Prayer and the Miracle of Healing
April 10th, 1983 @ 8:15 AM
PRAYER AND THE MIRACLE OF HEALING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-10-83 8:15 a.m.
And God no less wonderfully bless the great throng in God’s house this morning, and the great multitude who share this hour on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message, the last one in the section of the series on the Great Doctrines of the Bible, entitled Prayer: Prayer and Healing. The message this morning, the whole title is Prayer and the Miracle – the Miracle of Healing.
We are reading from the thirty-eighth chapter of Isaiah, the prophet Isaiah, chapter 38, beginning with the first verse:
In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.
Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed.
O Lord, remember, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee, and have done that which is good. And Hezekiah wept sore.
Then came the word of the Lord to Isaiah, saying,
You go back, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.
A marvelous, wonderful example of the whole message of God to us.
Whenever we enter the world of the faith, we enter a miraculous world. The Bible itself is a miraculous Book: written over fifteen hundred years by over forty authors, yet it is one Book; and in its golden pages is woven the scarlet thread of redemption. Not only is the Bible itself a miraculous Book, but the God it reveals is a miracle-working God. When Paul the apostle stood before King Herod Agrippa II, in his message he asked him, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible to you, that God should raise the dead?" The emphasis is upon "you"; Herod Agrippa was a Jew and conversant with the Word of the Lord. "Why should it be thought a thing incredible to you, that God should raise the dead?" [Acts 26:8]. The whole revelation of God is one of marvelous miracle.
It begins with the story of creation, when God formed this whole universe by fiat, just by the word of His mouth. He said, "Let there be light," and there was light [Genesis 1:3]. The story progresses in marvelous, miraculous revelation. Moses’ ministry in his call and in his mission is one of unfailing consecutive miracle. The promise of God to Abraham was not fulfilled that he have a son until he was a hundred years old, and Sarah was ninety; it is a story of miracle. The New Testament story of the birth of our Lord is a miraculous story. His ministry is a miraculous ministry. The Acts of the Apostles is an accounting of one wonderful miracle after the other.
When we walk in the world of God’s creation, we walk in a world of miracle. A baby is born; only God’s omnipotent hands could create such a soul in such a body. God’s little carpenters framing and God’s little engineers putting together all of the things that concern the nervous system, the blood system, the muscle system; it’s a miracle of God, the creation of soul and life. The resurrection of nature in the springtime is a wondrous affirmation of the omnipotence of God. Who could create out of the dust of the ground such beauty, such color, such glory? And we look above us in the chalice of God’s blue sky and around us in the world of God’s law and God’s nature; truly the signature of Jehovah God is miracle! That is the hand of the Lord seen everywhere.
It is no less miraculous in the life of the Christian. When we are converted, when we are born again, we are no less miraculously conceived as when we were first born. It is a miracle of God! And sometimes the miracle is most marvelously, effectively seen in the change in the life of a man who has been going in a certain direction, and he turns around in the faith of Christ and lives in another world, in another life, in another dimension; he’s been saved, he’s been born again, he is a new creation! [2 Corinthians 5:17]. It is a miracle the universal presence of our Lord. Jesus is here with us, all of Him! Jesus is no less, all of Him, present in the churches on our mission fields, in the continents of the earth. It is a miracle, the presence, the living presence of Christ!
We are encouraged in the Bible, to pray to that miracle-working God. In Matthew 21, in Mark 11, in Luke 11, in John 14 and 15, our Lord encourages us to ask in faith, and we’ll receive what we ask. He even said, "If you have the faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, Be cast into the sea; and it would be removed into the sea" [Matthew 17:20]. There is no limit to the dynamic power of God to answer prayer, to bring to pass incomparable miracles, if there is in us the faith to seize them, to possess them, to take them. Only we must remember: the miraculous intervention of God is never, ever for curiosity or for entertainment.
When the Lord was sent by Pontius Pilate to Herod Antipas, Antipas the governor of Galilee and Perea, when Pontius Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, the Scriptures say that Herod was delighted, he was overjoyed, because he had heard of Him for those years of His public ministry, and Herod thought that the Lord would do some unusual thing, some miraculous thing in the presence of the king. The Lord answered not a word. And in contempt, Herod Antipas sent Him back to Pontius Pilate [Luke 23:6-11].
