It's Easy to Say

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Matthew 9:1-8

Religious claims – to have the power to heal or forgive people, for example – are easy to make. What counts is the ability to back them up with deeds.

Religious claims are easy to make. All sorts of people claim to have power to heal or to create prosperity, or at least to have a direct pipeline to God for channeling these things to you. But claims are just words. It’s one thing to utter them; it’s quite another to back them up with results. I’m reminded of a character in Shakespeare who boasts, “I can call spirits from the vasty deep!” “So can I, so can any man,” his companion replies. “But will they come when you call them?”

Jesus never makes an empty claim. He always backs up his words with actions. Here is a wonderful story from Matthew 9 that illustrates this truth perfectly.

Some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he then said to the paralytic – “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Matthew 9:2-8

“No One Ever Pardoned So Easily”

One of the qualities of Abraham Lincoln that so impressed his contemporaries (or exasperated them, depending on their point of view) was his tenderheartedness. He loved to spare lives whenever he could, pardoning condemned men at every opportunity. On a snowy winter night once during the Civil War a congressman came to the White House to plead for the life of a young soldier who had been sentenced to death. Lincoln listened to the case and then wrote out a presidential pardon, remarking as he signed it,

Some of my generals complain that I impair discipline by my frequent pardons and reprieves; but it rests me after a day’s hard work that I can find some excuse for saving some poor fellow’s life, and I shall go to bed happy tonight as I think how joyous the signing of this name will make himself, his family and friends.

One of Lincoln’s political associates said of him, “No man clothed with such vast power ever wielded it more tenderly and forbearingly. No man holding in his hands the keys of life and death ever pardoned so many offenders, and so easily.” That description fits someone else even better than Abraham Lincoln, doesn’t it?

Here is Jesus, confronted with a paralyzed man. Before the man can even speak, Jesus looks at him and says, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” No man ever pardoned so many offenders, and so easily. You and I truly can take heart from this. Whoever we are, whatever our sins, however weak and disabled we may be, the Lord stands ready to forgive us. Then to prove he can back up his offer of forgiveness with real power Jesus adds, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And then to validate that claim, the paralyzed man does exactly this. “And he rose and went home.”

Participants in the Drama

I am especially interested in the various participants who surround Jesus in this drama of healing and pardon. First of all there is the paralyzed man and his friends. They offer us a picture of persistent faith in Christ, the kind of faith Jesus is looking for in all of us and to which he stands ready to respond. The version of this story that we find in the Gospel of Mark brings out this quality of faith even more clearly. There we read that when Jesus came home:

many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Mark 2:2-5

That’s the more familiar expanded version of the story. So let’s pay attention to what Mark tells us. After his various travels and adventures Jesus has returned to Capernaum, presumably to get some rest. But there is no peace for the Teacher; he is besieged by people in his own home. The house is so jam-packed that folks are spilling out the doorway, and Jesus is patiently preaching the word. But here come these four men, carrying their paralyzed friend on a bed. How can they get close enough to Jesus to present their needy companion to him? The friends refuse to be deterred by any difficulties they encounter on the way to Jesus. Instead, they display remarkable persistence and ingenuity. Climbing to the roof, they make an opening and lower the man right in front of the spot where Jesus is standing. Now that’s holy boldness, especially since it was Jesus’ own roof! And when Jesus sees their faith – notice, not just the crippled man’s faith but all of their faith – he acts in grace.

So here’s a great model for us. I want faith like the faith of these men, persistent faith, obstacle-overcoming faith, barrier-crossing faith that refuses to stop until it reaches Christ. But I also want to say plainly that Jesus’ willingness and ability to help us does not depend upon either the quality or quantity of our faith. That has to be clear to anyone who looks at the miracles closely.

Some of the people in these stories in Matthew 8 and 9 that we have been following are models of faith, others are not. And what’s most noteworthy about this particular story is not the quality of the man’s faith or that of his friends but the unexpected gift he received. The four friends carried him because they had great faith in Jesus’ power to heal, but the first thing the man heard was: “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus’ primary concern was not with physical but spiritual healing. He came first of all to bring salvation and the forgiveness of sins. The greatest gift that paralyzed man received that day wasn’t freedom of movement, it was freedom from sin and sin’s guilt.

Next look at a second group of participants in the story, the scribes, or Bible teachers, we could call them. They were scandalized by Jesus’ announcement that this man’s sins were forgiven. This is blasphemous, they thought; only God can forgive sins. And they were absolutely right, of course. If you were to come to me and tell me that you had committed some terrible sin against your neighbor, and I said to you, “I forgive you,” the proper response would be, “So what? What difference does that make? You don’t have the right to forgive sins I commit against someone else.”

So the claim implied in Jesus’ words is staggering. Did you notice the question Jesus asked his religious critics? “Which is easier, to say ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up and walk’?” The answer to that is obvious. It’s easier to say “You’re forgiven” because there’s no way of immediately proving whether or not it’s happened. But which one of those things would be harder to actually do? In fact, it’s much easier to heal paralysis than it is to forgive sin. Jesus could make the crippled man walk just by telling him to get up. But to be able to forgive his sins he would have to die on a cross. Praise God that Jesus truly does have the authority to forgive sins, an authority he earns by paying sin’s penalty. The crippled man in Capernaum received an amazing, miraculous gift that day. Oh, and he was also given back the use of his legs.

Consider one last group in our cast of characters: all the other folks in that crowded house. Here’s how Matthew ends the story:

When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (v. 8)

It’s easy to skip past these little tag lines at the end of the story, thinking that the main action is over. They’re a bit like the credits that roll along at the end of a film. But pay attention to what Matthew says. He says the crowds who saw this miracle were afraid, just like the disciples were afraid when Jesus calmed the storm on the lake. What sort of man is this, that he speaks a word and sinners are forgiven, and the paralyzed jump up and walk? But then their awe turns to praise, and the people begin to glorify God because he “had given such authority to men.”

To men, Matthew says; not just to Jesus as the Son of God, but to Jesus as a human being. Now people have the authority to proclaim forgiveness of sins, in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Some time later Jesus will tell his disciples,

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 16:19; cf. John 20:23

Jesus’ followers are authorized – I am authorized, I have authority as one of his commissioned servants – to tell you in his name that your sins are forgiven for his sake, as you trust him in faith.

Isn’t that amazing? And it’s true!