Now, about the thorn (2Co_12:7-10). There came some serious ailment in his body. No one knows what it was. The long learned discussions are so much waste breath, when time is so precious and real things so pressing, too.
It doesn't matter a grot what it was. It was there, and it stayed. It interfered. It hurt keenly.
Paul didn't think so much of it, at first. There was Christ to go to. He would go and ask for healing. And the healing touch would come, he felt quite sure.
All Paul's experience would lead him to expect the healing touch. He had that remarkable two years' campaign in Ephesus, where healings to a quite unusual degree were the outstanding feature (Act_19:10-12).
Earlier there had been the man crippled from birth, never able to walk, now leaping and walking through Christ 's touch, at the word of Paul (Act_14:8-10).
There is the yet more remarkable bit, toward the latter part, of the young man at Troas on the Ægean, actually brought back from the dead.
And Paul had taught healing. It was part of his group of teachings to the churches wherever he went. He himself had known the healing touch.
He had the best of reason for expecting healing now. Indeed he seems not to have doubted that the healing touch would come. But it didn't.
Again he prays specifically for healing. Still there is no change. The thorn stayed. Its needle-point gets sharper, and sticks persistently in. Ugh! how it hurt! A third time Paul goes to his knees, how earnestly and intensely some of us can understand.
Now, please notice keenly, there's an answer to his prayers. There are three items in the answer. First of all, the man is answered though the petition is denied. Paul is not ignored. His prayer is heard. Christ never ignores any one, nor fails to hear any honest prayer.
The second thing to note is just what Christ said in His answer. I can see dear saintly old Paul one night all alone with his thorn. The day's work is done, the stitching of tent-canvas, and talking to the crowds, and to the two's and three's.
He is tired. He has gone to bed. He would sleep but for that thorn. He turns and twists, and longs for the sleep that doesn't come. And he wonders why the healing touch hasn't come. He is just a bit perplexed, maybe a bit depressed.
Then, quietly, very quietly, a voice comes, an inner voice, quiet as Hermon's dew, clear as the tone of a bell.
And the voice said, "Paul, I know about that thorn, and how it hurts. It hurts me, too. It hurts me because it hurts you.
"But, Paul," the voice goes quietly steadily on, "it's a bit better to let the thorn stay, because, only so can I have the use of you, the full free use of you, in My plans for the world I gave My life's blood for."
And a hush comes over the dear man's spirit. There comes with the voice a look within. Instinctively Paul begins to understand better. A soft clear light breaks.
He knows, at once, yet better, how true is the word being so gently spoken. He knows that the diagnosis is accurate. And he lies quiet, with a great deep hush in his inner spirit. That's the second bit of the answer.
Then the voice comes again. When the pause has deepened the impression, more comes. The voice goes on in yet quieter gentler lingering tones,
"Paul, I'll be so near you, you will have such a sense of My presence, that you'll forget the thorn even while you feel it cutting in."
Years after I can see the blessed old service scarred saint in his own hired house in Rome. It's rather late at night.
The crowds have been thronging the house, crowds from all over the world, in this great world centre, Rome. An Egyptian had sat over there, and a dark-skinned Ethiopian yonder.
A cultured-faced man from the Euphrates, and a fair-skinned Caucasian had been standing in the corner side by side. Keen-eyed Greeks, vigorous Latins, alert courtly Spaniards, the cultured and the scholarly, the unlettered and the simple folks, gently jostled each other.
They had crowded in, listening so intently, and questioning so eagerly. And the unseen Presence had been so real. And Paul's heart was all aglow as with a pressure of the hand they had slipped out into the night. Now, they have all gone. Once again the burning Christ message has gone out to the whole world.
Paul is sitting quietly, slowing down inside before seeking bed and sleep. One arm is around young Timothy, not quite so young now. The other hand is laid caressingly upon dear faithful Doctor Luke's arm.
They're talking in subdued tones. And as you listen in you hear Paul say, "Do you know, dear old friends, I wouldn't have missed the thorn for the presence."
And the sentence breaks off. A bit of hoarseness, the hoarseness of deep emotion, thickens his voice. And the look of deep reverence and love mingled deepens in his companions' faces.
Then he goes quietly on, "the presence, the wondrous glory-presence of Jesus, beyond words, that has been with me through it all."
And the clearer light breaks on his listeners. The inner understanding deepens. A great silence falls on them. They know they're at the deep springs.
They are being allowed to see a bit into the Lord's passion for His world, and the place this grayed veteran is having in it. The emergency of sin has gripped both, the unseen One and this man so great in his suffering and in his service.
Yet, yet, there's a bit to add. I am clear, and I grow yet clearer, that our Lord Jesus still prefers to take the thorn away. And He will if He may have His way, His first way.
Graduation day comes later to Paul. It came one day just outside that city, with an escort of imperial Roman soldiers. Yet, very softly, and still very distinctly, let the words be spoken, it might have come sooner.
But in the mix-up of a strong human will, not unlike other wills we know, and a world in the sore emergency of sin's havoc, and the great passion of the Heart that broke once, things were as they were.
There's something yet farther to note here of much significance. Without any question Paul was repeatedly conscious, indeed continuously conscious of Christ's healing touch on his body through all this rare difficult experience.
As one reads the whole story through the fact is plainly borne in that Christ's healing touch, in protection, in strengthening, and in actual healing, was with Paul through all those thorn years.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to fit in chronologically the beginning of this distressing ailment. But one remembers that Paul had been left for dead just outside Lystra in Asia Minor. And the intense hatred of those Antioch Jews would make them do a thorough job of stoning. Their efficiency is beyond question.
Yet Paul gets up, rests over night, and pushes on the next day. He carried out the itinerary as planned, apparently. That would be an outstanding instance of healing under most extreme circumstances.
And no one can read Paul's own long remarkable list of the experiences he went through without a deep impression of Christ's direct touch on his body throughout.
I.isten, and think into, not merely the bodily suffering involved, but the tremendous natural breakdown of bodily strength. Five times he had been whipped on his bare back with forty stripes-save-one,
And three times with the yet more severe Roman rods save none, once stoned, three times shipwrecked, a night and a day drifting exposed out in the open sea,
The acute hardship of the crude, typical traveling of that time and of the Orient, perils of swollen rivers, of robbers not hesitating to use violence, of hunger and thirst, cold and in sufficient clothing.
Think slowly into that list. Clearly enough the experience with the thorn was the more striking to Paul because in the midst of Christ's constant healing touch upon Paul's body.
Paul experienced the threefold healing, the continual protecting restraint upon disease, the strengthening of bodily functions, and the direct positive healing. Else he could never have gone through what he did. The thorn was the more marked as an exception in the midst of such experiences.
The thing that stands out biggest in the whole story here is this: it was for service' sake that this thorn experience was allowed.
It was for the sake of a race of men, swamped by the terrific emergency of sin, and in the scarcity of men at hand available, that the thing occurred.
It was distinctly exceptional. Had it been merely Paul personally that was concerned the whole trend of Christ's dealing makes clear that this ailment would have gone like the others. But service controlled. The world's emergency gripped.