Last time, we talked about the two blind men that Jesus healed at Jericho, on His way to Jerusalem, near the end of His ministry. But earlier in His ministry, Jesus had had another encounter with two blind men: Matthew 9:27-29 And as Jesus passed on thence, two blind [men] followed him, crying and saying, Have mercy on us, Son of David. And when he was come to the house, the blind [men] came to him. And Jesus says to them, Do ye believe that I am able to do this? They say to him, Yea, Lord. Then he touched their eyes, saying, According to your faith, be it unto you. Jesus’ question and His final response have always given me pause.
Remember the Roman Centurion that came to Jesus as he entered Capernaum? One of his slaves, dear to him, was at his house ill, paralyzed, about to die; and he came to ask Jesus to heal him. But being a Roman, he first sent leaders of that Jewish community to ask on his behalf. And then when he saw Jesus agree and start on the way to his house, he went further. He knew most Jews would not enter a Gentile house, because of the risk of becoming ceremonially unclean. So, he himself went up to meet Jesus and told Him he didn’t have to come into his house, that it would be sufficient for Jesus to say the word and the servant would be healed… Jesus marveled at the Centurion’s faith:
Matthew 8:13 And Jesus said to the centurion, Go, and as thou hast believed, be it to thee. And his servant was healed in that hour.
In that encounter, Jesus did not have to ask the question, Do you really believe I can do this for you? Because the answer was obvious. And the verdict was the same… Be it unto you, as you have believed.
In fact, if we look at the healing miracles performed by Jesus, most appear to hinge on this formula. And whether the question is spoken or not, our answer is still required because Jesus’ response is not going to change: “Let it be done for you according as you have believed.”
It explains what happened at the beginning of His ministry as He went back to Nazareth, and people in his synagogue were offended at Him because he, a mere carpenter, was teaching and healing the people…
Mark 6:3-6 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said to them, A prophet is not despised save in his own country, and among [his] kinsmen, and in his own house. And he could not do any work of power there, save that laying his hands on a few infirm persons he healed [them]. And he wondered because of their unbelief.
Maybe this has always been obvious to you, that it requires my faith, your faith, to be healed. But there are instances when Jesus healed a person before that person had a chance to prove his faith; even before that person knew that they were in the act of being healed. And there was one guy that wasn’t all that happy at the end of it all. Remember the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda?
John 5:5-15 But there was a certain man there who had been suffering under his infirmity thirty and eight years. Jesus seeing this [man] lying [there], and knowing that he was [in that state] now a great length of time, says to him, Wouldest thou become well?
The infirm [man] answered him, Sir, I have not a man, in order, when the water has been troubled, to cast me into the pool; but while I am coming another descends before me. Jesus says to him, Arise, take up thy couch and walk. And immediately the man became well, and took up his couch and walked: and on that day was sabbath.
The Jews therefore said to the healed [man], It is sabbath, it is not permitted thee to take up thy couch. He answered them, He that made me well, *he* said to me, Take up thy couch and walk. They asked him [therefore], Who is the man who said to thee, Take up thy couch and walk? But he that had been healed knew not who it was, for Jesus had slidden away, there being a crowd in the place.
After these things Jesus finds him in the temple, and said to him, Behold, thou art become well: sin no more, that something worse do not happen to thee. The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
You and I know that that man went back to those religious leaders, not because he was grateful, not because he wanted to sing the praises of Jesus, but because he didn’t like what Jesus told him at the Temple: Sin no more.
Still, yes, by and large it seems obvious that it requires my faith, your faith, to be healed.
But is it really obvious? That is, do we live our lives like it is obvious? And do we really believe that that requirement is fair?
How much of the responsibility lies with me?
Sooner or later, all of us – in our lives or the lives of our family or the lives of dear friends –eventually come up against a sickness that human medicine has no power to cure. And then we pray. Some of us turn to prayer sooner… Some of us, when we do, it almost seems like it is a last resort. But regardless, we pray. Why? Because we believe God has the power to heal any sickness. After all, He invented the human body.
But the question always is: Will He do it? Sometimes the answer is, Yes. And we praise Him for it. But sometimes the answer is, No. And when that happens, the best we can ever hope to do is respond like Job, who lost so much…
Job 1:20-21 (NASB) Then Job got up, tore his robe, and shaved his head; then he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
But even if we respond like Job, do we still wonder… Why? Job certainly did. Was it all my fault? His journey to get an answer to that question is the whole point of the book of Job.
What is the role of faith, when the answer is, No?
How much of the responsibility lies with me?
