‘many are weak and sick among you, and many have died’

[On Sunday I was asked to introduce communion at the church I attend. This is the text of my brief talk].

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When I was given a medical death sentence in 2019, I started to seek God for answers. In addition to studying scripture, I found healing testimonies on YouTube for encouragement.

One thing that stood out was a repeated reference to the taking of communion, how in the time leading up to their freedom from terminal illness – people had been led to take bread and wine daily, in remembrance of Jesus sacrifice.

Why was communion significant to them? I would like to briefly share the answer I found to that question.

(1 Cor 11:24-31) When He had given thanks, He broke the bread and said ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you, do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying ‘This is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’

For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgement to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep (have died).

This is the only NT reference I can recall addressing a reason for God’s people being sick enough to die. So, what did Paul mean when he wrote about eating and drinking unworthily – not discerning the Lord’s body?

I’ve come across three possibilities, all of which I think have value. Two address how we relate to one another as the body of Christ, but today I’ll look at one that addresses how we relate to Jesus and His sacrifice.

When we eat the bread and drink the wine, what are we remembering?

I suspect that a lot of the time we are thinking of being saved from our sins, having them washed away by His shed blood. Hebrews tells us there is no remission of our sins without the shedding of blood. That is why we drink the wine – the blood it represents was shed to establish the new covenant, bringing about a permanent solution to the sin that keeps mankind separated from God. There is no more need for constant animal sacrifices or journeys to the Temple in Jerusalem to make those sacrifices, that were required under the old covenant.

But what about the bread representing His body, broken for us?  The body that Paul says is not being ‘discerned’ correctly, thereby making room for sickness and death?

In Isaiah 53 we read: ‘He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains… He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities the chastisement of our peace was upon Him and by His stripes (the wounds from scourging) we are healed.’ (Isaiah 53: 4-5)

Here we see Jesus’ suffering and death was NOT only focused on dealing with our sin – it also included the bearing of our sickness and pain, and paying the price of our healing through the whipping that tore apart His flesh.

We have no difficulty remembering His sacrifice paid for our sin, and we have no problem believing that our sins are forgiven. We accept what scripture says to assure us of that. We willingly put our faith in God’s promise alone. That is all the evidence we have and need.

But what about healing? We have physical symptoms as a constant reminder.  We allow them to be more real to us than the promises of God’s word and Jesus’ sacrifice for our healing. But shouldn’t we put more faith in God’s word than in what we feel – like we do for forgiveness? Would we so willing deny our salvation if at times we didn’t ‘feel ‘saved?

Andrew Murray wrote over 100 years ago, ‘We see in the accounts of the gospels, that it was more difficult for the Jews at that time to believe in the pardon of their sins than in divine healing. Now it is just the opposite. (Divine Healing, Andrew Murray p 10;  – Murray died in 1917, )

Most of us have no trouble believing our sins have been dealt with by Jesus shedding His blood. But many have difficulty understanding that sickness was dealt with through the same sacrifice.  Shed blood and broken body working together as a single, all sufficient sacrifice for both spiritual and physical healing.

Psalm 103 gives us an ongoing reminder:

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
Who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,

As we eat and drink, let us be sure that we are not forgetting any of the benefits that the bread and wine remind us of. If you want to avoid the weakness, sickness and even death that Paul attributes to eating and drinking unworthily; make some time in your life to search the scriptures to reinforce what Jesus’ sacrifice was ALL about, so we don’t miss any of His benefits through ignorance of them.

A Bad Flu Year?

A note to those who want to downplay the Covid-19 situation as being just a ‘bad flu year’.

As of today the US death toll passed 400,000 in less than a full 12 months.

Compare to total US flu deaths in the decade between 2010-19: a little over 337,000

It should NOT be something followers of Jesus should fear. But we SHOULD love our non-believing neighbours by ensuring our choices and behaviours do not put them at increased risk.

And we should NOT join in the spreading of conspiratorial lies denying the disease’s reality or seriousness.

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to Him, and He drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“He took up our infirmities
  and bore our diseases”.

Better Covenant, Better Promises (journal 8)

Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant…

…the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs [Levitical priests] as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. Hebrews 7:22, 8:6

Several of the healing and life promises I’ve referred to previously are from the Old Testament, and it could be suggested that they relate to Israel and not to New Testament believers. However the above verses tell us the promises of the new covenant are BETTER than those of the old. They are not inferior.

A covenant promising health and life is not improved by replacing them with sickness and premature death. The terms of the new are superior in the same way that perfect Jesus is superior in His priesthood compared to the flawed Levitical priests.

Life, Health, Strength (journal 6)

do not forget my teaching,
but keep my commands in your heart,
for they will prolong your life many years
and bring you peace and prosperity Proverbs 3:1-2

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones. Proverbs 3:7-8

Proverbs reveals more promises for life and health, conditional on heeding God’s word and wisdom.

All of these point to God’s will for His people – clearly He wants us healthy and alive because He wants us to be obedient and free from evil influences. Note the conditions:

  1. Remember and keep His word
  2. Don’t think of ourselves too highly
  3. Fear Him
  4. Avoid evil

These are not isolated cases linking obedience and keeping God’s word with an outcome of health and life. There are many examples, including the previously noted Deuteronomy 30, ‘now choose life’; and Psalm 119 repeats eleven times the phrase ‘preserve my life according to Your word’ (or variations).

The chapter in Proverbs following the two quotes above also promises:

turn your ear to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
and health to one’s whole body. Proverbs 4:20-22

Again there is an important linking of relationship with God’s word with our life and health; and in a way that unambiguously shows God’s will regarding the health of His people. Value and heed His word, and life and health are the result.

Priorities (journal 5)

You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4: 2-3

Here are two reasons we fail to receive from God.

Firstly, what may seem to be blatantly obvious: not asking. If we don’t ask, how can we expect to receive? God does not just ‘sovereignly’ hand out answers to unprayed prayers – He desires (expects) our involvement and commitment.

Secondly is our reason for asking. Why do we want what we ask for? Is it for worldly pleasures? See the next verse (4) “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes God’s enemy”

A friend once pondered whether this might be a reason some didn’t receive healing. While healing IS God’s will, is our desire for healing linked to a desire to use our health and life for worldly instead of godly purposes?