Robert Jeffress - Purpose-Driven Healing
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Despite remarkable advances in medical science, illness and injury remain constant threats to modern life. Chances are there's somebody in your life right now who's struggling with a debilitating condition and you've pled with God to heal them. Does God still perform miracles? If so, why doesn't he wipe out disease and cure everyone? My message is titled "Purpose-Driven Healing" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
Does God still heal people today like he did in biblical times? If so, why isn't everyone healed? Do certain people possess the gift of healing today like the apostles did, and how should we respond whenever we are confronted with illness in our life or the life of somebody we care about? We're going to answer those questions as we look at Acts chapter 3. Turn there as we talk about what I call purpose-driven healing. Now, today I want to do three things in the few minutes we have. First of all, I want us to look at an overview of what the Bible, the New Testament says about healing. It's going to surprise some of you. Secondly, we're going to look at this account in Acts 3 of the first healing. And then finally, I'm going to close with two timeless truths that apply to all of us today.
First of all, let's look at what the Bible says about healing, and I'm going to make three statements. I want you to write them down. First statement, the purpose of healing was to affirm the healer's message. The purpose of healing always was to affirm the healer's message. The second thing I would say about healing is healing was limited in scope. When you look at the New Testament, healing was limited. First of all, the number of people who could be healed... or who could heal was limited. Not only was the number of people who could heal limited, the number of people who were healed was also limited. Not everyone who asked for healing was healed in the New Testament.
Thirdly, and this is so important to understand, healing became more rare as the early church progressed. What's even more interesting is that outside James chapter 5, which was one of the earliest books written in the New Testament, outside of James 5 that we'll look at in a few moments there is no instruction about healing in the church. In fact, there's no instance of healing in the church when you get past the book of Acts. When Paul is writing to Timothy; 1 Timothy, that book is really an instruction manual, an operating manual for how the church is to operate. There is not a word about healing. None of the pastoral epistles mention healing at all. It became more and more rare as the church progressed.
Now, with that background, let's look at this first instance of healing in the Bible. And what I want you to notice in Acts 3, it's divided neatly into two parts. First of all, the miracle performed by Peter, the healing miracle, and the message preached by Peter. The miracle was just the setup for the message. Now let's look at this. Verse 1 chapter 3, "Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer," that was 3 o'clock in the afternoon, "and a man who had been lame from his mother's womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. And when this beggar saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms".
You've probably noticed here in Dallas that at prominent intersections in Dallas people who need money have a place there. And when cars are stopped at a red light, they think that's an opportune time to ask for money. It's always been that way. In biblical times, if you were begging for money you wanted a piece of prime real estate to do that and there was no better place than by the gate named Beautiful because that gate was the most direct way into the temple area. And so just picture this. Here are people who are going to the temple to try to make things right with God and here's a beggar saying, "Please give me some money". Maybe they think if they throw a few shekels in the basket they'll gain some brownie points with the Almighty before they come in and go to him. It made them look good, they thought. So the beggars would stay there at the Beautiful gate and ask for money.
Now, what we find out about this beggar is he had been lame since birth. Acts 4:22 tells us he was more than 40 years of age. Why is that important? Because it means he had been in that space for years, and that means during Jesus's 3 years of ministry when he went to the temple, which he did often... when he went to the temple he would have passed by this lame man and he would have had the opportunity to heal him. So the question is, why wouldn't Jesus have healed this man long ago? Because it is not God's will for everybody to be physically healed.
You know, when I think about that truth, I think about Joni Eareckson Tada. She is a great friend of our church, a great friend of mine. And you know her story. When she was 17 years of age, she was in a diving accident that left her as a quadriplegic. She's been sitting in a wheelchair for 50 years and yet God hasn't healed her. Not yet anyway. And yet while sitting in that wheelchair she's done more than most of us who stand on our feet are able to do to lead people to faith in Christ. Through her weakness, her illness, the power of Christ has been displayed.
That's what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9. God told him, "The reason I'm not going to heal you is my grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness". This man was lame for 40 years, but God had another plan in mind. Look at what happened in verses 6 to 8. "Peter answered the beggar and said, 'I don't possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk.' And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up and immediately his feet and ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God".
Does God heal? Yes, God heals sometimes. And he had a purpose in this, but I want you to notice something about true biblical healing. First of all, it was instantaneous; and secondly, I want you to notice that this miracle was performed in the name of Jesus. We'll look at that more next time, but it was by the authority of Jesus Christ that this man was healed. Peter had no power to heal apart from the power of Christ. Peter didn't get to choose who got healed. Only Christ did. How did the people react to this miracle? They were amazed indeed.
