A Study of Mark 2:17
“When Jesus heard it he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17)
The Gospel of Mark begins with the record of great manifestations of our Lord’s power over physical sickness and uncleanness, and His power to cast out devils, making whole those that were suffering divers afflictions. In Capernaum he had worked miracles which amazed those who observed. He had rebuked unclean spirits, and even during that day had cured Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever then lifted her up and made her whole. Through the remainder of that day, and until the sun set, the Scriptures record, they brought unto Him all that were diseased and that were possessed with devils. The city was gathered at His door and He healed many that were sick with disease and cast out many devils while suffering not the devils to speak because they knew Him.
These were but shadows of the great healing which our Lord had more specifically come to perform. The physical healing, the delivering from the palsy, the blindness, deafness, other afflictions which assortedly afflicted multitudes were only things of a temporary nature. The healing of the body, miraculous as it was, could do the poor sinner no good for his eternal state. But Jesus, as we have hinted, came for a much greater mission than to raise up the temporal sick. When He raised up those with afflictions, there could be no question in the minds of those with eyes to see and ears to hear that this indeed was the Son of God. But with others, it was not so. Some saw and believed. Others saw and cringed, seeking how they might take Him, seize Him, and put Him to death. One such occasion comes vividly to mind when Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus, then dead four days, and stinking in the grave as his body saw corruption. He spoke the words, “Lazarus, come forth.” And behold he came forth from the tomb. The stone was moved away. There he stood, whole, but in grave clothes. And how were the multitudes affected? Those appointed unto life, whose hearts had been touched by God the Spirit, believed, rejoiced and greatly admired. Others not only sought the life of Jesus, but to send Lazarus to the death from whence he had come. No effect could have been more profound, and yet the effect was for their ill and not for their good.
And so it is throughout all the Scriptures. The great miracles, the healings, the manifestations of the power of the Son of God, however mighty and tremendous they were, could not move one hardened sinner to proclaim that Jesus was indeed the Christ. Only those for whom that testimony was intended was blessed to so proclaim Him as Lord.
In our text Jesus alludes to two categories of people – the whole who need no physician, and the sick who obviously stood in great need. There can be no question that Jesus was not speaking about the physical wholeness or the physical maladies, but rather those, as the self righteous Pharisees who perceived themselves to be whole, and without sin. They saw themselves as dutiful keepers of the law, the children of Abraham, and stood in no need of a mighty Saviour, who was able to deliver. There they defiantly stood in their haughty attitude with scorn and contempt for the lowly carpenter of Nazareth. They saw in Him no beauty, detected no power, perceived no Deity, and thus stood condemned to perish in their sins, never knowing that rather than being as whole as they thought, they were within full of dead men’s bones, corrupt, diseased, loathesome, filthy, and unfit for the presence of God. Legal, upright, and dead in sin. Yet, on the other hand, there were these who greatly needed the Physician. The difference between those and the whole Pharisees was that they knew their condition. There was something about this category of people who were made to come to Jesus bowing, fearing, trembling Blind Bartimaeus – “Lord that thou would give me my sight.” The Centurion – “But say the word only, and my servant shall be made whole.” Or like the Syrophenician woman who begged in behalf of her daughter that even the dogs could eat the crumbs that fell from the children’s table. Many such testimonies as these fell from the lips of those who saw their dreadful, vile condition; so they cried out. They stood in need. “Lord be merciful to me a sinner.” “God save.” “Jesus, help me.” Many such testimonies fell from their lips. They stood in need while the “whole” Pharisees stood in scorn.
We are reminded of the words of the hymn from the pen of John Newton where he said,
“How lost was my condition
Till Jesus made me whole!
There is but one physician
Can cure a sin sick soul.
Next door to death He found me
And snatched me from the grave,
To tell to all around me
His wondrous power to save.”
Newton certainly saw in the vile life he lived what a miserable wretch he was, and that truly his lost condition could be cured by but One – the Great Physician. So today also, nothing has changed. Poor sin sick sinners are made to see by the work of the Spirit of God that they are unclean; that they have a leprosy, an incurable disease; and there is no cure but from a power outside of themselves. Other sinful human beings are of no assistance. None of the resources of mankind can avail them anything. They need a Great Physician. We would quote again from Newton’s hymn,
“The worst of all diseases
Is light compared with sin;
On every part is seizes,
But rages most within;
‘Tis palsy, plague, and fever,
And madness, all combined;
And none, but a believer,
The least relief can find.”
And, so we see, of all the diseases mankind has become afflicted with, nothing compares with the disease of sin. And yet, how sad to see, few in this world realize their sinful condition. Certainly some will confess, “Yes, I sin! But I’m no worse than anyone else.” Others will say, “I expect that Jesus will have mercy on me at the last.” Others yet will boast that they have no dread of the consequence of sin, or the penalty of the broken law; for in their minds they have kept the commandments; and done their duty; and fully expect at the last to be carried to Heaven by God because He must be just and save them.
We find, though, that there is a little remnant according to the election of grace that cannot (dare not) testify in such a fashion. They are not whole, and they do have a need of the Physician. They are verily sick of themselves, sick of the world, sick of sin, sick of transgression, eaten up with lust; their minds are corrupted, when they would do good evil is present with them. When they would serve their Lord they find themselves serving self and sin, the world and Satan. When they would follow after the dear Redeemer they discover the glitter and glamour of temporal things to be more than they can withstand, and thus they are made to recognize their hopeless, wretched condition. They need the Great Physician.
