Prayer and the Miracle of Healing
April 10th, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-10-83 10:50 a.m.
These scholars who intimately study the Hebrew word tell us that a large number of the Psalms were written to be sung antiphonally, and this is a typical and antiphonal psalm. In David’s day in the temple worship, they had three hundred and eighty-seven instruments and four thousand Levites who sang those psalms, and I just wonder if they sounded any better than you all have done today. The Lord bless you, wonderful choir and precious orchestra.
It is a gladness to welcome the great multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing the last in the series of doctrinal messages on prayer.
The title of the sermon today is Prayer and the Miracle of Healing. Our background text is found in the first verses of the thirty-eighth chapter of Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah, chapter 38:
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,
And said, Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in Thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.
Then came the word of the Lord to Isaiah, saying
You go back. Turn around. You can go back, and you 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. [Isaiah 38:1-5]
Prayer and the Miracle of Healing. When we enter the Christian faith, we enter the world of miracle. The Bible I hold in my hand is a miracle book – written over fourteen hundred centuries by over forty men; yet it has one golden scarlet thread through it all, that of our redemption. And the Lord God who is revealed in the Bible is a miracle-working God.
When Paul stood before King Agrippa II in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts making a defense for his faith, he addressed Agrippa saying, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible unto thee, unto you, that God should raise the dead?" King Herod Agrippa was a Jew and the emphasis is upon "you." Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead? You who have been familiar with the Holy Scriptures from the days of your youth?" [Acts 26:8]
It is a miracle God who is revealed to us in the Holy Word. It begins that way. By fiat, by His Word, God created all of the substance of the universe. God said, "Let there be light. And there was light" – created by the word of the Lord [Genesis 1:3].
The story that unfolds is a miraculous story. God said to Abraham, "You shall have a son, a child of promise." But Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah, his wife, was ninety years old before that promise of the Lord came to pass; a miracle [Genesis 17:16-17, 19; 18:9-14; 21:1-7].
The whole calling and message and ministry and mission of Moses, the servant of God, was miraculous, from the day of his rescue from the bosom of the Nile River to his calling before the bush that burned unconsumed to the plagues of Egypt to the marvelous deliverances in the wilderness of Sinai. It’s a story of amazing miracle [Exodus 2:1-7; 3:2-10; 7:10-12:41; 14:5-31; 15:22-27; 16:4-35; 17:1-13]
The New Testament of our Savior Jesus the Lord is no different. It begins in a miraculous birth [Matthew 1; Luke 1:26-38, 2:1-20]. His ministry continued in one wonder after another, climaxing in the glorious miracle of His resurrection from among the dead [Matthew 27-28; Mark 15-16; Luke 23-24; John 19-20; John 21:25]. The Acts of the apostles is one marvelous, miraculous story after another – the confirming signs from heaven upon the truth of the gospel message brought to the people [Acts 2:1-11; 3:1-21; 5:12-32; 9:1-19; 32-42; 12:1-12; 13:8-12; 14:8-11, 14-15; 16:16-36; 19:11-20; 20:6-12; 27:9 – 28:10]. When we live and move and look and sense and feel, we have our very existence in a world of miracle. Could there be one more amazing and astonishing than the birth of a baby – God’s little engineers and God’s little carpenters framing the marvelous soul and life of a little child?
The miracle of the resurrection of the springtime glorifies the name of God. Such beauty! Such glory! Such life and wonder out of the dust of the ground! The miracle of springtime.
A scientist one time said, "The miracles of nature make the miracles of the Bible as though they were child’s play" – the laws that govern our universe and the unseen hand that guides the planets in their orbits. The great Omnipotent who made the challis of the sky and studded them with the stars of heaven – He is a God of miracle.
We see the miraculous hand of God in the personal experience in the life of every born-again child of Jesus. As miraculous as our first birth, no less wonderful is our second birth, when we are created anew in Christ Jesus. We see that poignantly and beautifully sometimes in the life of a man who has lived in the world. All of his visions and dreams are earthly. And God speaks to him, and he is a new man; he’s a new creation. You hardly recognize him. He’s been saved. He’s been born-again.
We have that marvelous miracle in the presence of our Lord. All of Him we have; we have now. We possess this moment all of Jesus. But across the sea where He is preached in languages I don’t begin to understand, there the whole of Jesus is no less present with them as He is with us. It’s a miracle God whom we worship.
