Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 9:12c “. . .but they that are sick.”
Jesus cannot help people who consider themselves “whole,” who are satisfied with their own goodness. He can fulfill His role of spiritual physician only on the “sick,” patients conscious of their own sin and desperate need for a Savior.
Humans are by nature sinners, spiritually sick. Sin, a disease to the spirit, devastates, deforms, and destroys, but by God’s grace, is curable. Jesus, to pay our sin debt, died as our substitute sacrifice. Risen from death, He lives to apply the benefits of His death to all who repent of sin and call on Him for forgiveness.
To prove His compassion for sinners, Dr. Jesus often made house-calls to them while He was here on earth. He remained nearest the neediest, even as doctors draw close to the sickest patients. A physician who visited only well people would be a poor doctor. Jesus felt compelled to stay where the need was greatest.
The philosopher Diogenes always berated the decadence of his own Athens, contrasting it with the simplicity of Sparta. One day he was asked, “If you think so little of Athens and so much of Sparta, why don’t you leave Athens and go live in Sparta?” He replied, “I must stay where men need me the most.” In Jesus’ estimation, self-proclaimed sinners needed him most; thus He moved among them.
With flawless logic, Jesus defied the Pharisees, accosting them with a challenge. “Why do you criticize me, what else would you expect a physician to do?”
Jesus in essence rebuked the Pharisees. Since each of them agreed 100% with His assessment that publicans and sinners were sick, the question of the hour was, “Why weren’t the Pharisees trying to help?” They should have been extending healing hands to patients they admitted were sick, but whereas Jesus sought to remove hated sin from loved people, Pharisees saw only hated sin in hated people.
Experts at diagnosis, they failed at curing. They knew the illness, but offered no medicine. They were glad to let the ones they declared sinful remain sinful.
The desperate need of our day is not more diagnoses, but more suggestions on possible cures. We already have too many weather forecasters, we need ark builders. We know what’s wrong, we need help to figure out how to make it right.
The Pharisees’ opinion of others had degenerated into contempt. If not a carbon copy of them, God’s grace did not apply to you. Their religion was all self-oriented. They denounced everyone else, and left them to fend for themselves.
Beware the Pharisaical cold shoulder. To treat a person as a leper rarely cures anyone of perversity. Instead, it usually confirms people in their sins. Be careful with quarantines. They are sometimes needed, but often backfire big-time.
The best cure for sickness is to make every effort to apply healing medicine gently and lovingly. It is wrong to diagnose sin in others and walk away from it.
Once we examine lab results and find cancer cells, we cannot decide to look the other way and do nothing about it. We must evaluate those around us, not as a critical judge seeking to condemn and ostracize, but as a physician seeking to heal.
I implore us to take another investigative look at the people around us. Removing all stereotypes and predetermined judgments, evaluate again everyone near us on a case by case basis. The Pharisees labeled people as groups. Jesus saw people as individuals. In the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s, varied voices were clamoring for recognition in our country. As the nation fragmented into warring ideological camps, someone said, “If you label me, you nullify me.” This struck a chord in me. For instance, once I label someone a theological liberal, I henceforth give little heed to whatever they say, even if it is the truth. This is not right. We need to drop labels and see each person as a spiritual being who matters to God.
When the twelve returned to Jacob’s well, they saw Jesus as speaking to a Samaritan woman. Jesus viewed Himself as talking to a sick spiritual being in need of healing. God loves every individual we ever have known, know, and ever will know. Therefore, we too should love them, one by one, case by case.
For believers, this is where the action is. I recently read of a physician who tried to retire, but couldn’t. His mind and will began to fail each time he quit seeing patients, but as soon as he returned to healing others, his health returned. We can learn from his example. To find strong spiritual health, try healing others.
All believers should see themselves as members of a crackerjack medical corp. Our leader is the Great Physician. We are the support staff, doing all we can to prep the sick, to invite them to come receive healing from the heavenly doctor.
Spiritual boredom plagues onlookers who stand on a sidewalk outside the hospital. Excitement comes from working in the emergency room where healing happens. This is to walk where Jesus walks, to labor where He labors, to serve where the power is flowing, to stand where there is joy, adventure, and fulfillment.
Matt. 9:13a “But go ye and learn what that meaneth,. . .”
Jesus, having used logic to refute the Pharisees, will now direct them to their own beloved Scriptures. He points them to a passage (Hosea 6:6) which reveals God’s preference of gentle loving kindness over religious ritualism.
“Go ye and learn what that meaneth” was a severe reprimand to men who thought they were already well versed in Holy Writ. Jesus commanded these doctors of the law to take time to meditate and reflect on their Bibles more. He told them to move past their superficial knowledge of Scripture. What an indictment.
We Baptists, called people of the Book, can learn a lesson here. It is possible to know Bible verses, yet miss their real meaning. We are often guilty of using Scripture for our own predetermined purpose, rather than for what God intended it.
This is a serious danger in selective Bible reading. Some believers are in the Word every day, but read the same passages over and over again, especially those which comfort the heart. Seeking Scripture’s encouragement is fine, but must not be allowed to eliminate our desire to seek its rebuttals against our lives.
This is one reason I urge us to read the whole Bible every year. This keeps us from being selective, and forces us to be confronted with all of God’s counsel.
At least once every year I need to read of Moses’ career-ending anger, and measure the bitterness level in my heart. Annually I need to read of David’s life-ruining affair with Bathsheba, and re-check my commitment to be a one-woman man. Every year I need to read of Abraham and Peter’s cowardly failures, and ask God to rebuke my cowardice. I often need to read how displeasing to Jesus these haughty Pharisees were, and use it as an occasion to sweep away my sinful pride.
“Go ye and learn what that meaneth.” Press past head knowledge. Seek a heart transformation. It is not enough to know the words of Scripture. We must passionately seek their application for our lives. We handle Scripture best when we make it the standard for our behavior and the scalpel for removing our failures.