As strange as it would seem, the most of us, when shown by the power of God our sinful condition, rather than falling before Him, and pleading our helpliness, seek out the physicians of this world. We resort to those who would fain a temporal cure, or promise great things to us for money, or flattery, etc. etc. And, so again we would quote from Newton,
“From men, great skill professing,
I sought a cure to gain;
But this proved more distressing,
And added to my pain;
Some said that nothing ailed me,
Some gave me up for lost;
Thus every refuge failed me,
And all my hopes were crossed.”
So we too find ourselves seeking out men of great profession, and seek to gain a cure from them rather than Pleading to Him alone who can remedy our condition. Is there not within all these Scriptures a great similarity to our experience? In Mark 5 we read these words; “And a certain woman which had an issue of blood twelve years and had suffered many things of many physicians and had spent all that she had and was nothing better but rather grew worse, when she had heard of Jesus came in the press behind and touched his garment; for she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole.” The outstanding feature of this text is that for an extended period of twelve years suffering from an issue of blood this woman had sought out every human cure that she could find. No doubt, she inquired far and wide for men of great learning that could heal her issue of blood. And what was the result? She grew nothing the better, but rather grew worse. Can we not draw from this the Spiritual comparison, that when we, seeing our sinful, loathesome condition, seek out the cures and healings from men of great profession in religion, and find that rather than them helping us, we too rather grow worse. Some would tell us, “Repent”. Others would tell us, “Only believe”. Some would say, “Be baptized”, “Join the church”, “Do your duty”, “Live up to the Golden rule”, “Pray”, etc., etc. Yet all of these things we have tried time and again, and are nothing better. We only get worse. Many nearly despair. Others fall into a deep gloom; and feeling there is no hope because everything they try, every remedy suggested, seems to bring their case to a more desperate, deepening condition rather than providing relief. And so, they have no options left. They have spent all! They are, as the Psalmist said, “At their wits end.” We might inquire if our readers have ever felt to be like that one David spoke of, “At their wits end.” No where to turn, no where to go; the troubled sea about to rise up to swallow them if there isn’t speedily a deliverance; a great salvation from which Heaven alone can provide.
What was it, though, that turned this woman with the issue blood? First, she had grown worse. She had seen that man could help her not. The Scripture says, “When she had heard of Jesus.” Not until it was brought to her heart that Jesus was the Deliverer did she turn. There may be some who would say, “There is what we have been trying to tell you Old Schoolers all along. If we could just tell people of Jesus, they would come and touch the hem of His garment.” We would ask this, however, Why, out of all of that multitude and press there that day, who no doubt had many illnesses and diseases equal to hers, did not they also turn and touch the hem of His garment? Why is it when Jesus passed along the road to Jericho that only Blind Bartimaeus comes forth crying to have his sight restored? Why is it Jesus passes through the city and delivers not one single soul who stood in need, but rather, on the outskirts only calls Zacchaeus down from the tree – and left the others there? Why, out of all of the multitudes who stood in need, Jesus only called twelve Disciples? When He sent those out to preach, how many did He send? He had power over the legions of angels in Heaven. He had command over the souls of all mankind, but He only sent out seventy by twos, and they returned rejoicing that they had power. But He told them not to rejoice in these things, but rather that their names were written in Heaven.
Dear Friends, we submit to you that there is only one reason for rejoicing, and that is that our names are written in Heaven. For if so be that our names are written there, we, like those that we have alluded to, at some point in this life will be found by the Great Physician. The healing will be a soul healing. The Physician will be the Saviour. We will not exclaim what great things we have done, nor what great things that others have done, but rather we will sing the new song, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” We will rejoice that His blood was mighty to save, His power to heal, and His love to draw. We will see that Divine purpose hath made us whole, and the rest were left in their supposed whole condition. We will acknowledge that Jesus paid it all. We will have no desire to seek earthly cures any longer. We will turn no more to man for help, but rather, as we finally quote one more time from Newton,
“At length this great Physician,
How matchless is his grace,
Accepted my petition,
And undertook my case:
First gave me sight to view Him–
For sin my eyes had sealed–
Then bade me look unto Him;
I looked and I was healed.”
This is the way sinners find the Great Physician. First, He gives them eyes to see Him; then He bids them to look, and live, and be whole.
We would allude to one other incident in the Scriptures, directed not exactly to the subject of healing but rather of deliverance; the time when Jonah was in the whale’s belly for three days and three nights. Could any thinking individual believe that poor Jonah could have delivered himself? There he was, inside a whale, beneath the sea, and the only salvation he had at the moment was to be in the whale; for the whale had delivered him from the raging waters, and God had prepared the whale to save him, by swallowing him. But now he is in the depth of the sea, and he is made to look again to God’s Holy Temple and pay his vows; and so he cries out, “Salvation is of the LORD.” And so it is. Salvation is of the Lord. Saving, delivering, healing, curing, calling and even our coming, is of the Lord. We must say from first to last, if He does not show us that we are a sinner, we will never know it. If He does not save us, we will never be saved. If He does not bless us to see that we are not whole, we shall remain like the Pharisee who thinks he is whole. If Jesus does not open our eyes, we will remain blind. They that are whole have no need of the Physician. But, how great are our needs. We can hear now the voices of those crying out, “My needs are so great. There are none so vile as I am. No sinner on this earth has committed the trespasses against their Lord that I have.” Those are the very characters that Jesus came for. But mark well, He came to call them to repentance. Not the righteous, but sinners. Not the whole, but the sick. We may thank our God then, if we have been blessed to see, and to know, and to feel that we are incurably sick, and then feel His mighty power to make us whole indeed.
May our prayer be, Great Physician, undertake my case.
J.F. Poole – 1988