During his earthly ministry Jesus seemed to be very concerned with healing people who were sick (Matt. 4:23-24; 8:7-8; 8:16; 9:35; 10:1, 8; 12:15, 22; 14:14; 15:28, 30; 17:18; 19:2; 21:14; Mk. 3:7-12; 5:34; 6:5, 13; Lk. 4:40; 5:15, 17; 6:18-19; 7:21; 9:2, 6, 11; 10:9; 17:15; 22:51). The question we might have at a time like this is, “Does Jesus still care about healing the sick today?” Understanding why Jesus was so concerned with healing during his time of ministry on earth can help us to answer that question.
Let’s look at a specific passage out of Matthew chapter 8. In verses 16-17 it says, “That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” The reason Matthew gives for Jesus’ healing ministry comes down to fulfillment of Messianic prophecy. He quotes here from Isaiah 53:4-6. If you are reading from the ESV, two words seem to give the passage a different meaning. Instead of “illnesses” and “diseases,” it says “griefs” and “sorrows.” In the Hebrew, the words carry the ideas of sicknesses and sufferings. Matthew understood this famous text about the Messiah to be fulfilled in Jesus’ healing ministry.
What was the purpose to Jesus’ healing ministry? Was it to make physically sick people physically well? What if the person he made physically well was not also made spiritually well—Would this have been good enough? The purpose of Jesus’ healing ministry can be summed up in signs and symbols, and hope and compassion.
Signs & Symbols
John MacArthur sums up this idea when he says, “what the gospel announces is something that the physical healings merely symbolized—something more vital, more lasting, more momentous, and more real than temporary relief from the pains of earthly affliction. The gospel gives us the only true, abiding remedy for sin and all its guilt and repercussions.” Jesus came to show who he was by fulfillment of Messianic prophecies (signs) and also to preach the gospel, which we can see in Jesus’ healings (symbols).
This can all be seen in the story of the man born blind in John chapter 9. Jesus comes upon a man who had been blind from birth. He heals the man of his physical blindness. But, Jesus does not leave it there and he further points to the symbolic reality of the man’s healing. Jesus says, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (Jn. 9:39). Jesus shows himself as the Messiah by the miraculous sign and then also points towards the symbolic reality of the sign. More than physical healing, Jesus came to bring spiritual healing to a sick world.
Some popular theological circles preach a gospel of physical healing. Please be assured of this: If all Jesus can offer you is physical healing, then his gospel is not worth believing. However, if Jesus can offer spiritual life to the spiritually dead, then this is something that we must believe at all costs. Why? Because we are all spiritually dead—Sick to the greatest extent (Eph. 2:1-3). The physical condition we experience will come and go, but our spiritual condition will remain. The healing we should all be most concerned with is spiritual healing.
Hope & Compassion
Does this mean that Jesus does not offer physical healing today, and that spiritual healing is the only thing we should look for? The short answer to that is, no. God is compassionate (Ps. 86:15; 103:13). Read Matthew 9:35-36, for example. Jesus had compassion on the people and this prompted him to heal their sicknesses.
One thing that needs to be made clear is this: When we come to Jesus, the only kind of healing we are promised is spiritual, not physical. However, this does not mean that God will never heal a physical sickness (Js. 5:14-15). Instead, it should be understood that we are not promised physical healing. Therefore, when we pray for sickness to be healed in ourselves, loved ones, or for those in the world, we should pray fervently and yet bow to the Father’s will in all things.
If physical healing does not come when we pray, we should not think that God has failed or that we did not pray with enough faith. Remember that every breath we breath is a grace of God, knowing that what we deserve by nature is only wrath and death (Eph. 2:3-5). So pray according to God’s compassion and yet with a humble heart, knowing that death and sickness are a part of this sin-cursed world.
God has given us great hope: Eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:23). One day there will be nor more sorrow, sickness, pain, or death (Rev. 21:4). The prayer we have for the world is that they might see this physical sickness as an underlying symptom of a greater spiritual condition. We have compassion on their physical sickness, and we pray that God might heal them. But, more than this, we are moved to compassion for their spiritual condition. We pray that God would open their eyes to the gospel of Jesus Christ—Their only hope of healing for the sickness of their soul.