link between the sickness and the need for forgiveness followed by healing.

We should note, however, that this is not always the case as John shows us in his Gospel. As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.(Jn 9:1-3) Sin was not the issue behind this man’s blindness. He was just part of the Fallen World, and so Jesus simply brought healing without the need of confession and forgiveness.

James concludes,The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. The righteous elder praying for a sick member of his flock, is in the position of God’s representative and, as long as he is a righteous man, he is therefore in the position to bring prayer to bear that has a powerful impact – to bring healing.

Perhaps one of the biggest questions to ask, that arises out of these verses, is do we have an open and submissive and humble heart that is willing to seek out its spiritual leadership and confess, when we become aware of our sin? Such confession is an indication of a heart that is indeed open, submissive and humble, and that is the challenge, because that is the sort of heart we are all supposed to have.

33. The Blind Man

People who met Jesus : 33 :  The Blind Man

Jn 9:1-3 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

I have commented before that I felt the woman caught in adultery was one of my favourite stories, but now I have to add that this one comes joint first, and certainly first of all the healing accounts. There are so many aspects of this story that are worth noting.

It starts with a bunch of totally insensitive disciples. We’re like this sometimes! As they are walking along they come across this man who is blind who, they are told, has been like this from birth. Now they are just like Job’s comforters who worked on the basis that if you had anything wrong with you, you had obviously sinned. So the disciples, wanting to look like learners, ask of Jesus why this man would be like this. Was it because of his own sin or because of the sin of his parents? The former option is pretty stupid really, because he had been born like it, so how could his sin have caused it? Anyway, Jesus won’t have this.

It’s nothing to do with sin; it’s all about glorifying the Father.  What? Yes, stop your insensitive questions (what must the man have been feeling while they voiced their questions infront of him?); let’s just take the opportunity to heal him! There’s the challenge! Let’s stop criticising and blaming people; let’s just bring God’s love to them, bless them and save them!

Now the way of healing here is unique to the Gospel healing accounts: he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.” (v.6,7) So why did Jesus do this? Did he want to give the man some privacy in his healing and so did something that made him go elsewhere to receive the healing? Did he do it because he knew the man needed that extra faith-motivation? We don’t know – but the man was healed!

The incredible nature of what happened is revealed in what follows: “His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” “How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded. He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said.” (v.8-12). They couldn’t believe what had happened. Obviously Jesus wasn’t performing great miracles at this stage of his ministry in Jerusalem, because the enquirers haven’t got a clue about him yet.

Now their response shows how unpleasant and short-sighted people can be: “They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided.” (v.13-16) The neighbours take him to the guardians of the Law, the Pharisees. Why? Were they trying to stir things up? Instead of rejoicing over the wonder of what had happened they look to cause trouble. The Pharisees pick on the fact that it was the Sabbath and in their eyes healing was work. How petty! This story reveals the worst of people and the wonder of Jesus. But the best is yet to come”

Let’s jump a little bit: “A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (v.24,25) That’s the bit that always makes me laugh. The Pharisees want to denounce Jesus and try to get the man to do it for them, but all he can do is declare his testimony which is as simple as you can get: One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

You may think you don’t know what to say to people about the Christian life, but you have a testimony and no one can take that from you. For me it was, “Once I was lost, purposeless, lonely, and drifting into alcoholism, but then I met Jesus and he gave me purpose, security, healing, friends, a wonderful wife and a wonderful family.

You can criticise it but I know the truth of it – and so do millions and millions of other people who have met Jesus. Rather than be mean minded and criticise people who say they have found a new purpose in life that is filled with love, joy and peace, why not look for it yourself if you’ve never yet found it? God is in the business of transforming lives, not condemning them, and it’s there for whoever will come to Him, surrender to Him and put their life in His hands. Once I was blind, but now I can see! And you?

20. Mother-in-Law

People who met Jesus : 20 :  Peter’s Mother-in-Law

Mt 8:14,15 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.

Do you think God knew about mother-in-law jokes? What is it about mother-in-laws (mothers-in-laws?) that creates humour?  There is often a strain of relationship where the new wife is threatened by the years of experience of the mother-in-law. Verse 14 above tells us a lot of basic information about Peter. He has a house. We assume it is his, yet it could be his father’s house but the absence of a father’s name in Simon Peter’s designation suggests that perhaps he has died. Peter is only ever designated as Andrew’s brother. The only times we hear the name of Peter’s father is when Jesus speaks to Peter on the lakeside after his resurrection: “Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John,” (Jn 21:15).  So, what we have is a suggestion that Peter’s father has died and has left him the fishing business and the home.

But now it gets more complicated. We now come to Peter’s mother-in-law. Peter is obviously married, because you don’t have a mother-in-law unless you have a wife. (The first ‘pope’ was married!!). Now one possibility is that she was just visiting and was taken ill and given a bed to lie down in, but a more likely scenario is that her husband (who is not mentioned) has died and she now lives with Peter and her daughter. The phrase ‘lying in bed’ suggests a little bit that this was her bed, her normal bed.

What an embarrassing position to be in when an honoured guest arrives, to be in bed, presumably in a room that is easily visible to people coming in (for Jesus saw her when he came in – there is no indication that he ‘went upstairs’ having been told of her illness. We aren’t told much about this incident; it is all very low key, and so we have to make a lot of assumptions. The Gospel writers are usually pretty careful about noting down details and words that Jesus spoke to bring healing, but in this instance there is nothing dramatic, nothing boldly spoken. All that happens is that Jesus goes over to her where she is lying incapacitated in bed, and touches her.  In her case, the healing that follows comes from nothing but a touch.