Nor does God ever bring to pass a miracle in order for the exaltation of a man. In the twenty-eight chapter of the Book of Acts, we read of a snake that fastened itself, a poisonous viper, on the hand of the apostle Paul when he was gathering sticks to build a fire, and the natives in the island of Malta looked for him to fall down dead. He just shook the viper off into the fire, unharmed, Paul unharmed [Acts 28:3-5]. But there is no place in the Bible that anyone ever allowed himself to be bitten by a snake in order to demonstrate his faith. A miracle is never for the exaltation of man, but a miracle is ever for the affirmation of the holy purposes of God in the earth and in our lives. When Elijah knelt on Mount Carmel, he closed his intercession, "Lord, Lord, send the fire, that the people may know God has sent me, Thy servant, and that they may know that Thou art the Lord God in Israel" [1 Kings 18:36-38]. When the Lord healed, in the second chapter of Mark, that palsied man, He said to the people around who were cynical and unbelieving, "In order that you might know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins; then He said to the sick of the palsy, I say unto thee, Arise, take up thy bed, and go home, walk" [Mark 2:10-11]. It is an affirming sign of the power and presence of God.
So Paul avows concerning the apostles: the miracles that were wrought by the apostles were signs, they were confirming signs from heaven. In 2 Corinthians chapter 12, verse 12, the apostle refers to the fact that the signs of an apostle were done in the presence of the Corinthian Christians. They lived in a harsh, pagan, and unbelieving world; and the miracle was a confirming sign that they were emissaries and ambassadors from God. One of the closest companions of the apostle Paul was Timothy. And Timothy was weak and sick all the days of his life. Why didn’t Paul heal him? In the last chapter of the last letter that Paul wrote, in 2 Timothy, Paul says, "Trophimus have I left at Miletus sick" [2 Timothy 4:20]. Why didn’t Paul heal him? It was cruel and incredulous that the apostle would leave behind one of his most faithful servants sick. The reason is he didn’t have the power to heal him. The signs and the wonders and the miracles of the apostles were confirming signs from heaven that they were the preachers of the true gospel of Christ.
Illness and sickness have theological connotations, as well as medicinal and pharmaceutical. Illness and sickness are subjects of the church, just as they are subjects in the schools of medicine and of pharmacy. The Lord was not only a great teacher and preacher; He was also a great physician. Ultimately, all illness, and disease, and sickness, and death are the result of our fallen nature. Were there no sin, there would be no sickness and no death. One of the pictures of heaven, in Revelation 21, is: "And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying; neither shall there be any more hurt: for these things are all passed away." It is because of our fallen natures, it’s because of sin that we fall into sickness and age and death.
Sometimes illness is due to our overt and chosen, stated, volitional sin. Miriam was stricken with leprosy because she sinned against Moses [Numbers 12:10]. Uzziah the king was stricken with leprosy because he sought to enter the holy sanctuary and do the office work that was alone assigned to the priest of God [2 Chronicles 26:19]. Gehazi the servant of Elisha was stricken with leprosy when he lied to Naaman, saying that the prophet had changed his mind and had sent him after Naaman in order to receive from his hands all of those gracious gifts that Naaman sought to bestow upon Elisha, and the prophet refused them [2 Kings 5:27]. In the story of Jeroboam I the king in Bethel, where he built those golden calves and wooed the people of Israel away from the true God, the Lord sent a prophet of God to speak to Jeroboam and to prophesy the destruction of his kingdom. And when the prophet of God spoke thus to the king, the king reached forth his hand to denounce him and seize him, and when he did, his hand withered; it dried up, and he couldn’t pull it back [1 Kings 13:4].
Sometimes our sicknesses are due to our overt sins. Ananias and Sapphira are stricken dead in the presence of the apostle Peter because they lied to the Holy Spirit, saying that they had given thus and so for the Lord, and they hadn’t given it [Acts 5:1-10]. It’s a remembrance for us to be faithful in our stewardship before God. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, Herod Agrippa I is eaten up of worms, Doctor Luke says, "because he gave not glory to God" [Acts 12:23]. In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, Elymas the sorcerer, who was seeking to keep Sergius Paulus the proconsul of Cypress from coming to the faith, is stricken with blindness [Acts 13:11]. In the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul says the most unusual thing: because of their desecration of the Lord’s table, the Lord’s Supper, Paul says, "Many of the Corinthian Christians were weakly and sick, and some of them had died" [1 Corinthians 11:30]. Disease can be, sickness can be a visitation of God upon our sins.
