24/5/2020 [Thematic Message 102] www.lifechurchmissions.com
Facing Sickness and Death <Mk 1:41-42; 2:5-11; 2 Co 12:7-10; Jas 5:14-16>
Prelude: The last thing which people like to talk about is the topic of "death", and the most likely cause of death (about 95%) is "sickness". The most natural outcome for all of mankind is sickness and death. The World Health Organization report tells us that the three major diseases that take away the lives of people are heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases. Today's medical reports also tell us that at least one in two persons will get cancer in their lifetime. The longer a person's lifespan, the higher the probability that cancerous cells will appear. Even if there are many chronic diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes today, people know that these are also fatal factors. Indeed, diseases, the aging of the body, the decline of physical strength, etc. are all signs pointing toward death. In this epidemic, we all see how fearful people are. When signs of death appear, everyone begins to pay attention to the virus. In fact, to man, death is realer than anything. It is the realest situation a person can ever encounter in this world. Maybe not everyone will encounter setbacks, broken marriages, bankruptcy, etc. in their lives, but everyone will encounter death. Death is a reality that people definitely cannot escape. Some people often criticize us saying that Christianity is not practical, always talking about life after death when it is better to live this present life well. Although people say this, they still cannot eliminate the worries and helplessness as they eventually approach death. Therefore, Christ's death and resurrection defeated the last enemy which is death <1 Co 15:26>, and the purpose of the entire Christian faith must be directed to the final resurrection. Without this resurrection, our faith is simply empty talk. Because if our end is not set free from the pain and suffering, sickness, and eventual death caused by all sins on earth, why do we need to live so seriously today? We might as well just eat and drink, indulge the flesh, and live like a beast, for tomorrow we die! <1 Co 15:32> But thanks be to our Lord for giving us the revelation of eternal life, so that we know that although there is suffering on earth, we can live with hope in our hearts. Well, today, we who have received eternal life in Christ need another answer, that is, how do we get to eternal life? Perhaps we may not fear the coming of death, but we will inevitably worry somewhat about how we will reach that moment. Unless we are killed in an airplane crash or a serious accident, most people will go through the process of getting sick, and this process can be long or short. In this process, our body will gradually decline, and we will also be tormented by some pains, discomforts, inconveniences, or worries, the unknowns, various negative opinions of the doctor. Some people see their family members taking care of them in the process of their illness, and feel that they have implicated their family members. On the other hand, some are very concerned, worrying that no one will take care of their loved ones after they leave. Some are afraid that in their pain, they will fall into a state of self-pity. These various physical, mental, and emotional torments are what a sick person has to undergo. Some believers also worry if they would lose their faith in the process of going through some painful illness. Therefore, some Christians say, "I am not afraid of the moment of death, but only afraid of the journey approaching death." These are all kinds of pain and anxiety that people will suffer in their sickness. Therefore, the Bible not only gives us the assurance of eternal life in Christ, but also the assurance of how we should walk to the end of our lives. In particular, when we are facing the reality of some sickness, perhaps the disease is not that serious to cause us to lose our lives, but it brings a lot of inconvenience to us and those around us. At that time, how should we face such suffering with the understanding of the Lord's word? Let us get the answer in this aspect from Paul’s experience today.
1. Christ the Lord healed all kinds of sicknesses, and triumphed over the ultimate death
1）Christ healed everyone’s sickness without exception, thus revealing God’s love and omnipotence
In Christ the Lord’s earthly ministry, all the sick who came before Him were healed <Mt 15:30>. Indeed, being healed from their illnesses is the most pressing need of the sick. If we ask anyone who is sick, whether they are Christian or non-Christian, no one person does not hope that they are healed. Because a healthy body is human’s instinctual need. Man may not need to be rich or famous, but when a person loses his health, one of his greatest desires is then to be healed. This is like how a paralytic craves to stand up and walk one day, a blind wishes that his eyes can see once again, a person with skin disease longs for full recovery. Thus, <Mk 1:41> says that Lord Jesus was filled with compassion when he saw people’s illnesses. His heart of compassion made Him willing to heal the sick. Moreover, the fact that all the sick were healed by Lord Jesus demonstrates that our Lord is a God who triumphs over all sicknesses, as well as, death. If there is any illness that Lord is helpless at, then He is not the absolute victor. Therefore, when someone asks why all the sick could be healed when they came before Jesus, that is because He is loving and almighty. Thus, when we Christians imitate Lord Jesus, we cannot reject praying for the healing of the sick at any moment. Although we know that some people’s sickness is a result of their bad habits or sins, we still pray for their illness, and ask the Lord to have mercy on them.
