Sermon for February 20, 2000
Text: Mark 2:1-12
Occasion: Epiphany 7
Theme: Jesus Reveals Power to Heal Your Worst Disease
I. He forgives your sins
II. He heals your sicknesses
When you've spent your whole life in one church, it can really be an eye-opening experience to talk about religion with those who haven't. One day you realize that when others talk about Jesus, they aren't necessarily talking about the same Jesus you have learned to know from the Bible. Why did Jesus come to this world? You can find many different answers to that question floating around today. On the day before Christmas I went to the open house at the new Mormon temple which was built in St. Paul--non-Mormons can't get into a Mormon temple after it's officially dedicated, so you have to go before. The friendly Mormons showed us a video telling us that Jesus came to make it possible for Mormons to spend eternity with their earthly families; Mormons believe that they can spend eternity expanding their earthly families by having more children, spirit children. What they didn't explain in their video was that the Mormon Jesus didn't come to give us eternal life (they really don't believe in heaven as we do), but to make it possible for us to earn eternal life for ourselves. Of course, you don't find that in the Bible. Some televangelists and others believe that Jesus came to give you complete healing of all your bodily sicknesses and diseases. They say that he'll even sprinkle you with gold dust to prove that he's really working. You don't find that Jesus in the Bible either. Some believe that Jesus simply came to give us new laws to follow and tell us how to live morally upright lives. All these ideas miss the real reason Jesus came to this world.
Many people in Jesus' day didn't know what he came to do either. Over and over again the gospel writers show us how the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, the chief priests and many others tried to figure out Jesus' mission and message--and got it wrong. The Pharisees thought that Jesus came to lead people away from the many laws they had made up. The chief priests were afraid that Jesus had come to lead the people of Israel away from fearing their power. Many of the Israelites thought that Jesus came only to heal their diseases. But in today's gospel lesson Jesus gives us a glimpse of his real mission. Jesus did come to heal you, but not in the way you might expect, not in the way some false teachers proclaim. Mark shows you today that Jesus Reveals Power to Heal Your Worst Disease. He forgives your sins and he heals your sicknesses.
In today's gospel lesson Mark shows us a familiar incident from Jesus' life. Jesus went to the town of Capernaum, Peter's hometown, and was immediately swarmed with people who wanted to see him. Everyone had heard that Jesus was a powerful teacher of God's Word and a powerful healer of sicknesses and diseases. On this particular occasion, Mark tells us, "So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them."
As often happened, the townspeople brought Jesus their sick to be healed. Four men came to Jesus with another who was paralyzed, stuck in his bed, unable to move. There were so many people that these men couldn't get close to Jesus. They were so confident and eager for Jesus to help, though, that "they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on."
They were confident, weren't they? The really knew that Jesus could help. But Jesus didn't quite do what everyone expected. He didn't do what you might have expected him to do: he didn't heal the man right away. Instead, Mark tells us that "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'" What? This man needed to walk, and Jesus spoke about forgiving his sins? What was going on?
Jesus is God's Son, true God himself, and knows everything. Jesus knew that this man had a much greater problem than simply being paralyzed. He had a much greater disease: sin. More than he needed to walk, this man needed his sins taken away, didn't he? Jesus himself said, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" What good would it be for this paralyzed man to walk if he would end up in hell someday? Instead, Jesus showed everyone what this man--and they--needed most: God's forgiveness of their sins.
That's what you need most too. You may have aches and pains. You may have serious physical problems which may destroy your body, which even the best doctors can't cure. But those are minor compared to your worst problem: your sinfulness. Sin is an inherited disease--you get it from your parents, who got it from theirs, and so on all the way back to the garden of Eden. Sin affects you and makes you do crazy things, monstrous things like hating others, wanting what you can't have and shouldn't have, telling lies about others, turning your back on God. Sin makes you say, "I don't need God. I don't need his Word. I'm good enough." Sin is worse than any disease you can imagine--what else can make you reject your God? Other diseases may cause you aches and pains, but "the wages of sin is death." Since "all have sinned", the mortality rate for this disease is 100% (with 2 exceptions--can you name them?). Sin doesn't just affect you, nor does it affect the whole human race alone, but Paul writes that "the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." All creation itself is suffering because of sin's deadly disease. And you too deserve to suffer for your disobedience toward God, for rejecting him and breaking his laws. You deserve to suffer not just in this life but forever.
