Sunday, November 3, 2019


During the past few weeks at the Log Church of Wisconsin, we have been speaking of some of the healings that Jesus accomplished for people. We have read how, usually with only a word or a touch of his hand, the person was brought back to health. We learned how thousands of people would come to Jesus bringing the sick and the lame and the infirm, and Jesus “healed them all.”

It sounds so easy, doesn’t it?

The simplicity and straightforwardness in healings extended also to the apostles of the early church.

James writes, “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 restore the one who is sick. The Lord will raise him up” (James 5:14-15). 

It sounds so straightforward. It seems like everyone who sought healing from Jesus and even from the apostles was healed.

But despite what some “healer/evangelist” may tell you in these days, it does not happen like that today. As a practical matter, we know that receiving healing from God is not so uncomplicated today as it was in the first century.

Why not? 

What Has Changed?
As you read the history of the Bible, one of the things that becomes evident is that God does not work in the same manner all throughout time. There are certain aspects about each age that are unique to the generations of that particular era.

The frequency of miracles is among those things. The healings and the miracles that took place with Jesus and with the Apostles had a specific purpose that was applicable for those years and which today does not usually exist. This purpose for the healings was largely accomplished with that first generations of believers. Once completed, healings done for this particular reason are usually not necessary today.

This is the principle reason why we do not see miraculous healings taking place today with the same apparent simplicity and frequency. There was a special need for healings and other works of wonder in those days which in these days does not exist.

I will get to that purpose in a moment, but first I would like to speak of the nature of healings in our present day, and of our own prayers for healings. 

Compassion as a Motivation for Prayer
When we pray for healings today, we usually have a single goal in mind—we are seeking the healing itself. We pray for someone with cancer because we want that person to get better. Our prayers are motivated principally by compassion. This is good and right. Compassion is an excellent motivation for prayer.

Jesus was also motivated by compassion. We read of it time and time again: 

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness. When He saw the crowds, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35-36 BSB) 

When Jesus stepped ashore and saw a large crowd (the 5000), He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things. By now the hour was already late.
So the disciples came to Jesus and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is already late. Dismiss the crowd so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But Jesus told them, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:34-36 BSB) 

Jesus stopped and called them (two blind men). “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked.
“Lord,” they answered, “let our eyes be opened.”
Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes, and at once they received their sight and followed Him. (Matthew 20:32-34 BSB) 

Paul even calls God, “The Father of Compassion.” 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (1 Corinthians 1:3-4 BSB) 

Feeling compassion for someone is a God-given sentiment. It is always an excellent motivation for our actions, and especially for our prayers for the healing of others. Jesus had compassion for the state of others, as did the Apostles. 

An Additional Motivation for Healing in the First Century
But God had an additional reason as well for the healings that occurred in the first century. This is the purpose that usually no longer applies today. This can be seen especially in the Apostle John’s concluding statement concerning the miracles that Jesus accomplished while on earth.

John says, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31 BSB).

Notice that John refers to the miracles of Jesus as “signs,” and that these signs had a specific purpose. That purpose was so that the people of the time could see that there was a basis to believe that this man Jesus, the one who walked among them, who fed them and who healed them, was the long promised Messiah of the prophecies spoken of by men and women of God throughout the ages.

For instance the prophet Isaiah writes concerning the Messiah: 

Say to those with anxious heart, “take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but He will save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy.(Isaiah 35:4-6 NAS) 

The prophecies are numerous, and if the people of that day cared to look, they could have seen that these prophecies were being fulfilled right before their eyes through the person of Jesus. But it was difficult for many to accept. The message of Jesus was revolutionary in those days. It was a message of grace instead of law. It was a message of faith instead of works. It was a message of eternal life.

“God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him will never perish, but have everlasting life.”

As common as it is for us to hear these words today, they were world-shattering to the people of the days of Jesus and the early church. Words like these needed to be backed-up with evidence that they were true. They needed authentication. They needed “signs.”

Jesus told some unbelieving Jews of his day, “If I am not doing the works of My Father, then do not believe Me. But if I am doing them, even though you do not believe Me, believe the works themselves, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I am in the Father” (John 10:37-38 BSB).

The works of Jesus were to be “signs” of his authenticity. John said that he wrote about these signs so that his readers could believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. They were given as evidence that what Jesus said, and who he was claiming to be, were reliable. 

Signs Continued in the Early Church
Many of these same signs extended also to the early church after Jesus ascended into heaven. These gifts were given to the church as a confirmation that Jesus had commissioned and ordained the church to continue his message. By demonstrating these signs in the early church, the world was to see that the words of Jesus were not to stop after his departure and after the death of the earliest disciples.