We are admonished and encouraged in the Holy Scriptures to call upon the mightiness and the omnipotence of the miraculous power of God. In Matthew 21, in Mark 9, in Luke 11, in John 14 and 15, our Savior encourages us by faith to ask of God. "If you have grain," He would say, "like unto a grain of a mustard seed – if you have faith even like that – you can say to this mountain, ‘Be thou cast into the sea,’ and it would be removed into the waters" [Matthew 17:20, 21:21-22; Mark 9:17-29; Luke 11:1-13; John 14:13-14, 15:16].
He’s a great miracle-working God, and He’s pleased when we ask great things of Him. Only we are to remember that God’s miracles are never for curiosity or for entertainment. All through the years of His ministry, the ministry of the Lord Jesus, King Herod Antipas, the king of Galilee and Perea, wanted to see the wonder-working Lord Jesus. And Pontius Pilate, in His trial, when he learned that Jesus was from Galilee sent Him to Herod. And the Bible said that Herod was delighted at the prospect of seeing all the miracles that Jesus was able to perform. But the Scriptures also said Jesus never said a word, never replied, never responded. And in contempt and disdain, Herod Antipas sent Jesus back to Pontius Pilate [Luke 23:3-12].
Nor are the miracles ever wrought for the exaltation of a man. In the [twenty-eighth] chapter of the Book of Acts, when Paul was gathering sticks for the fire, a venomous viper fastened its fangs in his hand. And the islanders stood to see that he fell down dead. Paul just shook the viper off into the fire and remained unharmed [Acts 28:1-6]. But nowhere in the Bible would it ever suggest that a man volitionally let a serpent bite him in order to demonstrate his faith. Miracles of God are for the holy purpose of confirming and avowing the truth of the saving Lord.
In 1 Kings, on Mount Carmel, Elijah the prophet of God bows down before the Lord and he pleads, praying, "Lord, send the fire. Let it fall from heaven that they may know I am Thy servant. And that they may know that Thou art the Lord God of Israel. [1 Kings 18:36-39]."
The confirming signs of God from heaven pointed out the Lord Jesus as the fourth verse of the first chapter of the Book of Romans says – horizÃ³ – He was pointed out as the Son of God. The signs, the miracles that He did – in the second chapter of the Book of Mark, those that disdained Him were scorning Him and saying, "Why, this man says He has power to forgive sins. Who can forgive sins but God?" [Mark 2:6-7]
Then – this is an exact quotation: the Lord said to the palsied man – then a parenthesis – "(in order that you might know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins), I say unto thee, ‘Arise, take up thy bed, walk and go to thy house.’" It’s a confirming sign from God. [Mark 2:10-12]
Miracles. It is thus with the signs and wonders and miracles of the apostles. They were confirming signs in a pagan world that these men were emissaries and ambassadors from heaven and that the word that they brought was life and of truth.
In 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 12, Paul refers to the fact that the signs of an apostle were wrought among the Corinthian Christians, the confirming sign of an apostle. The apostles were not able to perform miracles at will. The miracle was a confirming sign from heaven. We learned in the Bible that Timothy, who was the closest correspondent, the closest coworker, adjunct with the Apostle Paul – he was sick all the days of his life. He was weak [1 Timothy 5:23]. Why didn’t Paul heal him? In the last chapter of Paul’s last letter, in 2 Timothy, Paul says, "Trophimus" – another one of his coworkers – "Trophimus have I left at Miletus sick." What a cold, cruel thing for Paul to do if he was able to heal him! He couldn’t heal him. He didn’t have the power to heal him. The miracle is always a confirming sign from heaven whether it be in the days of Moses, or in the days of Elijah and the apostasy, or in the days of Christ in the earth, or in the days of the apostles. They are affirming, confirming signs of the truth of the gospel message of God.
Thus we come to miracles and the healing of our physical frames. Sickness and disease are subjects of discussion in theology just as much as they are in the medical school and the pharmaceutical school. The things that concern illness and disease and finally death are things that concern the church just as much as they concern the medical school or the pharmaceutical school.
Jesus was not only a great preacher and a great teacher, He was also the great physician. Ultimately and finally, all disease and all death are the results of our fallen nature. If we did not sin, we’d never be sick and we would never die. The beautiful prospect we have in heaven is described in Revelation 21, "And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more hurt or pain, for these things are all passed away" [Revelation 21:4]. It is because of our sinful and fallen nature that we fall into disease and sickness and age and death [Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12-14; 8:19-23].
