The Cross as Healing (11am)
Topic: Healing Scripture: 1 Peter 2:24–2:25
Have you ever stopped and just noticed how remarkable the human body is? A few years back I was at a big Christian festival and had the chance to hear Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio share. Giglio’s message was about the wonders of creation and he focused on some of the incredible traits of the human body, and one of those things he brought up was our body’s ability to heal itself. Have you ever stopped and really thought about how incredible it is that our body can heal itself? It’s probably not something we really think about unless we recall traumatic events or notice our own scars.
I was thinking about this a couple nights ago when I noticed a scar on my knee. I’ve had it since the summer of 2004 when I was a camp counselor. We played this game called Mission Impossible as cabin groups. It was sort of like a massive capture the flag type of game. Anyway, I had a young cabin of guys in grade school. We were running around in the dark and were on this stone path. We were hustling and one of the little guys in front of me stumbled and slowed up and I ran into him. We were falling and the way it was looking was that my camper would hit the ground and then my knee would go into his back. Using superhuman reflexes I’ve never been able to recall since, I grabbed him and sort of swung my body in front of him and went down, taking the full brunt of the fall on my left knee.
It hurt but I wanted to win and so we got up and kept going until we were stopped by one of the other staffers, a buddy of mine named Tim. He stopped us and told me I had to get to the nurse ASAP. I asked him which of my kids was sick and he said, “No. You.” He turned his flashlight to my knee and showed me that my leg from the knee down was covered in blood and had soaked into my sock. It was at that point that I realized it hurt. I was done from that point on. That was a sore, rough couple of weeks but now, years later, my knee is fine, minus a pretty gnarly scar. By God’s design, my body healed and repaired itself as best as it could.
Healing is something that we marvel at and sometimes even call the work of miracles. It’s also something we generally take for granted. Whether it’s a wound closing up or getting over a bad cold, we rarely think about just what’s going on. And I think that’s true not only in a physical sense but in a spiritual one too. As followers of Christ, we are believers in healing. From the days of the disciples watching Christ cure leprosy, blindness, physical deformity, and even death…we’ve been a people who testify to the healing powers of Jesus Christ. One of those disciples, Peter, would have witnessed all those things and then later on become one of the most significant figures at the birth of the Christian movement. Christ himself called Peter the rock on which he would build the church. Our text this morning is from a letter Peter wrote to an area of Asia Minor. And it urges those who hear it to not take for granted the healing work of Christ.
(Read 1 Peter 2:24-25)
One of the main reasons many think Peter wrote this letter was to encourage Christians in that time to hold strong to their faith even amidst terrible trials and challenges. Christianity could be described as a blooming flower at this time. It was gorgeous and marvelous and new and full of life and inspiration. But it was growing out a garden riddled with weeds and thorns and briars. It was an ugly, dry patch of land where Christianity blossomed. And the earliest converts and followers of Christ’s teachings struggled to live and have identity in a society that was so diametrically opposed to the truths that transformed their lives. So, in our verse, Peter offers his audience a reminder of just what the cross of Christ has done.
It’s funny but I really think there is an element of oxymoron for us in the sermon title this morning. The cross as healing is like saying the donut as means for dieting. The two do not go together. The cross was not a medical instrument used to help people. It was a tool of execution. And yet, Peter reminds his listeners how Christ used the cross as means to bring about the most desperately needed of healing.
1 Peter 2:24 is just simply saturated with powerful meaning for us. Christ bore our sins in Himself and on the cross. Christ takes what is ours onto and into Himself. There’s a theological term called “imputed righteousness” that could come into play here. It can be complicated the deeper you dig into it but the gist is, that there is a cosmic and intrinsic swap performed on the cross between humanity and Christ. Somehow, through the mysterious love and power of the Triune God, all of that which makes us unclean, broken, condemned, and separated from God is taken from us and moved to Christ. In turn, the righteousness and purity and holiness and identity of Christ as God’s son is then imbued onto and into us. So when the final moments of the cross display the ending of a life, it reveals Christ willingly dying in our exact place and being consumed by the darkness and dread that should have been ours to bear.
T.F. Torrance was a renowned and widely-respected theologian out of Scotland. In fact, he is considered one of the most significant English-speaking theologians in the 20th century. His work serves as a powerful beacon and cornerstone for much of the theological influence that has shaped the church for the last several decades. He wrote a small but rich book called “The Mediation of Christ”, where he describes the nature and results of Christ’s work of salvation. Torrance declares that Christ’s work on the cross reaches all the way back to include even the Old Testament nation of Israel. There’s a short passage from this book that I find so compelling. I’ve made one small edit. Where Torrance uses the word Israel, I input humanity: “But it was in the bearing of that very sin that reconciliation was driven into the depth of humanity’s being and nailed there in such a way that humanity has been bound to God forever within the embrace of His reconciling love incarnate in Jesus Christ.”
Torrance uses the very language and imagery of the cross to describe the cosmic and ontological impact of what took place on that cross. Just as the nails were driven into the wrists of Christ, so too was a restored relationship with God driven into our very being. And just as those nails would fix our Savior to the cross in the most final of ways, so too would we forever be bound to God in a relationship of love and restoration all due to the work of Christ on the cross.
