We had a really encouraging morning. THAT DOG did not eat the communion bread (despite an impressive attempt), and we prayed for God to heal each of us…then watched, rather stunned, as God answered our prayers – two bad cases of congestion, GONE. Not everyone we prayed for was healed (yet?) but this felt like a pretty great start. Here’s the talk:
Sometimes I don’t know how strongly I believe something until I hear someone else emphatically declare that the opposite is true. This is how I realized how sure I am that Jesus heals people today.
I was at a writers’ conference a few years ago, and an author was speaking about her new book where she described her ministry to the homeless and hungry in the Bay Area of California. She sees a lot of suffering in her work, and I think someone asked her something like, “How do you help people bring those needs before God?”
I don’t remember the precise words of her answer, but it was something about how God sends people to fill needs, and how we all need to become those people. And then she added, “I have a lot of people ask me to pray for them when they’re sick. And I don’t pray for them to be healed. I pray that God bring them peace.”
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I was INCENSED by this answer, reacting far out of proportion to what she’d said. But I was troubled that she tell a hundred or so people that this was the proper Christian approach to sickness and prayer. When the talk was over, it took me about an hour to process why this had hit me so hard.
Part of my reaction was that I’d SEEN God heal people in response to prayer; I’d witnessed it firsthand. God didn’t often use me that way (although he had on one occasion, and several times when I was part of a group praying for someone). But also, as I thought about the Bible, it seemed bizarre to think that God wouldn’t want us to pray for people to be physically healed. It’s what God’s representatives DID in the New Testament. It went hand-in-hand with proclaiming the Good News of Jesus. It was part of how they conveyed the message of how Jesus changed everything about the relationship between Heaven and Earth.
In that moment I realized that believing that God heals in response to prayer is very much a part of what it means to me to be a Christian.
That said, I did absolutely nothing about it…for years. I prayed for a few people here and there. But then I had my faith kicked in a bit by some prayers that weren’t answered, and so I kind of stopped trying. I was like one of those little kids who can’t ride a bike right away and so gives up ever riding and just decides it’s not for them.
Today we’re going to pray for healing. God told me to do this after last Sunday, as I was getting ready for bed. I sensed God nudging me to read Mark 16. I opened my Bible to see that this is the final chapter of Mark’s account of Jesus’ life. Right in the middle, Jesus gives these departing instructions to his Apostles:
“Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people and they will get well.”
I sensed that it was a direction for this Sunday’s gathering, so I fished around for some specifics:
- I always try to incorporate Jesus’ basic message of “believe and be saved” into my talks, so I didn’t think this was the direction God was giving me.
- I was not going to import snakes or ask people to drink poison. (I think these are more, “If you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself in this sort of predicament, faith in Jesus helps” instructions, rather than “Pursue this to prove you believe” forms of worship, although it would make for quite a gathering…)
- When I looked at the final line – and they will lay their hands on sick people and they will get well – and I got this excited feeling inside, like when you get really good news.
So that’s what we’re going to do.
To do this, it helps to have some sense of why we might believe such an unlikely thing is possible; why we’d spend time on this, rather than say, praying for peace or the ability to bear up well under adversity. Also, I find that the best way to work up the courage to try something is to hear stories about others who have tried before me. And when I do this, I want to know two things:
- What made them think this was a good idea?
- How did it go when they did it?
I’ve spent this week immersed in stories of modern-day people who do this regularly. For example:
- I re-read Miracle Work by Jordan Seng, who was a pastor in our former church and now runs a church with a powerful healing ministry in Hawaii where, about once a month, they hold a service that is all about praying for sick people.
- I read a book by Heidi Baker, a woman who runs an enormous home for former orphans in Mozambique, who tells of how she felt like she should pray for blind people, so she just started going up to any blind person she could find and offering to pray for them, until it worked and God restored their sight restored. I’ve heard Heidi speak several times and have friends who work with her in Mozambique. I feel like she and Jordan are credible witnesses to this happening now, today.
I spent some time thinking back to an experience I had with praying for physical healing. I was at a faith-based gathering. The guy running the event asked everyone who needed healing to line up, and then the rest of us were asked to go to them, ask what they needed prayer for, and then pray for them to be healed. I had NO FAITH that I could do this, so I went up to a friend of mine who was asking for prayer because I could admit to her that I was not any good at this and she should get someone else to pray for her for real after. She just smiled and nodded, and said she was suffering from TMJ. I put my hand on her jaw and said something like, “Be healed in Jesus’ name.” And she was.
I don’t know if this was a big deal for her – she’d never mentioned TMJ to me before, so maybe it was just a mild annoyance. But it was a huge deal for me, especially because I played NO ROLE in it happening, other than just going along with the program. This further solidified my conviction that this is part of what God does in our lives here today.
As I thought about all of this this week, I kept coming back to two promises in the Bible:
One, which Anne mentioned last week, from Ecclesiastes: “God has made all things beautiful in his time.” This invites the question: What does God want to make beautiful, here today?
And the second, from at letter written to the Hebrews: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:7-8
I thought the best way to see what that meant was to spend some time traipsing around after Peter, one of the disciples who spent time with Jesus during his life here on earth. So that’s what we’ll do right now. As we do this, I want you to keep two images in mind:
- How, Peter is sort of an overeager little brother with Jesus, taking in the things he sees around him in a kind of wide-eyed way and trying to do it himself any chance he gets; and
- How we can look at Peter in this same big-brother way, trying things he tried, based on what we see in who Jesus was yesterday and believing it’s the same today and forever.
