The evidence used for Christ or God most often by those who preached in the Bible was not the evidence of a miracle. Jesus used miracles. The early church performed miracles and Moses performed miracles. For most, however, it was the word of God and typically, the prophetic word that provided the evidence. Miracles by Moses, Jesus, & the early church leaders authenticated God’s word through them.
Why is this true?
JESUS SPEAKING TO THE PEOPLE IN HIS HOME TOWN:
“I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” -Luke 4:24-27 [NIV]
First, Jesus was making a larger point to the Jews. He brought this up because in both of these examples from Israel’s history, God withheld blessing from his people and instead gave assistance to non-Jews. This was symbolic of what was happening in Jesus day. The Jews, God’s people, wouldn’t accept Jesus and so while God would bless the non-Jewish world through Christ, the Jews would be left out. In fact, their nation would cease to exist about 35 years after this in 70 AD when the Romans wiped them out.
But there’s another question.
Why is it true that God blessed two people, curing Naaman the Syrian of leprosy and providing food for a non-Jewish widow, while at the same time Jews were dying of leprosy and Jewish widows were starving to death?
Why doesn’t God give a miracle every time? Or more to the point… Why doesn’t THIS appear to be true all the time?
THE BOOK OF JAMES, GIVING VARIOUS INSTRUCTIONS AT THE END
13Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14Is 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. 15And 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. 16Therefore 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 5:13-16 [NIV]
Without looking very deeply, this passage obviously seems to say that if the elders of the church anoint someone with oil and pray for them, they will get well. Period. They will be healed. Yet I know of times when this doesn’t seem to work. Someone prayed for by the elders, even anointed with oil according to the verses above, doesn’t always get better. Or least not for as long as we’d like. Why?
It’s safe to say, and let me choose my words carefully, that miracles on the level performed by Moses, Jesus, and the Apostles are not currently seen in individuals today. Or at least rarely. Although, to be sure, the book of Revelation describes such things happening through people in the very last days. Why the lack of the supernatural right this minute, however?
So that got me to thinking and studying…
Naaman went to the king of Israel because a servant girl of his (who he had captured while raiding Israel) told him of a great prophet who could heal him. Evidently, she liked Naaman as a master and was concerned for him. Naaman went to the king of Israel with a letter from his own king demanding that the king of Israel see to it that Naaman was healed of his leprosy.
Naturally the king of Israel thought they were out of their mind and just trying to pick a fight. It didn’t occur to him evidently, to send Naaman to Elisha the prophet. (The one the girl had spoken of.) Which makes you think perhaps that’s one reason people weren’t healed more often in Israel: They weren’t giving Elisha much consideration while Naaman not only travelled some distance to find Elisha, but had brought with him quite a bit of treasure in order to pay for his services.
Eventually, Naaman found Elisha who told him to go dip seven times in the Jordan and he would be healed. At first Naaman resisted, thinking it foolish, but when he finally agreed and did it, he was healed.
Perhaps more people aren’t healed because they don’t ask. If Naaman hadn’t gone to Israel and asked, he would have died from leprosy. Or they ask, but don’t come. If Naaman had stayed home he obviously wouldn’t have been healed. Or they come, but they aren’t willing to honor God and humble themselves? Naaman wasn’t healed until he was willing to dip seven times in the Jordan. And perhaps others would have gladly dipped seven times in the Jordan and been healed of leprosy, but God for his own reasons, only went to the trouble to heal Naaman.
All the above seems to be true. While it does take faith, God didn’t make it all that easy with Naaman. He went to a lot of trouble to travel all that way. While it seems good to be humble and recognize God as God, there was still only one man healed of Leprosy as Jesus said. God did one miracle, but couldn’t he have done more? We can only guess. Obviously God’s will and God’s decision and God’s perfect knowledge of the situation was in play here.
25I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. -Luke 4:25-26 [NIV]
Here, Elijah was sent by God and told by God that a widow would provide for him. He met her and asked for food and water, but she informed him she only had a little flour and oil. She was planning to prepare it for her and her son so they could eat their last meal and die. Elijah told her that God had said he would not allow the flour or oil to run out until the Lord had sent rain back upon the earth, and so he asked again if she would fix him something first. Trusting the word of the Lord through Elijah, she provided for him and her flour and oil never ran out during the famine.
Surely, there had to have been another widow in Israel who would have done what Elijah said, but Elijah was only sent to one. Nevertheless, like Naaman, the woman still had to trust the word of God or the miracle would not have happened. And as with Naaman, Elijah was only sent to one person, not all the other widows who were starving to death with their children. One. God’s decision was to allow others to die evidently.
