The Great Physician
October 3rd, 1965 @ 7:30 PM
THE GREAT PHYSICIAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-3-65 7:30 p.m.
On the radio, the city of Dallas radio WRR, along with our great congregation here in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, turn your Bible to Matthew chapter 8, Matthew chapter 8. And we shall read the first four verses; Matthew chapter 8, the first four verses [Matthew 8:1-4]. And we read them out loud together, every one sharing his Bible with his neighbor, and all of us reading aloud. Matthew chapter 8, the first four verses; now together:
When He was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him.
And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.
And Jesus put forth His hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
Now skip to verse 14, and we shall read verses 14 through 17; 14 through 17 [Matthew 8:14-17]:
And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever.
And He touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them.
When the even was come, they brought unto Him many that were possessed with devils: and He cast out the spirits with His word, and healed all that were sick:
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.
These are the words that immediately follow the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29]. The great sermon has been delivered, and now the great practice, the great implementation, has begun. Matthew groups together, after the Sermon on the Mount, nine marvelous, wondrous miracles of our Lord, in chapters 8 and 9 [Matthew 8:1-9:36]. And the first triplet of those miracles presents Jesus as the great Healer, the Great Physician. And that is the title of the sermon tonight: The Great Physician.
There is not a more beautiful, or precious, or meaningful presentation of our Lord than this: “When the even was come, they brought unto Him those that were possessed with demons”—these who were afflicted in mind and heart—“and He cast out the evil spirits with His word, and He healed all that were sick”—these who were diseased and hurt in body—“That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our illnesses” [Matthew 8:16-17]. In mind’s eye, can you not see that scene? Our Lord standing in the center, and around Him, all around Him are cast the flotsam and the jetsam of humanity; just piled around Him, maimed, sick, and diseased, and blind, and crippled, and pall, just dumped at His feet; the whole suffering, helpless, hopeless mass.
And would it not have been easy for the Lord to say, “Take away these burdens? They remind Me of so much that is depressing and full of despair. Take them away. Take them away.” But how precious, I say, is this incomparable presentation of our Lord as He stood there and they brought to Him the sick of mind and heart, and the diseased of body. He didn’t say, “I haven’t time,” or “I’m weary of them,” or “The burden of it depresses My own soul.” The end of this book of miracles here, this section says, “When He saw them, He was moved with compassion on them” [Matthew 9:36]. They belonged to Him more in their helplessness and in their hopelessness than at any other time. Jesus, moved with compassion, “That it might be fulfilled which was written by Isaiah the prophet, saying, He took our infirmities, and He carried our illnesses” [Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:17].
Jesus, “moved with compassion” [Matthew 9:36], is His enduring and endearing name; moved with compassion, filled with loving care and concern; Jesus, moved with compassion. It lent a gentleness to everything that He did. It brought into the tone of His voice a sweet softness. It added a wondrous kindness to the look in His eye and the expression on His face. And it was the secret of the inspiration of His ministry; Jesus, moved with compassion. It was out of compassion for the lost that He came into the world [Hebrews 10:5-14]. It was out of compassion for the sorrowful that He wept [John 11:32-35]. It was out of compassion for the sick that He healed [Luke 6:19]. It was out of compassion for us in our sins that He died on the cross [1 Corinthians 15:3]; Jesus, moved with compassion. “And when the even was come, they brought unto Him those that were afflicted in mind and heart, and those who were diseased in body; and He healed them all” [Matthew 8:16]. O blessed Savior, that there was just such an one today to whom we could bear our ill, and they all could be well, that they all might be well.
Now in this glorious passage that we read, I’m taking two of the miracles tonight, and the third one we’re going to preach about next Sunday night. The first one, “When Jesus was come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother laid and sick of a fever. And He touched her, and the fever left her: and she was well” [Matthew 8:14-15]. Would you not have thought that this was the last house in the world where sickness would be found, in Simon Peter’s house, the chiefest apostle? But:
There’s never a flock, however watched and tended,
But one dead lamb is there;
And there is never a fireside, howe’er defended,
But has one vacant chair.
[from “Resignation,” Henry W. Longfellow]
There is no family circle that ultimately is not broken. And there is no home without its shadow. And there is no life without its despairs and its illnesses. So it was in Simon Peter’s house. There was illness there [Matthew 8:14].
