Posts tagged ‘Healing’

Cleansing and Telling

Credit: Christ Healing the Leper (1534) / Wikimedia

As Matthew 8 opens, a leper comes to Jesus, desperate for healing from his chronic, and ultimately terminal, ailment:

When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed Him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before Jesus and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

Jesus’ words to this man upon his healing are puzzling: “See to it that you don’t tell anyone” (Matthew 8:4). What? Why? The story opens with “large crowds” (Matthew 8:1) following Jesus. It’s not as if this healing was done in secret, so it’s not as if this man could have kept this healing a secret. Why would this leper not tell anyone about a healing that everyone had just seen?

The key comes not in who Jesus tells this man not to tell, but in who Jesus tells this man to tell: “Go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them” (Matthew 8:4). The priests were the ones responsible, according to Leviticus 14, for ceremonially cleansing someone who had been cured of a skin disease. The process involved an examination, the sprinkling of blood, a guilt offering, and a sin offering. Jesus instructs the leper to go to the priest and go through the rigmarole of the cleansing ritual, but not so that he may be cleansed. For he already has been. Jesus has already ordered the leper’s skin to “be clean” (Matthew 8:3)! Instead, the leper is to do this “as a testimony to them” (Matthew 8:4) – a testimony that the One who can fully cleanse the unclean has come. Sadly, we know that the priests – along with many other Jewish religious leaders – did not receive this man’s testimony, but instead were offended by Jesus and “plotted how they might kill Jesus” (Matthew 12:14).

Who Jesus tells this leper to tell and not tell can be instructive for us, for we can all be tempted to talk about our faith in Jesus only with the crowds – with people who are predisposed to be impressed with our message. But sometimes, Jesus invites us instead to turn our attention to the skeptical and even the hostile and share our faith with them “as a testimony to them” (Matthew 8:4). This is difficult and frightening. But it is also very needed. For even the skeptical and hostile need cleansing – cleansing from guilt, shame, and sin. Who is Jesus inviting you to share your faith with today? You can’t coerce someone else’s faith. But you can share your own.

Remember, Jesus did not just come for the people who were friendly to Him. He came for everyone – even His enemies. May we share the message of that One with everyone.

July 18, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

“Very Good”

Credit: Frank Cone / Pexels.com

Creation was never intended to be what it has become. Wars. Disease. Hunger. Refugees. This world has come a long way from what God called “very good” when He first made it (Genesis 1:31).

When Jesus arrived, part of His mission was to restore what God had made “very good” to its intended and original state. This is why Jesus preached peace, healed disease, fed the hungry, and gave a place in His kingdom to the displaced of the world.

The German theologian Jürgen Moltmann captures this mission in Jesus’ ministry well when he writes:

When Jesus expels demons and heals the sick, He is driving out of creation the powers of destruction, and is healing and restoring created beings who are hurt and sick. The lordship of God, to which the healings witness, restores creation to health. Jesus’ healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only truly “natural” thing in a world that is unnatural, demonized, and wounded.

What Jesus does, Moltmann argues, is the work of recreation in a world where the destructive and demonic powers of de-creation are hard at work.

This begs a question: where has your life been de-created? Are you struggling with a sin? Is your body ravaged by illness? Are you mired in depression and despondency? Are you somehow unable to provide for yourself or your family adequately?

At moments like these, we often pray for miracles – acts of power that are supernaturally wrought by God Himself. But perhaps we also ought to pray for Genesis 1:31 to come to pass in our life. Perhaps we should pray that the most natural thing fathomable would come to pass in our lives – that we, and the world around us, would be restored to its God-ordained and God-intended created state – that of “very good.”

March 28, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Keeping Perspective in COVID-19 Times

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Credit: cottonbroPexels

At Concordia in San Antonio where I serve as one of the pastors, we are sending out a weekly “check-in.” People can voluntarily “check-in” with us by answering a few questions about how they’re doing during this pandemic. For a lot of people, just knowing that someone cares and is concerned about them is enough to give them a little boost in their spirits.

This past week, I had an old friend, who is also a pastor, call and check-in with me just to see how I was doing. We caught up on a whole host of ministry triumphs and challenges and talked about how we are navigating a situation the likes of which neither one of us has ever seen. They don’t offer a class on “pandemic response” in seminary. Or, if they did, I missed it.

To keep my spirits up during this time, I have had to fight to keep my perspective. These words from the apostle Paul have become words I’ve turned to again and again when I’ve felt like my spirits were sinking and my perspective was darkening:

We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

There is so much perspective packed into these few verses.

Many of us feel like “we are wasting away.” Whether we have contracted COVID-19, or are just struggling to keep ourselves in shape when gyms are closed, junk food is plentiful, and the sofa is inviting, a lot of our bodies are taking a hit. But even apart from a pandemic, our bodies would waste away anyway. Every body eventually breaks down and falls prey to the wages of sin, which are death. And yet, Paul says, we can be “renewed day by day.” God – one day at a time – can meet us in His Word and refresh us by His Spirit. Our bodily wasting away does not need to result in a deeper spiritual decay.

