Never Failing Cure

Our title this morning is Never Failing Cure. How we need cures today for all sorts of problems. In 1976 there were 282 million prescriptions dispensed per year. But 20 years later, in 1996, there were 473 million prescriptions - a 68 percent increase. And there are new illnesses. Recently Dr Helga Dittmar, a social psychologist, addressed the British Association's Science Week. Her subject was "compulsive shopping". She predicted this will increase causing not only more debt but more depression. And depression already is on the increase. The figures released last month for 1994-1996 show a rise of 15 percent for men and 19 percent for women. This morning at our Medical Service we thank God that something can be done about this and other problems. We have inherited a great medical tradition. It goes back before Christ to the Greeks and Hippocrates. When joined with apostolic and biblical Christianity, it flourished in a totally new Christian way. Hippocrates, or his school, contrary to the ethos of his time, had prohibited abortion and euthanasia. That was one of the most distinctive features about the Hippocratic Oath. The early Christians, too, were known for their opposition to abortion. So it was not surprising to find soon a christianized version of this Oath. Jesus Christ was the great healer. His followers were told to heal the sick. Naturally they wanted to learn from anyone who was good. So they learnt from Hippocrates. Their oath was headed, From the Oath according to Hippocrates in so far as a Christian may swear it. Let me give it to you:

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed for ever and ever; I lie not. I will bring no stain upon the learning of the medical art. Neither will I give poison to anybody though asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a plan [ie no euthanasia]. Similarly I will not give treatment to women to cause abortion, treatment neither from above nor from below. But I will teach this art, to those who require to learn it, without grudging and without an indenture. I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment. And in purity and in holiness I will guard my art. Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will do so to help the sick, keeping myself free from all wrong-doing, intentional and unintentional, tending to death or to injury, and from fornication with bond or free, man or woman. Whatsoever in the course of practice I see or hear (or outside my practice in social intercourse) that ought not to be published abroad, I will not divulge, but consider such things to be holy secrets. Now if I keep this oath and break it not, may God be my helper in my life and art, and may I be honoured among men for all time. If I keep faith, well; but if I forswear myself may the opposite befall me.

That is how Christian medicine started. And generally, in the West, that tradition based on the Hippocratic tradition, but refined by the bible and following the example of Christ was accepted until this century. But the secular European Enlightenment that denied the bible at the end of the 18th century, and social Darwinism at the end of the 19th century led doctors, in Germany in the 20th century, to euthanasia and the holocaust and the rejection of the Hippocratic and Christian tradition. In 1920 Alfred Hoche and Rudolph Binding wrote their influential Release and Destruction of Lives not Worth Living. In 1933 a German law was proclaimed "for the prevention of progeny with hereditary defects". In 1937 all coloured children were to be sterilized. And in 1938 and 1939 euthanasia began on Germans considered incurable. I haven't time to outline the history of the concentration camps - but this was all of a piece. And doctors - nice, middle-class, educated, respectable doctors - were involved or were ignoring these things. They were morally so weak. Any one like that here this morning? You're a doctor or in the medical profession - a Christian - but you don't stand up for what is right when others are wrong. Learn from what happened in Germany. After the war, in 1948 at Geneva, the World Medical Association came out with a declaration in an attempt to redress these evils. Did it do so? No! It produced an entirely secular declaration that had an undefined promise to "respect human life from the time of conception". This means all or nothing. The Hippocratic Oath and the Christian Oath used negatives, outlawing abortion and euthanasia. No wonder there are problems today. That is why we need to turn to the bible for help. So we will do that now. At Jesmond Parish Church this Autumn we are looking at Matthew's Gospel chapters 11-12. This morning in our series we have reached chapter 11 verse 25 and we will be looking at verses 25-30. And my headings are first, THE DISEASE; secondly, THE PHYSICIAN; and thirdly, THE CURE. First, THE DISEASE Jesus is making some general observations about fundamental problems and issues. But what is the fundamental problem? Why did all those doctors under the Nazis do what they did? In his 1988 book Racial Hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis Robert Procter documents what went on and comes to the following conclusion:

The record of medicine under the Nazis is largely one of eager and active co-operation; and neither resistance nor indifference was able to offset the enthusiasm of the profession for the regime and its policies.