The cross does so much more than simply take away that which makes us broken or ill or near-death. It is not a Band-Aid or merely a temporary anti-biotic. It is a complete reversal in terms of how we are seen by God. Christ is not a school nurse that applies a bandage. He is more like a surgeon who removes the growth of sin and darkness within us and replaces it with the goodness and grace of the Almighty. And the instrument Jesus uses in this procedure is the shocking, condemning, terrifying wood of the cross.
In our life, there will be wounds only the power of Christ can heal. I’ve ministered to students who harm themselves by cutting, who wrestled with eating disorders, and even been in the room of a psychiatric facility to be there for the student who attempted suicide. In those situations the only hope or cure I could know to be true and potent enough for those moments is the cross and what it declares. But each of those instances served as a heart-breaking but important reminder to me: human beings learn to be experts at hiding wounds we want no one else to see. The cross reaches those wounds as well.
Christ heals the wounds no one else can see by taking the scars that should have been visible to all. Scars that should have been ours. One of the most powerful and often times shocking things about the resurrected Christ is the scars He has. The one who literally conquered sin and death and triumphantly rose out of the depths of hell returns to earth with the lasting reminders of violence and pain still marking His body. The most perfect and powerful being willingly chooses to bear and display scars that never should have been His. They are not meant to be a means of inducing guilt or service through obligation. They aren’t a means for invoking and collecting pity. They serve as a reminder and personal display of love to all who encounter Christ. A reminder that He took on those wounds, the ones that tore open His back and broke His bones and spilled His blood and took His life, that He took those wounds willingly for and from us so that we might be healed of a disease, a cancer, a terminal diagnosis we could never hope to come out from under.
We’ve looked at the cross as a clean slate, as foolishness, and now as healing. All of those things compel us to not ignore the presence of sin and brokenness and darkness that exists not only generally and amorphously in the world around us but actually personally and specifically inside each and every one of us. We don’t like to hear that message. We, as in, humanity. The people who Peter was writing to didn’t like it. The people Jesus spoke to didn’t like hearing about it. The ancient people of Israel wanted nothing to do with it. As a race, we would rather waste away in secret than admit we are in need of a remedy we ourselves can’t provide.
C.S. Lewis likens sin to cancer in the hideous and heinous way it is able to spread and infect in such a rapid and often insidiously hidden fashion. It is an apt comparison. Cancer is called by some the emperor of all maladies. For the persons or families who come face-to-face with it, it is understood why. Cancer is so monstrously resilient that we employ the harshest of methods to destroy it. We introduce the human body to poisons and literally blast it with radiation in an attempt to battle it. It serves as a painful and jolting reminder of what is sometimes necessary to defeat that which threatens our lives.
The cross is the most extreme of measures and the costliest of methods but it is the single and only source of healing for the cancerous presence of sin that infects and grows within every human heart. But that is where the shocking beauty hits us. Imagine being told by your doctor that you have aggressive brain cancer. I tread lightly here because of the personally charged and painful connections many of us have with cancer but realize I am in no way seeking to trivialize or diminish the experience you or loved ones may have had.
You are given this diagnosis but told there is a possible means of healing. It will include invasive surgery, aggressive chemotherapy, and daily exposure to radiation. You’re told that, in all honesty, even if the cancer is fought back and destroyed, that what is left of you will be a fragment or husk of what you once were. It is almost as if the treatments themselves are as deadly as the ailment itself. You enter the carousel of your mind and circle round and round the endless loop of sorrow, anger, fear, confusion, depression, and hopelessness. As your mind is wheeling and your heart is breaking, you feel your doctor place his hand on your shoulder as he says his next words. “Let me do it for you. Let me take your place. I will endure the surgeries and the treatments and the costs.”
These are the words of Christ. These are the actions of our Savior when he takes our cross and dies our death. The cost is too great. We cannot pay it, we cannot survive it. Sin has infiltrated and destroyed too much of who we are. In His mercy and His ridiculously furious love for us, Jesus takes our place and offers us healing and life that came at the cost of His own death.
Friends, I don’t know. But it is possible that maybe you have done the whole “church thing” without ever truly recognizing, realizing, or embracing just what it means to call Jesus your Lord and Savior. It is something I find I lose sight of in the rhythms and every-day motions of life. But it’s a truth we can’t afford to forget and most certainly an offer we cannot afford to refuse or delay and put off for any reason.
I want you to think about who Jesus is to you. Who do you truly believe He is? What is it you believe He has done? And what does it have to do with you? Maybe this morning will mark a new understanding and a new chapter for you in your walk with God. Maybe you’re one who has been suffering and suffocating under the grips of something far stronger than yourself. Maybe you have been unaware of the healing that is offered to you in Christ. Maybe you have been trying to delay it or put it off because of what it would cost. Today is the day. No longer must you be weakened, broken, or held captive by the power of sin. It’s a disease with a cure. There is a remedy, a means for healing. And it is the cross.