This morning we continue with our studies in Matthew in the morning and in Zechariah in the Evening.
Last week our studies in Matthew took us to Matthew 9:1-8 and to Jesus the Complete Saviour:
Matthew is setting before us the most sumptuous, beautiful portrait of Jesus as the complete Saviour. In Matthew 5-7 in the Sermon on the Mount we encounter Jesus the great teacher. In the Old Testament in Leviticus there is the great call to God’s people ‘You shall be holy as I am holy’ in the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus patiently unfolds what true holiness is we begin to see the real beauty of a godly life. But if all Jesus did was teach we would be despair; the problem with the Sermon on the Mount is not understanding what Jesus has to say, but living the Sermon on the Mount consistently. We need wisdom, we need teaching but we need so much more.
So in chapters 8 into 9 Matthew tells us of six miracles Jesus performed that open up the whole world of Jesus tenderness and healing power.Firstly Jesus heals the leper; Jesus is quite prepared to become unclean to heal someone and restore their humanity. Secondly He heals the son of a Roman centurion; race, creed, culture religious background or want of it is no barrier to Jesus; His mercy is for all. Thirdly He heals Peter’s mother in law;there is no one too old, too insignificant for Jesus to help. Fourthly He stands up in the boat and stills the tsunami that threatened to swap the boat he and the disciples were in; Jesus is greater than the chaos, greater than your worst nightmare even in the wildest storm you are safe with Him. Then last week we came to the story of Jesus casting out demons. If all Jesus could do was teach, calm storms and heal old women but was powerless in the face of all the evil that stalks the earth He would be a very nice and worthwhile chap to know but ultimately ineffective and useless. But no at simply a word from Jesus evil departs and is destroyed.
I am old enough to remember the Rolf Harris Show it was the high point of Saturday night. The highlight of the show came when Rolf with some pots of Dulux and the kind of paint brush you would use to paint a door would paint a picture. As he ooed and ahhed slowly he put streaks of paint here and there on what looked like an old sheet slowly but surely a picture would emerge and then Rolf would sing a song with the picture illustrating the song. That was class entertainment when I was a kid. This is what Matthew is doing creating a portrait of Jesus; like all good portrait artists he is taking us into the heart and soul of the character of the subject of the portrait till like Rolf we break into song, not singing Tie Me Kangaroo Down Mate but into great hymns and anthems of praise as we find in v8 the crowd filled with awe worship God.
Now in this great portrait of Jesus that Matthew spreads before us the crowning glory is Jesus healing the paralytic, saying to him ‘Take heart son (= Gk teknon the most tender of words a father can use to speak to his son); your sins are forgiven.’
If all Jesus could do was teach, heal old ladies, calm storms and destroy evil then He would be a great guy to know and pretty handy to have around when things got tough but ultimately He would be useless. If somehow or other Jesus is not able to bring forgiveness to my soul and change me then I am lost.
Let us begin with a question. Why did Jesus say to the man‘Your sins are forgiven’ rather than simply say to him at the beginning ‘Take up your bed and walk’? It would have been much easier, the teachers of the law would not have been outraged, the effect would have been the same, the guy would have been healed and every one would have gone home happy. Or is the guy’s paralysis somehow related to sin.
The answer to that is no and yes.
No the guy did not do something very wicked and so God as a punishment hit him with some awful wasting disease. That is how many think;something bad happens to them and they think it is God punishing them for something they have done. In fact the opposite is true; the Bible is emphatic that ‘God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities’ but rather He sends the sunshine and the rain on men and women everywhere. In fact a more common complaint in the Bible and certainly in the non-believing world is that God is far too kind to the wicked. So, no this guy did not do something wicked and his paralysis was divine punishment.
But then yes his paralysis did come as a result of sin. You see this world; the world we live in is not the world God made. The world God created for His children was ‘good’ a King’s garden a place for god to meet with his children. This world we live in today though is a world of rebellion;a world that has declared itself independent of God, a world that has renounced His sovereignty and so it has become a world of evil, fear chaos, tragedy; a world of pain, disease and death.
