I am back among the land of the breathing.
This morning, I opened my eyes and realized two things: one, I had slept through the night without a single coughing fit, and two, I could smell the rain-washed air drifting through our bedroom window. No more congestion, no more sore throat, no more rattling cough.
It’s funny how just three or four days of discomfort can make you appreciate normalcy. I ran through the house sniffing that lovely smell and even went outside for a long moment, just because the scent of morning no longer eluded me. Every intake is pure delight. Last week I wouldn’t have even noticed.
I’ve often thought about the people in first century Israel and what it was like for them when ailment struck. Blindness, flesh-eating disease, incessant bleeding, insanity — if those conditions stump our modern-day experts, imagine the helplessness you’d feel two thousand years ago when a diagnosis of that sort landed in your lap. Your only hope would be prayer.
But for a few, a different sort of Hope walked their way. A man blind from birth encountered that hope one ordinary day. He heard the voice first, then felt hands rubbing mud on his useless eyes. The voice told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, and he did. He felt his way down the hillside, searched with his foot until his toe touched wetness, bent down and scooped a handful of water toward his eyes. And for the first time in his life, the man saw a flicker of light … and then a ripple of watery motion … and then his own reflection. He looked down in that water and saw the face of a once helpless, hopeless man who had been both helped and filled with hope by the God who loved him.
Ten lepers found healing one day when Hope walked past them on the road to Jerusalem. They knew, somehow, who He was. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They needed that mercy. Since the first tell-tale spot had appeared on each of their bodies, they’d made their home together wandering the hills, banished from all other human contact. Though occasionally a loved one ventured to within a hundred feet or so and lifted a hand or a voice in greeting, those glimpses only served to remind these lepers how long it had been since they’d kissed their spouse or held their children. And emotional turmoil aside, their physical condition was gruesome. Fingers rotted off. Noses disintegrated. Feet melted away to bone. Sores grew and covered their bodies. The only hope for these ten was the hope of death — until the day He walked among them.
He could have transferred healing through touch. He’d done it that way before. But maybe to remind those ten, and all the rest of us, that in the beginning He created the world with nothing but a word, this time He healed with His voice. “Go, show yourselves to the priest,” was all He said. But when they did as He said, when they turned and began walking in obedience, it happened. I wonder what they noticed first. Was it the fingers that grew from their stubs? Was it the fact that they no longer walked on bone, but on fully formed feet? Or was it the ears, the noses, the beautiful restored faces of each other that first tipped them to the truth — that they’d been healed with a word from God?
A woman who had bled for twelve years found the courage to go against convention, show herself in a crowd, and touch, briefly, the hem of Jesus’ garment. Power flowed from Him to her and stopped her bleeding on the spot. With no more interaction than that, the woman was restored. Hope healed her — then turned, smiled, and called her “Daughter.”
And my favorite of all: the crazed, demon-possessed cave-dweller. Three times now, I’ve stood on a hill across from that cave above the shores of Galilee and heard the story again. I’ve heard about the man of the tombs, the untamable madman who had broken every shackle men could put upon him, but who couldn’t break the chains of his hopelessness. Isolated in the cave, with nothing for company but a legion of demons, this man too woke every day waiting for death. But on a very ordinary day, God brought the key that would release him forever from his chains. With a word, Jesus emptied the man of his demons, filled him with hope, and restored both his sanity and his dignity. And the man was so spilling-over-grateful, he begged Jesus to go with Him. But Jesus sent the man home to his friends.
I have often wondered what that homecoming — what all those homecomings were like. “I’m home,” I hear in my imaginings. “I’ve been healed!” And I see the faces of loved ones as they behold and then embrace the truth: their lost one is restored.
There’s nothing new under the sun. The hopeless still walk among us. And God hasn’t changed. He’s as willing today to restore as He was two thousand years ago. But something else that hasn’t changed is that people want a selective part of God, but not all of Him. They want the miracles, but not the relationship. They want the blessings, but not the obedience. They want the hope of heaven, but they don’t want God to intrude on their lives here on earth.
If you’re in dire straights, God will hear your prayers. If you feel despairing or broken, the healing you need is as near as a whispered prayer. And His name is Jesus. But know this: whatever situation you want out of, whatever healing you need, the fix you find will be only temporary. The blind man? He died eventually. So did the lepers. So did the bleeding woman. So did the man of the tombs. They enjoyed their healing for a time and had stories to share with all who would listen, but in the end, their life here was a brief, flitting appearance. So is mine. So is yours.
Don’t ask God to solve your temporary problems and ignore the eternal healing He’s holding out to you. He wants to give you a hope that lasts forever.
And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:11-12 NKJV
Bob Bennett, singer and songwriter … and a man I am delighted to call my friend. This is my favorite of all his songs.
MAN OF THE TOMBS
© 1989 Matters Of The Heart Music (ASCAP)
Man of the tombs
He lives in a place where no one goes
He tears at himself
And lives with a pain that no one knows
He counts himself dead among the living
He knows no mercy and no forgiving
Deep in the night he’s driven to cry out loud
Can you hear him cry out loud?
Man of the tombs
Possessed by an unseen enemy
He breaks every chain
And mistakes his freedom for being free
Shame and shamelessness equally there
Like a random toss of a coin in the air
Man of the tombs, he’s driven to cry out loud
Underneath this thing that I’ve become
A fading memory of flesh and blood
I curse the womb, I bless the grave
I’ve lost my heart, I cannot be saved
Like those who fear me, I’m afraid
Like those I’ve hurt, I can feel pain
Naked now before my sin
And these stones that cut against my skin
Some try to touch me, but no one can
For man of the tombs I am
Down at the shoreline
Two sets of footprints meet
One voice is screaming
Other voice begins to speak
In only a moment and only a word
The evil departs like a thundering herd
Man of the tombs, he hears this cry out loud
Underneath this thing that you’ve become
I see a man of flesh and blood
I give you life beyond the grave
I heal your heart, I come to save
No need to fear, be not afraid
This Man of sorrows knows your pain
I come to take away your sin
And bear it’s marks upon My skin
When no one can touch you, still I can
For Son of God I am
Dressed now and seated
Clean in spirit and healthy of mind
Man of the tombs
He begs to follow, but must stay behind
He’ll return to has family with stories to tell
Of mercy and madness, of heaven and hell
Man of the tombs, soon he will cry out loud
Underneath this thing that I once was
Now I’m a man of flesh and blood
I have a life beyond the grave
I found my heart, I can now be saved
No need to fear, I am not afraid
This Man of sorrows took my pain
He comes to take away our sin
And bear it’s marks upon His skin
I’m telling you this story because
Man of the tombs I was