I was staring at a bull in church. It was on the jacket of a teenager. The bull looked aggressive, intimidating—like the Chicago Bulls are. It made me think about mascots of professional teams. Most bring the same reaction as that bull—the Timberwolves, the Bears, the Giants, the Vikings. I’ve got one I’d like to recommend—how about the Minnesota Lambs? Laughable? Fact is, that is God’s symbol of strength. In the ultimate battle, the testimony will read that “they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 12:11a). The victor over all earthly power, the ruler over all rulers, the King over all kings—is a Lamb, a strange picture of power! All of heaven sings, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain…” (Rev. 5:12a).
The world views strength as domination, control, conquest. God’s power is shown in surrender. Jesus said, “I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18). God takes delight in showing a rebellious world how puny it is. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (I Corinthians 1:25). And nowhere is God’s power shown more clearly than in the cross of Christ. That power was portrayed graphically seven hundred years before the event.
The prophet introduces this Lamb by saying that “he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:2,3). Far from being either attractive, overpowering or domineering, he was a reject, an insignificant “root out of dry ground” (v.2a). Rather than astounding the crowds, the writer wonders, “Who has believed our message?” (v.1). Instead of being received by the human family, he was repulsed. Hardly one to make his mark on the world; it is not even noticing.
What did the Lamb do for you? He agreed to the plan of his Father, one that meant leaving the glory of heaven for the rebellion on earth. Instead of being worshiped by angels, he is abused by humans like himself. He said “yes” to rejection from the get-go, from a shameful birth by a young mother who didn’t have a husband, to an itinerant traveling ministry that embarrassed his family, to the excruciating death with his naked body pinned to a cross on a main thoroughfare. The mocking and physical abuse that started with the kangaroo court at midnight continued through the trials before Pilate and Herod and finished at the six-hour crucifixion, a death invented by the Romans for the worst of the worst for the purpose of inflicting maximum pain. That is what the Lamb of God signed up. That cross beautifully reveals the healing power of God in three significant ways.
THE CROSS BRINGS HEALING FROM SIN. Some may say, “We don’t need healing; we need forgiveness.” That’s what I was thinking at San Pedro Hospital while attending an Alcohol Awareness seminar as a young pastor. The speaker said that alcoholism is a disease. I felt like objecting: “No, it is sin.” But I thought about the words of Jesus to the Pharisees: “They that are well have no need of a physician but they that are sick” (Matt. 9:12) Sin is a sickness. It is rampant, with global epidemic proportion, out of control, far more devastating than AIDS or cancer. It has ruined billions. Sin is both willful disobedience and bondage. We are sinners, and we are sick. But “there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul,” like the song goes. For “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5). The prophet used the word “healed,” because the blood of the Lamb brings healing from sin. We amassed an awful debt. God requires perfect righteousness, but we failed to deliver. Jesus stepped in and paid the penalty. “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). We created the problem through our sin, but “Jesus paid it all,” as the song goes–on the cross! So what do we boast in? “God forbid that I should boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Gal. 6:14). Peter wrote that “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (I Pe. 2:24).
What we need to know is that the cross brings healing not only from the penalty of sin but also from its power. To forgive the sinner lifts the guilt. Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you…” (John 8:11a). He was the one person who had the authority to do so. In those words she experienced the acceptance of grace. It gave her power to receive the truth that followed: “Go and sin no more.” It came not as a scolding to shame her, but as an invitation to release her. “He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoner free.” And that power is found nowhere else but in the cross. Have you been relieved of the penalty without embracing the power? “There is power, power, wonder-working power in the blood of the Lamb.” Believe in the healing power of the cross to overcome sin in your life.
I know people who have struggled with a particular sin for decades. I long for them to apply the cruel cross of Christ to their affliction and see it bring them the healing they desperately need. It can happen, whether it is gossip, alcohol, adultery, or abuse. When John the Baptist saw Jesus for the first time as an adult, he said powerfully, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Andrew heard that and kindly went and found his older brother, Peter. Thirty years later Peter wrote that “you were ransomed from the futile ways…with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (I Pe. 1:19).
