From spring 2003 - Preaching, Healing and Justice
‘ The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
And recovery of sight for the blind,
To release the oppressed,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’
Jesus opened his public ministry with these words in Luke 4:18-19 and they outline his very clear priorities of preaching, healing and justice. The words come mainly from Isaiah 61:1,2 but he stops in the middle of verse 2, and does not mention the words which follow: ‘and the day of vengeance of our God.’
Jesus was making the very important point that John also makes in his Gospel, that ‘God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world though him.’ This is not to deny the judgment - far from it - but rather to say that God’s judgment will be delayed to allow for God’s grace and mercy. Many of the Jews failed to recognise Jesus as the Messiah simply because they believed that God would bring salvation to the Jewish people, and judgement to their enemies in a moment of time. But God’s plan was to send Jesus to bring salvation, not just for Jews, but also for people of every nation. Jesus’ ministry was characterised by preaching, healing and justice and sets a pattern for us.
Jesus first priority was to preach the Gospel: the good news of Jesus’ death for our sins, his resurrection, the hope of heaven, and the call to repentance and faith. At the end of Luke 4 we see the people begging him to stay presumably to heal more people and to perform more miracles. But he answers with the words: ‘I must preach the news of the Kingdom of God to the other towns also because that is why I was sent’. (vv42-43)
Jesus healed the sick, but his overiding concern was for people’s salvation. At the end of his ministry he went back to the towns where he had performed most of his healing miracles and denounced them for not repenting. He was more interested in emptying the graveyards than in emptying the hospitals. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world (including good health), yet forfeits his own soul? Our patients’ greatest need is salvation, and evangelism needs to stay at the top of our agenda, so that we are ready to take the opportunities God gives to share the Gospel with gentleness and respect.
Part of Jesus’ manifesto was ‘the recovery of sight to the blind’ and it’s interesting that the reference to the blind does not come from Isaiah 61 but from Isaiah 35:5-6, which also refers to the healing of the deaf, lame and mute. We see all of these things happen in the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. There is a restoration of the whole body. And whether healing is by supernatural means or by using the medicine, surgery and other healthcare techniques that God has graciously given, our concern today should be to show the same concern that Jesus did for the whole person - both as a sign of the authenticity of the Gospel, and as a demonstration of the Lord’s love and compassion.
The rest of Jesus’ manifesto had to do with issues of justice: ‘to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’. The year of the Lord’s favour is thought to refer to the Jubilee Year in which debts were forgiven, slaves released and property returned to its original owners. The Bible is clear that God’s people are to speak and stand for justice by being a voice for the voiceless and in loosing the chains of injustice:
‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy’ ‘If you do away with the yoke of oppression… and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like noonday’
Being Christian doctors involves more than just preaching the Gospel and healing the sick - it involves bringing justice and speaking out against the evils that threaten the health and the lives of vulnerable people; being their advocates and empowering them to seek the changes in their communities that will improve the health of themselves and their children. Preaching, healing and justice are still key priorities for Christian doctors.