Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sermon on Matthew 9:1-8 for Children's Sunday, "What ails you?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Welcome to our church and school families, and to all our students who join in praising our God here today! The message I’ll share with you today is about the Gospel reading, where Jesus forgave and healed the paralytic. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“This man needs healing! Lord, have mercy on him!”, might have been the words of his friends when they brought him to Jesus. Jesus took notice of their faith—their trust that He could heal their friend. Lying on his bed, they must have carried their friend in as though he was on a stretcher. There was no ambulance to take him, no hospital to care for him, no doctor to heal him. Only Jesus, and the hope of His mercy. Their friend was paralyzed. We don’t know his story; did he experience some tragic fall or accident? Some injury that left him unable to walk? Unable to move his arms and legs? But his friends loved him. They loved him enough to bring him to Jesus, with the faith that Jesus could heal him, and free their friend from his confinement to his bed. A crowd was watching with wide eyes to see what Jesus, the great healer would do.

Jesus, to the surprise of everyone there, does something quite unexpected. Instead of healing the man, Jesus at first ignores the paralysis. To the eyes of all those around Jesus, and to the friends who brought the man, the most pressing need was to heal the man’s paralysis. But He acts as if that wasn’t even the reason they brought him there. Instead He says, “Take heart son, your sins are forgiven!” It’s as if you’d go to the doctor with a broken arm and he treated you for a heart problem first. Now if you went to a doctor for a throbbing pain in your back and they gave you something for your stomach, you might think they were a quack or didn’t know anything about properly diagnosing your condition. But if you went in with an ailment like a broken arm, and he discovered a far more serious heart condition that you weren’t aware of, and treated you for that—far from being angry, you’d be thrilled and relieved that he discovered the life-threatening condition.

This is just what happened. Jesus looks past the man’s physical condition, and expertly diagnoses his real ailment—the actual life-threatening spiritual condition of the heart—and that was sin. It must have been a dramatic scene, as everyone watched with wide eyes to see Jesus heal this man—and then He says, “Take heart son, your sins are forgiven!”—they must have all said, “Huh?! What did He just do? But wasn’t He supposed to…? Can He just do that?”

We probably don’t react with nearly as much surprise to those words: “your sins are forgiven” as Jesus’ 1st century Jewish hearers did. In a way we think opposite of the Jewish hearers of Jesus. We think it’s easier to say “your sins are forgiven” than “rise up and walk” because we’re skeptical of miracles, and we think the miracle is the harder thing. Anyone could say the words “your sins are forgiven.” That’s because we seem to think there’s no power behind those words. Except whatever power we might give them. But Jesus did the miracle to show that
there was real power behind those words, because He was God.

However, 1st century Jewish believers had a clear understanding of the Bible, that only God could take away sins, and that God is the only Savior. To claim what Jesus said, was the same as claiming to be God. No man could claim to take your sins away. The religious leaders who heard Him clearly recognized He was claiming to be God, and so they said amongst themselves, “He blasphemes!”

Blaspheme is an unfamiliar word. Blasphemy was considered the worst of sins, and there were two basic kinds of blasphemy: the first was blaming God for some evil or denying Him credit for some good He has done. An example of this happened when the religious leaders said that Jesus performed His miracles by the power of the devil. They were claiming that Jesus worked good by the power of evil, and they denied God of His honor for the blessings He gave. This also happens when we accuse God of evil things in our lives. It’s to blame God for sin.

The second kind of blasphemy was the one the Jews accused Jesus of doing. This kind of blasphemy is to claim to be God or to have His powers. Or to say something created has those powers or qualities. This is why worship of nature, of idols, or even of human rulers like the Caesars and Pharaohs is strictly forbidden. If a human being claimed to be God, or to exercise God’s authority, this was blasphemy. This is an important point to grasp if we’re to make any sense of why Jesus was crucified. A lot of people puzzle over why the religious leaders hated Jesus so much, and why He was crucified. Because people tend to have an image of Jesus as a harmless person who never bothered anybody and only healed people and did miracles and taught love. But they’re missing an important part of the picture; that Jesus made the claim that He was the Son of God, and truly acted with God’s power and authority. This claim is why the leaders accused Him of blasphemy and later crucified Him. They said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). They knew what Jesus was claiming, and they were furious.