2）However, the forgiveness of man’s sins is more important than the healing of his physical sickness
Although the Lord has the compassion and power to heal people, he also sees the gravity of human sin. He knows that sin will surely bring about death. Even if a person is healed from his sickness now, he will eventually still die because of the wages of sin <Ro 6:23>, and he will face the final judgment <Heb 9:27>. Hence, in revealing His compassion and power to heal the sick, God’s original intent is to bring people the grace of the forgiveness of sins. This is just as in <Mk 2:5>, the Lord said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven!” When the Pharisees were discussing about this statement, the Lord said, “Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” Because of human sin and the final judgment, the Lord brings something more important than the physical body, which is the gospel that makes a person’s “sins forgiven” through faith in Him. Because of God’s love and eternal power, He cannot stop merely at healing man’s sicknesses. Then why does God not give people eternal life at the same time He heals them from their sicknesses? That is because the human sin makes man only want healing, but not God’s forgiveness. Thus, we always see that after the sick is healed, he will despise the words of eternal life, and walk his own way. This was shown in the case of the ten lepers who were healed. After they were healed, only one came back to surrender the sovereignty of his life before the Lord. The Lord clearly said to him, “Your faith has saved you” <Lk 17:11-19>. Therefore, we know very well that the healing of a person’s physical body does not necessarily bring about the salvation of his soul. Sometimes, we see a sick person come humbly to the church, humbly receive God’s word and ask the Lord to heal him. When we see this scene, we eagerly hope that the Lord will heal him soon. But many a times, we also see that once that person’s health condition improves a little, he gradually does not seek God, and stops coming to church as well. This pains our hearts. Thus, we must hand the healing of a person over to God’s sovereignty. Because He has absolute wisdom, time and ways to carry out His healing. That is what we cannot fathom. Indeed, although some people are not healed physically, they may repent, turn to the Lord and be saved just as their physical body is about to be devoured by sickness.
3）Why do some saints also go through the pains of sicknesses?
Today, some teachings say that as long as you have faith to pray and proclaim, your physical sicknesses will be healed. Because <Isa 53:5> says, “the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” In fact, applying this verse to proclaim such a teaching only turns people’s eyes to healing, but not to experiencing the greater grace that God has given in Christ during the sickness. We must know, the day our sinful body is gone, our sicknesses whether big or small will be completely healed, and our every cell will no longer degenerate. However, in this finite body, through the limitations and failing of the physical body, the Lord makes us see many things clearly. Sometimes, sickness will make us look lightly on the light and momentary things. Sometimes, breakdown of the body enables us to have more compassion on the sick. Sometimes, the degeneration of the body helps us let go of some selfish desires and rely on the Lord more humbly. In <2 Co 12:7-10>, we see that Paul’s thorn in the flesh made him: (1) not conceited because of the revelations he received; (2) keep relying on and experiencing the Lord’s grace; (3) even boast about his weaknesses. Sometimes, we see that although those who love God devoutly are not healed physically, in the course of their sickness, they place their hope in the eternal life given by God, thus comforting many people, proving that the gospel given by Christ far surpasses all the worth of this life. Therefore, if one only uses the slogan of “physical healing, healthy body” to mark a name for Christianity, that is in fact putting down the gospel of the Lord. That is because human misery does not merely come from physical illnesses, but also the torment brought by selfish desires. When a person wants to acquire more and possess more on earth, and is unwilling to let go, this adds on to his misery during his sickness. Sometimes, when we think about going to the heavenly home in future, we mostly think about our bodies not having anymore breakdown, such as our legs will no longer be painful, our breathing no longer has any difficulty, we will no longer feel giddy, etc, but in fact, <Rev 21:4> tells us that there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Therefore, we must not think that only physical sicknesses bring us such misery. In fact, greater is the misery that is brought about by sin than the pain of the physical body. All these will be removed ultimately at the consummation of redemption.
