Third Sunday in Advent< December 13, 1998
60, 63, 144, 407 vv.4-5
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. So far the holy Word.
In the Name of the Christchild, who came to be our Great Physician, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
I once read about an interesting custom that used to be practiced by certain tribes of North American Indians. If it happened that someone in the family was deathly ill, or their life was threatened in some other way, the mother of the family would take a knife and intentionally wound herself. She’d cut herself on the chest or arms, sometimes even removing part of a finger. Evidently the idea was that by wounding herself, she could somehow provide healing for her family member. Early European explorers would sometimes find old women—evidently the matriarchs of large families—whose arms were laced with scar tissue, and who had only a few fingers left with which to carry out their work.
What a waste! The whole concept—that you can heal one person by wounding someone else—seems ridiculous and superstitious to us present-day Americans, familiar as we are with the principles of modern medicine. Yet for Christians this concept, incredible as it may seem, holds absolutely true. In fact, our text for this morning makes clear that the healing you and I need the most—can only come from the wounds of Someone else. And that Someone is Jesus Christ! Today we continue our series of Advent Invitations with the theme—
Hundreds of years before the first Christmas, Isaiah predicted the advent of the Savior. God sent this prophet to the rebellious nation of Judah with a specific message: “Repent of your sin, and turn back to the Lord. See, He is sending to you His Servant, the Messiah—His wounds will heal you of all your iniquity!”
It was a noble message, and a beautiful promise. There was only one problem: the people of Judah refused to repent. They didn’t acknowledge their sin. Consequently, they didn’t see any need for a Savior, and their sin only multiplied all the more. The Lord wanted to heal them, but they simply weren’t interested: “When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was uncovered, and the wickedness of Samaria. For they have committed fraud; the thief comes in; A band of robbers takes spoil outside. They do not consider in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness; now their own deeds have surrounded them; they are before My face.”—Hosea 7:1-2.
I’ll ask you a question: when do you go to see the doctor? It’s when you know you need medical attention, isn’t it? Otherwise, most of us avoid doctors, if we can. Today’s text is a beautiful invitation—an invitation to find healing in the wounds of Jesus. But there’s one thing we need to understand: the wounds of Christ heal only those who know they are sick!
Jesus once said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”—Mark 2:17. The truth is that there is no one who is righteous on his own. We are all of us sick with the disease of sin—a disease which, if left untreated, inevitably leads to eternal death. Now, if you want to, you can stand like the proud Pharisee in God’s house and say, “Lord I thank you that I am not as other men are!” but you’ll only be fooling yourself. Pretending you haven’t got the disease doesn’t get you any closer to the cure!
What we need is a visit to the doctor! We need to freely acknowledge all our sins, and come to the one Great Physician who can effect a cure. That’s Jesus Christ. His wounds grant us real healing—and they do it by substitution.
If you’re familiar with the culture of ancient Egypt, you may know that the members of Pharaoh’s family almost never did any manual labor. They had servants to do their laundry, servants to open doors for them—they even had servants to be punished for them. It’s true—the son of the great Pharaoh had a servant who followed him around; whenever the young prince did something wrong, his servant was substituted to received the beating for it! What a great idea! I’m sure those of us who had a rather mischievous childhood would have loved to have had a handy servant standing by to take our spankings for us!
In a far more serious way, though, that’s exactly the situation Isaiah describes in our text. He tells us that the wounds of Christ heal by substitution. We were the ones deserving punishment for our sins, but instead God punished Jesus in our place. He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. For every lustful thought that lingered on our minds, a welt was raised on the back of our Savior. For every hurting word we’ve ever spoken to husband, wife, child or neighbor, a thorn pierced our Savior’s brow. It was for every sinful deed we’ve committed that the nails clanged home in His hands and feet, and the spear sliced into His innocent body.
The thought of those wounds is sobering. That’s because we know it’s our sins that caused them. But it’s also tremendously comforting. It’s comforting when we realize that, by acting as our substitute, Christ gave to us the healing we so desperately need: healing of the soul. If you’re like me, then there have been many times when you’ve felt like crying out with the Psalmist, “LORD, be merciful to me; Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You.”—Psa 41:4. And we do not cry out in vain, for God has heard our cry. He gave us His answer when He sent His only-begotten Son into the world that first Christmas to be our substitute. The Bible tells us that this was His plan of grace from the very beginning, for we read in Galatians, “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”—Gal 4:4-5.
Finally, we need to understand that Jesus did not come to earth to bring us partial healing. Nowhere in Scripture does our Lord say, “I have done my part to heal you; now you must do your part to effect a complete recovery.” Indeed, we would be doomed to certain failure if any part of our salvation had been left up to us! But it hasn’t. Today our Lord invites to be healed from all our iniquities, and he offers us a comforting reminder: the wounds of Christ heal completely.
“HEALING”—the very word is comforting! You know what it’s like to recover from a painful injury or illness in your body; to feel the sickness and the pain gradually ebb away day by day, and be replaced with strength and health and healing. Then comes that wonderful morning when you wake up and feel, for the first time, refreshed and healthy again and back on your feet. There’s nothing like it!—Or, I should say, there’s almost nothing like it—because that’s precisely what Jesus does for our souls.
With His substitutionary sacrifice, He wipes your soul completely clean of sin. Every sin has now been atoned for! Every transgression, every broken commandment, every offense you’ve committed against God has been paid for in full. Each time you come to Him, humbly repenting of your sins and asking forgiveness, He heals you. Each day, whenever you ask Him, He “creates in you a clean heart,” and “renews a right spirit within you.” Each day is a new day, with new horizons and fresh opportunities for serving the One who has healed you. You need never look back on the sins of your past, because your God, for Jesus sake, has “removed them as far from you as the east is from the west.” Because Christ’s healing wounds, you can now stand before God completely clean and in perfect spiritual heath. Thank God for those healing wounds! Thank God for sending your substitute, “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree,” says Peter, “that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness; by whose stripes you were healed.”—1 Pet 2:24.
Over the years, many our CLC churches have had the privilege of hosting the Immanuel College Choir on their annual singing tour. God willing, Ascension Lutheran Church will do so as well, not many years from now. I sang with that group for seven years, and over that time we learned hundreds of songs. But you know, it’s funny how few of the songs I can remember clearly. There’s one hymn, however, that sticks in my mind. It’s called, “Jesu, Grant Me This I Pray,” and it reminds us that the wounds of Christ are like a safe haven, in which the weary sinner can rest himself securely. In the final stanza of that hymn, with the choir humming in the background, a single soprano voice rings out—with words that I hope each of us Christians can join in praying:
Death will come one day to me,
Jesu, cast me not from Thee.
Dying, let me still abide
IN THY HEART AND WOUNDED SIDE.
God grant it, for Jesus’ sake, AMEN.
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