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Sustained in Sickness / First Mid-week in Lent

Psalm 41:3

The LORD sustains him on his sickbed; in his sickness you restore him to full health.

King David said in the opening words of Psalm 41,

Blessed is the one who considers the poor!

In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;

the Lord protects him and keeps him alive;

he is called blessed in the land;

You do not give him up to the will of his enemies.

Those words were what last week’s Ash Wednesday sermon was based on and I emphasized two things for you:

First, all of God’s Psalms, including Psalm 41, speak about our Lord and His work of our salvation (Luke 24:44). That’s why God included the Psalms in His Scriptures: Jesus said, they “bear witness, about Me”.

Second, because the Psalms are about Jesus, they’re also about you. You are the Baptized of Christ. When you were baptized, you entered into Christ’s holy body (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 1:30) just as surely as He entered yours (John 14:20; Galatians 2:20). You and your Christ are now joined together by God. “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

Tonight, as we move forward in Psalm 41, I would like you to keep that in mind: that the Psalms speak about you because they speak first about Jesus. Your Baptismal connection to Jesus can help with these words from Psalm 41: “The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness You restore him to full health.”

First and foremost, Jesus is the one whom God the Father sustained on a sickbed. To be sure, the Gospel writers never recorded anything about Jesus suffering cancer, feeling the effects of lung disease, catching a cold, or even striking His “foot against a stone” (Matthew 4:6). As far as the Gospels are concerned, our Lord was a picture of health, right up to the moment of His arrest, always healing and never needing to be healed. The human body of Jesus was unblemished (1 Peter 1:19) and uncorrupted by disease because Jesus had no sin of His own (Hebrews 4:15). Disease came into the world as a result of sin, and Jesus is personally sinless. Nonetheless, just because Jesus had no sin of His own, we should NOT therefore think that He carried no sin at all in His body.

He is the Lamb of God, who took upon Himself “the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Sinless Jesus was made to be the sinner for our sake. God the Father laid onto His perfect Son every corrupt thing about us (Isaiah 53:6). Jesus held Himself personally responsible for our guilt; He made Himself to be the guilty one so that we could be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish” (Philippians 2:15). That is why the Scriptures say God “made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Because Jesus took upon Himself all of our sin, He also took upon Himself all the bodily effects of our sin, including our diseases and ailments. You might have a bad hip; you can find comfort in knowing that Jesus bore the pain and hobbled for you in His Passion. You might have bad lungs; knowing that Jesus suffocated on the cross can help you realize that you are not alone in your breathing problems. Isaiah declared, and Peter echoed, a promise from God concerning Jesus that shall yet be fulfilled in our bodies: “with His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). That’s why David could pray in another place and why we also can pray, even in pain say “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit” (Psalm 103:2–4).

David said in Psalm 41, “The Lord sustains him on His sickbed; in his illness You restore him to full health.” Those words describe God the heavenly Father’s personal attentiveness toward Jesus, who is God the fully embodied Son.

“The Lord sustains him on His sickbed.” A German artist named Matthias Grünewald famously painted a picture of our Lord’s crucified body not merely pierced with the nails and the spear but also pockmarked and discolored with a disease called the plague. Grünewald wanted us to think of our Lord’s cross as a sickbed, where Jesus suffered for us and for our salvation, bearing both our sin and its bodily consequences.

David’s word, “sustains,” could also be translated as “upholds,” which is a synonym. God said through His prophet Isaiah, “Behold My Servant, whom I uphold, My chosen, in whom My soul delights” (Isaiah 42:1). Some ancient artists depicted God the Father present at the crucifixion of our Lord. In those depictions, the heavenly Father would sometimes be positioned above and behind our Lord’s cross, arms outstretched toward Jesus, holding His Son’s sacrificial body in place against the beam. Thus, God the Father upheld and sustained the incarnate Son “on His sickbed,” as it were.

David said, “In his illness, You restore him to full health.” Stated another way, God “raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:21). In the resurrection of our Lord, God the Father restored full health to His Son, setting Him free from the weight of our sin and the burden of our disease. The resurrection of our Lord’s flesh promises resurrection also to our flesh because He made Himself one with us. That’s why Job confidently prayed, “After my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold” (Job 19:26–27).

Because Psalm 41 is about Jesus, the same psalm is also about YOU, the Baptized of Christ. David said, for the purpose of your abiding faith and eternal hope, “The Lord sustains him or her”, that is, the Lord sustains each of His chosen ones, “on each person’s sickbed; in each Christian’s illness You, O Lord restore him or her to full health”.

David’s “sustain,” or “uphold,” is a beautiful word! Jesus of Nazareth is the hand and Word of the Lord of hosts. “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly, the right hand of the Lord exalts!” (Psalm 118:15–16). “Your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:8). Your Christ knows “how to sustain with a word him who is weary” (Isaiah 50:4).

Are you, at this moment, a picture of health? If you are, you did NOT reach that temporary state through your own effort or strength. “The God of Israel, He is the one who gives power and strength to His people” (Psalm 68:35).

Is anyone sick? You did NOT get that way because of some accidental oversight in the heavenly realms or because the Lord your God has forgotten you. If you’re sick, it’s been allowed by the grace and overflowing mercy of your God, who “gives power to the faint” and “increases strength” (Isaiah 40:29). Even when we suffer in our bodies and struggle in our minds, Jesus is “sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24).

Has your dear Christian loved one died in the faith and departed this life? His illness was NOT his death, and her disease did NOT claim her life. The Lord said, “The child is NOT dead, but sleeping” (Mark 5:39).

Why? Because David’s words in Psalm 41 are faithful and true: “The Lord sustains YOU on YOUR sickbed; in YOUR illness He restores YOU to full health” (Isaiah 41:3).