Healing is an integral part of life. Our bodies engage in it constantly not just in response to the scrapes of life but in terms of cell replacement and renewal. We may experience psychological healing following tragedy, failure or depression. Socially, healing may take the form of reconciliation. Commercially, health is wealth which means healing is big business involving medical, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, homeopathic right down to food, beverages and leisure. Healing, consequently, is a major topic of discussion in books, magazines and the media, particularly as we live in an increasingly fractured, ungodly world beset by strife and discord. As we read in Ecclesiastes, chapter 3: “There is a time for everything …… a time to kill and a time to heal…..”
Healing is the major theme running through the Bible. This is clear merely by paging through a detailed Concordance. In that healing is both a process and a consequence, it involves cleansing, bloodshed and atonement. There are 60 references to atonement, 280 references to blood and 547 references to the terms clean, unclean and cleansing. There are 92 references to healing itself. Cumulatively that totals 979 references and as such, statistically indicates the significance of healing as a necessary and repetitive therapy not merely for our personal wellbeing but in our relationship with God.
Physical and practical healing
The Book of Leviticus accounts for most of the references to blood in that it provides explicit instructions on the ritual of sacrifice and the distinction between “clean” and “unclean.” Chapter 11 deals specifically with that aspect as regards food. Personal hygiene is the focus of chapters 12, 13 and 14. Disease, defilement and contamination posed not only an affront to God in how he should be worshipped, but were a real threat to human health and always have been. Health care of the body and hygiene were very primitive by modern standards and, as such, subject to many rites and practices. However, what needs to be appreciated is that although health and healing applied externally to the body, it was a stepping stone to the health and healing of the soul.
There is a distinct evolutionary thread, regarding elements such as water and blood linking the Old with the New Testament. The title of chapter 19 of the Book of Numbers, “The waters of cleansing,” is instructive on the need for purification using water when a person’s cleanliness had been compromised. Water – and time – rehabilitated someone who had become defiled and restored his status within society and in the sight of God. Water also relieved thirst and sustained life as we see when Moses struck the rock at Meribah (Num: 20: 6-13).
The parting of waters provided a passage to liberation. Consider the passage of the sons of Israel through the Red Sea which saved them from Pharaoh’s army. Consider their passage into the Promised Land when the waters of the River Jordan were held back so that they crossed on dry ground (Josh: 3). Transcending a watery barrier facilitated a new beginning, an opportunity for healing. Such instances, however, were practical and physical in application. Later we will consider the role of water and blood in the spiritual sense.
With reference to cleanliness of the heart and mind, the prophets along with David and Solomon, all acknowledged God as the only source of such healing. God’s power in that regard is starkly stated in Deuteronomy, chapter 32, verse 39: “I put to death and I bring to life. I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.” But, as always, repentance is required in order to experience God’s mercy and healing. And, of course, seeking healing requires faith. Hezekiah, the king of Judah, suffered from a serious illness. In faith, he prayed to God who responded with the words: “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you” (2Kin: 20:5).
David enjoyed God’s favour and mercy throughout his life because he always repented. As he wrote in Psalm 41: “O Lord, have mercy on me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.” Following his adultery with Bathsheba and his consignment of her husband, Uriah, to an untimely death, David wrote Psalm 51 which was not only a plea for mercy but a fervent appreciation of the benefit of always staying within the presence of God and of the power of God’s healing. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…..Create in me a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me……Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me” (lines 1-2; 10; 12).
God’s healing is always available - but on his terms and conditions. Here are some examples: Speaking to Solomon, the Lord said: “If my people will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2Chr: 7: 14). The prophet Hosea, referring to Israel’s abandonment of God wrote: “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds” (Hos: 6:1). In these examples we see spiritual renewal leading to worldly, physical benefit.
From such examples we see how the focus is on internal, spiritual wellbeing as a prerequisite for political and worldly reward. When Israel was submissive to God, it enjoyed peace and stability. When it ignored God and turned to idols, it forfeited God’s protection and healing. But in a fallen world, just like ours today, redemption depends on the individual’s relationship with God. Again, David expresses this so concisely in Psalm 24, lines 4 and 5: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false, he will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his saviour.”
Sin and defiance of God, followed by God’s wrath and punishment, followed by sacrifice, repentance and forgiveness, form a consistent cycle in the Old Testament. But it was always God’s intention to break that cycle by means of a New Covenant. References to the Saviour were made a thousand years before Jesus’ time on Earth by David in Psalm 22 which foretold of Jesus’ suffering and death and in Psalm 16 which foretold of his resurrection. Jeremiah, in chapter 31, verses 31-32, prophesied: “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them out of Egypt because they broke my covenant…” Thus, God revealed his intention to scrap the Mosaic covenant which was regarded as holy writ and to announce a new covenant in which healing from sin would be achieved once and for all by Jesus’ atonement for our sins. Jesus’ mission was, therefore, to bring about healing through atonement and sacrifice. In short, Jesus came to die for our sins and salvation.
Unfortunately, because of the historical and political misfortunes of Israel and despite the prophecies referring to the Messiah, Israel anticipated a Messiah who would restore its independence and cast off the yoke of Roman imperialism. Israel’s concept of healing was a worldly one, not a spiritual one. Yet, if one joins the dots, so to speak, by piecing together the various indications and prophesies about Jesus, Psalm 22 and Isaiah 52 and 53 for example, a very different perception of the Messiah materialises. Referring to the “Suffering Servant,” Isaiah noted that “he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows….. by his wounds we are healed.” With the advantage of hindsight, we know that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.