All of us are familiar with the damage to the cells of the brain by alcohol and by other drugs. And these newspapers and news articles say that venereal disease, herpes and syphilis and gonorrhea, are epidemic in the culture and in the society of modern America. Disease can be a visitation from God because of our overt and volitional aberrations, our sins, our transgressions, our iniquities.
We’re also told in God’s Word that sickness and disease can be the result of a direct frontal attack of Satan upon us. Job was attacked terribly by Satan. He afflicted Job with boils from the top of his head to the sole of his foot, and Job sat in ashes, in misery, and attacked by Satan. The Lord spoke in the Book of Luke to a woman who was bent over and could in no wise raise herself, and He said, "For eighteen years she had been bound down by Satan" [Luke 13:11-16]. When Paul, in the twelfth chapter of the second Corinthian letter, speaks of his thorn in the flesh, some kind of a malady in his physical frame, he refers to it as "the messenger of Satan to buffet him, to hurt him, to hit him" [2 Corinthians 12:7]; it’s an attack of Satan.
In these instances in the life of the Christian, always these providences that overwhelm us are for the glory of God. Weakness, and sickness, and hurt, and infirmity glorify the Lord in the life of a devout child of God. Job said, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" [Job 13:15]. And God honored Job. In the story of the healing of that woman whom Satan had bound for eighteen years, the Scriptures say, "And when the Lord healed her, they glorified God" [Luke 13:17]. And the apostle Paul said, "When the Lord answered my prayer for healing, saying, My strength is sufficient for thee;" then the apostle wrote, "Therefore will I glory in my infirmities, in my weaknesses, in my distresses, in my sicknesses: for when I am weak, then am I strong" [2 Corinthians 12:9-10]. Out of the weaknesses of our lives and the hurt in our lives, out of the infirmities of our lives, come the expressions of faith and devotion that glorify God.
The Lord plainly emphasizes that for us when, in the ninth chapter of the Book of John, as they are walking along, they see a man blind from his birth, born blind – what a pitiful thing, a baby come into the world blind – and the disciples, moved with pity and wonder, said, "Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" And the Lord said, "Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but that the glory of God might be shown in him" [John 9:1-3]. The Lord said that same thing again in the eleventh chapter of the Book of John, describing the death of Lazarus. He said, "This illness, this death is for the glory of the Lord" [John 11:4]. God is glorified in our weaknesses far more than in our strengths.
In the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John, the Lord says to Simon Peter, "When you were young and strong and able and well, you dressed yourself and went whither you wouldst; but when you are older, there shall be another who shall take thee where you do not want to go; and with outstretched hands you will die. This spake He signifying by what death," that is, by crucifixion, "by what death he should glorify God" [John 21:18-19]. Can you imagine that? Can you think of that? That in suffering and in crucifixion and in death Simon Peter is to glorify God. We glorify God in our infirmities, and in our sicknesses, and in our weaknesses, and in our necessities, and in our distresses. These are the times, when we lift up soul and heart and when others see us loving God, praising God.
May I say it in another way? Illness and distress always bring into the picture God, always. Any time there is weakness or illness, God is speaking; God has come in an unusual way into the life. It is only God who can heal. In Psalm 103, those first three verses:
Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases.
God said to Moses, "You tell My people, My name is the Lord God who healeth thee" [Exodus 15:26]. God alone heals. The doctor can diagnose, and the surgeon can operate, and the pharmacist can fill a prescription; but only God heals. He alone heals. God alone heals. He has healed, He can heal, He does heal, He builds in our bodies a system that fights against disease for healing, He heals in answer to prayer, and He heals in answer to means.
The conditions of God’s healing, there are three. One: and the first, is always prayer, always. The pastor of the church in Jerusalem, James the Lord’s brother, wrote in the passage you just read, "Is any among you sick, afflicted? Let him pray" [James 5:13]. In Chronicles we have the story of the affliction of Asa. And Asa sinned not because he sought the physician, but because he didn’t seek God first [2 Chronicles 16:12]. The first thing in our healing is that we pray; always first, prayer, looking to God. How wonderful it is to have a physician or a surgeon who believes in prayer. How beautiful it is to have a hospital dedicated in the name of Christ for a healing ministry; the first is prayer.
