Topical Scripture: Matthew 4:23-25
This week I read one of the strangest stories I’ve seen in a long time. A woman, 23 years of age, was visiting her in-laws and drove to a nearby supermarket to pick up some groceries. Several people noticed her sitting in her car with the windows rolled up, her hands behind her head, looking very strange. A man asked her if she was all right, and she replied that she’d been shot in the back of the head and had been holding her brains in for over an hour.
The man called paramedics, who broke into the car and discovered that the woman had a wad of bread dough on the back of her head. A biscuit container had exploded from the summer heat, making a loud noise which sounded like a gunshot, and the wad of dough hit her in the back of her head. When she reached back to find out what it was, she felt the dough and thought it was her brain. She initially passed out, but recovered and held her brain until help arrived.
And you thought you’d had a bad day.
What do we do when the crisis is real? Here are the headlines from a recent Dallas Morning News metro column, covering one day’s events in Dallas: “2 dead in apartment swimming pool accidents;” “Body found in field is identified as Garland man;” “Man dies after being shot in billiards argument;” “Two arrested after woman’s death are identified;” “36-year-old man shot to death;” “Man trying to change tire killed by passing car.”
What would you say to the families of the 118 men who died on the Russian submarine Kursk? How horrible has this week been for them?
Let’s move closer to home. What is your greatest problem today? What issue would you most like to see solved, resolved, healed? How relevant is Jesus to that problem this morning? Let’s find out.
The Great Physician makes house calls
Our text begins: “Jesus went throughout Galilee” (23a).
The Greek syntax is in the “imperfect” tense, best translated “Jesus continued to go about.”
“He went about”—these three words capture the essence of Jesus’ ministry strategy: go to the need. He could have built a megachurch in Capernaum and waited for them to find him, but he didn’t. He went to them. We’re to do the same.
He went throughout “Galilee.”
This is the northern hill country, where the country folk lived. The region is a small area, approximately 70 miles long by 40 miles wide. But Josephus, the Jewish historian who was commanding general in Galilee in A.D. 66, says there were 204 cities and villages there. By some measures, more than 3 million people lived in Galilee.
What a task—if Jesus had preached in each of their towns at the rate of two a day, this ministry tour would have taken more than three months.
So Jesus formulated a ministry strategy with three parts. First, he was “teaching in their synagogues.”
This was the way he reached the Jews who lived in the Galilee. Their synagogue services had three parts—the prayers, readings from the Scriptures, and the address. The synagogue had no “preacher” per se; the president of the synagogue arranged each week for a speaker, or invited a guest rabbi to teach. After the address there was always a time for questions and discussion.
Jesus found the synagogue an ideal place to begin getting his message across. The Jews built synagogues wherever ten men lived. And so Jesus used their houses of worship to take the good news of God’s love to the Jewish people across the Galilee.
Second, he was “preaching the good news of the kingdom.” This was his open-air preaching and personal evangelism, directed to the Gentiles who could not come to synagogue services.
And third, he was “healing every disease and sickness among the people.”
“Disease” means serious, chronic illnesses; “sickness” refers to occasional physical problems. There is no disease too large for Jesus, no sickness too small.
Jesus did this to prove the truth that he was teaching and preaching, the good news of God’s love. We must do the same. Ken Medema, the Christian singer and composer, is right: “Don’t tell me I have a friend in Jesus until you show me I have a friend in you.”
And when the news of his healing power spreads north, “all over Syria” (24a), people brought him everyone they knew who was sick. In verse 23 Jesus goes to the sick; in verse 24 their friends bring the sick to him.
Each illness was beyond the reach of medical science then, and today: “the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed.” But Jesus “healed them.” Each of them.
The result: “Large crowds, from Galilee [to the west], the Decapolis [Gentile cities across the Jordan River to the east], Jerusalem, Judea, and the region across the Jordan followed him” (v. 25). North from Syria, west from Galilee, east from the Decapolis, and south from Judea. Jews and Gentiles. In short, people from every part of the nation followed Jesus.
All because he went to them, teaching God’s word, preaching God’s love, and showing God’s power to heal. No wonder the people loved Jesus.
Does Jesus still heal today?
And what Jesus did here, he did all through his ministry. Leaf through the pages of Matthew’s Gospel with me. In chapter 8 we find him healing a leper, and a centurion’s servant, then two demoniacs. In chapter 9 he heals a paralytic lowered to him through the roof in Capernaum, a dead girl and a sick woman, two blind men and a mute demoniac. In chapter 12 he heals a man with a withered hand; in chapter 14 he feeds 5,000 hungry families; in chapter 15 he heals the daughter of a Canaanite woman; in chapter 17 he heals a demon-possessed boy. In chapter 20, on his way to Jerusalem and the cross, he heals two blind men outside of Jericho. All through his ministry he heals the hurting.
Is Jesus still the Great Physician today? Does he still make house calls?
I know a woman diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, given three months to live; she is well today, twelve years later. The doctors have no explanation, but the Great Physician does.
I know a man who was given a 15% chance of surviving his cancer for a year, who is completely well today, three years later. The doctors don’t know how it happened, but Jesus does.
