Teaching, Preaching, Healing


Jeffrey R. Holland
Adapted from an address given at a Church Educational System religious educators conference at Brigham Young University on 8 August 2000.

Teaching, Preaching, Healing

We quickly and rightfully think of Christ as a teacher—the greatest teacher who ever lived or ever will live. The New Testament is full of His teachings, His sayings, His sermons, His parables. One way or another, He is a teacher on every page of that book. But even as He taught, He was consciously doing something in addition to that, something that put His teaching in perspective.

Following the Savior’s initial call to those first disciples (not yet Apostles), the work began. This is what Matthew says: “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people” (Matt. 4:23; emphasis added).

Now, the teaching and the preaching we know and would expect. But we may not be quite as prepared to see healing in the same way. Yet from this earliest beginning, from the first hour, healing is mentioned almost as if it were a synonym for teaching and preaching. At least there is a clear relationship among the three. In fact, the passage that follows says more about the healing than the teaching or the preaching.

Matthew continues: “And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them” (Matt. 4:24).

What then follows is the masterful Sermon on the Mount, six and a half pages that would take six and a half years to teach properly, I suppose. But the moment that sermon was over, the Savior came down from the mountain and was healing again. In rapid succession He healed a leper, the centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, then a group described only as “many that were possessed with devils” (Matt. 8:16). In short, it says, He “healed all that were sick” (Matt. 8:16).

Driven to cross the Sea of Galilee by the crowds that swarmed around Him, He subsequently cast devils out of two who were dwelling in the Gadarene tombs and then sailed back to “his own city” (Matt. 9:1), where He healed a man confined to bed with palsy, healed a woman with a 12-year issue of blood (in what I think is one of the sweetest and most remarkable moments in all of the New Testament), and raised the ruler’s daughter from the dead.

Then He restored the sight of two blind men, followed by the casting out of a devil which had robbed a man of the ability to speak. That is a quick summary of the first six chapters in the New Testament devoted to Christ’s ministry. Then this verse. See if it has an echo for you: “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matt. 9:35; emphasis added).

That is, of course, except for a few words, exactly the verse we read five chapters earlier. Then this:

“But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.

“Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;

“Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:36–38).

With that He called the Twelve and charged them with this directive. “Go,” He said, “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

“And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:6–8; emphasis added).

We know the Savior to be the Master Teacher. He is that and more. And when He says the bulk of the harvest yet lies before us and that there are far too few laborers, we immediately think of the missionaries and others who need to teach. But the call is for a certain kind of teacher, a teacher who heals in the process.

Now, let me make myself absolutely clear. By “healing,” as I have been speaking of it, I am not talking about formal use of the priesthood or administration to the sick or any such thing as that. That is not the role of those called as teachers in our Church organizations.

But I believe our teaching can lead to healing of the spiritual kind. I cannot believe that so much of what Matthew wrote could be focused on the context of the Savior’s ministry to distressed, troubled, distraught people if it were for no purpose. As with the Master, wouldn’t it be wonderful to measure the success of our teaching by the healing that takes place in the lives of others?

Let me be a little more specific. As you teach, rather than just giving a lesson, please try a little harder to help that spiritually blind basketball star really see, or that spiritually deaf homecoming queen really hear, or the spiritually lame student body president really walk. Could we try a little harder to fortify others so powerfully that whatever temptations the devil throws at them, they will be able to withstand and thus truly in that moment be free from evil? Could we try a little harder to teach so powerfully and so spiritually that we really help that individual who walks alone, who lives alone, who weeps in the dark of the night?

“Therefore, What?”

Perhaps a lesson from life in the Quorum of the Twelve will help me say what I want to say on this point and avoid any confusion on your part.

President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and himself a master teacher, has a question he often asks when we have made a presentation or given some sort of exhortation to one another in the Twelve. He looks up as if to say, “Are you through?” and then says to the speaker (and, by implication, to the rest of the group), “Therefore, what?”

