Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Healed By His Wounds - 1 Peter 2:24-25

Audio available here (the first few minutes were accidentally not recorded)

The great Southern Baptist bible scholar, Dr. A. T. Roberston, once said, “It is pitiful to think how the Bible has been abused by men who did not know how to interpret it. Many a heresy has come from a misinterpretation of Scripture.” Heresy is serious business, and it always spiritually deadly. In some cases, it can be physically deadly as well. Take, for instance, the controversy that has surrounded the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City, Oregon. Over the last few decades, the church came under suspicion when a medical examiner reported that 25 of the church’s children had died in a 10 year period due to lack of proper medical attention. An investigation discovered that 21 of 78 children buried in the church’s cemetery had died of easily diseases and disorders. Within the last few years, a wave of deaths and serious illnesses among the congregation’s children has brought them into the spotlight again. In 2008, a 15-month-old died from pneumonia; months later, a 16-year-old died from a bladder blockage; in 2009, a premature baby who was delivered without medical assistance died from infection. A few days ago, the parents of that child were indicted for manslaughter. About a week prior to that indictment, another couple in the church were charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment and had their 7-month-old child taken into state custody because the parents had not sought medical treatment for a growing mass of blood vessels that was developing on their daughter’s forehead threatening permanent blindness. How can one explain such a wave of tragedy among the children of a single congregation? In each case, these parents refused medical treatment for their children because the church taught that God would heal the children by faith, and medical care was severely frowned upon. In some cases, members of the church have been shunned for seeking medical care.

Members of that church follow a line of teaching that claims that physical healing is always to be expected from God, and when it is not received, it demonstrates a lack of faith on the part of the believer. You don’t have to go to Oregon to find that kind of unbiblical thinking (though you know what I say about those folks out west!). There are plenty of churches around us who teach the same things, and plenty of Christians we encounter almost daily who believe that if we only have strong enough faith, we will not experience sickness or any physical ailments. Of all the preachers on television, a vast majority of them regularly teach this. They say that genuine faith in Christ will always make one healthy, and also wealthy! And how does one demonstrate this kind of faith? Usually it is proven by sending monetary contributions to the preacher. One of the scriptures that is often used to validate this teaching is this statement from 1 Peter 2:24, “by His wounds you were healed.” This is paraphrased from Isaiah 53:5, that rich prophecy about the suffering of the Messiah which says, “by His scourging we are healed.” One of these teachers once claimed that he had not suffered flu in many years because, in his words, “I’m redeemed from the flu! … I’m healed by the stripes of Jesus.” Another even goes so far as to say, “The basic principle of the Christian life is to know that God put our sin, sickness, disease, sorrow, grief, and poverty on Jesus at Calvary.” Is that really the most basic principle of Christianity?

But do we not believe the Bible? We do indeed, every word of it. And does the Bible not say these things? Does it not say, “By His wounds you were healed?” It does, we see it in this very text. But in this case, as in so many other dangerous heresies, what has happened is that the words of Scripture have been removed from its context and twisted to mean something it never intended to say. We are all in need of healing, and in more ways than just physical. But the phrase we find here does not mean that we can expect an immediate physical healing from the maladies that plague our bodies. So, in what sense then can we say that we are healed by the wounds of Jesus?

I. We are healed from the disease of sin (v25)

It should come as no surprise to anyone here today when I say that we are all going to die. Of course, the only possible exception to that is that if any of us are alive when the Lord returns, and we don’t want to rule that out. But aside from that, we are all going to experience physical death. Now there are a growing number of folks today who seem convinced that this does not have to be so. They claim that with the right vitamins and supplements, diet and exercise, we can stay younger longer, and avoid death or at least postpone it indefinitely. Listen, folks, the Bible teaches us in many passages and with many words that death is inevitable for us. Consider, for example Hebrews 9:27, which says, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” And there is no cheating death. The day of our death is an appointed time on God’s calendar. The Psalmist said, “In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me,
when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalms 139:16). And we know the reason why we are all under this death sentence. It is because of sin. The entrance of sin into the world through Adam’s disobedience brought a terminal condition that has been passed on to each of his descendants. In our bodies, the wages of sin are at work, corrupting us from conception to the day of our death. And because we are sinners by nature, we are also sinners by practice. We aren’t called sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.

