A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on Mark 2:1-12 on Sunday 26 August 2018
What do you want? What do you think you need? Do you want a nice home, healthy children and a long and prosperous life? Do you want a good, well paid job without too much overtime? What do you want? What do you think you need?
Do you need food and drink, clothes and shelter, family and friends? Do you need a good education, fulfilling work, and a few weeks off at Christmas? Do you need love, understanding, peace, and rest? What do you want? What do you think you need?
We all have so many wants and needs. Our lives are full of competing goals and desires. We want so much and we often feel disappointed. But what do we really need? This morning as we look at the account of the paralysed man in Mark chapter 2, we learn what our greatest need is and that Jesus is the one who meets it.
The group of five men who went to see Jesus that day was just one big bundle of wants and needs. Four of the men didn’t need much. They were strong and healthy. They probably had families of their own and were able to support them, working hard for a boss, or maybe even in their business or on their own farm. If they weren’t too ambitious, if they didn’t want too much, they were probably able to live happy and fulfilling lives. They could probably buy everything they needed in the market place with the money they earned each day.
But their friend needed almost everything. He couldn’t walk. He was paralysed. We don’t know if he was born that way or if he’d had an injury or got sick. But he was in great need. There was no public hospital system in those days. No worker’s compensation. No invalid pension. A man who couldn’t walk couldn’t work. And a man who couldn’t work was at the mercy of the kindness of his family and friends. Everything he wanted was probably out of his reach.
Then one of them heard that Jesus was back in town and they remembered the fuss he’d caused the last time he was in Capernaum. He had cast a demon out of a man in the synagogue. That evening the whole town had turned up where Jesus was staying and they had brought their sick friends and family members. Jesus had healed them all and then suddenly disappeared the very next day before the four men could get their act together to bring their paralysed friend to see Jesus. Well, they weren’t going to miss this second chance. Nothing was going to stand in their way.
The five men came to the house where Jesus was. The paralysed man was lying on a mat and his four friends were carrying it each by one of its corners. They got to the house all right, but when they got there, they couldn’t get in. Jesus was inside and so many people had come to hear him speak, so many had come to see a miracle, that the whole place was packed. There was standing room only. The kitchen was full of people. The dining room was full of people. All the hallways contained wall to wall people. No one could get in. They couldn’t get in through the doors. They couldn’t get in through the windows. The people were listening to Jesus. And he was preaching to them the word. The good news of the kingdom.
Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised. This is the kind of reaction you get when God meets humanity face to face in the flesh in his Son. This is the response when the Spirit of life manifests his power on earth. Jesus was a man who turned heads, that made people stand up and listen. His words were like the rain on the hot dry land, restoring life and hope. And his deeds, his actions broke the chains of the oppressed, setting them free from their infirmities, opening the prison doors of their disabilities. Jesus brought healing where there was pain. He brought movement where there was paralysis. He brought light into the darkness, and music to those who lived in silence. No wonder they crowded around him. They beat down the doors just to be with him. God his Father had affirmed him as his Son with the gift of his Spirit. The words and deeds of Jesus were like the coming of the dawn of the kingdom of God. To meet Jesus, to hear him, was like waking up for the first time in your life.
The four men and their friend were only five, maybe ten metres from Jesus, but it might as well have been a thousand. There was just no way that they were going to get what they wanted, what their friend needed. Until one of them saw a way of getting closer. The roof. The roof of the house was flat, like all the houses in those parts. It rarely rained, so the roofs didn’t need to pitch. And on hot summer nights, a flat roof was like having an extra room on top where the family could eat and even sleep under the stars.
The four men simply climbed the outdoor stairs and carried their friend to the top. The walls were made of stone, sometimes half a metre thick or more but the roofs were made of timber beams about a metre apart, overlaid with reeds bound together with cords and then coated with mud plaster. The roofs were water tight to keep out the rain and strong enough to bear the weight of a number of people.
This was what the men dug through, breaking the outer coating of plaster, removing the reed thatching between two of the timber beams and then lowering the bed their friend was lying on through the hole, using ropes tied to each of the corners. Now that’s determination, sweeping aside all obstacles in their way. That is love, risking the cost of repairing the roof for their friend’s sake. And that is faith. None of them would have gone to so much trouble if they didn’t believe that Jesus could help their friend.
Jesus looked at the man lying on the mat. He looked up at his four friends. He looked at the hole they’d made in the roof. He looked at the men again. And when he saw their faith, the faith of all five of them, their belief, their trust in his goodness and power, he said to the paralysed man, “Your sins are forgiven.”
