Bearing Sins

by Doy Moyer

I was reading in Matthew and this caught my attention and my mind began to chase the rabbit down the hole. Maybe others have made this point:

"That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: "He took our illnesses and bore our diseases"" (Matthew 8:16-17).

This quote from Isaiah 53:4 is interesting because we normally think of this in the context of Jesus bearing our sins. Many assume that Jesus' "bearing" sins involves taking upon Himself all the guilt that belongs to us, and consequently all the punishment we deserve. However, Matthew 8 shows that Jesus' bearing of illness and diseases did not involve His becoming sick with those same diseases. Rather, it involved Him healing the sick of those diseases. He took hold of the illness, not to become sick Himself, but to cure it.

Matthew quoted from Isaiah 53, and perhaps this informs us of something important. Jesus bore our sins in His body (I Peter 2:24; Hebrews 9:28-10:10). Does that mean He became sick with sin? It did not mean that in Matthew's use of it, so I see no need to force that meaning into the text.

Jesus' bearing of our sins, then, does not mean that He became guilty of our sins. Rather, it means that He heals us of our sins. He took hold of our sins in such a way as to forgive them. Doing so did cause Him great anguish, as Isaiah 53 shows, because He became a sacrifice for sin. He did indeed suffer in order to free us from eternal suffering. He died so that we don't need to suffer eternal death. Even so, His bearing of our sins does not mean He became guilty of those sins; it rather refers to His ability to take our illness and heal us. Why else would Matthew quote this passage in a context of Jesus healing diseases? Jesus did not have to become sick Himself to bear their illnesses. He need not become guilty of our sins to bear our sins. He need only heal us through forgiveness, and doing that required a perfect sacrifice.