Peter Kennedy shares this story concerning Brian Birdwell, Republican politician from Granbury, TX. -- On September 11, 2001, Lt. Col. Birdwell stepped into a Pentagon hallway when the fireball from the hijacked plane hit him. After recovering from the initial shock, Birdwell realized he was on fire. "Jesus, I'm coming to see you," he remembers praying. When doctors finally attended to him at the Washington Burn Center, they found second- and third-degree burns over 40 percent of Birdwell's body. To save him, they performed several skin graft operations. On September 13, while lying in his bed in the burn center, Laura Bush visited Brian's room and spoke to him for about a minute, all the time as if they were life-long acquaintances. She then turned to Brian's wife, Mel, who had been at the hospital for about two-and-a-half days. She was dirty, grimy, and wore a bloodstained shirt. Despite this, Laura gave her a long hug, as if she were a close family member. Laura then told them that there was "someone" there to see him. The President walked in. Standing by Brian's bedside, the President told Colonel Birdwell that he was very proud of them both and regarded them as heroes. The President then saluted Brian. Brian slowly began to return the salute, taking about 15 to 20 seconds to get his hand up to his head because of his bandaged arms. During all of this, President Bush never moved. He dropped his salute only when Brian was finished with his. Birdwell lives now with renewed purpose. "I'm a walking miracle. Christ got me out of the fire. In him not taking me, that means I have a mission to complete.” He and his wife now operate, Facing the Fire Ministries, an organization that serves to help burn victims, and he is currently serving in the Texas Senate.
What we can learn is that our Lord is a compassionate God, one who is with us in our most hurting times. He is one who knows our pain and one who can deliver us for a purpose. We can thank the Lord for healing, whether it is physical, emotional, spiritual, or eternal. As we come to Matthew 8, it is important to understand that lepers, Gentiles and women were considered outcasts by many Jewish people, especially the Pharisees. Many Pharisees would pray each morning, “I give thanks that I am a man and not a woman, a Jew and not a Gentile, a free-man and not a slave.” Yeah, nice folks. There are a number of afflictions that the Word of God classifies as leprosy. The dreaded infection forced them to live apart from others and cry, “Unclean, unclean!” when others approached, so they would not be defiled. This would certainly be humiliating. Jesus recognizes their plight and has mercy on them. We see a number of stories involving Jesus cleansing lepers in the gospels.
None of the above business concerning how lepers should act, shouting “unclean,” deters one particular leper who, upon seeing Jesus, violates the code as he runs up to Him. This is evidence that this fellow has great faith that Jesus would heal him. What happens next is nothing short of remarkable in a number of ways – Jesus reaches out and touches him. He knows how important it would be to him, Who knows how long it had been since that had happened for this person? Nonetheless, the Lord is willing to take on the leper’s defilement, although it would have no effect on Him, and in turn, bring healing back to the man. The leper does not question Jesus’ ability to heal…he only wonders if Jesus will be willing to heal him. But, this act is just a small reflection of the greater reality that Jesus comes to heal and save man from his sins. Jesus commands the man not to tell others, but to go to the priests and declare him restored and able to back into society. It is interesting that the man does not obey Christ, as he tells everyone what the Lord has done. Mark’s account (1:45) reveals that the healed lepers witness forces Jesus to avoid the city…and yet the crowds still come to Him.
Another story of healing takes place concerns a centurion, which once again, is recorded in other gospel accounts. A centurion is an officer who commands a hundred men in the Roman army. Every centurion mentioned in the gospels is a man of high character and sense of duty…and this man is no exception. The fact that he is concerned with a lowly servant who has palsy (or is paralyzed) indicates this fact. Much like the leper, it would seem that everything about this man would prevent him from coming to see Jesus – he is a soldier, Jesus is a man of peace…he is a Gentile, while Jesus is a Jew. But, this man has great faith! He understands that Jesus is under authority, but that he also has authority. All Jesus has to do is speak the word and the servant will be healed. It is recorded only twice in the gospels that Jesus marveled…and this is one of those times. He finds the great faith of the centurion wondrous! This appears to be an early indication that the Jews are not going to believe, but that the Gentiles are going to do so.
Finally, we see Peter and Andrew letting Jesus know that Peter’s mother-in-law is ill. She is in bed with a fever, but Jesus heals her with a simple touch. She then gets up and serves them. So, we see Jesus heal two people by touching them, and heal one from a distance…there are no obstacles to what Jesus is capable of doing in healing those in need. This seems like a “minor miracle, but the results are major. At sundown, the entire city gathers at the door that the Lord might meet their needs. The change in one woman’s life leads to miracles in the lives of many people.
The movie about the acclaimed book, Heaven is For Real, came out on dvd a few weeks ago. It is the fascinating story concerning Colton Burpo, who suffers a near-death experience in which he claims to have visited heaven. When their young son Colton enters the hospital with a life-threatening illness, devastated parents Todd and Sonja Burpo are uncertain whether he will make it out of the operating room alive. But in what Colton's doctors credit as "a miracle," he survives -- and with an incredible story that seems to confirm the existence of heaven. Later, despite Colton's accurate and intimate revelations about people he has never encountered -- including his sister who died in utero and his late grandfather -- skeptics hastily dismiss any possibility that the young boy's fantastic claims could be true. Meanwhile, his astonished parents seek meaning in the alleged miracle that has turned their once-peaceful lives completely upside down.
Regardless of where you fall concerning the story, it is a fascinating read. And it highlights something very important for everyone to consider. Jesus is about seeing people come to Him. This is what His ministry was all about. He did not go out of His way for anyone…they were His way. We live and seek to serve as Jesus did, and in this we emulate our Master. We may not be able to perform the miracles He performed, but we might just have the opportunity to see one sometime. Kent Brantly contracted Ebola as the result of working as a doctor in Liberia. Thanks be to God that he has been completely healed of the virus. Yet, as often as there are great stories of healing, there are others who do not experience such healing, at least physically. And as one person shared with me when they were asked what to pray for when someone is gravely ill, they replied…just pray for healing. Healing takes place…whether it be physical, or eternal. As difficult as it is, for those who are in Christ, healing is a blessing either way.