John 5:1-13
II Corinthians 12:1-10

Over my 34 years of ministry, I have been involved with a handful of situations where people prayed for others’ healing and it seemed the Spirit answered those prayers. Back in the early 90’s, a number of church leaders prayed for a woman who was facing surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from one of her kidneys; and before surgery, a follow-up CT scan revealed that tumor was gone and she never had another problem.

Then there was a very good friend, and colleague in ministry, who suffered a heart attack that resulted in his kidneys completely shutting down. In such cases, death almost always ensues. In accordance with James 5:14, Dean called on the elders of the church to pray for him, which we did. And low and behold, his kidneys came back on line and he recovered. To be sure, Dean died a few years after that from kidney failure, but like King Hezekiah, Dean received some extra time.

But the truth is that although we believe God hears all of our prayers, it cannot be denied that God doesn’t always answer our prayers in accord with our desire. For many of us have joined many others to pray for a miracle of healing for our friend, Ken Jones, but he is still lying in neurological intensive care.

These type of stories typify the mystery of unanswered prayer: Why are some healed, while others are not?

What does the New Testament have to say about healing?

Today’s gospel text serves to remind us that Jesus had the ability to heal illnesses. The gospels record 24 times when Jesus healed people: a woman who was sick for 18 years, a man with a deformed hand, a deaf-mute, one suffering gout, two people of a fever, two who were paralyzed, five who were blind, and a group of 11 people suffering from leprosy. Beyond those specific occasions, there are two mentions that Jesus healed ‘many’ who had come to Him.

On the other hand, when you spend some time reflecting about Jesus healing, you begin to realize that He didn’t heal all. As we read today, He healed a paralyzed man by the pool of Bethesda, but what about the crowds of other disabled persons lying there who were not?

Even so; certainly no one questions the ability of Jesus to invoke God’s power to heal.

The question then becomes, did He pass this ability to His disciples? We cannot ignore I Corinthians 12:28, where in the midst of his most comprehensive writing on the subject of ‘spiritual gifts’ Paul lists the gift of healing as one of the 21. And why wouldn’t he? He has witnessed first-hand God using him and many colleagues to bring about healing.

James, the brother of Jesus, takes a slightly different approach; indicating that ‘elders’ in the church are the ones endowed with the gift of healing affirming along with Paul that the Spirit of God is more than able to heal the sick.

Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven (James 5:14-15 NLT).

The question now becomes, ‘Are certain people within the body of Christ, be it people elders or others with a spiritual gift still manifesting God’s healing power?’

Two theological camps represent opposite ends of the spectrum.

At one end, there are those especially those in the ‘health and wealth camp’ who would say that, yes there are still gifts of healing, come to us and you’ll see. Though the percentage of churches and ministries involved in these movements is relatively small, they, nonetheless, attract a lot of attention because they have enough money to buy TV air time. Those of you who have cable TV can tune in about anytime day or night to learn how to be healthy and wealthy by following their ‘prosperity’ formulas. Some of the key elements of these kinds of teachings are:

  1. God desires for all of His children to be healthy and wealthy.
  2. The Bible contains laws of prosperity for health and wealth that are set in motion by faith and will produce miraculous results when used as directed.
  3. It is a sin to be poor or sick because to be either denotes a lack of faith.

At the opposite end are those who believe God did miracles of healing to lend authority to the messenger and who believe that miracles and healing gifts passed away with the early church. For Biblical support, they note there were four periods in which God worked miracles through Moses, Elijah, Daniel, and finally Jesus and His disciples. That God used those miracles to authenticate the messenger and his message at critical times in Israel’s history. And that miracles of healing are no longer needed to authenticate God’s message today because we have the God’s word.

Those at this end of the spectrum note that early in the Book of Acts, God is using the Apostles right and left to perform miracles of healing. But by the end of the same book, it seems that healings have diminished. They ask, if Paul could heal at will, why didn’t he heal his son in the faith, Timothy, who had constant stomach ills? What about Trophimus who Paul left in the city of Miletus. (II Timothy 4:19-20). What about Paul himself, in which God replies to his prayer for healing, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

I believe that the truth, as it almost always does, lies somewhere in the middle.

