Healing the Sick as Contextualization of the Gospel Message


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Luke 10:9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’

Jesus commanded his disciples to proclaim the kingdom of God to the lost. As is known to those who study the approach of contextualization, Jesus did not command his disciples to preach what Charles Kraft calls “cultural Christianity.” He did not command his followers to tell the lost to “become Christians” or to “go to church.” Likewise today the gospel does not require adherents of the “religion of peace” to renounce their religion publicly in order to be saved and then to convert to the Western religion known as Christianity. Missionaries are finding that such an approach is at the very least not fruitful and not helpful to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. At the worst it can have disastrous results and make it even more difficult for these souls to enter the kingdom of God.

Of course it is not necessarily wrong to profess to be a Christian or to go to church. That may work fine in a Western context. But Jesus himself never commanded it. Many who profess to be Christians are not born-again and are not living a life of holiness. Rather, the way into the kingdom of God is to repent of our sins and to follow Jesus Christ as his disciples. The outward form of doing this in a non-Western context can look very different from its outworking in a Western-based culture.

The approach of contextualization can be taken even further. As Kraft argues, what missionaries should be bringing to a culture is not an outward form of the kingdom of God transplanted from another culture like that of the West. Rather, only the seed of the gospel is planted in the native soil. What eventually grows out of the soil depends not only on the seed, but also on the nature of the soil and local environmental conditions. However, there is something visible which can sprout forth immediately regardless of the soil and environment. There is a visible manifestation that can and should accompany the planting of the seed of the gospel. The Church has for the most part ignored this. Let us examine it.

Exactly what is the seed of the gospel?

The seed is: Jesus Christ the Son of God suffered on the cross to bear our sins and then rose from the dead. Those who repent of their sins and follow him as His disciples receive eternal life. This is the seed of the gospel which is to be planted wherever the kingdom of God is proclaimed. The seed addresses a universal which is present in every culture and in every human being: sin.

The consequences of sin are varied. The primary one spoken of by God to Adam and Even in the garden is death—meaning separation from fellowship with God, physical death, and the second death in the lake of fire. Sin also causes temporal consequences in this life. In this article we want to focus on the temporal consequence known as physical infirmity. The ultimate origin of sickness and disease is original sin. When Adam and Even sinned in the garden, their physical bodies changed and become subject to death through disease. Some authorities view aging as a form of disease. Even though believers in Jesus Christ have been redeemed from sin, they may still suffer from sickness and disease because they inherited a physical nature from Adam and Eve. And they live in a fallen world where different factors not related to personal sin can result in disease and infirmity. Disease, whether in the form of aging or otherwise, ultimately results in physical death. For believers death is the gateway to the Father’s presence, but not for the lost. In contrast to obedient believers, the lost can suffer from disease as a direct result of their own personal sin.

We find these two absolutes in every culture on earth: sin and the presence of sickness/demonic oppression. Consistent with the central theme of Don Richardson’s Eternity in their Hearts, every culture has standards for what is considered right and wrong and is aware of adverse consequences or punishment for doing wrong. There is a universal desire to be absolved of one’s wrongdoing and to be released from guilt.

Our initial job as missionaries and evangelists to the lost is to bring to them conviction of sin with the help of the Holy Spirit. This task is facilitated by the prevalence of disease in people of every culture.

It is likely that sickness and infirmity are viewed in most cultures as a possible consequence of doing wrong or of living a sinful life. Moreover, in every culture those who are infirm generally want to be healed. Here one finds a most basic and universal “contextualization” of the gospel message itself involving the component of sin. The sin in the heart leads to the behavior of sin which in turns leads to the visible and tangible consequence of suffering and physical infirmity. This awareness is present in most if not all cultures.

On way of understanding contextualization is that it studies the various outward forms which are a result of an inward spiritual reality. Physical disease can be an outward form—a physical manifestation—which corresponds to the invisible sin nature within.

This leads us to a clear understanding of why Jesus commanded the Twelve and then the Seventy to heal the sick when he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God. This truth is best expressed by Jesus himself in Mark 2. Early in that chapter a paralyzed man comes to Jesus to be healed. Jesus first forgives the man’s sins—something that only God in heaven has the authority to do. The teachers of the law who are present are indignant that Jesus as a man should blasphemously claim to have the authority of God Himself to forgive sins.

