The One True Doctor
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins..." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!" (Mark 2:5-12)
To understand the significance of this event, where Jesus heals a crippled man by forgiving his sins, we need to look at the context in which this happened. Mark records in chapter one how Jesus began his Galilean ministry. In Mark chapter one we see that he entered the synagogue in Capernaum and “taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22)
While teaching in the synagogue, he had an encounter with a man possessed by an evil spirit. Jesus commanded the evil spirit to leave, and it did. Again the people recognized that Jesus had a special authority, as they stated: “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” (Mark 1:27)
Then we have the first physical healing recorded by Mark in chapter one, where Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. The result was that the whole town began to bring their sick and demon possessed to Jesus for healing. Jesus then leaves to preach and teach in other towns in Galilee.
Then at the end of chapter one, a significant event happens that changes the course of his ministry. A man with leprosy came to Jesus, and was healed. Leprosy was one sickness that had a specific prescription for healing in the Old Testament, and it was the domain of the priests to prescribe the remedy and then to pronounce a person clean and cured. (See: Leviticus 14 )
So when Jesus, who was not a priest and was not from the priestly family line of Aaron, provides the cure to leprosy, he specifically tells the man: “See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” (Mark 1:44) Jesus had demonstrated his authority already via his teaching and casting out of demons, but apparently he did not want to have a confrontation with the priests just yet. His authority to heal was a higher authority than that of the priests (as was his priesthood – see: Hebrews 6:19 – 8:6), and confrontation and conflicts were inevitable.
The healed leper does not listen to Jesus, however, and the result is apparently that the priests and ruling religious leaders felt threatened, and Jesus “could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.” (Mark 1:45) Jesus healing a leper and declaring him clean and healed was supposed to be the domain of the priests, and apparently they did not like it one bit. They were losing their control over the people to Jesus, the new healer in town. So they apparently drove him out of town, and he was no longer welcome in the other towns in Galilee.
So within this context, now we come to Mark chapter two and the story we opened with regarding the healing of the crippled man. Jesus has now returned from his Galilean tour to Capernaum, the place where he started his ministry. Mark has already established Jesus’ authority in several areas, which proved that he was the Messiah, the prophesied one who was to come and restore the nation of Israel as their king. In the story of the healing of the crippled man, undoubtedly one of many stories of healing that Mark could have chosen to include in his gospel history, we have the ultimate proof of Jesus’ authority to do the things that he did, and it has very important implications for all believers in Jesus.
When Jesus saw the faith of the crippled man who was brought to him through the roof of the house because the crowds were so thick, Jesus does not immediately demonstrate the physical healing by removing his crippled condition. Instead, he proclaimed: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” He dealt with the core problem of the man’s health condition, which was sin. What that man’s particular sin actually was is not recorded, but Jesus knew about it, and he had the authority to forgive the man of his sins. Of all the recorded miracles carefully chosen by Mark up until this point, this one was the most significant in terms of demonstrating Jesus’ authority.
Within the crowded house were some “scribes,” or “teachers of the law.” These were scholars and lawyers who understood the Old Testament, and were probably sent by the ruling religious class to find out who this Jesus was, and find ways to accuse him of being a false prophet or false messiah, and try to turn the crowds against him as a fraud. So when Jesus proclaimed to the crippled man that his sins were forgiven, they knew fully well just what Jesus was claiming in terms of his authority. To them it was blasphemy, since only God can forgive sins. Jesus knew this. He might even have chosen to heal this particular person in this manner to demonstrate to them his authority. So while the text suggests that the scribes did not openly oppose Jesus at this point (he was quite popular), Jesus knew what they were thinking and addressed them anyway:
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins..." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!" (Mark 2:5-12)
Jesus now moved from performing the same functions that only the priests were authorized to do, proclaim someone as “clean” or “cured,” to now performing a function that only God could do: forgive sins. The priests officiated in the temple overseeing the blood sacrifices of animals that were made for the forgiveness of sins, but they knew that only God alone could actually forgive sins. They therefore considered Jesus’ statement as “blasphemy.”
Jesus, however, demonstrates his authority to forgive sins by healing the crippled man immediately. This was not a slow recovery healing, where the man had to go through months of physical therapy to work his muscles back in shape. He immediately picked up his mat and walked home in the strength of his own legs!
Sin Causes Sickness
What is very clear from this passage is that the primary cause of many illnesses is sin. It is not always the case, as Jesus taught about the man born blind in John chapter 9, where his blindness was not a direct cause of any sin he or his parents committed. But even in cases where sin is not the primary cause, it is always the secondary cause, because in a perfect and sinless world there would be no sickness.
As we have noted in other devotionals, throughout history sickness has always been seen as both a spiritual and physical issue. Even the ancient Greeks, who brought to us empiricism and much of the foundations of today’s physical sciences, still viewed sickness as both physical and spiritual, and the doctors of their day worked in the temples and called upon their Greek gods to assist in the healing process.