The question gets us into trouble. It got Jesus into trouble when he said it, too.
VERY NEXT PARAGRAPH AFTER JESUS BROUGHT THIS STUFF UP:
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. -Luke 4:28-30 [NIV]
They were upset with Jesus for more reasons than just mentioning God only heals a few, but these days, people still get upset when told or confronted with a God who is supposed to work miracles, but doesn’t always. At least it seems that way to much of the world. As Christians, we don’t often want to address this either. It gets people upset.
Yet there we have the Scripture showing us that God could have healed many -but didn’t. And even then, God didn’t heal the people we would have expected. He healed a soldier who had attacked Israel, killed and taken captives, and God healed a non-Jewish woman. All the while, God’s Chosen People suffered. The crazy thing is, the Bible seems to say God is in charge and decides who, what, and why -for his own reasons. Imagine that.
As much as I’d like God to prove himself, he seems to act exactly the way Jesus did when a miracle was demanded of him: He said no.
In fact, allowing suffering isn’t new for God. He’s got a track record of it. Of course, the Church doesn’t preach the message that God might help or he might not. We tend to emphasize God will help. We emphasize God can do more than we ask or imagine and that IS true, yet throughout the Old Testament, you see the attitude of writers was one of submission to God and his Will. If that meant suffering so be it.
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” -Daniel 3:16-18 [NIV]
PAUL WROTE THIS…
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. – II Corinthians 12:7-9 [NIV]
Suffering stinks, but here Paul suffered for God’s express purpose of keeping him humble and dependent upon Christ.
Since this is the case and God’s Will often allows or even directs suffering, and that God uses human weakness and frailties instead of always (or even usually) delivering us, then obviously the working of healing miracles is a poor place to base one’s belief or disbelief in God.
What I mean is this: if the Christian God as pictured in the Bible exists, we should note he often does not remove suffering on this earth, not even for his own people. In history, his moments of doing so were rare. Most of God’s major miraculous works were done through just a few -notably Moses, Jesus and the Apostles. In all three cases, God was establishing a covenant through these men, and accrediting their message and the words they would write.
The reason every New Testament book had to be traced to an apostle or the direct influence of an apostle was because God had authenticated them through miraculous deeds, just as he did Christ. The reason the Law had authority was that God had authenticated himself and Moses by the miraculous deeds done in Egypt and in the desert. The words carried the weight of inspiration in no small part because of the miracles God performed through these men.
What About What James Said? I still want to know…
Surely if there ever was a prescription for getting someone healed, James seems to write it. Get the elders, anoint with oil, pray, and they will get well. Call me in the morning. While no other place in the Bible gives us this formula (the call me in the morning part wasn’t in there by the way) and says “they will get well,” we have often used this passage to boldly proclaim that God is going to heal, but does it really work like an unfailing receipe? Has someone ever gone ahead and died, even after being prayed for by the elders of a church, and after being anointed with oil? Yep. Afraid so. (see Matthew 17:20)
Look at the verse again:
13Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14Is 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. 15And 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. 16Therefore 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 5:13-16
If these were the only verses in the Bible on healing, we would almost be forced to conclude than anyone would be healed by following this prescription. Yet when interpreting the Bible, it’s important to stack the rest of the Bible on top of that one verse and interpret accordingly. It’s important to look at the historical and textual context. In other words, don’t twist the words around to fit what you want, use common sense.
For instance, the same guy who wrote these verses about anointing people with oil, also wrote this just a few paragraphs back…
You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. -James 4:2-3
Notice it says there are sometimes reasons why we “do not receive” even though we do “ask.” So no, I don’t think we can demand God perform for us because we anointed someone with oil like it was some sort of spell that always works. Anointing someone with oil is an appeal to God, and He’s the one in charge of the miracles and there are explanations behind everything.
For instance, in the rest of the Bible:
– It makes it clear that all sickness and disease that is in the world, is here because of sin. That’s why it’s around and that’s why people suffer -not just because of their own sin, but the judgment upon the world, the separation of the world from God, because of humanity’s sin.
– Sometimes people are sick, or even die, as a direct result of sin and God’s punishment. (II Cor. 11:30) Jesus told a lame man he had just healed in John chapter 5 or so… to quit sinning or something worse might happen to him.
