BY PAUL DUNK
700 years before the first Noel, the prophet Isaiah prophesied that Christ would bear our grief and deliver us in grace.
Scholars often refer to Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as the "fifth gospel" because it describes both that Christ was crucified and why Christ was crucified with incredible detail.
This passage also contains one of the most commonly memorized verses in the Christian faith,
"By His stripes, we are healed." ~ Isaiah 53:5
Though it's often memorized by the church, it's beauty can be minimized. This verse is often interpreted to mean that Christ's death and resurrection has secured physical healing for believers. If you had a sickness or a disease, you could stand in faith on the premise of this verse and if you had enough faith, God would heal you. I'm guilty of minimizing it that way.
This is the part where I get asked if I believe God heals people.
For starters, what you and I think about healing isn't nearly as interesting or important as what the bible says about it.
God sovereignly chose to do miracles and healings throughout Israel's history. Christ did them to draw people to faith in Him as the Messiah. The healings of Christ authenticated the claim of Christ which was, "I'm God."
Yes, God can sovereignly choose to do miraculous healings today to send the same message, but that's not the context for Isaiah 53:5.
If we minimize the word "healed" in this verse, we end up with a false teaching seems to explicitly say that all Christians should be physically healthy. (It says, "you are healed".) This false teaching protects itself under the "you have to have enough faith" clause. Ironically, that puts the responsibility for this healing on the christian's ability to obtain it instead of on the God who promised it - which is no promise at all.
If the one making the promise is unable to fulfill it, the promise is not relevant. Minimizing the word "healed" to mean "physically healthy Christians" puts a very heavy, unscriptural burden on the shoulders of those our churches battling persisting sickness or disease.
Perhaps the most obvious problem with minimizing "healed" in this way, is that it creates a fluctuating expiry date on the promise. At what age does this promise of healing cease to apply? My grandmother is in her 90's at the time of this writing.
Or does this promise only apply to a niche group of spiritual giants whose faith can usher in healing? What about the rest of us who are spiritual babies? Do we need to grow our faith before this promise applies to us? What about the scores of people who don't profess faith in Christ yet they enjoy live long healthy lives?
Good news. The healing this verse speaks of is infinitely greater.
Leading up to this verse about being healed by Christ's stripes, we get some clarity on what we need to be healed from: sickness, transgression and iniquity.
Isaiah describes our "sickness" with some interesting words. Words like, grief, stricken, smitten, afflicted. As you read through Leviticus, Numbers, Kings & Chronicles, you find these same words describing people who were under God's judgement and found calamity. Interestingly, some passages that talk about those afflicted, stricken or smitten, had leprosy. Lepers had a death sentence on their heads and lived their lives in humiliation and isolation in camps outside the cities and villages. Isaiah uses this same "sickness language" to paint a picture: our sin has made us like lepers who now have a death sentence because of our sickness. Sin has humiliated and isolated us from God and has guaranteed separation from Him, eternally in death.
Christ therefore, bore our "sickness" on Him. He took the death sentence, the grief and the humiliation for us.
This healing language also is found throughout the Psalms as David cried out for God to heal him on numerous occasions. (ie: Psalm 41:4) As you'll recall, the healing David needed wasn't for his body, but for his heart. He cried out for the healing of his sin.
Therefore, the flow in Isaiah's passage is as follows:
sin > transgression > iniquity
... not ...
health issues > transgression > iniquity
In 1 Peter 2:22-24 - Peter quotes this verse in Isaiah in his letter to explain the believers what happened at the cross. Notice how Peter speaks about the healing and what he connects it to: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.”
Healed of what? The sin He bore on the tree.
Why? So that we would die to sin.
For what? For a life of righteousness by grace in Christ.
Our problem is not sickness and disease that leads to premature death. Our problem is death.
Christ did not come to treat our symptoms. The promise is far, far greater. All men die because of sin. Grace in Christ is the remedy for sin. A promise to be delivered from sickness and disease would be temporal whereas a promise to be delivered from sin and death is eternal.
If we downplay the mission of the Saviour, we lose the wonder of the Saviour.
Merry Christmas church, we have been healed from death itself.
Any promise smaller than that is far too small. Where this promise of healing is misunderstood and minimized, the church is left exhausted, confused and perplexed.
"Why am I not healed?"
"We prayed. Why did they die?"
I write this with a sense of real care and concern for the weary among us. There are people at Redeemer (and your church) who are in a real battle with their health.
Those who are sick among us can feel shame, guilt, embarrassment and inadequacy when this verse is minimized as if it's a promise dangling out there that they have to latch onto as opposed a promise that Christ has already secured for them.
This passage invites the church into rest not unrest.
The promise of a healthy body would be far too small a promise given none of us are getting any younger.
God has already done the miraculous and the miraculous gives us faith to believe this promise: our death will meet it's death because by His stripes, we are healed.
We do not have a stingy, reluctant God who surveys His church and sparingly heals this one but not that one on the basis of their strong faith.
We have a gracious God has given an eternal promise to everyone in Christ - even those with little faith.
The strong in faith and the weak in faith get the same, strong, Christ.
Our prayers are not directed toward an indifferent God who needs a little more convincing before He hands over your healing. Prayer brings us to peaceful rest in the sovereignty of a loving God who, through Christ, has already secured our ultimate healing.
Rest in God's grace, church. His grace is sufficient, reshaping our hearts to approach each day with a sense of victory, even in our suffering, based on the radicality of our future hope.
The amazing gift of grace that came wrapped in a manger was unwrapped in an empty tomb. Your life is in the Hands of the One who, by His stripes, has healed you from death.
Paul is a graduate of Knox Theological Seminary and the founding pastor of KW Redeemer in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. He is an MCO race school graduate, but presently his main hobby is drinking espresso because it's cheaper than fixing cars. Paul and Susan live in Waterloo with their three children.