Most of you know someone whose healing has no medical explanation. A story of divine, miraculous intervention. They are still common today.
Jesus wants us to do what the Galileans did: to give him our sicknesses, our problems, our burdens. And to bring others to him as well. To trust him to heal, to bless, to strengthen. A doctor can only heal those who will let him.
And so Jesus wants us to claim the promise that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13), that our God will supply all our needs according to his riches in glory (Philippians 4:19). To let him be our Great Physician today.
Billy Graham’s book, Angels, contains this amazing story:
Dr. S. W. Mitchell, a well-known Philadelphia Neurologist, had gone to bed after a hard day. Suddenly he was awakened by someone knocking on his door. Opening it he found a little girl, poorly dressed and deeply upset. She told him her mother was very sick and asked him if he would please come with her. Dr. Mitchell dressed and followed the girl.
He found the mother desperately ill with pneumonia. After arranging for medical care, he complimented the sick woman on the intelligence and persistence of her little daughter. The women looked at him strangely and then said, “My daughter died a month ago.” She added, “Her shoes and coat are in the clothes closet there.”
Dr. Mitchell went to the closet and opened the door. There hung the very coat worn by the little girl who had brought him to her mother. It was warm and dry and could not possibly have been out in the wintry night.
Dr. Graham asks, “Could the doctor have been called in the hour of desperate need by an angel who appeared as this woman’s young daughter? Was this the work of God’s angels on behalf of the sick woman?”
What do we do when he doesn’t?
Jesus does still heal. But, what do we do when he doesn’t? He arranged for the mother to be healed; why didn’t he heal her daughter as well? When he doesn’t heal our hurts, prevent our pain, stop our suffering, what then?
This is the question of “theodicy,” justifying God in the face of suffering. Because we believe that Jesus is all powerful and all loving, he would want to stop evil and he could. But evil exists. What then?
Briefly, consider these steps. First, ask yourself if the suffering is your fault. God gave us freedom of will, so we could choose to worship and follow him. When we misuse that freedom and suffering results, the fault is not with God but us. When Mickey Mantle died of liver disease caused by a lifetime of drinking, he told America, “Don’t do what I did.” Sometimes our pain is our own fault. When it is, we begin the healing by admitting the problem and seeking the forgiveness of God.
Second, ask how God could redeem this suffering today. Romans 8:28 is clear: God will work through all things for good, for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. He can redeem anything. He may not remove the suffering, but use it for a greater purpose. Spurgeon said he’d learned more on his bed of suffering than in the chair of his study. Often God permits suffering for greater spiritual purpose. Ask how he would redeem this pain for his glory and our good.
Third, ask how God will sustain you in the suffering. The Bible does not often tell us why things happen, but what to do when they do. The psalmist was clear: even in the valley of the shadow of death we will fear no evil, for he is with us (Psalm 23:4). The book of Isaiah promises us: when we walk through the waters they will not pass over us; the rivers will not sweep over us; the fire will not set us ablaze; for he is with us (Isaiah 43:2-3).
How will God sustain and help you in these hard days?
Last, ask how God will redeem this suffering in the future. Paul was certain: “I do not consider the present sufferings worth comparing to the glory that shall be revealed” (Romans 8:18). Could God redeem the present pain for future glory and good? And one day in heaven, when we know as we are known and all our questions are answered (1 Corinthians 13:12), will not all this suffering be forgotten in the glory of the presence of Jesus?
What is your great burden or pain today? Be a Galilean—give it to Jesus. What friend of yours is hurting? Bring him or her to Jesus. And when he does not heal today, ask: is there sin I should confess? What good will God bring from this today? How is God helping me in my suffering? How will he redeem my faithfulness in glory?
Arthur John Gossip’s wife died suddenly. His first sermon after her death, entitled “But When Life Tumbles In, What Then?” is one of the greatest messages in the English language. Here is how it concludes—see if his words don’t speak the hope of Jesus Christ to your heart and hurt:
“In the New Testament you hear … a great deal about the saints in glory, and the sunshine, and the singing, and the splendour yonder. And, surely, that is where our thoughts should dwell. I for one want no melancholious tunes, no grey and sobbing words, but brave hymns telling of their victory…. Think out your brooding. What exactly does it mean? Would you pluck the diadem from their brows again? Would you snatch the palms of victory from their hands? Dare you compare the clumsy nothings our poor blundering love can give them here with what they must have yonder where Christ Himself has met them, and has heaped on them who can think out what happiness and glory?
“I love to picture it. How, shyly, amazed, half protesting, she who never thought of self was led into the splendour of her glory…. To us it will be long and lonesome; but they won’t even have looked round them before we burst in. In any case, are we to let our dearest be wrenched out of our hands by force? Or, seeing that it has to be, will we not give them willingly and proudly, looking God in the eyes, and telling Him that we prefer our loneliness rather than that they should miss one tittle of their rights. . . .
“When we are young, heaven is a vague and nebulous and shadowy place. But as our friends gather there, more and more it gains body and vividness and homeliness. And when our dearest have passed yonder, how real and evident it grows, how near it is, how often we steal yonder. For, as the Master put it: Where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.”
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”
Now he has come here. Hasn’t he?