– Sometimes sickness isn’t because of sin, but God has a higher purpose involved. (Job 1:8, John 9:2-3)
– Sometimes people even get sick simply because it’s part of life and God allows it. (Philippians 2:30, III John 1:2)
– Sometimes sickness is caused by Satan. (Job 2:7, Luke 13:10-17, II Corinthians 12:7)
– God does heal. (Exodus 15:26) He does heal miraculously. (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John)
– God uses doctors and doesn’t condemn them for practicing medicine. (I Timothy 5:23, Matthew 9:12, Colossians 4:14)
– Healing is spoken of as a “mercy” and not as a guaranteed thing. (Philippians 2:27)
– While in Christ we have healing, we also have eternal life. We still get sick and we still die however. Sickness and death for this life will not be done away with until Christ returns. (Revelation 21:4)
So I start thinking… how does James fit into this? Is it one of those particular cases listed above? Maybe….
Notice the context:
15And 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. 16Therefore 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.
The context includes forgiving someone of sins. James even gives an example next of Elijah who prayed that God would shut the sky from rain, and prayed again that God would bring rain. This happened because of Israel’s sin:
17Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. 19My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. -James 5:17-20 [NIV]
So many conclude that the healing prescribed here was prescribed for sickness that was brought about because of a particular sin. Like the lame guy in John 5 -ish. (I should look that up shouldn’t I?) So the thinking goes, James is speaking about a person who was sick because of their sin, and they would be healed and forgiven if they would repent and have the elders pray for them and anoint them with oil.
The only thing making me hesitate on this is it does say, “if he has sinned…” not “because he has sinned.” Although it is possible to also translate it “though he has sinned.” At any rate, the context is still dealing with sins. So that could very well be what it is primarily referring to.
It also could be that while this passage is giving us a “general rule,” and it is God’s plan to bring healing under such circumstances, there still could be underlying problems which bring God to the decision not to answer yes. It could be as James wrote earlier that they ask with wrong motives. It could be as Jeremiah wrote, that the persons crying out to God, have refused to repent and God is punishing them:
They have returned to the sins of their forefathers, who refused to listen to my words. They have followed other gods to serve them. Both the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken the covenant I made with their forefathers. Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. -Jeremiah 11:10-11
It could be that they don’t ask with faith. It could be it is God’s will to use their sickness and even death for His glory. I do think God looks at the big picture…
15And 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.
The words translated by the New International Version “will make the sick person well” is really just one word.
It literally means “shall save” the sick person. That’s why the New King James for instance says it this way:
And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. [NKJV]
It’s the same word used in this verse:
- 9That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. -Romans 10:9 [NIV]
There IS a Greek word for healing, and it’s used in James 5:16.
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 5:16
Wow. Again there’s the emphasis and the importance of repenting of sins. Evidently it’s a qualifier. After all, James said this immediately after the anointing with oil thing. Without confessing our sins, God might say no. It’s the prayer of a “righteous man” that is powerful and effective. According to this verse, if you want healing, then by golly confess your sins and then pray for each other.
And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. -James 5:15 [NKJV]
The word translated “will raise him up” was used in this verse:
- For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” – John 6:40 [NIV]
In fact, every time this phrase appears in the New Testament, it refers to raising the dead at the resurrection.
Except perhaps here.
James is using the same words associated with salvation and eternal life, with receiving a physical healing. Why? I believe because he is calling on people to turn to God spiritually if they expect to receive something physically. Submit obediently to God, turn from sin, and pray to Him in faith.
Give God a reason to do the miracle.
Just as Elijah prayed that God’s judgment would cease and it would rain after Israel repented. So James is calling people to turn from sin, especially if seeking some sort of deliverance.
Too often, we say the right prayers, and even have the elders anoint with oil, while everyone simply hopes it is God’s will. I believe God is calling us to have such an open and tight relationship with Him, that we can know His will in such things and understand His reasons for doing things.
Or reasons for not doing things.
I believe He has said no because we didn’t have faith, or we weren’t letting go of sin, or simply because God had a higher purpose in mind. Here, James is calling us to be righteous, to turn from sin and turn to God, and have faith in Him.
Do we have faith? I don’t know. If God says no, If God doesn’t prove His existence by healing someone, do we still believe? When we demand proof, is that faith?
After all, “Faith is being certain of what you hope for, being sure of what you do not see.” -Hebrews 11:1
Our hope is in eternal life, and our surety is in God’s provision for us. That goes beyond the right now.
Remember… everyone Jesus healed, later died. All physical healings from God on this earth are temporary reprieves. However long someone prayed for by the elders shall be healed physically, it is the spiritual healing and restoration that matter most.
James was giving various instructions and he gave instructions and encouragement about sickness and healing. These are summary instructions and in regards to healing, James focuses (as he had already) our standing with God as it relates to His healing our physical bodies.
He was not giving instructions as if it were some magic spell that if done in order, would always work.