March 7, 2010
Parallel Passages: Mark 2:3-12; Luke 5:18-26
INTRODUCTION – – Well we are on day 19 of the 40 day “Seek God for the City” devotional. I hope this little tool has been helpful to strengthen and expand your vision of our Lord and Savior – – and especially His heart for our community.
Why the risen Christ – the creator of the Universe – who has over six billion people to deal with – – would give any special attention to people in our Coastal Region – is beyond me. But the fact is – – He loves and cares as much about the people in Los Osos, Morro Bay and Cayucos as He does about anybody else – anywhere else in the world. And He is ready today to demonstrate that through His favorite instrument – the church. We are not only His favorite instrument – – we are His only instrument – except for His angels – who often are given orders from God in response to our prayers. And if you read Acts 12 this morning – as part of your daily reading the Bible through in a year – New Testament reading – – you saw that truth demonstrated when the church fervently prayed for Peter as he was in prison, and then God sent an angel to get him out.
So since we are His primary instrument – – it is crucial this morning that we allow Him to further hone and sharpen us and tune us up – – so that we can be ready on a moment’s notice to do His bidding.
This morning as you turn to Matthew chapter 9, I want to talk about a characteristic that will determine – perhaps more than anything else – – whether He can use us as His instrument to demonstrate to our fellow citizens – – His love and care for them.
To see this – let’s read together Matthew 9:1-8. “Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over the sea and came to His own city. And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.” And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven, or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.”
Like many stories or parables in the gospel of Matthew, there are parallel accounts in both Mark and Luke. That’s why the first three gospels are called the synoptic gospels. A much fuller or more comprehensive understanding can come when we take the time to read the same story in all three gospels. But even with that – there are some details that we just have to try to piece together with the Holy Spirit’s help, and with some creative meditation.
Neither Matthew, Mark or Luke tell us much about the background of this paralytic. But I want you to consider a few possibilities with me. First, perhaps because my wife worked as an occupational therapist for the early years of our marriage, I happen to know that a lot of the paralytics she treated were paralyzed from a bad fall – especially if they were younger. (Older paralytics were often paralyzed because of a stroke).
I’ll never forget the first paralytic that I knew personally – he was a friend of my older brother’s – named Kevin. Kevin was a great athlete – probably would have been the starting point guard for the varsity basketball team his and my older brother’s senior year. But Kevin went to a wild party one night with a bunch of his friends held in a two story hotel; and I don’t know if it was a dare or not, but they were all drunk – and Kevin dove off the second story balcony into a pool – that only had a few feet of water in it. His neck was broken, and he was paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life. His father and older brother were alcoholics, and he became one as well, as hopelessness set in and his future seemed snuffed out.
We don’t know why this young man in Matt. Ch. 9 was paralyzed, but we do know he was young by the way Jesus addressed him. It appears that there were no family members around. None of the men who brought him to Jesus were identified in any way as family members. And after Jesus healed him, He sent him home, which could be because all of his family members had deserted him out of shame for how he had lived his life, and perhaps hopelessness that anything could ever be done about it. Please note that Jesus says to him, “Take courage son…” Why would this young man need courage? Well I’m sure some of you are thinking, ‘Because he is paralyzed! Duh!’ But I submit to you that very possibly he had lost courage because he knew he had lived a life of sin and deserved the consequences or cards he had been dealt. As far as he knew, this was the judgment of God, he should have listened to his parents and to the priests, and his apparent fate now was to be a reminder of this – every day the rest of his life. I believe Jesus first dealt with his sin and need for forgiveness, because that was the source of this young man’s fear and hopelessness.
By the way, please do not see his sin and his sickness or malady as two separate unconnected things. This is not the only time where the two seem closely connected in Jesus’s dealings with people. Remember the story in John ch. 5 where Jesus healed the man who had been ill for 38 years at the pool of Bethesda? In that instance, Jesus first healed the man, and then a little later in the day, came upon him in the temple, and said these words to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” Jesus clearly tied his sin to his sickness. Now there are many other times where Jesus heals people and He doesn’t do that. So please do not go home to your sick spouse and tell them they are sick because they have sinned, or because they are a sinner. But I just want you to see – sometimes the two are connected. And it is not loving nor compassionate nor truthful for us to ignore it – when God makes it clear to us – that this is an issue.
God’s heart when this is the case – is never to heap on judgment or condemnation, but instead to see them set free from both the sin and the sickness, disease or injury.