“Therefore, what?” I think that is what the Savior answered day in and day out as an inseparable element of His teaching and preaching. His sermons and exhortations were to no avail if the actual lives of His disciples did not change.

“Therefore, what?” You and I know that too many people have not made the connection between what they say they believe and how they actually live their lives.

Pray that your teaching will bring change. Pray that, like the lyrics of a now-forgotten song, your lessons will literally cause someone to “straighten up and fly right” (Nat King Cole, “Straighten Up and Fly Right” [1943]). We want them straight, and we want them right. We want them blessed, happy in this life, and saved in the world to come.

God Is in Charge

The book of Acts, which introduces the post-Resurrection portion of the New Testament, is technically called “The Acts of the Apostles.” That is an important ecclesiastical idea in the book, namely that the Apostles were ordained representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ and were thus authorized to continue to lead the Church in His name.

But consider what they faced. Consider the plight, the fear, the confusion, the devastation facing the members of the new little Christian Church after Christ was crucified. They may have understood something of what was happening, but they couldn’t have understood all of it. The people must have been very fearful and very confused, and the Brethren had their hands full trying to provide leadership.

Not surprisingly, from the outset (at least from the first verse of the book of Acts) the declaration was that the Church would continue to be divinely led, not mortally led. And that was important for the people to hear in that terrible hour of confusion and fear. Indeed, a more complete title for the book of Acts could appropriately be something like “The Acts of the Resurrected Christ Working through the Holy Spirit in the Lives and Ministries of His Ordained Apostles.” Now, having said that, you can see why someone voted for the shorter title—but my suggested title is more accurate! Listen to Luke’s opening lines:

“The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,

“Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1:1–2; emphasis added).

The direction of the Church was the same. The location of the Savior had been altered, but the direction and leadership of the Church were exactly the same. Then, having made that introductory point, we get manifestations of the Lord’s power through the Holy Ghost at every turn. The first teaching of the resurrected Christ to the Twelve in the book of Acts is that they “shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:5) and that “ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Acts 1:8).

After He ascended to heaven before their very eyes, Peter got the remaining members of the Church together—all 120 of them. (Can you see what an impact these troubles and opposition had had on their numbers?) One hundred and twenty people gathered, and Peter said, “Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas” (Acts 1:16; emphasis added). In filling Judas’s vacancy in the Twelve, they prayed exactly the way the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency pray today: “Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these … thou hast chosen” (Acts 1:24; emphasis added). And Matthias was called.

But that first chapter which turns everyone heavenward, so clearly dramatizing the divine guidance that would continue to direct the Church, is only preparation for chapter 2. In those passages, the very name Pentecost comes into the Christian vocabulary as synonymous with singular spiritual manifestations and a divine outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon the people. Revelation came from heaven with the sound “as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house” (Acts 2:2), and it filled the brethren. “There appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire. … And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak … as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:3–4).

Peter, as chief Apostle and President of the Church, stood and acknowledged this outpouring. He quoted Joel, saying that God would in the last days “pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

“And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17–18).

Peter continued: “Ye men of Israel [he’s speaking to the larger congregation], hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you … this Jesus hath God raised up … by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear” (Acts 2:22, 32–33; emphasis added).

It is a magnificent passage. Those not yet baptized, moved by this Spirit, asked what they should do. Peter told them to be baptized for the remission of sins and to “receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38), and 3,000 of them did so. Later, when the lame man was raised to health on the steps of the temple and the crowd thought Peter and John had done something wonderful, Peter chastised them, said it was not mortal power or any holiness from the disciples that made the man to walk, but rather that of Jesus, whom these people of Jerusalem had “delivered up” and “killed” (Acts 3:13, 15). He then testified that Jesus was still leading the Church through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit and would continue to do so until He came again in “the times of restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21).

