The role of faith
The fourth and final principle which Jesus demonstrates in this chapter is the crucial role which faith plays in ministering miraculous healing. The gospel writers consistently emphasise that faith is vital if anyone is to be healed (eg Mt 9:22, Mk 10:52, Lk 17:19, Acts 14:8-10), but Jesus and the apostles took responsibility for having this faith themselves rather than rebuking the sick for not having enough faith. Jesus was happy to restore Lazarus’ decaying body despite the distinct atmosphere of doubt in Bethany, and Peter was equally happy to heal the lame man at the Beautiful Gate despite the fact that his expectation was all about money not miracles (Acts 3:5)! The closest that Jesus ever comes to praying for a sick person in the gospels is in this very passage, but note that it is not a prayer that the Father might heal “if it is your will.” Instead, it is the bold statement that “I thank you that you have heard me… I only said this for the benefit of the people standing here so that they may believe” (v41-42).
The size of our faith?
Now this does not mean that we should place the same emphasis as many Pentecostals on the size of our faith being the crucial factor in receiving healing. Jesus responded to this kind of theology in the mouths of his disciples by telling them that even if they had a tiny amount of the right kind of faith then it would be enough to bring about even the greatest kind of Holy Spirit miracle (Lk 17:5-6). Jesus’ emphasis is not on the size of our faith but on the substance of our faith – namely our faith that God is not only able to heal each person but is also willing to heal them too. This is the great battleground in which the Kingdom of God advances. 40
Why isn't our confidence in God's willingness?
We have not placed enough confidence in God’s willingness to heal those around us because we would rather not attribute their continued sickness to our own actions. We may be more passionate for our own glory than for His glory, or our faith may be in our method rather than in His character, or we may simply prefer to hang onto cherished sin rather than become vessels for the Holy Spirit. We find this in Matthew 17:14-23 where despite the fact that Jesus had given the Twelve “authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and every sickness” (Mt 10:1), the combined efforts of nine of them failed to heal a child with epilepsy because the disciples lacked faith in the Father’s willingness (v16-20) and had not pursued the kind of intimacy with the Father which results in effective partnership (v21).
We have not placed enough confidence in God’s willingness to heal those around us because we would rather not attribute their continued sickness to our lack of the persistent prayer which characterises true faith. Mark tells us that on one occasion Jesus “entered a house and did not want anyone to know it,” and therefore appeared more unwilling to heal than at any other point in the gospels (Mk 7:24-30). Note, however, that Mark carries on to tell us that even on this occasion he quickly granted healing when he saw evidence of persistent and genuine faith on the part of a Gentile mother. The Lord had been actually been willing to heal all along, but had been waiting to see genuine faith expressed in the kind of perseverance he both demanded (Lk 18:1-8) and displayed personally (Mk 8:22-25). Most of those who see any fruit in ministering healing bear testimony to the way in which the Lord taught them to express faith in His willingness in spite of their bad experiences along the way. John Wimber’s breakthrough was in response to God’s command, “Don’t preach your experience, preach my Word.” 41
Believing is seeing
To those who refuse to believe that God is willing to heal those around them, Jesus gives no proof beyond his promises. He will not let us spiritualise the words of Scripture any more than he let Martha in v23-27, but asks us plainly “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (v40). Of course we would prefer it if Jesus would come into line with the English proverb that “seeing is believing”, but he does seem quite insistent that, on the contrary, “believing is seeing.” He seems resolutely committed to the statement that we will only fully minister in healing when each of us “does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen” (Mk 11:23).
To those who struggle with past disappointments, Jesus says tenderly that “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe” or “so that you may have faith” (v14). He does not feel the need to justify himself to us, but simply calls us to have the same confused but determined faith as Martha, who told him that “If you had been here then my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (v21-22). Kathryn Kuhlman testified that “No one really knows how I hurt inside when a service is over, and I see those who have come in wheelchairs leaving in the same wheelchairs in which they came… But the answer I must leave with God. And one of these days, when I get home to glory, I’m going to ask Him to give me the answer from His own lips, as why everyone is not healed.” 42 Lex Loizides testifies that once when he was crying out to God over an individual who had not been healed, he heard God give him the simple reply “Yes, we must pray more, mustn’t we?” 43 Those who see God healing people in response to their commands in Jesus’ name are those who have pressed through the disappointments of v21 to find the faith of v22. 44
Faith in the King & Kingdom
Finally, to those of us who are digesting the words of this paper in an earnest desire to grasp a healthy theology of healing for the sake of the glory of God in our generation, Jesus tells us to place our faith him as “the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (v27) and in the fact that he brought a Kingdom which is characterised by supernatural healings (Mt 11:2-6). His closing instructions to us are similar to the ones he gave to the men of Bethany when he commanded them to “Take away the stone” (v39). Have you ever wondered why Jesus asked for help to move the stone away from the entrance of Lazarus’ tomb? Surely the one who ministered in enough power to raise the dead also had enough power to move a stone as part of the same miracle? Of course he did. He didn’t want to. He deliberately called the men of Bethany to take one small step of faith so that this could form a catalyst for the miraculous work of God. In our lives, this will probably not mean moving physical stones, but it may well mean moving the deadweight stone of false theology about healing – even such mighty rocks as a resistance to the link which Isaiah 53 and Matthew 8 make between physical healing and the death of Jesus on the cross. It may well mean moving the heavy stone of fear in order to risk looking foolish so that God might look great. It may be moving the stone of passivity so that we get ready to pray for healing the next time, and every time, that we come into contact with sickness. It may even be as simple as moving our heavy bodies out of bed a few minutes earlier each morning in order to give ourselves to prayer and fasting and to the intimacy with God which enables Him to use us as partners with His Holy Spirit.
Jesus cheers us on, urging us to move these stones and encouraging us with the promise “Did I not tell you that if you believed then you would see the glory of God?” (v40). The men of Bethany moved forward to move the stone. Heaven waits with baited breath to see if we will do the same in our generation.