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Healing and the Kingdom of God

Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. – Luke 9:1-2

I have a confession to make: When I read the Bible, I tend to focus on those parts that fit neatly into my pre-existing worldview. This has always been true. I remember in high school I always focused on the places where Jesus had “ethical teachings,” and talked about himself in more human terms. I glossed over the places where Jesus emphasized his uniqueness and divinity, and I pretty much skipped the gospel of John altogether!

This should come as no surprise. It is hard to learn challenging new truth without any familiar context to lean on. When I am struggling to grasp new ideas, it is reassuring to focus on the things I already know. Realizing this about myself, it makes me wonder about all the truth that I am still oblivious to! What obvious realities do I fail to see because they are simply too far outside my current understanding?

This question feels particularly relevant for me right now as I become more aware of a part of the Bible that I have always sort of glossed over: Jesus’ acts of miraculous healing and exorcism. Throughout his three years of public ministry, Jesus was constantly healing people of physical ailments and exorcising demons that held people in bondage. He cured people of physical, psychological and spiritual sickness. Quite frankly, Jesus did some crazy stuff.

It is almost impossible to miss this aspect of Jesus’ ministry if one is reading the gospels with any attention at all. Until recently, however, I was able to mostly bypass those passages. I did not intentionally ignore them, but I did not give them much weight in my reading. I read them metaphorically and focused more on the way Jesus’ actions revealed a “deeper meaning.” In a real sense, I sanitized part of what is the scandalof Jesus for modern readers. My Lord and Savior went around casting out demons, healing the sick and raising the dead!

It was a pretty big step for me to believe that these events really happened at all, but for years now I have accepted that Jesus performed all of these miracles. I have even come to believe that these kind of things happen today. The Holy Spirit is alive and active, at work in the world in ways we cannot understand. This whole thing about faith healing and demon possession is a little bit outside my comfort zone, but I can deal with it as a possibility.

As I continue to re-read the story of Jesus’ ministry, though, I am increasingly faced with the reality that these miraculous deeds of power are not simply a possibility, not merely a sideshow to the work of the Kingdom. Instead, it seems increasingly clear to me that Jesus viewed these acts of very literal healing as essential to life in the Kingdom of God.

What is truly challenging for me now is that Jesus did not simply perform these miracles himself; he commanded his followers to do the same. When Jesus sent out seventy of his disciples, his charge to them was to “cure the sick… and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near you.’” Faith healing and casting out demons is not just special work that only the Son of God can do; it is the living demonstration of the proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom.

What am I to make of this? To my knowledge, I have never been used by God to perform a miraculous healing. Nor have I ever laid hands on someone and released them from mental illness or other forms of spiritual bondage. Am I missing something essential to the gospel of Jesus? Is this some of that truth I have been unable to perceive because it is so far outside my comfort zone? As someone who seeks to be a modern-day disciple of Jesus, should these be spiritual gifts that I seek after?
I do not know what form it should take, but I do feel convinced that wholeness – physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual – must be at the core of the gospel that we proclaim. There is an undeniable connection between the Kingdom of God and the restoration of wholeness to the entirety of creation, beginning with human beings. How am I to live this out? How can my life be so filled with the Holy Spirit that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them“?