The Great Physician
Some people avoid doctors. No matter how sick they get, they’d rather tough it out than go to the doctor. Maybe you’re like that. You could have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel and still avoid going to the doctor.
Why are some of us are so reluctant to go to the doctor? For some it might be a matter of money. If you don’t have full insurance, a visit to the doctor might cost you, and you’d rather wait and see whether you get better on your own.
For others, staying away from the doctor is a matter of pride. You’re not a wimp. You don’t panic over every hangnail or runny nose. You don’t rush off to the emergency room for every little thing, like some people you know.
Then again, you might have a completely different reason for not going to the doctor: fear. If you notice a strange blotch on your skin, or feel pain in your stomach day after day, or find a suspicious lump, you’re scared. You try to convince yourself that maybe it’s nothing. You figure that if you just wait a few more days, maybe it will go away. You can’t bear the thought of going to the doctor and hearing the word cancer. Of course, the sooner you see the doctor, the more likely it is that the disease will still be treatable–you know that, but you wait anyway. It’s not rational to wait, but who ever said fear is rational? Still, when something is really wrong with you, you need to see a doctor. No matter how much you drag your feet, no matter what reasons you have for staying away, there are times when a doctor is the only person who can diagnose what’s wrong and, perhaps, provide a cure. So if you haven’t been feeling quite right, and you’ve been putting off going for help–please, quit stalling and go to the doctor.
But even if you don’t need a doctor just now, I want you to think with me about going to the doctor in another sense. Jesus Christ is sometimes called “the Great Physician.” When Jesus walked this earth, he healed all sorts of diseases and disabilities. He made the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the blind to see. But his greatest miracle of healing—a miracle he still does today—is that he takes sinful people whose prognosis is certain death, and he conquers their sin, cures them of the evil that is destroying them, and gives them eternal life.
Unfortunately, as reluctant as many of us are to go to a medical doctor, we’re even more reluctant to go to the divine doctor, the Great Physician. We may stay away from Jesus for much the same reasons we avoid ordinary doctors. We may worry that it will cost us something; we don’t want to go to Jesus if he might require us to give something up for his sake. Or we may stay away because of pride; we want to prove we can make it on our own without admitting we need Christ’s help. Or we may avoid Christ because of fear. We’re afraid he’ll tell us we’re in bad shape. We don’t want to deal with guilt and fear of judgment, and we’re not confident he’ll help us. But whatever holds us back from going to Jesus, we need to go to him anyway.
When Jesus explained why he came into the world, he pictured himself as a doctor and people as his patients. He said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). When we go to Jesus as the gentle healer, the Great Physician of our souls, what should we expect? Well, what do you expect when you go to an ordinary doctor? First, you want an accurate diagnosis. If something is ailing you, you want to know what it is. And once the problem is diagnosed, you obviously want something else: you want a cure. You want the doctor to do whatever it takes to make you healthy again. Diagnosis and cure—these two things are what you expect and hope for when you go to the doctor, and that’s what to look for when you go to Jesus.
Let’s talk first about diagnosis. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Right there we have the Lord’s diagnosis of our situation: we are sick and sinful, and unless something changes we are doomed to eternal death and suffering. You can’t get a more devastating diagnosis than that.
But you might say, “How do we know? Does God have any way of showing us?” Yes, he does—his law. God’s moral law shows us how unhealthy we are. We may get some sense of our condition through the inner law of our conscience (Romans 2:14-15), but the clearest, most reliable test is God’s written law found in the Bible, especially in the Ten Commandments.
Think for a moment of bodily sickness. How can you tell when you have a bad illness? One way is how you feel. If you feel fine, you usually assume you’re healthy, but if you feel pain, you figure something is wrong. That’s sort of how the conscience works. When you feel stabs of guilt and shame, your painful conscience may be telling you something is wrong with your spiritual health.
But what if your conscience doesn’t bother you? Does that mean you’re okay? No, conscience isn’t 100 percent reliable. You may do something without even a twinge of conscience, without the least bit of moral uneasiness, and still be wrong.
Think again of how your body works. Sometimes, when something is wrong, you feel pain. But it’s possible to feel no pain at all and yet have a deadly condition. A routine checkup at the doctor may reveal cancer or heart trouble or a virus like HIV, even if you don’t feel anything wrong. In the latter stages of the illness, pain may kick in, but meanwhile, the fact that you’re feeling healthy is no guarantee that you are healthy.
Sometimes sin can be painless for a while. In some cases, stabs of conscience may tell you something’s wrong with you, or huge problems like a prison sentence or a divorce or a sexually transmitted disease may show you something is amiss. But even if your conscience doesn’t bother you, even if you’re not facing a crisis because of bad behavior, you may still have a deadly problem. Pain can be a warning sign, but it’s not as reliable as a more objective test.
