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TEXT: Psalm 103:1-5
SUBJECT: Easter, 2013
Last Tuesday morning, I was diagnosed with stage 2 cancer of the kidney. As far as the doctor knows, the cancer has not spread to other organs, and if it hasn't, my prognosis is good. Of course, they won't know if it has or not until they take further tests, including the eyeball test at the time of my surgery. I very much appreciate your prayers, and, even more, the prayers of our Savior Jesus Christ, whom, the Bible says--
Ever lives to make intercession for us.
I've been fairly 'normal' the last few days, and not nearly as anxious as I thought I would be. I've slept well, had a few laughs, worked at a pretty good clip, and somehow resisted the temptation to write my own funeral sermon!
Still, getting a cancer diagnosis is an upsetting experience, and it's got me thinking about the Bible, and what it says about sickness and healing.
SICKNESS AND DEATH
Sickness--the Bible says--is not God's will for us. He made us to live forever in perfect health. There's no hint of sickness in Eden; and death is forbidden as long as Adam and Eve remain true to God.
Of course, they didn't. When given a choice between the True God and the father of lies, they made the wrong one. They sided with the serpent, and--as God had warned them--
On that day, they surely died.
No, they didn't drop dead on the spot, but death was unloosed in the world, along with the miscarriages and birth defects and diseases and accidents and violence that cause it.
From that time on, we've been living in the shadow of death. For some of us, the shadow is darker; for others, lighter: but don't kid yourself: You're appointment with death will be kept, and likely sooner than you expect. We don't like to think about this, we vainly dream of cryogenics and miracle cures, but everyone knows I'm telling the truth. Every one of us is subject to sickness and death. This is what the Bible teaches.
As for healing? Does the Lord heal sick people? He does. In fact, the Bible says, every healing is Divine, including the ones that are effected by diet and exercise, doctors, medicines, surgery, and even quack remedies! Good health is the gift of God, and, the Bible says--
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
What's true of 'normal' healing goes double for the kind that is out-of-the-ordinary. Not every healing that is called 'miraculous' really is, and we ought to use the word with caution and not too often. But, if most unusual healings should not be called 'miracles', some should be, especially the ones we find in the Four Gospels. Describing the work of our Lord, Peter said--
Jesus of Nazareth, a Man anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and power, went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed...
For three-plus years, Peter had lived with Jesus and was simply stating the facts, events he had seen with his own two eyes, and what his friends had seen as well. He's not a dreamer or a visionary or a creative writer: he's a reporter, telling us what really happened at a particular time and in particular places, and I might add, public places. What did he see?
He saw a woman bent double for eighteen years standing up straight! He saw a man crippled for thirty-eight years walking. He saw a man born blind enabled to see. He saw a paralytic, getting out of bed, picking it up, and walking home with it. He saw lepers cleansed and madmen restored to their right minds. He even saw a man, a boy, and a girl killed by disease raised back to life. Commander that He is, Jesus has authority over disease and death, and when He commands they give up their prey, they do.
THE REAL WORLD
This is what the Bible teaches about sickness and healing: Sickness is a fact of life and so is healing. No one can disagree with this. They may not trace sickness to the same cause I do or believe healing has anything to do with God, if there is a God, but we've all gotten sick and we've all gotten better.
If the Bible left it here, nobody would take exception. They might yawn at what it says, but they wouldn't deny it. But they do deny what the Bible teaches about healing because...well, frankly because what it teaches does not conform to the world as it really is!
Psalm 103:3-4 praise God for--
Healing all our diseases.
Redeeming our lives from destruction.
If the Psalm had been written by a gifted, but naive child, we'd overlook his enthusiasm. Having little experience with sickness, and knowing no one who has died, he might get carried away with God's mercy and assume that every disease is healed and nobody ever dies.
The problem is: it wasn't a child who wrote the Psalm, but David, an older man who had seen it all, Moreover, what he wrote wasn't put in his diary, but in the hymnal! He expected everyone to sing along with him. including widows and orphans and parents who just buried a beloved son after a long illness.
How could a responsible adult say 'God heals all diseases and always delivers us from death', when obviously He doesn't?
