Drawing Heaven in Our Wake
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 4:23b (Holman) . . . teaching in their synagogues, . . .
Synagogues were the most important institution in Jewish life. During the Babylonian captivity, when separated from their temple and holy city, the Jews created synagogues to save their heritage. Every village and hamlet in the world that had at least ten Jewish men could establish a synagogue.
Having no Rabbis, synagogues were led by lay people. The meeting places were usually relatively small, but hosted a daily beehive of activity.
Being the center of religious life, social life, and education, they served as public schools where children learned to read and write, and as gathering places where adults gathered to discuss theology and religion.
The synagogues were so highly successful that even after the temple was rebuilt, they continued to be used. In Jesus’ day, Jerusalem had about 480 synagogues. Their worship services were very informal, and followed a simple agenda: prayers, Scripture readings, a lecture, and discussion.
Any approved layman wishing to speak could give the lecture. Jesus and Paul used this to their advantage. They worked within the religious organization until they were thrown out. Early believers kept gathering in the temple until they were expelled after the destruction of Jerusalem.
The synagogues were a natural place to preach the Gospel. In them sincere believing Israelites could be found, even though most rejected Jesus.
Whitefield and Wesley, following Jesus and Paul’s example, would opt to preach in spiritually dead churches whenever they could. They felt there were people in them who would respond aright when they heard truth proclaimed, and also felt they were places where revival was most needed.
Church planters often err here. Convinced the problem in the modern church is organizational, they think, “Tweak it here, adjust it there, and all will be better.” Not true. Church planters often underestimate the full extent of human depravity. They can also fail to foresee that after their launch day, they go from being church planters to being church Pastors. If unprepared for this change, they by default create clones of the churches they left.
Do start many new churches. At the same time, don’t censure the established churches. They still have many believers whose hearts seek God.
Matt. 4:23c . . . preaching the good news of the kingdom, . . .
When trying to define the difference between preaching and teaching, be careful not to distinguish between them too sharply. Each has elements of the other. Broadly speaking, their emphases differ. Preaching is heralding, telling truth in broad strokes. It’s an overarching term. Teaching often entails taking the proclamation made, and giving it a more detailed explanation.
Matt. 4:23d . . . and healing every disease and sickness among the
Everywhere Jesus went, He blessed people any and every way He could. Theologian B. B. Warfield said, “When our Lord came down to earth He drew Heaven with Him.” I wish we, His followers, were doing the same.
We too can draw Heaven after us in our wake. I long for believers to be thought of more as humanitarians and less as theological combatants.
Matt. 4:24-25 Then the news about Him spread throughout Syria. So
they brought to Him all those who were afflicted, those suffering
from various diseases and intense pains, the demon-possessed, the
epileptics, and the paralytics. And He healed them. Large crowds
followed Him from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and
beyond the Jordan.”
Syria was a Gentile region immediately north of Galilee. Decapolis, to the southeast, was a confederacy of ten Greek-speaking cities that included present-day Damascus and Amman. Veterans of Alexander the Great’s armies had colonized them. “Beyond the Jordan” referred to a region known as Perea. It stretched from Pella in the north to Petra in the south.
Due to His healing power, throngs swarmed Jesus. “Large crowds” was one of Matthew’s favorite phrases. He used it 30 times. These crowds set the stage for the Sermon on the Mount, history’s most important speech.
It should not surprise us that news of a healer spread like wildfire. In ancient times, disease was rampant, and usually progressed unchecked.
Injuries often caused lifelong deformities. A simple common cold could kill. Infections were life threatening. Fevers were precarious.
Jesus healed them all. People went home waving crutches, carrying rolled up pallets, throwing away bandages, and tearing off eye patches.
Don’t miss a beautiful detail nestled in this account. The healthy brought the unhealthy. Some of the care receivers must have doubted the rumors at first but then came on anyway because a caregiver brought them.
The physically fit brought the people who had physical maladies. “Paralytics” were people crippled in some way, or suffering from paralysis.
Paralytics could not walk. Someone had to walk for them. The near-dead and unconscious were unable to move. Someone had to carry them.
Healthy people brought “epileptics”, family and friends who had mental challenges, and who endured central nervous system breakdowns.
Epileptics lived in terror—“When will I have another seizure? Will I live through the next one?” Someone had to be confident on their behalf to help convince them to undertake the arduous travel required to come.
The spiritually strong brought “the demon-possessed”, people who had spiritual troubles. Let us not forget; everyone’s deepest need is spiritual.
Demon-possessed people, the spiritually ill, came only because someone of sound mind and spiritual insight compelled them. We still need to bring the spiritually needy to Jesus, and can do so.
We obviously cannot force unbelievers to come physically, but we can bring them on our prayers. To be saved, unbelievers must come themselves to Jesus, but before they do this, we believers should be bringing them before His throne. Pick at least one person and never let go. Very few unbelievers become believers without having been prayed for first.
We know without doubt; the lost won’t pray for themselves. We have to pray for them. We pray about ourselves much. I have been a believer 55 years. If I have prayed for myself only twice a day for all these years—and we all know we pray multiple times each day for ourselves—I have offered over 40,000 prayers for me. Maybe you and I could slip some praying in there for the lost, many of whom have never prayed once for themselves.
I fear we rarely pray for them because our hearts don’t believe God still saves, no matter how much our lips claim otherwise. If we believe God saves, we will pray. Blessed are the unbelievers who know if they go to Hell, they will at the last moment have to crash through a believer’s prayers.
Physical, mental, spiritual—Jesus suffered an inner ache for each human malady. He came to end pain in body, mind, and spirit.
We need Christian physicians, nurses, psychologists, counselors, researchers, schoolteachers, children’s advocates, and foster and adoptive parents. We need an army of people who as a group collectively care about the wholeness of every person. We need people to heal pain, and when the world’s attention is focused on them, they need to give great glory to Jesus.