THE ENACTED PARABLE OF CHRIST'S HEALINGS
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18–19).
This work was one principally of grace. As such, it was and is, directed towards those who the Master refers to in Matthew chapter 5 as “the poor in spirit” (i.e. poor in disposition and character who know they are in dire need of Christ’s mercy.) “I’m not come,” says he in another place, “to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31–32).
“Sinners” know that they are poor, blind and bruised. They are broken-hearted because the broken heart and contrite spirit (Psalm 51) are the sacrifices of repentance which alone are acceptable in the Lord’s sight. Those alone, who possess these attributes, are the ones to whom Christ came to proclaim “the acceptable year of the Lord”, the year of release and liberty (Isaiah 58:6). This proclamation is of forgiveness; liberty from the mental and moral servitude to sin by which man can draw closer to the divine truth, as manifested in God’s character and the promise of deliverance from the bondage of death. This is the substance of Christ’s teachings in Matthew chapters 5–7.
There is an incident recorded by Matthew that occurred immediately after the Lord’s discourse upon the mount, which illustrates the purpose of those teachings and man’s response to them. This incident was the Lord’s meeting with a leper in the last stages of that hideous disease (Matthew 8:1–4). Leprosy was a disease which, more than any other in the Old Testament times, God said he would inflict on Israel for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:27, 35). Sin and disease become synonymous in certain types in the scriptural record. We can well understand why under the Law, those inflicted with leprosy were rendered unfit for fellowship with God. It is important for us to never forget that at one time we were all leprous in God’s sight, the living dead. “Dead,” says Paul, “in trespasses and sins… Fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature the children of wrath… But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us… Quickened us together in Christ and by grace saved us” (Ephesians 2:1–5).
Leviticus chapters 13 and 14 warned Israel who were baptised into Moses that leprosy can recur after its initial healing. It can “break out again”. So the sin that we were forgiven and cleansed of at our baptism can contaminate anyone of us again.
In ecclesial life today, we have seen lepers excluded from the ecclesia because of sin and the neglect of God’s word. The reason for their exclusion, whether it be the sin of jealousy (Miriam’s), or greed (Gehazi’s), or pride (Uzziah’s), seems irrelevant, when one is in that hideous condition, unable to appeal to law to save, but desperate for God’s mercy. I have heard it said of those who have committed adultery as a result of divorce and remarriage, “they have had their chance, and they knew it was wrong, they cannot be forgiven because they did it deliberately, they can never come back while they remain in that condition”. While this may be partially correct, this is a pharisaic attitude condemned by the Lord both in his teachings and in his practice. To consider the correct appreciation of this problem, we cheerfully undertake the matter of rightly dividing God’s word with respect to mercy and judgement, for in doing so we accompany the Lord Jesus and consider how he made plain the Father’s grace and truth.
Perhaps early in this leprous condition (Matthew 8:1–4), this man went back many times to the priest hoping that the leprosy had stopped its tenacious advance, only to be rejected. His notoriety amongst the people would have made him instantly recognisable and his pitiful cries of warning “unclean, unclean”, to the passers-by would have alienated him even from those who may have taken pity. Now, after many years, all hope lost, a walking corpse, the living dead, yet hearing the fame of the Lord and the joyful cries of those who had been healed by the son of David, he girds up his last remnants of strength and faith and goes and falls at the Lord’s feet.
We can only imagine the pitiful sight our Lord would have beheld—the flesh around his eyes eaten away, his head without a nose or hair, covered over to hide his identity, his fingerless hands held closely to his chest, his raw flesh ulcerated, its pits and holes filled by corrupting excretions, irradiating a vile stench; finally prostrating himself upon the ground, and an unearthly sound gurgling up through his throat, his palate having been eaten away, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean” (Matthew 8:2).
There can be no doubt that faith was present in this man, for the Lord’s healing is a testimony to this fact. But nonetheless, a grave doubt in this man’s mind was expressed through his desperate request, “if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean”. The law could not save him, but faith in God and His mercy manifested through His son could heal him.
