We have all wanted healing, for ourselves, or for someone we love. Reading the stories about Jesus’ healing miracles (and there are 27 of them, told multiple times) makes us think, “I sure wish Jesus would do that today.” Or where was Jesus when any number of the people we loved and lost died?
If Jesus can heal, why doesn’t he heal the person I love more than anyone in the world?
If miracles are real, why did that person get them, but not my spouse or my parent or my child?
If 1. Miracles are real and 2. Healing is a miracle Jesus did and 3. Jesus loves us then where is our miracle? We long for them. We yearn for healing. We go searching for them. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who will take advantage of us when we do.
There are a lots of “Christian” teachings out there that want you to believe that no one needs to be sick if they’ll just believe. The most popular teaching about miracles today is that they’re for sale. That healing can be bought by a certain number of prayers or faithful acts or even by sending in money to a preacher on television. One of the Copeland’s even got a tweet on the front page this week for saying that the flu can’t affect true Christians.
But that’s not the way that miracles work.
That’s not what healing really means.
So before we read any further in Everything Jesus Taught, we need to know how to interpret all the healings that Jesus did, and how to interpret life with all its fragility, today.
In this post, I want to share one important Bible study principal with you. This is the key to understanding the healings in Jesus’ life and teaching.
Here it is.
When you read about a healing, keep reading.
When you read about a healing, keep reading.
What do I mean by that?
Well, do you know how sometimes when reading a difficult book, you come to a sentence that makes all the words around it kind of shimmer and come alive and make sense? So you underline it, and you go back and read what came before it, and it makes more sense now, too?
Well, Jesus’ miracles aren’t like that.
They aren’t the point.
They aren’t the luminous sentence.
In fact, they are the confusing words that need a luminous sentence in order to make sense. That’s why, in the Bible, when you read about a healing, you need to keep reading.
Miraculous healings in the Bible never point to themselves.
They always either point to God, to what God is like, to what God values. Or they accomplish something important for the whole people of God. Sometimes they do all of that at once.
But there is one thing they never do.
They never point to themselves. They never point to how great miracles are. In Christianity, miracles aren’t supposed to point to themselves.
That’s why it’s so imporant that when you read about a healing, you keep reading, and don’t get stuck on one verse.
The verses of the Bible didn’t fall from heaven on little hand crocheted pillows.
They weren’t tweeted from the clouds.
They weren’t even written as verses.
When the Apostle John was writing what we know today as his gospel, he didn’t number his sentences. He didn’t even number his chapters. He just wrote it all down. The verses have only been numbered for around 500 years. And the verse numberings are helpful for sure! Don’t get me wrong.
But each book of the Bible is first and foremost a whole book, or a whole letter. And the way to best understand it is to read the whole thing.
Especially when we read Jesus say to people he healed, “Your faith has made you well” and the first thing we think is “Well what about my loved one who died too young? Her faith was far greater than anything I’ve ever seen.”
When you read verses like that, keep reading.
That’s how we really hear what matters in the Bible. For example, let’s look at one of Jesus’ healings in John 5.
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. John 5: 1-2 NRSV
This pool Beth-zatha was believed to be a magical place. It was a natural pool, and people had a superstitious belief that whoever was first to get in the water after it started bubbling up would be healed.
So that’s where Jesus goes to show who he is through healing.
In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. John 5: 3-5 NRSV
John doesn’t say just how many people are there. He just says that there are many. But he only zeroes in on one of them. A man who had been ill for 38 years.
That’s a long time to be ill. After 38 years, being ill was probably this man’s whole identity.
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” John 5: 6 NRSV
That’s a funny question to ask.
And details like this are a big reason we need to keep reading when we read about healings. Because look at how he answers Jesus.
The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” John 5: 7 NRSV
He doesn’t say “YES! I want to be well! I claim my healing!”
He doesn’t even recognize Jesus.
He answers like someone who has been a patient for far too long. He’s lost himself. And Jesus doesn’t seem bothered by that. He doesn’t tell him that if he just believes, he will receive. He doesn’t try to change the man’s mind about his illness at all. He just heals him.
Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. John 5: 8-9 NRSV
This man didn’t seem to know who Jesus was, let alone put his faith in him.
And Jesus healed him anyway.
He stepped over other people who needed a healing just as much, to heal this one man. There’s a lot to learn about God in this story.
And it’s something we can learn about God without this story too.
We’ve seen God heal one person, but not another.
Fairness is much more important to us than it is to God. And if we stopped reading there, that might be all we learned from this story. But if we keep reading, we’ll see that…
Now that day was a sabbath. John 5: 9 NRSV
And this is a theme of a large percentage of Jesus’ healings when you keep reading past them. Seven of Jesus’ healings were on the Sabbath and were done deliberately to provoke religious people into deeper understanding of what God was really like.
And that is what miracles are for.
They don’t point to themselves. They point to who God really is.
C.S. Lewis describes miracles like this.
Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see. – C. S. Lewis
You see, Jesus’ healings told stories about God all by themselves. And sometimes after them, he would teach even more. And they are always the whole story of what he was up to on Earth in miniature.
Look at how that’s true in John 5. Jesus came to a place of superstition, to a person who no longer knew himself as a man but only by his condition, and by Jesus’ own free grace, he sets him free from his old life AND from the legalism of religion.
That’s a good sermon right there. There’s a good sermon in every story of healing.
And there’s a good sermon in every story of no healing, too. You’ll get it if you keep reading.
Because we’ve all known people who weren’t healed, too.
For those of you who needed a miracle and didn’t get one, I am broken hearted for you. We all are. And so is God.
You’ll see that if you keep reading to the cross.
The central tenet of our faith is the belief that a God who never suffered before, who never needed to suffer, willingly gave up being infinite and became a human being in a world of pain, and died on a cross, and took all of the sin of the world upon himself and suffered the depths of rejection and hell.
It’s not something that translates to words very well, but there it is.
There is no pain, no loss, that God has not known in Christ.
But it doesn’t end there.
Because the same John who wrote the gospel wrote another book of the Bible, in which he recorded his vision of the end of time, and in it, it says that God will make everything right one day.
Not in the sense of heaven as a disembodied “paradise” but a new heaven and a new earth. In Revelation 21, we don’t see people being taken out of this world into heaven, but “rather heaven coming down and cleansing, renewing, and perfecting this material world.”
Tim Keller goes on to describe it like this.
“The Biblical view of things is resurrection— not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater.” (The Reason for God, Chapter 2)
That’s what the tragedies of our lives point to, when you keep reading.
When you keep reading, you’ll also find out that everyone Jesus healed still died.
Even the people he raised from the dead, died again.
So the major part of our life of faith isn’t even about life everlasting, but life here and now. Life is precious, in part because it ends.
This week is Ash Wednesday. And the biggest part of that day are the words, “Know that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Which isn’t meant to bum us out but to lift us up. To help us see that today matters.
Life itself is a miracle. To have ever been alive at all is miraculous. And to add salvation by grace on top of that? Miracles upon miracles.
Kate Bowler is a seminary professor at Duke Divinity School who made her career studying the prosperity gospel, the very people who teach that everyone can have a miracle if they only believe. Which is very ironic, considering the fact that her most recent book is about her struggle with stage 4 cancer. The book is called “Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved.”
She writes this:
The most I can say about why I have cancer, medically speaking, is that bodies are delicate and prone to error. As a Christian, I can say that the Kingdom of God is not yet fully here, and so we get sick and die. And as a scholar, I can say that our society is steeped in a culture of facile reasoning. Exemplified by the story that God is always, for some reason, going around closing doors and opening windows. God is super into that. ( This is actually from her essay in the New York Times)
In those first few days after my diagnosis, when I was in the hospital, when I couldn’t see my son, I couldn’t get out of bed, and I couldn’t say for certain that I would survive the year. But I felt as though I’d uncovered something like a secret about faith. Even in lucid moments, I found my feelings difficult to explain. At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I was not reduced to ashes. I felt like I was floating, floating on all the love and prayers of all those who hummed around me like worker bees, bringing flowers and warm socks and quilts embroidered with words of encouragement. They came in like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus. When they sat beside me, my hand in their hands, my own suffering began to feel like it had revealed to me the suffering of others, a world of those who, like me, are stumbling in the debris of dreams they thought they were entitled to and plans they didn’t realize they had made…that feeling stayed with me for months…I started to panic at the thought of losing it. But when the feelings recede like the tides, they will leave an imprint. I would somehow be marked by the presence of an unbidden God. (Kate Bowler, Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved)
We don’t know why some people live long healthy lives and others die far too young.
We don’t have answers for why some people get the physical healing they ask for, any more than we know why Jesus walked by all the other people at the pool in John 5 to heal one man.
But we do know this. Your story isn’t over yet. You are here, today.
Neither is the story of the ones you have said goodbye to. Anymore than Jesus’ story ended at the tomb on Good Friday.
So keep reading.
About the Author
David Collins is the co-pastor of Maitland Presbyterian Church near Orlando, FL. Find him on Twitter @davidrcollins
More Ways to Keep Reading about Jesus and Healing:
John 5: 1-18
Matthew 8: 1-13, Luke 5: 12-16, Luke 7: 1-10
Matthew 12: 38-40, Luke 11: 29-32
Matthew 16: 1-4, Mark 8: 11-13
Matthew 15: 29-31, Mark 7: 31-37
John 9: 1-12
For each of this week’s readings, ask these questions of the text:
– What does this healing say about God?
– How does the gospel writer interpret the healing in the surrounding verses?
– What does Jesus teach about before or after performing the healing?