Occasionally we see this larger tragedy played out on a smaller scale. Have you see any of these reality programmes on TV when every a group of children get the wish of every child they are to live in a house without any parents no teachers, no authority figures, the kids are to be in complete control. They think it will be bliss go to bed when you want to, eat when you want to, watch TV whenever you like, play computer games for as long as you want to. Heaven! But of course that does not last long. Soon there is fighting and bullying kids ganging up on one another, the signs of chaos multiply around them, the mess the uneaten food, the lethargy.
On a much larger scale that is our world such are our lives when we rebel against God.
A few years ago a read a biography of Stalin and at one point he deliberately created famine in the rich lands of the Russian steppes to teach the peasants there to work for the state and not themselves. People living on some of the richest farm land in the world were reduced to trying to eat the bark from trees. These poor wretches were not responsible for the famine but were living with the consequences of living a land of revolution.
This was the state of the paralytic. He lives in a world that had rebelled against God and his disease was part of that rebellion.
My problem is that when I read the Sermon on the Mount I understand the rightness of what Jesus is saying but I am paralysed by my arrogance, selfishness and cowardliness. Because I am arrogant selfish and cowardly the good I would do I do not and the evil I would not do that I do.
To heal the paralytic Jesus says to him ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ He is setting this man free from all the consequences of man’s rebellion against God.
The teachers of the law are outraged by this. They say quite rightly that only God has the authority to forgive sin – but Jesus knowing their thoughts challenges then in a quite remarkable way.
The thing is, it is easy to say ‘Your sins are forgiven’, for who knows whether you are telling the truth or not? I could easily get one of these sprinkler things that priests use and walk up and down the aisles of BVP shower you all with holy water and say your sins are forgiven but how would you really know you were forgiven or not?
But it is hard to say to paralytic take up your bed and walk for everyone can see immediately whether or not you have the power to heal or are just another fraudster.
The amazing this is that the man does pick up his bed and walk and so the implication is that he knows forgiveness also.
Ultimately this is why Jesus in His parables places such an emphasis upon living a life of grace. It is one thing for someone to brag they have been born again, they are forgiven, a new man in Christ. Talk is cheap.How do we know that claim is true other than they exhibit a life of mercy and compassion? Central to Jesus whole ministry is the Parable of the unmerciful servant. This man had swindled his master out of a fortune; he owed his master vast suns in excess of the entire national debt of Greece; such sums he could never repay. In an act of pure mercy his master forgives him and sets him free from the debtors’ prison. The servant goes out and stumbles across a neighbour who owes him just a few pounds; he attacks the man and has him thrown into jail. His master hears of it and visits judgement upon him. The only way the world will ever know that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins was for that man to take up his bed and walk. The only way your family, your friends, your colleagues, your neighbours will ever know Jesus has the authority to forgive is through you leading a life of grace and compassion. It is not that God forgives us but because we forgive but having been forgiven we live a life of compassion.
The key to this whole passage of Scripture is the title Jesus takes in this debate with the teachers of the law; He calls Himself the Son of Man.
On one level the title son of man means just that Jesus is just an ordinary human being, He is just one of Jack Thomson’s bairns. But then the title means so much more. The Son of Man in the prophecy of Daniel the title given to a great king to whom God entrusts governance of the whole universe. He is one in whom Yahweh finds no fault but only unending pleasure and delight in His wisdom, love of goodness, compassion, mercy and passion for justice.
In this little story for those who have eyes to see, our King has come. He can not only teach the ways of God’s Kingdom there is nothing can stand in His way as He gradually overcomes the rebellion of our world. He can touch the leper unclean and make him clean. He can reach out to the wealthy centurions who come from a wholly different culture. He can take the despised useless old woman and give her back her life, give her hope. He is greater than our worst nightmare. He has the authority to drive out evil. He can forgive and heal so that the rebels can be brought back into God’s family.
The consequence of all this worship: the people see in Jesus the king their weary souls have longed for and they in awe and delight worship Him. We had two ladies in my last charge one sued to say to me I come to church so that I can go home thinking ‘What have I got to do now?’ Another lady used to say to me ‘I love coming here because I go home feeling so unworthy.’ Both were wrong, wrong, wrong. You come to church to behold the glory of God in Christ Jesus and to go home rejoicing, rejoicing in his forgiveness to live in the joy and delight of His goodness.