 Soon before his parting, Jesus said, “These signs will accompany those who have believed in My name. They will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18 NAS).

Because of these words of Jesus, there are some churches that teach that these things are still an indication of who is and who is not a believer. But people who teach this are missing the true purpose of these signs. They were not intended to be a “proof” that the person who picks up a snake is a believer, and the one who does not, isn’t. 

Motivation of the Signs in the Church
Rather, these signs were given especially to the first generation of believers as indicators that the works and message that Jesus brought to earth were then passed on to the Apostles and to the churches. With the departure of Jesus, although Jesus was no longer physically with the people, his work continued on through his church.

Many of the ways that the signs were fulfilled in the early church have been recorded for us in the book of The Acts of the Apostles. There is even a specific example of picking up a serpent by the Apostle Paul. It is one of the stories told to us in the book of Acts.

Paul was among the passengers of a ship that was shipwrecked on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean, a place where the news of Jesus had not yet reached. The islanders received the shipwrecked sailors and passengers all on shore and made a fire on the beach so that they could dry off and warm themselves.

While everyone was drying themselves, Paul thought that he would help out a bit. He gathered a bundle of sticks to lay on the fire. As he was about to put them into the blaze, a viper that had been in the bundle came out and fastened itself to Paul’s hand.

When the island people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “Surely this man is a murderer. Although he was saved from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.”

The islanders had not heard about the message of Jesus and did not worship God, but they did have their own standard of beliefs. They thought that although Paul had been saved from the sea, he must have done some great wrong, even being a murderer. Thus, they believed that “Justice,” as they referred to their own beliefs, would still make him pay for his wrongdoing.

But Paul shook the viper off into the fire and sat down to continue to warm himself. He suffered no ill effects at all from the bite of the viper. The islanders, after waiting a long time and expecting Paul to swell up or suddenly drop dead, then changed their minds about Paul and decided that instead of being a murderer, was some sort of “god.” (from Acts 28:3-6)
 Knowing the Voice of God
All of the miracles of the New Testament were in one way or another intended to be “signs” of the authenticity of the message of Jesus Christ. Once that purpose was initially fulfilled, works of wonder for the purpose of the affirmation of the church were no longer necessary. It was then established that the ministry of Jesus was being carried out by his church.

The question of the reality of the words and works of Jesus having become settled, we are now called to accept the teaching of Jesus not only because we see marvelous things, but especially because of his testimony that was handed down to us first through the Apostles, and then through the church.

We are to walk by faith, not be sight. If our basis for believing in Jesus is based only upon what benefit we can derive from it today, it is a selfish  and shallow basis indeed. And self-centeredness is the exact opposite of the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

In the end, beliefs based only upon what benefits one today are not beliefs that will encourage a life of faith. In contrast to those unbelieving Jews, whom Jesus said were to accept him because of his works, we are to accept him purely because he is God and because he loves us. He wants us to grow in our faith. It is our faith that will enable us to hear his voice, not his works.

He told those same Jews: 

Because you are not My sheep, you refuse to believe. My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them out of My hand. My Father who has given them to Me is greater than all. No one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:26-30 BSB) 

We Walk by Faith
It is for all of these reasons that being healed by miraculous means is not as straightforward as it was in the first century. In this present age, we are called to follow Jesus not based upon miracles that we see, but we are called to walk by faith.

Needing constant “proofs” is not conducive to our faith. Indeed, even the Apostles were trying to teach this to the churches, especially toward the end of their ministries.

Paul told the Corinthians, 

We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that is far beyond comparison. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal… For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 5:7 BSB) 

Present Day Miracles
But all of this does not mean that the miraculous for the sake of a confirmation of the message of the Gospel has completely ceased. In some remote areas of our world, where the message of Jesus was first being taught, missionaries have brought stories of miracles that seem unbelievable. Once these miracles occurred, so they say, the people began to believe in the need for salvation in the name of Jesus. The miracles were “signs” to confirm the message of the gospel.

I will also say however, that some people throw around the definition of “miracle” quite loosely. For some, any occurrence that seems highly unlikely is a “miracle of God.” I will agree that God often acts with grace and goodwill toward his workers, but I myself place a slightly higher definition to the word. A miracle is more than what others may call “a fortunate turnabout,” or even “a stroke of good luck.” When people call finding a lost ring a “miracle,” it cheapens the word.

To qualify as a miracle, it must be something that defies any rational explanation. It is something that supersedes the natural order of things.

