healing

Faith, Frailty and Miracles (John 4:46-54; John 5:1-17)

John 4:46-54 As Jesus traveled to Cana (the village in Galilee where He transformed the water into fine wine), He was met by a government official from Herod’s court. This man had heard a rumor that Jesus had left Judea and was heading to Galilee, and he came in desperation begging for Jesus’ help because his young son was near death. He was fearful that unless Jesus would go with him to Capernaum, his son would have no hope.

Jesus said, ”My word is not enough; you people only believe when you see miraculous signs and wonder.”

The official replied, “Sir, this is my son; please come with me before he dies.”

Jesus said, Go home. Your son will live.”

He believed and returned to his home. Before he reached his village, his servants met him on the road celebrating his son’s miraculous recovery.

The official asked, “What time did this happen?”

His servants replied, “Yesterday about one o’clock in the afternoon.”

At that moment, it dawned on the father the exact time that Jesus spoke the words, “He will live.” After that, he believed; and when he told his family about his amazing encounter with this Jesus, they believed too. This was the second sign Jesus performed when He came back to Galilee from Judea.

JOHN 5:1-17

When these events were completed, Jesus led His followers to Jerusalem where they would celebrate a Jewish feast together. In Jerusalem they came upon a pool by the sheep gate surrounded by five covered porches. In Hebrew this place is called Bethesda.

 Crowds of people lined the area, lying around the porches. All of these people were disabled in some way; some were blind, lame, paralyzed, or plagued by diseases; and they were waiting for the waters to move. The people believed that from time to time, a heavenly messenger would come to stir the water in the pool, and whoever reached the water first and got in after it was agitated would be healed of his or her disease. In the crowd, Jesus noticed one particular man who had been living with his disability for 38 years. He knew this man had been waiting here a long time.

 Jesus said to the disabled man, “Do you want to be healed?”

The man replied, “Kind Sir, I wait, like all of these people, for the waters to stir; but I cannot walk. If I am to be healed in the waters, someone must carry me into the pool. Without a helping hand, someone else beats me to the water’s edge each time it is stirred.”

Jesus replied, “Stand up, carry your mat, and walk. ”At the moment Jesus uttered these words, the man was healed—he stood and walked for the first time in 38 years. But this was the Sabbath Day; and any work, including carrying a mat, was prohibited on this day.

The Jewish Leaders said to the man who had been healed, “Must you be reminded that it is the Sabbath? You are not allowed to carry your mat today!”

The formerly disabled man replied, “The man who healed me gave me specific instructions to carry my mat and go.”

Who is the man who gave you these instructions?” The Jewish leaders asked, “How can we identify Him?”

The man genuinely did not know who it was that healed him. In the midst of the crowd and the excitement of his renewed health, Jesus had slipped away. Some time later, Jesus found him in the temple and again spoke to him. ”Take a look at your body; it has been made whole and strong. So avoid a life of sin, so that nothing worse will happen to you.” The man went immediately to tell the Jewish leaders that Jesus was the mysterious healer. So they began pursuing and attacking Jesus because He performed these miracles on the Sabbath.

 But Jesus said to them, “My Father is at work. So I, too, am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

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Though the primary reason of these miracles is to establish Jesus' divinity (more on that next Sunday), there are three secondary topics here that I want to address:

  • How Jesus works in the world in the midst of our faith and frailty.
  • The importance of the question, “Do you want to be healed?”
  • How our lives can point toward the awesome work of Jesus

I think you will find that I’m only scratching the surface, and I encourage you to read, pray, and meditate on this passage on your own.[1]

1. Jesus responds to both our faith and our frailty

The royal official sought Jesus and asked for his help. When Jesus told him that his son would be okay, the official believed; specifically, he ‘trusted in Jesus to aid in obtaining or doing something.’ He had faith in Jesus’ power, which was at least a start. After he found out about his son’s healing, he began to embrace what Scott Norris called a ‘full-body faith.” He went from believing in Jesus as healer to believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

The lame man didn’t even know who Jesus was. This man made no cry for help. He didn't grab Jesus and say, "Son of David, have mercy on me." When Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed, he basically dodged the question (more on that later). The text doesn't record that he ever worshipped Jesus as a result of being healed, yet Jesus healed him and encouraged him.