Most of you read the story of my older brother’s testimony last week. Well some years after my brother was saved, he went to one of the Brownsville, FL revival meetings, and was prayed for there and healed. You see, Danny had been told years ago that he had only 10 years to live. Hepatitus C, and Cerosis of the liver had been diagnosed quite a long time ago. And way over 10 years later, his numbers are great. There was a time where he feared he would not be around to see his three daughters graduate from high school and be married. But we are marrying off the middle one, who is in her second year of teaching – – this summer. And there is no reason to believe that he won’t be around when Kerri finally finds Mr. right. God chose to first deal with Danny’s sin. Then he dealt with his body/health. He doesn’t always do that. But he did with him.
Now there are a growing number of people in our society today who want to have warm and happy thoughts about Jesus, but do not want to face the issue of their sin, or acknowledge Him as the only way to deal with their sin. This passage is actually the first glimpse we get in Matthew’s gospel of the religious leaders’ refusal to accept Jesus Christ as Savior. The Scribes and Pharisees watched this whole thing – – and while I believe the paralyzed man immediately perked up – – and with a word – – hope that was long lost – – was restored to him – – these callous men refused to acknowledge it, much less celebrate it – – because they would then have to acknowledge their own need of Him to forgive their sins as well. Jesus called their charge of blasphemy – “evil”; and demonstrated to them that He not only had authority to forgive sins, but also to undo the damage sin has caused.
Brothers and sisters, this amazing work of healing the wounded souls and broken bodies of men by our Savior is continuing today. Some say, the only reason Jesus healed that man was to prove that He was God – – and that now that we have the Bible – – Jesus doesn’t need to prove that He is the Son of God anymore with healings and miracles. But I submit to you that of all the accounts of Jesus healing people in the gospels, there is only one other passage where this appears to have anything to do with Jesus’s motive – – and that is the healing of Lazarus – – Jesus’s dear friend as recorded in John 11. Many of the other accounts seem to be more because of His compassion. And even in John 11 with Lazarus – how can you not see the role Jesus’s compassion had in that story – – when John tells us He wept at Lazarus’s tomb. God has always cared about our bodies and our health; and He is as willing to heal today as He has ever been. The only problem is a lot of people – like this paralytic are mired in hopelessness. They do not know God as a loving, forgiving, caring God who intervenes in our lives. As far as they know – they deserve their condition – – or they are stuck in their condition – – and that is just their fate in life.
So what prompted Jesus to act in that man’s behalf, and what would cause Him to act on the behalf of such people today might I ask?? That’s right – someone else’s faith. Vs. 2 says, “Seeing their faith…Jesus said to the paralytic…” I think this guy’s family ditched him. But whether they did or didn’t – – he had no hope for anything other than maybe a few coins dropped in his direction day after day. He certainly wouldn’t have expected anything from the Pharisees and Scribes. But these friends – these men who carried him and actually lowered him on a pallet of some kind to Jesus – – had been watching Jesus. They might have been up on that mountain listening to the sermon on the mount. They might have been in that home where Peter’s mother in law was healed; and then throughout the night many others – who were brought to Him were healed. They had faith, that what seemed hopeless – was not hopeless with Jesus. And Jesus Christ responded to their faith and first healed this man’s soul, which was his greatest and foremost need; and then He healed his body.
So if the only thing that is keeping Jesus Christ from continuing this amazing healing ministry in our Coastal region – – is the lack of faith or unbelief in His people – – who are the only instruments He chooses to work through – – what can we do to remedy this situation?
Well let me suggest a few things:
1. If you want to be an instrument that Jesus Christ can use in an ever greater way, you need to know Him and embrace Him and worship Him as both Savior and Healer. He alone can forgive sins. He alone can heal sickness and disease and injuries. And He loves to do both. His blood brings provision for both. There is little chance of your being used by Him to help others experience this – – if you are not convinced of it yourself. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you as the great Savior and Healer that He is. He will be more than happy to do so.
2. Accept the reality that when Jesus chooses to reveal Himself through you as Savior to someone, and when He chooses to heal someone through you, – – He will do it in a way that is in keeping with your personality. You do not need to mimic John Wimber or Bennie Hinn or Bill Johnson. You just need to learn to walk with your Savior and Lord, and learn to listen to His voice and do what He says. While we need to always learn from our Savior’s way and the way His apostles ministered and even modern day folks like Bill Johnson minister, God delights in working through the voice and personality He has formed in us. Just because you saw someone heal someone on t.v. “in the naaaame of Jeeesuuus” doesn’t mean you have to say it or do it that way. A lady that Anne and I have a lot of respect for once prophesied over us that our church would some day become a naturally supernatural church. I think that is what God is after in us in this regard.
