While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, 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: 15-17)
Jesus is often called the Great Physician because of this claim. He took a common experience (doctors are trained to help the physically ill) to describe a spiritual reality (Jesus came to help the spiritually sick).
The Pharisees were angry because Jesus was more focused on the “sinners” or the “sick” than he was on them, the healthy non-sinners (or so they thought). It was as if the Pharisees were saying, “Look, we are all cleaned up. Wouldn’t you rather hang out with us?” And Jesus said by his actions and his words, “Oh, well, if you’re that fine without me, carry on. I will find those who see themselves honestly – they are the ones who are ready for me.”
We, the followers of Jesus, came to him as the Sick.
- We accepted His diagnosis (sin), cure (salvation), and ‘after care’ plan (sanctification), and we celebrate our health by promoting the doctor (evangelism).
- We became part of the Fellowship of the Healed (once for all for the eternal punishment for our sin) and the Healing (the good work Jesus has begun continues).
- Now, we have the privilege of paying forward what happened through the presence of the church, in which more of the sick in desperate need of The Great Physician can find healing and hope.
This is an image that has guided CLG over the last number of years: when people follow Jesus here, we want them to experience our church as a place where the spiritually sick find healing through the work of Jesus, the power of his Word and Spirit, and the presence of His people. I want to revisit that over the next several weeks.
Assuming that Jesus was very purposeful with that analogy, what can we learn from our experiences with medical hospitals as we help to participate in the spiritual hospital that is our church?
We must decide to trust. We have to have confidence that our doctor cares about us and knows what he or she is doing. Jesus is the doctor for the spiritually sick, and it’s important that we understand that he is the spiritual doctor in whom we have every reason to place our ultimate allegiance. We do this by embracing the person and understanding the purpose of Jesus.
“For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew11:28-30)
A medical doctor desires to bring health, stability and hope to those who are hurting. Jesus offers to save us in ways a medical doctor never can: to bring stability and rest to our souls and to take even those who are dead in their sins and bring them back to life (Ephesians 2:5). It is CRUCIAL that the Jesus to whom we cling and whom we present to the world through our words, attitudes and actions is the trustworthy Jesus of Scripture.
We must give and accept an honest diagnosis. If you go to a doctor, you can’t say, “It hurts here” when it actually hurts “there” and expect the appointment to work. You shouldn’t lie if the doctor asks you background information. You have to tell the doctor what the problem is – which means honesty and humility. In our case, when we come to Christ for healing, we have to be honest about the problem: we are in the kind of trouble that will land us in hell if we continue our current path. Yes, we bear the scars of what others have done to us, but we are deeply sick people whose mortal wounds come from ourselves.
“I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night…I have done what is evil in your sight.” (Psalm 51:1-4)
“People who conceal their sins will not prosper…” (Proverbs 28:13)
Sin “reigns in our mortal bodies” (Romans 6:12)
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – -of whom I am the worst.” Paul, in 1 Timothy 1:15)
Nobody makes us sin. We are ‘drawn away by our own lusts. We so easily deflect the blame:
- “I’m sorry I snapped. Bob, at work, was such a jerk today…”
- “I can’t help how sarcastic I am. My family was sarcastic.”
- “Sure, I’m judgmental and critical, but my parents…”
No, what you do is on you. Your history forms you but it doesn’t finish you. YOU finish you. We must be honest about the heart of our sin – our heart.
This is not meant to bring despair. Once the problem is identified, healing can begin. There is hope to be found on the other side of honesty. Typically, this involves a medical doctor saying something like, “I know what you have. I can offer you this. I can make you better.” Once again, Jesus, the Great Physician, offers us so much more:
“Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.” (Ezekiel 18:31-32)
”Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” (Acts 3:19)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
That’s good news, but what does this mean, exactly? Does it mean suddenly all the accumulated baggage of my life disappears? In a spiritual sense, yes. When we engage in honest repentance, God does supernatural work in which the eternal penalty for our sins are wiped out. He breaks the dominating power of sin and takes upon himself what would have been our eternal punishment.
