What About Faith Healers?

What about Faith Healers?

Matthew 4:23-25

Dr. Jim Denison

This week I read one of the strangest stories I’ve seen in a long time. A woman, 23 years of age, was visiting her in-laws and drove to a nearby supermarket to pick up some groceries. Several people noticed her sitting in her car with the windows rolled up, her hands behind her head, looking very strange. A man asked her if she was all right, and she replied that she’d been shot in the back of the head and had been holding her brains in for over an hour.

The man called paramedics, who broke into the car and discovered that the woman had a wad of bread dough on the back of her head. A biscuit container had exploded from the summer heat, making a loud noise which sounded like a gunshot, and the wad of dough hit her in the back of her head. When she reached back to find out what it was, she felt the dough and thought it was her brain. She initially passed out, but recovered and held her brain until help arrived.

And you thought you’d had a bad day.

What do we do when the crisis is real? Here are the headlines from a recent Dallas Morning News metro column, covering one day’s events in Dallas: “2 dead in apartment swimming pool accidents;” “Body found in field is identified as Garland man;” “Man dies after being shot in billiards argument;” “Two arrested after woman’s death are identified;” “36-year-old man shot to death;” “Man trying to change tire killed by passing car.”

What would you say to the families of the 118 men who died on the Russian submarine Kursk? How horrible has this week been for them?

Let’s move closer to home. What is your greatest problem today? What issue would you most like to see solved, resolved, healed? How relevant is Jesus to that problem this morning? Let’s find out.

The Great Physician makes house calls

Our text begins: “Jesus went throughout Galilee” (23a).

The Greek syntax is in the “imperfect” tense, best translated “Jesus continued to go about.”

“He went about”—these three words capture the essence of Jesus’ ministry strategy: go to the need. He could have built a megachurch in Capernaum and waited for them to find him, but he didn’t. He went to them. We’re to do the same.

He went throughout “Galilee.”

This is the northern hill country, where the country folk lived. The region is a small area, approximately 70 miles long by 40 miles wide. But Josephus, the Jewish historian who was commanding general in Galilee in A.D. 66, says there were 204 cities and villages there. By some measures, more than 3 million people lived in Galilee.

What a task—if Jesus had preached in each of their towns at the rate of two a day, this ministry tour would have taken more than three months.

So Jesus formulated a ministry strategy with three parts. First, he was “teaching in their synagogues.”

This was the way he reached the Jews who lived in the Galilee. Their synagogue services had three parts—the prayers, readings from the Scriptures, and the address. The synagogue had no “preacher” per se; the president of the synagogue arranged each week for a speaker, or invited a guest rabbi to teach. After the address there was always a time for questions and discussion.

Jesus found the synagogue an ideal place to begin getting his message across. The Jews built synagogues wherever ten men lived. And so Jesus used their houses of worship to take the good news of God’s love to the Jewish people across the Galilee.

Second, he was “preaching the good news of the kingdom.” This was his open-air preaching and personal evangelism, directed to the Gentiles who could not come to synagogue services.

And third, he was “healing every disease and sickness among the people.”

“Disease” means serious, chronic illnesses; “sickness” refers to occasional physical problems. There is no disease too large for Jesus, no sickness too small.

Jesus did this to prove the truth that he was teaching and preaching, the good news of God’s love. We must do the same. Ken Medema, the Christian singer and composer, is right: “Don’t tell me I have a friend in Jesus until you show me I have a friend in you.”

And when the news of his healing power spreads north, “all over Syria” (24a), people brought him everyone they knew who was sick. In verse 23 Jesus goes to the sick; in verse 24 their friends bring the sick to him.

Each illness was beyond the reach of medical science then, and today: “the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed.” But Jesus “healed them.” Each of them.

The result: “Large crowds, from Galilee [to the west], the Decapolis [Gentile cities across the Jordan River to the east], Jerusalem, Judea, and the region across the Jordan followed him” (v. 25). North from Syria, west from Galilee, east from the Decapolis, and south from Judea. Jews and Gentiles. In short, people from every part of the nation followed Jesus.

