This essay can help elders encourage individuals in their sphere of influence experience both help for today and hope for tomorrow in these uncertain times as we answer the question: Does God still heal?

As we welcomed the arrival of 2020 in the early hours of January 1, never would we have imagined that we would welcome a new life-threatening virus to the United States. In simply a matter of a few weeks, this new virus (SARS-CoV-2 virus / COVID-19 is the disease) has not only swept around the world from nation to nation, but it has now swept across our country to the very places where you and I live. Moreover, as one day passes to the next, both the number of infections and deaths continue to rise. Panic is real. Anxiety is measurable.

Many people – even the strongest of Christians – struggle with fear of the unknown, wondering if they or a loved one will contract the coronavirus. And should that happen, we wonder, does God still heal? If we or someone we know and love contracts this virus – or any disease for that matter – does God still heal? It’s one of our most pressing yet unasked questions.

We hear updates that our medical systems are insufficient to handle the anticipated number of Americans who will contract this disease. Knowing that there is not yet a vaccine for this virus and that the number of beds in ICUs are limited for such a crisis, people’s panic is amplified. The New York Times ran an article with statistics from the CDC saying there could be more deaths from this virus than the number of Americans who died in World War 2 (“Worst-Case Estimates for U.S. Coronavirus Deaths”; 3/18/2020). Our lives have been invaded by a life-threatening enemy.

When I read that article, I thought of one of the most powerful invasions that took place in World War 2. It was the invasion known as D-Day. On June 6, 1944, our Allied Forces launched a massive attack against Nazi Germany along the beaches of Normandy, France. The battle began just before dawn. Indescribable emotion gripped the hearts of many thousands of soldiers landing on those beaches, even as they witnessed more than 4,000 fellow fighters gunned down by the Nazis. Massive confusion reigned with more than 11,000 planes flying overhead, more than 6,000 vessels sailing towards shore, and more than 150,000 soldiers landing on the beach. Yet, when the battle came to an end and the smoke cleared, a conclusion was reached and it was obvious who would eventually win the war.

As this new virus invades your world and mine, we experience emotion and confusion that will lead to a conclusion. In the midst of it all, let’s ask – and answer – the question: does God still heal?

Emotion

About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: “This is what the Lord says: Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.” When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” Then he broke down and wept bitterly.

2 Kings 20:1-3

King Hezekiah experienced his own personal D-Day. His life was suddenly invaded by a life-threatening illness. The prophet Isaiah went to the King and told him he was terminally ill. Hezekiah was told to put his house in order for him impending death. Hezekiah was to make sure that his last will and testament was written, his accounts at the bank were in joint custody, and more. Notice also, that his D-day invasion was full of emotion. Immediately he prayed, while sobbing uncontrollably.

Centuries later, nothing has changed. COVID-19 has suddenly invaded our lives and as we hear that people of all ages are becoming infected, emotions begin to unsettle us. We panic and the shelves in stores become empty. Worry and anxiety begin to take their toll as we hear of schools shutting down, and the closing of offices, restaurants, work places and more. We become unnerved when we begin to cough, sneeze, run a fever – wondering if we have the virus. And not only do we experience emotions, but…

Confusion

When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” Then he broke down and wept bitterly.

2 Kings 20:2-3

Notice that Hezekiah prayed, asking God to remember how he had lived a devoted, faithful, godly life. King Hezekiah was a morally good king, a godly king. We even refer to him as “good King Hezekiah.” Could Hezekiah have experienced confusion? Could he have struggled with the “why” question of suffering this terminal disease? Was God punishing him for something in his past?

This line of questioning has always been part of this life. Many people are confused, thinking that each and every illness is a direct consequence of sin. Yet, that is a wrong assumption. Before Jesus healed a man who had been born blind (John 9:1-3), His disciples asked Him, “…who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus’ answer was that neither of them had sinned. His being blind had nothing to do with sin. Even the righteous man Job was afflicted with much suffering. His wealth was stolen from him. Serious illness afflicted him. Then all ten of his children were killed in a single catastrophe. Once Job’s three friends arrived to console him, they quickly began to accuse him of cherished sin in his life that resulted in what they believed to be God’s punishment. What CONFUSION!

