Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In November of 1997, a forum called “Sin and the Art of Zen Archery” was held at a synagogue in New Jersey. The forum, which featured panelists from several world religions, was on the topic of sin. In the discussion that followed, one woman objected to the whole idea of sin, saying, “I don’t know whether there is any proper place for evil in human nature. If I believe part of me is evil, how will I ever overcome evil?” That question is haunting. If sin is within me, how can I ever escape it?
“Your Hurt is Incurable”
The prophet Jeremiah described Judah’s sin in medical terms. That haunting question expresses what Jeremiah meant when he came right out and said that Judah’s spiritual condition was terminal. From the human standpoint, there was no remedy for the condition of Judah. They had an incurable sickness. They were mortally wounded. There was no medicine available. It was a “get your affairs in order” kind of situation. If that’s the prognosis, what about the diagnosis? What mortal wound, what infectious disease laid the people of God on their deathbed? The answer, of course, was sin. Moreover, the cause of the illness is no mystery. Sickness, sickness leading to death is the outcome of sin, disobedience, and flagrant disregard of God. Judah is caught in a deep disease of its own making, the disease of unfaithfulness and self-sufficiency.
You too suffer from this incurable malady. You too are in captivity to iniquity. You have a bad case of sin, and you will not — cannot — recover on your own. It will take more than a couple days in bed and a few bowls of chicken soup to put you back on your feet. Sin is an incurable disease, and you’ve got it. We just confessed that “we are by nature sinful and unclean and that we have sinned against [God] in thought, word, and deed.” The Book of Common Prayer expresses it well also: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us.”
Sin is not dormant, only to pop up ever now and then. Sin can be viewed like a chronic illness which will never go away. Or it’s like a vicious strain of bacteria that has grown resistant even to the most powerful antibiotic. It’s a restless evil at work in us day and night, even in while we sleep. It always endeavours to move us away from God and make us self-absorbed and neglect our duties to our neighbours. These impulses are at times lighter, at times stronger. It spreads in the soul until it carries the sinner to the grave.
Imagine if skin cells did not have the power to regenerate. Imagine if wounds never healed. Imagine how hideous people would look if every cut, scrape, bruise, or blemish were permanent. Now imagine the hideous effects of the sin we have allowed to fester.. Imagine idolatry added to immorality, compounded by selfishness and injustice. If you could look inside your own soul, you would see a malignant evil. Who could ever heal such a spiritual cancer? How can sin ever be cured? What hope do we have left?
“I Will Restore You to Health”
Sin is such a part of us that we cannot get rid of it. But God can. He is the Great Physician, as Jeremiah promised: “For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord” (v. 17a). First God says we have a wound that is incurable; then he promises to cure it. First he declares that our injury cannot be healed; then he vows to heal it. How can that be? Is that a contradiction? Remember what Jesus said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12), and “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (19:26).
God promises to do the impossible. He promises to cure what is incurable and to heal what is beyond healing. The promise of healing is a promise to make new flesh grow over an old wound. God is the great Physician of his people. God doesn’t want to leave his people alone in sin and wretchedness. God cannot ignore sin and evil. So, he desires to restore us, to heal us. God is not seeking to destroy the world and start fresh. He’s seeking to redeem and restore that which is so corrupted. Our restoration can only come about by God healing us.
There is only one cure for iniquity, only one remedy for guilt, only one atonement for sin, and that is the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. We ourselves cannot overcome evil, but Jesus Christ won the victory over sin through his death and resurrection. The work of Christ on the cross was done to cure the incurable wound of sin. What can heal our sin? Only God, and only through the death of his Son on the cross. Do you believe this?
We Lutherans are very quick to think of salvation as an externally as a change of status. Justification by faith alone. That’s vitally important, but not the only thing. We cannot forget that our salvation involves healing. After justification comes Sanctification. This is a change in us. The sick body needs health, and our sick souls needs healing.
God heals us. He gives us medicine. When that medicine has been applied, the disease is halted, and it grows weaker. Since we are under the doctor, under Christ and live mindful of our illness, we shall be healed. For that poison decreases more and more from day to day and we always wipe out, wash, and cleanse the wound. In the meantime we endure the cure of Christ our true physician.
Remember, this is like a chronic illness. It will not go away. It’s like my wife Laurin. She has Crohn’s Disease. There is no cure. The medicine she is on keeps the disease at bay. So long as she takes the medicine, avoids certain foods, eats other foods that are good for her, the disease is kept mostly under control. The medicine doesn’t cure the disease. No, the disease is kept at bay.
Christ, our doctor promised us the most complete cure to eternal life. We get in in the Resurrection. In the meantime, the doctor gives us medicine, an exercise routine, and he prohibits us from doing or omitting things which might be increase or aggravate the disease in us. What is the medicine? We ought to pray daily, hear and meditate on the Word daily, attend the sacraments, and purge the poison and rottenness. The Lord’s Supper is sometimes called the Medicine of Immortality. These are God’s means of healing us. We need to use these means, so that we are healed, cleansed of the poison of sin, until we are truly and entirely purged.
But now if a sick person should like their sickness and refuse every cure for their disease, won’t they die? Certainly, for thus it is with those who follow their desires in this world. Or if a certain sick man does not see that he is sick but thinks he is well and thus rejects the doctor, this is the kind of person who wants to be justified and made well by its own works.
The source of our healing is God. We cannot cure ourselves. The disease is naturally incurable. It is healed only by God. The Judean exiles in Babylon couldn’t free themselves. They were waiting, hoping, longing for their Messiah to come. They prayed that he would deliver them from all the misery of their captivity. We look to the same Messiah to heal among us today and heal us. He already came and freed us from our bondage to sin by his death on the cross. We believe that he has come, and we have hope that he will come again. In the meantime, God gives us his Word and Sacraments to strengthen and preserve us in the true faith, to life everlasting. So come, take your medicine.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.