Peter describes our sinful condition this way in verse 25: “You were continually straying like sheep.” This again borrows from Isaiah 53, where we read, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Notice that it is not a one-time incident where we stepped off of the right path of life. We were continually straying, he says. It was the pattern of our lives to stray away from the Lord. We were not going His way, but as Isaiah said, “each of us has turned to his own way.” There may be some who would object and say, “Not me! I’ve always walked the straight and narrow. Been in church since the day I was born, and always did right.” First of all, just plainly speaking, that’s a lie; and lying is sin, so immediately you discover you aren’t as good as you thought. But even giving the benefit of the doubt, maybe you have always tried to do good, always been a church-going person who did good things. Remember what God said about Israel: “This people draws near to Me with their words and honors Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.” In other words, their religion was all talk and going through the motions. Their hearts were just as heavy laden with sin as the most irreligious people in the world. That kind of religious performance may fool some people, but it never fools God. He sees the heart. He sees what no one else can see and He watches when no one else is looking. None of us are immune to sin and its effects in our lives. And the most obvious effect is death.

Some of you have experienced the pain of raising a child who turns away from the path you have taught them to follow. You worked hard to provide for them, you taught them right from wrong, you instilled biblical truths in their lives from an early age, and they chose to stray from the path. You know how heartbreaking that is. That is why our hearts resonate so much with Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel According to Luke. We can all identify with that story in some way. We either find ourselves in the loving parent or in the selfishly sinful son, or sometimes in both. But the story is not primarily one about childrearing. It is about humanity’s relationship with God. He created us all, and provided for us all, and cares for us all. But we have all “continually strayed.” As heartbreaking as that may be for human parents to endure, it is infinitely moreso for God, whose fatherly love has been trampled upon by every one of us in our sin.

Peter says here that in our straying we are like sheep. It’s not intended as a compliment. Sheep are notoriously stupid animals. They are prone to follow one another into deadly predicaments. A news story from 2005 illustrates the point well. In a small Turkish village, a herd of sheep was grazing near a cliff and one of them fell off the cliff. Suddenly, 1500 sheep followed it over the edge. The bad news is that 450 of them died. The good news is that the pile of dead sheep at the bottom of the cliff cushioned the fall of the other 1100 who survived the event. That’s pretty stupid, isn’t it? But we are like those sheep; we follow the herd. The first human-sheep, Adam, plunged into the death of sin, and the rest of us have followed him and one another right over the edge. And we will plummet to not only a physical death, but unless our sinful condition can be healed, there will be an eternal death to suffer at the end of the fall.

We are told here that we have been healed by the wounds of the Lord Jesus. The healing described both here in 1 Peter and in the Isaiah passage is not a healing from sickness, not immediately anyway, but a healing from sin. The context makes that clear. Nowhere in these verses have we read a single word about sickness, nor do we in Isaiah. Rather, surrounding this mention of healing we find repeated emphasis on sin; and in Isaiah, we find synonymous terms like transgressions and iniquities. And because this healing from sin is available to us, we can turn from the cliff’s edge before going over the edge.