3. “they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed.” My guess is these guys were not theologians, and probably had not yet taken “Healing 101” at their local synagogue. They might not have been crystal clear that Jesus was the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, and that He was fully God and fully man. But they knew He was the only hope for this man. And they did what they knew to do and had faith to do – which was to get this guy in the presence of Jesus. If you study all the accounts of Jesus healing people in the four gospels, you will find that often He heals those that someone brought to Him. So how can we bring people to Jesus today? Well let me suggest a few ways: 1. We can bring them to a church service or home group or prayer meeting. 2. We can encourage them to cry out to Him on their own – asking Him to reveal Himself to them as their personal Savior and Healer. 3. We can pray for them on the phone or in person for this to happen. 4. We can direct them to a passage or two of scripture to read on their own – providing they own a Bible and can find it. 5. We can take them to some special meeting where there is time given to pray over the sick. And please note the “we” dynamic. Jesus saw “their” faith. They – a group of young men – – perhaps the young men who were with him when he was injured and got paralyzed worked together.
Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever – the writer of Hebrews tells us – wants to set people free from sin and sickness. His instrument to do that is His church. One of the most crucial characteristics that will determine whether He can use us or not in this ongoing work – is whether we know Him enough and trust Him enough to step out and point someone we know in His direction. “Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic….”
Well since we are going to encounter the healing ministry of Jesus many more times, as we walk together through this gospel of Matthew’s, I want to leave this first way of being His instrument for needy, hurting people and suggest another one.
The second characteristic we must develop and grow in to be able to be His instrument to save and heal people is we must grow in compassion, and guard against hard heartedness. Let’s read vs. 9-13 together.
“As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “follow Me!” And got up and followed Him. Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” But when Jesus heard this, He said, It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire compassion, and not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
After Matthew – the tax collector began to follow Jesus – he decided to invite Jesus and His disciples over – along with some of his fellow tax collectors and people who are identified in this passage as sinners. Now we know that tax collectors were typically people who collected money to support the Romans, and who often took more than they should have, and then pocketed the rest for themselves. They were deeply despised by the Jews – especially by the orthodox, more religiously zealous Jews. This term “sinners” refers to the non religious Jews – – it refers to those who lived to party – – folks who probably enjoyed their alcohol to a fault, and whose language was probably pretty saucy, and their dress – probably a little less than modest.
Somehow the Pharisees had religiously justified their refusal to rub shoulders with these people and their disgust over their lifestyles; and they were shocked that Jesus seemed comfortable wining and dining with such lowlifes. Jesus perceived their disgust and their hardness of heart towards those who were actually the most needy of all – – and defended His actions by pointing out that only those who are sick and know they are sick and know they need healed are the ones who will seek out a doctor. Now the Pharisees needed a spiritual doctor or Savior just as much if not more than the tax collectors and sinners. But because they prided themselves in their observance of various religious rituals, which these tax collectors and sinners neglected to observe – – they felt they were A – O.K.. Jesus then exhorted them to go back to the old testament scriptures and re-examine whether God is really after their sacrifice, or their hearts – – reminding them of Hosea 6:6, where God says through the prophet Hosea, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Listen brothers and sisters, you can sing on the worship team and teach in children’s church and give generously and sacrificially of your finances, and help clean the church buildings, and sign petitions for preserving life in the womb and preventing same sex marriage, and on and on – – but if you do not have God’s broken heart for the rejects of society, for the people who seem least likely to ever walk in through those front doors – – then your sacrifice is all for naught.
Do you know why the least likely are the least likely? Well one big reason is because they have figured out over time who some of the people are in their town or neighborhood who go to church – – and because those church attenders/Christians show no real interest in building a relationship with them, and because those people must be close to God – – they have put two and two together and come up with five – – which is God must not want to build a relationship with them either.
You know you can fake a lot of things in life. But you cannot fake a genuine heart of love and compassion for someone who knows they are not worthy of it or who knows they are not a good candidate for it. These people smell snobbishness and unrighteous judgment a mile away.
One of the biggest problems the church in America is facing today – – is its members do not want to hang around with the people its Head does. We are banging our heads against the wall trying to reach people who think they’ve got it all together and do not see their need for a doctor – because we are more comfortable with these folks – – when the people who would give their eye teeth to sit down and dine with Jesus aren’t given the time of day by the church!
So how can we develop more of His heart for the spiritually sick folk around us?
1. Everything starts with prayer. Ask God to help you see them. And to show you ways to get near them.
2. Two places you will rarely find these folks are: inside church buildings and inside your house (unless of course we intentionally invite them in). thus we must go where they are most likely to be found.
3. All of us have a disgust threshold – – in other words – – there are certain people or certain kinds of actions or dress or attitudes that most disgust us. Ask the Holy Spirit to alert you when you start disgust towards one’s sin begins to morph into hardness of heart and lack of compassion toward that person.
CONCLUSION – – I’m convinced that Jesus Christ is calling many sinners to himself in this Coastal Region. All He needs from us is a little faith to take the step to bridge this gap between the needy and the doctor; and the heart of compassion that will join with that faith to make it happen