Miraculous and Saving Faith

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

March 14, 2004 — Mitchellville, MD.

And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. (MAR 16:17, 18)

The Lord promised in many places that those who believed in Him would have miraculous powers to heal the sick cast out demons, and even to move mountains.

We believe in the Lord. We read the Word. We follow the Ten Commandments as best we can – but we don’t seem to have these magical powers. About thirty years ago, several hundred “Born Again” Christians – men woman and children – drank Koolaid that had been mixed with cyanide as part of a prayer meeting. They all died. The press said that it was a “mass suicide” and blamed it on their charismatic leader. But was it suicide, or were these people innocently testing their faith, putting their faith in Jesus to save them, for He promised that if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them? (text) Is it possible that this was not so much suicide as a severely misguided attempt to prove their faith in the Lord?

Does the fact that those people died of self-inflicted poison, and the fact that we cannot ourselves do miracles mean that our faith in insufficient? Does it mean that we have failed as Christians and are doomed to hell? That’s what a literal reading of the gospels seems to be saying.

Jesus Himself frequently used miracles as a means of attracting attention to Himself, and teaching those who were drawn to Him about His powers. There is a very simple, yet profound reason for this: The first and primary thing of the Christian Church was to believe that Jesus Christ is Himself God Almighty, for unless that basic truth had been established with them, there could be no church based on a true worship of the Lord God Jesus Christ. Could He have convinced a single person that He was God by arguments from scripture? No. They were a purely external and natural people, and they had to be taught in a purely external and natural way so that they could be led to the spiritual truths within. And so Jesus showed that He was more than just a man by gradually revealing His Divine powers. As a result, at first their faith was miraculous, which in and of itself is not true faith because it is based on miracles, but it can lead to saving faith, and so it is acceptable to the Lord. For example we read in Matthew:

The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my boy will be healed.” When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his boy was healed that same hour. (MAT8:8,10,13)

Jesus Christ healed this person and others according to their miraculous faith, for the Lord was the God of heaven and the God of earth, and no conjunction with Him is possible unless there is an acknowledgment of His Divinity. And the acknowledgment of the Divinity of Jesus Christ is faith in Him. The centurion evidently acknowledged the Lord to be God Almighty, for he said,

Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my boy will be healed. (MAT8:8)

Jesus Christ did not come into the world solely for the purpose of healing natural diseases, otherwise He would have healed everyone. Rather, He used the opportunity of healing physical disease to show the Divine Power hidden within, and those had faith who had a glimpse of that power, accepted it, and so accepted that Jesus was not just a man, but the Son of God. We read again in Matthew:

And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment; For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour. (MAT 9:20-22)

The faith that was being demonstrated in this example was simply historical or miraculous faith. The people involved believed because they had seen something momentous that could not easily be explained away. Such a faith, does not endure, however, but begins to fade with the fading memory of the event and as the witness falls back into old habits and old beliefs. However, this faith through miracles served to introduce the essential idea, the foundation of true faith, that Jesus Christ was, or had the power of, the Almighty because He was able to do miracles of Himself.

The prophets of the Old Testament had sometimes done miracles. In fact, both Elijah and Elisha were credited with raising people from the dead. It was never permitted for them to be worshipped, because it was implicit that all their power was actually through them from God. It was always clear, both to the Jews and to the prophets themselves, that any miraculous power they had was from Jehovah, and so it was forbidden for anyone to worship the prophet. When Moses struck the rock in the wilderness and implied that it was he who caused the resulting flow of life-giving water, his punishment was that he was not allowed to cross the Jordan into the promised land because he had taken to himself that which was God’s. However, since the Lord was trying to teach that the power of God was in Him, not passing through Him like with the prophets, He allowed Himself to be worshipped.

The Lord’s acts of healing were only possible with those who already had miraculous faith and with those people, the miracles had the effect of confirming their belief. There are many such instances recorded in the New Testament such as this one:

Now one of (the ten lepers), when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.” (LUK 17:15,16,19)

There were three reasons why faith in the Lord healed such as these; first, because they acknowledged His Divine omnipotence, and that He was God.

Secondly, because they acknowledged that Jesus was God, and that he therefore had the power to heal and save, their minds were turned to thoughts about His spiritual qualities, and it is a law of the spiritual world that thought brings presence, so their faith and belief brought them spiritually closer to the Lord, and into a sphere of spiritual health.

The third reason was, that all the diseases healed by the Lord represented and thus signified the spiritual diseases that correspond to these natural diseases; and spiritual diseases can be healed only by the Lord, and in fact by looking to His Divine power and by repentance of life. This is why He sometimes said, “Thy sins are forgiven, go and sin no more.” This faith also was represented and signified by their miraculous faith. But the faith by which spiritual diseases are healed by the Lord can be given only through truths from the Word and a life according to them; the truths themselves and the life itself according to them make the quality of the faith.

And (the woman) stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. And He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.’ (LUK7:38,48,50)

In this case, the woman came to Him in a state of spiritual disease. She was overcome with the guilt that she felt about the course of her own life. But having seen His power to heal those with diseases of the body, this woman perceived in her heart the truth that He was also the source of healing the wounds of sin, and she approached him in a spirit of humility, begging forgiveness, which He was most willing to give. This passage demonstrates the similarity, in the Lord’s eyes, in healing and forgiving sins – in both cases it only works if there is faith in the Lord and that He has the power to do what is asked of Him.

Certainly we have seen enough confirmations from scripture to see how important it was for the Lord to perform miracles Himself, but we are still unclear as to why He often promised that those who had faith in Him would not only be healed, but would have the power to do miracles themselves. Why did He say, as He did in Mark,

And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover (text)?