It wasn’t exactly what they wanted. It wasn’t what they thought they needed. To them their friend’s urgent problem was his paralysis. Forgiveness is fine, but it doesn’t feed the family. It doesn’t pay the water bills. What their friend needed was to walk.
But Jesus looked at the man on his mat and saw a more pressing need. When Jesus looked in the man’s eyes, he didn’t see a cripple, a man whose legs didn’t work. He saw a child of God, lost on his journey through life, far from his Father, not knowing his way home. What is the use of legs if they only take us further from God? What is the use of being able to see, if we only use them to look at ugliness and violence? What is the use of speech, if we use our voice to curse God and our neighbour?
We look at the paralysed man and to us his only disability was that he couldn’t walk. But Jesus could see that without the grace of God, he couldn’t even begin to live. The man on his mat was a bundle of so many wants and perceived needs. But Jesus could see that his greatest need was a relationship with his Father God and that the only true reward for his faith was the gift of forgiveness. “Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus said.
Forgiveness is one of the most beautiful gifts that we can receive. Because when we hurt someone, when we make a mistake that doesn’t just cost us, but costs someone else as well, when we let people down, it just tears a big whole in our relationship with them. We pretend we are so together most of the time, but inside we are nursing the guilt of our sin against others and the hurt of others who have sinned against us. We avoid the pain of the guilt and the hurt so they fester like a boil, or go stale like the air in a room that is never opened, and our souls wither like a plant that never sees the sun.
The gift that lances the boil, that opens the door of our hearts, that opens the windows of our soul to the light, is forgiveness. Forgiveness means that we can admit the truth about who we really are. The real me. Not the me I pretend to be, but the real live person that I am. I can admit the truth, I can be me, and it’s all right. Because the God who made me will never reject me. He doesn’t just save me from feeling guilty. He saves me from actually being guilty. Nothing bad I can do can make him love me less. Nothing good I do can make him love me more. God loves me. The real me. And he forgives me when I admit that truth about myself and have the faith to ask him to set me free from my past.
Because that’s what it means to be forgiven. It means that my past no longer controls my future. Whatever I have done, however other people have made me feel, whatever consequences I would have or should have faced, it no longer matters. The old has gone. The new has come. It may not be the whole of salvation. It may not be full sum of the gospel. But forgiveness is its crucial first step.
God forgives me. I know this is true because he has given his son Jesus the right to forgive my sins. To announce them irrelevant. To put them behind me so that they no longer count. To overlook my past so that I can have a new future. Jesus has the right to forgive my sins.
He said to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven.” Some teachers of the law were sitting there and they didn’t like it one little bit. “Why does this fellow talk like that?” they thought to themselves. “He’s blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Now you have to admit that their premise is right. No one can forgive sin except God. If you hurt someone else, I don’t have the right to step in and forgive you. It’s got nothing to do with me. But God can. God has made us all and to hurt someone else is not just to sin against them but it is to sin against God. He has the right to forgive sin. But no one else. Their premise was right.
But their conclusion was wrong. That just because only God could forgive, Jesus couldn’t. This is only our third message from the Gospel of Mark. But already we’ve seen Jesus’ authority in his teaching, his authority in calling his disciples to follow him, and his authority over sickness and disease. But here in Mark chapter 2 we see that Jesus claimed the authority of God to forgive sin.
“Which is easier?” Jesus challenged them. “To say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up, pick up your mat and walk? But that you may know that I have the authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your mat, and go home.” And he did. In full view of them all. He came in through a hole in the roof. He went home through the door. He came in on a mat. He went out on his own two feet. And Jesus had made him whole, from the inside out. Restored and made new in both body and spirit. Set free from both his disabilities: from the chains of his paralysis and from the burden of his sins. He came in a sinner. He went home a child of God. This is the power of faith. It trusts in the goodness and power of the Lord Jesus. He meets our greatest need, because he can and because he wants to.
What do you want? What do you think you need? A new haircut? A new job? A new car? A new house? Or maybe a new life, set free from the mistakes of the past, our crippled souls released from the pain and the guilt, our paralysed hearts beating again with the love of God. Jesus knows that our greatest need is forgiveness. And he meets it when we have the courage to admit the truth about ourselves and the faith to seek his grace. Jesus meets our greatest need because he has the right, the authority, to forgive our sins.
Why keep holding on to your mistakes as if they have the right to ruin the rest of your life? Why keep pretending that you have no sins, when if you freely admit them, it will be like they were never there? Why let your past control your future, when Jesus has the right to forgive you? Decide for yourselves right now what it is that you most need and if you know that it is a personal relationship with God in Jesus set free from your past mistakes, then, please, pray with me.