Wouldn’t you have thought that God would have placed upon the infidels and the atheists all of the illnesses of this life? Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you have thought that God would have heaped upon the unbelievers all of the darkness and despair of this life. Wouldn’t you? Why, my brother, down the street every unbeliever’s house had less fever in it than did Simon Peter’s. Don’t you wonder at these things?
Here is a vile, and an evil, and a bad man. And his lands and fields produced abundantly, overflowingly, aboundingly [Luke 12:16-19]. Here is a Dives, who lives sumptuously every day. And at his door, at his very step, at his very gate, may be a godly Lazarus who lives off the crumbs and is comforted when the dogs come and lick his sores [Luke 16:19-21]. Don’t you wonder at those things? And we’re often prone to say, “You know there must not be any God.” I heard that as an argument from one end of the communist world to the other. “There’s not any God. Look at the afflictions of the people. There’s not any God.”
And how many times does that thought arise in our own souls? Lord, why is it that sometimes the wicked prosper, and the righteous are afflicted? [Jeremiah 12:1]. And why is it, Lord, that people who are saintly in their lives and godly in their devotion, have illness, and sickness, and reverses, and heartaches, and despair, and disappointment? How is that, Lord? Well, the answer lies in things that pertain to heaven and to God’s infinite purpose for us.
Why my brother, God has a meaning, an infinite meaning, back of all of the providences that to us are sometimes so dark and so full of disappointment. In the room of the sick, even the impetuous tread softly, put their foot on the floor quietly. When death comes into the home, even the vilest blasphemer is quiet; he stands also aghast. And in the presence of sorrow, and heartache, and disease, and despair, the brokenhearted learn to find the right place in the Bible. Without that earnest seeking from God and that earnest importunity to heaven, we open the Bible at every wrong place. And we open it and it is empty. But to the heart that seeks God, how many marvelous words on how many pages of how many Bibles have tears fallen at the twenty-third Psalm, or at the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John? Sorrow, and sickness, and disease have a meaning.
And my brother, do not forget that we so limited in time and space, we have a weakness. We have an oft temptation to look upon and judge the providences of God by just the present moment. We limit our time and judgment by the rocking cradle, and by the deep tomb, and forget that the eternity belongs to God. We need to judge in a wider field and a more extensive plain. Why, any child would tell you, and any man would answer, that the straightest distance from this point to that point is a straight line. And it looks straight to us; but my brother, extend it, and it will follow the curvature of the world and will be a circle; but you say it’s a straight line. We need a broader field. We need an extension of judgment. And when we come into the eternities and learn as God knows, we shall see that there was an infinite purpose in the diseases, and the disasters, and the disappointments, and the despairs that come into our lives. Yes, there is fever and there is sickness in the home of Simon Peter [Matthew 8:14], and God has an infinite meaning in it all.
Now the other marvelous thing that Jesus did was the healing of the leper [Matthew 8:1-3]. When you read the passage, did you notice this broad plural? “When He was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him,” plural; vast throngs, great crowds [Matthew 8:1]. “When He was come down from the mountains great multitudes followed Him,” a broad, extensive plural. Then a sharp singular, “And, behold, a leper” [Matthew 8:2]; the vast throng, and one leper. And look: surrounded by the crowd and pressed by the multitude, behold, a leper came right up to Him, right up to Him, immediately, right up to Him. Do you ever wonder, how did he get there? Do you? How did he get there? Thronged on every side, vast multitudes around Him, and behold a leper came! [Matthew 8:1-2].
Do you know why? Very simple why; according to the thirteenth chapter of Leviticus, the leper had to do five things: one, rend his clothes; two, cover his head; three, cover his mouth; four, cry “Unclean, unclean”; and five, dwell alone without the camp where no other habitation is found [Leviticus 13:45-46]. Why, it was the simplest thing in the world. When our Lord, thronged and crowded on every hand, and that leper, as he walked with his hand over his mouth, crying, “Unclean, unclean, unclean!” and wherever he went, there opened that ever present and chilling circle. He not only lived alone, but he walked alone in the curse of his disease, crying, “Unclean, unclean!” And he came to the Lord and bowed down before Him, worshipping Him, and said, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean” [Matthew 8:2].
Can’t you see the infidel and the unbeliever, the worldly, as he scoffs at that poor and wretched critter? This creature of disease and defilement, coming before the Lord Jesus, and crying for help from heaven. They do it today. Isn’t that marvelously wonderful and unbelievable? These are the authorities on God. These are the authorities on heaven. These are they who have the answers for the human soul. And in their superiority, and in their sophistication, and in their unbelief, they scoff and mock at the great verities of heaven. And they lay hands upon this poor leper and drag him away from the altar of God. And they put their hands to stop his mouth as he cries to God for healing and for cleansing.
