Sunday September 5, 2021, 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time
The tie in between today’s readings: “…by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5)
Today’s readings, Psalm 146, Isaiah 35, and Mark 7, all focus on God as a healer. Let’s be clear from the start: Jesus does not do tricks. All of the healing accounts in the Bible actually did happen, but miracles are not recorded for their own sakes. They are metaphors pointing to the nature of salvation through the gospel. Jesus pulls this together in Matt 11:4-5, where He associates His healings with the preaching of the gospel. So, what is the gospel? Other than saying that it is the good news, could you explain it clearly to someone who doesn’t know? Sadly, most of the people in the pews cannot. I’ve best understood the gospel message by the old line: “I’ve got good news and bad news.” So, today let’s drill down and get a better understanding of it by examining the most quoted verse on the gospel, John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
First the good news: God so loved the world. Stop! Don’t gloss over this. This is a big deal. In our pride and self-absorption, we can easily take God’s love for granted. Why wouldn’t He love me? I love me! I may not be perfect, but what’s not to love? The thing is that our sins have made us so odious to the celestial realm that, if we were to walk into heaven right now, the angels would vomit. We start out as the enemy of God in our sin: loathsome, pitiful, and hideous. But God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
That He gave His only begotten Son. That’s the “died for us” part of the gospel. Jesus came, born to die, as the sacrificial Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. This is where the miracle metaphors of healing, mentioned in the Bible, come in as a sign of our desperate spiritual condition. Hopeless and helpless like the infirmed, the leprous, the widow, and the orphan, Jesus rescues us from our plight. We cannot stand before a holy God in our sins with any hope of gaining heaven. Through the crucifixion, Jesus served as our stand-in. God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we may become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
That whoever believes in Him. It’s all done by faith. You can’t earn it. You don’t deserve it. All you can do is accept it as a free gift from God. But what is this faith? First and foremost, it’s the assent to the facts of the Bible that Jesus was crucified and took the punishment of your sin on Himself. His resurrection on Easter Sunday proves that He was successful in His mission. He offers heaven and eternal life to all that would receive His sacrifice as substitute for their sin. But it’s not just agreeing with the facts alone that gets you into heaven. Satan knows the facts and they’re not doing him any good. Faith goes deeper still. You have to totally identify with Jesus, which means that you must see yourself up on the cross with Jesus spiritually facing God for your sins. When Jesus rises on Easter Sunday, you also resurrect with Him, spiritually. You are now spiritually born again to a new life in Christ. As Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). Saving faith is hard to explain. All I can say is that you have a “knowing” about it. I examine it in another way in my article “A Sacramental Illustration of Saving Faith” in the Insights section of this blog. Check it out. Now, get ready for the bad news.
Should not perish. That means going to hell. The Bible places you under the sentence of hell right now. Whatever hell is: a lake of fire, separation from God, death forever, all the above. It is bad and it is final! God is holy. God will not mark on a curve where He lets you slide into heaven with a 51% good rating. The standard for heaven is sinless perfection. You cannot achieve it. If there was any other way to escape damnation other than the cross of Christ, then God would have released Jesus from His passion when He asked for options at the garden of Gethsemane. But, because He did go to the cross, Jesus now becomes YOUR option. Take Him as your Savior for: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation” (Hebrews 2:3a).
Have everlasting life. Jesus Christ didn’t come to make bad people good or to make good people better. Jesus came to make dead people alive! In Christ, we are born again to a new life here on earth and to eternal life in heaven. This is the gospel: by faith take the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as payment for your sins and make God the master of your new life on earth as you prepare for heaven. Take God up on His offer of salvation through Jesus, today. “…by His wounds, we are healed” (Isaiah 53.5).