Dear Reader – Thank you for praying for Danny! Now may the Lord open the eyes of our hearts to get what we need to get from this post.
I want to delve a little deeper in this blog re: God’s heart and compassion towards the sick and diseased as seen in the Old Testament. And I would like for us to focus our discussion today on a few verses in Isaiah chapter 53. Anne and I often turn to this passage when we are partaking of communion or the Lord’s supper together because of its encouragement regarding both our sin and our sicknesses. Please bear with me as this discussion will require some technical treatment of the passage.
“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3-5
The larger context of this passage, (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) is a glorious prophetic portrait of the coming Messiah/Savior. It provides wonderful answers for questions like: What will He be like? What will He be concerned about and not concerned about? Will He offer hope for those of us without hope when it comes to being justified before a holy God? Will He be a Governing/Military kind of leader? How will He deal with our sins and our sicknesses?
This passage actually abounds in hope for those battered and bruised by sin and by sickness. Believers throughout the centuries have come to it time and time again for solace and assurance that as messed up and beaten up as we are (and most of us are more messed up than we realize), His provision for us on the cross is more than enough.
Sadly though, many who have come to know the Savior as a more than adequate Savior for their sins through this passage, have not come to know Him as a more than adequate Healer for their sicknesses through this passage. One of the reasons for that is the challenge of translating it accurately. When translators aren’t absolutely sure how to translate a Hebrew word into English, or when a Hebrew word can be translated more than one way, they usually will note that in our Bibles by small numbers before a word that point to explanatory notes in the margins of our Bible about that word. That happens a lot in these three verses above. The first instance of it is in vs. 3 where Isaiah says our Messiah/Savior would be a “..man of sorrows”. The little numeral one before the word sorrows points us to the margin of our Bibles wherein we learn that that word could be also translated “pains”. Jesus Christ, especially in His last twenty four hours was a man who experienced deep sorrow and searing pain for our sakes. The sentence ends like this, “…and acquainted with grief”. That word “grief” in my Bible has a numeral two in front of it, which points to the margin wherein we learn that this word “grief” could also be translated “sickness”. The occurrence of these two words and the little numbers which point us to the other possible translation as seen in the marginal notes appears again in vs. 4. So should it be translated sorrows or pains, griefs or sickness? Well I prefer to see it as both and. Obviously Jesus Christ in His earthly life and ministry experienced many sorrows and pains especially in His passion or those last twenty four hours of His earthly life when He suffered brutally for our sakes.
But what then does it mean that He was acquainted with grief and especially acquainted with sickness? Clearly Jesus experienced grief in the garden of Gethsemane for instance (see Matt. 26:37,38). And He appears to be experiencing it when He cried out on the cross, “My God, my God why have You forsaken Me?” One other time in the gospels we are told He was grieved at the Pharisees for their hardness of heart (towards a man who needed physical healing btw) (see Mark 3:1-6). But was He grieved all the time? I don't think so. Hebrews 1:9 speaks of Jesus’s “…gladness above His companions.” In His long prayer recorded in John 17 He speaks of His desire for us to experience the joy He walked in. So His primary taste of grief was in His passion or suffering in those last 24 hours or so of His earthly life. His acquaintance with others in their grief I’m sure was significant especially those who were seriously sick or diseased or demonized or whose loved ones were.
But did He experience sickness? Was He actually sick in His earthly life and ministry? I’m inclined to think not for the following reasons. First the Scriptures never speak of Him being sick. Second this Hebrew word translated “acquainted” is only used in this verse in the Old Testament. It has the idea of of an acquaintance as contrasted to a good friend or close companion if you trace its root word, which appears a handful of times in the O.T.. Jesus was acquainted with sickness pretty much everywhere He went, but He was never intimate with it. It was never something that defined Him in any way. In other words in my view He was never sick Himself, but around it often. Just growing up with at least six younger siblings, whom He probably as the oldest had responsibility over at times, would have exposed Him to various sicknesses. Then He was surrounded by sick people for most of His ministry years. Keil and Delitzsch in their much respected commentary on the book of Isaiah seem to agree with this assessment of Jesus’s relationship to sickness.