Though the city official exercised a form of belief, neither man was what we would call “saved” when Jesus performed miracles on their behalf. We could even include the Samaritan woman (whom we read about earlier in chapter four) in this discussion. She was worshipping idols when Jesus encountered her, yet he saved her and her village.

There is a perspective in Christian circles that we must reach a certain threshold of faith before God can move. The Bible is clear that it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11). But these miracles show that God seeks and even helps those whose faith is not full (the city official) or strong (the lame man).

I hope this brings us all great hope. If you wonder if you have enough faith for God to act on your behalf, take heart. Don’t assume that God has given up on you. Pray; ask God for move and work in you to build your faith, but don’t forget - God moves in in our faith and in our frailty. He brings us life and hope not because we are strong, but because He is.

2. “Do you want to get well?” is a question we must all answer

So, Jesus moves in our faith and in our frailty, but if we want God's miraculous intervention in our lives to deepen our spiritual maturity and bear long-term fruit, we must want to be healed. Let me explain.

The Bible does not unpack the lame man’s personality, though there are hints in the story. There are differences of opinion about how to view the lame man, but I side with the majority of commentators:  I believe Jesus chose to heal a man who  lacked faith (the Bible never records that he became a follower of Jesus) and whose life on the margins of society was probably compounded by his poor choices. I will give you several reasons.

  • Most Jews associated sickness with sin. The rabbis said, "The sick arises not from sickness, until his sins be forgiven." (Later, when Jesus heals a blind man, he makes clear that this one-for-one correlation is not true, though he seems to allow that it is true in this case).
  • When Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed, the lame man dodged the question. He didn’t say ‘yes’. He basically responded, “I don’t have any friends.” After decades of being lame, he had no family or friends who cared enough to get him to the front of the line. That seems like no small matter.
  • Interestingly, he was probably taken care of decently by the Jewish community – which might actually explain his apparent unpopularity. A story in the Talmud gives us some insight[2]"A beggar once came to Rava who asked him 'What do your meals usually consist of?' 'Plump chicken and matured wine' answered the beggar. 'Do you not consider this a burden on the community?' asked Rava. The beggar retorted: 'I do not take from them – I take what God provides.' At that moment Rava's sister, who had not seen him for 13 years, appeared bringing him a fat chicken and matured wine. 'Just what I told you!' said the beggar."

That story is one of many in Jewish literature that captures some of the tension in the Jewish community: God commanded them to take care of the poor and lame, but they sometimes took care of them so well that it was advantageous to be poor or lame, and the broader community became resentful.

James Baldwin wrote, “Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch.” Why? Because with great healing comes great responsibility (sorry, Spider-Man.).

  • If he became well, the community provision would go away.
  • If he got well, he couldn’t complain about his circumstances.
  • He couldn’t blame those who didn’t care enough to help him into the water.
  • He may need to address sin in his life.[3]

Jesus’ question is loaded with insight into human nature - which makes sense, since He created us as image bearers. And because He knows us, he knows that  if we aren’t careful, we can begin to love our sickness.

  • Have you ever avoided doing something you didn’t want to by stretching that cold or flu out one more day?
  • Have you ever used a stressful day at work to get out of some chore at home that you could have done, or to excuse grumpiness or laziness?
  • Have you ever used something from your past as a crutch, a way to justify something you are doing now that you know you should change? (“I know I’m really fixated on money and things, but I grew up poor!”)
  • I already find that “I had a heart attack” is a really easy way to not do something I could do because everybody will give me the space.

If we are not careful, our physical, spiritual, or emotional illnesses can give us a reason to blame others, to think God owes us something, or to avoid responsibility. I am not saying we automatically do that; I’m saying we have to be careful. Sometimes, we don’t really want to get well because we can leverage our inability to our favor.  Surrendering to the lordship of Christ will involve taking ownership of your life.

If you have ever been in a recovery group or know someone who has, you know this principle to be true. Individuals must want to be clean and sober; if they are forced into it, they almost inevitably revert. They did not want to be healed.