All because he went to them, teaching God’s word, preaching God’s love, and showing God’s power to heal. No wonder the people loved Jesus.

Does Jesus still heal today?

And what Jesus did here, he did all through his ministry. Leaf through the pages of Matthew’s Gospel with me. In chapter 8 we find him healing a leper, and a centurion’s servant, then two demoniacs. In chapter 9 he heals a paralytic lowered to him through the roof in Capernaum, a dead girl and a sick woman, two blind men and a mute demoniac. In chapter 12 he heals a man with a withered hand; in chapter 14 he feeds 5,000 hungry families; in chapter 15 he heals the daughter of a Canaanite woman; in chapter 17 he heals a demon-possessed boy. In chapter 20, on his way to Jerusalem and the cross, he heals two blind men outside of Jericho. All through his ministry he heals the hurting.

Is Jesus still the Great Physician today? Does he still make house calls?

I know a woman diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, given three months to live; she is well today, twelve years later. The doctors have no explanation, but the Great Physician does.

I know a man who was given a 15% chance of surviving his cancer for a year, who is completely well today, three years later. The doctors don’t know how it happened, but Jesus does.

Most of you know someone whose healing has no medical explanation. A story of divine, miraculous intervention. They are still common today.

Jesus wants us to do what the Galileans did: to give him our sicknesses, our problems, our burdens. And to bring others to him as well. To trust him to heal, to bless, to strengthen. A doctor can only heal those who will let him.

And so Jesus wants us to claim the promise that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13), that our God will supply all our needs according to his riches in glory (Philippians 4:19). To let him be our Great Physician today.

Billy Graham’s book, Angels, contains this amazing story:

Dr. S. W. Mitchell, a well-known Philadelphia Neurologist, had gone to bed after a hard day. Suddenly he was awakened by someone knocking on his door. Opening it he found a little girl, poorly dressed and deeply upset. She told him her mother was very sick and asked him if he would please come with her. Dr. Mitchell dressed and followed the girl.

He found the mother desperately ill with pneumonia. After arranging for medical care, he complimented the sick woman on the intelligence and persistence of her little daughter. The women looked at him strangely and then said, “My daughter died a month ago.” She added, “Her shoes and coat are in the clothes closet there.”

Dr. Mitchell went to the closet and opened the door. There hung the very coat worn by the little girl who had brought him to her mother. It was warm and dry and could not possibly have been out in the wintry night.

Dr. Graham asks, “Could the doctor have been called in the hour of desperate need by an angel who appeared as this woman’s young daughter? Was this the work of God’s angels on behalf of the sick woman?”

What do we do when he doesn’t?

Jesus does still heal. But, what do we do when he doesn’t? He arranged for the mother to be healed; why didn’t he heal her daughter as well? When he doesn’t heal our hurts, prevent our pain, stop our suffering, what then?

This is the question of “theodicy,” justifying God in the face of suffering. Because we believe that Jesus is all powerful and all loving, he would want to stop evil and he could. But evil exists. What then?

Briefly, consider these steps. First, ask yourself if the suffering is your fault. God gave us freedom of will, so we could choose to worship and follow him. When we misuse that freedom and suffering results, the fault is not with God but us. When Mickey Mantle died of liver disease caused by a lifetime of drinking, he told America, “Don’t do what I did.” Sometimes our pain is our own fault. When it is, we begin the healing by admitting the problem and seeking the forgiveness of God.

Second, ask how God could redeem this suffering today. Romans 8:28 is clear: God will work through all things for good, for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. He can redeem anything. He may not remove the suffering, but use it for a greater purpose. Spurgeon said he’d learned more on his bed of suffering than in the chair of his study. Often God permits suffering for greater spiritual purpose. Ask how he would redeem this pain for his glory and our good.

Third, ask how God will sustain you in the suffering. The Bible does not often tell us why things happen, but what to do when they do. The psalmist was clear: even in the valley of the shadow of death we will fear no evil, for he is with us (Psalm 23:4). The book of Isaiah promises us: when we walk through the waters they will not pass over us; the rivers will not sweep over us; the fire will not set us ablaze; for he is with us (Isaiah 43:2-3).

