One of the strongest illustrations of the Gospel coming out the Reformation is that of the courtroom scene—forensic justification—where God looks upon the guilty sinner and His verdict is “not guilty” because Christ is the One who stood in our place and bore the punishment. This makes sense, because people were often under judgment and penalty. Going to confession was like writing your own ticket, and then finding out how much you had to pay. As plagues ravaged countries, mothers died in childbirth, and war with neighboring states left paths of destruction, people were in real fear of what kind of God they would find. They had been told that Jesus was an angry judge, and to appeal to the mercy of Mother Mary and the merits of the other saints to escape the “temporal” punishments of purgatory.
But another illustration of the Gospel is healing, as in the words of Psalm 107:20: “He sent out His Word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.” This is something the Prophet Isaiah wonderfully portrays in chapter 53, verses 4 and 5:
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
The Hebrew word (חֳלָיֵ֙) rendered ‘grief’ elsewhere describes weakness, illness, or disease. And the word for ‘sorrows’ (מַכְאֹבֵ֖י) specifically means suffering and pain. So if we read these in this way, it becomes “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” This is how Matthew connects this passage to a series of healings which Jesus did (Matt. 8:14-17).
During a time of pestilence, of rising death tolls and fears over public health, to hear that God is not aloof to our plight, is truly good news. What does He do for us? He lifts up our illness, our weakness. He bears our pain, our suffering. He makes them His own burden to bear.
Earlier in chapter 52, the Prophet says, “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (v. 14) Imagine a time when you’ve seen someone gravely ill, how disfigured they look from their normal appearance. That’s what disease has done to them. But this is also what Jesus became—the most disfigured, the embodiment of all that sin and death has done to us.
Yet, we thought little of it while things were going well. I’ve heard so many people say how sad and tragic the suffering and death of Jesus is. “We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” For many, the sufferings of Christ are one of those background events that we pull out during Holy Week and then put back for the rest of the time so we can focus on happier things like joy in the Lord. God doesn’t just want us to be happy; He wants us to be whole.
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Luke 5:32) It is good news for us who have or fear having illness in our bodies, whose pains are crushing us. Where are we going to turn for help? Many turn to the medical establishment, and some would move heaven and earth (so to speak) just so that hospital beds and equipment can be kept in abundant supply and well-funded, as if that could spare us from the tide of this plague. No, our help is in the Name of the Lord, who will keep us in body and soul.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
One of the most poignant signs of the End Times are the judgments executed on daily life and health—tyranny, wars, famine, and plagues. When God takes away His temporal gifts of peace, food, and health, one of two things happens: the godly are repentant and plead with God to remember His mercy, while the ungodly curse at him and cry for the mountains to cover them from inescapable judgment (Luke 23:28-31). What kind of confidence do God’s people have? That Christ is the one who saves us from our just judgment. He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. The punishment He bore on the cross brought us peace with God. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) The judgments that come, which deny us the temporal good, are not foreboding threats of eternal wrath for us; they are discipline from our loving Father, sent as He works out His good purposes.
“And with His wounds we are healed…” During His ministry, Jesus healed all manner of diseases and dysfunctions. He said to several people, “Your faith has made you well” (Matt. 9:22; Mark 10:52; Luke 17:19). The Greek word means “to save,” as in your faith has saved you. Salvation and healing are so intertwined because God’s will for humanity is life, not death; wholeness, not disease. When we bear bodily suffering, we often grow weary and wish for a sudden physical healing. Yet it is our faith which has already healed us in the most important way: we are made whole before God for eternity. These bodily ailments—no matter if it is COVID in our lungs, rheumatoid arthritis in our joints, inexplicable spots on our brain, or cancer in our veins—are passing shadows. The physical healing which is truly going to count is when we hear the Son of Man’s voice as He calls us each all out from our graves.
Glory be to Him who has saved us and gives us healing here in time and in eternity. Amen!