Jesus Forgives a Paralysed Man audio (5MB)
Have you noticed how mobile phones are now an essential accessory for so many people? It seems like no matter where you are you’re likely to find yourself standing next to someone who’s having a conversation on their phone. And if you’re like me you probably find yourself listening in, wondering what they’re talking about. Mind you, that just leaves you frustrated because the next thing you know they’ve moved away and you don’t know how the conversation finishes up.
Well if you find it frustrating only hearing a snippet of a conversation, you’ll understand why here at St Thomas’ we choose to follow whole books in our sermon series rather than following a lectionary. I guess a lectionary is useful because you don’t have to think about what to read each week - someone else has thought it out for you, but often all you get are snippets with bits left out here and there.
Well, today we’re starting out on a new series following the Gospel of Mark. We actually looked at the first chapter of Mark in January so today we’re going to start with Mark ch2. But before we begin let me encourage you, if you haven’t done it lately, to read all the way through Mark in a single sitting. It’ll only take you about an hour. Or if that’s too hard try reading it a few chapters at a time. I did this while I was away and it’s interesting how you pick up some connections as you move from chapter to chapter that you might miss if you just read a small section as we often do on a Sunday.
Mark’s Gospel appears to be divided into two halves: the first half asks the question: “Who is this Man?” and the second half asks “Why did he come?”
In Chapter 1 Mark begins to answer the first question as he describes Jesus teaching with authority, casting out evil spirits and healing the sick, with the result that everyone is amazed. They ask what is this, a new teaching - with authority - who is this man?
As we read on we discover three things about this man Jesus: his purpose, his practice and his power.
Jesus purpose comes out clearly in today’s reading but we first discover it in ch1 where we read that Jesus withdraws, very early in the morning, to a quiet place to pray. He needs God’s power and guidance to sustain him in his ministry. But then we read that the disciples come looking for him: “35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." 38He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’” Simon and the others think they’re on a good thing with Jesus. Everyone wants to see him, so they urge him to come back to town to reinforce his popularity. But his focus is on something else. He doesn’t want celebrity or power or popularity. He’s come to do just one thing - that’s to preach the gospel, and in the end to fulfill it.
At the dinner with Ben Kwashi last Monday he pointed out that in Matthew 9 we read a similar account to this, of Jesus going through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues. This was one of the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry practice. He went to where the people were to tell them the gospel. And as he did it, people would come up to him with their particular needs, mostly for healing of one sort or another, and he’d respond with compassion and heal them.
That’s what’s happening here in Mark 2. They’ve come to Capernaum, he’s staying in someone’s house, and people come to hear him preach God’s word to them. And there are so many people you can’t even get near the door.
As we read the account of what happened here we discover different characters are involved each with different motivations and different responses to Jesus.
As has happened before some men bring their sick friend to Jesus. He’s paralysed, lying on a stretcher so when they get to the house they find there’s no way they’ll ever get him to Jesus. But like the heroes of an epic story, the impossible isn’t going to stop them. They manage to climb onto the roof, they remove the roof tiles, or clods of earth that cover the roof and they lower him down into the room in front of Jesus.
And what does Jesus see? First he sees beyond the man to the faith of his friends.
Let me ask you, what do you think faith is? Is it simply believing? Is it simply a conviction that something is true? Or is it more than that? James says: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe -- and shudder.” (James 2:19). So it must be more than simply believing. When Jesus sees their faith, what is he seeing? He sees 4 men up on a roof lowering their friend through the ceiling. He sees 4 men who have carried their friend all the way from home to bring him to Jesus. He sees 4 men who refused to be put off by a minor obstacle like the crowd standing in their way. And he see 4 men who were so convinced that Jesus could heal that they were prepared to risk the wrath of the owner of the house when they vandalised his roof.
Faith, you see, is a belief that leads you to try the unbelievable, the impossible, not because you’re crazy, though some people might think that, but because you believe that God is with you and that God is a god who can do miracles.
But then Jesus sees something else. He sees a man lying in front of him in great need. Well everyone can see that can’t they? No doubt he’s lying there with skinny legs and arms, muscles wasted away from lack of use. And everyone can see how needy he is. But that’s not the need that Jesus sees. Jesus sees his need for the gospel. As I said this is why Jesus is here. This man is just one of many for whom Jesus has come. This is the reason he’s been wandering from village to village preaching the gospel. This man is a sinner, under the judgement of God for his refusal to do what God requires - just like everyone else in that room. Just like every one of us in this room. His great pressing need isn’t to be healed. It’s to receive the forgiveness of God; to experience the joy of knowing the grace of God, the acceptance of God. And so Jesus says to him “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Can you feel the power of those 4 words? “Your sins are forgiven.” Last week we heard how the people of Jerusalem wept when Ezra read out the account of the history of Israel. They wept because they realised just how much they’d sinned; how much they’d failed to be faithful to God, even when he’d rescued them over and over again. And George asked whether you ever weep when you think about your failure to be faithful to the God who’s saved you. Do you come to God in repentance, ashamed at your repeated failure to obey? Well here’s the message of the gospel: “Your sins are forgiven.” You’ve been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
I hope that message warms your heart. I say that because not everyone is able to hear it like that. Not even Jesus could give that message in a way that everyone received it.
We discover there are a group of scribes sitting in on this gathering. The scribes are the ones who’s job it is to teach the people from the Scriptures. They were well versed in what was right and what was wrong. If they couldn’t work it out they had countless commentaries that would answer any question you could ask. But this one didn’t require any commentary. It was obvious that Jesus had gone too far this time! “7‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” No doubt they were there because they’d heard that he was teaching new things - and with authority. And they’d come to check just what it was that he was saying. And what they expected to see is exactly what they see. This is a man who goes too far when it comes to speaking for God. No-one can declare sins forgiven except for God.
But Jesus knows what they’re thinking. He can probably see it on their faces even if they’re not saying it out loud. So he turns to them and asks “9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'?” A simple question with a simple answer. The answer is staring them in the face isn’t it? There’s no way this man could ever get up and walk. Even if Jesus fixed his nervous system, his muscles couldn’t possibly support him without months of physiotherapy.
But Jesus isn’t just a teacher. He isn’t just a healer. He’s the Son of God. The Scribes have got it right. Only God can forgive sins. And so he says to them: “‘10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ -- he said to the paralytic-- ‘11I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’” And off he goes, mat and all.
Jesus’ power is demonstrated in a way that no-one can contest. They’re all blown away by this demonstration of the power of God. They’ve never seen anything like it.
Yet when you think about it, the healing is really just the side show. The main act was Jesus’ first words to the paralysed man. “Your sins are forgiven.” In ch 1 Jesus told Simon “Let’s go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Jesus has come to proclaim forgiveness of sins to human beings who are unable to help themselves. His healing of the paralysed man demonstrates that he has the power of God to back up his words but it’s the message of forgiveness that really matters.
This is warning for us I think. Too often we get carried away by the performance, by the presentation, by how well things appear, but we forget to check whether the message is being proclaimed clearly. Are we speaking the gospel in every situation we find ourselves in? Are we offering forgiveness and grace to those people we come across day by day? Are we engaged in the main game or just the side show?
Jesus’ offer of forgiveness is the greatest gift he could have given this man or anyone else. To be made right with God is the ultimate gift we could give to someone else. And it’s such a simple message. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Put your trust in him. Live your life for him.
Let’s pray that we might be focussed on the gospel the way Jesus was and that we might live it out in the way we live and speak, just as Jesus did.