Sometimes, sickness is due to our overt and volitional and stated sin. Miriam was stricken with leprosy because she sinned against God in murmuring against her brother Moses [Numbers 12]. Uzziah the king of Judah was stricken with leprosy because he entered into the inner sanctuary of the Lord and sought to do what God had assigned only to His priest [2 Chronicles 26:16-21]. Gehazi was cut down with leprosy when he followed Naaman and lied to Naaman saying, "My master Elijah has changed his mind and now seeks to gain from thee" – all kinds of rich presents that the king of Syria had given to Naaman to give to the prophet in Israel for his healing, when God’s healing is always free [2 Kings 5]. Always.
Jeroboam the first, when he reached out his hand against the prophet of God that the Lord had sent to Bethel, where he had cast golden calves for the people to worship, to take them away from the house of God in Jerusalem – when Jeroboam the first reached forth his hand against the prophet, his hand withered and dried up [1 Kings 12:32-13:6].
In the New Testament in the fifth chapter of the Book of Acts, Ananias and Sapphira are stricken down before the Lord. They lied to the Holy Spirit, saying that they were giving thus and so to the Lord’s work, and they held it back – something for us to remember in our stewardship before God [Acts 5:1-11].
In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts, it is written that Herod Agrippa I was eaten up with worms, died in a desperate way because he gave not glory to God [Acts 12:20-23]. And in the next chapter, the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, Elymas, the sorcerer who was seeking to dissuade Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus, away from the truth of the gospel. Paul sees him and pronounces upon him a malediction, and he was blinded [Acts 13:6-12].
Sometimes sickness is due to our personal sins. In the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul writes the most unusual word. He says that because of their desecration of the Lord’s Table, the Lord’s Supper, many among them were weak and sickly, and some had died [1 Corinthians 1:27-30].
All of us are aware of the epidemic of venereal disease that is spreading over America, some of which, like herpes, is incurable. We are no less acquainted with the destruction of the mind and of the brain by alcohol and the use of drugs. Sometimes our illnesses and our sicknesses are due to our sins.
Sometimes our weaknesses and our infirmities and our sicknesses are due to direct attacks of Satan. It was thus with Job. In order to demonstrate to God that Job served God for a price, God allowed Satan to attack Job – took everything that he had away from him and Job still praised the Lord.
"The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord."
Then Satan said, "But everything a man will give for his skin. You let me touch him, and he’ll curse You to Your face."
The Lord said, "Touch him, only spare his life." [Job 1]
And Satan afflicted Job from the top of his head to the sole of his foot with running boils [Job 2:7]. And Job sat in misery in an ash heap and cried, saying "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" [Job 13:15]. Sometimes our infirmities and our sicknesses are due to an attack of Satan. In the Book of Luke we’re told the story of the Lord’s healing of a woman who was bent, and she couldn’t in any wise raise herself. And the Lord, speaking of that woman, said that she was bound by Satan for all these eighteen years [Luke 13:11-13]. Satan had done it.
In one of the most moving passages in the Bible, in the twelfth chapter of the second Corinthian letter, the Apostle Paul speaks of the infirmity in his flesh. We’re not told what it was. There was a malady, a disease, an infirmity, a weakness in his flesh. And he besought the Lord thrice for it and the Lord said no. And in describing that infirmity, Paul says, "It is the messenger of Satan to hit me, to buffet me, to wound me, to hurt me" – the messenger of Satan [2 Corinthians 12:7-9].
But in the lives of God’s people and God’s children, our weaknesses and our infirmities are used to glorify our Lord. It was so in the life of Job. Job magnified the name of God, praising Him in his illness, in his sickness, in his disease, in his infirmity. God was glorified in the hurt of the patriarch Job. In the story of that woman who had been bound by Satan for eighteen years, the next verse after that healing says that all the people who had gathered round and seen it, that they glorified God [Luke 13:14-18].
And in one of those marvelous demonstrations of the beauty and sanctity of the spirit of the true Christian, Paul says, "When I asked God for the healing in my body, He said, "No, but My [grace] shall be sufficient for thee." Then Paul adds, "I glory in infirmities, in necessities, in weakness. For when I am weak, then am I strong." [2 Corinthians 12:9]
That you might realize this isn’t an unusual doctrine–that in the life of the Christian, sickness and disease and hurt and suffering glorify God. In the ninth chapter of the Book of John, the Lord, walking with His disciples, sees a man born blind. When he came into the world a little baby, he couldn’t see. He was blind. And the apostles turn to the Lord Jesus and say, "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 that he was born blind, but that the glory of God might be seen in him." [John 9:2, 3] It glorifies God. What a marvelous, marvelous thing when the Christian can glorify God in illness, in distress, in necessity, in infirmity! The Lord said that about Lazarus: "This sickness is for the glory of God" [John 11:38-44].