The answer from the Evensong
Jesus went back to Bethany for the night after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday. The next morning, He and the disciples set out on the way to Jerusalem again…
Mark 11:12-13 And on the morrow, when they were gone out of Bethany, he hungered. And seeing from afar off a fig-tree which had leaves, he came, if perhaps he might find something on it. And having come up to it he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the time of figs. And answering he said to it, Let no one eat fruit of thee any more for ever. And his disciples heard [it]…
We don’t have time today to talk about the symbolism of what just happened. But notice as you read the rest of this passage in Mark, that upon entering Jerusalem, Jesus again has to overturn the tables of the moneychangers and dove-sellers. And then He spent the day teaching.
Mark 11:19-24 And when it was evening he went forth without the city. And passing by early in the morning they saw the fig-tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, remembering [what Jesus had said], says to him, Rabbi, see, the fig-tree which thou cursedst is dried up. And Jesus answering says to them, Have faith in God.
Verily I say to you, that whosoever shall say to this mountain, Be thou taken away and cast into the sea, and shall not doubt in his heart, but believe that what he says takes place, whatever he shall say shall come to pass for him. For this reason I say to you, All things whatsoever ye pray for and ask, believe that ye receive it, and it shall come to pass for you.
Do we really, as believers, have such an awesome power? I mean, that “whatsoever ye pray for” clause appears to allow for anything we might ever want. Anything goes… Doesn’t this leave the door open for us to ask for anything at all?
If so, when that healing we asked for doesn’t come true, what then? Was it because I did not have enough faith? Do I conclude that it was all my fault that that person died? And, is that fair? I honestly thought I had enough faith… I prayed, didn’t I? It’s not fair. God knew how much faith I had… If that wasn’t enough, why didn’t He make up the rest?
You can see where all this could end up… A paradox: Beginning with us thinking we have faith, we could end up offended at God for not doing what we asked.
Surely, we must have missed something in Jesus’ words.
Maybe John the disciple, being right there with Peter and the other disciples, understood exactly this “rabbit hole” we could so easily get ourselves into. So, he tells us:
1 John 5:13-15 These things have I written to you that ye may know that ye have eternal life who believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the boldness which we have towards him, that if we ask him anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him.
And there it is: “According to His will.” Yes, anything goes… but only if it is according to His will. Is john making up this qualifier? Is he trying to apologize for Jesus’ hasty words in front of that dead fig tree? Is he inventing a way out because he was embarrassed that not every prayer a believer prayed got answered?
The answer is, No. He is simply reminding us of all that Jesus taught us; that just like in every course of instruction, you cannot take one lesson, one phrase, out of the context of the whole… because the lesson is the whole. In the same way, Jesus did not come to teach us a set of disconnected truths. He came to brings us the Truth.
And that Truth was Him, His whole life.
For instance, just as He was about to begin His ministry, the enemy, Satan, tried to derail it. You remember the temptation in the wilderness: Three times Satan offered Jesus the opportunity to have – miraculously – whatever He wanted, right then and there. It wasn’t just food because He had not eaten for forty days. He offered Jesus a short-cut to success. All the opposition Jesus suffered from the Pharisees and Sadducees would have all been obviated, if He had agreed to fall down from the roof of the Temple and angels had picked Him up on the way down in front of that crowd. He wouldn’t have had to suffer on that cross, He wouldn’t have had to pay for the sins of all mankind, to become the King of Kings if he had just bowed before Satan. Yet, Jesus refused.
Because He knew it was not the Father’s will.
If that is how Jesus lived, then why should it be any different with us?
Have you ever thought about Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father? Evidently, he died sometime after Jesus’ twelfth birthday, leaving Mary a widow. Surely Jesus could have prayed to save him. And the Father would have listened to Him, just as He did at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:42).
If Jesus and Mary lived with that loss, can’t we do the same?
Therefore, I have to conclude that when Jesus tells me I can have whatsoever I ask, if I shall not doubt in my heart, but believe, He means exactly that: All I need to do is believe in Him… and to believe in Jesus is to believe in the Will of God the Father.
The Father’s Will
Yet, the puzzle is not solved once we have heard this truth: that what we need is to pray according to the Father’s will. Because immediately, we start to fret: How can I know the Father’s will? We start to wonder, what is God’s will in this situation? What is it, in this other one? How can I be sure that I know His will?
The result is that we can founder in seas of uncertainty and doubt, or get stuck in a paralysis of analysis, not knowing what to do in a given situation until God tells us… or even end up offended at the Father for not revealing His will to us.
But I think the problem here is that we are confusing His will with His Will. I mean by that, that most of the time what we are worrying about, what we are trying to discern, is what God’s will is in this particular earthly situation?
