Recently, while studying Matthew 8, I was especially captured by verses 16-17. In verse 16, it says that Jesus healed all the sick who were brought to Him. I got to thinking about the instances in the Bible, where people came to Jesus with physical maladies, and the fact that they always went away healed. I could not think of a case where Jesus said, “No, it’s not My will that you be healed,” or “I’m going to receive more glory from your continued sickness.” There are instances, such as Lazrus, in John 11, where Jesus told His disciples, concerning Lazrus’ sickness, “This sickness is to the glory of God.” But then, very quickly we are shown how God received that glory from Lazrus’ sickness: it was from his being raised from the dead, and we are quite certain it was without continued sickness. In Matthew 8:17, we are told that Jesus healed all the sick that were brought to Him, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, ‘He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses’.”
But what about Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, where he cried out to the Lord, asking that his “thorn in the flesh” might be removed and was told he would have to keep it? Either Matthew 8:16-17 doesn’t mean what it looks like it means, or 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 means more than most of us understand it to mean. I submit that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not physical sickness, but rather persecution for his Christian witness, and the infirmity spoken of in the passage was the result of the persecution. The persecution was ongoing, but the infirmity was likely temporary.
The Scripture says that Jesus took our infirmities, and He bore our sicknesses. Now, He either did, or He didn’t. I submit, based on what the Bible says, that He did. However, He did not take, or bear, our persecution, He bore His. He told us that if we wished to follow Him, we must take up our own cross, which is persecution for our witness, deny ourselves, and follow after Him.
It is convenient for us to call Paul’s thorn in the flesh a sickness, because it absolves us of any blame for our own sicknesses. If Jesus did, indeed, take our infirmities and bear our sicknesses, then these things have no rights over us. Just as sin has no right to reign over our mortal bodies, neither does sickness.
If all this is true, then why are so many of God’s people sick? I would suggest that it is because we have confessed our faith in sickness, instead of health. We have not laid aside every weight and the sin that does so easily beset us, concerning our health, and we’ve looked to everything except Jesus.