Beyond The Glory Barn
BEYOND THE GLORY BARN
When I first arrived here in Indiana, I heard a name that sort of befuddled me.
I thought, “What’s a Glory Barn?” So I looked it up. When I did, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. Maybe some of you haven’t heard of the Glory Barn, but I understand for most folks who grew up around here, the ministry of Hobart Freeman is infamous. His was a charismatic church, an off shoot of the Word of Faith movement. You can look up the details for yourself, but in his book Faith for Healing, Freeman summarized his theology of healing by saying, “Confession brings possession, for what you confess is your faith speaking.” That’s a nice catch phrase, and maybe we can even find some biblical texts supporting it, but most of you know what happened in the Glory Barn. People died because they didn’t seek medical treatment. According to the well-researched Wikipedia article I read on the subject, as many as 90 people died over the course of the ministry, some of them infants. I have only been here a little over a year and I can tell that the Glory Barn has left a deep and lasting scar on this community. Let us be clear. Modern medicine is a blessing from God. If God wasn’t okay with doctors, then why did he have a doctor, that being Luke, write two books of the Bible, that being the Gospel of Luke and Acts? Incidents like the Glory Barn give us pause. We know prayer certainly doesn’t hurt, I’m sure it helps, but does prayer heal like Jesus healed?
In today’s text, we see that with a touch, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, bringing her back to full health. The scripture tells us that evening, they brought to him many who were sick and oppressed with demons and he cast out demons and healed them all. Matthew tells us this fulfilled our Old Testament reading that Jesus` “took on our illnesses and bore our diseases.” Matthew’s intention is clearly to reference physical healing, making healing not only something Jesus did, but part of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. And I believe Jesus intended his healing ministry to continue far beyond his ministry and the ministry of the Apostles. I wish I could turn these miracle stories into a nice metaphor that you could apply to your lives. Because if I could, we could move beyond the Glory Barn by saying healing is what Jesus did then but not anymore, thus not only were they wrong to not use medical care, they were wrong to expect that God would move in a miraculous way at all because Jesus just doesn’t do that anymore.But that is not what the scriptures say. And that is not what my heart or my experience tells me. We do need to move beyond the Glory Barn. Those wounds need to be healed. But we need to do so not by abandoning God’s power to heal but by rightly understanding that power. So today I want you to understand three things;
- Why did Jesus heal?
- Does the Bible say that Jesus’ healing ministry would continue?
- Why are some healed and not others?
Before we talk about why Jesus healed people, we need to have a larger view of sickness and death biblically. However literally you may take the opening chapters of Genesis, I think the basic message of that book is that death, sickness, and sin are not natural. They are part of the Fall. And Paul tells us that Jesus rose from the grave to defeat death, not just to provide us a way to get through death to heaven. As crazy as it may sound, the Bible teaches us that one day people are not going to die anymore. And there will be no more sickness and crying.
So in the broadest sense of the word, in the beginning, sickness and death were not part of God’s plan. It’s not natural. It’s not to be accepted. Between a choice of life and death, we are to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19) the Bible tells us. Yes, Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time for everything, even to die, and Psalm 90 says that generally we are given 70 or 80 years on this Earth. Yes it is true that everyone Jesus healed would have to die including Lazarus ( dying twice seems like a bad deal for Lazarus) but that doesn’t mean God is okay with sickness and disease or uses such things to improve our character. Can suffering be redemptive? Sure it can be. God can work even evil for good. But when the New Testament talks about us suffering, it is generally talking about us being persecuted for our faith, not God using disease to refine our character. Now you may remember 2 Corinthians 12:7. This is where the Apostle Paul talks about a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan that he prays to God three times to be removed from him. But the Lord responds, “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” Now for our purposes today, it doesn’t matter if this thorn was an actual demon, a disease, or mental illness. If Paul believed that it was God’s general will for him to suffer to improve his character, he wouldn’t have asked God to remove the thing in the first place. He would have accepted it outright. But he kept asking. I suspect if he hadn’t gotten an answer, he would have kept asking for the thorn to be removed. It was only when he received a direct answer from God that he stopped asking. But how many of us assume that silence is God’s answer to us that he does want us to suffer? How many of us stop asking without an answer? Elsewhere, in the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18), we are called to be persistent in prayer till we receive an answer, not because we get tired of not receiving one.
