Monday, February 20, 2006

Sermon - Mark 2:1-12 - Epiphany 7

Epiphany 7 – February 19th, 2006
Mark 2:1-12
“Paralyzed. Forgiven!”

I. Introduction –
As this Epiphany season has unfolded, we have been reading through the action-packed first chapter of Mark. There we have seen a growing expression of just who Jesus is – with an emphasis on his authority. He has authority in his teaching. He has authority over evil spirits. He has authority to heal many diseases. Today we seen an even greater aspect of Jesus’ authority – and that is to forgive sins. (Next week will see Jesus fully revealed as the glorious Son of God on the Mt. of Transfiguration).

But for today – the well known account of Jesus healing the paralytic. It’s one of those healing stories that sticks in our memory, perhaps. Jesus’ reputation as a healer has grown, so that now he is surrounded by great crowds. So great a crowd that is was standing-room-only on that day when the paralytic was brought in hopes of healing. But his determined friends would not be pushed out by the crowd. They dug a hole in the roof layers of dirt and straw – and in dramatic fashion lowered their crippled friend right down to Jesus.

You can understand their determination. It’s not like this man had a hangnail or a stubbed toe. His paralysis made him completely dependent on the kindness of others. With no modern American social welfare system available to him, his survival from day to day would have been at the mercy of others. He couldn’t work to support a family (if he even had one). He couldn’t even take care of himself. He was so helpless he had to be carried around on a mat – presumably from place to place to beg for his living.

So here comes this man with great expectations of healing. He had heard about Jesus’ earlier visit to Capernaum. How he healed many that Saturday evening. He heard, perhaps, about the leper whom Jesus had cleansed – we read about that last week – the man who was told to keep it secret but couldn’t keep from blabbing. And perhaps as a last resort, the paralyzed man calls in a favor and has his friends go the extra mile so that maybe, JUST MAYBE this “Jesus of Nazareth” would work a miracle.

As he is lowered in to the house where Jesus is, Jesus takes notice. He comes over to the mat, and speaks to the man. Perhaps the whole crowd waited with hushed anticipation of the miracle that Jesus would do. How he would command the paralysis to be gone, or declare that the man should rise and walk. But he doesn’t do that. At least not right away. Perhaps to the surprise of many, Jesus says something else, “Son, your sins are forgiven”.

II. What Do You Need?
What do you need from Jesus? It’s a question worth asking. None of us here today are completely paralyzed. But we do come today dragging a mat full of hurts and problems.

Sometimes we differentiate between these “felt needs” and our true need. The felt needs are the needs we feel – the tangible things going haywire in our lives – relationships gone awry, health problems galore, struggles at work with co-workers and bosses, conflict at home and in the family, and of course there never seems to be enough money. When we come to this house of God each week we drag a mat weighed down with all sorts of worldly troubles and cares. These things have a way of paralyzing us, at least spiritually. What do you need from Jesus today? What’s paralyzing you?

Whatever it is, you can probably identify with the paralyzed man – who had some expectations, some hopes at least, of finding help. And the surprising answer that Jesus gave him is the same answer he gives us - “Son, (daughter), your sins are forgiven”. And maybe that’s not exactly what we wanted to hear.

Maybe we wanted Jesus to make the cancer go away. Maybe we wanted him to make our kids behave like they should. Maybe we were hoping Jesus would somehow make my spouse see the light and start treating me right. Maybe we were just hoping for a little less stress in our lives. Some minor (or major) miracle so that we can get up get on with our life. But Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven”.

He says it through the absolution of sins, when the pastor stands in his stead and by his commands. “I forgive you your sins” is one of the first things God says to us as we gather. And there’s a reason for that. First things first.
It’s because Jesus knows what we really need. He knows our need better than we do. Jesus knows that the first, the most important, the number one priority for us all – whether we know it or not – is to have our sins forgiven.

It may surprise us, but it shouldn’t. For all our other problems derive from sin. Whether our sin, or the sin of the world we live in. All our other problems are consequences of, mere symptoms of sin. Like the paralyzed man, our real problem, our only real problem, is sin. And Jesus is the one who can and does solve it. He is the One who forgives.

III. The One Who Forgives
In fact, compared to sin, all these other problems are child’s play. For the teachers of the law were right to ask, “who can forgive sins but God alone?” Rabbis can teach, and doctors can sometimes heal. But only God can forgive sins. What a bold statement Jesus makes here, not only forgiving someone’s sin, but also in effect declaring himself to be God! For anyone else to do this would have been blasphemy. But not for Jesus, who is God. He has the rightful authority to forgive sins. And not just because he is God.

The forgiveness that Jesus offers is a forgiveness based on the cross. All the sacrifices for sin in the Old Testament led up to, pointed to, and found power in this once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross. All the times Jesus forgave sins, all the authority he gave to his disciples to do the same – it all goes back to the cross. And every time a Christian pastor announces the absolution, or performs a baptism, or administers the Sacrament of the Altar – it all goes back to the cross.

For there we see the One who forgives sins doing the dirty work of forgiveness. There he procures it, so that we can receive it – again and again. There at the cross Jesus takes care of our greatest need – he appeases God’s wrath, he pays the price, he takes our place, he wins forgiveness. So that God, when he forgives our sins doesn’t do so just because he’s God and just because he’s nice. He does so for the sake of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. “Father Forgive them” cries the condemned Christ, and the Father forgives.

IV. Paralyzed No More
And Jesus does heal the paralytic. He does it to prove to the detractors – and to us – that he has the authority to forgive sins. No, Jesus doesn’t heal us just because we ask every time and at the drop of a hat. No, he doesn’t offer pat answers and easy solutions to all the problems of life. Sometimes a healing or solution is given. And for those times, thanks be to God! Other times, He doesn’t address the needs we feel… at least not right away. But he always forgives. He is “faithful and just”, and promises to “forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.

And the forgiveness he brings has a ripple effect. As forgiven children of God, we live life by His Spirit. We have the comfort of knowing we belong to God. Even when the problems and sins of life try to paralyze us, we have a peace that passes understanding. Even when times are tough and the mat we drag around seems so heavy, we have the riches of his grace.

And we have a future promised to us. We have the hope of heaven. And not just being with the Lord when we die, but also the promised resurrection to life eternal. What that means is this. That someday, all our ills of the body will be healed. That someday, all our troubles and problems will be a long-distant memory (as Isaiah says today, “forget the former things”). When that day comes, the Resurrected One will raise us also to life. The same Christ who has by his word forgiven our sins, will also command our bodies to rise, and finally “get up, and come home”, to live with him forever. And God himself will wipe every tear from our eyes.

Whatever needs you are dragging on your mat, if you’ve come to Jesus, you’ve come to the right place. But remember our greatest need is to be forgiven of our sins. And know that forgiveness which comes only through Jesus Christ and his cross. And see that effects that forgiveness brings, and in Christ, be paralyzed no more. For in him, “your sins are forgiven”. Go in peace. In Jesus Name, Amen.

V. Conclusion
Like the paralytic, we too are afflicted with sin and its consequences. But we too receive what we need the most- forgiveness of our sins – from the only One who can give it: Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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