How will God sustain and help you in these hard days?

Last, ask how God will redeem this suffering in the future. Paul was certain: “I do not consider the present sufferings worth comparing to the glory that shall be revealed” (Romans 8:18). Could God redeem the present pain for future glory and good? And one day in heaven, when we know as we are known and all our questions are answered (1 Corinthians 13:12), will not all this suffering be forgotten in the glory of the presence of Jesus?


What is your great burden or pain today? Be a Galilean—give it to Jesus. What friend of yours is hurting? Bring him or her to Jesus. And when he does not heal today, ask: is there sin I should confess? What good will God bring from this today? How is God helping me in my suffering? How will he redeem my faithfulness in glory?

Arthur John Gossip’s wife died suddenly. His first sermon after her death, entitled “But When Life Tumbles In, What Then?” is one of the greatest messages in the English language. Here is how it concludes—see if his words don’t speak the hope of Jesus Christ to your heart and hurt:

“In the New Testament you hear … a great deal about the saints in glory, and the sunshine, and the singing, and the splendour yonder. And, surely, that is where our thoughts should dwell. I for one want no melancholious tunes, no grey and sobbing words, but brave hymns telling of their victory…. Think out your brooding. What exactly does it mean? Would you pluck the diadem from their brows again? Would you snatch the palms of victory from their hands? Dare you compare the clumsy nothings our poor blundering love can give them here with what they must have yonder where Christ Himself has met them, and has heaped on them who can think out what happiness and glory?

“I love to picture it. How, shyly, amazed, half protesting, she who never thought of self was led into the splendour of her glory…. To us it will be long and lonesome; but they won’t even have looked round them before we burst in. In any case, are we to let our dearest be wrenched out of our hands by force? Or, seeing that it has to be, will we not give them willingly and proudly, looking God in the eyes, and telling Him that we prefer our loneliness rather than that they should miss one tittle of their rights. . . .

“When we are young, heaven is a vague and nebulous and shadowy place. But as our friends gather there, more and more it gains body and vividness and homeliness. And when our dearest have passed yonder, how real and evident it grows, how near it is, how often we steal yonder. For, as the Master put it: Where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.”

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”

Now he has come here. Hasn’t he?

What Was Jesus Thinking?

What Was Jesus Thinking?

Matthew 9.9-13

Dr. Jim Denison

Several years ago President Bush visited a nursing home, where he began visiting with the residents. One elderly woman in a wheelchair seemed rather disinterested in his presence. He approached her, smiled, patted her shoulder, and gently squeezed her frail hand. She smiled back but said nothing. “Do you know who I am?” the president asked. “No,” she replied, “but if you’ll ask the lady at the nurses’ station over there, she’ll tell you.”

Do we know who we are? See if you can identify this recent movie by its plot: a man and his wife have a midlife crisis. She has an affair with a competitor; he quits his job to work at a hamburger stand, and is infatuated with his daughter’s best friend. His daughter falls in love with the boy next door, who is a drug dealer. The movie, American Beauty, won Best Picture at the most recent Oscars, along with four other Academy Awards. One critic called it “a reflection of boomer suburbia,” and another said, “The hauntingly sublime American Beauty is the way we live now.”

Do we know who we are?

Jesus does. And he loves us anyway. What do you most dislike about yourself? What habit, sin, mistake, guilt, shame do you most regret? Jesus knows all about it. This morning, I simply want to prove that fact, beyond any doubt. The rest is up to you.

The need to follow Jesus

“Matthew” means “gift of God.” This man’s other name was Levi, the priestly tribe of his nation. What a joke, people must have thought.

You see, Matthew “sat at the tax collector’s booth” (9a). And his fellow citizens hated him for it. The Jewish people would not allow tax collectors to testify in court as a witness, for they were assumed to be liars. They could not attend worship in the Temple or synagogue, for they were considered unclean.