But we have established patterns, habits, ways of thinking and living that require “after care.” There will be follow up appointments – not because the physician has failed, but because God has allowed us to keep our free will, and we tend to undermine our own spiritual health. We reap what we sow, not because God hates us, but because that’s the way the world God has created works. This kind of “after care” happens best in an environment where the following things are in place:
The church embraces the spiritually sick with the compassion of Jesus. Jesus’ critics mockingly called him a friend of sinners because he seemed to be where sinners were. The NT writers embraced that: indeed, sinners knew that Jesus was their friend. He didn’t enable their sin – look at what he told the woman caught in adultery – but he loved them in the midst of it. When you walk into a hospital, they aren’t shocked that you need help: they expect it. They don't hear your problem and despise you. They hear and they respond with compassion.
Christians offer ongoing diagnosis carefully but honestly (“speaking the truth in love”). Those in the health care business do no one any good if they refuse to diagnose. There must be truth, and it ought to be offered with grace.
Christians must be honest about the work Jesus has done and continues to do in our life. We haven’t “arrived” just because we left triage. We are a healing project. We must share our stories of how the Great Physician continues to work in our life. It’s one way we build trust in Jesus at times when trust is hard.
Christians walk patiently and hopefully together as we “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). There’s nothing worse than being sick alone. We may not want someone hovering over us, but we want someone nearby. Church community is meant to be a place of proximity for all of us. Someone pushed us in our spiritual wheelchair or helped us hobble up and down the hall or held a conversational bucket while we puked our guts out. The least we can do is return the favor for someone else.
3) We must embrace a change of life (discipleship). Often, after a doctor makes you whole, you are given a set of instructions: “If you would like to enjoy this new health, you will need to participate with me in your new life.” This could include diet, exercise, medications, support groups, etc. After Jesus brings in the new to replace the old, we, too, are told that there will be a change of direction in our lives.
We will need to participate in our new-found spiritual health. The Apostle Paul wrote: “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)
Think of the example of the woman caught in adultery, where at the end of story Jesus says, “Go now and do what you want!” No…. "I don't condemn you either. Go! From now on don't sin." (John 8:11).
If we want to fully participate in this new life in the Community of the Healed and Healing, we must participate in the after care program.
4. We must recognize that we are all now part of the hospital staff. That’s a slightly different conclusion than what happens after you visit a medical hospital. They might actually frown on that J But in the church, the hospital where the spiritually ill are nursed back to health, we are all staff. And what does hospital staff do, exactly? The Code of Ethics for Nurses (American Nurses Association) includes the following principles:
Respect for others, commitment to the patient, advocacy for the patient , accountability and responsibility for practice, duty to self and duty to others, contribution to healthcare environments, advancement of profession/ promotion of health
I wonder if the code for a church is that much different?
Compassion for others, Commitment, Advocacy, Accountability and Responsibility, Duty to God and Others, Contribution, Advancement/Promotion of the Kingdom of God
If we at CLG want to fully participate in this new life in the Community of the Healed, we must realize we –all of us – are on call. The original Florence Nightingale Nursing Oath closed with the following: “With loyalty will I endeavor to aid the physician in his work, and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care.”
Once again, a slight modification gives us a goal for our church: “With loyalty will I endeavor to aid the Great Physician in his work, and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to His care.”
How will this happen?
We must take it upon ourselves to engage people. If you walk into the ER, someone will come up to you immediately and ask how you are doing. You are there for a reason; something has not gone well. You are aware you are in need of the doctor. If someone walks into our church, God forbid that no one greets them – and I don’t mean just greeters. Just…people. You and me. It’s such a basic way of showing that you see them, that you want to connect with them. A handshake and a smile is value laden. It matters. Then there’s lunches, and an evening of games, and potlucks, and fire pits…
We must be willing to talk about what the Physician has done for us. It’s not polite to ask someone in a waiting room, “So, what bring you here today?” That might not be what we want to lead with here either (though there is a time for it). Rather, why not lead with stories about the Great Physician’s work in our life?
Yes, we will have to explain why we need Jesus: addiction, pride, lust, adultery, theft, anger, violence, greed, meanness, selfishness. The symptoms and the cause aren’t always pretty, but I can’t talk about the doc who fixed my shoulder without telling you what my shoulder was like, and I can’t talk about the cardiac doc who saved my life without talking about the state of my heart before and after the heart attack.
I can’t talk about the state of my heart before and after the work of Jesus without talking about my heart before and after the work of Jesus. The doctor is glorified through his patients. The Great Physician is too (Isaiah 48:9–11; Ezekiel 36:21–32.; John 15:8; Romans 15:9)
This is why our church needs to be a hospital – so that the spiritually sick find a place of healing and hope, and so the Great Physician is glorified.