Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Sin and healing—Matthew 9:12

We are used to thinking of sin as something we DO, like stealing, adultery and murder, but the Bible is very clear that these are symptoms rather than cause. There is something wrong within. Jesus hints at this when he answers the Pharisees' accusation that he is eating with sinners. He says "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." In other words tax collectors and sinners are people who need to be cured not condemned, and he had come to do it.

This understanding of the underlying condition of sin as illness can be seen for example in the Book of Isaiah chapter 53. Here the writer is talking about the mysterious suffering servant whom the New Testament identifies as Jesus the Messiah. Listen what it says about Him:

"Surely he took up our pain. and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.." (Is 53:4-6)

The transgressions and iniquities referred to here point to the outward expression of sin and the wrongs we do, but what is ultimately needed is the healing of the inner man and woman that causes us to do these things. The healing needed refers to what is wrong within us and not the symptoms of our condition which are the sins we commit. That is not to say the sins themselves are not wrong and need to be forgiven, but in seeking forgiveness you are only dealing with the symptoms not the cause.

Paul talks about this in Romans Chapter 7 where he talks about wanting to do good but is constrained by what he calls his "sinful nature" which makes him do the opposite.

It reminds me of my experience with alcoholics in Hirwaun. I used to visit the son of two parishioners who was in the latter stages of liver failure. He was living on drugs and was warned by the doctors that any more alcohol and he would die. But as much as he knew that, and the hurt it caused his parents and the suffering he was going through himself, there was a powerful force within him that, in the end, was greater and stronger than his own will to resist and overcome. And the language he used about his condition was not far removed from Paul's own self-description of his battle with his sinful nature:

"For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing."  (Rom 7:18b-19).

He desperately wanted to stop drinking but the inner drive to drink was, in the end, irresistible. He succumbed in his 30’s. Now this problem is one every human being suffers from. All of us are, to a certain extent, victims of this condition called sin. Psalm 14:4 puts it this way “No one does good no not one.” And in Psalm 51:5 David acknowledges: “I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”   We are all, from the start, to a greater or lesser extent 'sin-aholics'. That does not make us bad people—nor entirely guiltless either—but people in need of healing, forgiveness and restoration. The Good News is that Jesus is the divine physician and the cross is his scalpel. As we come to him in faith and trust, in humble acknowledgment of our need, we will find his cure. For only the sick need a doctor and only the sinner needs Jesus.

Important note: This does not cover the whole of Jesus' work on the cross as there are other important aspects of our salvation that are covered. But it does seem to me that this is an important, if overlooked aspect of the work of the cross as it deals not just with the initial 'problem' of sin but also the ongoing problems it causes within us and the process of healing or salvation needed to deliver us from its power and influence. Plus it does rescue us from being too judgemental of others and the struggles we all have with this universal condition. Note too that the very word salvation means to make whole and therefore has a healing component to it.

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