Physician, heal thyself
– The chain-smoker, warning her son about cigarettes…
– The bankrupt, lecturing on good business practices…
– The divorce-riven church, preaching ‘family values’ to the culture…
In all these situations we might use this saying: “Physician heal thyself.” We expect that those promoting healing powers should be the best advertisements for their cure. So what about Jesus?
Jesus quotes this proverb while preaching in his home town. He unrolls the scroll of Isaiah the prophet and proclaims His mission statement from Isaiah 61:
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. 22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son? 23 And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country. 24 And he said, “Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.” (Luke 4:18-24).
Jesus is claiming to be the Servant of the LORD who is proclaimed by Isaiah – the One who ‘binds up the brokenhearted’. Initially the people are very receptive. They wonder at his gracious words.
But they are not at all prepared for how gracious this Physician is! Jesus is about to expand their concept of grace well beyond the respectable boundaries they set for it:
25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; 26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. 27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian. 28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. 30 But he passing through the midst of them went his way. (Luke 4:25-29)
This Physician doesn’t prove Himself by keeping His powers to Himself. He proves His powers by giving them away. By the Spirit, He continues to bring the Lord’s healing to those well beyond the borders of Israel. His grace has always been for outsiders – even Sidonians and Syrians. He is the true Physician not because He heals Himself, or simply those close to Him. He is the Physician because He heals the world.
The first hearers of this message were “filled with wrath.” They wanted to control the grace of God and turn it into a meritocracy (with themselves at the top of course!). But Jesus’ self-abandoning grace refuses to be contained. In spite of continual opposition from the religious, Jesus proves Himself the Lord’s Anointed by giving Himself away. He is the Physician who does not heal Himself, rather He goes to the cross. And “with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).
Whether it’s Peter (Matthew 16:21-23) or the passers-by at Golgotha (Matthew 27:39-43), the wisdom of men always imagines that Jesus should save Himself. But His glory is to give Himself away, in total dependence upon the Father. This is how the Physician heals the world:
Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)
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