Isaiah 53 is one of the richest passages in the Bible to preach from - so here we will only scratch the surface. It conveys the notion of a servant, stemming from chapter 40 through to 55, which can be taken as a complete block. But note the servant does not match super-hero expectations. He does not look the part. Through the chapters the servant at first appears to be the people/nation of Israel, but later it seems to narrow to a single person - the anointed one sent by God, the one we know as Jesus.
Chapter 53 tells us this servant led a life of pain and sorrow. Yet he didn't just passively take it on the chin, but we are told he actively took up pain and suffering. So not only did Jesus identify with us (recall Hebrews), but he went further and took that which was bad and troubling for us.
Jesus takes 'our bad' so that we can go free. We can also say that Jesus takes our sicknesses so that we can be well and whole. It works as a kind of transfer. Like in a blood transfusion, but with the bad blood coming out of our bodies and into his. With him draining the poison out of us and absorbing it into himself. With him removing our viruses/infections and carrying them himself. Can we keep going with this analogy, and say he removes the cancerous cells, the tumours onto himself?
In each case that which is unhealthy is taken from us - it goes onto Jesus where it is dealt with. Christians certainly interpret these Isaiah verses spiritually: our malignant condition of being wrongdoers goes onto Him. Yet Matthew in his account of Jesus quotes using his own translation of the Hebrew writings of Isaiah, conveying a literal sense of human sickness. In Matthew chapter 8 he records miracles of healings and bad spirits removed, which Matthew says fulfilled Isaiah 53:4.
Matthew is very 'matter of fact' in the miracle stories. The gentile Roman soldier said to Jesus 'just say the word. For Peter's mother-in-law it just required a touch from Jesus and she got up healed. There was no fanfare, no big rally, no stage lighting or super PA system! So can we get this? It just needs 'a word'. It doesn't need a frenzy, or whipping up. There is no special 'quota of belief', or number of hours required in prayer (or number of people). It just needs the word of Jesus in His authority.
So let us know, like Matthew, that Jesus took up our infirmities and bore our diseases. He was pierced for our wrongdoing, and that by his wounds we are healed.
Such a statement is known theologically as the 'Finished work of Christ'. We know Jesus went to the cross, that all of mankind's wrongs are dealt with there - and we can know that all sickness & suffering are dealt with there too. The cross is central to our faith. From it comes forgiveness, and from it comes (ultimately) all healing.
Some people claiming a healing ministry based on the 'Finished work' principles go further and say: "Jesus' work is done, so forgiveness is guaranteed now, and therefore also healing is guaranteed now". But this leads to a mindset that says if we don't see healing it must be due to a lack of faith, and that is often projected onto the person suffering. This is a big problem! We simply do not always see healing, and we have long term acute cases to wrestle with. In the worst case it causes a crises of faith as people cannot reconcile their suffering experience with what they are told to believe.
It is also a problem because God's route to take every person to eternity is still a physical death process! Only Enoch and Elijah in the Old Testament seemed to get a direct ticket. Nobody in the New Testament sees this, and I can't think of anyone in church history who avoids death! So in praying with the dying we absolutely pray knowing God can do miracles, but we also pray knowing there can come a time to release ... understanding the ultimate healing comes through death and being raised.
Jesus was raised from the dead, showing us that death is not the end. He is victorious! But we don't yet see the full effects of this victory. We are caught in the now/not yet tension.
So how should we pray? Some pray 'if it is your will ...'. I understand this, and used to pray like that as well, but now I am not so keen since it feels like a cop-out. Is it the amount of faith? Not really - Jesus said you just need a mustard seed, though he also said 'you of little faith'. We should note, however, that he said that to people who should have known better (i.e. his disciples). What we can say is that it does seem to need someone somewhere to have faith! Albeit not that much, and certainly it does not need to be all properly worked out.
Let us pray certain that God is able, but at the same time listening to what God is doing, and also able to stand back and see what He is up to. This takes time and space, so let us not rush. Above all seek and focus on Jesus, not the condition (thats being miserable!), nor even the outcome (thats just positive thinking!). We can hold onto the outcome, but have our primary focus on Jesus. In Jesus there is healing, but not always as we expect.
Since Jesus has 'taken up our infirmities' we can speak to the condition praying in the name of Jesus, with an authority that He gives to us. We do that in conjunction with listening, for God can give us specific direction, and sometimes a distinct rush of faith. Most importantly we do not give up between one person and the next. Jackie Pullinger once said: don't give up after just a few people, wait until you have prayed for at least 100!
Today we have not covered the difference between healing and bad spirits, nor touched on mental health. There is lots we could unpack, but here we deliberately don't want to make it complicated. Let us start with the simplicity of Isaiah 53:5 'by his wounds we are healed'. It is Jesus, who He is, and His achievement on the cross. So let us keep our eyes fixed on Him, seeking Him, and with our focus on Him pray with expectancy, learning to speak healing in the name of Jesus, by the authority He gives to us.