When 5,000 more people joined the Church, the local Pharisees and Sadducees were stunned. They demanded to know how all of this was being done. Peter gave the classic answer you must always give others. “Filled with the Holy Ghost,” he declared that it was done in and “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (Acts 4:8, 10; emphasis added). Christ was not only directing the actions of His Apostles through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit; He was also speaking through them by the same Spirit. This is a lesson about the governance of the Church of Jesus Christ, both ancient and modern.

The Father and the Son direct this work still, having Their impact upon Church leaders, teachers, and individuals through the means of the Holy Ghost. And it is through that same instrumentality that we must have our impact upon those we teach.

Teach by the Spirit

Please teach by the Holy Spirit. If we do not teach that way, then by scriptural definition we are teaching “some other way” (D&C 50:17). And any other way “is not of God” (D&C 50:20). Give your students the opportunity for a spiritual experience in every way you can. That is what the New Testament is trying to do for you. That is the message of the Gospels. It is the message of the book of Acts. It is the message of all scripture. Those spiritual experiences recorded in those sacred writings will help keep others on track and in the Church in our day, just as such experiences did for those members in New Testament times.

The scriptures say, “The Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14). This teaches not just that you won’t teach or that you can’t teach or that it will be pretty shoddy teaching. No, it is stronger than that. It is the imperative form of the verb. “Ye shall not teach.” Put a thou in there for ye and you have Mount Sinai language. This is a commandment. These are God’s students, not yours, just like it is Christ’s Church, not Peter’s or Paul’s or Joseph’s or Brigham’s.

Take heart. Let the Spirit work in you in ways that you may not be privileged to see or even recognize. More will go on than you think if you are honest in your heart and trying to live as purely as you can. And when you get to those supreme and nearly impossible-to-teach moments of Gethsemane and Calvary and the Ascension, I would ask that you remember, among many things, the following two applications you could make.

Christ Remained True

First, in His unspeakably wrenching and nature-shattering pain, Christ remained true.

Matthew said He was “sorrowful and very heavy … exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matt. 26:37–38). He went alone into the garden, intentionally left the Brethren outside to wait. He had to do this alone. He dropped to His knees and then, the Apostle says, He “fell on his face” (Matt. 26:39). Luke says He was “in an agony” and prayed so earnestly His sweat became “great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Mark says He fell and cried, “Abba, Father.” This is not abstract theology now. This is a Son pleading with His Father, “All things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me” (Mark 14:36).

Who could resist that from any child, especially the perfect Child? “You can do anything. I know You can do anything. Please take this cup from me.”

That whole prayer, Mark noted, was asking that if it were possible, this hour would be stricken from the plan. The Lord said, in effect, “If there is another path, I would rather walk it. If there is any other way—any other way—I will gladly embrace it.” “Let this cup pass from me,” Matthew records (Matt. 26:39). “Remove this cup from me,” records Luke (Luke 22:42). But in the end, the cup did not pass.

In the end, He yielded His will to the will of His Father and said, “Not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). That is, for all intents and purposes, the last moment in the divine conversation between Father and Son in Jesus’ mortal ministry. From there on the die had been cast. He would see it through no matter what.

And from that last declaration in the Old World we get this first declaration in the New. To the Nephites gathered at the temple, He would say, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ, … the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and … I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning” (3 Ne. 11:10–11). That is His own introduction of Himself, the declaration He feels will best tell these people who He is.

If you can leave your students with one principal commitment in response to the Savior’s incomparable sacrifice for them, His payment for their transgressions, His sorrow for their sins, leave with them the necessity to obey—to yield in their own difficult domain and hours of decision to “the will of the Father” (3 Ne. 11:11), whatever the cost. They won’t always do that, any better than you and I have been able to do it, but that ought to be their goal; that ought to be their aim. The thing Christ seems most anxious to stress about His mission—beyond the personal virtues, beyond the magnificent sermons, and even beyond the healing—is that He submitted His will to the will of the Father.