There’s not a more poignant word than that spoken to Simon Peter by the Lord Jesus in the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John. The Lord said to Simon, His chief apostle, "When you were young and strong and well, you girded yourself, put on your clothes, and you walked whither you wouldest. But the day is coming when another shall gird thee, and thou shalt be forced to stretch forth your hands. And they’ll carry you where you don’t want to go," [John 21:18] signifying that he should die by crucifixion by the outstretched hands. And then John adds the word, "The Lord signifying the death, the kind of a death, whereby he should glorify God" [John 21:19].
Lord, could it be that in suffering and in crucifixion and in agonizing pain we glorify God? May I comment on that just for a moment? When I come and see you, and I knock at the door of your house and everything is going your way – you’re strong and well and prosperous and blessed. And then you say, "Pastor, I bless God. I praise His name. Oh, the wonderful blessings that He has poured out upon me." My brother, an infidel can do that. When everything is going his way and he’s strong and blessed and affluent, he can praise God or whatever it is he might believe in. An infidel can do that. You know, sweet friend, let me come to your house and knock at the door and pain and trouble and disease and sickness and illness and hurt and sorrow and despair and maybe death. And I visit your home and I see you, bowed down in tears and in sorrow and a broken heart – that’s when I want to hear you say, "Bless God. He’s with me. He never has forgotten me or forsaken me. Through every tear and trial, through every sorrow and heartache, Jesus is with me." Like the Psalmist said, singing songs in the night, never despairing, always believing that God is choosing some better thing for us [Psalm 42:8].
I don’t think I am wrong or mistaken in the avowal that when illness and sickness come into our life, God is coming into our lives. Wherever there is illness, God enters the picture. It is only God who can heal – he alone. When illness comes, God is speaking to us. God is saying something to us. It is He alone who heals.
The beautiful one hundred and third Psalm:
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.
The Lord said to Moses, "You go back and tell My people My name is "the Lord God who healeth thee" [Exodus 15:24-27]. It is God alone who heals us. The doctor may diagnose, and the surgeon may operate, and the pharmacist may fill the prescription, but it is God alone who heals us. They, as we, are dependent upon the healing hand of the Lord. God has healed. He does heal. He can heal. He has built healing on the inside of our bodies that fight against disease. He heals by prayer, and He heals by means. And He heals by faith.
That brings me to the concluding part of this study: the conditions of God’s healing. First, prayer. In the passage that you read out of, the pastor James in the mother church of Jerusalem, "Is any among you afflicted? Is any among you sick? Let him pray" [James 5:13-15]. That always is first. King Asa, in 2 Chronicles, sinned not because he sought the physician, but because he did not first seek God [2 Chronicles 16:12]. First, we are to pray. That’s always first. "Lord, Lord" – and then speak to God about the illness or the burden or the heartache or the sorrow. Talk to God first.
The conditions of God’s healing: faith, sometimes the faith of others. In that second chapter of the Book of Mark, as he begins the story of the ministry of our Lord, there are four men who undo the roof and let this palsied man down in the presence of Jesus. And the Scriptures say – do you remember it? – "and Jesus, seeing their faith, their faith, said to the sick of palsy, "Rise, take up thy bed and walk" [Mark 2:1-12].
In the passage that we read from pastor James, "Call for the elders of the church and let them pray for the sick in faith" – others’ faith [James 5:14]. Then also personal faith. Jesus said to the blind man, "Do you believe that I can do this?" And he said, "Yea, Lord, I believe." And the Lord said, "Let it be unto you according to your faith." And his eyes were opened and he could see [Matthew 9:28-30].
Last week, I listened to a learned physician scientist speaking on the radio concerning cancer. And I was overwhelmed to hear him say that half of the cure in a cancer patient lies in the inner soul of the sufferer. If he despairs and gives up, he will certainly die. But, if he believes and has strength and courage inside himself, likely he’ll get well. Isn’t that an amazing confirmation of the Word of God? "According to your faith, be it done unto thee."
Healing. And then this last: God heals by means. In this passage from Isaiah, that first part that I read, glorious, "You go back," said the Lord to Isaiah, "and you tell good King Hezekiah, ‘I’ve heard thy prayer; I have seen thy tears, and I have added fifteen years to your life’" [2 Kings 20:1-6].