Today, however, in our post-Darwinian western culture, our philosophy of “healthcare” is primarily Darwinian naturalism, viewing all sickness as physical only, assuming that there is always a physical cause and effect. Medicine is almost always seen as the cure. Today, “healthcare” is really defined by our culture as “medical care,” and it is designed to remove the symptoms (if possible,) but it is not designed to deal with the underlying cause of the illness.
Jesus, however, correctly diagnosed the problems with health and the underlying cause when he walked on the earth, and that problem was sin. As Mark continues his narrative of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and his conflict with the “health” authorities of his day, he records this confrontation:
As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. 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 2:14-17)
There is no evidence in the text that Levi and his fellow tax collectors and the other “sinners” were suffering from any kind of physical affliction. Yet according to Jesus, they were not healthy, but sick, and they needed a “doctor.”
As I have written in other articles, it is important to understand the term “doctor” in the biblical text the way the people of the ancient world living at the time of Jesus would have understood it. As I wrote above, healing was not seen as strictly a physical issue, but a spiritual issue also. So the “doctors” were associated with priestly functions and would commonly be found in the local temples. For the Jews, God was seen as the source of all healing, and believers would seek out healing from the Levitical priests, officiating in local synagogues or in the main temple in Jerusalem. They were forbidden to seek out the pagan doctors who practiced in the pagan temples.
So in Jesus’ statement here in Mark chapter 2, he was basically accusing the Jewish leaders of failing to do their job as healers, which was to deal with people’s root cause of sickness: sin. Instead of seeking to heal the “sinners,” they were condemning them.
Principles for Healing
So based on these biblical records of Jesus’ ministry of healing, we can summarize the two main principles for healing.
1. Sin is the core health problem. It is either the primary problem due to personal sin in one’s life, or the secondary problem due to sin in the world.
2. Jesus has the ultimate authority to heal, because he is the only one who can forgive sins.
The problem with sin is an eternal problem that everyone has to deal with if they want to be healed and live a healthy life. Our modern day post-Darwinian culture wants to reduce health to simply a physical issue, subject to the physical laws of cause and effect. The fact that many illnesses have no current cure within this way of thinking, due to not always understanding the cause, casts great doubt on this philosophy of health and sickness.
Our physical bodies are temporary, while our soul is eternal. All of us will die a physical death where our spirit leaves our body. But not everyone will be healed, because true healing has to do with sin. And only Jesus can forgive sin and bring about true healing, because he took on the sins and sickness of the world into his own perfect human body as the ultimate sacrifice to bring about forgiveness of sins and healing. This was actually prophesied and foretold through the prophet Isaiah over 600 years before Jesus was born:
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:1-5)
The first four books of the New Testament are the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus, showing how he was the fulfillment of this prophecy of the Messiah from Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets, to be the one who would come and offer salvation from sins and true healing. The rest of the New Testament is a commentary on this salvation and healing by those who followed Jesus and had experienced this healing firsthand. The apostle Peter wrote:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18)
The Bible, therefore, is the most authoritative and comprehensive health manual ever written in the history of man. It is also the world’s all-time best-seller, with no serious competitors.
So since sin is the primary issue related to healing, and since Jesus is the one true doctor who alone can deal with sin and bring about true healing, where does that leave today’s doctors? Unlike the past where doctors dealt with both the physical and spiritual issues related to health, most doctors today deal only with the physical, denying or ignoring the spiritual.
The non-physical health issues are typically dealt with in the field of psychiatry or psychology, but in both cases the remedies are almost always pharmaceutical-made and FDA approved drugs. In the case of drugs prescribed for psychological illnesses, scientific studies now show that they are no better than placebos, and any perceived health benefits that come from the drugs are more than likely based on the faith in the drug, and not the drug itself. The class of drugs prescribed for "mental illness" is now widely admitted as being vastly over-prescribed, and is linked to many serious side effects such as suicide and violent school shootings.
Today's pharmaceutical drugs do not deal with sin, the cause of sickness, and they don’t provide the true healing that only Jesus can offer. At best they can bring about temporary relief, but often they actually cause more problems through the side effects, and they often leave us poorer as the medical system reaps the profits. Things were not much different in the ancient world during the days of Jesus:
And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. (Mark 5:25-29)
Jesus has never given up his authority to heal. It remains today. It begins with forgiveness of sins. The principles for healing have not changed over time, only the “doctors” who desire to maintain their control over the people through their approved products for dealing with sickness. Jesus is still the one true Doctor who has the authority to forgive sins and offer true healing. His authority supersedes the authority of all other doctors and health practitioners today, just as it did when he walked the earth. So who are you trusting today for your health?
For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:3-11)
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