A Good Friday meditation on healing, based on Moltmann’s The Way of Jesus Christ

In Numbers chapter 21 we read that, because their complaining, God sent a plague of venomous serpents on the people of Israel in the wilderness. When they cried for mercy, the Lord instructed Moses to make a brass serpent and lift it up in a pole, so that anyone who was bitten by one of the snakes could look on the brass snake and not die. Now, the snake twisted around a pole is a medical symbol, a symbol of healing.

Jesus applied this story to his cross when he said “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son . . . ” (John 3.14-16a)

Isaiah chapter 53, says “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases … and by his bruises we are healed.” (vv.4-5). This is echoed in 1 Peter 2.24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

Revelation 22.2 speaks of the tree of life, “and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
Just as beyond the cross we see resurrection life in Christ, so to we also see healing. To develop this though a little more, I would like to share with you this extract from Jürgen Moltmann’s, The way of Jesus Christ. (Fortress, 1983, pp. 105ff.). (I have edited this to shorten it a little and to make some of the expressions in the formal translation from the German easier to read aloud.)

“The expulsion of demons and the healing of the sick are the mark of Jesus’ ministry from the very beginning. … The lordship of God drives out of creation the powers of destruction, which are demons and idols, and heals the created beings who have been damaged by them. If the kingdom of God is coming as Jesus proclaimed, then salvation is coming as well. If salvation comes to the whole creation, then the health of all created beings is the result — health of body and soul, individual and community, human beings and nature. That is why the people who gather round Jesus are shown to be not so much ‘sinners’ as sick. Suffering men and women come to Jesus because they seek healing …

“… [I]t is only when Jesus appears with his message that the sick and the possessed emerge from the darkness into which they had been banished, and press forward to him. This is not chance. When the doctor comes, the sick appear. … In the light of the imminent kingdom of God, this world, which is in such need of redemption, appears for what it is: truly possessed in its sicknesses.

“… [A]t that time disease bore the stigma of impurity [and] the sick suffered from cultic and social discrimination. To put an end to this discrimination was an act of social criticism …

… When God sets up [God’s] rule over [God’s] world, and the Creator has compassion on [the] creation, it is not extraordinary that the sick should become well and devils should be expelled; it is a matter of course. Jesus’ healings are simply … ‘miracles of the kingdom’. In the context of the new creation, these ‘miracles’ are not miracles at all. They are merely the foretokens of the all-comprehensive salvation, the unscathed world, and the glory of God.

“Without this . . . context, indeed, they lose their meaning and become absurd marvels which can be forgotten. But in [the context of the coming kingdom of God] they speak their own language. They point to the bodily character of salvation and to the God who loves earthly life.

“The lordship of God, whose presence Jesus proclaims and discovers, brings salvation. The particular characteristic of this salvation is ‘healing power’.

“… Every sick person experiences healing in a different way, because diseases and possessions differ. And the same is true about the experience of deliverance from affliction and liberation from oppression. It is only the summing-up which says that Jesus ‘healed’, and that with the lordship of God ‘salvation’ has come.

“Salvation, then, is the summing-up of all the healings. Since it is part of the lordship of God, it is as all-embracing as God himself and cannot be restricted to part-sectors of creation. [Salvation] is not [only] ‘the salvation of the soul’, although of course the sick person’s soul also has to be healed. [We cannot] exclude any particular earthly sphere from salvation, [calling it] ‘well-being’ or ‘welfare’ and subtracting it from the influence of Jesus’ lordship.

“… Salvation does not mean merely ‘spiritual benefits’. It includes the health of the body. Jesus makes ‘the whole human being’ well (John 7.23). It is . . . wrong to push salvation off into a world beyond this one, and to limit its effects to an invisible life of pure faith, outside empirical experience.
“Nor should we [say that healings are] signs of … the forgiveness of sins. The healing of the sick and the forgiveness of sins are [both] necessary, and the one cannot be reduced to the other.
“At the same time, however much we stress the holistic nature of salvation, which is grounded in the power of God, there is a difference between salvation and healing which cannot be overlooked: healing vanquishes illness and creates health. Yet it does not vanquish the power of death. But salvation in its full and completed form is the annihilation of the power of death and the raising of men and women to eternal life.

“. . .[T]he healings are signs, this side of death, of God’s power of resurrection … Every healing is a living foretoken of the resurrection [through] the healing of [women and men] in their essential beings.

“… Sick people are … healed; they are made free and well. At the same time the world is de-demonized; the [causes of sickness] are destroyed. Jesus heals the sick and symbolically liberates creation from the powers of destruction, which at that time were called ‘demons’.
“… The real theological [challenge] of the stories about Jesus’ healings, however, is raised by his passion and his death in helplessness on the cross. ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, God’s Chosen One’ (Luke 23.35). But this is just what Jesus apparently cannot do. The healing powers that emanate from him, and the ‘authority’ which he has over the demons, are given him not for himself but only for others. … There are no miracles on the road of his passion. On the cross he dies in forsakenness by God and man. Or is this the greatest of all the miracles, the all-embracing healing? ‘He bore our sicknesses and took upon himself our pains … and through his wounds we are healed’ (Isa. 53.4, 5). This was how the gospels saw it. So Jesus heals not only through ‘power’ and ‘authority’ but also through his suffering and helplessness. In this wider sense of salvation as the overcoming of death and the raising to eternal life, people are healed not through Jesus’ miracles, but through Jesus’ wounds; that is, they are gathered into the indestructible love of God.

“[The society of Jesus’ time closely associated] sickness and possession. Today [such a] link would lead to a stigmatizing of the sick [that] would be in direct contradiction to Jesus’ healings. When the sick are demonized—people with AIDS [or mental illness] for example—they are shut out of society and condemned to social death. Today it is precisely the de-demonization of disease which [may] be the first step to the healing of the sick … preserving their social relationships and … recognizing their human dignity. … [T]here are also … unjust circumstances which make people ill. … So it is often impossible to heal the sick without healing their relationships, the circumstances in which they live, and the structures of the social system to which they belong.”

Jesus’ healing, and healing by the Spirit of God, touches both the inner person and the life circumstances that contribute to an illness.
Yes, by his wounds we are healed.