For most of my Christian life, I have struggled trying to discern when it was God’s will to heal a particular person. As a pastor, I have often prayed for healing without any firm assurance that the disease or illness would be eradicated. When nothing happened, I have chalked it up either to my lack of faith, my lack of discernment or perhaps to a resignation that the disease was their “thorn in the flesh.”
My wife and I recently returned from a mission trip to Nicaragua where we witnessed some amazing examples of the Lord’s compassion and power. Coming from a strong reformed background, I was delighted to witness God’s healing ministry through our hands. But it also heightened my conviction to seek an unambiguous scriptural foundation for healing ministries. To my surprise, I found an answer in the Gospel that has been there all along. Permit me to share this discovery with you, especially if you have been wrestling with this issue yourself.
Matthew 8:16, 17 says in the ESV:
“That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’”
In addition to saying that Jesus healed all who were sick, Matthew declared that this action was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” In other words, this event was not just a manifestation of Christ’s compassion and power. It was done to fulfill the scripture contained in Isaiah 53:3-10, a passage that highlights what Jesus accomplished on the cross.
However, in our English translations of this text, there is only an oblique reference to healing:
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; … Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted; 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. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all . . . Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief” ESV.
This passage clearly declares that Jesus was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities — that the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. He paid the price for our transgressions on the cross. But the two phrases “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;” and, “surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” do not paint an image of one who took our illnesses and bore our diseases as Matthew seems to indicate. Instead, it paints a picture of mental anguish rather than physical pain and suffering brought on by disease. In that light, the phrase, “with his wounds we are healed” could mean deliverance from the mental turmoil brought on by our transgressions and iniquities.
So, I looked up this same passage in the Holy Scriptures to the Masoretic Text published by the Jewish Society of America — fifth printing 1969; a set I purchased while in seminary:
“He was despised, and forsaken of men, a man of pains, and acquainted with disease, . . . Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; Whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities: The chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath made to light on him the iniquity of us all. . . . Yet it pleased the Lord to crush him by disease;”
This translation also underscores the burden Christ took upon Himself for our transgressions and iniquities. But the words “sorrows” and “grief” have been replaced by “pains” and “disease.” Moreover, this translation reflects to a far greater degree the text found in Matthew 8:16 and 17 as well as Matthew’s intent for quoting it.
I decided to look more closely at the meaning of the original texts. Here are the pertinent Greek word definitions as found in the Greek-English Lexicon on the New Testament translated and edited by W.F. Arndt and F.W. Gingrich:
Heal — Care for, wait upon, treat medically, restore, heal
Sick — ill, sick (in the physical sense)
Fulfill — Make full, fill, complete, reach its end, bring something to completion, finish, fulfill
Took — Take in the hand, take hold of, grasp, take away, remove
Illness — Bodily weakness, sickness, disease
Bore — Carry, bear, endure
Disease — Disease, illness
So, Matthew was clearly referring to physical ailments, not just mental disabilities.
Here are the Hebrew word definitions as found in the Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament edited by Francis Brown, S.R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs and the Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible by Jeff A. Benner:
(Where the word choices of the two translations differ, I have included both translations on the left side of the Hebrew word.)
Sorrows / pains כאב — Mental and physical pain
Acquainted ידע — To know, to have an intimate relationship with another
person, idea or experience. Adam KNEW Eve his wife . . .
Grief / disease חלי — Wound of violence, sickness, disease, illness, incurable disease, grief
Surely אכנ — Surely, with a strong assertive force
Borne נשא / נסא — To bear, carry, be responsible for, to incur
Carried סבל — Carry, bear a burden / a heavy load
Iniquity עינ — Iniquity, guilt, the result of twisted work/actions/effort. In ancient
Hebrew, there was a character that looked a lot like an (ע ayin) and was pronounced “ghah” meaning twisted. In later Hebrew, this letter was replaced by ayin but the meaning carried forward in the words that contained the original ghah.
Transgression פשע — Transgression, revolt, a spreading apart.
Wounds / stripes חבנרה — Striped wounds/bruises made by ropes/lashes
Healed רפא — Healed of a disease or affliction, a word often related to physical ailments, literally “man open,” open wound, sickness, illness
Will (of the Lord) / pleased (the Lord) חפצ — To delight in, have pleasure in, to
desire something out of pleasure or necessity
Crush דכא — To crush, break in pieces, shatter
Here are the Hebrew words in the initial segment of Isaiah 53:10:
(Hebrew reads from right to left.)
ויהוה חפצ דכאו החלי
to make sick to crush him pleased But God
This examination of the meaning of the Hebrew words in Isaiah 53:3-10 leaves no doubt that the salvation secured by Jesus Christ on the cross covers not only our iniquities and transgressions but our pains, illnesses and sicknesses as well. Further, it was physical healing that Matthew emphasized in verses 8:16 and 17.
Our reformed tradition proclaims our conviction that everyone who is drawn by the Holy Spirit will receive forgiveness for their transgressions and iniquities by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. But the finished work on the cross prophesied by Isaiah and depicted in Mathew also extends to salvation from physical ailments.
The account of the four men who lowered their paralyzed friend through the roof to Jesus highlights the role signs and miracles play in the Gospel. When the man was placed before Him, Jesus saw their faith and said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” His statement was immediately challenged as blasphemous. But Jesus replied, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralytic – “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all.
Had Jesus not healed the paralytic, His critics could have argued that according to their theology, only God could forgive sins. But the healing authenticated His claim to have the authority to forgive sins.
Isaiah said it delighted / pleased the Father to place on His Son all our pains, illnesses and diseases. Why? So that the Father could bear witness to His Son’s authority to forgive our iniquities and transgressions through the signs and miracles that followed (Mark 16:20; Acts 4:29-31, 14:3; Hebrews 2:4).
Life in all its fullness in the Kingdom of Heaven has been made possible and freely available through Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary. I can only find one requirement: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” John 6:44. Here are the episodes in Matthew where everyone who came to Jesus was healed (4:23, 24; 8;16; 9:35; 12:15; 14:35, 36.)
There is no indication that all of these people had to be true believers before they could be recipients of the Lord’s compassion and grace. The Father had brought these people to His Son and manifested through Him what life was like in the Kingdom. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” The signs and miracles drew many to Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. But His message divided those who heard Him into two camps: those who embraced His message and those who rejected it.
Christ dwells in us. We know that our Father is not willing that any should perish, and that He still brings people to His Son in us to hear the Gospel. Further, we can know that He gives us both the will and the ability to accomplish His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13) through the power of the Holy Spirit. Compassion is what drove Jesus to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and to minister to all who came to Him. In the same way, His compassion in us signals His desire to manifest His Father’s presence. And we can rest in the knowledge, based on Isaiah 53:3-10 and Matthew 8:16 and 17, that Jesus not only bore all of our iniquities and transgressions on the cross but also all of our pains, sicknesses and diseases so His Father can offer more abundant life to us through His Son.
Some, when they hear that they must deny their self, take up their own cross and follow Christ, will turn away even after receiving a taste of the Kingdom. But others, will count it all joy to receive the Pearl of Great Price.
Your friend in His service, Bill Combs
March 3, 2018