This is the point of the concluding statement in the passage. “Now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” You remember how Jesus looked on the multitudes with compassion, seeing them “like sheep without a shepherd.” He looks upon humanity following after one another in sin, like those sheep leading one another astray over the edge of the cliff. But He is the Shepherd that we are wandering from. He said of Himself in John 10, “I am the Good Shepherd.” He is the Shepherd of whom David spoke in Psalm 23, saying, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” And because of the healing that He has provided for us, healing from our sins, we are able to return to His care. It is a picture of repentance, much like we see in the prodigal son story when he comes to the end of himself and runs home to his father’s embrace. So we come to the place when we are ready to receive His healing and we return, we repent, we turn from the path on which we are going astray, and turn to Him. He becomes for us the Shepherd that we need. The biblical word here is poimen, interestingly the same word that is translated as “Pastor” elsewhere in the New Testament. We come under His care. As the Psalmist says, we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand (Psalm 95:7). And He is also the Guardian of our souls. The word used here is episkopos, another word used to describe human leaders in the church, namely the Bishop or Overseer. Jesus has become our spiritual guardian; our souls are under His guidance and protection. This relationship with Him begins as we turn from our wayward path of sin and receive the healing that He has provided for us.

Christ heals us from the disease of our sin. But a question remains unanswered: How is this healing possible? What took place to make this healing something we can experience? Verse 24 gives us the answer.

II. We are healed through the death of the Savior (v24)

A friend and I were trekking through villages in Kenya about 13 years ago, and we kept noticing all these kids with open sores all over their arms. My friend had this thought: “I wonder if Neosporin could help those sores?” So we pulled out our first aid kits and began applying Neosporin all over the kids hands and feet and faces, praying for each one as we did. And as we trekked through the villages day-by-day, the kids were showing us how their sores were healing up, and they were delighted. Parents were begging us to come and put the magic lotion on their children too. It wasn’t magic. It was just a little tube of Neosporin, and prayer (I think it was both), but it seemed to be the remedy. They had never seen or heard of Neosporin; we had never seen sores like those. And who knows how many kids we walked by we might have been able to help because we didn’t know we had the cure to their sores in our backpacks?

Well, Neosporin might be a wonder drug, but it won’t heal us of our greatest ailment – it is useless in dealing with sin. There is no medicine behind the pharmacist’s counter, no topical ointment or potion we can take; but there is a cure. The cure is not found in a pill but in a person – Jesus Christ.
In Zechariah 3:1-5, the prophet records a vision he had of Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD. Many scholars believe that this expression “the angel of the Lord” refers to the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus in His preincarnate state. But Joshua is not alone there. Satan is standing there, ready to accuse him before the Lord of all his sins. And it doesn’t look good for Joshua. The Bible tells us there that “Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel.” This is a picture of each of us. We are standing before the Lord, covered in the foulness of our sins, with Satan accusing us before the righteous Judge of all that we have done to violate His commands and ordinances. Deserving only of wrath and hell, we stand justly condemned before the Lord. But suddenly, the scene takes an unexpected turn. The angel of the Lord says, “Remove the filthy garments from him. … See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” Joshua has his sin-stained garments taken away and is clothed in clean garments before the Lord. And this is a picture of what Christ has done for those who have been healed of their sins.
This is possible because “He Himself bore our sins.” Imagine we are standing before God and around our necks are hanging tablets that list all of our sins that we’ve ever committed. Not a one is left off. We know that we rightly deserve the wrath that we fear we will experience. But then imagine that Jesus comes to us and removes those indictments and places them around His own neck and then stands in our place to receive the divine wrath of the Father against all of our sins. That is the idea here when Peter says He bore our sins. The wording indicates He was placed under a heavy weight, the weight of our sin and the full judgment that our sin deserves. But it isn’t imaginary or just a mystical, spiritual event. It was a physical, historical event. He bore our sins, Peter says, “in His body.” His body took the scourging, the beating, the torture, the nails of execution, that our sins deserve.
Because of sin, we are all under a curse. And Christ has born our sin and their curse. The Law of Moses stated that a person who is hanged on a tree is accursed. The Apostle Paul understood that this ultimately pointed to Jesus, the beloved Son of the Father, who for our sake became accursed to heal us of our sin. In Galatians 3:13, Paul says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE.’” He “who knew no sin became sin for us,” as 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, so that sin might be fully and finally dealt with in His body on the cross. All of our indictments against all of our sins, are hung upon Christ; and Christ is hung upon the cross to suffer and die for our sins. Colossians 2:14 says it this way: “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

The wounds Christ received in bearing our sins are the source of our healing from sin. By His wounds we are healed. Isaiah said “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. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:5-6). Christ bore our sins, He bore them in His body, He bore them on the cross, so that as a result of His suffering, we are healed.