The objective test of your spiritual health is the written law of God found in the Bible. Just as an objective medical test can diagnose a deadly illness you didn’t know you had, so the objective standards of God’s law can show you sins you didn’t know you had. As a biblical writer puts it, “I would not have known what sin was except through the law” (Romans 3:20).
God’s law commands, “You shall have no other gods before me,” so if you put anything ahead of God, it means you’re sick. The law says not to misuse God’s name, so if you ever curse or swear, you’re sick. The law says not to murder or hate, so if you ever hate or resent, you’re sick. The law says not to commit adultery (and Jesus explains that this means you must not even lust). If you do, you’re sick. The law condemns stealing, so whenever you copy software or videos you haven’t paid for, it means you’re sick. The law prohibits lying, so every time you deceive someone else, it means you’re sick. God’s law commands us to love God above all, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and as Jesus explains it, our neighbor includes even our enemies. Anything less than that kind of love means you’re sick. The objective test of God’s law shows that all of us are sick with sin. And sin, left to run its course, results in death (Romans 6:21,23), not just physical death but what the Bible calls “the second death,” eternal suffering in hell.
You may be tempted to say, “No way! It can’t be that bad. I’m basically a good person, and my conscience feels fine. Sure, nobody’s perfect, but I’m better than most people. I know what really rotten sinners are like, and I’m not one of them.”
It’s understandable if you feel that way, but think about it. Suppose you’re tested and confirmed to have cancer, and you say, “No way! I feel fine. Just look at me. I’m the picture of health. Besides, I know what cancer does to people. I’ve seen cancer victims. I’ve seen how sick they get and how miserable they feel, and I’m not that way at all. I can’t have cancer.” All of that doesn’t change the result of the objective test. If you have cancer, you have cancer. Focusing on how well you feel won’t help. Comparisons to others won’t help. There’s no such thing as “a mild case” of cancer. If you have it and nothing is done about it, it will kill you.
Sin is like cancer. You may think your sins are small, but if God’s law turns up even the slightest trace of sin in your life, you have a huge problem. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point,” says the Bible, “is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). If God’s law diagnoses you as a sinner in any respect, the size of the sin or the number of sins is almost beside the point. If you’ve got sin anywhere in your system, it means you’re doomed if nothing is done about it, just as a person who’s got cancer anywhere in his system is doomed if nothing is done about it.
A number of years ago my father went to the doctor. He felt fine, but it was time for his annual checkup. A routine test found cancer in an early stage. The doctor recommended surgery. Would it be foolish for someone who feels perfectly well to go through the pain and bother of surgery? Well, my dad had the surgery. He believed his doctor and accepted the test results, even though he felt okay. Since then he has been cancer-free.
If a doctor says you’re sick and the test shows it, then regardless of how you feel, you’d better believe it and have him do something about it. Likewise, if the Lord says you’re sinful and his law shows it, then regardless of how you feel, you’d better believe it and have him do something about it.
The Great Physician not only gives you the diagnosis, he also offers the cure. What is the cure for sin? You may be tempted to think God’s law is the cure—if only you can do better in living up to it. But no, God’s law can’t cure sin. The law is great for diagnosing the problem but not for curing it.
A blood test is useful in showing whether you have HIV, but the blood test can’t cure you. It only diagnoses your illness and places you under the sentence of death. It’s good that there’s a blood test for AIDS, but if that’s all there is, people will go on dying. So too, it’s good that we have God’s law to diagnose our problem, but if that’s all we have, we’ll still keep perishing in our sin and going to hell. We need something besides the law to save us.
The great good news of the Bible, the marvelous message of the gospel, is that God himself has provided exactly the cure we need. “For what the law was powerless to do,” says the Bible, “God did by sending his own Son” (Romans 8:2). Our cure is found in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus went around calling even the worst of sinners to follow him and enter God’s kingdom and be his friends. He had meals with prostitutes, swindlers, and lowlifes of every kind. He welcomed one and all to find in him God’s forgiveness and eternal life.
Some of the more religious and respectable people were shocked by Jesus’ behavior. They thought they could save themselves by keeping God’s law. They fooled themselves into thinking that because their sins weren’t quite as obvious as some people’s, they were okay. They thought that when they did have a sin or two, their rituals would make up for it. They felt no need for Jesus, and they were scandalized that such a renowned teacher would associate with such despicable people.
But when the Pharisees complained and asked why Jesus would associate with such awful sinners, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Jesus didn’t come to earth to set up an athletic club for splendid spiritual specimens. He came to bring healing to sick people who desperately need a doctor. He came because we’re all sinners in need of a Savior.