How did all that happen? The message of the bible is clear. It happened because of "sin". That is a word that has lost its currency today. It, too, can mean all or nothing. But it ought to be used as Article IX of The Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England defines it. Sin, the Article says, is "the fault and corruption of the nature of every man." It calls it "this infection of nature." It is a spiritual infection or disease. And it is a disease of the inner-most being. So Jesus later says in Matthew (15 verse 19):

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

The Bible says that everyone has got a spiritual heart disease. Actually it is more like a spiritual brain tumour. Sometimes, as in Germany before and during the last war, it has evil symptoms. But often it does its destroying work unnoticed and relatively symptom free. That is the way with some brain tumours. You may be relatively self-controlled and self-adjusted. But by nature you are, because we all are, self-centred. This is the essence of original sin. William Temple put it so brilliantly:

I am the centre of the world I see: where the horizon is, depends on where I stand ... Education may make my self-centredness less disastrous by widening the horizon of interest: so far it is like climbing a tower, which widens the horizon for physical vision, while leaving me still the centre and standard of reference.

The fundamental problem is that you are "you-centred" and not "God-centred". And the result? You are what Jesus calls "weary and burdened" and you lack "rest" (verse 28). Isn't that the modern world? I recently came across this comment of Rachel Welch, the actress. She put it like this:

"I had acquired everything I wanted, yet I was totally miserable."

But it is not just rest "for this life" that is needed. Far more importantly it is rest "for all eternity". Jesus says you need "rest for your souls" (verse 29). God isn't a God who tolerates the holocaust or any lesser sins. Jesus has just been teaching about "the day of judgment". He has been addressing his respectable hearers - the people of Capernaum (the Palestinian equivalent of Jesmond or Gosforth or Whickham or Ponteland). He says:

it will be more bearable for Sodom [and that was the equivalent of saying 'it will be more bearable for the doctors and officers of those Nazi concentration camps'] than for you ..."

... unless you repent and accept me and my words. The greatest sin is to reject Jesus. Oh, yes: this is heavy stuff. But it is Jesus, more than anyone else, who teaches about hell. Notice two of the symptoms of this spiritual disease that Jesus mentions. First there is ignorance of God's truth. Look at verse 25:

At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

The problem is that "these things" - the truth about God and the reality of the eternal world and his purposes for this world - "are hidden". People are ignorant of them. And they don't want to know. On the one hand, they switch off, for example, if you talk about heaven and hell - God's truth for the life to come. On the other hand, they switch off, if you talk about God's truth for this life and God's principles for living now. My wife, who is a doctor, wrote a couple of articles fairly recently for the Archives of Diseases in Childhood. They were on the outcome of placements for Adoption and Fostering. In the discussion she said it would be better to prevent children needing to be placed for adoption and fostering. One way, she said, would be to support the traditional family. But before her article was accepted it was suggested by the journal's referee she remove that remark. She didn't (of course). People do not want to hear about God's principles for living now, let alone his word on eternity. The first symptom, then, of this disease is ignorance of God's truth. The second symptom is pride. Jesus contrasts "the wise and learned" with "little children". He is not saying that only the young can learn about God. Nor is he saying that all clever people are shut out of God's kingdom. No! But he is saying that if you trust in your intellect (or money or status or background), you won't get anywhere. You need to distrust your own abilities and, like a child, be humble and willing to learn from him. And Jesus says, verse 26:

Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

This is all part of God's plan. Why? Surely because God knows you need to come to an end of yourself. You need to admit there is a problem. You won't go to a doctor unless you think you are ill. Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick" (Matt 9.12). Who is at the end of a road this morning? Well, Jesus Christ is the great doctor or physician. You need to go to him. That brings us to our second heading. Secondly, THE PHYSICIAN Look at verse 27:

"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

This is an amazing statement. And it was uttered. Of that there is no doubt. So what are you to make of it? It was statements like this that led C.S.Lewis to write:

The discrepancy between the depth, sincerity and may I say, the shrewdness of his [Jesus'] moral teaching and the rampant megalomania which must lie behind his theological teaching unless he is God, has never been got over.