Do you ask them the way to heaven? Do you? Do you ask the sleek, fat ox how it is that the soul soars to glory? Young people, do you ever find yourself disturbed by the man who in his unbelief is never able to raise himself out of the dust of the ground, but grovels in his spirit, and in his vision, and in his heart like a worm? Do you? He doesn’t know. Why ask him? Come to Jesus. Ask the Lord of glory, or ask a saint of God, who in his pilgrimage has learned what it is to walk with the Lord, or ask this despised and outcast leper. Ask him.
So he comes, walking in that ever widening circle. And Jesus standing alone in the midst; everybody moved out of the way except the Lord. And He stands there in the center of that widening circle, and the unclean, and despised, and outcast leper walks up to the Lord and bows down in His presence [Matthew 8:1-2]. What will He do? What will He do? “And Jesus put forth His hand, and touched him” [Matthew 8:3]. Can’t you hear the crowd gasp? Why, that man had forgotten what the touch of a human hand felt like; it was half the cure. Across that wide and abysmal gulf, the Lord reached forth His hand and touched him, half the cure; touched him.
I try to think, as I prepare a sermon like this, I try to think what that must have felt like to the leper who had never been touched by the kindness, and sympathy, and love of a human hand in his lifetime. “And Jesus put forth His hand and touched him; and immediately he was cleansed. He was cleansed” [Matthew 8:3]; the hand of God, of omnipotence, had touched him.
This thing of leprosy brings to my soul a flood, a flood of memories. I choose one of them, for our time is gone. I choose one. Dr. Goldie, in Africa, said to me upon a day, “Would you like to go with me and visit my clan settlements?” He had seven of them in a great arc. He had gathered the lepers where they had been cast out; he had gathered them into what he had called “clan settlements.” And they’d built their own little villages, and he ministered to them, God’s beloved physician. So he said to me, “Would you like to go with me and visit my clan settlements?” I said, “Doctor, I would love to go.”
So we got in his little English car, and we drove for about two or three days from clan settlement to clan settlement. And when the little car would come into the village, the lepers, oh, how quickly they’d send the word, and they all gather around, and he’d minister to them. He’d assuage, and he’d mollify, and ameliorate, and salve, and bind up, and heal, and do all those precious things, in the hope that God would add health and life.
And at one of those clan settlements, they had built a little church out of mud. First time I ever saw a church made out of mud. Everything was made out of mud. The house was made out of mud, the pews were made out of mud, the pulpit was made out of mud, the pulpit desk was made out of mud, where the pastor sat, the preacher, made out of mud. Everything was made out of dirt, all of it. So they all gathered in the little church and asked me to preach to them. And I did my best through an interpreter to preach to them about our blessed Jesus. Then after the service of preaching was done, I stepped down from the pulpit, and the missionary said to me, “Pastor, the lepers say they want you to go back up into the pulpit. They have a song to sing for you.” So I went back and stood in the pulpit, and the lepers all stood up there in the congregation and sang this song:
The Great Physician now is near,
The sympathizing Jesus;
He speaks the drooping heart to cheer,
Oh, list’ to the voice of Jesus!
Sweetest note in seraph song,
Sweetest carol ever sung;
Sweetest note on mortal tongue:
Jesus, blessed Jesus!
[from “The Great Physician,” William Hunter, 1859]
“A leper, and the Lord touched him, and he was clean” [Matthew 8:3].
O precious Savior, touch our hearts and make us clean. Touch our lives and make them pure and bright. Touch our souls, Lord, and wash out the stain of sin. Touch us, Lord. Lay Thy hands of healing upon us, and make us strong and well for Thee. And someday, Master, when the task is finished and the work is done, extend Thy blessed hands and receive us unto Thyself forever; world without end, amen and amen.
Do you know that glorious Lord? Have you ever given your life to that precious Savior? Do it tonight. Make it now. We’re going to sing that song, “The Great Physician Now is Near,” and while we sing that hymn of appeal, somebody you, somebody you, give himself to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]. A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], a youth, a child, you; if God speaks to your heart, if the Spirit says the word, make it tonight, make it now. In the throng in this balcony round, down the stairway on either side at the front and the back; on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front; when you stand up, stand up coming. “Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God. Here I am. Here I come.” Do it now. Make it tonight, while we stand and while we sing.