My friends, the Blacks, were just getting settled into their foreign missions position when their daughter, eleven-year-old Janie, started having headaches. They tried the normal remedies, and nothing helped. The headaches went on and on for months, becoming increasingly worse. They were debilitating, and Janie spent most of her time up in her room. Even after visiting an American doctor, there were no answers.
Unlike the rest of the family, Janie had not experienced culture shock. She loved everything about her new country, especially the nationals. But when new friends from the community would stop over, Janie couldn’t even gather enough strength to go downstairs. Her love for them had to stay tethered to her bed. It was heartbreaking.
One day, Janie’s mom heard her crying really hard. She ran to Janie’s side, thinking Janie must be in excruciating pain again. But no, Janie was crying about something else.
She said, “Jesus is so close to me when I’m up here by myself. He gives me such comfort and peace! And I’m worried—what if my headaches go away? What if I become like a normal kid again? I’m afraid that He won’t seem as close anymore, and I don’t know if I can stand it!”
Janie (at age eleven) has been granted a clarity that I (at age forty-six) have only caught glimpses of. She sees that she has a desperate need for Jesus! We all do.
The Great Physician
Matthew wasn’t a likely draft pick for Jesus’ disciples. He was a tax collector, which was the exact opposite of a saint. But it was for sinners that Jesus came!
When Jesus came to Matthew’s tax booth and said, “Follow me,” Matthew rose immediately. He left a lucrative extortion business to follow Jesus instead. Then he threw himself a retirement party and invited all of his tax collecting buddies.
These were the men in town who got rich off of betraying their brothers and neighbors. Nobody approved. Everyone agreed it was shameful. Like today’s pornography, trafficking, or drug industries, tax collecting was lucrative, but godly people considered it a reprehensible profession, laced with betrayal and greed.
Yet there was Jesus, enjoying Himself as He mingled with these sinner types—even dipping His hand into the same bowl. The Pharisees looking on, perhaps from the gate at Matthew’s mansion, were disgusted. They asked some of Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matt. 9:11).
Jesus responded to the Pharisees directly, saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt. 9:12).
Well, that’s obvious. If Jesus had pressed these highly regarded teachers and honored citizens, they would have agreed with Jesus’ triage assignments. They were “well” and those tax collectors were “sick.”
But the snap of correction came in the word “need.” Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need . . .”
The Pharisees had no need for Jesus. They were quite pleased with their system of rule following and rule lecturing, thank you very much. Their role offered a sense of superiority. They enjoyed the way people needed their approval and blessing—and resented the way Jesus didn’t.
This new rabbi had walked onto their turf and offered approval and blessing to the very crooks who deserved to be shunned. How dare He? No, they didn’t need Jesus. And they wanted Him gone.
Sinners Need Mercy
Jesus dismissed the Pharisees with an assignment. (Can you imagine how this made them fume?) He said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13).
Obviously, God doesn’t need our mercy for Himself. Sinners need mercy, and God has never sinned. What God wants is for His people to be merciful toward each other.
It’s difficult to give mercy if you don’t feel you need mercy. Sinners know they need mercy, the way sick people know they need a doctor. But righteous people (or those who think they’re righteous) have trouble sensing their need for mercy. And they have trouble giving it, too.
As the Pharisees stood at Matthew’s gate, they had scorn—not mercy—for Matthew and his friends. They were disgusted with Jesus for even associating with these people, let alone extending friendship and mercy to them.
So the difference between the people Jesus was eating with and the ones He was sending away was their sense of need. The Pharisees weren’t itching to meet the One who could cleanse their hearts because they didn’t feel dirty. They weren’t longing to meet the Great Physician because they didn’t feel sick. And they weren’t yearning for mercy because they didn’t feel a need for mercy. But the tax collectors did.
A Bedside Jesus
Whether we realize it or not, we’re all sick with sin. We’ve all contracted the disease of the soul. It rots our hearts and causes us to miss out on the beautiful, joyful life God intended.
When we recognize our need and call out, desperate for relief from sin’s withering effects, Jesus flies to our side like a kind, compassionate doctor. His blood is the only ointment that can heal us, and He offers it freely—both as a once-for-all and ongoing treatment for sin.
Sick and Needy
Sometimes, I’m utterly aware of my sin. I groan in agony over my selfishness and pride. Like a chronically ill person, I feel bound to sinful habits, powerless to change. As sin eats me alive, I cry out to Jesus, desperate for relief. And amazingly, this pleases Him! Like a good doctor, He is drawn to my neediness.
God created me to thrive when I live in moment-by-moment reliance to Him, not trying to prove I don’t need Him. He comes to my bedside each morning as I open my Bible, whispering hope to my soul through its pages. He lifts my spirits and I rejoice over the relief from my symptoms! I smile and enjoy the reprieve. I long for the day I’ll wake up in heaven, completely healed, but for now I am content under my Physician’s daily care.
Strong and Healthy
Other times, I forget that I’m sick. I feel strong and healthy. Why would I need a doctor? Just look at all of my church-going and small group-leading! Isn’t that proof that I’m doing great?
My misconceived sense of health causes me to skip my daily checkups with Jesus. I don’t want to stay in bed. I feel just fine! And I have so much to do for the Lord.
The longer I continue with my façade of wellness, the more irritated I become with the sickly people around me. Their sin disgusts me. Their weakness is annoying. I refuse to be put in the same category with people who produce pornography or sell drugs. I am not sick like them.
My irritation with other sin-sick people is a sure sign that I’ve lost sight of my own neediness. Like a Pharisee, I’m scorning other people just because they sin differently than I do.
We are all sick with the rotting disease of sin. We are all desperate for the blood of Jesus to heal our hearts, whether we recognize our need or not.
Little Janie, up in her bedroom suffering with headaches, has come to see her neediness as a good thing—for her need is what draws Jesus closest to her side.
It’s true for you and me, too. Whether it’s physical pain, emotional struggle, relational turmoil, or the entanglement of sin, life’s difficulties help us to recognize our need for Jesus. Oh how we need Him! And as those benefiting from the treatment of the Great Physician, we have no business scorning other people who are sick with sin.
We are the ones who have received mercy! We’ve known the comfort of his presence! We have dipped our hand into the same bowl as Jesus and known the sweetness of His fellowship! Like Matthew, we’ve seen the depth of our need. And now we must extend mercy to others—even ones who sin differently than we do.
Which way do you see yourself? As sick and needy, burdened with sin? Or as spiritually strong and healthy? How is God pressing you to recognize your need for His mercy? How does this help you become more merciful to others?