Good morning, Friends! I hope you’re all doing well this morning.
I know some of you are planning to spend this afternoon relaxing and watching the Super Bowl. I appreciate you coming to worship this morning!
Last week, I said we’re going to look at some of the different ways people met Jesus. We started by looking at how Jesus met a man with leprosy.
This man was literally untouchable. Anyone who touched him became unclean and untouchable themselves. So, for Jesus to reach out, and touch this person, and welcome him, was more than just a miracle. It was unthinkable.
Today’s reading is different. I know you’ve probably heard it before. But please listen to it again. And think about how this person felt, when they met Jesus.
A few days later, when Jesus came back to Capernaum, people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and Jesus preached the word to them.
Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?
But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”Mark 2:1-12
Most people today become Christians when they’re young. They come to Sunday School, or youth group, or a retreat or a summer camp. Or people go to a revival service, to one of those mega-churches, with a praise band and fireworks. Or they watch a TV preacher, or listen to a radio sermon.
Jesus never did any of those things. He spoke to big crowds, but it was to people who could hear him speak in his own voice.
The most interesting times, were when Jesus met people one-on-one, or in homes, or on the road. Today’s story was one of those.
If you asked one of these people in the Bible, “What’s it like to be saved?” none of them would say that they filled out a decision card. They would have said, “Jesus touched me. Jesus healed me. Jesus forgave me.”
But the places and times this happened, were all different. That’s my point.
You all know the story of this one. Four friends brought a man who was paralyzed to Jesus. We don’t know how long he’d been laying in the bed. We don’t know how it happened. Maybe he had a stroke. Maybe he had an illness. Maybe he took a fall off a ladder and was injured. It doesn’t say.
Usually, when I talk about this story, we focus on the four friends, their love and faith. Everybody needs friends who will stand by you, who will carry you, who will believe you can get well, even when you’ve given up hope yourself. Good friends can save you, sometimes.
Other times, when I talk about this story, we focus on what the friends did. They couldn’t get through the crowd, so they did something wild and crazy. They climbed up onto the roof. They tore a hole in it, and lowered their friend down on ropes, to get him close to Jesus.
Most houses then were made of stone or adobe, with a flat roof. I can just picture the chaos of that scene – the friends pounding on the roof. Dried mud and sticks and branches falling into the living room. Daylight showing through the hole.
Everybody yelling, telling them to stop. People getting up and trying to get out of the house before the roof came down. And Jesus just sitting there calmly, watching and smiling. It was one for the books, all right.
I guess one way to look at this story is to say, “There’s always another way. There’s always another door or a window that can open.”
Doesn’t have to be the front door. Not everybody meets Jesus by coming down the center aisle to shake hands with the preacher, with everybody singing, Just As I Am. It doesn’t always happen that way.
Everybody’s different. What’s really unusual, is the way Jesus handled it. He said, “My son, your sins are forgiven. . .”
We’re not sure exactly what that means. Was he forgiven, for breaking the roof of Jesus’ house? Seems like that would need at least some kind of apology and forgiveness.
Was he forgiven, for causing such a commotion? Breaking up the Bible study seems like a pretty minor thing to get worked up about.
People back then believed that illness was related to sin. If you did something bad, you got punished for it. You broke God’s commandments, God let you have it.
Trouble with that idea is, some things just happen. In fact, there’s a whole book of the Bible, the book of Job, about this subject.
Job was a good guy. He did nothing wrong. He treated everybody right. He had a happy family, seven kids, a big herd of cattle, lots of friends. He was the ideal father and husband. And then, total disaster struck. Job’s children were all killed. His cattle were stolen. His house burned to the ground. Job came down with a horrible skin disease that drove him crazy all day with scratching. His wife told him to go ahead and die.
And none of this was Job’s fault. It wasn’t a punishment from God. Nobody could figure out who to blame. Maybe the guy in this morning’s story was kind of like that. Maybe he didn’t do anything wrong. Or maybe he did. It doesn’t say.
A few years ago there was a very popular book, written by a Jewish rabbi. It was called When Bad Things Happen to Good People. It’s a really good book, and I highly recommend it.
The author said, “Sometimes things just happen. Good people get sick, and we don’t know why. Sometimes there’s an obvious cause, but sometimes we just don’t know. We can’t believe that God sends these illnesses. They just happen. But God helps us, to live with them.”
In today’s story, Jesus starts out saying, “My son. . .” Notice how Jesus calls him “my son.”Jesus loved this person. Jesus claimed him, as his own. He wasn’t a stranger. He wanted to get close to Jesus, and Jesus welcomed him.