So why is it that sometimes words seem to be such an important part of the healing process that Jesus brought, but here they aren’t? I suspect the answer is to do with faith. Faith, we said previously, comes through hearing God’s word and is responding to it. Somebody, we said, has to have heard that it was God’s will to bring healing and very often Jesus’ words are linked to the faith of the other people concerned. Sometimes when Jesus spoke words of command to bring healing, it was to stir the faith of the person being healed. But there is none of that here!

Why might that be? Is it something to do with the nature of what needs healing?  Not wanting to diminish blindness or paralysis in any way, but in both of those cases the person in question is fully alert and has clear thinking. When you have a ’fever’, you tend to be delirious and not in your right mind. In such situations it is very difficult to think clearly, it is very difficult to either hear God or rationally respond to Him. Thus Jesus doesn’t bother to speak any words against this fever, he just touches her and his power is conveyed to her that brings the complete healing.

It may also be that he is fully aware of what she is feeling, having an honoured guest in the house and be unable to provide hospitality for him. He doesn’t want to draw attention to her and to her plight so the healing is very non-dramatic so she simply finds she is suddenly well and able to get on with her duties as a good hostess providing hospitality for guests. If that is so, it is another of those cases where Jesus shows his sensitivity to the feelings of other people.

I suggest it raises the whole question of how we deal, as church, with people who need healing or deliverance. In situations I have seen in the past and which, I am sure, still continue in the Church, especially in the case of deliverance, but also sometimes in the case of healing, the minister bringing deliverance or healing does it in such a way that the person being healed or delivered is being made a public spectacle and is actually being demeaned. Now, yes, Jesus did most of his healing and deliverance work publicly, but much of the time he was demonstrating it for the sake of his disciples who were to continue what he was doing. Yet again and again, we find Jesus being sensitive to the needs of the person being healed. Yes, there is value in letting the healing being seen publicly to stir faith in the watchers, but does it also demonstrate the goodness, love, kindness, concern and care of Jesus in the way we do it? Questions that are worth considering!

Inspection Team

Readings in Luke Continued – No.13

Lk 5:17 One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.

We are looking, you may remember, at the material that is unique to Luke. When it comes to this particular incident Mark reports: “A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum , the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.” (Mk 2:1,2). Matthew merely said, “Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town,” (Mt 9:1) and then moved into the account, that they all include, of the paralytic being dropped through the roof of the house and being healed by Jesus.

Now in Luke’s unique materials we find two things that Luke heard about and which stayed with him, so he included these matters that no one else thought to include. The first one is what I have called “the inspection team”. We have inspection teams in education who come into schools, sit in on classes and give their verdicts as to the quality of teaching. The people Luke picks up on were a bit like that. We have already seen that the people of the area had appreciated Jesus’ preaching and now we have those described as Pharisees and teachers of the law who come to hear him. Now the word Pharisee means “the separated ones, separatists,” and they were a religious party who first appeared about 135 B.C. They were also known as chasidim, meaning “loved of God” or “loyal to God.” and according to Josephus, their number at the height of their popularity was more than 6,000. They considered they were exponents and guardians of the oral and written law.

The teachers of the law, sometimes just referred to as scribes, were men who studied, taught, interpreted and conveyed the Law of Moses. Both of these groups felt a need to check out Jesus and his teaching to see that it conformed, in their eyes at least, with the Law of Moses.

This is the first time Luke mentions these two groups and they represent the intellectual opposition that Jesus would encounter. He, as they would hear, was just the son of humble carpenter and so they would not expect him to do very well conveying the law. They would expect his teaching to be very rough and ready and expected to be able to pull him apart as far as adhering to the ‘proper’ teaching was concerned.

Many times in the Gospels we therefore find this opposition coming. What is interesting here is that Luke says they had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. They came from the north where he was preaching, but the word had spread much further and so they came from the south, and even from Jerusalem the home of their religion.

What is interesting is that at the end, when Jesus is being accused by the Sanhedrin, many of whom were Pharisees, none of them was able to pick up on and criticise Jesus’ general teaching. When the Son of God teaches, he is accurate! How do we feel about Jesus’ teaching, I wonder? Do we seek to find fault so that we can reject him? Do we seek to find fault because we too are threatened by him? Criticising Jesus’ teaching is a sign of never having properly studied what he taught, but mostly it is a sign of a heart that has never been truly surrendered to God. The person who has surrendered their heart fully to God finds the teaching of Jesus meat and drink.

The second thing that stuck with Luke was the power of God that was clearly with Jesus for he states that the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. He understands that healing only comes when God imparts healing power. For healing to come counter to the normal flow of nature, miraculously in other words, it has to be because God imparts His power for that specific purpose. There is also, it seems, an implication that that isn’t always so. In that same place Mark records on one occasion, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.(Mk 6:5,6). It would appear on this latter occasion the unbelief of the people hindered the power of God flowing through Jesus. Possibly the phrase above, the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick implies that on different occasions God’s power flowed in different ways to achieve different ends, and the end at this moment was healing.

Luke, as a doctor, has a special awareness of these things. The message and lesson for us is, as we’ve stated above, is that if we are to see healing it must be because it is God’s will and God’s power flows to bring the change. Without God we cannot heal. There is no inherent power within us, as some think, that brings healing to others. No, it is specifically the power of God flowing that reverses the course of ill-health and brings instant or speedy good-health. Luke wants us to make sure we give the glory to God if we are involved in this sort of ministry. Power doesn’t just happen; it is the operation of God moving. And the result? The result must always be that God is glorified. At the end of this account we find, “Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God.” (v.26) When that happens people will be drawn to God, and not to us. That is why it is important to realise that it is God’s power and God’s activity.

You may wonder why we major on this point, but it is because the glory is to be God’s and not ours. When great things happen they happen because God moves. We might have been the channel through which He flowed, but ultimately it was God’s power flowing and He and He alone is to be glorified. Let’s not hinder that happening.