Pea shoots just up in Jonathan's garden.
They're a reminder that in God's economy, new life springs from death.
In practical ways, we often forget . . .
Much as I hate being sick, I have to admit that it has its benefits.
Often we don’t pause in the race of life until we’re sidelined by the flu. When else do we lie on our backs long enough to study the texture on our bedroom ceilings? Sickness focuses more important parts of life, too. It gives us time to stop and think.
Sickness possesses the amazing power to simplify. Our needs are consolidated and prioritized. “Where’s the Kleenex box and how far is it to the bathroom?” Life’s basics stand out from the non-essentials that crowd ordinary life.
This week I was forcibly reminded of one more advantage to sickness—a benefit that brings me face-to-face with the real idea of Easter.
Sickness drives home the reality that I can’t meet my own needs.
I knew something wasn’t right when my body started aching all over. Some people in my family rarely experience this misery, but for me, the aches are common companion to a variety of ailments. I hate the aches. Of course, I have a butterfly’s tolerance for pain of any kind, and my appreciation for discomfort is just about zero.
Saturday night, aching and, by bedtime, dripping like a leaky faucet, I tossed and turned and blew my nose so much that Melissa finally found a couch in the living room so she could get some sleep.
Saturday night was bad, but Sunday night was worse. By then, raw spots had formed in my throat. They weren’t that irritating during the day while I kept the liquids going. But when I lay down and settled into slow relaxed breathing those little-noticed sore spots dared me to try to sleep. They jeered at me every time I started to doze and the grating of my own breath against my sore throat jerked me back awake.
Suddenly those raw spots became my highest priority and greatest enemy.
I was painfully aware of this vicious cycle: I needed to sleep in order to get well, but sleep was the one thing I couldn’t do.
There were plenty of things I could do. To dull the sharp edge of irritation, all I had to do was get up. Moving about, swallowing, and blowing my nose took away the maddening, scratching dryness—but these activities also precluded sleep. For long-term help, I had to have what I could not get.
I sat on the edge of our bed and hunched over the humidifier like a vulture facing-off with a dragon. I gargled salt water. I did whatever I could think of to get rid of those sore spots. And I’d be OK until I lay down again; then the symptoms kicked right back in. All I could do was weather the storm and wait for morning: The one thing needed was the one thing I could not do.
When you stop to think about it, it’s fascinating to consider how often Jesus dealt with physical sickness as He ministered the truth. Think about it: He healed paralytics, He made blind people see, He even raised the dead. I can understand why people crowded around Him, keeping Him so occupied that sometimes He didn’t have time to eat or even to sleep. They were desperate. Desperate and destitute of any other hope.
And that brings us to a question: Why did Jesus focus so much energy on the physical needs of people around Him? He knew His time was limited; He had only a few years to set the course for a new age, to train men who would be responsible to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth.
We know that Jesus cared for the people like a good doctor cares for his patients; that He fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament that foretold His healing work; that He pointed to the a day when bodies would be redeemed and the curse of sin would be broken.
But in addressing medical issues, Jesus spoke to another need—less visible, but vitally important. “. . . do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” Jesus told His disciples. “Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
I used to mistake this verse to mean Satan has power to kill the soul. I was wrong. The only One with power to destroy soul and body in hell is God.
That truth points to an irresolvable problem. We’re sinners because we’re born in father Adam’s line; we’re sinners because we sin. Sin requires death. And God has both the power and the will to execute righteous justice.
To say it another way, the one thing we need is Life. And Life is one thing that is impossible for a sinner to obtain. Supposing we were admitted for a moment to the presence of God, the Source of Life—the fire of God’s holiness would kill, not quicken. We aren’t fitted for heaven. We aren’t equipped for Life.
We can hope God’s threats of hell are empty rumblings intended to scare us into goodness here on earth. We can deny that hell is a literal place in which God will destroy soul and body forever. We can pretend that this life is all there is, that annihilation follows existence. But our imaginings do nothing to alter the facts.
We still have a problem that we cannot solve.
Think over Jesus’ healing ministry again: He didn’t just tend to folks with sore throats, people who might get better in time. He healed the man born blind—something that the man could never do for himself. Jesus healed the woman with a discharge of blood—something no doctor could do for her. Jesus raised the dead girl and gave her back to her parents—something the girl herself did not even have the will to want anymore.
Through healed bodies, Jesus illustrated the need for healed souls, for the dead to be made alive. Through exerting supernatural external force, Jesus pointed to the Source for spiritual healing. Against the backdrop of human impotence, Jesus demonstrated our need divine intervention.
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick,” Jesus explained. “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31–32).
In other words, the first step to solving your problem is admitting that you can’t solve your problem.
There are lots of things we can do to soothe our troubled minds: We can live in denial (but our ignorance doesn’t alter reality), we can try to spread a little love around (but our apparent good is only a farce covering a selfish heart), we can climb stone stairs on our knees (but our penance does nothing to change our sinful nature).
We can’t solve our problem.
Until we come to that place of despair, we’ll never find the door of Hope. Health is for the sick. Life is for the dead.
When our hands are emptied of every cherished scheme for health, when we’ve abandoned all our home remedies and emptied all our bottles of snake oil, we’re ready for the transforming, healing work of the Great Physician. He calls to repentance, and by His kindness leads us to it. He requires faith, and gives us eyes to see Reality beyond the shadows. He demands sinless righteousness, and clothes us in His own perfection.
The Physician took our terminal illness upon Himself. The Sinless became sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
And then, through a strategy of omniscient brilliance, Jesus turned the tables on death, and in dying tore out its sting. He opened His arms to the curse, and crushed it. He faced off with sin, heaped it all upon His perfect life, and wrestled it to the grave.
Three days later, the earth shook at the glory of God and the Dead returned to Life. God announced that the Sacrifice was accepted and we were assured that one day death will die.
For now, because Jesus died, we died—sin has lost its power. Because He lives, we live—righteousness is ours through Him.
Today our message, as we follow in Jesus’ triumphal train, is not “Live a better life.” We’re not here to make the dying dead more comfortable. We don’t want to make slipping into a bottomless grave more palatable. We don’t want our friends and neighbors just to clean up their acts in order to populate hell with well-scrubbed sinners.
That’s not what Jesus did for us.
We’re here show people that their death can be swallowed up by Life, that their inability to solve their own problems is the basis for the Final Answer. We’re here to live that reality through the normal events of life—through sorrows, and labors, and trials, and even sickness.
And because Jesus is alive--we can.
© 2011 by Robert G. Robbins