Because of His suffering in our place as our substitute, we may now “die to sin and live to righteousness” as Peter says in verse 24. We demonstrate this spiritual reality every time a believer is baptized. He or she is buried in the water, depicted both the death of Christ for us and the death of our old way of living that was dominated by sin. Then the believer is raised up from the water, depicting both the resurrection of Christ and the raising up of a new life which is cleansed from sin, clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a holy life. We are justified by faith in Christ, meaning that we have been declared righteous by God on the basis of Christ’s righteous life and substitutionary death; and we begin to experience sanctification as the Holy Spirit transforms us throughout the remainder of our lives, making us more like Jesus. Sin begins to loose its enchantment, and we develop a hunger and a thirst for righteousness. Every genuine believer in Christ should find this taking place in his or her life – a growing dissatisfaction with the emptiness of sin, and an increasing longing to live more and more by the Spirit’s power for the glory of God. Though in this life, we will continue to struggle with sin, and wrestle against its effects in our lives and in our world, the healing we have experienced is real. Christ died bearing our sin, that we might be reconciled to God forever. This is true healing.

We have been healed from the penalty of sin. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, those who trust in Him as Lord and Savior will not receive the wrath of God against sin for Christ has borne it for us. We are being healed from the power of sin. As we grow in Christ, we find sin’s grasp weakening upon our lives, and we are finding more power from the Holy Spirit to say to no to sin, and to say no to ourselves and our sinful desires, and more power to say yes to the things of God. And one day, praise God, we will be fully and finally healed of all of sin’s presence. We long with all of creation for the day of complete redemption when every last effect of sin will be put away for eternity. On that day, when we arrive at our eternal home in heaven, we will be forever done with all sickness and suffering. Revelation 21:4 says of that place and time that “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Christ has brought us healing, and has struck the deadly disease that afflicts us all at the roots. Sin has been dealt with completely in His death and resurrection. The roots are withered. The leaves and fruit are still visible – suffering, weakness, sickness, death. But they are attached to a dead root, and will one day perish as well.

So, Christian, when you suffer, when you are sick, when you are weak, and when you stare death square in the face, don’t let anyone tell you that it is a sign of God’s displeasure with you. Don’t let anyone tell you that it is because of a lack of faith. If that were so, how can we explain the fact that Jesus, the beloved Son in Whom the Father is well-pleased, the One whose confident faith in the Father never wavered, suffered beyond anything we can comprehend, and died brutally and unjustly in our place? We accept by faith that because of what Christ has done for us, bearing our sins in His body on the cross, that our most life-threatening ailment, SIN, has been healed. And we accept by faith that though we will continue to sin and suffer in this life, a complete healing awaits in glory. And all of it, the spiritual healing and the physical healing are ours through Christ. He is our Shepherd, He is the Guardian of our souls, and we must entrust ourselves to His loving care through all of the hard days of this life, knowing that He is guiding us safely home through many dangers, toils and snares. But under His Lordship, we will arrive there, and our healing will be complete.

If you have never placed your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, I pray you would see your own name written between the lines of these words in our text today. Christ bore YOUR sins in His body on the cross, so that YOU might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds YOU are healed. For YOU were continually straying like sheep, but now YOU have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of YOUR soul. I pray it will be so. May the Spirit of God move upon your heart and draw you to turn from sin and trust in Jesus, who died for you that you might live for Him.

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