THE CROSS BRINGS HEALING FROM SORROW. We have sinned, but we have also been sinned against. Sin brings guilt; sorrow brings shame and sadness. The devastating work of sin has brought untold grief. A man forsakes his family for another woman, leaving a wife and children to cope without finances. Another hopes for a promotion and instead is terminated unjustly after thirty years of loyal service. A sister cheats her brother out of the inheritance, and he barely makes ends meet for the next ten years. Filled with bitterness, he becomes an alcoholic. We need healing because our hearts have been broken by sorrow. Jesus is the healer of broken hearts. His hometown sermon was taken from Isaiah 61, which He read: “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…” (1b). And He did that through the power of the cross: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…” (Isaiah 53:4a).
Jesus was a man of sorrows, meaning that he lived with his own sorrow, but he also identified with the sorrows of others. He was a reject throughout His life, from a so-called illegitimate birth, to the rejection of his family for a shameful career as a poor itinerant preacher, to the rejection from his nation that decided it could not use him in their building program (he was the stone rejected), to the rejection of his own disciples in the garden, to the ultimate rejection from his Father on the cross, when he cried out, “My God, my God, who have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:26).
But he also felt the sorrow of people, because “he knew what was in a man” (John 2:25). Some people get impatient with the sorrows of others, as if they should get over it. Jesus responds differently to sorrow. The psalmist wrote, “He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted” (Psalm 22:24). He so strongly identifies with the sorrowful that “in all their affliction he was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). Many carry the pain of the past, with an identity tied to their sorrow (“I am the divorced woman,” “I am the man who lost his job,” “we lost our child.”). We need to know that there is power in the cross to lift the shadows that put a cloud over our future. Jesus can give us a “crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3). People who have walked with sorrow may say, “Impossible.” But that power comes from healing at the cross, where Jesus bore not only our sins but also our sorrows.
The psalmist writes confidently, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3). What good news for depressed people who have struggled to forgive a relative or to bury a memory of great loss that continues to plague them. God does not berate us for our sorrow–He heals us from it! And like an expert physician, He binds up the wounds so that the scar reminds us not of the pain but of the care we were given to heal.
THE CROSS BRINGS HEALING FROM SICKNESS. Matthew was a reject like Jesus, but of a different kind; he was a tax collector, which means committing social suicide to get a buck–and maybe become rich. The invitation of the master to follow him brought two surprises: that Jesus would call a tax-gatherer, otherwise known as a thief, to be his disciple, and that Matthew would respond to the offer. I think Matthew’s friends were shocked at both.
But Jesus had made the right choice. Years later, Matthew wrote the first Gospel, read by billions around the world. He painted one of the most beautiful portraits of Christ ever penned. When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, it turned into a public healing service. Matthew thought back on the day and added the words: “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases’” (Matthew 8:17). I find no greater reason to pray for the sick than this, that when Jesus died on the cross, he carried not only our sins and our sorrows, but our sicknesses as well. Matthew, who knew Isaiah 53 well, reflected on the healing ministry of Jesus and looked back to the cross as the place of power.
On what basis can we pray for family members and friends for healing from what afflicts them and maybe threatens them with death? On the basis of the Scriptures that revealed God as a healing God before revealing Him as a Father. He told the Israelites who had just left Egypt through Moses: “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes…I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord, your healer” (Exodus 15:26). They didn’t know yet to say, “Our Father,” but they could call Him, “Our Healer!”
Jesus wants us to apply the cross to our sins, our sorrows, and our sicknesses. “He shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be pleased” (Isaiah 53:10b). He suffered with specific goals in mind. He was bruised so we could experience healing. When we personalize the cross for our bruises and brokenness, we please Jesus. He sees the cross being purposefully applied. Every time we take communion, we remember that “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed” (I Cor. 5:7). When the apostle John was allowed to peer into heaven, he “saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6). John could hear all of heaven, including “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain’” (Rev. 5:11,12). May you know the power of the cross and of the Lamb in your life—today.