2. How to face the present physical sicknesses?
1）If you still do not know the gospel which can save your soul
Because of the painful sicknesses, you must understand the limitations of man, and humbly seek and receive God’s redemption given in Christ. Because of illness, you may accept Christians’ prayers for you, or walk into a church, but you must not set the healing of your body as your ultimate goal. God absolutely has more than enough power to heal your body, or to gradually remove your physical sickness, but if you are only contented with physical healing, and after that, only use your recovered body to enjoy earthly pleasures, or you see that your body is not fully healed and think that this God is not worth believing, then you will surely regret as you walk toward the day of judgment. Because at that time, no one can bear the price of your sin on your behalf, and you have to enter eternal punishment because of your unforgiven sin. Your sickness actually gives you a cue, telling you that your future judgment will be more dreadful than this sickness. Thus, you should not face sickness with a secular perspective, and miss the spiritual signal it is giving you. Sometimes, the purpose of God giving you recovery is to let you walk into the church and hear His word clearly. Sometimes, God does not fully liberate you physically is so that you can have a humble heart, and gradually receive and accept the Creator Lord’s truth. Or sometimes, in your physical suffering, God makes you thoroughly realize the ultimate end which humans have to face alone, and that is the reality of death and the destination after death. If you can respond to God’s gospel in your sickness, then you are blessed indeed! Because your momentary misery points you to the road of eternity.
2）If you are a born-again Christian who believes in the Lord
Some teachers have a wrong or superstitious view, thinking that if we speak more about sufferings, then sufferings will come; if we speak more about illnesses, then sicknesses will come. Thus, we should all the more use the name of the Lord to proclaim health, wealth, wellbeing, longevity, such that these blessings will come. In fact, this causes the modern churches and believers to be more and more short-sighted, and faith to be shallower. If a believer does not open wide his eyes to look carefully at the reality of sickness and death, and know the promises given by God in the midst of it, then he will have shortfalls in his understanding and experience of the power of the gospel. Indeed, we believe in God’s sovereignty, we also believe in God’s healing, but when facing sickness, what may make a person who belong to the Lord most peaceful is not to search desperately for remedies and doctors, but to be like apostle Paul, bringing the misery of that sickness before the Lord. Paul pleaded with the Lord three times because of the thorn in his flesh, and from there, he experienced the Lord’s grace and comfort in his heart. If our hearts are anxious because of sickness, the Bible tells us in <Jas 5:14> to call the elders (overseers) of the church to pray over the sick. Such a person should already recognize the authority of the elders, and is able to confess his sins to the elders. Because the elders are people with faith and are also God’s spokespersons, as they pray for the sick, they will also tell the sick the perfect will of God, the sick should be willing to submit, and confess his sins if necessary, the Bible says the sickness will leave the sick person. <Prov 17:22> says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones”; <Prov 18:14> says, “The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” If a person has sickness but continues to grumble against heaven and people, or live in bitterness, his sickness not only will not leave him, but he will also lose peace because of the sickness. Even a small little sickness will torment him constantly. This sickness then becomes a discipline that comes upon him. In fact, if a person views earthly materials and gains more and more lightly in his sickness, and live with greater assurance of the value of eternal life, that is most beautiful blessing.