Now let's take this principle to a deeper level. If Jesus really was pointing out the connection between the man’s health and his sin, he is offering an observation that is of eternal importance: some people love their sin so much that they would rather remain spiritually sick then be made well. They might not like what they reap, but they don’t want to stop sowing. They want to be healthy, but they don’t want to be well.

“Do you want to get well?” is a question that must be answered honestly.

  • Do you want your marriage to be better even if that means you have to address the dysfunction that you bring to it?
  • Do you want your addictions to be gone even if it means rehab and accountability?
  • Do you want to fix your relationship with your kids (or parents) even if that means owning the damage you cause with your words and attitude?
  • Do you want to let go of that anger, that lust, that pride that has been such a close friend for so long?

Jesus healed the lame man, but the man turned around and reported him to a clearly hostile group of Pharisees. In addition, the Bible does not record that the man became a follower of Jesus after this miracle. Jesus healed a man who was lame of almost four decades, and there was no fruit. How is this possible? Because even though God moves in our faith and our frailty, we must want to be healed if we want God's miraculous intervention to make disciples of us.

3. God intends for our past to point others to Jesus.

Jesus told the lame man to pick up his bed and walk. What better conversation starter was there to point toward Jesus? I can see people who knew him saying, “What on earth happened? How is this possible?” It’s an almost guaranteed way for this formerly lame man to point to Jesus.

The lame man apparently did this, but I don’t think he did it in the way Jesus intended. That unnecessary bed was meant to be a sign pointing to Jesus, an opportunity for others to hear about what Jesus can do – and so point to the Jesus as Lord.

We don’t carry our beds, but we have equivalent opportunities. Karl did that last Sunday. He said, and I paraphrase, “I was a grease fire – and then Jesus.” That’s a powerful story. One of the best ways to point toward the awesome majesty of Jesus is to let people see what God has done in our lives. It’s one thing to say that Jesus saves and heals; it’s quite another to show that Jesus does these things.

  • People need to know that God can deliver from pornography – which might mean you have to tell them how he delivered you.
  • People need to know that God can heal people with destructive personalities and habits– which might mean that you have to tell them how God healed you.
  • People need to know that arrogant, judgmental fools can be refined and matured – which might mean you have to tell them how that happened in you.
  • People need to know that those who are spiritually dead in their sins - hurting those around them, imploding through bad choices, ignoring or shaking their fist at God – can be forgiven, restored, and transformed into the likeness of Christ. And that might mean you have to tell them about you.

An author named Asia Mouzone said, "Never silence your testimony. It's meant for someone else; not you." God intends for our past to point toward Jesus. ‘Believing’ and ‘trusting’ includes surrendering our shame, our guilt, our pride. We are meant to take up the beds to which our brokenness had condemned us and carry it with us to a world that needs to see that Jesus saves.

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[1] This passage occurs in a broader context. The gospel of John is famous for Jesus’ Seven Miracles. They progress in interesting ways:

  • Water to wine – Jesus shows the power to change elements, and he only reveals this to his mother and servants, two classes of people looked down upon in Jewish culture.
  • Healing the official’s son – Jesus shows power over temporary sickness as well as distance (he doesn’t have to go to the man’s house). This miracle was shown to a Gentile from Herod’s court, one of the oppressors of God’s people.
  • Healing the paralytic – Jesus shows power over long-term sickness as well as his power over the Law. This third miracle is done once again for one of the culturally marginalized.
  • Feeding the 5,000 – Jesus shows power not only to multiply elements rather than just change them , perhaps linking him to God’s provision during the Exodus. This is his first very public miracle, shown to thousands.
  • Walking on water – Jesus shows his power over elements once again, perhaps as another purposeful connection with God as revealed in the Old Testament. The Spirit of God moved over the water in Genesis 1; now John, who made a clear connection to Genesis in the beginning of his book, records the Word of God moving over the water.
  • Healing the man born blind – Jesus shows he has the power of creation; he doesn’t just heal eyes that had once been good and then gone bad, he creates working eyes where there had been none.
  • Raising Lazarus – Jesus shows his power over physical death, which establishes his power over spiritual death (John 11:25-26)

[2] “Begging and Beggars,” http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0003_0_02291.html

[3] Commentators have different opinions on this. That his particular sickness had been caused by his particular sin seems to be implied by the text. However, Jesus may be telling him that if he thought being physically sick was bad, it was nothing compared to being spiritually sick and going to hell. Or perhaps Jesus was taking the opportunity to remind him of both.