But I will not deny that God sometimes does something miraculous in order to confirm his word in some way. He has done it in my own life, and it has determined paths for me that I otherwise would not have chosen. I share a recent one below: 

A Personal Experience
After serving overseas for many years, my wife Vivian and I were glad to come to the time in our careers when we could lay that task down, and once again move home to our little farm in Wisconsin. It is not that we did not enjoy our years overseas. It was a very personally fulfilling time. We grew to have many friends who live in several places in the world, and our time overseas included many extraordinarily interesting experiences.

But despite how we ourselves had benefited in our lives, we had not done this work for any sense of personal fulfillment or gain. We did it in obedience to what God had given us to do. This was the greatest of rewards for us.

Nevertheless, after being called to several tasks in different countries, I had grown weary. I was ready to return home to our peaceful little farm. The sign that I placed next to our driveway when we came home stresses the words for which I was seeking, “Peace and Rest.”

It says, “May the Peace of God Rest upon all who enter here.”

But despite my personal aspirations, God brought something into my life that instead brought to me an inner turbulence—a calling to a new work. It took away my ideas of quiet mornings and peaceful afternoons.

He began to put within me a calling to become involved with a church and orphanage in Kenya with whom I had become acquainted. It is a long story of how this all came about, but it was a calling I did not want to hear. I fought against it. I gave every excuse that I could think of.

“I did my bit overseas.”
“I’m too old.”
“I have never worked in Africa.”
“I am serving here at home.”

The list continued. I actually had quite an impressive catalogue of reasons why I could not do this. But none of them gave me peace. I could not rest in any of them.

Then the Lord gave me a spot of cancer on the skin of my left forearm. It began small, of course, but in two or three weeks it had grown to an ugly swollen spot about three inches across. It actually made sense to me that I should develop a cancer on that arm, since that is the arm that I had sticking out of my car window as I drove many thousands of miles in the tropical sun in my previous ministries.

The doctor made an appointment for me to visit a dermatologist, but the earliest that they could see me would be in two or three months. At the time, the swelling was progressing so rapidly that I was concerned that in two months, it would be all over my forearm.

I felt an overwhelming need for prayer. Seldom before had I felt this need so strongly. But my sense of urgency was also in a different manner this time. This was not a need that I wanted to share with everyone and post on social media. It was as if God had appointed a particular group of people who were to pray for this.

“Ask the church in Kenya to pray,” the Lord seemed to be saying to me. 

It all happened like this: On Saturday, I sent a text message to my pastor friend in Kenya. I got right to the point:

“I have a cancer on my arm,” I wrote to him. “Would you ask the church to pray for it?”

The following day, Sunday, the church in Kenya prayed for me during their worship service.

On the next day Monday, the blotch on my arm was not gone, but it had a noticeable change in appearance. It looked to me to be shriveling instead of growing.

On Tuesday, one would barely notice that there was anything at all on my arm. Only if someone knew of the previous mark and was looking for it, would he or she notice.

On Wednesday, it was completely normal in appearance. 

For a few days following that, I saved the appointment at the doctor that was to take place in a couple of months. I did not cancel it. My thought was that I should still go and have my arm looked at – “just to be sure.”

But one morning I awoke with a new sense of direction. I told Vivian, “I have to go to Kenya. I cannot continue my life and pretend that God is not directing me to do this.”

I had had enough of trying to give excuses to God. I could not deny this calling in my life. I canceled my doctor appointment.

“What would she say to me?” I said to Vivian about the doctor. “She would only say to me, ‘You have nothing on your arm. Go home and stop wasting my time.’”

So I canceled the appointment. I used the money I would have spent getting medical treatment to buy a plane ticket to Kenya, and probably saved money in the process.

There is more to the story—much more. But that is enough for what I want to say next.

For me personally, this healing was miraculous in nature. It should not have happened as it did. But it was more than simply a healing from a disease, it was also a confirmation to me of the word of God.

I hesitate to refer to it as a “sign” in the same sense that it is used in the New Testament, but in several ways, the miracle that occurred in my life served the same purpose as those signs. It was God confirming his word to me: I was to become involved with the church and orphanage in Kenya.

And that is also why, no matter how discouraging the work there sometimes becomes, and no matter what disparaging words I hear from some people about what I am doing, I cannot abandon this calling—not until God tells me that I am done. 

Also, in addition to all of what I have said, it is why I say that God still may do a miracle for the sake of a sign. It is important that we do not go to the extreme and look at everything as if it must be a sign from God, but it is important to listen to the Lord. If you are listening, he will tell you.

The Lord will give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, but your Teacher will no longer hide Himself—with your own eyes you will see Him.

And whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you: “This is the way. Walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:20-21 BSB). 

If we walk with God, he will give us signs along the way to direct us to the right path.

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