Even a cursory examination of the Old Testament will show that the Jewish nation believed in Jehovah and obeyed Him solely because of the miracles that He performed in their presence. The Jews were external men, and external men of any era and any nation are moved to Divine worship only by external things such as miracles which inspire awe. We need to remember that at first, the Christian Church was considered to be a revival movement within the Jewish Church. The first Christians were all members the Jewish Church, and this was necessary so that the Christian faith could first be established in an external way with external men so that it could eventually flourish and become internal. This is also why, in the Divine Providence, that the Lord performed such miracles of healing, why they are recorded in the gospels, and why they are to be preached in the church even today – we need to picture in our minds the Lord doing these things as a foundation and confirmation of our faith and belief. Then, later, as we bring His truth into our life, this historical or miraculous faith can become saving with us.

But how shall we know when our faith becomes genuine, when our faith is sufficient to save us? We, like so many others in the scriptures, want a sign, some proof that the mysterious spiritual things are actually happening as promised. The Lord told the disciples what the signs would be, but like everything else in the Word, their true meaning is contained in their internal sense.

For instance,

that “they should cast out demons in the name of the Lord” signifies that the name of the Lord understood spiritually means everything of doctrine out of the Word from the Lord, and that “demons” mean falsities of every kind, and these are thus cast out, that is, taken away, by the doctrine out of the Word from the Lord.

That “they should speak with new tongues” derives its effect from this, that “new tongues” mean doctrinals for the New Church.

“They should take up serpents” was because “serpents” signify the hells in respect to malice, and thus they would be safe from infestation by it.

“They would not be hurt if they drank any deadly thing” meant that they would not be contaminated by the malice of the hells.

And “the infirm would become well by the laying on of hands” meant to be healed of spiritual diseases, which are called iniquities and sins, by communication and conjunction with heaven, thus with the Lord; the laying on of the hands of the disciples corresponding to communication and conjunction with the Lord, and thus to the removal of iniquities by His Divine power.

The Lord did these things because we need to know Him. It is not enough to just think of God as some benign “force” that is “out there.” We cannot love that which we do not know, and so we were given the New Testament so that we could see His Divine qualities as they presented themselves in the world of men. When we see and know the Lord’s qualities from these teachings, and when these qualities are loved, then we can be conjoined to the Lord. This is why it is said in the Word that those who believe in His name will have eternal life.

This shows how necessary it is that man should know the quality of faith and love, that is, the Lord’s “name;” also how necessary it is to love that quality, which comes by doing those things that the Lord has commanded. The names “Jesus” and “Christ” moreover involve this same quality, since Jesus means salvation, and Christ or Messiah Divine truth, which is everything of faith and love as to knowledges, doctrine, and life. When, therefore, these names are mentioned their quality must be thought of and they must live according to it. This is what is meant by the words of the Lord in Matthew:-

Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. (MAT18:19,20)

When we read the passages that tell us how hard it was for the Lord to be received by the Jewish Church, we need to remember that the point of such a passage is not to condemn the Jews, but to teach us to beware of the same kinds of mental and spiritual states in our own lives. Anyone in any age can delight in the idea that some hero is going to come to solve your problems and make you rich and powerful. Anyone in any age can be wholly natural and deny the reality of the spiritual realm. Anyone can use the Word to mislead and to justify the evils that they do to others.

But just as the Lord came bodily to present Himself to the Jewish Church, so He presents Himself to us now in the Word. We don’t actually witness His miracles, but we can see them in our mind’s eye as we read the Word. And, the miracle is, that as we are introduced to the Lord through the Word, as we begin to understand the Divinity within Him as it shone forth from His miraculous powers, we find that we are gradually healed of our own spiritual diseases. We begin to bring ourselves into order. We think of others. We try to be useful, and we find that the effort brings spiritual peace for the Lord has miraculously healed the diseases of our spirit. Jesus said …”Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” (JOH20:29,28) AMEN.


First Lesson:

(John 11:1-45) Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. {2} It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. {3} Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” {4} When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” {5} Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. {6} So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. {7} Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” {8} The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?” {9} Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. {10} “But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” {11} These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” {12} Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” {13} However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. {14} Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. {15} “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” {16} Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

17} So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. {18} Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. {19} And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. {20} Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. {21} Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. {22} “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” {23} Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” {24} Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” {25} Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. {26} “And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” {27} She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” {28} And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.” {29} As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. {30} Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. {31} Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.” {32} Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” {33} Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. {34} And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” {35} Jesus wept. {36} Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” {37} And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” {38} Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. {39} Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” {40} Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” {41} Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. {42} “And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” {43} Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” {44} And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” {45} Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. Amen.

Second Lesson:

AE 815:7,8 The Lord called the disciples “men of little faith” when they were unable to do miracles in His name, and He was unable to do miracles in His own country because of their unbelief, for the reason that while the disciples believed the Lord to be the Messiah or Christ, also the Son of God, and the prophet of whom it was written in the Word, yet they did not believe that He was God Almighty, and that Jehovah the Father was in Him; and yet so far as they believed Him to be a man, and not at the same time God, His Divine to which omnipotence belongs could not be present with the disciples by faith. For faith presents the Lord as present, but faith in Him as a man only does not present His Divine omnipotence as present.

For the same reason those in the world at the present day who look to His Human alone and not at the same time to His Divine, cannot be saved. And for a like reason the Lord could not do miracles in His own country, for there they had seen Him from infancy like another man; and therefore they were unable to add to that idea the idea of His Divinity; and when that idea is not present while the Lord is present, He is not present in man with Divine omnipotence; for faith presents the Lord as present in man according to the quality of the perception of Him. Other things man does not acknowledge and therefore rejects; for in order that the Lord may operate any thing with man by faith the Lord’s Divine must be present in man, and not outside of him. Amen.


Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

 

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