Why were they so despised by their society?

For the simple reason that these men were cheating traitors. Rome employed them to tax their own neighbors for the hated Empire, making them turncoats and traitors. Even worse, the government allowed them to exact as much taxation as they wished with the full support of the military, making them thieves.

Here are some examples of the taxes Matthew would have collected from his neighbors and fellow citizens in Capernaum, a fishing village on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. There was the “ground tax,” one tenth of a man’s crop of grain and one fifth of his produce of wine, fruit, and oil. The income tax was one percent of his entire income, and the poll tax was a day’s wages required of every living person.

Then he collected customs of all which was imported and exported through the city. He charged a bridge tax when a bridge was crossed, road taxes when roads were used, harbor dues when a harbor was entered, market taxes when markets were used, town dues upon entering a walled town. A man traveling a road might have to pay Matthew taxes on the road, his cart, its wheels, its axle, and the beast which pulled it.

Matthew could stop any man, anywhere, examine his goods, and assess whatever taxes he wished. If the man could not pay what he required, he could loan him the money at an impossible rate of interest. It is no wonder that the New Testament ranks tax collectors with Gentiles (Matthew 18:17), harlots (Matthew 21:31-33), and sinners (Matthew 9:10-11).

And it is no wonder that he was so despised by his fellow citizens. Imagine a scenario during the Cold War era by which the Russians conquered us, and employed your neighbor to steal your money to pay Russian taxes. Everything you work so hard to earn, he could simply take from you. If you complained, the soldiers, at his beck and call, could take your home or worse. That was Matthew, the “gift of God.” Not according to his neighbors.

The invitation to follow Jesus

But Jesus saw the truth in the name, and the promise in the man. Jesus knew this man, for he, too, lived in Capernaum, at the home of Simon Peter. This was his headquarters for the three years of his ministry. He saw him often, and the tax collector heard him preach and knew of his ministry.

And so one day Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” The words in Greek mean, “Attach yourself to me, commit yourself to my life and cause.” You or I would never choose someone like this for our church staff. But Jesus did. And Matthew came.

There were many reasons Matthew had not followed Jesus of his own initiative before this day. He probably did not think himself worthy to be Jesus’ follower, given his status in the community. He probably did not think Jesus would want him, or care for him. He knew what the other disciples would think about him. But the moment Jesus pushed all that hatred and animosity aside and invited him, he came.

People want a personal relationship with God. But so many don’t know to have one, or don’t think they can. They think their failures and mistakes make then ineligible. They think the church won’t accept them, or that God cannot love them.

Four out of ten who do not attend church say they’d come if someone would just invite them. Jesus invited Matthew, and he came. I wonder if your Matthew would come if you invited her, or him?

The joy of following Jesus

In fact, Matthew was so overjoyed to be able to follow Jesus that he “left everything” to do so (Luke 5:28). His career, once abandoned, could never be regained. His wealth (he was perhaps the richest man in Capernaum) was given to the common treasury of the disciples (John 13:29). Even his safety and life were at risk, for the Roman soldiers would not protect him from those who hated him once he left the employ of the Empire.

By following Jesus, Matthew left his career, his possessions, and risked even his life. Each of the apostles would in time sacrifice these, but Matthew was the first.

This was not the only “first” we find with Matthew. He became the first evangelist for our Lord, inviting all his tax collector and “sinner” friends to what Luke’s gospel calls a “great banquet” at his home, in Jesus’ honor (Luke 5:29). None of the other disciples had begun personal evangelism yet, but Matthew did.

He became the first to record the teachings of Jesus. When he left his tax collector’s booth, he kept his pen. With it he recorded the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of our Lord. Very early tradition says that he wrote these “logia,” or “sayings” of Jesus, and that they were used by Mark and Luke in their gospels, and in Matthew’s gospel later as well. None of the other disciples could have done this.

Every time we open the New Testament at its beginning, Matthew’s ministry continues.