Look at verse 9. "All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms". Verse 11, "While he," the lame man, "was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement". The crowd was building. They were running toward Peter. And so what did Peter do? Have you ever heard the political axiom that's in operation day, never let a good crisis go to waste? Peter had another motto he lived by. Never let a good miracle go to waste. This miracle was not an end into itself. It gave Peter a platform to share the message, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now, there is a famous saying that is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. I don't know whether he actually said it or not, but if he did it was an idiotic statement to make. You've heard it a million times. "Preach the gospel. When necessary, use words". What does that mean? That sounds so good people say, "Yeah, that's what it means. You don't have to preach to people. You don't have to share the message. Just do good things to people and live a good life and somehow automatically by osmosis they will come to know Jesus is Savior". That's ridiculous. First of all, none of us is good enough to lead somebody to Christ by the life we lead. We're just not. And even if somebody is attracted by the way we live our life and the good things we do; if we don't tell them why we're doing it, how are they supposed to know? They might attribute our good deeds to Confucius, or Buddha, or Muhammad, or to our Aunt Ethel who is our model.
You know, how do they know who is responsible for the good things we're doing? No. If you're going to share the gospel, you have to use words. Paul said faith comes by what? Hearing, not by seeing. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of God". Peter understood that. It wasn't enough to do a good deed. He had to give the reason behind what he did, and that's what he does when he delivers this message. And I want you to notice three things Peter does in this message. First of all, he declares that Jesus is the Messiah.
Look at verses 14 to 16. He said to these Jews, "But you disowned the Holy, Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you". He was referring to what had just happened 2 months earlier when the people cried out for Barabbas instead of Jesus to be released. "But you put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are all witnesses. And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus that has strengthened this man whom you see and know". First of all, he establishes to these Jews that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah when he uses that phrase holy and righteous one. That was an Old Testament term referring to the Messiah. It's one of six that Peter uses in his preaching. Notice also he points to both the death and the resurrection of the Messiah. "You put him to death the prince of life, but God raised him from the dead".
Now listen to me. When you are sharing an evangelistic message, when you are sharing the gospel with somebody, the gospel message is not about the new life you have. It's not about your breaking an addiction in your life. It's not about a restored marriage that you've experienced. It's not about hearing the birds chirp every morning in a brand-new way. None of that is the gospel. The gospel is about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That's what the gospel is. He died for your sins according to the scriptures, and he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures. And any so-called message that isn't centered on the death and resurrection of Christ is a bogus message and will never lead anybody to the Savior. That's what we learned from Peter. He declared that Jesus is the Messiah, and by the way it has to be the death and resurrection of Christ.
As Warren Wiersbe said, "Calvary was man's last word about Jesus, but the empty tomb was God's last word about Jesus". Secondly, what does Peter do after declaring Jesus is the Messiah? He explains the Jews' guilt before God. He explains the Jews' guilt before God. Look, you can't give somebody the good news until they embrace the bad news. It's interesting in verse 17 how Peter deals with it. He's diplomatic. He says, "And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did". "You made a mistake. Perhaps you didn't understand that he was really the Messiah, but now that he has been raised from the dead you are without excuse". That's exactly what he's saying in verse 18. "But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled".
So what does he do as a result of this message? Notice the third component. Peter calls for repentance. "Therefore repent," change your mind, "return so that your sins might be wiped away". There, again, is what the gospel is about, that your sins might be wiped away. That phrase wiped away is the same idea that King David expressed in the psalms when he said, "Blot out my transgressions". In biblical times, papyrus writing services were so expensive you had to use it over and over again. You dared not write in an acid-based ink or it would take hold and it could never be erased. You would write in an acid-free ink so that when you're finished with the documents you could take a sponge and you could wipe away what had been written on it.
That is a picture of what the blood of Christ does for you and me. When God forgives us, he wipes away our sin. He erases it. He remembers it no more. The invitation is to have your sins wiped away, but it doesn't stop there. "In order that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of God". He goes on to say, "That He might send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things". What is he talking about, the times of refreshing, the times of restoration? These are all references to the millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ when God will fulfill his promise to Israel. You see, for Jews to come to faith in Christ, there was both a personal blessing, their sins were washed away; but there was a national blessing, that God's promise to Abraham would be fulfilled.