Ultimately Jesus went all the way to Calvary and died on a cross in order to cure us. He poured out his blood and gave up his life to overcome our sin and give us new life. The Bible says, “By his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). At this point, of course, what Jesus did to save us goes far beyond what we can picture by comparing him to a doctor. We might want a doctor to be gentle and have a nice bedside manner, but we don’t expect a doctor to love us enough to die for us. When doctors help sick people, they often get paid a great deal for doing so, but Jesus didn’t get paid. He himself paid the cost of his own life in order to provide a cure for us.
Maybe the closest medical comparison would be an organ donor. I know someone with a family member whose kidneys were failing. She wanted to save her loved one, and so she donated one of her own kidneys, at great pain and great risk to herself, so that it could be transplanted into the one she loved. Jesus went beyond even that. He gave his entire body and his very life in order to save us. Like people with heart trouble who can receive a heart transplant only because another person died, you and I can receive the spiritual heart transplant we need only because Someone else died—our Lord Jesus Christ. Somehow, in the miracle of God’s grace, when you trust in Jesus, his blood takes away your sin, his death rescues you from hell, his wounds heal your soul, his Spirit gives you a new heart, and his resurrection gives you eternal life.
And that’s not all. Jesus not only overcomes your illness and gives you new life, but he also gives you a whole new immune system. Think of what happens if your body’s immune system doesn’t work. Just about any infection or illness can kill you. But with a healthy immune system, you catch far fewer infections, and even if you catch one from time to time, you can overcome it. Your body has the power to fight back. Now, apart from Jesus, you have no immune system; any sin at all is fatal. But when you come to Jesus, he not only cancels the penalty of your sin, but he also gives you the power of his Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit fights against sin the way your immune system fights against infections. When you sin, it upsets your system, but it can no longer kill you, because you have within you the power of the Holy Spirit to attack that sin and overcome it. As long as you’re in this world, you’ll have sins to deal with. You won’t be perfect until you get to heaven. But when you belong to Jesus, his Spirit guarantees that you will live forever, he gives you the power to survive your bouts with sin, and he empowers you to grow stronger and healthier the longer he lives in you.
The blood of Jesus and the Holy Spirit of Jesus are God’s cure for sin—the only cure. So how about it? Have you gone to the doctor? Have you submitted to his diagnosis and admitted that you’re a sinner? Have you accepted God’s cure and put your trust in Jesus? Have you prayed for pardon through Jesus’ blood and received his Holy Spirit? If you want to be cured of sin and live forever, that’s the only way.
Maybe that offends you. You may think there should be many ways to be saved. You may think it’s unfair of God to offer only one. But think about it. Suppose someone discovered a cure for AIDS. Suppose it was a pill with a taste some people didn’t like but which cured anyone who swallowed it and was offered for free to anyone who wanted it. Do you think people would complain and say, “That’s not fair. There should be a lot of cures, not just one with a taste I don’t like.” No way! If someone discovered a cure for AIDS, that person would win a Nobel prize. AIDS patients would shout, “Yes!” and would rush to the nearest place the cure was available. Nobody would complain that this was the only cure. One cure is a lot better than none!
So why complain when faith in Jesus’ blood is the only cure for sin? One cure is a lot better than none. None is what Christ owed us; one is what he gave us. So don’t complain or look for other cures. Instead, accept the amazing cure that God freely gives us at such great cost to himself.
Maybe you have a different reason for not going to Jesus and becoming part of his church. You know people who call themselves Christians, and some of them are pretty bad. You know church members who are a long way from perfect. Now, I don’t want to make any excuse for sin, and I know how hurtful these things can be, but let me just ask: What do you expect? If you go to the hospital, do you expect everybody there to be perfectly healthy? It’s a hospital, not an athletic club! So if you’re a sinner in need of healing, don’t be shocked if you go to church and find other sinners. The church of Jesus is a group of people who are looking to the Great Physician for their healing. Are you too good for them? Do you want to be a Pharisee who stays away because Jesus has too many sinners around him? Remember, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”
Maybe you’re saying, “I’d like Jesus to save me, but I don’t know if I can make my faith strong enough. I have so many doubts and misgivings.” But listen, friend. You don’t need a strong faith in order to be saved. You just need a strong Savior. If you’re sick and you go to a good doctor, it doesn’t much matter if you feel hesitation and uncertainty. What matters is simply that you go, and that he’s a doctor who can really help you. If you decided to go to Dr. Quack and took his magic wonder potion, you could feel all the confidence in the world, but it wouldn’t help you get over a serious illness. What matters most is not having the right feelings, but going to the right doctor. You’re better off with a weak faith in a strong Savior than with a strong faith in anything else. Don’t worry if your faith is weak and sick. You’re just the sort of person Jesus wants to help. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.” Your faith may be sick and shaking with doubt, but as long as Jesus is the one you go to, he will save you.
So don’t put it off any longer. Go to the Doctor. Go to Jesus just as you are. Ask for his forgiveness and healing. Would you pray this prayer with me?
Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am! Thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.