If Jesus wasn’t really who He said He was, then it would have been blasphemy for Him to say such things. But since He really was God in human flesh, they were denying God credit for the good that He was doing. So, Jesus accepts their challenge. They don’t believe He’s divine, or has the authority to forgive sins. So to prove that He has both authority to forgive and to heal, Jesus commands the paralytic to rise and walk, and carry his mat home. With Jesus’ simple words, the man was instantly freed of his crippling ailment, and got back the free use of his arms and legs. The jaws that were gaping when Jesus said “Your sins are forgiven,” were dropping even lower when they saw this miracle. The people were amazed and praised God for giving this authority to men. Jesus took their challenge and showed that He did have divine authority. But would they now believe?

In the same way that Jesus expertly diagnosed the paralytic’s real need, in the forgiveness of sins—Jesus also diagnoses our crucial need as forgiveness. He sees that sin is what ails us. We tend to focus on our outward problems, but He sees the underlying problem at work in each of us. But we don’t necessarily recognize or believe that. What does forgiveness have to do with all the problems I face? How can forgiveness change me from the inside out? How can forgiveness be the most crucial thing for me even when I face other health problems? Whatever our physical circumstances, if we harbor resentment and bitterness in our hearts, we’ll inevitably be worse off. If we’re laboring under the guilt of something we’ve done wrong, and haven’t sought forgiveness from that person or from God, then we’ll have no peace inside us.

Family quarrels can often start around a sick or dying family member. If they don’t reconcile with one another, there can be deep and lasting divisions between them. Everyone needs forgiveness, and to live life without forgiveness is a fate worse than mere paralysis. It’s worse than being trapped in a bed, unable to move or even care for yourself. What are the symptoms of this need for forgiveness? Life without forgiveness means broken and strained relationships. I imagine we sometimes try to deny the need for forgiveness—but all this does is force us to make excuses for our wrong actions, and always try to prove that we’re right. This would mean either you’re always on the offense, plowing other people over—or you’re always on the defense, defending your actions from those you’ve wronged. But try as we might to ignore the need for forgiveness, it’s a real and deep-seated need in every person, and Jesus diagnoses that need as THE central thing that ails us. We could be healthy, wealthy, and wise—but if we have no forgiveness and are unable to forgive, then the fatal illness of our sin will be our end.

But Jesus has the cure. His Word of forgiveness isn’t empty, and He entrusted this message to His church to proclaim to people as well. So when the believers in Christ proclaim this Word of forgiveness, they do so with Christ’s commission and blessing. He said to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to every nation. When we forgive each other, it’s not just empty words. When we tell a person who’s weighed-down by their guilt, and is sorry for what they’ve done, to take heart, because Jesus has forgiven their sins—those aren’t empty words. Jesus backed those words up with His death on the cross. If we cannot see the relation between His cross and our sin, then we don’t understand what it means to be Christian. There in His death, He atoned for sin—paid its price, so that we’re no longer paralyzed under a debt we don’t have the means to pay.

Jesus showed He had the authority to lay His life down and take it up again (John 10:17-18). His dying on the cross and rising from the dead showed that He has the divine authority to forgive sins, and He has authority over life and death. So He gives the authority to forgive sins to His church, so that believers may take His message to the world. Forgiveness is His Word to guilty and sorrowful. Forgiveness is His Word to heal broken relationships. Forgiveness is the crucial answer to what ails us. So take heart children of God! Christ has forgiven you of your sins! In Jesus name, Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

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 Special note: Ephesians 4:26 may cause you some puzzlement. It reads: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” We should understand from this verse that anger in itself isn’t always a sin. It’s the outcome or actions we take as a result that may be sinful. We are warned to avoid sinning in our anger, and certainly not to go to sleep with unresolved resentment.

1. Read Matt. 9:1-8. What was the obvious need of the paralyzed man? What did Jesus address first instead?

2. What did the Jewish people often (incorrectly) assume about a person suffering an illness? John 9:1-5

3. Why is our sin the most life-threatening ailment we face? Read Romans 6:23 Why is it even more important to have forgiveness than physical health? (hint: even healthy people all eventually do what?)

4. Why were Jesus’ words, “Your sins are forgiven!” such a shock to the religious leaders? What was the sin they accused Him of doing? Read the parallel account of this healing in Mark 2:1-12 (esp. 7).

5. How did Jesus address their challenge of His authority? How did Jesus demonstrate His authority? (cf. later, John 10:17-18)

6. What are the consequences of not having forgiveness? How does it affect our lives or those around us? How does forgiveness change us? What did Jesus do to make forgiveness possible?

7. How has Jesus entrusted the power to forgive to His church? Read John 20:21-23; Luke 10:16; 24:45-49. Let’s forgive!

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