The second is faith: it can be their faith. In that beautiful story that begins the miraculous ministry of our Lord in the second chapter of Mark, when those four men bring to the Lord that man stricken with palsy, the Bible says, "The Lord, seeing their faith, their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy,Arise" [Mark 2:4-11]. In the passage you read in the fifth chapter of James, "Let them call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over," [James 5:14] their faith. Or it can be our personal faith: we believe in the healing power of God. I listened this last week over the radio to a learned scientist. He was saying when one is afflicted with cancer; half of the battle is the spirit and the courage of the patient. If they give up in despair, they will certainly die; but if they believe they can be healed, they are half-healed. Isn’t that a remarkable thing for a physician to say? It’s how we are on the inside of us; it’s our faith that raises us up and heals us.
And the last is means, means, the use of means. It was an amazing thing when I read the thirty-eighth chapter of the Book of Isaiah and I read this marvelous word of the prophet to good King Hezekiah: "You go back and tell him I have seen his tears, and I have heard his prayers; and I have added fifteen years to his life." Now look at the last: "For Isaiah had said, Let them take a lump of figs, and lay it for a plaster, and he shall recover" [Isaiah 38:5, 21]. Well, dear me, why the plaster? This was a miracle of God! You see, God uses means to heal.
In the story of that poor traveler on the road to Jericho, and the Good Samaritan put him on his animal and brought him to the inn, it says that he poured in oil and wine: the oil for healing, the wine an antiseptic; it’s alcohol [Luke 10:34]. Using means. In the passage that you just read in the fifth chapter of James, the pastor says, "To pray and to anoint with oil," something, means; it’s always that. We are admonished to pray and then to use the best means at our disposal that we might be well. The genius and training of the doctor, and the surgeon, and the pharmacist, and all of these modern nuclear medicines and healing instruments that are so commonly found now in our great hospitals, that’s God. That’s God, and it is as much of God for us to use the means, to put on the plaster, as it is for us to pray; both of them.
I must close. Let me show you a little passage here in the last chapter of the Book of Acts. Paul and his people are – they are shipwrecked on Melita, the Bible calls the island – Malta we call it today – and the father of the governor of the island was sick, sick unto death. And Paul laid his hands on him, and healed him; that’s the eighth verse. Now the ninth verse: "So when this was done, others came who had diseases, and they were healed," now look at the next verse: "who honored us with many honors." Do you see that? You can’t in the English because it’s not diversified, but you can when Doctor Luke wrote it. Now, you look at it: this father of the chieftain of the island, the governor of the island, sick unto death, "Paul laid his hands on him, and iaomai, miraculously healed him," Paul. Now the next one, "And when the people saw this, they came with all kinds of diseases, and therapeuo" – our word "therapeutic" comes from therapeuo; therapeuo originally meant "to minister unto, to serve," so it came to mean "to serve medically," to serve as a doctor, to serve as a physician – "Who also honored us." Paul refers to Luke as the beloved physician, and when you look at that, it is very plain: Paul healed, a miracle from heaven, a sign from heaven this is the man of God; Paul iaomai, and Doctor Luke therapeuo, Doctor Luke ministered as a beloved physician. "And they honored us"; Paul a miraculous intervention from heaven, and the beloved physician Doctor Luke, they honored them both. That’s the way it ought to be. That’s the way it ought to be: praying, looking to God, and thanking the Lord for a beloved physician. This is just what God tells us; and we are blessed when we listen and follow the Word of the Lord.
We’re going to stand in a moment and sing our hymn of appeal, and on the first note of that first stanza, come, come. "I want to give my life to the Lord, and pastor, here I am." "This is my whole family, we’re all coming." "I want to be baptized as God says in His Book," or "I want to belong to the family of the Lord’s redeemed." "We’ve decided for God this morning, and here we stand." Make the decision in your heart now, and when we stand, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles: "Here I am, pastor, coming to Jesus, coming to this dear church." God bless you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing. A thousand times welcome.