When Jesus said that He came for the sick, not the healthy, one of the great implications was that His gospel is a gospel of hope. The healthy tend to take it all for granted—as it was yesterday, so it will be tomorrow. Thus, as far as their condition is concerned, they hope for nothing. As Paul put it in another context, who hopes for what he already has? The sick, by contrast, usually fall into one of two categories—hopeful of recovery or despairing. Still, our natural tendency is in the direction of hope. If the disease is a minor ailment, the tendency is to be hopeful without thinking. And even if it is terminal, we almost have to be battered into accepting the truth. We want to be hopeful whether we have grounds for hope or not.
However, the human condition being what it is, the nature of the case requires intelligent despair. Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward (Job 5:7). The trouble is not imposed on us from without; we are all conceived in sin. And so, when Jesus said He came for the sick, He was not trying to flatter us in our natural tendency to groundless hope. He did intend for those who call upon Him to move from despair to hope. But in order for this to happen, they first must move from groundless hope to despair.
Jesus taught us that the one who is forgiven little loves little, and the one who is forgiven much loves much. We may apply the same principle to hope. The one who has a little sickness can hope only for a little recovery. But the law of God is a battery of diagnostic tests that tells us how awful our condition actually is. Imagine going into a hospital for the soul and inviting the staff to run every test imaginable—spiritual blood work, MRIs, X-rays, the works. Imagine further that omni-competent angelic technicians are running the show, recalling that the law was delivered to us through angels. This is what the law of God does. It detects everything—the slightest stirring of lust, the first few cancer cells of envy, the leprosy of vainglory, the pustules of pride, which we think are beauty marks. And the report always comes back to us in the words of God to Abimelech: “ ‘Behold, you are a dead man’ ” (Gen. 20:3, NASB).
Whenever a man has a terminal disease, he naturally wants to know whether there is a remedy. But this is where our case varies from the illustration. In the physical world, we can understand a man refusing treatment if it would cost too much and would bankrupt his heirs, or if the treatment would be too painful. But what would we make of a man who had a terminal disease and refused to take the medicine because he did not like the taste or smell of it? This would be just another way for him to maintain that he really was not sick to the point of death. Scripture teaches us that the gospel is the aroma of life to those who are being saved, but it is the aroma of death to those who are perishing.