Bearing the Mark of Christ (Galatians 6:17)

All scars tell a story. Some people are proud to display them; others want to cover them up. Either way, they tell a story – and it often goes deeper than the skin, and sometimes doesn’t show up on the skin at all. This is more along the lines of relationships, commitments, and ”bearing burdens.”  It's the hidden hardships, wounds, and brokenness that leave very real scars that nobody sees. John Connolly wrote of one character in The Reapers:  “He was the kind who didn't like to turn away from another's pain, the kind who couldn't put a pillow over his ears to drown out the cries of strangers. Those scars he had were badges of courage, and Willie knew that there were others hidden beneath his clothes, and still more deep inside, right beneath the skin and down to the soul.”

So what do we do with our scars both seen and unseen? Show ‘em off or hide em? Are they symbols of failure or reminders of healing? More importantly, what does Christianity teach about our moral and spiritual scars? Are they shameful reminders of failure or abuse or tragedy? What does God think of them? Is he embarrassed? Does God hate our scars? (Because if he does, He probably hates us).

 When Jesus reappeared to the disciples after his Crucifixion and Resurrection, we read that "he (Jesus) showed them his hands and his feet." (Luke 24:40) Why would Jesus do this? He is in his resurrection body, right? He has been raised from the dead! Why were these particular scars worth showing off?

1) Identity. It proved He was the same Jesus whom they had followed. Jesus was not a new or replacement God. He wasn’t a ghost. He was Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, son of Mary, crucified messiah, and now risen Lord.

2) Empathy.  There is hardly a more obvious place than our hands on which to carry our scars. We reach out with our hands to help, heal, discipline, and 'high five'. When you have scars on your hand, everyone sees them. Jesus’ scars send a clear message: “I have suffered, too.”

3) Hope. If Christ has wounds, we should expect to have wounds too. That may not sound hopeful, but if we want to share in the power of His resurrection, we will have to share in the fellowship of his suffering. There are no biblical alternatives.

“We a pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but are never destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4: 8-10

Christ did not leave even his wounds behind him in his resurrected body. We needed to see that He has healed wounds, not running sores. He was the Savior who suffered as well as the God who heals, and he will always be both. A wound that kills does not leave a scar. Dead people do not form scars. Our scars remind us that we are still in the land of the living.

4) Glory. A Savior who does not love enough to suffer does not love enough to care. A Savior who is ashamed of his suffering has something to hide. A Savior who proudly loves us enough to suffer and die and who can by that suffering claim his power of sin and death – that’s a God of power and might. As novelist Dean Koontz has noted: “A scar is not always a flaw. Sometimes a scar may be redemption inscribed in the flesh.”

When we get to the end of Galatians, we read an interesting statement from Paul:“ I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” Paul’s scars tell a story.  In Lystra, he was stoned, dragged from the city, and left for dead (Acts 14:19). He received five beatings by the Jews of 39 stripes - 195 stripes from these five beatings alone. Three times he was whipped with “rods,” a Roman punishment, and the Romans didn’t limit the number.

Paul said, “I bear on my body the marks (stigmata) of Jesus.” They clearly told a physical story. But a stigmata meant more than that. A slave could go to the temple of Heracles, take a stigmata, and receive sanctuary. No on could touch him. The god owned him. In the Roman army, new recruits would get a stigmata when they had proven themselves. Soldiers might tattoo on their arm or hand the name of a favorite general or particular god.

By claiming his physical scars as the stigmata of Christ, Paul was declaring both allegiance and spiritual sanctuary. God owned him, not anyone else. He was safe in all the ways that mattered. His suffering marked him as one being brought from death to life by the One who would one day give him the fullness of life eternal. Paul understood the connection between scarring and glory.

So what does God think of our scars?