Jesus the healer
Thirty seven specific miracles or signs, as John termed them, are recorded collectively in the four gospels. Many more occurred but, as John tells us (21:25) they were too numerous to record. All were performed publicly with the intention of creating belief in Jesus’ divine nature. Jesus did not perform miracles for show or merely out of compassion but to point to him as the Messiah and to the credentials of his kingdom.
By human standards and within the range of human capabilities, even those of the 21st century, the healing Jesus performed was miraculous. Awe and amazement were the natural responses of those who witnessed Jesus’ powers. He healed every kind of illness and disability, instantly. Jesus healed by touch and even by distance or remote control as in the case of the Centurion’s servant (Mt 8: 5-13). He healed through space and time thus demonstrating his divine nature and his authority over all that he had created. In calming the wind and the sea, nature recognised its creator and obeyed him. In changing water into wine at Cana, Jesus showed he had authority over natural science. In raising Lazarus from the dead, he showed he had authority over life and death. All Jesus’ miracles defied natural laws.
All that he did, he did in the name of his Father. As he said to his detractors, “I do what my Father does, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I in the Father,” (Jn 10: 37-38). He wanted to be seen as the Servant of God. We see this specifically in Luke, chapter 5, verses 40and 41, where Jesus freed people from their demons. In that instance, the demons came out shouting “You are the son of God.” But Jesus rebuked them and hushed them up. He did not want their witness because it would be exploited by his critics. The incident serves as another example of Jesus’ humility and his constant submission to his Father.
Jesus’ ministry was only three years in duration. Yet in that time over a substantial geographical area, without any of the media and travel facilities we have today, he became not only well-known but the object of political intrigue and betrayal. His achievement of widespread recognition was based on the signs and miracles he performed and his teachings. While many became his followers and believed in him as a result, at the same time a significant number doubted him and saw him as an imposter who posed a threat to their order. Such reactions were and remain typical of our fallen world.
Not only were the signs Jesus wrought extraordinary, they also crossed social boundaries. His healing of those afflicted by leprosy was a case in point. Not only did he accept lepers in his presence but he touched them – two things that were absolute taboo at that time. The same applied to his healing of the demon-possessed. Like lepers, they were social outcasts. But for Jesus there are no barriers and his mercy and healing are never confined by man-made rules or practices.
At the same time, however, the healing that Jesus bestowed was not just physical. It was spiritual. As Ezra Taft Benson has observed: “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in.” In other words, Jesus’ miracles were outward signs of inner restoration. In Matthew chapter 7, verses18-23, Jesus explained how he saw healing by distinguishing between “clean” and “unclean.” Thus he explained: “Nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him unclean. For it does not go into his heart but into his stomach and then out of the body. What comes out of a man, is what makes him unclean. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts and folly. All these evils make a man unclean.”
As an American evangelist once put it: “Jesus did not come to take people out of the slums. He came to take the slums out of people.”
Water and blood
As noted earlier, besides cleansing, passages through water facilitated liberation from Pharaoh and accession to the Promised Land. As such, those passages were key steps in the process of healing. In the New Testament, our salvation was established by Jesus through water and blood. Jesus’ baptism in the waters of the Jordan was a baptism with water and the spirit. As he said in John 3: 5: “No one can enter the kingdom of God un less he is born of water and the spirit.” The waters of baptism are waters of transition from a barren state to a state enriched by the Holy Spirit. They are a rite of passage. Revelations 22: 17 refers to the “free gift of the water of life.” Whereas water was synonymous with cleansing, physical purification and quenching of thirst in the chapters cited from the Old Testament, the waters of baptism to which Jesus referred, have a purely spiritual dimension. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor: 12: 13: “For we are all baptised by one Spirit into one body.” The waters of baptism are a passage to a union with God; a rebirth to a new life immersed in God’s spirit. As such, the experience of baptism is both a process and a consequence which transforms the soul and renders it fit for the Spirit to dwell in.
John tells us that “Jesus Christ did not come by water only, but by water and blood” (1 Jn: 5:6). It is by the blood of Jesus that we are saved. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians (1:7): “In him we have redemption through his blood, forgiveness of sins.” Jesus himself said at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26: 28).
Blood, as the Old Testament shows, was central to sacrifice and to atonement for sin. Chapter 4 of Leviticus, titled The Sin Offering, provides detailed instructions as to the slaughtering of an animal and how its blood was to be sprinkled and poured. Exodus chapter 30, verse 10 refers to the “annual atonement made with the blood of the atoning sin offering” which was to be done “for the generations to come.” As Hebrews states: “The high priest carries the blood of animals into the most Holy Place as a sin offering. And so Jesus suffered to make the people holy through his own blood” (13: 11-12). Jesus is the sacrificial lamb of the new covenant. That is the stark difference between sacrifice for atonement in the Old Testament and the New. As stated in Revelations, our robes become white after being washed in the blood of the lamb (7: 14).
Through the blood Jesus shed, we are healed. He suffered the most horrific death for our salvation. There is no event in history that can compare in meaning to the sacrifice Jesus made. There is no healing to compare with the healing Jesus performed and suffered and died for. There is no ailment or disability that Jesus cannot heal. All it requires, as many examples in the New Testament show, is to have trust and faith in Jesus.
As we enter the season of Advent, let us look beyond the baby Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem. Let us recognise and be eternally grateful for why he took on human form and remember that the healing he provided, and continues to provide, comes to us for free, without the pain and agony Jesus suffered on our behalf. All he asks is that we show repentance for our sins, that we recognise and acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Saviour and that we strive to live in his ways. In this season of gift-giving, let us always appreciate that the greatest gift is that of salvation which Jesus purchased for us by his death on Calvary. Jesus is not the ultimate healer. He is the ONLY healer.
-------------------Duncan Du Bois, November 2018