This is the problem we share with the leper, individually and ecclesially. It is not the lack of faith in God’s ability to heal, to forgive, but the belief that He is willing to do so and we to manifest God’s character in doing likewise. The leper’s iniquity over the course of many years of reflection, bore so heavily upon his mind that he no doubt felt that though “God’s arm is not so shortened that it cannot save”, it may not extend as far as himself. He was, in his sight and in all men’s sight, and in the sight of the law, unredeemable. His terminal disease symbolised his iniquity, as Isaiah so poignantly records, “Ah sinful nation a people laden with iniquity… From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises and putrefying sores: they have not closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” (Isaiah 1:4–6).
Mark’s parallel record tells us something of our Lord’s character that reflected his Father’s, towards corruptible fallen man symbolised by the leper. Though he was bowed down by the guilt of his iniquity, dead in trespasses and sins, desperate for healing, the offscouring of all men, yet he was embraced by the son of God. “Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand and touched him, and said unto him, I will; (I am willing) be thou clean” (Mark 1:40).
No man espousing the law would have come near this man, let alone touch him. The Jews had no compassion for this “sinner”. The judgements of God had overtaken him, doomed to wander in isolation till the day he crumbled back into dust. They thought that they were law keepers; they did not go near people like this who deserved their plight. Why, to be moved to compassion towards such an one, would have been tantamount to apostasy!
Now this attitude, my dear brethren and sisters, is the very attitude many manifest towards those who have divorced and remarried within the ecclesia. All manner of scripture is quoted or rather misquoted, just as the Pharisees misquoted the law to justify their practices of divorce and remarriage. We can misquote the law of Christ to shut up our bowels of mercy towards those who have sinned, and in the process become, not manifestations of our Father’s will, but enemies to the cross of Christ. This was the writer’s attitude for many years; I was zealously moved against such, more so than many of my brethren. But through the grace of God, through His providential hand and great mercies, I saw my utter folly. In the Lord Jesus Christ there was a perfect ‘making plain’ of justice and mercy. So too, in our ecclesial discussions on these cases, there must be this ‘making plain’ and evident setting forth of these principles, whereby God’s truth can be exalted and proclaimed and the repentant sinner be touched by the outstretched hand of the ecclesia.
All the Lord’s miracles must be understood as reflecting God’s power to save men’s lives, not in the transient sense of which the miracle had but a passing benefit, but symbolising eternal salvation, intimately connected with the kingdom of God which the Lord’s anointed went from city to city preaching (Luke 4:43). The miracles preached the setting free of the captives from the law of sin and death. They therefore had a mental and moral liberation and a prophetic physical deliverance in the kingdom age.
The means of this healing was God’s Holy Spirit. The word the Lord spoke was “spirit and truth”. In the majority of the Lord’s healings, a prerequisite was always encouraged to be evidently manifested, and this is illustrated in the Lord’s often repeated words, “according to your faith be it unto you”. This healing work, symbolic of God’s saving power mentally, morally and physically, was not to be the sole providence of the Lord Jesus Christ. According to Yahweh’s will, this was also the basis on which he sent forth his disciples during his ministry to preach the gospel. Yet on one notable occasion, his disciples were unable to heal a severe case of a man’s lunatic son (Matthew 17). This inability to heal brought forth the Lord’s response, “this kind can only go out through prayer and fasting”.
Although the Lord’s disciples today do not have the power to heal physical diseases, God’s saving work nevertheless continues through His spirit word manifested in those who are indeed His children. If we are to be the channel through which God saves men’s lives today, then it is a great truth that not only does faith need to be present in the one healed mentally and morally, but also pre-eminently in the healer. “Prayer and fasting” remains the key, the pouring out of our soul unto God, that we may understand and then do His will.
The Lord Jesus “went about… Preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease… They brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments and those possessed of devils and those who were lunatic and those that had the palsy; and he healed them” (Matthew 4:23–24).
The Lord said on another occasion, “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men” (Matthew 12:31). This must be the subject of our faith even as it was in all those who came to Jesus to be healed. The sin of divorce and remarriage for reasons other than “porneia” can also be forgiven. The apostle John being an eyewitness to the Lord’s work and his teachings wrote, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9; 2:1–2).
Under the Law, if a leper touched another man he was ceremonially “unclean”. But when this leper came into contact with Christ who was the end and fulfilment of the law, the clean (mentally and morally) cleansed the unclean. Matthew records that upon touching this leper and the simultaneous words, “I am willing be thou clean”, immediately his leprosy was cleansed (Matthew 8:3). So it is with sin that is forgiven. The Lord dramatically illustrates this on another occasion when he healed the palsied man.