Our scars of sin can be transformed into a symbols of hope. We read in Isaiah,“He was wounded for our rebellion and crushed for our sins, his punishment brings us peace, and by his strips we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) This isn’t a commentary on sickness; this is a window into how God handles the wounds of our sin. Jesus took physical wounds upon himself that the wounds of our sin could be healed. What do you get when a wound heals? Scars.

  • It’s the wound of addiction that has healed into a scar of “clean and sober.”
  • It’s the wound of prison that has healed into a scar of freedom. Our liberty reminds us that a God of Grace is a God of second chances.
  • It’s the wound of divorce that has healed into a scar made up of repentance, humility and forgiveness.
  • It’s the wound of pornography that has healed into a scar of virtue and genuine love.
  • It’s the wound of hypocrisy that has healed into a scar of transparency and honesty.
  • It’s the wounds of the many ways we punish, harm and exploit ourselves that has healed into a glorious scar of worth, peace, and identity found only in a God of grace and relentless, beautiful covenantal love.

If this is your wound, give it to Jesus. You will be scarred, but only the living form scars. And the scarred can be beautiful. The scarred have been healed by a God of love. But Paul is talking about scars of commitment, those wounds received when he was persecuted for the cause of Christ. This is not the wages of sin; this is “the fellowship of His suffering.”  This is stepping out for the cause of Christ knowing we will be hurt.

  •      Health and life (depending where you live)
  •       Reputation (when we take a stand for truth and we are insulted or dismissed)
  •      Jobs (when we can’t do things that would compromise our commitment to Christ)
  •      Friends (when we have to put boundaries in place so that our faith can stay pure)
  •      Budget (when the cause of Christ trumps our personal pleasure)
  •      Emotional Life (as we are ‘broken and spilled out” for others)

Do not be afraid to bear the wounds of Christ. Be broken and poured out for the sake of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  Love sacrificially. Give sacrificially. Defend your faith boldly even in the middle of opposition.  It will mark you. It will wound you. But you are among the living, and it will only leave a scar. And it will be glorious.

Church as a Spiritual Hospital

Townsville-General-Hospital-courtyard.jpg

After we visit our local hospital or doctor for a particular ailment (see Part One in this series on the Great Physician), we can sometimes be completely healed of the problem. We can get a new start. But we also discuss with the doctor or nurse about a plan so our new health will continue to flourish. This is called compliance:

“Accepting life-saving treatment. The extent to which a person’s behavior coincides with medical advice. Adaptation or adherence to medical advice.” (d3jonline.tripod.com)

On the other hand, we can undermine our new-found health. In medical terms, this is called non-compliance.

“It is estimated that 125,000 people with treatable ailments die each year simply because they do not take prescribed medications properly or they skip them altogether.” (“Why You Need To Follow Doctor’s Orders,” health.heraldtribune.com)

“Most patients believe…that the less medicine they take the less sick they are. That is precisely why although we know than penicillin will cure a strep throat in 7 days we prescribe a 10 day course of the antibiotic. Many patients will stop as soon as they feel better.” (“Medicine: Facts and Fictions at ghthomas.blogspot.com)

“We eat foods that kill us, we don't stick to our exercise regimens, and we don't follow our doctors' orders, even when we remember what they tell us. If you ask people whether it's smart to get a colonoscopy if the doctor says you need one, no one's going to say no… but no one wakes up and says, 'Yes, today is a good day for a colonoscopy.'" (“Mind Your Body: Doctor’s Orders – Without Distress.” www.psychologytoday.com)

Preventative medicine and follow-up plans trip a lot of people up. Those in the health profession agree: non-compliance is a huge problem. Why?

Because it’s hard!

The doctor gave a blueprint for ongoing health – and for whatever reasons, we just have a hard time following it. “I’m not that sick…My doctor doesn’t understand…it’s so complicated…” So we get more sick when we could be flourishing.

The Apostle Paul had a plan to help us be compliant once we have been spiritually healed by the Great Physician. By "compliant" I don’t mean non-thinking robots who legalistically follow and judge, and I don’t mean that we can save ourselves in the sense that only Christ can. Christ has a plan for how we can spiritually flourish while we are under His care. In Ephesians 4, Paul explains how the church has been put together in such a way that we can all join together to experience the fullness of life in Christ.