Should we be personally impacted by the coronavirus, we should not be surprised when confusion comes. In confusion, we may struggle with the question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” If we allow confusion to reign and we assume that our sickness is God’s punitive response to our sin, we may begin to doubt His love and care for us. Our confusion becomes worse when we hear of people being healed, but we know of others who are not. Is God’s love and care arbitrary? Will our prayers make a difference? Will God hear even hear them?

Conclusion

But before Isaiah had left the middle courtyard, this message came to him from the Lord: “Go back to Hezekiah, the leader of my people. Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the Lord.  I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my own honor and for the sake of my servant David.’”

2 Kings 20:4-6

Once the smoke-filled skies cleared over the beaches of Normandy, France, we knew who would eventually win the war. The conclusion of all the battles that were fought throughout the World War 2 led to the final victory of the Allied Forces against the Axis. Likewise, a conclusion was reached by good King Hezekiah: 1) God heard the king’s passionate prayer, 2) God’s heart was deeply moved because 3) God healed Hezekiah. Previously, God had told Hezekiah to “Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die; you will not recover” (v. 1). Obviously, God relented. God showed mercy.

God is immutable. God does not change. He even declared, “I, the Lord, do not change” in Malachi 3:6. That means you and I can reach the same conclusion whether we are “invaded” by COVID-19, cancer, TB, malaria, H1N1 or another disease. The conclusion of the matter is this: God STILL hears our prayers, we STILL can touch the heart of God, and God can STILL heal.

A PRACTICAL APPLICATION

As elders, we must remember that the first-century church faced life-threatening disease. Believers experienced fear as they saw loved ones become ill and die. How did elders back then respond? What action did believers take back then?

James 5:13-18

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises.  Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.  Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.

Context Before Content

Here’s the context.

The author of this brief book in the New Testament is the half-brother of Jesus. James did not believe that his big brother was the promised Anointed One until Jesus was raised from the dead. It wasn’t until Jesus died on the cross, was buried in the tomb, and then raised to life that his little brother James became a believer – and what a strong believer he was! James was also known as “James, the Just” and “camel knees.” He was “Just” because he was very devoted to his faith, even praying for hours on end at the temple in Jerusalem. His long hours of praying on his knees caused them to become deformed in some manner. Tradition teaches that when James would not renounce Jesus as his Messiah, he was taken to the top of the Temple and thrown him to the ground, in hopes of killing him. Surviving the fall, he was then stoned and beaten to death with a club. James died as a martyr sometime in the 60s, decades after the resurrection of his brother, Jesus.  

Now for the content.

When we go to the doctor, our physician looks us over and makes some observations. Let’s do the same with this passage. Let’s just look it over, making four observations that help us as elders to minister to people when their health, or the health of someone in their congregation, is threatened by COVID-19 or with any other illness or injury.  

Observation #1:

In these six consecutive verses, something keeps being repeated and that something is prayer (vv. 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18). Prayer is the theme of these verses, not illness. We shouldn’t be surprised by this because James was a man devoted to prayer. James commands us to pray. As a matter of fact, of the 108 verses comprising the entire book of James, there are 54 imperatives in Greek. An imperative is a command, and a command is meant to be obeyed. A number of those commands are in this passage. When a person is in trouble (v. 13; suffering hardship, difficult times, trials, persecution) or sick (v. 14 to be weak, having no strength, being incapacitated or disabled), that person must pray. Don’t just run to the doctor. Run to God.

Observation #2:

When a person is sick, they are to call the elders (v. 14). Elders were – and still are – the spiritual leaders of the local church. One of the words for an elder in Greek is poimen, meaning “shepherd.” A shepherd cares for the sheep, which is a powerful metaphor for elders of the church to care for the people of the church.

