We have the same power that raised Jesus from the grave.
The same power that raised Jesus from the grave now lives in us, but we have our doubts. In fact, our lives feel rather ordinary, even powerless. Our prayers seem as if they’re falling on deaf ears in heaven. Our hope seems to be more in doctors and medicine than in God. We silently wonder why there is such a difference between the power the early Church experienced and what we experience today.
I’ve attended church my whole life. I was always troubled by the prayer list that appeared in the Sunday bulletin. The list never changed. The sick became more gravely ill. When the list did change, it was because someone passed away or because the secretary got tired of printing his name!
As a pastor I didn’t get any less troubled. I cannot tell you how many hospital beds I have prayed beside, how many people dying from heart disease, Alzheimer’s, tumors, and cancers; people with paralysis, debilitating conditions, and stroke victims. As a pastor you always want to be a channel through which God’s healing flows into people’s lives.
It is with great curiosity that we read about the early Church. In Luke 24:49 (NIV) Jesus promised power to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus! "I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." In Matthew 10:1 (NIV) Jesus calls his disciples together and he gives them, "… authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness."
In Mark 16:15-18 (NIV) we read how Jesus says to his disciples, "...Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."
Did it happen? Mark 16:19-20 (NIV) says, "After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it."
Power from on high. Authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. The Lord confirming his word with signs. In John 14:12-14 (NIV) Jesus tells his disciples, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."
What are we to make of such passages? Why did Jesus say such things? Was he just trying to get our hopes up? Was Jesus lying? Was he a fraud? Is the Bible just one big fable? Did something get lost in the translation of our Bibles? Are we fools?
Persevering in prayer and obedience, despite doubt.
The men who spent the most time with Jesus struggled with doubt. They were eyewitnesses to everything written in the gospels, and yet they still struggled to believe!
But notice what happens in Mark 16:14 (NIV). Mere moments before Jesus gives his disciples authority to drive out demons, heal the sick, handle snakes, and drink poison we read how, "... Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen."
There it is. Unbelief. Doubt. Is there any of us who could honestly say we don’t have any doubt? Is there a single one of who doesn’t relate to that disciple who said to Jesus, "I believe, but help my unbelief!"
What’s interesting is how despite their lack of faith, Jesus’ disciples still went out and preached everywhere. In their obedience the Lord met them and allowed the healing power of his Holy Spirit to flow through them.
In our doubt we cannot stop being obedient, we cannot stop praying, and we cannot stop preaching. It’s in our obedience that we will experience the power. No obedience, no power. No stubborn perseverance, no power. Faith without works and faith without obedience is dead faith.
Becoming fully yielded to the Holy Spirit's healing power.
What is different between the early Church and the modern Church is our posture before God. The early Church was filled with expectation. The early Church was yielded in obedience. They repented of their sins. They confessed their sins. They were unashamed to be baptized before all of God and creation so as to dedicate their lives to God. Their attitude was "yes to God in everything."
Our posture is much different. We want God’s healing touch, but we want to remain in our sins. We want God to bless us, but to do so despite our unholy choices, rebellious hearts, corrupted minds, seared consciences, and sin-crazed bodies. Maybe we aren’t being honest with ourselves and God. Maybe we need to be rebuked for our unbelief and our posture of disobedience.
With obedient faith comes awe. Acts 2:42-43 (NIV) says, "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles."
Mark 16:20 (NIV) says, "Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it."
Acts 3:1-10 (NIV) tells us, "One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer— at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, 'Look at us!' So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, 'Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.' Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him."
In regard to this event Peter says in Acts 3:16 (NIV), "By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see."
The early Church's posture was one of expectation and awe.
In Acts 4:29-31 (NIV), we see the church’s posture. " 'Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.' After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly."
Acts 5:12-16 (NIV) says, "The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed."
I recently read a book called Straight Talk on Spiritual Power by Bill Hull. It’s one of the most honest books I have read on seeking the power of the Holy Spirit. Bill Hull rebukes churches for not understanding that the world needs to hear the word, but also needs to see a demonstration of the Spirit’s power! We like to mimic the practices of the early Church, but there isn’t a sense of awe in us! Too many of us can’t remember the last time we witnessed God’s miraculous power in bringing people to Christ.
Bill Hull writes, "I admitted that I wanted to see God work as well, but I wanted it to be authentic. I didn’t want to orchestrate what wasn’t there or create an exotic playground for the emotionally needy." Hull instructs churches to move away from seeker driven services and invite God to demonstrate his power more visibly. To, in our small groups and worship services, actively seek God’s healing touch.
There is so much to say on this topic. Allow me to share some thoughts on the healing power of Holy Spirit.
Some comments on the healing power of the Holy Spirit.
1.) Unbelief and doubt will always be part of our fallen nature. Many were stunned to read Mother Teresa’s letters to the Pope, where she sought reassurance in her faith. This is a woman who has been a conduit of God’s healing for decades, an inspiration to millions! Faith is a life-long journey of obedience and perseverance. There are highs and lows, seasons of encouragement and discouragement. Our posture should be that of obedient faith— persevering in prayer, waiting on God, seeking understanding, and watching.
2.) We need to move beyond a one-dimensional understanding of healing. We are to love God with all our heart, mind, body, and soul. And we are to love our neighbors. It is true that God can heal our physical bodies of disease. But God also heals divided hearts, corrupted minds, seared consciences, lost souls, and broken relationships. And God takes our bodies that have been conditioned to sin, and gives us new impulses, new desires, and self-discipline so that we are no longer slaves of sin.
3.) We need to change our attitude about pain and suffering. God uses pain and suffering to discipline us, change our focus, and cause us to rely on him. A while back a lady came to the church concerned about a cancerous tumor on her back. It was growing rapidly and she was scared. She hadn’t been to church in years, but as a last resort showed up here on a Sunday afternoon to cry out to God for help. She felt God was punishing her. The door happened to be unlocked, and when she opened it the alarm went off loudly! I showed up and I told her about God’s love. We prayed for her healing. I couldn’t help but marvel how her suffering caused her to seek God and reevaluate her whole life. God was using pain to heal her soul.
4.) We need to heighten our expectations. One person I admire in our church is Carl Dahlquist. We were out at the camp working on a roof when a truck got stuck in the mud. While everyone scrambled for chains, boards, gravel, and tractors, Carl gathered a few people in a circle to pray. God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we think he should, but God always answers our prayers. He always works to the good of those who love him. Romans 8:28 We need a different attitude about prayer. It’s a mistake to assume that God won’t heal our bodies. It’s a bit naïve to think God always will. But if you’re going to err, err on the side of faith and expectation. When you pray for someone, ask for complete healing. Don’t wimp out. But trust that God will bring complete healing of heart, mind, body, soul, and relationship.
5.) Ultimately, we must all trust God through a physical, bodily death. Every person ever healed in the Bible eventually died. In speaking about our resurrection hope Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:36 (NIV), "What you sow does not come to life unless it dies." Just as the ultimate demonstration of the Spirit’s power came through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, so the ultimate demonstration of the Spirit’s healing power in our lives will come as we die, are buried in a grave, but raised to new life in Christ Jesus our Lord.