I spent the better part of this summer studying and podcasting my way through the Gospel of Mark. It was an interesting experience. When you only permit yourself 15 minutes a chapter, a lot gets left on the cutting room floor. One of the things I felt like I didn’t have time chase down was the whole issue of healing.
There is a lot of healing in the Gospel of Mark. In fact, there is a lot more than there ought to be.
Very early on in Mark’s Gospel Jesus makes it clear that he has no intention of functioning as a travelling healer. In Mark 1 a large crowd has gathered as the news spread throughout the region that Jesus had healed Peter’s mother in law. Jesus went off to pray. The disciples come looking for him and they tell him about the huge line up of people waiting to be healed by Jesus. He says to them: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:38 ESV).
Jesus says, “I’ve thought about it; I’ve prayed about and I’ve decided not to heal those people who are waiting for me down the hill. That’s not why I came out. I came to preach.”
I came to preach!
Jesus came to speak about the ultimate issue. The ultimate issue was mankind’s alienation from God because of human sin. That was the main thing – that was the mission – and Jesus was resolved to keep his eye on that ball.
Which of course, leads to the question:
Why Does He Continue To Heal?
I think there are two answers to that question. The first answer, I think is the simplest: He is compassionate.
Praise the Lord! Jesus allows himself to be interrupted by human need! He is responsive! Every once in a while – no matter the plan – he calls an audible at the line of scrimmage because he sees something and he wants to respond.
I’m sure I don’t know precisely how it is that a God who knows everything, always and entirely, can also be personally impacted by human suffering. I just know that I see it in the text. I see it in the person of Christ.
I see him interrupted by the woman with the issue of blood.
I see him fascinated and delighted by the Syro-Phoenician woman.
I see his march towards Jerusalem interrupted by the cries of blind Bartimaeus.
Healing was not the plan, but pity, apparently, is essential to the character of Jesus! Thanks be to God!
The second reason that Jesus continues to heal, even though it isn’t the mission, I think is this: He is communicating.
Many scholars make this point, few more succinctly than Dennis Nineham, who writes:
there is more in miracles than their outward appearance; they are, to use the fourth Evangelist’s word, ‘signs’ of the power of God. According to Mark the miracles like the parables are understandable and ought to be understood.
Miracles are like parables. They contain a much deeper meaning for all those who are willing to lean in.
Jesus heals because healings preach.
They say something – loudly – to people who are hard of hearing. They saw that God sees and God cares. They say that people are sick and broken and in bondage and they need a Savior. They say that Jesus has power over everything we fear including disease, the devil and even death itself.
Healing is a sermon to a sick and dying world.
Who Gets Healed And Why?
Not everybody gets healed in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is cautious, selective and even, sometimes, unwilling. That leads me to my second question: who gets healed and why?
The first answer I see in this text is this: People who have faith.
In chapter 6 we read this: “he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them” (Mark 6:5 ESV).
That’s a pretty remarkable statement! Jesus could do no mighty work there. I need to know more about that! Thankfully Matthew tells us more in his version of the same story. He says: “he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58 ESV).
A lack of faith inhibits healing. Faith has to be present and it has to be demonstrated.
The Bible is big on demonstrations of faith – more so than we are. We like to be taken at our word; the Bible seems to suggest that God likes to see a little evidence. In Mark 6 the text says:
And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. (Mark 6:56 ESV)
As a Protestant I am reasonably confident that the fringe of Jesus’ robe contained no particular magic power. And yet, as many as touched it were made well.
That gives me pause.
That makes me think that however imperfect it was, Jesus received this gesture – this reaching out and grabbing him – as an acceptable demonstration of faith.
That seems to suggest that God is not offended by imperfect understanding, particularly from those in need. I admit to being a little offended that Jesus doesn’t rebuke these people for their superstitious ways. He could have done that. This would have been a handy time for a brief sermon on sola fide. But he gives no such sermon. He just heals them.
I think that means you don’t have to have perfect theology to receive mercy from God – you just need to have faith.
The second answer to the question, ‘who gets healed and why’ I think is this: People who are desperate.
The story in Mark 6:53-56 seems to make that point. It says that as soon as people recognized Jesus they started running and they began to carry sick people to Jesus on their beds.
Have you every tried to carry a sick person?
Have you ever tried running while carrying a sick person?
But you would though, wouldn’t you, if it was your 12 year old daughter. You would if it was your 6 year old son. You would run into the fires of hell if you had to, to put your child in front of Jesus. Particularly if there was nowhere else you could go.
These people didn’t have hospitals. They didn’t have OHIP. They had Jesus! And so they ran to him. When they found him they implored him; they begged him to give them the healing that they needed.
There is something about desperation, fervency and need that is always associated with healing in the Bible. I think there are implications to that. I think that means that if there is something else that you could do to fix whatever is wrong with you, then you should do it. I don’t think it is a lack of faith to try Advil first. God often heals people through ordinary means. He heals people of high blood pressure through apples, oranges and exercise; he heals people from the common cold with chicken soup and a few days of rest – so you should those things first. You should make use of the ordinary means. Because if you don’t then I’m not sure you will be able to pray with anything approaching the level of desperation that characterizes the people who generally receive healing in the Bible.
My reading of Mark’s Gospel suggests that if you want to receive a healing, you have to have faith and you have to be desperate but that leads me to a final question.
When Will I Receive The Healing That I Seek?
I believe that Jesus will heal every person who is desperate and who has faith. I believe that 100%!
But I can’t guarantee the timing.
I know that some people are told to wait. The Apostle Paul was told to wait. He was desperate and no one would question his faith and yet he writes: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'” (2 Corinthians 12:8–9 ESV).
That’s what God said to the Apostle Paul – a desperate and faithful man. He said: WAIT.
And so that gives me pause but it doesn’t weaken my faith.
I believe that Jesus will heal all people who are desperate and who have faith. I believe that:
- Some will be healed immediately
- Some will be healed eventually
- All will be healed ultimately in the coming Kingdom of God
I do believe that some people will be healed immediately – even today – for the glory of God and as an overflow of his compassion upon the needs of people. God hasn’t changed. He still sees and he still cares. But I also believe that waiting is sanctifying and showing. It shows the world and all the watching angels that some people love God even when it hurts. I believe his power is made perfect in our weakness. So, many people will wait. They will believe in the absence of evidence, because as with Sarah and Abraham, that is the very definition of faith. They will ask, they will believe, they will wait, and they will receive in this life all that they have hoped for in faith! Thanks be to God!
But some of us, according to the Bible, will not receive what we ask for in this life. Some of us will wait and die in faith. We will wait for death or the coming of the Lord. But we will wait no longer than that.
The Bible says that on that day God himself:
will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:4–5 ESV)
On that day everyone who is desperate – everyone who has faith – everyone who has taken hold of Jesus will be healed; ultimately, entirely and eternally.
Thanks be to God!
N.B. If you missed the Gospel of Mark series on the Into The Word podcast you can find it here.
 Dennis Nineham, Saint Mark, The Penguin New Testament Commentaries. (London: Penguin Group, 1992), 181.