“Your sins are forgiven. . .” Jesus didn’t mention any one particular thing that he’d done. It’s like Jesus forgave his whole lifetime.
When we think about sin, we think about doing bad things. We break God’s law. We make a big mistake. We do something that gets on God’s very last nerve, and God just loses it.
But that’s not the only way to understand sin. The Bible also sees sin as habit or neglect.
If you spend a lifetime of not loving God and not loving your neighbor, something’s deeply wrong. If you go for years without thanking God, or without being a blessing to somebody, something inside of you is broken. If you’re angry at people all the time, every day, you didn’t get the memo.
When you read about sin in the Bible, Jesus is meeting people who are lost, like the lost sheep. Or broken. Or sick. Or exhausted. Or having gone the wrong way, for a long time in their life.
In today’s story, sin can leave people paralyzed. Unable to walk, or get up, or move.
It doesn’t say if this person was paralyzed just on one side, or paralyzed from the waist down, or if he was paralyzed in all four limbs. We know that he couldn’t move.
I read a really interesting writer this week who talked about today’s story and said that it’s really about all of us. He talked about social paralysis – how we are unable to move or change our society, which is so obviously sick and broken.
He talked about mental paralysis – how people are “confined to mats of misery and pallets of pain” – paralyzed by shame, guilt and fear. Living without any sense of vision, without the power to take a step, deaf to the world around us.
And he pointed out that we are a body. The church is the body of Christ. We are Christ’s arms and legs. We are Christ’s hands and feet, eyes and ears.
Sometimes the church seems paralyzed, unable to move. We’re called to praise the Lord, but our lips are sealed. We can’t even say Amen or Thank you, Lord, when something good happens.
I think this story is about a real person who Jesus really helped. But it’s also a bigger story. Do you see what I’m saying? It’s this one guy. But it’s also all of us. Worth thinking about.
So Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven. . .” But that’s not how the story ends. Seems like there were other people in the room, who were shocked by what Jesus said.
The story calls them scribes, and you always get the feeling that Jesus and the gospel writers didn’t like the scribes very much.
Who were the scribes?
Well, to begin with, they were people who could read and write, which not everybody could do back then. In fact, most people couldn’t. But there’s more.
The scribes were people who spent their lives making hand-written copies of the Jewish law. Imagine leaning over a desk, all day long, copying the Bible over and over, checking each letter.
The scribes were the legal experts. They could quote you chapter and verse about every subject, and they were always ready to tell people where they were wrong.
These people had come to see Jesus, and they were just waiting for Jesus to say one wrong word. They were always asking Jesus trick questions, to see if they could catch him out and condemn him.
When Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven. . .”, they were ready to pounce. Nobody said anything out loud, but the poison was in their hearts.
Jesus knew that. They were thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s insulting God! No one can forgive sins but God!”
Jesus said, “You tell me – which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your bed and walk’?”
Before anyone could answer, Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “You heard me! Get up! Pick up your bed! Walk on out of here! Go home!”
And he did. That’s just what happened. He got right up. He walked on out, and everybody was amazed. They gave thanks to God. They’d never seen anything like that before.
Someone who needed help was healed. That’s the point. But there are also other points.
There’s different kinds of paralysis. Some are physical. Some are mental, or spiritual. People need healing in lots of different ways.
When Jesus said, “You’re forgiven,” he wasn’t just speaking to the person in the story. Jesus was speaking to all of us, to everyone in the whole world.
Forgiving isn’t just saying, “There, there, it’s all right. Let’s just forget about it!” Forgiving in this story means that something was terribly wrong, in a life-threatening way. Maybe the person Jesus healed knew about it. Maybe all he knew was that he was paralyzed. People can be in deep trouble, without knowing the cause.
When Jesus says, “You’re forgiven,” it’s like he says, “You’re released now. You’re free!” It’s like something which had tied this person, hand and foot, so that he couldn’t even move his fingers and toes any more. It was that serious.
And Jesus says, “You’re free of all that. God lets it go. Now you let it go, too. It can let go of you now, forever.”
Whatever it was, it was the right word, the word the person needed to hear. It reached him, in every part of his soul and mind and body.
Total forgiveness. Healing forgiveness. Releasing forgiveness. That’s what today’s story is all about.
It’s a good thing to say, “Yeah, I believe in God,” or to say, “Yeah, I love Jesus.”
But it’s another thing for us to hear Jesus telling us, “You’re free now. Whatever it is, it’s let go of you. Now stand up! Pick up your bed! Walk on out of here! Go home! And tell everybody what God has done for you.”
Would you rather spend the rest of your life saying, “That’s impossible!”? Or would you rather hear Jesus saying, “You’re free!”?