And [God] has given us apostles (founding messengers), prophets (forth-tellers), evangelists (those who tells the good news by vocation), pastors (shepherds who care, feed, and protect) and teachers (instructors of Scripture)….

We spend a lot of time talking about whether or not we fit into any of those categories, but we don’t always connect that phrase to the rest of the paragraph. There is a REASON God has given all these things:

"To equip the saints for the work of ministry , and to build up the body of Christ."

Not only is there a REASON, there is a GOAL, a target:

“Until we all attain to: unity because of our faith, knowledge of the Son of God (experiential knowledge), maturity (a spiritual process involving intelligence and virtue), and stature (being filled up with the presence of Christ when we are ready)."

And then we read the RESULT - the expected outcome is if we follow the doctor’s plan for health:

"We will no longer be immature and simple, tossed around by the waves and carried away by every new teaching, deceitful people, or clever lies that sound like the truth. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we will be put together one piece at a time as we become more and more like Christ, the head of the church."

This sounds like a great plan for ongoing health and life. Is there a practical way to understand how this can be accomplished?

1) Biblical Teaching (sound doctrine)

“The Mayo Clinic found that over half of patients couldn’t list their diagnoses, treatment plan, or prescribed medications and their common side effects… Physicians need to communicate well… so what they’re saying makes sense to the patient in every respect.” (“Compliance Follows Alliance,” www.cpso.on.ca)

One of the goals of a church is to help people understand the spiritual diagnosis, the treatment plan, and the expected results – as well as learn how to communicate well on behalf of the Great Physician. He has given us his Spirit, his manual (the Bible), and a great hospital staff (the congregation). But understanding the manual is not always easy, and we all need sound knowledge and wisdom to go with a heart for the hurting. So churches can help to provide ongoing "compliance" techniques by:

  • Preaching accurately 
  • Offering classes on theology, apologetics, and the Christian life
  • Choosing songs that accurately capture the truth and wonder of God
  • Studying books from other Christians who have something important to say about the Doctor.

Are people or churches perfect? Nope. That’s impossible. But we can do our best to be accountable to God and to each other as we continually grow in our ability to present the Gospel in its fullness. Philippians 1:9-10 notes:

"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more (a love that has scope and power) in knowledge (precise and correct) and depth of insight (moral discernment), so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure (sifted; free of hypocrisy) and blameless (not offensive) until the day of Christ…”

2) Godly Relationships

"A physician friend and I often speak about the difficulty she and her colleagues have getting patients to do what’s recommended, or change the healthy or unhealthy behaviors they need to address in order to improve chronic and temporary health conditions. She’s come up with her own hypothetical solution. If only she could get all of the friends and family of her patients in a room to support her advice—she’d have better compliance and healthier patients. She’s seen it over and over again as a physician practicing with all ages of patients. She’s seen the epiphany and the behavior change occur not when she’s repeated information for the umpteenth time, but only when her advice is corroborated and supported by a spouse, a sibling, a close friend, a trusted neighbor.” (a paraphrase from “Following Doctor’s Orders: Behavior Change in 82-year-olds.” Behavior Change.net.)

I give this analogy not because Christ in insufficient to change lives, but because there is something to be said for the support of others. There was more than one disciple who followed Jesus. There are many observations in Scripture about the importance of friends:

  • “Where there is no guidance, people fall; but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14)
  • “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor…” (Proverbs 12:26)
  • “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
  • “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

3) Lifelong Perspective

"I tell patients that treating them is more like a marathon than a sprint. It matters a little less to me what happens today, tomorrow or next week, and much more to me what happens over the next 10 years…” (“Why You Need To Follow Doctor’s Orders,” health.heraldtribune.com)

The analogy here breaks down a bit – it does matter what you do today if we are talking about spiritual health. But the overall point is solid. The Apostle Paul wrote:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Following Jesus is not something we do just in the moment. It’s a journey. There will be ups and downs. One reason the church must stress Biblical teaching and relationships is because we know that as in any long race we will be injured, or distracted, or tempted to drop out. Through the presence of the Christ in our lives, the foundation of Scripture and the support of godly friends, we can all finish the race and keep the faith.

