When I was a child I attended a small, rural Freewill Baptist church. It was KJV fundamentalist to the core and the preachers primarily preached against sin. We were against the pentecostal three-works-of-grace doctrine; but though the church had nothing to do with pentecostals there was an unassuming member who was known for having the gift of healing.
I was witness to several of his healings, but one stands out sharply in my mind. My younger sister and I were running and playing in a field next to a citrus nursery behind our grandparents’ house when she stepped into an old pile of ashes. Except they weren’t really old; her foot immediately broke through to the hot embers below and she screamed. I grabbed her up and ran for the house. Her flip-flop, stuck in the pile, shriveled in the heat.
My grandparents took her to the healer who lived about a block down the country road. With no fanfare, he touched her foot and healed it in the name of Jesus. There were no blisters, scars, or other indications that it was ever injured.
How does this work?
Was Jesus Really a Healer?
Until now we have heard repeatedly about Jesus’ great works in Capernaum—but without detail. Today we are given details.
Mark 1 says:
They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.
As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases.
We learn that Jesus’ teaching amazed the people of Capernaum, but a second element of his work really captured their attention—he healed people!
The past hundred years or so produced a tremendous amount of scholarly discussion about the historical Jesus, what he was really like, and what he said and did. Using various critical techniques, some denied many of the gospel reports and claims about him as stories created by his later followers. But an interesting consensus developed that one thing was true—Jesus was considered a healer; even many of the biggest critics of the gospel stories agree.
How Does Healing Work?
Like many others, I was taught that healings and other miracles were supernatural events—direct interventions of God into the natural world. This explained all the ‘miracles’ in the Bible, including such fantastic occurrences as the sun ‘standing still’ for hours, or even moving ‘backward’. Some believers say even today that God personally directs hurricanes to certain places to punish people for their faults.
I believe in the ability of God to intervene supernaturally as he/she wishes—the resurrection of Jesus is a big one! But I wonder whether God violates physics so casually as we think. Why would God do that? Perhaps healing involves something less than a disruption of the natural order.
Were Jesus’ healings a matter of the ill person’s state of mind? Was confidence in Jesus the necessary factor for the ill person to take control and self-heal? Mark doesn’t say much in this passage about what kind of sicknesses were healed. He only mentions a case of fever, which often resolves itself without outside help.
For more than twenty years I was involved in pentecostal churches, and healing was part of our regular menu. I witnessed the healing of many headaches and other somewhat invisible illnesses—things that often improve on their own. But in twenty years I never saw a withered hand restored, a leg lengthened, or any other astonishing healing. However, we did pray for healing of cancer and other serious illnesses, and when doctors successfully treated them we gave God credit for the healing.
I do not speak against the possibility of genuine healing, but often we see healing where none exists. This is not a credit to God, nor is it a good witness to nonbelievers.
Jesus’ Healings were Kingdom Events
Mark chapter 1 goes on to mention another specific healing:
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
Whoa! Now THIS is impressive! It is difficult to fake the healing of leprosy; this is a significant healing! I don’t think the recovery was imaginary or psychological—this was a genuine, observable healing. But was it a miracle—an interruption of the laws of physics?
I don’t think so. I suspect that within the laws of physics are forces we do not yet understand, and Jesus had access to these forces whether or not, in his developing awareness, he understood how they worked. But what matters most is that Jesus’ healings were an expression of the kingdom of God breaking upon them. It was this that enabled Jesus to heal, and it was this that caught the attention of the people of Capernaum and drew them to Jesus’ message.
Jesus’ ability to heal is also an integral part of his mission which he declared in our last post:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
He is not yet reported to have healed the blind—but he will.
It intrigues me that the most genuine-seeming healing reports come from places new to the message of Jesus. Perhaps the major purpose of such healings is to draw attention to, and validate, the in-breaking of the kingdom of God in that area or culture. This would parallel Jesus’ healings in his own time and place.
The Impact of Jesus’ Teaching and Healing
Luke also shares the stories we have read from Mark, but it is Matthew (chapter 4) who best describes the impact of Jesus’ teaching and healing:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming 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.
While Jesus continued his work in Galilee his fame spread far beyond Galilee in all directions; it was likely at least as big a deal as was John the Baptist. All three gospels mention a special kind of healing that we have not yet discussed—that of demon-possession. We will talk about that next time.
Articles in this series
Jesus Begins His Work:
The Beginning of the Good News about Jesus the Anointed One
Do Jesus’ Words and Actions Demonstrate Empathy — or Judgment?
Does Jesus Disagree with John the Baptist’s Message of the Coming Judgment of God?
Why Didn’t Jesus Recruit Better Help for His Galilean Work?
Did Jesus Really Heal People?
Do Demons Exist?
Jesus Adds a Shocking Twist to Healing
Jesus Calls a Fifth Follower—and What a Loser!
Jesus Refuses to Ask His Disciple to Fast
Entering the Kingdom Requires Abandoning Old Religious Systems
Jesus Gets into Trouble for Disrespecting the Law
What Do We Learn from ‘Jesus Begins His Work’?