Healing and the kingdom
There is healing in the Old Testament (that part of the bible that tells the story of God’s relationship with man up until the time a few hundred years before Jesus Christ), but in the New Testament (that part of the bible that tells the story from Jesus onward) healing occurs much more frequently and is dealt with in a different way.
Another theme runs parallel to the healing one and that one also changes. That is the understanding of kingdom.
In the old story God is identified as the source of healing and wholeness, often called shalom. But sickness was understood as punishment for sin and healing as reward for turning away from sin and repenting. If you disobey you will fall ill, if you repent you will get better.
There was a definite link between the supernatural and the natural.
Exodus 15:26, If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.
At the same time, the understanding of kingdom emerges from the political situation – the enthronement of a king over the nation of Israel. Until the time of Saul they had had no king. From that time onward the awareness of a king and a kingdom began to develop. Because Israel saw itself as a spiritual entity, the people of God, they began to understand kingdom as crossing over from spiritual authority and power to political power too.
There was a definite link between the supernatural and the natural.
The concept of the kingdom as a spiritual entity becomes increasingly influential. The bible begins to show us that the kingdom is the dynamic rule and reign of God. It also begins to show us that an evidence of the kingdom is: healing.
So we begin to understand the kingdom not just as a political entity but also as a spiritual one, as an arena in which God makes his presence felt.
And we begin to see illness not as punishment from God but as evidence of the enemy at work attacking the kingdom of God.
Where God rules we find freedom, wholeness, peace and love. This is how it started out when he made the world and placed man in the garden of Eden, in paradise.
Genesis 1:31, God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Where the enemy has had influence we find punishment, prisons, hurt, hate and violence.
So we seek the return of the full rule and reign of God, his kingdom, now, here on earth. But we also know that we will have to wait for the day his kingdom will be established in complete fullness in a new heaven and a new earth.
Over time Jewish thought, and the way it is explained in the bible, develops to begin seeing things in terms of the presence of the kingdom – not just a repentance, reward dynamic.
Malachi 4:1-3, “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the Lord Almighty.
The thinking has shifted from purely a sin & repentance one to a day-of-the-Lord one, an awareness of the spiritual power of kingdom.
Then Jesus came and we see a different order of activity.
Acts 8:38, How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went round doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
Evidence of the coming close of the rule and reign of God. From observing Jesus then and the power of the Holy Spirit now, we know that the kingdom is here and yet not yet here.
It is a bit like watching snooker in black & white TV in the 60s. We could see some evidence of a game and a competition, we understood a bit about what was going on but it was confusing and incomplete. And then the colours came on and we could see the game in full Technicolor – and snooker made sense at last!
Matthew 8:16, When evening came, many who were demon possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.”
Do you see? It wasn’t a “turn from your sins and I will heal you”, it was a repelling of the presence of the enemy in peoples’ lives because God was on the move.
We, and millions of followers of Jesus since, have witnessed this and been partakers in it. We are in the army of the kingdom.
Hebrews 6:5,…who have shared in the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age.
And the coming age is full of power. The age of which we have seen a glimpse, and which is now and not yet, is described at the end of the bible.
Revelation 21: 3-4, Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
In the interim Jesus has commissioned us to operate under his authority to extend this kingdom. So we do everything we can to bring about the influence, the rule, the reign of God.
Matthew 28: 18-20, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
So he will be with us – his Spirit is here – whilst we go about the business of the kingdom. What does that look like? Saved lives, restored marriages, rescued finances, fulfilled people, feeding the poor and so on.
What it also includes, in some significant measure, is healing. Healing of our whole lives – from demonic power, from death, from sin. The environment needs healing too. But it also means physical and mental healing.
The Hebrew word often used for healing is shalom. The Greek word is similar, sozo, which is also translated salvation. They are big words describing a global sense of the presence of God to bring healing and peace and comfort.
So when we see physical healing what is going on?
Do you remember in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe? They could tell Aslan was on the move because the snow was melting. Everything was coming back to life. So when the ice melted off a snow drop and it lifted up its petals and blossomed, something good was happening to the flower, but it was part of a much bigger phenomenon. Aslan is here, winter is receding, the sun is warming us again.
So when healing takes place someone is getting better from physical or mental illness. In the bigger picture it is the evidence of the power and presence of the king. The influence of the enemy is being rolled back.
God expresses his power in many ways.
Healing works in a wide spectrum of ways:
1. Complete permanent healing will only ever come when we see his return at the end of things, when he creates a new heaven and a new earth. Ironically, until then, we will only ever experience complete healing when we die. Then we will leave our earthly, pained and sinful bodies behind us and receive new bodies which know no pain and which do not lead us into sin.
2. Sometimes today God intervenes miraculously and changes the natural course of events. We always seek this of course and it is wonderful when we see complete healing – if temporary. This is what Jesus most often did.
3. Often today we do see God accelerate a normal healing process or re-direct something that was going the wrong way so that healing occurs.
4. Sometimes, we simply become aware of God working in our lives to deal with the causes of pain rather than the symptoms. If we have sinned in such a way as to damage ourselves then the results may remain but we can experience forgiveness and grace. Often, in these cases, the symptoms abate in due course.
5. No visible healing. Sometimes, he chooses not to intervene and change things in any way that we can see. And in the end, we will all die.
There is also the issue of time and improvement. Imagine a spectrum on a scale of 1 to 10. At 1 you are at death’s door, very ill indeed. At 10 you are perfect health, fighting fit.
Of course, when you die, fall under no 1 on the scale, you are rocketed instantaneously up the scale past 10 into complete wholeness, forever.
John Wimber wrote, whilst being treated for the cancer that would eventually kill him, “Death is the last worst thing that any of us will have to face … it’s also the best thing. Going to heaven is what we signed up for isn’t it?”
However, during our lifetime here on earth I believe that God’s will is always for us to move up the scale not downward. Sometimes he allows illness and of course we do all die eventually, but I think the bible teaches that when he intervenes it is always to move you up the scale not down.
This is most succinctly described in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”
The negative pressure is that of the enemy, the positive pressure is that of God. We know that one day God will win completely and forever. In the meantime we are in a battle and this requires us to pray and to ask God to come and repel the enemy’s attacks.
John Wimber again, “Whilst here our lives are unpredictable, but our eternal destination is absolutely secure.”
When we pray for the sick to be healed we all want an instantaneous, immediate change. A move from 1 on the scale to 10, in one go. Again, sometimes that does happen and we can exclaim with gratitude and joy.
Often healing is the move from 2 or 3 on the scale to 4 or 5. Then a little later, from 4 or 5 to 6 or 7. Hence our habit of praying continually and often for people.
If you are ill, maybe chronically ill, then it is valid and important to ask your housegroup to pray with you often. It does not have to be a dominating part of the housegroup timetable, neither does it have to involve everyone. But, following the leading of the Holy Spirit, bring it before God regularly and often.
When healing takes place it is evidence of the presence of the kingdom of God. As we fight the good fight for the kingdom, one of the things we do is seek healing – physical and mental healing (as well as all sorts of other healing that comes within those Hebrew and Greek words shalom and sozo).
Our part in that is to pray for the sick.
Francis MacNutt a Roman Catholic theologian once wrote, “You are not being proud or making yourself out as someone special if you start to pray for the sick, you are just acting as a normal Christian should.”
We are under an injunction, this is part of the deal we have signed up for. We pray for the sick. There is much else we will do of course but in the Vineyard we will certainly pray for the sick.
We won’t plead with God, we won’t talk about how deserving someone is, we will simply ask him to come in power, to bring his kingdom that we may see his healing here and now.
David Flowers, 18/12/2006