And that's just what the Doctor ordered.

In Need of a Doctor

 “Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. 'Follow me,' Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: 'Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?' On hearing this, Jesus said to them, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'  (Mark 2: 13-17)

     The Pharisees were angry because Jesus was more focused on the “sinners,” or the “sick” than he was on them. Being a tax collector was bad enough, but the “sinners” here were non-covenant Gentiles, the  blatant sinners who were “wide of the mark." These were the people the Pharisees had been taught to despise, and Jesus had the audacity to spend a lot of time with them.

    If I may paraphrase what was really behind the Pharisees' question to the disciples:“Look how cleaned up we are! Wouldn’t Jesus rather hang out with us? We have a great lineage, we actually know the law, and our sins are much, much closer to hitting the mark than theirs!”

     And Jesus said (and once again I paraphrase), “Oh, wow! You really are amazing! If you’re that fine without me, carry on.  I'll find those who see themselves honestly – they are the ones who are ready for me.”

     Jesus is often called the Great Physician because of this claim.  He used a common experience (doctors help the physically ill) to describe a spiritual reality (Jesus saves the spiritually sick).  It's an analogy that hits close to home in a broken world.


 1)  A medical doctor desires to bring health, stability and hope to those who are hurting. Jesus offers to save us in ways a medical doctor never can; to bring stability and rest to our souls; to take even those who are dead in their sins and bring them back to life.

 2) If you go to a doctor, you have to be honest about yourself if you want to get an honest diagnosis. You can’t say, “It hurts here!” when it actually hurts “there.”  You shouldn’t lie if the doctor asks you background information.  You have to tell the doctor what the problem is – which means honesty and humility. In our case, when we come to Christ for healing, we have to be honest about the problem: we are in trouble. Sure, we bear the scars of what others have done to us, but we are deeply sick.

 This is not meant to be depressing. Once the problem is identified and acknowledged, healing can begin (think of this as confession and repentance).  There is hope to be found on the other side of honesty.  Typically, this involves a medical doctor saying something like, “I think I know what you have. I can offer you a cure. I can make you better.” Once again, Jesus, the Great Physician, offers us so much more:

“Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.” Ezekiel 18:31-32 


 
”Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” Acts 3:19

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ) 

     That’s good news!  But what does this mean, exactly? Does it mean suddenly all the accumulated baggage of my life disappears?  In a spiritual sense, yes.  When we engage in honest repentance, God does supernatural work in which our sins are covered.  He breaks the power of sin and He takes care of the eternal penalty of sin. 

    But we have established patterns, habits, ways of thinking and living that require “after care.”  There will be follow up appointments – not because the physician has failed, but because God has allowed us to keep our free will, and we tend to undermine our own spiritual health.

   3) Often, after a doctor makes you whole, you are given a set of instructions: “If you would like to enjoy this new health, you will need to participate with me in your new life.” This could include diet, exercise, medications, support groups, etc.

      After Jesus brings in the new to replace the old, we also are told that there will be a change of direction in our lives. We will need to participate in our new-found spiritual health. The Apostle Paul said:

 “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)

    We cannot save ourselves by what we do!  But if we want to fully participate in the new life Christ offers in the Community of the Healed, we must participate in the "after care" program.

    4)  If you’ve gone to the doctor and they healed you, you can’t help but tell others. “Hey, my doctor is amazing! I was sick, and now I'm not!”  My physical therapist comes up in every conversation involving aching backs, because she fixed me once when no one else could. I see something similar happening after Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman:

“Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”  (John 4:28-30)

     She couldn’t help it. She had found the One who could change her, who could make her new. That’s Someone to talk about.  In the same way, we all have opportunities in normal conversations to let the presence of God flow out of us as we talk about what God can do in our lives.

     Jesus is the Great Physician; only He offers ultimate salvation. But his patients - his disciples - have the privilege of providing the community in which the spiritually sick can experience restoration along with others to whom Jesus has brought healing and hope.  We get to carry (and receive) the bandages and crutches as we, the walking wounded, continually seek the healing of the One who can truly make us whole.