3）If you are a person who serves the Lord faithfully
The greatest enemy of we who serve the Lord is the temptations in our ministries. Even if we have already invested our whole lives in serving the Lord, it is inevitable for us to harbour selfish desires in the course of serving. Some people want to find their self-worth in the course of serving, some always compare with others who are serving and thus develop jealousy and competition, some other people cannot put down the good name and achievements they have accumulated. As the saying goes, “the higher you climb, the harder to come down.” This is indeed a saying that comes from reflecting upon the selfish desires within man’s heart. We humans are all afraid of being forgotten, or losing our self-worth. Thus, if we are not careful, many of the things we do on earth, including the ministries that the Lord entrusted us, will become idols we cling tightly to. Therefore, when a person suffers from sickness in the course of serving, we can say that God’s enormous blessing is hidden within it. Especially, when we look at the example of Paul, we know that even for him, God also used a thorn in his flesh to humble him, this also tells us not to look lightly upon the protection brought about by our sickness. Instead of viewing this as a discipline, we must know that it is the protection of God. Sometimes, when someone who serves the Lord faithfully falls sick, he will grasp many spiritual insights, which are what he can hardly comprehend when he is healthy. In this week, we see that two great figures of faith in the Christian world, Ravi Zacharias and David Pawson, both departed the world in a short time due to critical illnesses. Two and a half years ago, renowned American pastor, R.C. Sproul, was also hospitalised during winter for flu, and passed away in 12 days. This was because he suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Some people think that only serving the Lord in health can be seen as glorious. In fact, the serving of those with chronic illnesses yet who persevere to finish their serving journey is even more glorious. This is because they demonstrate that the value of serving Christ the Lord surpasses their temporal flesh. Even if they are renowned pastors, they treat sufferings as a form of calling, still serving the Lord in sickness, and looking to the Lord when they are critically ill. Their physical limitations not only cannot restrict their serving, but instead, they manifest the glory of the Lord whom they serve in their sickness.
3. How to face the nearing of death?
1）The reality of death and the response of the people of the world
Because death is so real, different people have different attitudes and ways to handle the reality of death. Some people only treat death as an enemy, thinking that as long as their inner heart is not afraid of it, then they have overcome it. Some people romanticize death, treating death as a form of liberation. This is in fact a result of an ignorance toward death. Because some people know that they cannot escape death, so they rather satisfy themselves with a moment of pleasure, hoping that they can die without regrets. In addition, some other people choose to believe that religions can give them liberation. Because in all the truths which humans can fathom, only religious teachings give people the answer to what is after death. Some religions claim that after a person dies, there will be reincarnation, others claim that after one dies, there will be rewards and punishments for good and evil deeds, some assert that one can receive eternal life after death. Actually, those who can truly ponder about things after death are basically very honest and down-to-earth people. At least they are not someone who escapes reality, they do not avoid thinking just because they do not know, and they will not stop searching continuously just because they cannot find. But only the Bible gives us the absolute answer to life and death.
2）Christians must have very clear answers when facing life and death
In <Phil 1:20-21>, Paul said, “now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” In today’s world, we rarely talk about the reality of death. Today’s world is full of splendour and glitz that mesmerise human souls, such that people cannot see the reality that will ultimately come, which is the issue of sickness and death that the church pulpit of today keeps avoiding to speak about, but instead, the pulpit keeps advocating the health, prosperity, longevity, etc, in the Lord. However, when Paul went through trial, he very clearly mentioned about the truth which he already reconciled with the Lord through prayers, that is the truth about life and death. He did not avoid talking about the fact that he might be leaving this world, but faced it very realistically, and brought out the glory of it. His inner heart actually yearned for that moment, instead of shunning it, or using God’s promise to cover up the end that would come upon man soon. In fact, when the church has less answer in the matter of life and death, then it will use all kinds of blessings of the present life to make the matter of death seem ambiguous. But thanks be to the Lord, death is in fact the moment which we saints can look forward to!
3）Christians not only should have answer for death, but also assurance as we approach the moment of death
Some Christians self-professed that they are already baptised believers and thus need not fear death, but when sickness and death draw near, they lose so much peace. Actually, if we ask how can a believer have the assurance of eternal life? That is not a transactional faith, such as “I choose to believe in Jesus, so God gives me eternal life.” A person can have assurance about his salvation because he enters into a relationship with God as a result of Christ’s redemption. His inner heart has personal love for Christ the Lord. He has real longing for Christ’s glory. He has the heart to be faithful to the truth revealed through Christ. In fact, it is this relationship that enables his heart to overcome the fear and anxiety about death. Such relationship helps him not to be too greatly affected by the outcome of life and death. Then some believers say, “I am not afraid of death, but I am anxious about how I will get to death.” From the last few days before Paul’s death, we can see the assurance in his heart. He said, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” <2 Ti 4:18>. This is the assurance which the Lord places in the hearts of those who love Him!