The one making this statement has to be the incarnate Son of God - God come in the flesh. You say, "how on earth can you make sense of such a God-man?" Jesus tells us the incarnation is a mystery. He says here: "No one knows the Son except the Father." So you, a mere human, will never fathom it. But don't be so proud that you only believe what you understand. I do not understand the insides of computers, but I know they work. I use them. If God is real and true, there will be much you don't understand. The Psalmist said:

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain (Ps 139.6).

But you can go to Christ without understanding all about him. And you need to go to him if you want healing for this spiritual disease. He says, verse 27: "All things have been committed to me by my Father." As the bible puts it: he has the keys to heaven, he is the door through which you must go, he is the good shepherd, he is the bread of life, he is the light of the world, and he is the Lamb that was slain. If you want to know God, Jesus is the only one who can help you. Verse 27:

no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Yes, there is general revelation. The bible teaches that "the eternal power and divine nature of God" can be known from the created order (Rom 1.20). And there is common grace. God "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good" (Matt 5.45). General revelation meant that Hippocrates was able to understand some truth in respect to our physical bodies. That is why there is much you can learn from non Christians. General revelation and common grace are reflected in many philosophies and religions. But even there human perception is perverted through sin. That is the human tragedy and that is why there is a desperate need for special revelation and saving grace. That comes in Christ, and in Christ alone. Why? Because he alone truly reveals God, our heavenly Father; and he alone is the one sufficient sacrifice for sin. If you read on in Matthew's Gospel - I am going to be preaching on this subject next Sunday evening - you come to the account of the cross. That is at the heart of Christ's mission and ministry. He came to die, in your place and in my place, for your sins and my sins, to bear the judgment we deserve. Plato and Aristotle didn't do that. Mohammed didn't do that. Marx didn't do that. Only the incarnate Son of God could do that.

"There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. He only could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in" (as we sing).

He is the only real Physician who can deal with this spiritual disease. So what is the prescription - what is the cure? That is my third and final heading. Thirdly, THE CURE It is very simple. Verse 28:

"Come to me [says Jesus], all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. {29} Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {30} For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

That is an invitation from Jesus Christ that comes down the centuries to us today. Who is invited? "All you who are weary and burdened" - all who need rest. That meant, and still means, those who are weary and burdened by a consciousness of guilt and who are trying to keep religious rules and regulations. People then, and now, think you can get right with God by going to religious services and doing religious things - like coming to a Medical Service. No! says Jesus - they have value after you are right with God ; but by themselves they weary you and burden you. So Jesus says: "Come to me". He doesn't say: "do this" or "go there". Nor does he say: "wait" until you have some spiritual experience. He says: "come to me" - and he implies, come (by faith) with all your problems, all your guilt, and all your worries. And the promise is: "I will give you rest." Who needs to do that this morning? Some people need to do that for the first time. Why not make this morning the first time? But there are others who have "come" already, yet are still "weary and burdened". Sin doesn't completely go away once you have been forgiven and received God's Holy Spirit. There is still a struggle, but now it can be with God's strength. Others are "weary and burdened" by the stress and strains of this life or by sadness or by sickness. Jesus wants "all" to come. He says: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened." Once you have come to Christ for the first time you need to keep close to him. If you drift away, you need to "come back". And you need to obey him:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {30} For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

There is a stress and strain in too much liberty - as many parents know who have helped their children choose GCSE's, A levels and even university courses. There is a tyranny from conflicting desires. Christ's yoke is easy for it gives unity and direction to life. And his burden is light because, as St Bernard says, "it carries the man who carries it."

Back to top