Why did God heal? It’s a simple question, but sometimes we professional Christians have a habit of making simple things complicated. We kick up a cloud of dust and then complain that we can’t see. Healing must have been important to Jesus because he did a lot of it. He taught his disciples to heal, and they taught their disciples to heal. God loves to make wrong things right in our bodies, souls, and spirits, regardless of where we are in our spiritual journeys.
When I first studied every healing and miracle story in the New Testament, I was overwhelmed by the purity and simplicity of the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit. God did not heal to show that the apostles were trustworthy teachers of doctrine so we could have confidence in the Bible and make the transition to a new way of worshiping God. The reason for healing did not lay in a historical transition, but in the eternal character of God.
Sometimes Jesus heals just because he is asked. It can be that simple.
Mark told the story of Jesus healing a deaf and mute man (Mark 7:31–37). The only reason given in the story for Jesus’ healing of the man was that some people had asked him to do it.
God Heals Because He Has Compassion
Jesus heals because he has compassion on the sick and hurting. A typical incident is recorded in Matthew 14:13–14:
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Compassion motivated Jesus to heal a man who had leprosy (Mark 1:41–42), a boy possessed by an impure spirit (Mark 9:22), and two men who were blind (Matthew 20:34), and even to raise a widow’s son from the dead (Luke 7:11–17). In Matthew, the feeding of the four thousand is motivated not by a desire on Jesus’ part to demonstrate that he is the bread of life, but by his compassion for the multitude (Matthew 15:32). Likewise, Jesus healed those who were blind (Matthew 9:27–31; 20:29–34), possessed by demons (Matthew 5:22–28; 17:14–21), and had leprosy (Luke 17:13–14) in response to their cries for mercy. Even the healing of the most severely demon-possessed person in the New Testament is attributed ultimately to God’s mercy (Mark 5:19).
In Hebrew, the word for “compassion” is derived from the word womb. God feels about his people the way a mother feels about her unborn baby. She has tender longings for that baby and would die to protect her child. Like a mother carrying her child, God longs for his helpless children and is moved by our pains, and he waits for us to cry out to him for help (Isaiah 30:18–19). The sheer number of the texts listed in the previous paragraph demonstrates that God’s compassion and mercy were major factors in the healings of the New Testament. Jesus was touched by the pains and the sicknesses of people all around him. He felt the pain of a widow as he watched the funeral procession carrying the body of her only son, and that compassion moved him to raise the son from the dead (Luke 7:11–17).
If the Lord healed in the first century because he was motivated by his compassion and mercy for the hurting, why would we think he has withdrawn that compassion after the death of the apostles? Why would we think he no longer feels compassion when he sees lepers or those dying from AIDS? Why would we think he is now content to demonstrate that compassion only by giving grace to endure the suffering rather than by healing the condition? When someone tells me that God no longer heals or gives gifts of healing, I ask them to tell me what happened to God’s compassion. It is far more likely that we have stopped asking for healing than it is that God has withdrawn his compassion and mercy for the sick and hurting.
God Heals for His Glory
Sometimes the stated purpose for a healing is to bring glory to God. That was one of the primary purposes in raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus told the disciples, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). And then he said to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40). When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he demonstrated that he was the resurrection and the life, and this demonstration brought great glory to God and to the Son of God.
This same purpose is also seen in the apostolic healings. Peter explained the healing of the lame man at the temple gate called Beautiful in the following way:
When Peter saw this [the people’s wonder and amazement over the miracle that had just taken place], he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.”
When Peter said the lame man was not healed “by our own power or godliness,” he not only gave God the glory for the healing, but he set healers free from condemnation. Most of us who pray for the sick know that the power for healing comes from God, not us. We are less clear about the role of our own godliness in the healing. Almost every time I pray for someone, whether in front of a crowd or in a home, an evil voice attacks me, saying things like, “You should have been fasting; you should have been praying more . . . ,” and it reminds me of specific sins. That articulate darkness is trying to rob me of faith by persuading me that someone’s healing rests on my goodness instead of God’s goodness.
But Peter’s words set me free from that trap. Every time evil speaks to me in this way, my mind goes back to Acts 3:11–12, and I’m free of that condemnation.
The healing of the lame man achieved its intended effect, for Luke later says that “they were all glorifying God for what had happened” (Acts 4:21 NASB). This was a normal response among people who observed the miraculous ministry of Jesus. They frequently responded by praising and glorifying the God of Israel. For example, Matthew tells us, “Large crowds came to [Jesus], bringing with them those who were lame, crippled, blind, mute, and many others, and they laid them down at His feet; and He healed them. So the crowd marveled as they saw the mute speaking, the crippled restored, and the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:30–31 NASB).
