- This sermon was presented by our friend Rev. Jim Cessna
James 5.13-18 (NIV)
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
How many of us remember Lowell Thomas, the radio and TV broadcaster from years ago? Once when asked to speak at a prestigious event he said: “I’m 80 you know which means that every word I speak reminds me of something else.” Well, I’m 80 you know so I too am often reminded of something else during my sermons and even Kenny’s.
Recently John, Betty, Carolyn, and I visited a little old adobe church in a little old New Mexico town where Carolyn and I had visited several times before. Over 300,000 people a year visit this historic church and during Easter season over 30,000 people from all around make it their pilgrimage destination many with hopes of being healed.
For in a crowded side room of that old church there are walls lined with crutches and pictures and testimonies of people who have been healed. And there is “healing dirt” in a hole in the floor of another side room, free for the taking–well over a ton every year!
Being there always reminds me of the mystery of God’s healing, especially my own. Thirty years ago I experienced God’s miraculous healing of a disease that was diagnosed by specialists as being incurable. I have also witnessed physical, spiritual, and emotional healings over the years as Christians pray.
Healing is one of God’s greatest love gifts to us! The Bible from Gen. to Rev. is shot through with healings especially during the life and ministry of Jesus. One of Jesus’ main kingdom ministries was that of healing. I believe it still is!
While I could have chosen many texts for a sermon on healing, I think it’s good to hear what James, the kid brother of Jesus, a pillar in the mother church at Jerusalem, and the writer of one of the oldest and most practical books in the N.T. has to say.
But that reminds me of something else. Hear the ancient historian Eusebius’s take on James: “His knees grew hard like a camel’s because of his constant worship of God, kneeling and asking forgiveness for the people. Thus “Old Camel Knees” became James’ enduring nick-name. This is important because everything that “Old Camel Knees” has to teach us about healing or anything else is to be bathed in prayer.
James begins his teaching by asking questions. First: “Are any of you in trouble?” Of course we are! Jesus reminds us that the world is full of troubles. So what do we do? We keep on keeping on praying. Why? Because the prayers of righteous people are powerful and effective! (Our Sunday morning prayer time–concerns)
Second: “Are any of you happy?” Of course we are! God loves us and calls us into his forever family of joy! So what do we do? We keep on keeping on singing songs of praise and prayer. Why? Because prayers of righteous people are powerful and effective. (Our Sunday morning prayer time–joys)
Which reminds me of something else! Jesus is the one who makes our prayers powerful and effective! In John 14:12-14 he says: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
This is so exciting! Jesus is saying, “When I go to the Father and you pray, everything I came into the world to do, my power against disease and sin and death is released into the world through prayer. It is released into history through prayer.
I am going so that what I was doing here on earth I now do through you in even greater ways. Together we can storm not just the status quo, but we can storm the gates of hell! I will be at the right hand of the Father and as you pray in faith in my name and in my will, we will make a difference!” Why? Because the prayers of righteous people are powerful and effective! May we increasingly experience this together with Jesus!
Third Question : “Are any of you sick? You should call the elders of the church to pray over you and anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise you up. If you have sinned, you will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayers of righteous people are powerful and effective!”
Wow! What a privilege and responsibility for the church to actively participate in God’s healing of the sick through prayer. This is not just for physical healing, but also for emotional and spiritual healing! Note that James’ divine prescription for the church’s ministry of healing prayer involves 4 steps.
Step 1: The sick person is to call the elders of the church: Elders, the spiritual leaders of the church, are to represent the church in the ministry of healing. The N.T. ministry of healing is a corporate thing! Not that personal prayer doesn’t count or doesn’t work, but healing prayer is to be a significant part of our life together! Can others besides elders pray? Of course! The church at large should be praying for healing! (Our Sunday morning prayer time—for the sick)
Can individuals have the gift of healing? The gift of healing makes several lists of spiritual gifts in I Corinthians, but God’s corporate prescription for N.T. healing is where James takes us and it is good!
And that reminds me of something else! In no way does this mean that the physically sick person shouldn’t call the doctor or not take the prescribed medicines or not do whatever the doctor says for him/her to do to get well. (Same goes for mentally or spiritually sick people going to those who specialize in their area of need).
Some people, over the years, have chosen to not go to doctors and just believe that God will miraculously heal them through prayer. Sometimes the results are tragic. God can heal just through prayer, but God also gifts and calls doctors and medical personnel to diagnose and use medicines and incredible skills to do his healing work. A sign over a French doctor’s door says it well: “God does the healing, I collect the fee!”