In the first century church, people struggling with illness called for the elders to pray over them and to anoint them with oil. There are two words for “anoint” in NT Greek. One word means a religious and ceremonial anointing, such as in anointing an individual as the new king. The second word for anointing is practical in nature, such as when oil was put on something (i.e., rubbing oil on a wound, treating the person medically). In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan traveling on the road to Jericho. When the Samaritan came upon the man who had been robbed, beaten and left for dead, Jesus told of how the Good Samaritan “poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds,” (v. 34) thereby cleansing his wounds and medically treating him. First-century elders were like modern-day doctors who, at times, treated sick people medically, as well as spiritually.  In this twenty-first century church, when we are afflicted with illness and injury, be sure to call on the elders to pray over us and be certain to seek medical treatment from our physicians. Pray! And have elders pray! Run to God, and after doing so, go to the doctor. Do what is medically right, reasonable and necessary. And remember – as the SARS-CoV-2 virus keeps us physically away from one another, we can still have the elders pray over us. Consider using Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, or any other medium. Let’s leverage technology during this crisis period. 

Moreover, the elders were to anoint (i.e., medically treat) the individual “in the name of the Lord.” This phrase means that the elders were depending on the Lord, trusting in the Lord to bring healing to the individual. They waited on the Lord for His will to be done. Waiting on the Lord and praying for His will to be done in times of illness is not easy. In our age of instant everything, waiting is hard. Praying for the Lord’s will to be done is difficult to pray. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed: “Father, if it be possible, may this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Your will be done” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus had to suffer the wrath of God for the payment of our sins. He was not exempt from suffering and death. In times of suffering, it is exceptionally difficult to pray: “Lord Jesus, your will be done; nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.” Praying that takes courage and surrender.

Verse 15 reads, “Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.” Jesus was known as the Master Physician while He walked on this earth. Of the thirty-seven recorded miracles of Jesus in the Bible, twenty-eight involved physical healing. Fully seventy-five percent, three out of four miracles of Jesus, were of physical healing. Being that Jesus is “the same yesterday, today and forevermore,” all that He has ever done, He can still do. I, personally, have witnessed healings of people where confirmed illness was diagnosed and confirmed healing took place, and the only explanation could be God.

Then again, there are moments when the Lord chooses not to heal in this life. Every person dies at some point in time and by some kind of illness or injury, even if it is simply old age. The only way “to be home with the Lord” is to be “absent from this body” (i.e., to die; 2 Corinthians 5:8). Even Elisha, the great prophet and miracle-worker, suffered from an illness from which he eventually died (2 Kings 13:14). His complete healing happened when he went home to be with God. Paul healed people and even raised them from the dead, such as the young man Eutychus, who fell out of a third-story window and died from his injuries (Acts 20:9-10). Yet, Trophimus was another friend of his, whom Paul had to leave behind ill in Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20). Paul could heal people, so why wasn’t Trophimus healed? Moreover, why wasn’t the Paul himself healed? There was a time in his life when he had a “thorn in his flesh” that “tormented” him (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). The very same Greek word used in James 5:14 for “sick” (astheneo) is the same word Paul used to describe his thorn. Something took place in Paul’s life that caused him to become sick, weak, and incapacitated. He prayed three times, begging God to heal him, and yet, Paul wasn’t healed. God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Now, there’s one more thing about the word “well” in verse 15. “Well” is the Greek word sozo, and one of its meanings is “to save.” We must remember that because of sin, death happens to all of us. There will be some illness or injury that will claim your life and mine, but those who die in the Lord are ultimately healed (i.e., saved). When we turn to the Lord in prayer, waiting on Him, trusting in Him, submitting to His will in our lives, “the Lord will raise us up” (v. 15). We will be more alive than we have ever been in this life, never to die again! The curse of death will be destroyed (Rev. 22:3). When the Apostle John wrote: “No longer will there be any sea” (Rev. 21:1), he was writing from the prison island of Patmos, separated from his loved ones who were back on the mainland, with roughly sixty miles of open ocean separating them. “No longer will there be any sea” means that when Jesus returns and God creates the new earth, the curse of death will never happen again. Death will never again separate us from one another. Now, death is an interruption, a separation that will someday come to an end for those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ, trusting in His death on a cross for the forgiveness of their sin.

