In Holy Week we focus especially on the Passion of the Lord, as we look forward to the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I thought it a good time to look at one of the more misunderstood, misconstrued passages of Scripture about the Passion usually taken completely out of context.
Isaiah 53:5 says,
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
Peter quotes from the end of this verse in 1 Peter 2:24.
Upon these two proof texts have been built all sorts of ideas and doctrines concerning divine physical healing. Unfortunately, as is quite often the case when you pull a verse out of context, the actual meaning of the verse (and the passage around it) is lost. Not surprisingly, what is left is mangled. Let’s try to put the pieces together.
Western Christianity since the Middle Ages has liked to compartmentalize all of theology into manageable bite-sized pieces. In American Christianity (both here and as it has been exported abroad) this has often been reduced to taking Scripture in manageable bite-size pieces, so that any combination of a subject, a predicate and an object in the Bible becomes a doctrine. Any given statement that can be extracted is taken to mean what it says in isolation.
Thus, “by His stripes we are healed”. “Stripes” equal “lashes with a whip” and “healing” means “my body isn’t sick or injured anymore.” Because Jesus was beaten by the Romans, I’m entitled to physical healing in all circumstances. Simple, right? Wrong.
The passage out of Isaiah, which really begins in 52:13 and carries on throughout chapter 53, is known as the Suffering Servant prophecy. It is not surprising, then, that the context in 1 Peter 2, which is verse 18-25, is his instructions to servants in their relationship to masters. Peter talks about servants being unjustly beaten by their masters, just as Christ was unjustly beaten by the Roman soldiers at the instigation of the Jewish leaders. Verses 21 through the first part of 24 explain the last part (and only bit popularly quoted) of verse 24, by saying:
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
“Who committed no sin,
Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;
who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness
Note the very first statement in the paragraph. It is the calling of servants (and we can easily say that this passage applies to all of us and not just those in slavery) to follow the example of Christ’s suffering. For Peter, the Suffering Servant prophecy is not about alleviating the Christian’s personal suffering, but rather enduring it.
So what does this mean for divine healing?
If you read the Gospel accounts you should notice two relevant things: 1) Jesus healed the sick; and 2) not a single person Jesus healed was a Christian, nor had Jesus died for them, or even endured the pre-crucifixion stripes. They were not healed by Jesus because Jesus “bought” their healing on the Cross. They were healed because Jesus had compassion on them.
Healing doesn’t require some sort of spiritual legal right to do it. It doesn’t have to be purchased (in Jesus’ blood or otherwise) like the diagnostic skills of a doctor or medicine from a pharmacy. God created bodies. He owns all of them. The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. (Psalm 24:1) Therefore He can fix them by whatever means He chooses.
If you read the book of Acts, you will see that every healing miracle, except for Aeneas in chapter 9, was performed on and for unbelievers.
There are also two believers raised from the dead, as well as two struck dead, but those are miracles of another sort, and we certainly would like to see the former while assuming God would never do the latter. We like a safe God Who is primarily concerned with our happiness.
In the only passage in the New Testament that deals with healing within the Church, there appear to be more restrictions, but only if you read the whole context. Everyone loves James 5:14-15a
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.
Fewer get excited about 15b-16:
And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
Healing in the Church would appear to be inextricably linked to sin and confession. That’s a far cry from “it’s my right to be healed because Jesus bought it for me.” But it is also linked to Isaiah 53 and 1 Peter 1. It is much easier to “confess” my healing, chanting and personalizing part of 1 Peter 2:24, than it is to confess my sins to someone else. Surely God won’t mind if I pick and choose my “healing scriptures” and demand that He jump in at my bidding.
Does that mean that physical sickness in the Church is only because of specific sin? No. It doesn’t even mean that most physical sickness is because of specific sin. All sickness – physical and spiritual – is ultimately because of sin in the world.
That the Suffering Servant, Messiah, was was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities and the chastisement for our peace was upon Him and by His stripes we were healed in verse 5 has to do – not surprisingly – with verse 6:
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
This is quoted by Peter in 2:25. The rest of the context. All of it is a response to our need for salvation. Ongoing salvation. In James 5:15, the prayer of faith will save the sick. Not heal the sick. Having saved the sick, the Lord will raise him up. That’s why healing in the Church is always part of God’s bigger picture of our salvation.
If we want physical healing without the healing of the soul, we want the wrong thing. We think we are entitled to all the privileges (or even more presumptuously, rights) of being a Christian without the responsibilities.
When our bodies are perfectly well, we easily forget the sickness of our souls. We are probably all the more in need of the healing power of the Cross.