Note: This is not meant to be a definitive history of Peter’s life or ministry. Rather, it’s a overview of what Peter saw, what Jesus said, and what Peter then did with that. Most of our passages come from Mark’s Gospel – which is quick & action packed and sort of lends itself to this kind of consideration. The italicized portions are quoted straight from the Bible, and in some places I’ve summarized or prefaced to give context – those are the parts in regular type.
Let’s dive in:
In the first chapter of Mark, right in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we’re told:
Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” As Jesus walked beside the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon [Peter’s original name] and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:14-18
They picked up a couple of other fishermen along the way – James and John – and eventually went to Simon & Andrew’s family home.
Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. Mark 1:29-31
That’s an interesting out-of-the gate story, no? Later that night, we’re told that people from all over gathered and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. Mark 1:32-34
A man with [a skin condition] 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. 1:40-42
While Jesus was preaching, some men cut a hole in the roof of the building and lowered a paralyzed man down to him. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son your sins are forgiven.” [then he said to the man] I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, too his mat and walked out in full view of them all. 2:1-12
After they had witnessed all of these things, Jesus appointed twelve apostles, of whom Simon was the first. Jesus gave him the name “Peter.” Mark 3:16
Then things got wilder:
Peter and the other apostles watched as Jesus woke up from a sound sleep to calm a crazy storm that was tossing their boat all over the place. Mark 4:35
Then when they finally make it across the lake, they’re greeted by a man so filled with demons that he lived in the tombs, cutting himself, crying out, unable to be subdued even with chains. Jesus has a conversation with the demons, tells them they have to leave, and then grants their request to be sent into a nearby heard of pigs, who promptly throw themselves into the lake and are drowned. Everyone in the region is so freaked out, they beg Jesus to leave. Mark 5:1-17
And then after this, Peter and the others witness a shift, as healing happens without Jesus initiating it:
A large crowd followed and pressed around Jesus. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.” Mark 5:24-29
Jesus didn’t initiate or participate in that, it just happened because of his power. 5:21-34
Peter is one of only three apostles who watches as Jesus goes into a room where a little girl is lying dead. Jesus kicks out all the people who don’t believe, and then we’re told, He took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him and when in where they child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”) Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). Mark 5:37-42
Peter saw Jesus raise a child from the dead. I imagine that would change one’s perspective on what is possible.
Matthew’s Gospel account contains perhaps the best-known story about Peter:
Jesus has sent the apostles ahead of him on a boat so that he can have some time alone to pray. The boat was against the wind, and so being tossed around quite a bit by the waves.
During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said. “why did you doubt?”
When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret…People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the ege of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed. Matthew 14:22-31, 34-36.
And not long after this, Peter was the first to confess to Jesus, “You are the Christ.” Mark 8:27
Matthew then tells us that Jesus replied,
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah…And I tell you that your are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:16-19
And if all of this wasn’t enough, Peter was then one of the “core three” apostles who witnessed Jesus transfigured on top of a mountain, and then conduct a conversation with Moses and Elijah, after which God himself enveloped them all in a bright cloud and said about Jesus, “This is my son, whom I love; Listen to him!” Mark 9:2-7
Soon thereafter, Peter had an interesting conversation with Jesus, where he pledged his undying devotion. Jesus said, in effect, “Please…you’ll deny me three times before the end of the day…” And that’s exactly what happened. – Mark 14:29-30
This was an important moment, for us to note: it shows that Jesus knew Peter –what he was capable of AND how he would fail – better than Peter knew himself. Peter’s limitations did not limit God’s plan for his life.
Shortly after this, Jesus was crucified.
Let’s Pause and think about that for a moment. Imagine the scene:
All these people had put their hope in him, believing he was the Messiah. They’d changed their lives, given up old things to follow him, seen miracle after miracle (and a lot of fighting and persecution, too). Now, it seems like it may all have been for nothing. Everyone who knew and loved him is sort of milling around, numb and unsure what to do. At a very real level, they’re struggling just to figure out, “what do I do now?”
Mark 16 tells us about what happened on the third day. We’re told first that three women went to Jesus’ grave to care for his body, but his body was not there. After that, things got interesting:
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.
Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.
Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.
He said to them: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people and they will get well.”
After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. Mark 16:9-20
Jesus told the apostles to stick around until they received the Holy Spirit.
We’re told about this in the book of Acts: how this galvanizes Peter, turns him into a brilliant orator, and how after that he walked in the authority he received. For example:
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer- at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Acts 3:1-8
The Apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared to join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Never the less, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed. Acts 5:12-16
Quite a story, right? A regular fisherman, transformed into someone who carries the healing power of Jesus, even in his SHADOW.
What I love about Peter’s journey is that it shows us his learning process: he tried these things because:
- He saw Jesus pray for people and see them healed; and
- He heard Jesus tell him he could do this (and other things, like walk on water) too; and
- He was brave (or uninhibited) enough to try.
He saw, he heard, he did.
And as anyone who has ever inadvertently taught a small child an inappropriate gesture or a swear word, you can attest that this is exactly how we learn new things!
This is why we looked at Peter’s life today. So we can see this passing down – we see Jesus with him, and then we see him walking this out.
Now I DO believe in praying for peace, especially those who are sick. We need God’s miraculous peace, too. And there are times when the healing we pray for does not come right away, or we don’t see it. We don’t know the whole story.
But we’re invited, called, to offer what we have, as Peter and John did that day. And what we have is a relationship with Jesus, that bridges the gap between us and God, and makes impossible things possible.
This is the “good news” people talk about when it comes to Christ – that even if you think, as I did, “But I already know God” there is MORE to know, and a deeper relationship available, with all sorts of gifts and fruit and miracles and surprises. Today, we’ll ask God for a piece of that MORE.