This is also a major theme in Luke’s gospel. The people glorified God when they saw Jesus heal the paralytic lowered through the roof (Luke 5:24–26), when Jesus raised the widow of Nain’s son from the dead (Luke 7:16), when he healed the woman bent over double by a spirit (Luke 13:13, 17), and when he healed the blind man (Luke 18:42–43). Luke brings this theme to a fitting conclusion at the triumphal entry of the Lord Jesus: “When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen” (Luke 19:37).
Jesus expected people who received the healing power of God to glorify him. After healing the ten lepers and seeing that only one returned to give thanks, Jesus said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17–18 NASB). These texts demonstrate that miracles were given not only to authenticate Jesus and his message but also to bring glory to God the Father and God the Son.
This theme of glorifying the Lord through healings and miracles was prominent in the ministry of William Duma, a famous black South African preacher who was used in many notable miracles and healings until his death in 1977. Duma’s reputation was so great that white people visited his church seeking to be healed by Jesus Christ. This was significant because it happened in a time when it was not acceptable for whites to visit black churches in a country controlled by apartheid.
Duma went on an annual twenty-one-day fast in complete solitude to gain direction from the Lord for his ministry in the coming year. Yet he would not credit his holiness as the secret to his healing ministry. The title of his biography, Take Your Glory Lord, reveals the real secret of his healing power. When Duma laid his hands on the sick to pray for them, his dominant thought was that the Lord would be glorified. And the Lord honored that desire with many notable miracles, including raising a young girl from the dead. Like God’s compassion, the purpose of bringing God glory is not rooted in temporary historical circumstances. God has always been concerned to bring glory to himself and to his Son. And healed people are still glorifying God today.
God Heals in Response to Faith
A woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years sneaked up behind Jesus, touched the edge of his cloak, and then was instantly healed of her hemorrhage. Jesus felt power leave his body and turned to find the woman. When he found her, he said, “Take heart, daughter . . . your faith has healed you” (Matthew 9:22). It was the faith of a Canaanite woman that moved Jesus to heal her demonized daughter. He said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted” (Matthew 15:28). What motivated the Lord Jesus to heal the paralytic who was lowered through the roof at Capernaum? The Bible says that “when Jesus saw their faith” (Matthew 9:2), he healed the paralytic.
This same principle of God’s healing in response to faith is found in the ministry of the apostles. Luke records that “in Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, ‘Stand up on your feet!’ At that, the man jumped up and began to walk (Acts 14:8–10).
God Heals in Response to His Own Promise
Another reason for believing that healing ought to be a primary ministry of the church today is God’s promise to heal through the elders of the church. In James 5:14–16, God commissioned the whole church to heal:
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Why would God command the church to pray for the sick and promise the church healing if they prayed unless God intended healing to be a normative part of church life? Many Christians who believe in the infallibility of their Bibles hardly know that James 5:14–16 is in their Bibles. I taught seminary classes for ten years before I ever encouraged students to apply James 5:14–16.
Church members will never ask their elders for healing prayer unless they are taught to do so, and they will never have confidence in God to heal unless they are taught that God does heal and the reasons that he heals. As soon as we began to teach and practice James 5:14–16 with a little anticipation, God began to heal in our church. Ruth Gay, the woman I mentioned in chapter 4 who was healed of an aneurysm, was one of the first for whom we prayed. It is not only the elders who pray for the sick. In verse 16, James commands all Christians to “pray for each other so that you may be healed.” If the whole church were to take God’s command seriously, we would see a great deal more healing than we see presently.
In this chapter, I have cited Scripture showing that God heals:
- because he is asked
- because he has compassion and mercy on the sick
- to bring glory to himself
- in response to his promise to the elders
- in response to faith
The Scriptures also give other reasons that God heals. Although I discuss these in appendix 2, I will mention them briefly here:
He heals to lead people to repentance and open doors for the gospel.
He heals to remove hindrances to ministry and service.
He heals to teach us about himself and his kingdom.
He heals to demonstrate the presence of his kingdom.
And he heals for sovereign purposes known only to himself.
None of these reasons are based on the changing historical circumstances of the first-century church. They are rooted in the character and eternal purposes of God.
I have learned these reasons by heart, and they have given me confidence to pray for the sick, even to hold the dead in my arms and ask God to bring them back to life. To the degree that any individual or church will align themselves with these purposes when they pray for the sick, they will see healings take place in their ministry.
This is an excerpt from Why I Am Still Surprised by the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere. In this revised volume he demonstrates that the Scriptures teach that God is healing and speaking today just as he did 2000 years ago. He tells documented stories of modern miracles. He explains the nature of spiritual gifts, defines each spiritual gift, offers sound advice on discovering and using the gifts in church today. He shows how all of this part of God’s way of deepening our friendship with him. There are many new stories of God’s power, even walking on water and multiplying food. Deere also introduces the newest literature defending and explaining the gifts of the Spirit. All this and more continues the book’s legacy for a new time. Get the book from our store here.