The Hospital for Sinners
[Originally published in the Monroe News on March 24, 2023]
Just recently I found myself at the hospital on a Saturday afternoon making a visit to one of the members of my congregation. This was a fairly typical thing for me so I wasn’t expecting to notice anything out of the ordinary. Nonetheless, I was struck by something as I wandered the halls of the hospital that Saturday. I was surprised at how many sick people were in that hospital. It was as if the hospital had open doors and sick people could just wander in and seek help. I mean every floor of the hospital was full of people recovering from a myriad of illnesses and diseases. What a place!
Ok, I hope you can sense I’m being a little facetious in this surprise. It is with good intent. One might point out the obvious here that one should expect the hospital to be full of sick and ill individuals. That is the very purpose of the hospital to provide a place of healing and recovery for those who are not well in the body. This we all know. But I have also come to learn in life that we can’t always expect the obvious to be, well, obvious.
While it does come across as obvious to all that a hospital is the appropriate and right place for sick people, what doesn’t come across as obvious, though I think it should, is that a church is the right place for sinners. I love to refer back to this idea regularly in Bible Studies that I teach, that the church is the hospital for sinners. It is the place where people go to find and receive healing on a spiritual level. Yet it troubles people, both inside and outside the church, when it comes to light that churches are full of sinners. It is as if someone has the misconception that a church is to be full of righteous and perfect people. No such place exists on this good earth.
Jesus shows us a better way. When He walked this earth 2000 years ago He was known to spend a lot of time up close and personal with the spiritually sick (and the physically sick for that matter!). He was also the one to first bring up this connection between hospital and church. When Jesus decided to sit at table and share meals with sinners and tax collectors the religious elite didn’t care for this practice. To their disgust Jesus replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’” (Matt 9:12-13 ESV).
We are accustomed to seeing our doctors and our nurses caring for and helping those who are sick. Shouldn’t we see our churches in the same way? Jesus tells us He came down to this earth to call sinners to Him. To hear of Jesus' welcome and invitation of sinners to come to Him is a message to each of us. We need to welcome sinners to Jesus the same as we have been welcomed to Jesus. For we’re all a part of this group called sinners. The Church needs to be an open door facility to welcome sinners in. This is a critical truth.
There is another critical truth to be told. When I was visiting my friend in the hospital another surprising thing was happening there. The doctors and nurses weren’t just staring idly by at my friend congratulating him on such an amazing illness and celebrating the fact that he got so sick with disease. The hospital doesn’t look at the sick and tell them they’re fine as they are and support them and encourage them in keeping and nurturing their illness. Clearly that is foolishness. The hospital works to heal and save those who are sick and ill. The purpose of welcoming the sick in the doors of the hospital does no good without the healing and treatment that follows.
Likewise in the Church. For as much as Jesus spent His time welcoming sinners to Him, He is bidding us do the same. Jesus also taught repentance and the healing to be had for sinners in the kingdom of God because of His grace. Jesus once told the tax collector Zacchaeus “the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. (Lk 19:10)” When Jesus encountered the woman caught in adultery He said to her “go and sin no more.” (Jn 8:11). Jesus didn’t just invite people to Himself. He brought them close to bring them healing. He came to save us from our sins, not to keep us in our sins.
Two critical truths. The Lord welcomes sinners to Him. This is good, for we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But also, the Lord comes to give us healing and forgive our sins that we might have life in Him.
I thank the Lord for our wonderful nurses and doctors who do play such critical roles in our lives in working to help us and provide healing for the flesh. I also thank the Lord for the teachers of the Word who help us and provide healing for the soul.
To God be the glory.
Mark Witte is the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church.
You can contact him at email@example.com
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