We have two remaining episodes this week, both devoted to physical healing. On Friday, we’ll talk about healing ministries today. Should we trust them or not? And if we avoid them, are we doing so because we think such a ministry is fraudulent, or because we are stopped by our own unbelief?
But first, today we talk about the timing of healing. When will God heal us of our pain in this life? And why did Christ seem to heal so few in his own earthly ministry? At least it appears that way. To these questions comes the following excerpt from John Piper’s sermon titled “Christ and Cancer.” This is a sermon he preached very early in his pastorate. Already by then, a pastor for just about a month, he was well-acquainted with death and cancer and sickness. I’ll begin with his testimony.
Before I entered college, I scarcely gave any thought to cancer and terminal illness in general. Then I went away to school at Wheaton and two of my very close acquaintances died before they were 22, one of leukemia and one of cancer of the lymph glands. Then I went to Fuller Seminary and, within one year, watched my systematics professor, Jim Morgan, shrivel up and die of cancer of the intestines. He was 36.
Then I went to Germany to study for three years, and six months before I was finished, my mentor, Professor Goppelt, dropped dead on the way to the subway of a massive coronary. And then I came to Bethel and taught for six years and watched administration and students and faculty die of cancer: Sue Port, Paul Greeley, Bob Bergurude, Ruth Ludeman, Graydon Hale, Chet Lindsey, Mary Ellen Carlson. All Christians. All dead before their three score and ten were up. And now I come to Bethlehem, and Harvey Ring is gone, and you could multiply the list tenfold. What should we say to these things?
Wounded for Us
Sobering. Then I’ll fast-forward. Later in the sermon, Pastor John goes into healing: God’s promises for our healing, and his timing for our healing. Here he is.
There is coming a day when every crutch will be carved and every wheelchair melted down into medallions of redemption, and Merlin and Ruben and Jim and Hazel and Ruth, and all the others, are going to do cartwheels through the kingdom of heaven, and we will rejoice. But not yet. It may not be yet. The day is coming, and that’s my second affirmation.
Third, Jesus Christ came into the world to die to purchase that redemption, to demonstrate its character as both spiritual and physical, and to give us a foretaste of it. Now, listen very carefully here, because right here is where I think many healers in our day misunderstand God’s purposes and distort his intention. The prophet Isaiah said in 53:5–6 — a text that Peter, in 1 Peter 2:24, picks up and applies to Christians —
He was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned — every one — to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
The blessing of forgiveness and the blessing of healing were purchased in the death of Christ, and everyone who joins to Christ and lives for Christ will have both blessings.
Healing for a Few
But when? That’s the question of our day. When do those blessings come in full force? When will our bodies no longer be enslaved to corruption? The ministry of Jesus, as we read it in the Gospels, was a ministry of healing and a ministry of forgiveness. He said, for example, to those disciples of John the Baptist, who were very perplexed,
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me. (Matthew 11:4–6)
Offense? Why would anybody take offense? He raises the dead. He’s bringing the kingdom, the long-awaited kingdom. Why would anybody take offense at someone who can do that? Easy. He raised three people and left thousands in the tombs. Why? Why did he only raise three if he came to raise the dead? Maybe because the relatives of all the others didn’t have enough faith? Baloney.
In Luke 7, he raised the widow’s son. She didn’t know him from Adam. She didn’t know who Jesus was. She hadn’t even seen him. All the text says was that he felt compassion on her as they were carrying the boy out of the town in his casket. Well, didn’t he pity all the widows in Israel? Sure he did.
Reserved for the Age to Come
The answer to why Jesus raised only a few people and not everybody is that, contrary to Jewish expectation, the first coming of the Messiah was not the consummation of redemption nor the closing of this fallen age. The first coming of the Messiah was to purchase that redemption, and to illustrate the nature of that redemption as physical and spiritual, and to give us a foretaste of it. He is going to come again, and now we know from his illustrations that when he comes, there will be resurrection for all his people, and there will be healing for all his people. No more crying, no more pain at that day.
“When Jesus comes, there will be resurrection for all his people, and there will be healing for all his people.”
But let me stress here, lest there be a misunderstanding, that we do have a foretaste. We do have a foretaste of that redemption. The benefits of forgiveness and the healing are real. God can and does heal the sick now in answer to our prayers, and nothing I say should be construed to imply that he doesn’t. But he doesn’t always, does he?
The miracle-mongers of our day who guarantee that Jesus wants you well now are guilty of a gross distortion of God’s intention. And I think it’s this: they have failed to understand the nature of God’s purpose in this fallen age. They have minimized the depth of sin, and the cruciality of the purgative nature of suffering, and the value of faith that comes through suffering, and they’re guilty of trying to force into this age what God has reserved for the age to come.
We Ourselves Groan
Notice the flow of thought in Romans 8:23–24: “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” Because of Christ’s purchased redemption, we already have the Spirit, but it’s only a firstfruit. It’s only a down payment. It’s only a foretaste of redemption. And you can’t help but see that when Paul stresses this — “We ourselves . . . groan inwardly” — what he’s doing is warning the Romans and warning us against a false inference.
“We wait also for the redemption of our bodies, and we groan as we wait.”
The false inference would be, “I have the Holy Spirit — almighty God is reigning in my life. How then shall I remain subject to the bondage of this age?” And Paul is against that inference. He’s against it. You can see it in the word we: “We ourselves . . . groan inwardly” — waiting, waiting, waiting for the redemption of our bodies. He’s against those who want to bring into this age too much salvation.
And here in this text, we wait also for the redemption of our bodies, and we groan as we wait. Christ has purchased redemption, he has demonstrated and illustrated that it is both physical and spiritual, and he has given us a glorious foretaste of it.