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By Mark Chen

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8 am service, 2002-09-22

Text: Exodus 15:22-26

It is always a great privilege to listen to God's message on the Sabbath, and we pray that the Lord would speak to us and deal with certain issues in our lives. Indeed the Lord's Day is a day on which we can celebrate His grace in our lives, a day when we can remember His salvation. It should be a day of great joy. 

But notwithstanding this, many people, many of you, come with heavy hearts, grieved by hurts and secret sins; many of you come with tremendous bodily discomforts, along with great pain brought on by illnesses; and others even come with furrowed brows, burdened with great trials and tribulation. This, of course, is not a moral judgment - it is an observation and a fact of life. We all suffer and we all fall sick - God never promised us a life without pain, or trials, or even without illness. In fact, the Christian suffers more! But one thing He did promise, 'My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.'

The topic that has been given to me to preach on is on God's name - Jehovah-Rophi, which means The Lord is my Healer. And that name brings with it connotations of healing and comfort and deliverance. But if that is the case, why do so many of us suffer? From the onset of delivery, the rude shock of fetal forceps brings great distress to the baby. Suffering continues on in childhood - from a host of problems plaguing the child - overbearing parents who demand academic excellence, the rod of correction, the pain from a scuffed knee, and the horrors of PSLE. The teenager also suffers; he has the anguish of trying to fit-in with his peers in school, he also has to be make his meager parental allowance last, cover up angry acne, and face the dreaded O's. The working adult suffers too - work stress, family stress, marital stress, financial stress; and he invariably reaches critical levels every year at April 15th. (income tax submission date). And suffering goes on until our twilight years - not even age can alleviate suffering: gum disease, arthritis, balding.

Now, we can identify with much of these things because they are common to us all. But what about cancer, organ failure, leukemia, stroke, heart disease, dementia? What about deep marital strife, divorce, suicide, miscarriage? How about retrenchment, bankruptcy, and even imprisonment? Although many of you can say now that God is with us and takes care of us and we ought not to worry or be distressed, going through such deep difficulties will cause you to doubt and to question. Are there none here who have gone through such difficulties and not questioned or lost heart? I would say few - I'm not even sure that I won't lose heart. But there should be none of that, because the Lord is indeed our Healer and He will heal us. But how is He our Healer? How is He Jehovah-Rophi?

In the passage that we have read, we see that the Israelites had just been delivered from Egypt, the land of bondage, and after having crossed the Red Sea, they arrived at the great expanse of the Wilderness of Shur - and as with any desert, water was scarce and they found no water source for 3 days, until they came upon an oasis. But the waters there were Marah, they were bitter, hence the name. The water was perhaps brackish, filled with salts and sediments that made it completely undrinkable. And so, like it would be with so many of us, the people started to complain and murmur against Moses. 

Imagine - they had just been freed from the world's greatest super power, having seen the spectacular acts of God. There were no trade embargoes nor diplomatic d'tentes to force the hands of the government, but strong arm tactics in the form of horrific plagues. For more than 10 years now, US-led sanctions against Iraq have proven to be ineffective; but the Lord had no such failure with Egypt; and with His plagues, caused Pharaoh to release His people. But yet having seen this, the people started to complain once they reached the Red Sea, blaming Moses for leading them to their deaths. But yet again the Lord demonstrated His power and divided the waters that they might cross. Now, you'd think that Israel would've learned something by the time they reached Marah - that all they needed was an implicit trust in God. But they didn't did they?

They murmured that the water was bitter. And so it was at Marah that the Lord had to demonstrate His power yet again. He miraculously caused the waters to sweeten by commanding Moses to cast a tree into the pool. Not only did the Lord do this for His people, but this was done as a teaching point. God didn't lead them to such waters for nothing. It was done as a test and a statute and an ordinance. The leading of Israel to bitter water, which they could not drink, and then the sweetening or curing of this water, was to be a vivid example to show the people that God would always guide and lead them; and it was also to be in a sense, a right or privilege that they would have as His people to always count upon His help and deliverance from every trouble. He did this because Israel had not yet gained true confidence in Him; so this was also a trial, serving to refine and strengthen their faith.

From this experience, they learned that God was their help, that in ages to come, He would always be present with them. And along with this object lesson, God declared to them, once they understood His abiding power in their lives, that if they listened to Him and obeyed all that He had commanded, then the awful plagues that had come upon the Egyptians would not be inflicted upon them. Indeed, the Israelites would have learned two great lessons here - (1) that the Lord was in control of all illnesses and (2) that He could heal them and deliver them, as He had in Marah, causing that which was bitter and 'sick' to be sweet and well.

