Did Jesus heal our diseases at the cross? When you read Isaiah’s great song about the servant of the LORD the answer seems pretty straight-forward:
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering …
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Did Jesus heal our diseases at the cross? Yes. Our pain, our suffering, our wounds are all healed through the cross.
But there's an obvious problem with this: our diseases are not all healed.
Colin is claiming this promise for his cancer. ‘By his wounds we are healed,’ he says, ‘and therefore God will heal my cancer – I just need to believe.’ I admire his confidence. Or it is desperation? I’m not sure. I do know I’ve been a pastor too long to share his confidence. I’ve seen too many people who were convinced God had promised to heal them only for it to end in bitter disappointment. Struggling with cancer is hard enough without compounding the challenge by mixing in a crisis of faith.
Did Jesus heal our diseases at the cross? No. Christians and unbelievers alike continue to be beset by illness.
So what are we to make of the promise that ‘by his wounds we are healed’?
Sickness and Sin
One option is to spiritualize it. We shouldn’t take ‘wounds’ literally, some people say. Instea,d illness is a picture of the real problem which is sin. Just before Isaiah says that ‘by his wounds we are healed,’ he says: ‘But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.’ (Isaiah 53:5) This is the real issue. We are all transgressors, people who have broken God’s holy law. We therefore all deserve the righteous judgment of God. What the cross is really about is not the cancer that eats away at our bodies, but the cancer of sin that infects our souls.
There’s something in this argument. Sin is the big issue. Or rather the holiness of God is the big issue. Isaiah’s ministry was shaped by an encounter with the holy God. When Isaiah was confronted with the holy God before whom the seraphim hide their faces and about whom they sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ Isaiah declares, ‘Woe to me! I am ruined!’ Six times in Isaiah 5 Isaiah has declared ‘Woe’ against sinful people. But he is forced to declare the seventh ‘Woe’ against himself. And the phrase ‘I am ruined’ is literally ‘I’m destroyed’ or even ‘I’m disintegrating’. It’s as if the very molecules of Isaiah’s body are dissolving and about to crumble to the ground. The godly prophet of God who has proclaimed the very words of God now confesses, ‘I am a man of unclean lips.’ Even his best acts are unclean when compared to the overwhelming holiness of God.
The marvel of the cross is that Jesus cleanses unholy people so they can come into the presence of the holy God. It is Jesus who is destroyed in our place so we can be forgiven. Sickness is designed to point us to sin and healing is a picture of salvation.
But sickness is not simply a picture of sin. It’s also a result of sin. Human sickness was not an inherent part of the good world that God created. It only made its entrance as a result of our rebellion against God. So we have good reason to expect the removal of sin to lead to the end of the sickness. Jesus has healed our wounds by dealing with the root problem: human sin.
The healing miracles Jesus performed while on earth where therefore a sign of his salvation. So Jesus says to a hemorrhaging woman, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you’ (Luke 8:48). It’s literally ‘your faith has saved you’. Then in verse 50 Jesus literally says to Jairus, whose daughter has just died of sickness, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be saved’. Luke was a doctor so presumably, he had a rich vocabulary of medical terms for sickness. But he deliberately speaks of these healings as acts of salvation. He wants us to see them as a promise of the salvation Jesus offers. When Jesus returns he will make all things new and ‘there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Revelation 21:4).
Did Jesus heal our diseases at the cross? Yes. One day every child of God will be healed of every sickness. But not necessarily yet.
In the meantim,e we don’t put our hope in our ability to claim a miracle. We don’t know what God’s purposes will be for our sickness and through our sickness. But we do know that, if we trust in Jesus, our sins are already forgiven and our sickness will one day be cured when we receive a glorious, new resurrection body.
The ascension is the key to the salvation narrative.