O You Of Little Faith
Feature Article by Jack Kelley
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” 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. (Mark 6:1-6)
Of all the miraculous works of God, it seems like healing is the most impressive to us. We pray for a favorable outcome to some crisis real or imagined, and when we get it we think it might have been just a coincidence. The weather changes for the better before an important event, money arrives in the mail just in time, an adversary is suddenly accommodating, a parking place opens up where there was none, someone else is heavily favored for the promotion but it goes to us. All these leave room for “good fortune” or personal credit. But when a sick person is suddenly well, it could only be God.
Perhaps it’s because in many (dare I say most?) parts of the Church supernatural healings are so rare. Most of what we know about them is polluted by the quacks on cable TV to the point where many people dismiss the idea out of hand. On the rare occasion when we become convinced of a legitimate healing we stand in awe of the faith it must have required.
It Wasn’t Always That Way
Back in the Lord’s day people were apparently used to that sort of thing. What got their attention was when the blind were given sight, twisted crippled limbs were made straight and fully functional, or the dead were raised to life. The Mark 6 passage above is a case in point. Because the people of the Lord’s home town had known Him from childhood, their faith in His supernatural power was weak, so weak in fact that “all” He could do was heal a few sick people. No “real” miracles for the people of Nazareth!
All through His ministry, wherever He went people without number were healed. They followed Him on foot for days, sometimes winding up 50-60 miles from home without food or shelter. On two occasions that we know of He fed them Himself because there wasn’t anything for them to eat. Another miracle! When people heard He was coming to their town they brought their sick into the square where they waited, expecting to be healed. When He sent the disciples out the same things happened through them. By the thousands people were healed. They believed it, they expected it, they experienced it. Supernatural healing was such an everyday experience that when He couldn’t do it, their lack of faith amazed Him. Look at these examples.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. (Matt. 4:23-25)
When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed. (Matt. 13:34-36)
And it wasn’t just Jesus. He gave this healing power to His disciples, too, to show us that He could work these miracles through men of faith.
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mark 6:6-7, 12-13)
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 5:15-16)
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. (Acts 19:11-12)
Things sure are different today. Now when our prayers aren’t answered, we either make excuses for God (it wasn’t His will or it wasn’t His timing) or we blame Him (He doesn’t heal people any more). Why don’t we ever place the responsibility with us? Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever and yet our experiences are different from those of the first believers. If He’s the same then we, the believers, must be different.
No where in the Gospels, when asked to heal someone, did Jesus say, “It’s not God’s timing.” The one time a man asked him if He was willing, Jesus replied, “I am willing.” (Matt. 8:2-3) The one time a man asked If He was able, Jesus replied, “If you believe, I am able.” (Mark 9:23) The one time a man’s friends tried to convince him it was too late, because his daughter had died, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, just believe and she will be healed.” (Luke 8:50).
In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. (Acts 14:8-10)
And as for the opinion that healing (and other Spiritual Gifts) were only for the 1st Century Church to help stimulate membership, there isn’t a single verse in the New Testament to support such a claim. The fact that there are documented cases of supernatural healing today puts that argument to naught.
I’ve told the story before about a woman with epilepsy who came to our church one Sunday morning. In the middle of the message she keeled over with a seizure right in front of everyone. I called some people up to help me pray over her and she was healed then and there. After her doctor confirmed it she threw away her medicine and has never had another seizure. Afterwards she told me she had seen everything in a dream before it happened and although she hadn’t attended our church before, she believed that if she came she would he healed. She had the faith to walk into that strange congregation knowing that she might make a complete fool of herself, but believing that God would heal her. He did. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:34)
When you net out the duplicate accounts, some variation of that phrase appears seven times in the Gospels. Seven times, He credited the person’s faith for their healing. Seven is the number of divine completion. He knows that His power to heal is constant. The variable is our faith. This has led me to conclude that a miraculous event is simply the intersection of God’s constant power with the faith of a believer.
Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17) Life was so much more tenuous in Biblical times than in ours that we can’t begin to imagine the difference. Nor can we understand how much closer to God they were. Their faith was real, the most critical component of their life. Those who could, read the Bible. Those who couldn’t, listened to those who could. Their lives centered around the study of His word. There wasn’t any entertainment industry so they told the stories of Biblical heroes to their children. They discussed theology with each other. Every male from the age of 12 knew the Torah by heart. All this was done in obedience to God’s word.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deut. 6:4-9)
There were no drug companies and no hospitals. Their doctors were the priests. God promised them that if they obeyed His commandments He would see to it that they wouldn’t get the diseases of the Egyptians. (Exodus 15:26) God was their healer, and when they were obedient, they enjoyed healthy secure lives equal to or longer than ours, and every bit as satisfying. It was preventive medicine in its purest form.
All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God:
You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock-the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven. The LORD will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The LORD your God will bless you in the land he is giving you. (Deut. 28:2-8)
A Tale Of Two Stories
The story of the Old Testament is one of obedience. In fact you can summarize the entire Old Testament in one question from God. “Israel, are you going to obey me or not?” By obeying His commandments they lived worry free lives, ate healthy food, lived long and prosperous lives. When they got off the track, their lives fell apart. Time after time they repeated the cycle of obedience and blessing followed by disobedience and cursing. And then, to their great shame, their final answer to God was, “No.”
Some Christians, having studied the history of Israel, try to recreate their society of blessing by obeying the commandments. They don’t understand that the story of the New Testament is one of faith. It can be summarized by a single question too, but now God is asking us, “Church, are you going to believe me or not?
Last time, I spoke of the Lord’s promise to meet all of our needs if we’ll just seek His Kingdom and His righteousness. These are both imputed to us by faith. We’re not to worry about our lives here because the Lord has sworn to provide for us. Our job is to trust Him. Even in times of trial we’re to walk by faith, not by sight. Paul admonished us not to focus on the things that can be seen because they’re temporary. We’re to fix our eyes on the things that can’t be seen because they’re eternal. (2 Cor. 4:18) God will take care of the rest. Here are some examples.
Are you feeling down trodden or discouraged? Overcome by the worries of life?
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7, 19) Rejoice in faith.
Do you carry a burden of guilt because of your sins?
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) Confess in faith.
Do you have money problems?
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38) Give in faith.
Or health problems?
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. 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. (James 5:14-16) Pray in faith.
For the most part we ignore these admonitions. As a result we live lives filled with stress and worry because we spend more than we earn. Our food and drink poison us so we pay outrageous health care costs. Our medical profession practices corrective medicine because doctors only prosper when their patients are sick. Our hospitals are a leading cause of death, second only to the heart problems caused by our lifestyle and diet. Most of us are only 2 major illnesses away from financial ruin, and after untold trillions of dollars spent on research and 3000 years of experimentation, our lives are neither longer nor more satisfying than the Jews of David and Solomon’s day.
Israel was required to obey God’s commandments to enjoy health and prosperity. The Church is called to believe His promises. At this point in time it looks like we’re not doing any better at our job than they did at theirs. Unless we correct that there’s no way we can prepare for the days ahead. As the apostles said to the Lord, our prayer should also be, “Increase our faith!” Selah.