Matthew was among the first Christian missionaries as well. Immediately after the Resurrection, Matthew began to preach the gospel among his fellow Jews. Evidence indicates that he later preached in Ethiopia, Persia, Parthia, and Macedonia. The Jewish Talmud records the tradition that he was condemned to death by the Jewish Sanhedrin and martyred, perhaps in Ethiopia.

And Matthew extended the love and grace of Jesus to his own family. This is a wonderful, often overlooked part of his amazing story.

Matthew’s father was named Alphaeus (Mark 2:14). “James, son of Alphaeus,” was also numbered later among Jesus’ disciples (Matthew 10:3). Most scholars believe they were brothers, noting that Matthew puts James immediately after himself in his list of Jesus’ disciples.

It is also likely that James, the brother of Matthew, had been his mortal political enemy. Here’s what we know. James is always listed in the gospels with Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot. The best evidence indicates that all three were Zealots, Jewish nationalists who were passionately committed to the violent overthrow of the Roman government. We would call them terrorists today. And by linking James with them, Matthew and the other gospel writers indicated that he shared such hatred for the Roman Empire.

No one in all of Palestine would be more despised by the Zealots than the tax collectors, those traitors who stole from their own countrymen for the sake of the hated Empire. And so it seems likely that James and his brother Matthew had been estranged from each other, probably for their entire adult lives. One worked for the government, while the other plotted its overthrow.

But by Matthew 10, both are followers of Jesus and partners in his gospel. I think it happened this way. Matthew abandons everything to follow this One who has given him the peace and joy which no prosperity could ever produce. He soon realizes that Jesus in the only One who can bring peace to his people and nation as their Messiah. And so he goes to his brother James, braving the rejection and insults he surely expects, and tells him that he has found the peace and hope which his brothers and his fellow Zealots have sought. He somehow convinces James to come with him to meet Jesus. James finds that his brother is right. And these two brothers in flesh become brothers in the Spirit, for all time.


Now, what does Matthew’s story say to ours? It says that Jesus knows who you are, and where you are, right now. Remember that secret sin or shame you don’t want anyone else to know? He knows it. He knows your mistakes and failures even better than you know them yourself. And He loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life. What’s more, he can restore any broken relationship, heart, and home, given the chance. He is still the Great Physician, who came to “call sinners” to accept his love and grace.

Why love him? Because he loves you so much. Because his Father gave his Son for you. Because “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” For you.

One of the best stories I’ve received in a long time tells the story of an elderly man who was invited to speak during a Sunday church service. He began, “A father, his son, and a friend of his son were sailing off the Pacific coast, when a fast approaching storm blocked any attempt to get back to shore. The waves were so high that even though the father was an experienced sailor, he could not keep the boat upright; the three were swept into the ocean.”

The elderly man hesitated for a moment, making eye contact with two teenagers who were, for the first time since the service began, looking somewhat interested in his story. He continued, “Grabbing a rescue line, the father had to make the most terrible decision of his life—to which boy would he throw the other end of the line? He had only seconds to make the decision. He knew that his son was a Christian, and he also knew that his son’s friend was not. The agony of his decision could not be matched by the torrent of the waves.

“As the father yelled out, ‘I love you, son!’ he threw the line to his son’s friend. By the time he pulled that friend to the capsized boat, his son had disappeared beyond the swells of the sea into the black night. His body was never recovered.

“The father knew his son would step into eternity with Jesus, and he could not bear the thought of his son’s friend stepping into an eternity without Jesus. Therefore, he sacrificed his son. How great is the love of God that he should do the same for us.”

Then the elderly man turned and sat back down in his chair, as silence filled the room. Within minutes after the service ended, those two teenagers were at his side. “That was a nice story,” one of them said, “but I don’t think it was very realistic for a father to give up his son’s life in hopes that the other boy would become a Christian.”

“Well, you’ve got a point there,” the elderly man replied. A big smile creased his face as he said, “It sure isn’t very realistic, is it? But I’m standing here today to tell you that story gives me a glimpse of what it must have been like for God to give up his Son for me. You see, I was the son’s friend.”

So are you.