That's what he was inviting them to do. How did the crowd react to Peter's bold message? We're going to see the reaction in Acts 4 next time, but today I want to close with two timeless truths that apply for us today. Truth number one; I want you to listen carefully 'cause this is going to surprise some of you. Truth number one is the church's mission is to meet the spiritual needs of people. The mission of the church is not to heal everybody. It's not to feed everybody. It's not to clothe everybody. It is to meet the spiritual needs of people. You know, a lot of people don't understand that. They really view that the church is some sanctified social agency; that, "Oh, if there's a need in our community, if there's a need in our country, oh, the church ought to be right there doing it".
You know, that's our job. We're a sanctified social agency. No. That's not what the church has been mandated to do. You know, Peter Drucker, many of you know his name, he was the management expert, American management expert. Many people don't know he was also a Christian. And I read an article he wrote one time about effective churches, and he said, "For churches to be really effective for God, they have to learn to say no to certain good ministries that other people think they ought to be engaged in". And he used this illustration. He said if you go to the American Lung Association and you say to them, "Have you seen those frightening statistics, that 97% of all Americans have ingrown toenails? What are you going to do about it"?
The American Lung Association will basically say to you, "Our interest in people stops above the neck and below the navel. We don't care about ingrown toenails. We don't care about anything except a person's lungs. That is our focus". Peter Drucker says the church needs to be the same way. Many people feel like the church exists to take care of every problem and it's terribly hard for them to say no and yet the effective churches are the ones that say no. Think about this. Every government agency, every social agency in America today is all focused, they're all focused on the same thing, taking care of the needs of people on this side of the grave.
Only the church of Jesus Christ takes care of people's needs on the other side of the grave for all eternity. When Jesus gave the great commission, he didn't say, "Go into all the world and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, provide shelter for the homeless". He said, "Go into all the world and," what? Make disciples. How do you do it? Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Evangelism. "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you". That's what the unique mission of the church is. "Well, pastor, what about that passage in James? If you see a brother or sister in need and you don't answer their need, your faith is worthless".
That's exactly right. The key is a brother or sister, a fellow Christian. We have a great responsibility in our church to watch out for the needs of one another, and we'll see that illustrated in the book of Acts. The early church, if anybody had a need, their need was taken care of by other people in the church. But there is no mandate to take care of the physical needs of people. That's why Peter didn't spend the rest of the day healing people. Instead, he preached the gospel to people that would provide the ultimate healing they need. Second truth I see in this passage is all healing ultimately comes from God. Peter was very clear in his message. He said, "This didn't come from me. It came from the name, the authority of Jesus".
Does God heal people today? You bet he does. Sometimes God heals directly. He just heals. Some of you have experienced that before. Sometimes God uses doctors and he uses medicine to bring about healing. You say, "Now, where do you get that in the Bible"? I'm so glad you asked. Isaiah 38, King Hezekiah was given the message that he was going to die soon and he needed to get his affairs together and so he cried out to God for healing. God granted him an extra 15 years. But how did God provide that healing? He did it through Isaiah. Isaiah 38:21, "And Isaiah had said, 'Let them take a lump of figs and lay it on for a plaster upon the boil, and he shall recover.'"
The figs and the plaster were the best medicine they had been to take care of the problem, but God used it to extend 15 more years to Hezekiah's life. I mean, he eventually died, but he got 15 years more of life. When you come to James chapter 5, verse 14, one of the earliest books written in the New Testament, James said, "Is any among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord".
Now, when you look at that verse in the Greek language, it actually is a participial phrase that could be translated this way. Call for the elders of the church, let them pray, and having anointed him with oil in the name of the Lord Jesus let them pray. Having already anointed him, let them pray. In other words, that phrase anointing is a subservient phrase to the main verb pray. In James' day, oil was a medicinal agent. It was thought to bring healing. What James is saying is if you have somebody who is sick; yes, go to the doctor; yes, use chemotherapy, use whatever you have at your disposal. Do that of course, but the most important thing you can do, having done that already, is to pray. That's what the Word of God says.
How are we to respond when we face illness or somebody we know faces illness? First of all, we are to pray, pray. Secondly, we could and should seek the best medical care available. Whatever God has provided for us, let's take advantage of that. Pray, go to the doctor, seek healing; and thirdly, leave the results to God. That's the prayer of faith. The prayer of faith is saying, "God, this is what I'm praying for, this is what I want, but I believe you know what is best". Boldly pray, quietly rest in God's answer, but he knows what's best. As he said to the apostle Paul who asked three times for healing, when Paul begged God to heal him God said, "No. My grace is sufficient for you". And so Paul concluded, "Most gladly therefore I will rather boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me".