I do want to make clear that in my understanding the reason He was never sick was not because He was God (which we know He was and is fully God), but rather because He was fully man dependent upon God while on earth – choosing not to draw on His attributes of deity in His earthly life and ministry (see Philippians 2:5-11 for a biblical explanation of this). Jesus’s example of never sinning and never getting sick and so powerfully healing the sick offers me no hope if the reason for all of that is because He operated as God while on earth. How can I a sinner ever touch that?! But His example of never sinning and possibly never getting sick and healing the sick to the degree He did offers me great hope if the reason for that is He fully and completely depended upon God, submitted to the Holy Spirit and never once relied on self/gave into sin. Peter spoke to this reality in Acts 10:38, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” Peter could have written at the end of that verse, “…for He was God.” But Peter knew while Jesus has always been God - - while on earth, He as the apostle Paul wrote, “…did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself” or He laid aside His divine privileges or divine power (Phil. 2:6,7). Jesus knew what He knew, lived as He lived and ministered as He ministered not because He was God, but rather because He was man fully dependent upon God.
So why didn’t they put “pains” in the text and “sorrows” in the marginal note? And why didn’t they put “sickness” in the text and “griefs” in the marginal note? Well one reason is because the thrust of this whole passage (52:13-53:12) is that He would save us from our sins, iniquities, transgressions, etc., and how He would pull that off (i.e. His suffering on the cross). That by far is our greatest need and it is the clear emphasis in this long passage.
But because the coming Messiah’s saving ministry is the clear emphasis, many have overlooked or ignored the fact that He would suffer for and provide for our healing as well. Matthew (the gospel writer) didn’t overlook it. Have you ever noticed how Matthew linked and validated Jesus’s healing ministry to this prophetic portrait in Isaiah 53? So in Matthew chapter 8 we find Jesus returning from His time up on the mountain where He delivered what is typically called the Sermon on the Mount. Upon His descent a leper comes to Him and Jesus heals him (vs. 1-4). Then a centurion comes to Him asking Jesus to heal his servant, which Jesus within minutes does (from a distance). Then Jesus enters Peter’s home wherein he heals Peter’s sick mother in law. Then the scripture says, “When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were ill. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “HE HIMSELF TOOK OUR INFIRMITIES AND CARRIED AWAY OUR DISEASES.” It is generally recognized that this quote is from Isaiah 53:4, though Matthew 8:17 differs in wording a bit from Isaiah 53:4. (That difference can be explained, but would make this blog much longer and more complicated than it already is). The point is Matthew recognized that there was a dual portrait intended in Isaiah 53. God wanted His people to know their coming Messiah/Savior would deeply care about their souls and their bodies.
What the Holy Spirit through Isaiah wanted us to know is that this long awaited Messiah/Savior would not only save and cleanse and deliver us from our sins, but He would also heal our sicknesses and diseases. He deeply cares about us and suffered for us that we might become whole persons. And that is clearly reflected in Isaiah’s use of the English phrase “well-being” in vs. 5, which is translated from the Hebrew word Shalom, which has the idea of wholeness emotionally, physically, spiritually etc. Somehow the suffering and the blood spilled through Jesus’s awful scourging or whipping right before He was crucified provides healing for us according to the end of vs. 5. (If our reality to this point has not squared with the scriptures then the humble righteous response needs to be “God help me get in alignment with Your will and Your ways” instead of trying to theologically sweep such statements under the rug or living in subterranean blaming and resentment towards God. In saying this, I do not in any way make light of the deep grief many of you have probably experienced when someone you loved and prayed for was not healed).
The Holy Spirit also wants us to know in this wonderful passage that this Savior would fully identify with our humanness, our misery, and our frailty. He was tempted in all things just as we are and yet without sin. He lingered and lived a fully human life for 33 years so that we could be confident of this reality. Thus the writer of Hebrews states, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15
I would be the first to say there is significant mystery with the whole world of divine healing. My experience has not always lined up with what I see in scripture. But I hope you dear reader can see that our great God and Savior deeply cares about our bodies as well as our souls. He has always intended to be “hands on” with both of them knowing how integrally intwined they are. And knowing how much the enemy of our souls hates and wants to destroy both. God bless you as you humbly continue in this journey of knowing Him as our Savior and our Healer.