But how is the Lord our Healer? Well, firstly from this passage, we see that God has power over all sicknesses and can heal us from our illnesses. God heals us physically. And when we are healed - it is always the Lord's hand involved, from the smallest illness, the smallest cut, from the smallest sore, to the largest, and most debilitating disease. But in these times, do we acknowledge that God is in control? Do we even realize it? You have a paper cut, you treat it with a bandage or some analgesic cream, but when it heals, do you really give God the credit? When you recover from the common cold through the medication you take, do you acknowledge that it was God who healed you? When you have heart burn, you take an antacid, and that relieves you, do you think about how God has helped you? And by the guilt many of you feel now, you have made my point. Many of us give no thought to God's healing hand in our lives. That is, until, we have a major illness.

But just as God is in control of nicks and bruises, so too is He in control of great illnesses. Can God heal us from our greatest infirmities? Of course, He can. Just as He healed King Hezekiah and gave him 15 more years to live, so too, can God heal us of our greatest infirmities. But how great an infirmity? - cancer, liver cirrhosis, lupus, AIDS? Now, I can give you many examples and testimonies of how God has healed miraculously; but that is not the main issue is it? We all know that God can heal, but if that is the case, why are so many people still sick and suffering? Why do we still need to pray for the sick in our church? Why doesn't God heal them? That is the real question, isn't it? Why are so many of you still battling with your illnesses, why are your loved ones suffering? Is not God the Jehovah-Rophi? Has He not promised to heal? Is the reason why I am plagued with these illnesses because I have sinned against God and not heeded His commandments? Sometimes it feels that way, doesn't it? - like you have the weight of all Egypt's plagues upon you.

This has been a constant struggle for people and those that care about them. One well-known minister of the Gospel has said, 'If I could have any gift of the spirit, beyond the ones given me, I would ask for the gift of healing. On innumerable occasions I have wished I had the gift of healing. I have stood with a mother and father in a hospital room and watched their child die of leukemia. I have prayed with a dear friend as cancer was eating up his insides. I have been in intensive care units; I have seen people crushed by accidents; I have observed them torn up by surgery; and through it all I have wished that I could heal them with a word, with a touch, but I cannot think of how thrilling and rewarding it would be to have the gift of healing! Think of what it would be like to go into a hospital among the sick and dying and just go up and down the hall touching them, talking to them, and healing them.' We find ourselves often wondering why God, despite our prayers, has not healed us or our loved ones. James 5:15 tells us that the prayer of faith shall save the sick and the Lord shall raise him up. If we are not healed, does that mean we have no faith? God forbid.

Although God is in control of all illnesses and has the power to heal, He doesn't always heal. Now, why is that? What comfort can I find through that? Firstly, we must understand that in God's perfect creation, there was no illness - as God proclaimed after He had created everything, and all that He saw was very good. There was no sickness. But when Adam sinned, that changed everything. The ground on which Adam toiled was cursed, the animals turned against one another - even Paul says in Romans 8:22, 'For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.' The whole of creation has been cursed by sin and because of this, we also suffer from germs, viruses, bacteria, the damaging effects of free radicals - and hence we have to suffer from things like amoebic dysentery and rectal cancer. But God if is in control, why doesn't He rescue us from our suffering?

As a Sovereign God, He has His purposes, sometimes unknown to us. But what are the things which He has made known to us concerning our suffering? The apostle Paul, implored the Lord thrice to remove a thorn, possibly an illness, from his flesh. Let's turn to 2 Corinthians 12:8 (Read). Here we realize that God did not take away Paul's thorn for the purpose of making Paul rest more upon Him. It is in our times of sickness and utter helplessness that we see how strong God is. Suffering draws us closer to God, to let Him manifest His grace and glory in our lives. Just as God tested the Israelites at Marah, He tests us, that we might realize who He is.

Suffering can also be motivation for spiritual growth; as 1 Peter 5:10 tells us, 'But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stabish, strengthen, settle you.' James 1:2-4 goes even further to tell us to rejoice in our suffering 'My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.' A minister told me that he once went to visit one of his members - a little girl with leukemia - he told me how bald and bloated she was and how sickly she looked. So with a grave face, he went to pray with her and try to comfort her. Looking up at his visibly troubled countenance, she said with a smile and a sweet voice, 'Pastor, why do you look so sad? I'm okay. The Lord will take care of me; I am saved and if I have nothing to be afraid of, so you must not be afraid too.' Such faith and confidence through her suffering! Sickness can build up certain virtues such as happiness and a deeper dependence on God - James 5:11 says 'Behold we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.' If necessary, God sacrifices our health to develop our inward beauty that we too may encourage others. Through our own experience, we can console others too (2 Corinthians 1:6). Widows can comfort those who have been recently bereaved, and the healed can comfort the sick.