Paul continues by comparing “our light and momentary troubles” with “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” This little word “far,” in Greek, is a three-word-phrase: hyperbolen eis hyperbolen. We get our word “hyperbole” from this word, which refers to something that is over-the-top. The glory that awaits us in eternity, Paul says, will be over-the-top and so over-the-top that we will look back and scoff at the troubles we are now facing. God’s glory will one day wipe away this pandemic’s gory sicknesses and deaths.

Because we long for this glory, Paul concludes, we should “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,” because “what is unseen is eternal.” In other words, instead of fretting over this day’s news, we are to be people who look forward to the day when all things will be made new in Christ Jesus. What we are seeing now is temporary. What remains unseen – but what will one day be seen when Christ reveals it to us – is eternal.

I wish I was better at keeping Paul’s perspective. I, just like anyone else, can get caught up in “our light and momentary troubles.” But when I’m tempted to fall prey to pity, these words call me back. These words give me hope. And because of hope:

We do not lose heart.

April 27, 2020 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Coronavirus Comfort

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Credit: Pixabay

It’s been another tough week in our nation. I keep wondering where the peak of the coronavirus’s spread is on the one hand and where the bottom of our economy is on the other. The number of people becoming infected is increasing – exponentially. And the economy is collapsing. Goldman Sachs is forecasting a 24% decline in our GDP in the second quarter while J.P. Morgan predicts a more “modest” decline of 14%. Families are trying to stay healthy by sheltering-in-place while businesses are trying to figure out how to stay afloat. And no one seems to know quite how or when all this will end.

At times like these, the words of Martin Luther’s famed hymn seem especially poignant:

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.

This moment in our history is certainly filled with “mortal ills.” And yet, God is stronger than any illness. God is bigger than our own mortality.

This is why Luther concludes his hymn:

Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Even if coronavirus can quarantine a society, it cannot quell God’s presence. And even if coronavirus kills a body, it cannot conquer God’s kingdom. His kingdom is forever. Coronavirus is not.

Let’s try to remember that during these long days.

March 23, 2020 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Reflections on London

Lodnon

As I finish my preparations for worship at Concordia tomorrow, I do so knowing that people across the world are hurting tonight as terrorists have launched an attack yet again, this time in London.

As I’ve been reflecting on another tragic night, I cannot help but hold out hope.  Here’s why.  Terrorists strike.  They quickly detonate a bomb, or mow down people using a car.  Terrorists strike.  Our God, however, does something more.  He abides.  He abides with us to comfort us in our distress.  He abides with us to dry our eyes when they are filled with tears.  He abides with us to give us strength when we are weak.  Terrorists strike.  Our God abides.

And abiding is better.

Abiding is better because it outlasts a strike.    Abiding is better because long after terrorists disappear into the shadows to plan their next sinister attack, our God remains by the sides of those who have lost loved ones.  Abiding is better because long after the police clear, loved ones are laid to rest, and today’s tragic story gets coopted by the next big tragic story, our God will not forget the events of this night.

One of my favorite hymns is “Abide with Me.”  Two of its verses are especially poignant to me tonight.  The first of these verses is for those who are mourning losses in these attacks.  The hymn reminds us of how Christ’s abiding presence can comfort us in our loss:

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings;
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings;
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea;
Come, Friend of sinners, and abide with me!

In a world of terror, we do not need Christ to be our terrible Judge.  Instead, we need Him to be our gentle Healer.  May Christ begin the healing process in all those who are grieving.

The second of the verses reminds us of the hope that we have for the lost:

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness:
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still if Thou abide with me.

Terrorists struck tonight.  And with them, death struck.  But when Christ abides with us, we triumph.

Terrorism doesn’t stand a chance.

Praying for London.

June 3, 2017 at 10:35 pm Leave a comment

The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

Jean Duplessis-Bertaux, Depiction of the storming of the Tuileries Palace during the French Revolution

Jean Duplessis-Bertaux | Depiction of the storming of the Tuileries Palace during the French Revolution

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”[1]

So begins Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Though the story is set during the French Revolution, its opening line strikes a universal tone. Life comes mixed with good and bad, wisdom and foolishness, faith and doubt, light and darkness, hope and despair. This is true even of Jesus’ life. For example, in Mark 7, Jesus heals a blind man:

Some people brought to [Jesus] a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Him to place His hand on the man. After He took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears. Then He spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. (Mark 7:32-35)

On its surface, this story looks like one that should be marked only by joy. After all, a blind and mute man gets healed! But right before Jesus heals this man, He looks up to heaven and lets out “a deep sigh” (Mark 7:34). The Greek word for this sigh is stenazo, which denotes a groan of sorrow (e.g., Romans 8:23).  Why would Jesus groan in sorrow right as He is getting ready to do something as joyful as a healing?