The Bible gives examples of prayers answered and unanswered; of illnesses healed and unhealed.

Dr. Paul Brand, who before he died wrote for Christianity Today, said, “From my own experience as a physician I must truthfully admit that among thousands of patients I have treated, I have never observed an unequivocal instance of a miraculous healing.” 1

Phillip Yancey has found that most doctors he has interviewed about these things will point to one, maybe two instances when as far as they could tell an unexplained healing took place. He notes the medical literature today estimates that 2 or 3 out every 1000 people with cancer will experience a sudden cure unrelated to treatment. Yancey also tells of a famous faith healer who one day confided to him that he had seen only or 2 or 3 cases he would classify as a miracle. And he also points out that the medical board at Lourdes in France have examined over 7,000 cases of claimed healing and have only authenticated 67 as miraculous cures; only 1 since 1987. 2

And don’t forget whatever we choose to believe about this issue, we have to agree that the power of prayer has its limits. No prayer will reverse the aging process, cure baldness, or keep us from the cessation of biological function.

And yet in the midst of our struggle with this issue, I would never turn away anyone who would come to me asking for healing prayers; neither would you.

The scripture invites us to come boldly before God and make known our requests asking in Jesus name that is for God’s will to be done in the lives of those for whom we pray. We should all be encouraged to pray as Dr. Vernon Grounds: “Lord, I know you have a plan and purpose for this person, I don’t know what it is but I’ll tell you straight out what I desire for them.” 3

And then we must leave the answer in God’s good hands. For trusting God no matter what is one of the most important lessons that God desires for us to learn in our short stay upon the earth. If that miraculous intervention of God that some of us are hoping for, and others are praying for does not take place, we must not conclude that God does not love us or care for us or has somehow forgotten us. For reasons that are beyond our understanding, God chooses to allow us to endure various kinds of trials. He is the God who declares to us as well as Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:10).

He doesn’t always remove the thorn, but somehow He gives us the grace to bear it. Because the truth of the matter is that something is going to get us all. We’re not going to live forever, not here anyway. If you care to embrace it, the greatest healing miracle of all occurs when death does for the Christian. Eternal life is the ultimate healing.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him. (I Co. 2:9).

My Uncle Jack, my mother’s brother, my cousin Tom Lutz’s father, was 84 years old when he was hospitalized and diagnosed with colon cancer. I took my mother to Lima to see Jack, who by that time had returned to his home. We went out to eat with him and his son, my cousin, Tom. When we got back to the house, I asked Jack how he was dealing with it. He said he prayed to God for a miracle of healing and for the present time was going to act as if God has healed him. Before we left, I prayed for his healing too.

But as time went on, it became apparent that Jack had not been healed. In fact, further testing had shown that the cancer was spreading. Tom moved his father to his home in Cincinnati; where before he died, the cancer had spread to Jack’s liver and lungs.

That story has all the appearances of a sad, hopeless story. But it is not a sad story. It is not a sad story because the story is not over. It is not a sad story because the cancer is not going to have the final word.

Christ Jesus had the last word about Jack Lutz, when He said to him, “Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into your rest!” You see, my Uncle Jack placed his faith in the One who is the way and the truth and the life. My Uncle Jack believed that no one comes to the Father except through Christ and that because he went through Jesus, He is going to the Father and that dwelling place that Jesus talked about preparing for him.

And my Uncle Jack was able to rise above the circumstances of cancer that took over his body because he knew that his spirit was going to be with God and that gave him this incredible peace in the midst of his pain.

God did not remove the thorn but God gave my uncle Jack the grace to bear it until He called him home!


1 Yancey, Paul. Prayer. [Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan © 2006] page 256.
2 Ibid, page 257.
3 Ibid, page 268.