Suffering is also God's loving reminder that we have violated His ways; as Psalm 119:71 says, 'It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.' Our unconfessed sins are sometimes the cause of our sicknesses. Turn to Psalm 32 (Read vv 1-4). Here, we are told that God will at times afflict us with illnesses because of our sins that we might turn to Him in repentance. When we reject the Spirit's promptings to repent, or when we have strayed far from God, God allows us to suffer. These verses tell us that physical torment from the Lord affects those who hold on to their sins - especially bone disease. We can also see that in people's faces too, right? Wrinkles from frowning too much, a hardened mouth. Indeed doctors say that many medical conditions are a result of stress and anger - such as heart disease and other chronic problems, as well as teeth grinding. Dentists make millions annually on mouth guards and splints because their patients grind their teeth due to stress. You have work stress, but have not come to the Lord for help, you might have tension headaches. So if you're at all concerned about how you look, confess your sins. So that is why James 5:16 tells us 'Confess your faults one to another and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.' Pray and submit to the Lord.

But most of all, suffering helps us to realize that this world is not our home. We are promised a glorified body in the end, when we will no longer have any illnesses, any sin, any struggles, any hunger, or any disappointments. The diseases ravaging our bodies will no longer be there - we will be perfect. How perfect, I don't know. Perhaps the bald will have a full tuff of hair; the toothless, a new set of pearly whites; the myopic, 20/20 vision or better - we might have telescopic and microscopic vision - no more need for contacts or lasic surgery. Our life is fleeting and painful, full of vexation of spirit; let us look forward to our heavenly home. But this can only be a certainty when we have given our lives to Jesus and submitted to Him and are saved.

God is our Healer also because He heals us spiritually. Isaiah 53:4-5 speaks of how Christ has healed us 'Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.' Because of Christ's work of atonement, we are healed from sin and we are saved. Ultimately it is because of God's grace toward us wretched sinners that we have been delivered and forgiven. We can have ultimate joy in Him. In the end, it is not so much about whether we are physically healed or not, but whether we are spiritually healed. Have you come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus? That is the question here. And it is not personal comfort that we should be seeking, but it is the Lord. And indeed, will not the Lord give us strength to go through our sicknesses if we seek Him? Will He not give us much comfort if we find comfort in Him? How is God Jehovah-Rophi? He heals us physically and spiritually. But will he not give us healing in other areas of our lives? Yes, he can heal our emotional pains, our distresses, our worries, our guilt, our broken friendships, and our marital woes. 

It is, as we read in Psalm 103, that the Lord is merciful and gracious. It is God's grace that heals us isn't it? We don't deserve it, but He gives it to us freely, that we might continue to live in a way pleasing to Him. God's grace encompasses every area of our Christian walk. It is the cause of our salvation (Ephesians 2:8,9), its sufficiency helps us to overcome hardship and sickness (2 Corinthians 12:9), in every case, we may come to the throne of grace to obtain mercy during times of need (Hebrews 4:16), God abounds grace toward us that we might have an abundance for every work (Ephesians 4:7), it is God's grace that teaches us to turn away from sin (Titus 2:11,12), wherever sin abounds, grace abounds more (Romans 5:20,21), and we are what we are because of God's grace (1 Corinthians 15:10). Grace is the favor or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the person receiving it. That is why we can be saved -we were wretches, we were blind, but now we see, amazing grace! And God freely offers this grace to us allowing us to go to him to receive this grace in times of sickness, trial, sin, and hurts. Without grace, we can do nothing. When we face sickness, God's grace is there. It is as if we are told, 'Don't be distressed over your illness, take my grace and be comforted. You know suffering is good, but my grace is sufficient for you. You know you must confess your sins, don't fight my grace. You don't need to bear a grudge, get my grace. Why do you have such a vengeful spirit? Get my grace. You know you need to be reconciled, get my grace. You don't need to be bitter, just as I made the waters sweet, I can heal your bitterness; take my grace.' Let us not complain to God that He has been unfair to us, or afflicted us, but let us see God as our deliverer; as He delivered Israel from the hands of Pharaoh, He can deliver us. 

So as the Lord was a healer to the Israelites, and he tested them and showed them that He was their source of comfort, let us always turn to Him in our need and times of testing, in our times of sickness - to pray, to confess our sins, to suffer with His strength; let us also turn to Him to let Him heal us spiritually - to make sure of our salvation; and let us turn to Him that He might heal our anger, our bitterness, and our disappointments. As this was a statute and an ordinance to the Israelites, let it also be our happy confidence. He is after all Jehovah-Rophi, our Healer.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25