Coming to the passage at hand, it is clear that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and everyone else in this passage, not to make some larger theological point, but because she and the crowd that followed were suffering, and he didn’t think that was a good thing. Now perhaps you have been taught that Jesus performed miracles to prove to people he was God and now we don’t need miracles anymore because we have the Bible and that should be enough to convince people. First, the scripture explicitly says that Jesus did not perform miracles to prove he was God. In Matthew 16, when the Pharisees and Sadducees ask Jesus for a sign to prove he is the Son of God, he refuses. Miracles were not meant to satisfy the skeptics, they were meant to help the hurting and to point those who were hungry towards the Kingdom of God. Jesus taught about God’s Kingdom and then he demonstrated what that Kingdom would be like. Yes, everyone Jesus healed eventually would have died. Even Lazarus had to die twice, which is sort of a raw deal for Lazarus if you think about it. But he was giving people a taste of what the final day when he would defeat sin and death would look like. As far as Jesus doing miracles to establish the Bible, the Bible never says that. In fact, the idea that the Truth of the scriptures is self-evident to everyone without anything else to help it out is not true. In fact, if you say to someone who doesn’t believe the Bible that the Bible says something, they will most likely not believe you. It is God working through our lives, through our character, our ministry, through the Holy Spirit making the truth plain, and yes sometimes through miracles that get people interested in what the Bible says.
Second we have to ask if Jesus meant his ministry of healing to continue. I think the clear answer is yes. The Apostles healed people. Even Stephen, a Deacon in Acts 6, and Philip, another Deacon in Acts 8, both of whom were not Apostles, were not part of the original Twelve, performed signs and wonders. And the Apostle Paul throughout his letters talks about the gift of miracles and the gift of healing. And in 1 Cor 12, he tells us that the gifts of the Spirit are not something we are born with but something we can receive and should desire. I mean, no church would think it was good if they lacked people with the gift of administration or giving (we especially like folks with the gift of giving), so why are we okay with not seeing the gift of healing in our churches? That being said, if you read through the book of Acts and the letters of Paul, it is clear that the healings and miracles that followed the Apostles and the rest of the church were not as numerous as those that followed Jesus. Jesus did give us the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit he ministered with, but the fact remains we are not Jesus. Jesus often healed everyone who came to him and seemed to have some choice in the matter. It seems the Apostles and the early church had different occasions of healing but had less control over it. Rarely do we read of instances of everyone being healed after Jesus ascended into heaven. The reason for this is obvious. Jesus may have wanted us to continue his ministry of healing, and may have given us the Holy Spirit to do so, but we are not Jesus. Jesus was and is perfect. And while we are always running the race of faith, we will never be perfect. Anyone who says that if you have enough faith, everyone you pray for will be healed is simply not facing reality.
Why, then, are some people healed and some people not? This question has bugged me for years. It is very personal for me. My sister has suffered from a chronic pain condition in her legs for five years or more now. I saw her get consumed in the pain and, as her older brother, I felt a different pain: the pain of not being able to do anything about it. So that is how I got into investigating healing. And I have seen a handful of instantaneous physical healings. The most dramatic one was a couple of years ago when I went to a healing conference and laid my hand on the back of a woman with a fused spinal column. She was in constant pain for years and couldn’t bend over. But I felt the power of God move and afterwards she could bend over and touch her toes. And my first thought was, “Why her and not my sister?”
Short answer is, I don’t know. I think each person has to ask God for themselves why they are not healed. That’s between them and God. But I will talk in generalities. Perhaps God just wants you to go see a doctor. I mean, I remember once I got pneumonia when I went to a healing conference during the winter in Michigan (yes, I got sick at a healing conference). And no, I didn’t get healed at the healing conference. I had to go to the doctor. Maybe you need to make lifestyle or diet changes. My sister has done some things with exercise, meditation, and diet that has helped her pain. Maybe there is a sin in your life that is affecting your health. This isn’t always the case, but sometimes is. And maybe collectively, we who pray don’t actually expect all that much. Jesus never rebuked a sick person, but he did rebuke his disciples for not having faith. Certainly, this is not every case, but we have to admit, that when someone is really sick, we are skeptical that our prayers will make a difference. To quote N. Graham Standish, our faith in healing prayer “has been poisoned by false Christians who have used healing prayer to bilk gullible people out of their money” (Standish, Becoming a Blessed Church). I don’t know the answer for every person; all I know is that we have to get the poison out of our hearts. We have to move beyond the Glory Barn. All I know is that our Lord Jesus has come to take on our iniquities and our diseases.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.