Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Christ and Cancer: A sermon by John Piper on how to view sickness and suffering

This morning, I was pointed to a Sermon by John Piper called "Christ and Cancer". He preached it soon after he first started at Bethlehem Baptist, showing them a biblical view of suffering. I found myself resonating with it, in light of all that we have seen here at First Baptist recently. Cancer, surgeries, heart attacks, and more. I found it helpful. I hope you do to.

Here are some excerpts.
Before I entered college I hardly gave a thought to cancer and terminal illness. But ever since those college days death by disease has walked beside me all the way....What shall we say to these things? Something must be said because sickness and death are threats to faith in the love and power of God. And I regard it as my primary responsibility as a pastor to nourish and strengthen faith in the love and power of God. There is no weapon like the Word of God for warding off threats to faith. And so I want us to listen carefully today to the teaching of Scripture regarding Christ and cancer, the power and love of God over against the sickness of our bodies.
I regard this message today as a crucial pastoral message, because you need to know where your pastor stands on the issues of sickness, healing, and death. If you thought it was my conception that every sickness is a divine judgment on some particular sin, or that the failure to be healed after a few days of prayer was a clear sign of inauthentic faith, or that Satan is really the ruler in this world and God can only stand helplessly by while his enemy wreaks havoc with his children—if you thought any of those were my notions, you would relate to me very differently in sickness than you would if you knew what I really think. Therefore, I want to tell you what I really think and try to show you from Scripture that these thoughts are not just mine but also, I trust, God's thoughts.
I love what piper does, he resets the assumptions and opinions of the congregation, and does with with scripture as the foundation. He then goes on to give 6 Affirmations Toward a Theology of Suffering from Romans 8:18–28 that sum up his theology of sickness.
1. All Creation Has Been Subjected to Futility
My first affirmation is this: the age in which we live, which extends from the fall of man into sin until the second coming of Christ, is an age in which the creation, including our bodies, has been "subjected to futility" and "enslaved to corruption." Verse 20: "The creation was subjected to futility.'' Verse 21: "The creation will be freed from slavery to corruption." And the reason we know this includes our bodies is given in verse 23: not only the wider creation but "we ourselves (i.e., Christians) groan in ourselves awaiting sonship, the redemption of our bodies." Our bodies are part of creation and participate in all the futility and corruption to which creation has been subjected.
Who is this in verse 20 that subjected creation to futility and enslaved it to corruption? It is God...I conclude that this world stands under the judicial sentence of God upon a rebellious and sinful mankind—a sentence of universal futility and corruption. And no one is excluded, not even the precious children of God.
Probably the futility and corruption Paul speaks of refers to both spiritual and physical ruination...Just like a coat in a warm, dark closet will get moth eaten and ruined, so our bodies in this fallen world are going to be ruined one way or the other. For all creation has been subjected to futility and enslaved to corruption while this age lasts. That is my first affirmation.
2. An Age of Deliverance and Redemption Is Coming
My second affirmation is this: there is an age coming when all the children of God, who have endured to the end in faith, will be delivered from all futility and corruption, spiritually and physically. According to verse 21, the hope in which God subjected creation was that some day "The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." And verse 23 says that "We ourselves groan within ourselves waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." It has not happened yet. We wait. But it will happen.
There is coming a day when every crutch will be carved up, and every wheelchair melted down into medallions of redemption. And Merlin and Reuben and Jim and Hazel and Ruth and all the others among us will do cartwheels through the Kingdom of Heaven. But not yet. Not yet. We groan, waiting for the redemption of our bodies. But the day is coming and that is my second affirmation.
3. Christ Purchased, Demonstrated, and Gave a Foretaste of It
Third, Jesus Christ came and died to purchase our redemption, to demonstrate the character of that redemption as both spiritual and physical, and to give us a foretaste of it. He purchased our redemption, demonstrated its character, and gave us a foretaste of it... This is a truth badly distorted by many healers of our day...The benefits purchased by the cross can be enjoyed in measure even now, including healing. God can and does heal the sick now in answer to our prayers. But not always. The miracle mongers of our day, who guarantee that Jesus wants you well now and heap guilt after guilt on the back of God's people asserting that the only thing between them and health is unbelief, have failed to understand the nature of God's purposes in this fallen age. They have minimized the depth of sin and the cruciality of God's purifying chastening and the value of faith through suffering and they are guilty of trying to force into this age what God has reserved for the next.
4. God Controls All Suffering for the Good of His People
Fourth, God controls who gets sick and who gets well, and all his decisions are for the good of his children, even if they may be very painful and long-lasting....God's goal for his people in this age is not primarily to rid them of sickness and pain, but to purge us of all the remnants of sin and cause us in our weakness to cleave to him as our only hope. My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by him; for those whom the Lord loves he disciplines, and he scourges every son whom he receives . . . he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:5, 6, 10, 11)
5. We Should Pray for Healing Power and Sustaining Grace
The fifth affirmation is that we should therefore pray for God's help both to heal and to strengthen faith while we are unhealed. It is fitting that a child ask his father for relief in trouble. And it is fitting that a loving Father give his child only what is best. And that he always does: sometimes healing now, sometimes not. But always, always what is best for us.
But if sometimes it is best for us not to be healed now, how shall we know what to pray?  While we are waiting for the redemption of our bodies "the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words and he (God) who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." Sometimes all we can do is cry out for help because we do not know in what form the help should come. The Spirit of God takes our stumbling, uncertain expressions of need and brings them before God in a form that accords with God's intentions. And God responds graciously and meets our needs. Not always as we at first hoped, but always for our good. So let us not be proud and stand aloof from God stoically bearing what fate has brought. Rather let us run to our Father in prayer and plead for help in time of need. That is my fifth affirmation.
6. We Should Always Trust in the Power and Goodness of God
Sixth, and finally, we should always trust in the love and power of God, even in the darkest hour of suffering. The thing that distresses me most about those who say Christians should always be miraculously healed is that they give the impression that the quality of faith can only be measured by whether a miracle of physical healing takes place, whereas in much of the New Testament you get the impression that the quality of our faith is reflected in the joy and confidence we maintain in God through suffering.
The great chapter on faith in the Bible is Hebrews 11. It begins, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." What is often overlooked in this chapter, though, is the final eight verses where we get the balanced picture of faith as that which lays hold on God for rescue from suffering, and as that which lays hold on God for peace and hope in suffering... we find that faith is also the power to lose our life: "By faith . . . others were tortured, not accepting release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheep skins, in goat skins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy) wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground . . . And all these gained approval through their faith."
The glory of God is manifested when he heals and when he gives a sweet spirit of hope and peace to the person that he does not heal, for that, too, is a miracle of grace! O, that we might be a people among whom God is often healing our sicknesses, but is always causing us to be full of joy and peace while our sicknesses remain. If we are a humble and childlike people who cry out to God in our need and trust in his promises, the Holy Spirit will help us and God will bless our church with every possible blessing. He will, as the text says, work everything together for our good.
 You can read the whole thing Here. I recommend it.

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