But when I come to the end of the chapter, this is what it says, "For Isaiah had said, ‘Let them take a lump of figs and lay it for a plaster upon the boil and he shall recover’" [2 Kings 20:7]. Well, now, that’s strange. Healing is of God. Yet God said to Isaiah, "For Hezekiah to be healed, you make a plaster of figs and lay it upon the running sore that he might be well." In the [twentieth] chapter of [2 Kings], I learned that it was on the third day, the third day that Hezekiah rose up and went up into the house of the Lord [2 Kings 20:8]. God uses means.
In that beautiful story in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke of the Good Samaritan – this unfortunate wayfarer and sojourner, falling among thieves and left for dead, but the good Samaritan put him on his own beast and carried him to the inn. It says he bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine [Luke 10:33-34]. The alcohol in the wine was antiseptic and the oil was a balm of healing. Means.
Timothy was sick and sickly and weak all of his life. He was a teetotaler. He would not touch alcohol, so Paul writes to him, "Take a little wine for thy stomach’s sake" [1 Timothy 5:23]. Needs. Prayer and faith and means. How wonderful to have a doctor who prays for you. How beautiful to have a Christian hospital dedicated for the blessing of the hearts and the lives of the people. How wonderful it is that God has given us these medicines in the world. Penicillin was here in the days of Cain and Abel. It is just now we have discovered it; all of it from the beginning; God’s means of healing.
I close with one other exegetical note. In the [twenty-eighth] chapter of the Book of Acts, there is the story of the shipwreck of Paul and his companions on the Isle of Mileta it calls in the Bible. Malta, we call it today. "And it came to pass," says the Scripture, "that the father of Publius" – Publius was the governor of the island – "that he was sick unto death and Paul entered in and prayed and laid his hands on him and healed him." Now the next verse, "Now when this was done others also which had diseases on the island came and were healed." Now the next verse, "Who also honored us with many honors. And when we departed, they gave us many things that were necessary" [Acts 28:1, 7-10].
Now when I read that in the English it just goes as I have just read. But when you look at it as Dr. Luke wrote, it has an altogether different aura. Look at it. This father, Publius, is dying, and Paul lays his hands upon him and iaomai, iaomai, miraculously heals him just by the laying on of hands. Now when the islanders saw this, those that had diseases came and therapeuo, therapeutic, our word therapeutic comes from it, therapeuo. The meaning of therapeuo basically is, "to serve, to minister to." So it came to mean to minister to medically; to be a minister medically; to help people medically, therapeuo, "who also honored us."
Well, how does that "us" get in there? It is very obvious. In Colossians the Apostle Paul calls Luke, "My beloved physician." It is very obvious. In a marvelous demonstration in the confirmation of God upon the Apostle Paul, he healed, he iaomai the father of Publius, just by touching with his hand. But then the all the islanders who had diseases came and therapeuÃ³, Dr. Luke ministered to them as a physician. Both of them. Both of them. I think that is great, don’t you? Prayer and faith and therapeuÃ³ – using the doctor’s genius and means that he learned in the medical school, and in the pharmaceutical school, and in the surgeon’s school. That’s God. That is the way He ministers to us in our need and sometime, somewhere, all of us shall know what it is to lean upon the strong arm of God – to pray, to look to God for help and use means that we might be well. Now may we stand together?
Wonderful, wonderful Savior, how beautiful Thy name, the Great Physician – He who healeth all our diseases; who someday shall take us to Himself in heaven where there is no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither anything that shall ever hurt or destroy or bring pain and heartache. O blessed Savior, we cast our lives upon Thee. In Thy mercy and goodness, pity us, remember us, strengthen us, forgive us, heal us. Lord, Lord, only Thou canst answer prayer like that. We lean on Thy kind arm.
And while our people wait before God in prayer, and in a moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, could this be the day you will say yes to the Lord? "Yes, I am bringing my whole family, Pastor. We are coming today." Or "This is my wife. The two of us are coming." Or "This is my friend. We are coming." Or just you, a single, a somebody you: "God has spoken to my heart. He has called me, and I am answering with my life." May the angels attend you as you come down a stairway, down one of these aisles: "Here I stand, Pastor, for God." And our Lord, bless those who come. Thank Thee for them. In Thy saving and keeping name, amen. Welcome, while we sing, while we sing.