Easter Saturday is a slightly odd day, I find. It falls in between Good Friday, which is a very sombre day looking at the cross, and Easter Sunday which is joyfully looking at the resurrection. I find it’s not really a special day but it’s not a normal day either.
Given that I didn’t post anything up on Good Friday, and given that I won’t be around to post something up tomorrow, I thought I might post up a prayer from “The Valley of Vision”, a collection of puritan prayers. This is one which was given to us as part of a chapel communion service last term, and I find it very helpful.
Enlarge my heart, warm my affections, open my lips, supply words that proclaim ‘Love lustres at Calvary.’
There grace removes my burdens and heaps them on thy Son, made a transgressor, a curse, and sin for me;
There the sword of thy justice smote the man, thy fellow;
There thy infinite attributes were magnified, and infinite atonement was made;
There infinite punishment was due, and infinite punishment was endured.
Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,
cast off that I might be brought in,
trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend,
surrendered to hell’s worst that I might attain heaven’s best,
stripped that I might be clothed,
wounded that I might be healed,
athirst that I might drink,
tormented that I might be comforted,
made a shame that I might inherit glory,
entered darkness that I might have eternal light.
My Saviour wept that all tears might be wiped from my eyes,
groaned that I might have endless song,
endured all pain that I might have unfading health,
bore a thorny crown that I might have a glory-diadem,
bowed his head that I might uplift mine,
experienced reproach that I might receive welcome,
closed his eyes in death that I might gaze on unclouded brightness,
expired that I might for ever live.
O Father, who spared not thine only Son that thou mightest spare me,
All this transfer thy love designed and accomplished;
Help me to adore thee by lips and life.
O that my every breath might be ecstatic praise,
my every step buoyant with delight,
as I see my enemies crushed,
Satan baffled, defeated, destroyed,
sin buried in the ocean of reconciling blood,
hell’s gates closed, heaven’s portal open.
Go forth, O conquering God, and show me the cross,
mighty to subdue, comfort and save.”
This is the text of a sermon I preached yesterday morning at at the 9:00 communion service at St Thomas’ Kidsgrove. It was the last day of their ‘week of events’ or mission which I mentioned in my post last week. (The week went well, by the way, thanks for asking.)
The passage is Mark 8:31-38, which it would be helpful to read before reading the sermon! And so, without further ado…
Last week, the ASA seemed to end up ruling that you can’t claim that God heals people. This is in response to a flyer on the HOTS Bath area website (HOTS = Healing On The Streets). For the whole story of why the complaint was made, check out this blog post (written by the person who originally made the complaint).
Now, I’m not really going to go into the details of the ASA ruling. I think it’s a bit heavy-handed, to be honest. My main reason for thinking that is they’ve basically outlawed claiming that God can heal – not that he will heal. This seems a bit bizarre to me: clearly a God who is incapable of healing anyone is not a God who is worth believing in. I think the question of ‘evidence’ is just a red herring, given that these claims are not on the same level as someone who (for example) claims that homeopathy can prevent malaria. They’re not trying to usurp medical authority, or stop people using the ordinary methods of healing. If the ASA make no provision for religious claims at all, then ‘the law is an ass’.
Still, that’s all I want to say about that topic, though – I want to deal more with the issue of healing from a theological perspective. I just wanted to pose the question: “What does God say about healing?” And, more specifically in this case, what does God say about the kind of healing which HOTS speak about?
I think the Bible is clear that healing can and does happen. There are many miracles of Jesus’ healing recorded, and the book of James doesn’t mince its words: “Is 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. And 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.” (James 5:14-15, NIV translation).
It seems pretty unequivocal, doesn’t it? Although this may not be a helpful translated of the original – the Greek verb used is sōzō, which means to save or heal (In the more literal ESV translation, it is rendered as ‘saved’). In this case, it could refer to physical healing or it could refer to spiritual salvation. Perhaps both.
There’s an intriguing story in Matthew 13:53-58 about Jesus going back to his home town. Matthew adds a little comment: “he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” What’s going on here? Is Jesus unable to heal them because he’s run out of power? Not quite. I think what’s happening is not that Jesus couldn’t heal people – but that healing them would have been pointless: John’s gospel consistently uses the word ‘signs’ of Jesus’ miracles. Miracles aren’t just there in a vacuum, they point to something: they point to Jesus being the Christ, the redeemer, the saviour. The people of Nazareth were hardened against Jesus, unable to accept that he was the Christ – and as such, healing them would have produced no fruit in that regard.
Jesus performing miracles without people believing in him would have been inconsistent with his mission. This is an extract of the New Bible Dictionary article on ‘Signs’, which puts it far more eloquently than I could:
The real significance of the miracles of Jesus is that they point forward to Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, to the transformation brought by the new age of the Spirit, and thus lead to a faith in Jesus the (crucified) Christ, the (risen) Son of God. … Consequently a faith based or nurtured exclusively on signs, rather than on the reality to which they point, is immature and at grave risk. Mature faith rejoices in what signs it perceives, but does not depend on them.
The significance of that, with respect to HOTS, is that it seems to me HOTS are offering ‘healing’ on its own, without any other stuff about believing in Jesus. And I’m just not sure that’s a Biblical model of healing.
God can, and does, heal. But I think any healing promised apart from faith in the risen Christ is on shaky ground. I’m sure God does use it nonetheless – perhaps some people are healed and then convicted that it was God who healed them and then go on to believe.
But I think it’s important to remember that there is a kind of healing which is more important than physical healing: the healing of a broken relationship with God. Physical healing is good, but only inasmuch as it points us to the risen Saviour.
Tonight I preached a sermon at my placement church on Matthew 3:13-4:11. I don’t know whether it was recorded, I don’t know whether they have the facility to record there, so I’ve decided to upload the sermon as a PDF: you can download it here (PDF, 408K). That’s an approximation of what I said, by the way – I decided to preach from notes rather than a full script this time. (It seems to be working as well, my memory seems to be improving in that respect. It seems that you actually have to practice to improve your communication skills, who’d have thought it…)
I had some positive comments on it after the service, so that was positive. I felt a bit more nervous about preaching there than I have done previously, probably because I didn’t really know people so well. When I was preaching at Fordham I did at least know most of the people in the congregation. Still, preaching to a group of people who I don’t know is something I will need to get used to, so it’s not bad to have some experience in that respect.
Next week I’m preaching in chapel – it’s only a “Monday Meditation” (where basically the goal is to do as little talking as possible and get everyone to meditate while saying ‘Ommmm…’) but it’s still a pretty daunting prospect preaching to a bunch of people who are all studying theology and training to work in Christian ministry. People who have, for the most part, probably got more experience and learning under their belt than I have. Still, hey ho, experience is experience.
Hope you enjoy the sermon, if you read it. Let me know what you think.