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? (Mark 2:8-9)

It is far easier to say to a paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven” than to say, “Get up, take your mat and walk.” The former is an invisible spiritual transaction which is not scientifically provable and is not accompanied by any visible manifestation. Thus it is “easy” to say. The latter by definition must be backed up by a visible demonstration of miraculous healing power then and there. The latter words are “difficult” and (for most people) “risky” to say to a paralytic.

But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:10-12)

By healing the man—that is, by doing that which was harder to say—Jesus proved that he could also do that which was easier to say. His authority to heal infirmities and disease proved to the amazed people that he also had authority on earth, like God Himself, to forgive sin.

This is precisely why Jesus commanded his disciples to heal the sick when they were sent out to proclaim the kingdom of heaven. The miraculous healings showed that the kingdom of God was near. Sinners could enter the kingdom by faith in Christ who had authority to forgive their sin and grant them eternal life.

As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. (Matthew 10:7-8)

Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ (Luke 10:9)

There is another way to understand this truth. Infirmities are generally and ultimately the consequence of man’s sin. The one who has the authority to remove this consequence of sin—the one with the authority to heal—is the one who has authority to remove sin itself. As an illustration of this, take the President of the United States. He has the authority to release convicted criminals from prison. They are imprisoned because they have broken the law. The President has the authority to release them because he has the authority to pardon them of the crime which resulted in their imprisonment. The same is true in the realm of the spirit. In a general sense, people are imprisoned by sickness because they have broken God’s law. But Jesus can set people free from the prison of sickness by healing them precisely because he died on the cross to pardon sinners—to forgive man’s sin of breaking God’s law.

Thus physical healing and the forgiveness of sin can and should go together when the gospel is preached to the lost, especially on the foreign mission field.

Isaiah 53:4-6 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

However, this principle is not to be applied in a specific sense. If a certain infirm person is not healed, it does not mean that his sins are not forgiven. Conversely, if a person is in fact healed, it does not automatically follow that his sins have been forgiven and he has been granted eternal life. Rather, the miraculous healings which take place during the preaching of the gospel are signs to the lost that Jesus has authority to forgive their sin. It is then up to them to repent of their sin and follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord for eternal life.

Thus the healing of the sick in the name of Jesus Christ as the gospel is preached to the lost is perhaps the most basic form of contextualization since it speaks to every culture under heaven. Ultimately, disease is the outward manifestation of sin. The one who has authority to heal disease visibly is the one who has authority to forgive the underlying invisible sin and save the sinner from condemnation in hell.

Contextualization begins with planting the seed of the gospel—and not what Kraft calls cultural christianity—in a given culture in a way which is clear to those in that culture. Now we see that the seed of the gospel can include the following: Man is a sinner. The wages of sin is death—both physical death and the second death. Related to physical death is physical sickness and disease. Jesus can heal disease because he died on the cross to forgive man’s sin and grant eternal life.

It follows that miraculous healings done in the name of Jesus demonstrate that he has authority to forgive sin. This is understandable to people of any culture on earth. Contextualizing the message of the gospel involves planting the seed in a given culture in a visible way that will give the people clear understanding of the spiritual reality of sin and forgiveness. The visible way here involves healing the sick in Jesus’ name to demonstrate his authority to forgive sin in the invisible spiritual realm. This will be understood by every culture.

Using the term coined by Don Richardson, healing the sick in Jesus’ name might also be the most basic “redemptive analogy” in existence. It can be understood by people of any culture. His power to redeem from disease means that he also has power to redeem from sin. For the most part the Church has neglected to use this very powerful redemptive analogy in the preaching of the gospel. We see that the very message of the gospel itself can be contextualized—not only the outward form that that the body of Christ takes on after it has been birthed in a given culture.

Perhaps this was the original intent of Jesus when he commanded his disciples to heal the sick as they proclaimed the kingdom of God to the lost.

When one preaches the gospel in this way and effectively utilizes the authority over disease given to us by Jesus Christ, the results are unusual. If one preaches the gospel with miraculous healings following without adding on the unnecessary burdens of “converting to Christianity,” becoming “a Christian,” and then “going to church,” the results can be extraordinary. The one requirement is discipleship as a follower of the Christ, or Isa Almasih as he is known in Arabic.