Other than saying, 'The Psalmist is a liar or a fool', there are two plausible answers to the questions, and then there's the true one.
One possibility: The Psalmist is exaggerating for effect. Bible writers do this at times, and since every intelligent reader knows what they're doing, there's no problem with it.
Then there's another possibility: Maybe what David is saying is, 'The Lord heals every disease that is healed' or, to put it the other way around, 'Every disease that is healed is healed by God'.
THE TRUE ANSWER
I'm sure there is truth in both of these interpretations, but there's a third way of reading it that is far deeper and richer than these, and does justice both to the verse itself and to the central message of the Bible.
What is it? Resurrection!
God does not promise to heal every disease in this life or to exempt us from death in this present evil age. To the contrary, He assumes we'll get sick and assures us that we'll die.
But the sickness and death are not final! Doctors can palliate sicknesses and postpone death, but only God can abolish them!
This is what He has promised to do! In the Old Testament, the promises were in a mist; they were there, but they were not easy to make out. With the coming of Christ, the mist evaporated. Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead as signs of the Kingdom, portents of what God was going to do some day on a far larger scale.
God will not put up with cancer forever! Diabetes is passing away; neuropathy won't last much longer, and congestive heart failure is on the way out! God will sweep the world clean of disease and death. There will be no doctors or gravediggers in the World to Come because they won't be needed This is the promise of God, and not because we shuck off our bodies at death to live as ghosts, but because the body itself will be raised immortal, not just undying, but sharing in the very life of God!
It's hard to imagine a world without death, sorrow, crying, or pain. But that is the world God has promised His People.
We want to believe this; how we wish it were true! But it's hard to believe without proof. There may be a handful of super saints out there able to believe God without the slightest proof.
But I'm not one of them. I'm not able to face cancer and possible death with nothing more than crossed fingers! I want proof that my cancer will some day be gone for good! And that I'll live without the worry it has already caused me and the bad things likely to come.
Optimism isn't good enough for me! Wishful thinking won't cut it! I want a hope based on something real and provable.
And I've got it!
There was a Man who suffered unimaginable pain and deprivation. He was underfed and overworked and didn't always enjoy a good night's sleep. As He got older, He suffered the aches and pains common to man, and then things less common.
He prayed so hard one night that the capillaries in His face broke, bathing Him in bloody sweat. Within the next few hours, He was beaten, flogged, crowned with thorns, nailed to a cross, and then a spear was stuck into his lungs and heart.
The men who tortured and killed Him that day knew a lot about death, having dealt it out to so many others. By 3:00 that afternoon, He was dead, and nobody said He wasn't. He was taken down from the cross, carried to a tomb and given a quick burial without being paid the customary respects.
The next Sunday morning, friends came to the tomb to right the wrongs done Him. His body would be scented with expensive spices, and the beloved man would be given His due.
But He wasn't given His due. Because the dead body wasn't there. In fact, it wasn't even dead anymore. The Man had come back to Life--but not to the life He had known before, the same life you and I have, liable to more suffering and another death.
The Life He obtained that Day was Eternal Life, not only 'eternal' in the sense of 'having no end', but 'eternal' as in fullness to overflowing. It was the Life God had promised His people, but as of yet, hadn't given.
Psalm 16 says God would not allow His holy one to see corruption, but would bring Him into His Presence, where there's fullness of joy and pleasures forever more.
The promise was beautiful, but until that day, that's all it was, a tantalizing dream. But that day, the Dream became History. Jesus Christ rose from the dead and entered the fullness of Life, a life without sickness. a Life that cannot be lost.
Having seen Jesus in the fullness of that Life, Paul called Him--
The firstborn from the dead.
That is, the first member of God's family to rise from the Dead and enter the Life of God in body and soul. He is the first member of God's family to enter this Life, but He won't be the last. At the end of world, God will raise His people from the dead and He will set our bodies right--no more cancer! No more heart disease! No more lupus! No more nothing.
On Easter Sunday, we face two ways: Back to 30 AD when Jesus rose from the dead, and forward to the end of the world, when all His People will follow suit.
The Lord is risen.
The Lord is risen, indeed.
Amen. Praise the Lord.
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