Like Charles Dickens, Jesus knows that even when it’s the best of times, it’s also the worst of times. He knows that even as He is getting ready to do something great, evil is not far off. Indeed, Jesus knows that He will soon face the horror of the cross. And so He lets out a groan.

The Old Testament prophets spoke of a Messiah who would come and do many miraculous things, including that of making the deaf hear and the mute speak:

Your God will come, He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution He will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:4-6)

Notice even in this prophecy that the best of times and worst of times are comingled. On the one hand, the Messiah will open the eyes of the blind and unstop the ears of the deaf. This is good. On the other hand, the Messiah will come with “vengeance” and “divine retribution.” This sounds bad. But it also seems strange. Isaiah says, “With divine retribution [God] will come to save you.”  Just how does God intend to use His retribution for our salvation?  Isn’t His retribution supposed to lead to condemnation?

Timothy Keller notes that, when Jesus came, retribution and salvation were not so much in tension with each other as they were complimentary to each other, for Jesus “didn’t come to bring divine retribution; He came to bear it.”[2] On the cross, Jesus took the retribution our sins deserve so we could receive the salvation we could never earn. This is how divine retribution can lead to our salvation.

In A Tale of Two Cities, a kind of dualism runs through its opening salvo. There is good and bad, hopefulness and despair, and the reader does not know which one will ultimately prevail – or if either will prevail. In the case of Christ, though good and bad, hopefulness and despair are real and are in tension with each other, there is no doubt which will finally carry the day. Jesus may have groaned. But He still healed. And Jesus may bear divine retribution on a bloodied cross, but He still brings salvation out of an empty tomb. In Christ, the tension of Dickens is resolved. And that’s why we can have hope.

______________________________

[1] Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1999), 1.

[2] Timothy Keller, King’s Cross (New York: Dutton, 2011), 94

October 26, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – In Sickness And In Health

Death is inescapable.  It doesn’t matter how rich or how poor, how healthy or how sick, how old or how young a person is.  Eventually and inevitably, death comes for each one of us.  After Steve Jobs passed away, many bloggers and journalists spoke of how Jobs sought to receive “the best care money could buy.”  And indeed, he did receive terrific care from world-renowned doctors.  But although they may have been able to prolong his life, they were not able to save it.  He passed away last year.  Death came for Steve Jobs.  Shortly after the world-renowned and lovably cantankerous atheist apologist Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed with cancer, he described his ailment in his characteristically colorful tone: “Against me is the blind, emotionless alien, cheered on by some who have long wished me ill. But on the side of my continued life is a group of brilliant and selfless physicians plus an astonishing number of prayer groups.”[1]

Like Steve Jobs, Christopher Hitchens turned to the most “brilliant and selfless physicians” money could buy, and though they may have been able to prolong his life, they were not able to save it.  He passed away last year.  Death came for Christopher Hitchens.

Death is inescapable.  And yet, I find it interesting that, particularly in the case of Christopher Hitchens, it wasn’t just medical professionals who were working to prolong his life, it was Christians who were praying to redeem his life.

In worship and ABC this past weekend, we looked at the story of a demon-possessed boy in Mark 9.  Initially, the disciples try to heal this boy, but they cannot (cf. Mark 9:17-18).  Jesus, however, is able to drive out the torturing spirit (cf. Mark 9:25-27).  Beleaguered by their embarrassing failure, the disciples ask Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”  Jesus’ answer is clarifying and convicting:  “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mark 9:28-29).  This boy could not be healed by a pill, a surgery, a physician, or an exorcism rite.  Rather, persistent and consistent prayer was the key to this boy’s recovery.

For all of man’s collective medical wisdom, there are still some diseases which can be healed only by prayer.  This is why James asks, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14).  Prayer is more powerful and potent than any human remedy.  For prayer has God’s will and mercy as its answer.

Tragically, even in the face of certain death, Christopher Hitchens wrote, “Please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries.”  Christopher Hitchens’ commitment to his atheism was unflappable.  He refused to believe that his kind of sickness could “come out only by prayer.”  Then again, after asking people not to pray for him, he added this little caveat: “Unless, of course, it makes you feel better.”[2]

Christopher Hitchens never came to understand and see that prayer is not just for the therapy of weak minds, it is for the strengthening of brave souls.  Prayer, perhaps, really could have made him feel better – not only in his cancerous plight, but in his eternity as well.  For not only can God hear our prayers and sometimes grant us a temporal recovery, He will hear our prayers and always grant us a glorious eternity through Christ.  And that is a gift and blessing we dare not miss.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!


[1] Christopher Hitchens, “The Tropic of Cancer,” Vanity Fair (September 2010).

[2] Christopher Hitchens, “Unanswerable Prayers,” Vanity Fair (October 2010)

February 6, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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