Observation #3:

James ended verse 15 writing about sins being forgiven, and he continued into verse 16 writing that we must “confess [our] sins to each other and pray for each other so that [we] may be healed.” Why did James bring up the issues of sin and confession in relationship to illness? Simply put, sin was the cause of illness from the beginning of time, having its origin in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve committed sin. The entrance of sin into this world brought death.

Romans 5:12

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.

The curse of death is the result of sin. Our bodies age, illness strikes, and we eventually die. Still, there are times when we see a direct relationship between sin and sickness. We may have not cared for our bodies; our life choices or patterns (substance abuse, anxiety or compulsive worry, overwork, etc.), may have brought on us an illness or condition that leads to death.

As we work through these observations, we need to remember that a spiritual healing must take place in our lives with God. All of us struggle with the sickness of sin that results in death, both physically and spiritually. If we die without Christ as our Savior and Lord, we experience a spiritual death; that is, eternity in hell – forever separated from God. We must be spiritually healed of our sin and only Jesus Christ can accomplish that healing for us through His death on the cross. As elders, we must help people find this ultimate healing as we urge them to believe, repent, confess, be immersed and remain faithful.

Observation #4:

In verses 16-18, James emphasized the importance and power of prayer. Not only is prayer possible, it is powerful. When people are “righteous” they sincerely walk with God with a hunger and thirst for all that is good and right, a vital and faithful relationship with God can result in powerful and effective prayer. Remember, prayer is depending on and trusting in God. Prayer aligns our lives with the will of God, submitting to His sovereignty. Prayer is not thinking of God as being a genie in a lamp, who says to us, “Your wish is my command.” Rather, when we continue to sincerely walk with God, we grow increasingly able to say, “Your will for my life is my desire.”

Our Prayer for you…

Our Father in Heaven,

Please enable each and every elder serving Your Church to be shepherds of God’s flock that is under their care, for those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. Remind them of Your promise: The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with His love and rejoice over you with singing. As the foundations are being destroyed, urge them to not let their hearts to be troubled. But to trust in You and in Your Son Jesus, our Great Shepherd,

In whose name we pray,

Amen.

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Resources Consulted:

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Kistemaker, Simon J. James & 1,2,3 John Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1986.

MacArthur, John. James Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1998.

Nystrom, David P. NIV Application Commentary: James Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997.

Rienecker, Fritz. A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

Wright, N.T. The Early Christian Letters: James, Peter, John and Judah Louisville, KT: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.

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Copyright 2020 by e2: effective elders. All materials presented by Dr. Gary L. Johnson are copyrighted material. You may use this material for your teaching purposes. In doing so, please retain all copyright, trademark and propriety notices on this document, and do not make any modifications to the materials. For any uses other than this, written permission is required. (e2: effective elders; c/o Dr. Gary L. Johnson; 6430 S. Franklin Road; Suite A, Indianapolis, IN 46259

Gary Jonson

D.Min

Dr. Gary Johnson has served in the preaching ministry for four decades. He now leads e2 as Executive Director full-time, coaching pastors and elders nationwide. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Church history from Lincoln Christian Seminary, Master of Ministry and Divinity degrees from Cincinnati Bible Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Grace Theological Seminary (Indiana). Gary has taught as adjunct professor for a number of seminaries, including Cincinnati Christian University and TCM Institute, a seminary serving Europe and Asia. Gary has been blessed to travel overseas for the purpose of training elders and pastors in cross-cultural settings on over 100 mission trips. Gary and Leah have been married over 40 years, and have married sons; Jared and Aaron, who are both serving in the ministry. His pursuits outside of church life include running, mountain climbing, racquetball, cycling, and back-packing. Still, one of the greatest joys in life for Gary is being called “grandpa” by his six grandkids.

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