As a testimony, the Sunda tribe of West Java in Indonesia is the world’s largest unreached people group. It consists of over forty million gospel-resistant followers of “the religion of peace.” In late 2003 The Elijah Challenge trained a group of servants of God how to heal the sick as Jesus commanded his disciples when he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God. Two of these trained Indonesian workers began to heal the sick and preach the gospel as contextualized for the Sunda tribe. Today there are over thirty Sundanese villages which are now following Isa Almasih. This is an ongoing work and more and more villages are being won to Jesus Christ. Before this the Sundanese were considered by the Indonesian Church to be not only “unreached,” but also “unreachable.”

The Lord revealed a similar approach to Indian servants of God in May 2007 after they attended an Elijah Challenge Training in Uttar Pradesh. Following the Training in July 2007 they began to heal the sick and preach the gospel contextualized for Hindus at “evangelistic healing gospel events.” As of today—through these servants of God and those they themselves have trained—nine previously unreached villages have been reached. Because the workers have been trained, the miraculous healings continue to take place as part of ongoing evangelism through the local bodies of Christ established in these villages.

An effective model for reaching Hindu villages in India

Exactly what does it mean to “heal the sick” as Jesus commanded his disciples?

In Luke 10:9 Jesus clearly commanded the Seventy to “heal the sick.” Although Jesus certainly taught his disciples about prayer, Scripture never records him personally teaching or commanding them to pray for the sick. Rather, on different occasions in the gospels he clearly commanded them to heal the sick as they proclaimed the kingdom of God to the lost. Scripture tells us that the Twelve successfully obeyed a similar command that Jesus had given them earlier.

Luke 9:6 So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.

Is the command of Jesus Christ to heal the sick as the gospel is preached still valid? Unless we are committed to some brand of cessationism, we would say that this command still stands. If so, we are then forced to ask the question why the church has nearly universally failed to obey this command, let alone even to attempt to heal the sick as the gospel is preached to the lost. Instead the gospel is almost always preached with words alone and the sick are generally ignored. When we dare to minister to the sick at all, we simply pray for the sick, as if praying for the sick were identical to healing the sick. And when we do pray for the sick in the context of sharing the gospel, the results are generally disappointing—although once in a while we hear a testimony of a great miraculous healing taking place. But these are generally the exception rather than the rule.

We are not ignorant of James 5:14 where we are instructed to “pray over” the sick—whatever that may mean. However, this is for ministry to infirm believers in the context of building up the body of Christ. This is to be sharply distinguished from the context in which Jesus and his disciples ministered: the miraculous healings were to prove his identity as the Messiah. This latter context is the framework of this article.

Let us return to the failure of the church and of its missionaries to heal the sick as Jesus commanded his disciples when he sent them out. The reason for the failure is because we do not understand from Scripture how Jesus taught his disciples to heal the sick. Not surprisingly, a study of Scripture reveals to us how Jesus taught them. He taught them to heal the sick the way that he himself did.

When the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus at the Jordan River, the Father gave him authority over disease and demons. With this authority Jesus did not need to pray and ask His Father to heal the sick; he healed them directly. In the same way, when Jesus called the Twelve and then the Seventy in order to send them out, he gave them power and authority.

Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

The problem is that when we try to heal the sick in this way, more often than not nothing happens. We don’t see the miraculous healings as experienced by the disciples in the gospels and Acts. Essentially we fail to heal the sick as Jesus commands us. In disillusionment the Church no longer attempts to heal the sick but simply prays and trusts the Lord to heal the sick instead. The results are far less than satisfying and far less than what are recorded in the gospels and Acts. The lack of demonstration of power does not encourage the lost to put their faith in Jesus Christ.

But today in fulfillment of John 14:12 the Lord is revealing to His Church how to heal the sick as Jesus did two thousand years ago. Servants of God in different nations around the world have already been equipped to minister in the spirit and power of Elijah for the last days.

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. (John 14:12)

At this moment in time (2008) the OPEC nations are refusing to increase oil production to stabilize oil prices in response to rising worldwide demand. As a result the price of oil continues to spiral upwards. Some believe this is a deliberate strategy to strangle the economies of the rest of the world, especially of the West. As values of property and businesses in the West plummet in the economic downtown, these sons of Ishmael will step in to purchase them at rock bottom prices with their huge and growing reserves of petrodollars. They are attempting to transfer the wealth of the West to themselves. Moreover, these petrodollars are being used to finance the construction of mosques around the world and the advance of their religion.

What must be the response of the Church of Jesus Christ to this?

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.” (Acts 3:6)

 

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