Step 2: There are to be prayers of faith over the sick person in the name of the Lord. Does this exclude the sick person from praying? Heaven’s no! Does this exclude the church’s prayers for the sick which we offer on Sundays? Heaven’s no! The faith of everyone involved is in the Lord who does the healing.
Some so-called “faith healers” say that if prayers of faith are offered with absolutely no doubt, healing will happen—every time. When healing doesn’t happen, and sometimes it doesn’t, somebody doubted—not enough faith! And the results are often devastating!
In Mark 9 Jesus meets with the father of a boy who is possessed by an evil spirit. The father says, “If you can, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus says “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes.” The man says: “I believe, help my unbelief, I do, and I don’t, I have faith, I want faith, please help me.” Jesus helps!
The issue isn’t the amount of our faith. The issue is God’s sovereignty! We pray for healing in the name of the Lord! Praying in Jesus’ name is taking into account his nature, his character, and his will. Our sovereign God heals according to his will!
In 2 Cor. 12 Paul prayed three times for healing but God didn’t do it. That had nothing to do with Paul’s faith but everything to do with God’s sovereignty and the sufficiency of his grace for Paul. I know Christians who were prayed over who weren’t healed, at least in the way we expected it, but like Paul they experienced the sufficiency of God’s grace and they showed it by their lives and witness!
Step 3: There is to be anointing with oil in the name of the Lord. In that day, oil was used as medicine. Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? He came upon this guy who had been beaten to the point of death, and what did he do? He poured oil and wine on him. We use oil and wine to make a salad, but then oil was used to heal the wounds and the wine was to sterilize. Remember that at that time, 99.9% of all the medicines we use were yet to be discovered so oil was physically important for healing.
But oil also has a spiritual importance. Oil has been used symbolically to set someone apart for special service or attention. Likewise, oil has been used by the church to represent the Holy Spirit. So anointing the sick with oil is a spiritual act of the setting apart of the sick to be ministered to by the Holy Spirit. (Our prayer shawls carry some of the same symbolism.)
Step 4: There is to be confession of sin and forgiveness received. James through the H.S. is making sure that spiritual therapy takes place as well as physical therapy. We’re talking holistic healing here! When sick people seek physical healing as James describes, they also give themselves to spiritual healing by confessing their sins which the Spirit brings to mind and receive forgiveness and restoration of fellowship with God.
When sick, there is no better time to get right with God, to find peace with God, and to see the things that have been way too important in our lives. And to realize just how prideful and in charge of our life we think we are when we are well, and just how vulnerable and fragile and solely dependent on God we realize we are when we are sick.
So who confesses their sins? Everybody! We are all in this together and when prayer and confession happens healing of the whole person can happen. We confess to God privately for sure and publicly as the Spirit leads—just make sure it doesn’t become “can you top this!” Or a forum for gossip.
And we pray! In our prayers we acknowledge we are sinners, we ask for forgiveness through Jesus Christ the righteous one who is able to save, heal, and forgive. Then we ask believing that God will either give us what we ask for, or he will give us what we would have asked for if we knew everything he knows—because, after all, the sovereign God is our good and loving Father.
At this point we could be saying to ourselves that the prayers of righteous people are powerful and effective rule us out, because we feel we are far from being righteous. But listen well to an incredible Presbyterian theology. God through Jesus Christ declares all who are in Christ by grace through faith as being righteous! Wow!
Of course the more we grow into Christ’s likeness through our yielding to the indwelling Spirit, the more we will be boldly approaching the throne of grace whether we are in trouble or happy and the more healing we will see because the more we will be praying for it in the name of the Lord!
But remember, Jesus Christ is “The Righteous one” and right now he is seated at the Father’s right hand interceding for us and his prayers are the ultimate of power and effectiveness!
John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace” wrote: “And though I am despised forgot, yet God my God forgets me not, and he is safe and must succeed, for whom Christ promises to plead.” And Christ is pleading!
I started out to preach on healing but I end up where James ends up by preaching about prayer. For James caps off his teaching with Elijah! “Elijah was a man just like us who prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again, he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” The prayers of Christians individually and corporately are powerful and effective!
May we at SPCC increasingly be known by God, by each other, and by people all around as people of prayer, whether in trouble, in happiness, in sickness or in health– until Jesus comes! Maranatha!