We are all willful people too much of the time. Therefore, the message the Savior has for every one of us is that our offering, in similitude of His offering, is a broken heart and a contrite spirit (see 3 Ne. 9:20; D&C 59:8). We must break out of our petty selves and weep for our sins and for the sins of the world. We must plead with others to yield to the Father, to yield to the Son, to yield to the Holy Spirit. There is no other way. Without likening ourselves to Him too much, because it would be sacrilegious to do, please know that the cup that cannot pass is a cup that comes in our life as well as in His. It comes in a much lesser way and to a much lesser degree, but it comes often enough to teach us that we have to obey no matter what.

Christ Knows the Way

The second lesson of the Atonement that I would ask you to remember is related to the first. If those you teach feel that they have somehow made too many mistakes already, if they feel that they live and labor lower than the light of Christ can shine, teach them that God has “a forgiving disposition,” that Christ is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, long-suffering and full of goodness” (Lectures on Faith [1985], 42). Mercy, with its sister virtues of repentance and forgiveness, is at the very heart of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Everything in the gospel teaches us that we can change if we really want to, that we can be helped if we truly ask for it, that we can be made whole, whatever the problems of the past.

In spite of life’s tribulations, there is help for all of us on this journey. When Christ bids us to yield, to submit, to obey the Father, He knows how to help us do that. He has walked that way, asking us to do what He has done, but He has made it very much easier for our travel. He knows where the sharp stones and the stumbling blocks lie and where the thorns and the thistles are the most severe. He knows where the path is perilous, and He knows which way to go when the road forks and nightfall comes. He knows that because He has suffered “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind … that he may know … how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12). To succor means “to run to.” I testify that Christ will run to us, and is running even now, if we will but receive the extended arm of His mercy.

When we stagger or stumble, He is there to steady and strengthen us. In the end He is there to save us, and for all this He gave His life. However dim our days may seem, they have been a lot darker for the Savior of the world. As a reminder of those days, Jesus has chosen, even in a resurrected, otherwise perfected body, to retain for the benefit of His disciples the wounds in His hands and in His feet and in His side—signs, if you will, that painful things happen even to the pure and the perfect; signs, if you will, that pain in this world is not evidence that God doesn’t love you; signs, if you will, that problems pass and happiness can be ours. Remind others that it is the wounded Christ who is the Captain of our souls, He who yet bears the scars of our forgiveness, the lesions of His love and humility, the torn flesh of obedience and sacrifice.

These wounds are the principal way we are to recognize Him when He comes. He may invite us forward, as He has invited others, to see and to feel those marks. If not before, then surely at that time, we will remember with Isaiah that it was for us that a God was “despised and rejected … ; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” that “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” (Isa. 53:3, 5).

I love this work. Cherish your opportunity to immerse yourselves this year in the majestic New Testament and in the life of Him of whom it testifies. This is His Church, and we are engaged in a great work with a magnificent privilege to love the scriptures and learn from them and to bear witness to one another that they are true.

[illustration] Pool of Bethesda, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, © courtesy of Brigham Young University Museum of Art, all rights reserved

[illustration] Arise and Walk, by Simon Dewey, courtesy of Altus Fine Art, American Fork, Utah

[illustration] Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich Hofmann

[illustration] Jesus Healing the Blind, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, courtesy of the National Historic Museum at Frederiksborg in Hillerød, Denmark

[illustration] The Sermon on the Mount, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, courtesy of the National Historic Museum at Frederiksborg in Hillerød, Denmark

[illustration] Jairus’s Daughter, by Del Parson

[illustration] Christ and the Samaritan Woman, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, courtesy of the National Historic Museum at Frederiksborg in Hillerød, Denmark

[illustrations] “Such as I Have Give I Thee,” by Walter Rane; inset: Christ Healing a Blind Man, by Del Parson

[illustration] The Crucifixion, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, courtesy of the National Historic Museum at Frederiksborg in Hillerød, Denmark

[illustration] Christ in Gethsemane, by Heinrich Hofmann