A Shortened Version of This is Found on the Laidlaw College Blog (http://www.laidlaw.ac.nz/_blog/Our_Blog)The Napier Equippers Church has taken down their “Jesus Heals Cancer” sign. As my previous blog on this indicates, I consider that this sign was too ambiguous and a potential cause of offense and so should be taken down (http://drmarkk.blogspot.co.nz/2012/03/jesus-heals-cancer-please-take-it-down.html). I congratulate the church leaders for doing so—it shows wisdom, humility and concern for others.
However, they have now replaced the sign with this: "Jesus heals every sickness and every disease” – Matthew 4:23. There are some good things about this. First, it removes the word “cancer” which is especially offensive. Secondly, it is a quote from Scripture. Thirdly, the media seem satisfied (and threatened court action will likely be dropped). However, may I suggest that there are real issues with this new sign?
Matthew 4:23 reads: “Jesus went around the whole of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people” (my translation). The main verb is “went around”, the aorist of periagō, “lead around, go about, go around” (BDAG). The aorist tense says it is a past event. While often an aorist means a moment in past time, this is a constative aorist which summarises an activity across past time without concern for detail.Then we have a series of participles—teaching, preaching and healing—all in present tense. The important grammatical note is that they are dependent on the main aorist verb. This means that while they are present tense and on their own might support the idea “Jesus heals”, in fact the aorist tense of the main verb carries over into the participles giving them a past sense. So, what it really says is, Jesus back in the first century travelled around Galilee and he taught, preached and healed every sickness during that journey. In Matt 9:35 the verse is repeated of Jesus all over Israel. So, neither verses actually says Jesus heals per se right up to the present; rather, they say that Jesus healed during this period of his ministry. Indeed, no English translation I can find translates it “heals”—I checked the ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, NIV84; NIV11; TNIV, RSV, NRSV, CEV, NET—a reasonable sample.
The sign subtly twists Scripture in two ways. First, it moves the original meaning of “healing” (past) to the “heals” (present). This falsely suggests that Jesus does in the present exactly what he did in that time, heals every sickness and disease. A reader could easily expect this on the basis of the sign. They could be drawn to this church by the promise of certain healing.
Secondly, the sign deletes “around Galilee” and “among the people” which place the text among the people of Galilee on those journeys at the time. As such, it cuts the text out of its setting in Scripture and distorts the meaning of the original verse. This creates several problems. First, it is not a genuine quote of Scripture. Secondly, it carries the same ambiguity as the original sign but arguably to a greater extent. That is, whereas the original sign claimed Jesus cures “cancer” now it Jesus cures “every disease and every sickness.” Wow! What a claim! Now we can get into discussions about timing and ask whether Jesus ultimately heals every disease and sickness. We can get complicated and say, well he does for the saved, but not for the lost? Then we can get into complicated discussions about how much is the medical fraternity, how much is Jesus—etc etc. The truth is that the claim is flawed. Even if we accept that Jesus healed every disease and sickness on the mission journeys of Matt 4 and 9, does that mean Jesus today heals every sickness and disease in the same way as he did when acting directly in Galilee and Israel? Aside from the Christian hope that Jesus will ultimately heal his people of every disease, evidence suggests that, while there are many claims to healing (I have a few I have been witness to), if we are honest as Christians in the present he does not. Even in Matthew itself in 13:58 Matthew writes that Jesus didn’t heal every disease in his hometown.More broadly, a 100% Christians all over the world since the time of Christ have ultimately died from a variety of maladies. Yes, there are many records of miracles of healing such as in Acts and in this church and indeed my own church, but there are many more times in which people have prayed with faith and not been healed.
A sign like this “markets” Jesus as the healer of every sickness and disease per se. The uninitiated would likely read it and believe that if they come to church, Jesus will heal them of every sickness and disease. Is this not setting them up with a false expectation and potential disappointment?Theologically, the sign uses what scholars call “an over-realised eschatology.” In the Bible there is what is called a “now-not yet tension.” There is the hope of complete healing, the end of all disease (e.g. Rev 21:4; 22:1–3). In the present we do not fully see this, the hope is “not yet” realised in the “now”. Indeed, the Scriptures themselves give indications that Jesus did not heal every disease and sickness in the time after Jesus’ ascension with Christians dying (e.g. 1 Cor 11:13; 15:6, 18, 20; 1 Thess 4:13–14). The miracles of Jesus are primarily signs of this ultimate hope, glimpse of the Kingdom in the present. Each miracle points to something about the Kingdom which is coming—the healings give hope of an end to disease; the deliverance miracles point to the end of evil’s hold on humanity and God’s world; the nature miracles suggest a new creation of Shalom; the provision miracles picture the end of famine and poverty; the reanimations point to the end of death. While they do give hope for present healing and encourage us to pray fervently that Jesus by his Spirit will heal and we find that sometimes does so as he wills, more importantly they give certainty of complete ultimate restoration.
It is a dangerous thing to “market Jesus” employing ambiguity and an over-realised eschatology. We set people up for potential disappointment? When the suffering comes, as it does for all of us as old-age catches up, it creates a needless anxiety and sense of God-abandonment. This is tragic.
If we read the Bible carefully we find that while there are miracles, the power of God is most often seen in the midst of suffering. It is seen where people get sick or face other calamities and stay strong in God, refusing to allow the suffering to dim their faith, and God’s power is seen in their weakness. Real power is seen in people overcoming. We see this in the present in the lives of the many disabled Christians who shine the light and love of Jesus with great optimism and hope, despite their broken bodies. We saw it in Christchurch as people refused to be bowed down by the earthquake, death and shattered lives. This is the thing Paul is at pains to get first century readers of his letters to grasp, as many of them fell prey to over-realised expectations. Read 2 Corinthians 12 in particular—he himself grappled with suffering from his “thorn in the flesh” but delighted in his suffering, for God’s strength was made perfect in the midst of it.Rather than put up signs with extreme claims, we should preach Jesus embracing the now-not yet tension. We should tell the world that, suffering comes, sometimes God miraculously delivers, and yet God is with you whatever the suffering. He will bring you through. He will enable you to triumph in your limitations.
The danger of such a sign is that if are not healed after prayer, we start to think it is our problem, our fault, our sin or our lack of faith. That is the natural implication of such thinking. That is the not the message of Jesus—Jesus is with us in our sin, our lack of faith, our weakness. The truth is, as the T-Shirt says, Sh… happens. The greater truth is that, when it does, God is with us!
Another huge question that this sign raises is this: should we put signs up which reference Scripture but actually distort its original meaning? I think not. In the garden it was the distortion of God’s word that deceived Eve. In the temptation, Satan sought to tempt Jesus with distortions of Scripture. Paul wrote in 2 Cor 4:2 that he did not walk in craftiness or falsification of the word to win people. He then goes on to speak of the god of this age who blinds. All these references warn us that we must be very very careful not to distort Scripture. Jesus said stuff about millstones around necks that should be heeded.So, while on the face of it the sign seems an improvement and has got the media off the church’s back; is it? I do not think so. I think it demonstrates a lack of wisdom toward outsiders (cf. Col 4:5). Worse, it distorts the word of truth. Then there is the whole question of “marketing” Jesus—what signs should we put up, and what signs should they see. Nothing wrong with church signs, but we need to think them through very carefully to ensure our message to the world is Christ and Christ crucified. The real “sign” of course is the church and its welcoming love, vibrant love.
What do you think?