And you thought your headache was bad! Your headache won't send you to hell, but your sins will. What can you do? How can you escape? Well, how could the paralyzed man help himself? It's a trick question--he couldn't! Nor can you do anything to escape the punishment you deserve for your sins. But the paralyzed man and his friends knew that if anyone could help him walk, it was Jesus. The man knew that he was helpless, but that Jesus had power to help. So how did Jesus reveal his power? He revealed his power by forgiving the man's sins.
That really bothered some of the teachers of the law, who came to see if Jesus was going to say something which they could condemn him for. They said to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" They were right about that last part. Only God can forgive sins. Now Jesus was doing it. Jesus was claiming to be God! But this was nothing new--Jesus had claimed to be God before. As God, he did have the authority and the power to forgive the paralyzed man's sins, and he has the power to forgive your sins too.
Jesus has the power to forgive your sins because he won your forgiveness himself. When Jesus died, he didn't die for his own sins. As true God, he never sinned. When Jesus died on the cross, he was suffering the punishment you deserved for your sins. Jesus took your guilt away from you by taking it on himself. When Jesus began his public ministry, John the Baptizer called him "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." Jesus himself said over and over again that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many." When he died on the cross and rose again he revealed that his words were true, that he did have power "to lay down his life and to take it up again", power to forgive your sins, and power to raise you on the last day, to give you life forever. Jesus promised you forgiveness and eternal life, and then he died and rose again to prove that these are yours. That's power! That's a savior with authority to do what he says!
As God, Jesus knew what the doubters in the crowd were thinking. Mark says that Jesus "said to them, 'Why are you thinking these things?'" Jesus was claiming to be God, and to prove it he knew their thoughts! He asked the teachers of the law who doubted his power, "Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'?" Although simply telling someone his sins are forgiven is easy, actually making it happen is tough, much harder than even healing a physical weakness. Yet Jesus has power to do both, and he showed his power both as Savior and healer. He said, "But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, "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!" In just a few minutes Jesus revealed his power to heal both soul and body.
Jesus has healed your soul too. But what about your body? Has he healed your physical ailments? Or does he seem to let you go on suffering? Once out in Dawson MN I paid a visit to one of my parishioners in the nursing home. On my way out I was greeted by another resident of the nursing home who had once been (and still was) a well-known member of the community. He was stuck in a wheelchair. He had lost an arm and in its place he had a metal claw which he used to grab things, but not well. He knew who I was, and asked me about something which was bothering him. Another pastor in town had told him that if he just prayed and believed strongly enough, God would heal all his physical problems and he would get out of his wheelchair. Presumably he would have a new arm, too, but he didn't mention that.
This man was troubled. Was this true? If so, was he not believing enough, was he not praying enough, was he not good enough to be healed? I knew that this man was a member of another Lutheran church in town, but someone had confused and troubled him about God's promises and power. I pointed out to him that if he was not a good enough Christian because he was still wheelchair-bound, then St. Paul was even worse--he had a physical affliction which God didn't remove even after Paul begged him 3 times. God doesn't always heal all our earthly diseases and problems. Sometimes God has a different plan for you. Sometimes he may want you to keep a physical problem so that the physical problem will keep you close to him, trusting in him and his mercy.
One day Jesus will heal all your physical problems and diseases. One day they will all be gone. That day is judgment day. He may heal some of your pains here on earth, but you'll have others. One day he'll take them all away. Just as Jesus revealed his power as Savior to the paralyzed man in today's gospel lesson, he will reveal his power to you, right before your eyes, when he comes back to this earth. You might not even be alive when he comes. Doesn't matter. Jesus will raise those who are dead, and will give all his disciples new bodies, perfect bodies, bodies which will never die, which are fit to live with him in heaven forever. In heaven "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain" thanks to Jesus. He has power to heal all your diseases, to forgive your sins, and to give you life forever.
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