New Year sermon – A balm in Gilead


Readings: Jeremiah 8: 4-22  Revelation 22:1-21

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people.

 And the leaves of the tree (of life) are for the healing of the nations.

Here we stand in the first month of a new year. Perhaps you’ve already stopped reflecting on it – seeing that some of us only make resolutions on the 31st December and forget them by the 2nd January.

Perhaps you may be asking yourself the question – what is in store for me? What is in store for us? You probably would like a year of relative peace in your family, your community, and the world in general.

You know of course that there are always going to be problems when it comes to human relationships. Peace comes often only at a price – swallowing the lump of pride that can choke you, and realising that you can’t always blame others – you are the problem in most situations.

Jeremiah had to deal with a stubborn people in Israel as well.  That was his work as a prophet – calling a proud people to turn away from their selfish desires and stubborn ways.

The prophet asks this embarrassing question:

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?

Its like asking the question in a room full of doctors – is there a doctor amongst you?

Gilead was a region across the Jordan from which a famous ointment from a certain tree was obtained. The balm of Gilead was known far and wide.

Is there a Balm in Gilead? Yes there was. This was the place for healing and it was within easy reach.

And so why were the people not healed? What was the wound of the people of Israel that could not be healed?

Perhaps you can guess the answer. Jeremiah diagnoses this ailment elsewhere in his writings when he says:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it? (17:9)

The sickness is that of the human heart – separated from God – embroiled in its own stony concerns – hard hearts.

Friends – there is a balm in Gilead – Jesus is our healing. He is the source of life for the nations, as recorded in Revelation 22:

And the leaves of the tree (of life) are for the healing of the nations.

Jesus is the tree of life for the nations – yes for the whole world. But the hardness of the human heart is a stumbling block to faith and acceptance of the healing in Gilead.

He is the balm of Gilead – the ointment for our healing and restoration.

But we resist Him.

And we too – like Israel – have had Gilead within our reach. We have heard the gospel so often about Jesus the healer.

  • He restores our relationship with the Creator – so that we have peace with God.
  • He restores our relationship with others – so there is true peace on earth.
  • He restores our relationship with our own souls – so that we have true inner peace of heart and mind.

It is we who keep our distance from the God of love. It is we who hold grudges against friends and family – keeping rocks in our hearts rather than our heads, although I suspect there are rocks in our heads as well.

It is we who have hard hearts in every area – especially in our generosity. We are so selfish – so afraid that we may lose our little securities in life that we cling to our wealth, our abilities, and our time, rather than investing it in the things that really matter.

We love ourselves and the things of this world too much – and much more than God. And we love ourselves much more than we love our neighbour.

And so – living in the cramped boxes of our own making – boxes that are no different from coffins just as rut is no different from a grave if you get stuck in it – we live and yet we are dead.

Dead to the real life that could be ours. Dead to the goodness that is potentially ours – dead to the things of the spirit and alive to the things of the world.

And God says to us today – is there a balm in Gilead? Is there a solution to this mess?

The answer is yes – Jesus, and total trust in Him for the woes of the world. He is the true peace in our nations, in our homes, our places of work and even in the Church where human pride and indifference cause havoc and deception.

Is there a physician here? Yes – Jesus. He cures the sickness of the human heart and soul – his name is as ointment poured forth – Jesus, Jesus.

But we don’t love Him – not much, not enough. If we did, we would do what He commands – to love, to give, to serve, to tell, to minister His grace with zeal and joy. We would love Him so that we worship Him on every given opportunity – and we would give to Him all that is rightfully His. Our time, talents, and our wealth. And yet we choose to rob God of all these things.

Rob Him if we like – but we are robbing ourselves of the healing balm. Until we do what He commands there will be no peace and no blessing.

For if we really believed we would pray as if everything depended on it – and give as if everything depended on it – and work hard for Him as if everything depended on our effort.

Is there a balm in Gilead? Yes there is – but His people do not believe. What will it take to make them believe?

Its as a bad as a sick man with an easy cure – yet he resists the medicine, spitting it our on the floor like a petulant child or a cantankerous old man throwing a fit of rage in a hospital bed. “I will not take this medicine – I’m not sick” you hear Him scream, as he goes into eternity with a heart of stone, unwilling to change his mind.

God says – repent. Change your ways. Stop complaining about the world – you’re not making in any better. Start believing that Jesus is the balm of Gilead – He can put our lives together again, take away the bitterness and loneliness – and make all things new.


(A message from the archives of 1994)

About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. Preaching and teaching remains a joy.. More recently I have been doing some part time voluntary prison chaplaincy.

Posted on January 23, 2013, in Archive sermons. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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