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  • Writer's pictureJosiah Travis

Physician Heal Yourself

He hung there on the cross. Alone. Death bearing down on him. Bloodied by whip, nail, and thorn. This moment appeared to be the final defeat. Jesus’ ministry of healing and deliverance came to a startling end as the one who saved others failed to save himself. Religious leaders passed by not allowing this fact to go unnoticed--by Jesus or by the mourners gathered around the cross who loved him. 

"You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

“He saved others, but he can’t save himself!"

"Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!” 

Tempting I’m sure. Not only because it would have meant relief from unimaginable pain, but because it would have meant vindication. Sweet vindication! Instead of failure and ridicule Jesus could have experienced glory and praise. His mocking accusers would have been put in their place and he would have taken center stage as the preeminent one. It would have been just for Jesus to save himself. It would have been right for him to silence his accusers. Yet Jesus surrendered to His Father's plan--and to the possibility that this defeat could be worked into a miraculous end. Perhaps this was not the final chapter that his Father was writing with his life. 

Have you ever hung there, arms stretched wide across some crucifix shaped trial, wondering if there were any chapters left to be written in your own story? Have you ever hung before the world, apparent failure on display, longing to escape, prove others wrong or hide your shame? 

When facing the unfairness of this life, the trials that none of us are immune to, the internal emotional struggles that we earth travelers are prone to, each of us face the decision that Jesus faced: will we use every ounce of strength in us to escape the trial as quickly as we can or will we believe that God could be working a greater miracle in us and through us using a trial such as this.

Will we work to save ourselves, heal ourselves, defend ourselves--before anyone else can see the shame of our broken exterior--or will we follow Christ and let the cross work a miracle in our lives, just as it did in his?  

Many days before the one that brought Jesus to hang on a tree, Jesus was in his hometown of Nazareth. The brutality of Golgotha was a distant reality. A group gathered around Jesus in the Nazarene Synagogue. Surely the crowd was full of familiar faces. Jesus read powerfully anointed words from the Isaiah scroll, and then said these words: “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself!'"  

On Golgotha the fullness of that prophetic word came to pass. Jesus’ opponents mocked him, calling out for the Physician who healed others to heal himself. Surely Jesus' own disciples, with tear stained faces, cried out for their beloved master to heal himself. He had healed others. Why would he not heal himself? Their hearts broke as they watched the one they put their hope in hang there naked and defeated. The great Physician who healed so many refused to heal himself. Why? What purpose could this defeat serve? No one could have foreseen how skillfully God could use apparent defeat to bring ultimate victory.

Jesus refused to rescue himself, to play physician, instead He allowed a miracle to take place as God's invisible hand worked through death and brokenness. Crowds looked on in disdain as the Physician bled out. Disciples looked on grief stricken as their Physician bled out. The Father looked on in love and compassion as his Son allowed Him to accomplish a deeper work through broken surrender. 

How often do we short circuit the deep work of God by trying to play the role of physician in our own lives?

We play physician when we apply bandages and makeup to deep wounds--trying to heal ourselves so others never have to see the shame of our nakedness and blood. We won’t let the masses see us broken and defeated because they might mock and disdain us. We won't let those close to us see us broken and defeated because we fear disappointing them or losing our status as “spiritually mature." We won’t let God see us broken and defeated because we fear he may chastise and reject us. So in solitude we play at being our own physician. We discount the pain. “It’s not so bad. See I can put on a happy face and fix myself up right away.” “Nothing to see here folks. Everything is under control here. See I’m strong, mature, healthy. No trial can keep me down.” “No reason for alarm, no need for help. I've got this.” 

I used to think that Spiritual maturity looked like being strong and healthy with something to offer others. I now see that there is a deep spiritual maturity in recognizing when you need a physician and refusing to be your own. Sometimes God is in the pain and in the breaking. We run from the trials out there and the trials in here because we hate for anyone to have to see us on our cross (and we of course hate to hang there ourselves). BUT God can work a deeper miracle if we refuse to play physician. 

Often those of us who think of ourselves as mature in life and faith think that we should be able to heal ourselves. We have helped others along on the way we're the strong ones. We know the answers, the Bible verses, the right movements toward health and wholeness. Surely we can heal ourselves, save ourselves. But this is pride of course. We forget that Jesus said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Yet like the Pharisees Jesus so often confronted, we remain hidden behind pretense, perpetually holding it together for others and playing physician for ourselves. Meanwhile we completely short-circuit the deep work of God that can be done when we let him perform a profound miracle in what might feel like disgrace, exposure, vulnerability, and nakedness. The crowds mocked the spectacle of Jesus' defeat. His friends wept over it. The Father alone saw that beauty would come from this. 

I have two questions for you? 

1. Might the Father be up to something in you in this present trial? 

2. Have you been trying to be your own physician, keeping others on the outside and refusing to let them inside where there is the real blood and horror of your own personal cross?

We like to play physician for ourselves because it means no one else needs to see the mess. I certainly like it better when no one knows about my mess. But God does his best work in community where we are willing to acknowledge broken places and let others in. When we keep our wounds and trials to ourselves we rarely get the perspective and care we need in order to find healing. We all have our own blind spots and weak areas. When we find ourselves bloodied, hanging naked on a cross we need wise, loving, safe people who can help us find perspective and discover where God is in this trial. Many of us might say, “God is my Physician! He’s the only one I need. He is the ultimate healer anyway so I will take this straight to him. He hasn’t provided anyone else yet so I guess it's just me and him.” Noble sentiment, but more often than not I think this is a charade. We hide behind spiritual words so we don’t have to let others inside. We fear bringing others into our wounds, into our place of pain, into our weakness, and sin. This is especially true of the "spiritually mature.” 

Surely, we can’t let just anyone in, but we also can’t afford to let no one in. Whether wise mentor, clinical counselor, spiritual director, or trusted friend we must let others in when we find ourselves with arms stretched wide, blood spilling from our palms. Jesus' crucible and death were not hidden in secret. His pain was shared, his defeat shared. Though the work God was doing was first hidden, the crucible was shared—and so then was the victory. 

I’d like to close with this: Physician’s please don’t heal yourselves. Don’t even try. We are not wounded in isolation and we will not be healed in isolation. The deep work of God occurs through pain and darkness when the people of God open up their wounds in safe community and let the light and love of Christ come to live there. Whitewashed exteriors and the appearance of maturity and success is overrated. The cross is never pretty but if we let it, God will use it to work a deeper miracle in our lives than we could imagine. 


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