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.


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.