But is that really what the Father’s Will is all about? Is God’s particular will about every event in this finite temporal life we live on Earth, what John is talking about?
Yes, I know that the gospel says that God knows when a sparrow falls from the sky, that He knows the number of hairs on our head… But is that what He wants us to pray about?
Matthew 6:31-33 Be not therefore careful, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we put on? for all these things the nations seek after; for your heavenly Father knows that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.
In the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:11) where Jesus told us to pray for our daily (or needful) bread, was He talking about earthly food? Then why tell us, only a few verses later, not to pray like the pagans (the nations) because God the Father already knows we need that food? Isn’t Jesus talking in the Lord’s prayer about the Bread of Life (John 6)?
That is what we need every day to survive in this world and stay within the Will of the Father. So, what is the Will of the Father?
2 Peter 2:9 [The] Lord does not delay his promise, as some account of delay, but is longsuffering towards you, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
1 Timothy 2:1-4 I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings be made for all men; for kings and all that are in dignity, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all piety and gravity; for this is good and acceptable before our Saviour God, who desires that all men should be saved and come to [the] knowledge of [the] truth.
Which is why, as John explains to us that we need to pray according to His Will, he preceded that by saying: These things have I written to you that ye may know that ye have eternal life who believe on the name of the Son of God.
Eternal life for His children, that is God’s Will. That is what the Kingdom of God is about. That is why we believe. And we don’t have to fret about knowing that Will because it is accessible to all of us; all of us can hear His voice. Because, to have faith in Jesus I must already have heard the Father expressing His Will… the Father that is calling me to eternal life. Jesus said it:
John 6:44-45 No one can come to me except the Father who has sent me draw him, and I will raise him up in the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every one that has heard from the Father [himself], and has learned [of him], comes to me…
Sure, we can pray about every detail of our human lives, but I don’t think that there is any guarantee that we can know God’s particular will in that regard… unless He explicitly tells us.
BUT for salvation, for a knowledge of and a relationship with Jesus the Messiah, for that, we can pray always with total absolute confidence that it IS in God’s Will… for ourselves, for our family, for our friends… for anyone we might be able to touch in this world.
I mean, think about Paul the Apostle. If anyone lived by faith, it was him. Many healing miracles were done through his faithfulness. But he suffered from an illness that made his life difficult. So, what did he do? He prayed about it:
2 Corinthians 12:8 For this I thrice besought the Lord that it might depart from me.
Did he get healed? In his opinion, he deserved to get healed. It was the right thing to happen; for surely it couldn’t be the Lord’s will that he be going through this suffering in the middle of all the work he was trying to do for the Kingdom. Look at the way he described the illness in the preceding verse:
2 Corinthians 12:7 …a thorn for the flesh, a messenger of Satan that he might buffet me…
But then he learned otherwise:
2 Corinthians 12:9 And he [the Lord] said to me, My grace suffices thee; for [my] power is perfected in weakness.
Which is why, as Paul introduces this thought in verse 7, he tells us what he learned from the whole experience:
2 Corinthians 12:7 And that I might not be exalted by the exceeding greatness of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn for the flesh…
The healing in that particular issue of Paul’s life, at that particular time, could have been in accord to God’s will but it was not in accord to His Will. God already had a Plan for Paul’s life. And it required a discipline that Paul needed so that his accomplishments for the Kingdom would not “go to his head”, lest he stumble in pride. It was a discipline he could not have acquired any other way… God knew.
So, God let Paul suffer in the flesh in this world, for the sake of what really mattered to the Father AND to Paul: Eternal life for as many of God’s children as Paul could reach. (And he is still reaching them today, through his epistles.)
Is that fair? Was God fair to do this to Paul? Wasn’t there another way that would have avoided suffering in this world?
God is God, and I am not.
When Jesus chose us and called us, He called us for eternal life. But, he also chose to leave us here in this world so that we could do the work for which He made us, work of the Kingdom. That fact, that we are stuck living in this world means that we are subject to all its pains and disappointments, all the sorrows that everybody in this world goes through.
Yes, those sorrows are real. Yes, they make life hard. But He knows this. So, yes, we should pray about every such thing, every heart break, every sickness, everything, because it is the right thing to do. Because it is good and right to talk to our Heavenly Father about everything that is going on in our lives. He is our Father! He cares.
BUT the prayers that move mountains are of a different kind. On matters of salvation, when it comes to God’s Will, and Jesus’ Mission, there is no doubt about what is in His Will. There is no doubt about the appropriateness of any such prayer or the power behind it.
For that, really really pray.