Sunday, January 22, 2023

What About Healing?

[A heavy snowfall hit our area shortly before today's worship services of Living Water Lutheran Church happened. A few folks were able to make the drive. Below you'll find both the message prepared for our two services and the live stream video. Have a blessed week, friends!]

Matthew 4:12-25
A member of the first church I served as pastor–we’ll call him John–had a machine shop. There he fabricated farm equipment.

One day, two neighbor boys brought John a big barrel they wanted to have cut in two. John said that wouldn’t be a problem.

He cleaned out the barrel, which had previously contained some kind of chemicals, then took a torch to the barrel to cut it.

When the flame of the torch made contact with some of the chemical residue, the barrel exploded, crashing into John’s skull. He was life-flighted to a hospital forty miles away.

On arriving at the ER, I was ushered in to see and pray for John. He looked like someone from a war zone. The doctors said there was a 90% chance John would die that night; if he survived the night, he likely wouldn’t live long; and if he did survive, he likely would be severely damaged, mentally and physically.

I’m sure that because of Jesus, Who was invited to heal John by hundreds of praying people, John experienced miraculous healing. He thrives today.

John stands for dozens of people I’ve encountered through the years who have been given healing by Jesus, each of those healings a testimony to the power and grace of God given in Christ.

But through the years, I’ve been baffled and driven to ask God why some of the people for whom I and others have prayed through the years didn’t receive their miracles.

Why did six year old Isaac, who delighted the entire congregation during children’s sermons, die from a brain tumor within months of being diagnosed?

Why did Karen, a true disciple of Jesus, who had been a Peace Corps volunteer, worked as an environmental engineer, played guitar in the praise band, and gave every evidence of living in daily repentance and renewal, die at the age of thirty-seven after a painful fight with cancer, leaving behind a husband and two children?

Why did Sarah, after being diagnosed with leukemia at the age of fourteen and surviving two bone marrow transplants and five setbacks and remissions, whose faith in Jesus compelled her following one long hospitalization, to preach the Easter sermon at my former parish, die at the age of 21?

I have asked God about these and other deaths and tragedies I’ve seen Christians endure. Maybe you’ve done the same thing.

There’s a reason I mention all these people from my life and ministry.

Our gospel lesson for this morning is Matthew 4:12-25. It recounts early moments in Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Because it’s not yet time for Him to go to the cross, when He hears that John the Baptizer has been arrested, Jesus heads to the area in which He grew up, Galilee.

He begins His ministry there, fulfilling the prophecy given by God to Isaiah, that the Light of God’s new life and salvation would appear in Galilee, where people lived in darkness and the shadow of death.

After that, Matthew says that Jesus called four fishermen–Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John–to follow Him and they do.

With these four in tow, Jesus begins to go all around Galilee, where He does three things. He preaches, teaches, and heals.

Jesus’ message, conveyed through His preaching, teaching, and healing, was: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)

Jesus, the Messiah promised by God, came into our world and our lives to bring the Kingdom of heaven to us.

Now, the term translated as kingdom is, in the Greek in which the New Testament was written, basileia. Literally, it means reign, R-E-I-G-N. But unlike worldly kingdoms or empires, the kingdom or reign of God isn’t confined to an ethnic group or to a geographic spot on a map. People live under the reign of God when the good news, the gospel, of Jesus comes to us and, despite the sin, death, and darkness of the world, we find ourselves believing in Jesus. The kingdom of heaven comes to us when we trust Jesus for everlasting forgiveness, life, help, and hope from God!

Now, no human being can decide to follow Jesus: Trusting God instead of ourselves is foreign to our nature. In our gospel lesson, for example, the four fishermen didn’t decide to follow Jesus; Jesus came to them and called them, giving them enough faith to set aside their nets and trust Him.

This is how God’s kingdom comes to us: Jesus and His Gospel Word envelop us in grace and, despite ourselves, we trust and follow.

The Small Catechism reminds us: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit [the One the risen and ascended Jesus has sent into the world] has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith.”

When the Gospel of new life through faith in Jesus comes to us, causing us to turn from sin–to repent–and to believe in Jesus, we become citizens of a new, non-geographic kingdom. The passport, as Pastor Brian Wolfmueller notes, that allows us to emigrate from the kingdoms of sin, death, and hopelessness into God’s kingdom, is repentance and faith in Jesus that God gives us through His Word and through water, bread, and wine.

The kingdom of heaven is eternal. And yet those who believe in Jesus, live in it right now! This is the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed when He preached, taught, and healed.

But, you might say, “Pastor, I hear and read God’s Word. The miracle of repentance and faith are being worked in me. But what about healing? Are all those TV preachers right who say that if you’re not in perfect health or experiencing perfect happiness, you’re not a Christian?”

No, friends, they’re not right!

You’ll know that just by considering today’s gospel lesson. John the Baptizer, who faithfully proclaimed God’s good news and pointed to Jesus as “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world,” is in prison and will soon be executed.

And Jesus, God the Son, will soon go to a cross and receive the death sentence for our sins.

Life in this fallen old creation will bring suffering and death to everyone!

But the Kingdom of heaven has a strange quality. It’s both already and not yet.

Jesus has already come into our world.

He has already claimed you in Holy Baptism, won you to faith in Him by the power of His Word.

But until His second advent when He will call all the dead from the ashes and judge both the living and the dead, sin, death, and the devil still attack the human race, working to drive us away from God’s reign in which all who believe in Jesus will one day, live in perfect wholeness and health.

In His Kingdom, God will bring us everlasting healing, freedom from the afflictions of our sin-bound nature. When Jesus healed and when Jesus heals today, He points to, He gives a sign of, the final consummation of His kingdom in which there will be no more death or crying or mourning or pain. (Revelation 21:4)

The apostle Paul wrestled with the reality of suffering and death that comes even to those who, by faith, are part of Jesus’ kingdom. But, in the face of suffering and death, he also proclaims Jesus’ resurrection victory, a part of which belongs to all who live in the kingdom of heaven. Paul writes, “as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:22-26)

The point is that, through His death and resurrection, Christ has already conquered sin and death. He already has given everlasting citizenship in His Kingdom to all who believe, even to those like Isaac, Karen, and Sarah, whose suffering and death despite Jesus’ power over these things and prayers for their healing in Jesus’ name, so hurts those who grieve for them.

While, thank God, Jesus has already brought His kingdom to us by the Word, Baptism, and Communion, that kingdom has not yet come in its fullness.

God’s ultimate healing will, at a day and hour none of us know, come to all who repent and believe in Jesus.

Until the return of Jesus, our call is to trust and follow Him…and pray, as He has taught us, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen