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2009-09-13 (am) Mark 2.1-12 Jesus Forgives

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2009-09-13 (am) Mark 2.1-12 Jesus Forgives

            The healing this man received truly was miraculous.  We’ve seen some amazing things in this congregation, amazing healing and restoration has taken place because of God’s grace.  But this is truly astounding.

          This guy was a quadriplegic.  One moment he couldn’t move.  The next instant he gets up, folds up his mattress, picks it up and walks away.  A total miracle.

          Most healings don’t usually happen this way.  Most people, who have lost the ability to walk, let alone move, have to undergo a rigorous physical therapy regimen.  They have to exercise so that their atrophied muscles can recover.  They have to train their nerves to send and receive signals to stimulate their muscles correctly.

          This usually takes a long time.  The greater the injury, the longer the recovery.

          But this guy had none of that.  One second he was an invalid.  The next second he was perfectly healthy.

          But if we focus on the man’s physical healing, we miss the point.  That was a miracle, absolutely.  But the real miracle, the most amazing thing, took place with the first words Jesus said to the man.

          “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Matthew records Jesus as saying, “Take heart, Son, your sins are forgiven.”  In Luke we read, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

          This is the true miracle.  When Jesus looked into this man’s eyes, he knew that what the man wanted more than anything else was to be right with God.  The man, placed in front of Jesus, recognised the Son of God.  He knew he was a sinner in the presence of the Holiest one.  He knew he didn’t deserve to occupy the same space as Jesus.  He knew that no one could look at God and live.  And yet Jesus gave him true life.

          The man’s greatest need wasn’t physical health.  That’s what we tend to think.  That’s what we tend to think about when we look at the miracles.  We talk about the miracles as being able to bring people to faith.  But that isn’t the case.  After the feeding of the 5000, only twelve followers remained.  The miraculous feeding didn’t produce faith in anyone.

          And just being able to see Jesus heal people, didn’t necessarily produce faith in anyone.  Many people saw what he did, but more people were convinced by the way he preached.

          But if we look at Jesus as a miracle worker, then we might be tempted to see him as nothing more than a genie that can magically correct our sufferings in this life.  If we think of Jesus in this way, then we’re not really seeing the true saviour.  Jesus isn’t our great band-aid in the sky.  He isn’t just a healer. 

          Jesus is the forgiver of sins.

          Now, we don’t have to be the most empathic person to know that the life of a quadriplegic is difficult.  And certainly, back then, it was far more difficult.  However, the man on the mat, before encountering Christ was facing a far worse future.  If God were unable or unwilling to forgive him, he would have faced an eternity apart from God.

          So, looking at Jesus, after his friends lowered him through the roof, his deepest desire wasn’t to be able to walk; his deepest desire was to receive forgiveness.

          And with tenderness, with compassion, with love eternal, Jesus pronounced him forgiven.

          Can you imagine that?  What total grace!  God reached out and forgave a sinner.  This guy did nothing to deserve that grace and forgiveness.  He didn’t even get to Jesus on his own!  We don’t even know if he was able to talk!  That he was completely unable to reach out and seek God’s favour is the perfect picture of all of humanity.

          The scriptures describe sinful humanity as dead in their sin.  Alive, but spiritually dead, just as this man was alive but in essence, physically dead, unable to move even a finger.

          But he was also spiritually dead, and Jesus willingly pronounced forgiveness upon him, without being asked.

          The condition of all humanity is such that people are dead.  Unless God first comes to them and breathes life into them, they will remain dead. 

          Now let us consider what our passage has to teach us today.

          First, this man had some amazing friends.  These four guys loved their friend and proved that they were willing to do to any lengths to help him.  When they couldn’t get him in the front door, they took him up on the roof and tore it apart.  Then they very carefully lowered him to Jesus’ feet.

          They were confident in Christ; they put their trust in him.  And Jesus delivered, far beyond their wildest dreams.  For maybe, they thought that Jesus would simply have compassion on him, as he’d had on other people and heal their friend.  Imagine their surprise, then, when Jesus willingly forgave him.

          We all have friends who don’t know Jesus.  We all have the ability to bring them to meet Jesus.  Let us ask God to give us the same hearts as He gave these friends, so that we will put aside any fears of “what will people think,” and do the right thing.  I’m sure they wrestled with that one, “What will people say or do when we start digging through the roof?”  But their love for their friend was far deeper than their fear from others.

          Second, Jesus paid the price for sin, all sin.  Guilt and shame burden many people.  People worry about what others think of them.  Jesus seeks sinners; he is the healer of the sick.  He doesn’t come as judge, at least not yet.  So let us work hard to introduce people to Jesus, who takes away the sin of the world.  Let us introduce them to the one who will set them free from their guilt and shame!

          Third, there will be opposition.  The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law didn’t like what Jesus was doing.  In chapter 1, all the reports about Jesus are good.  But now in chapter two, the lines are being drawn.  At first, those who reject Jesus do so silently.  Eventually their protests will get louder and louder until they think they win by nailing Jesus to the cross.

          For the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, the moment of truth came when Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven”.  They faced a choice.  Either Jesus is God and is able to forgive sins, or he is a liar and is truly guilty of blasphemy.  Unfortunately, like many still today, they didn’t believe.

          Here’s what they were thinking.  “That’s easy to say, ‘your sins are forgiven’.  Anyone can say that, furthermore, there’s no way to verify it.  Who can look into this man’s heart?  Who can go to God’s council chambers and find out if he’s forgiven him?  Let’s see him tell the guy to get up and walk.  For if there is no cure, as is likely, we’ll all be able to witness his failure and laugh at him.”

          Jesus wasn’t a liar, and he wasn’t guilty of blasphemy.  Being God, he knew the hearts of these men.  He knew what they were thinking.  And so by asking them, “Why are you thinking these things?”  He is disciplining them.  Who were the guilty ones?  Was it not them, desirous to destroy him and his ministry? Jesus calls them out.

          Also, they should have realised their mistake.  Jesus had the omnipotent power to both forgive sin, and to heal the paralytic.  That’s the reason for his words to them, “‘but that you may know that the son of man has the ability to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic, ‘get up, take up your mat and walk.”

          The Pharisees and experts of the law did not believe Jesus.  The man on the mat did.  This is amazing.  Consider the trust.  Unable to move for so long.  But at his word, he got up.  Did he feel it before he moved?  Or did he feel it after he moved.

          What about us?  Jesus has pronounced us forgiven.  Jesus has released us from bondage to sin and death.  We can move away from sin and into right and holy living!  Did you know that you could?  You have to move to find out.

          Try it this week, when faced with temptation, move away from sin.  Believe that Jesus has conquered sin for you.  Believe that you are dead to sin.  Believe that you are able to be holy as God himself is holy, for he has made you holy.

          Another thing we’ll be considering over the next few weeks is our attitudes.  We’ll seek God’s grace to have the attitude of the paralytic and his friends.  But it might be the case that our attitudes might be a bit more like the Pharisees and the Law experts.

          Why were they so upset with Jesus?  It is because he undermined their religion.  He stole their power and authority from them.  They had had the corner on forgiveness.  They had their methods and ways, which were additions to and curtailing of God’s planned method of declaring forgiveness.  They made some good money doing it.

          God demanded perfect animals for sacrifices, so they created a corner on the market of perfect animals.  The only acceptable animals came from their flocks, and at a great price.

          Jesus just cut it all out.  Son, you sins are forgiven.  No sacrifice, no transferring of sin onto the sacrificial lamb by the paralytic.  Instead, the lamb willingly took on the sin himself, and won forgiveness through his perfect sacrifice.

          It is tempting for us to make access to God’s grace more difficult than it needs to be.  For 2000 years, the church has been a functionary of God’s grace.  Along the way, the church made some rules and regulations.  Some have been helpful, others were not.  The reformers sought to end the unhelpful rules and regulations—which actually kept people from God’s grace. 

          But we have to ask ourselves, do we need reforming still?  Are we denying access to Christ?  Are we making things unnecessarily difficult?  Are we trying to prove people are good enough before allowing them to come into fellowship?

          There’s a joke about this, it actually is based on James 2:1-11, which is today’s Today reading.  This is how it goes.

          There was a little old cleaning woman that went to the local church.  When the invitation was given at the end of the service, she went forward wanting to become a member.  The pastor listened as she told him how she had accepted Jesus and wanted to be baptised and become a member of the church.  The pastor thought to himself, “Oh my, she is so unkempt, she even smells a little.  Her fingernails are not clean.  She picks up garbage, cleans toilets—what would the members think of her.”  He told her she needed to go home and pray about it and then decide.

          The following week, here she came again.  She told the pastor that she had prayed about it and still wanted to be baptised.  “I have passed this church for so long.  It is so beautiful, and I truly want to become a member.”

          Again, the pastor told her to go home and pray some more.

          A few weeks later while out eating at the restaurant, the pastor saw the little old lady.  He did not want her to think that he was ignoring her so he approached her and said, “I have not seen you for a while.  Is everything all right?”

          “Oh yes,” she said, “I talked with Jesus and he told me not to worry about becoming a member of your church.”

          “He did?” Said the pastor.

          “Oh yes,” she replied.  “He said even He hasn’t been able to get into your church yet, and He’s been trying for years.”

          Isn’t our task simply to take Jesus’ words out into our neighbourhoods and tell people what they long to hear?  “Son, daughter, friend, take heart, your sins are forgiven.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.  Go, sin no more, full of the power of the Holy Spirit who has come upon you.”

          If we do this, we will see people walk.  No, we may not see people who are physically disabled able to function fully.  But we will be able to witness Christ’s work in their lives.  We will see them walk in the way of faith.  Amen.

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