Paralyzed No More!
A sermon based on Mark 2:1-12
Sunday, February 19, 2017 – Epiphany 7B
Our Gospel Lesson for the 7th Sunday After the Epiphany is recorded for us in Mark 2:1-12…
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…." He said to the paralytic, 11 "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." 12 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!"
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I woke one morning in sheer horror. And this was a nightmare I didn't wake up from. I couldn't feel my legs. Worse, I couldn't move my legs. I tried to sit up, but to my dread, my arms wouldn't move either. I was completely paralyzed. I screamed in terror. Eventually my neighbor came. Thank God for good neighbors. He became one of my best friends.
That day was one of those defining moments of life. I woke up paralyzed and there was no cure. And the worst part of it all was that I knew it my own fault. It was because of my sin that I was now paralyzed. I brought this on myself. I knew it. I don't want to go into the details of what I did. I'm still so ashamed of what I did. But just trust me when I say I deserved this paralysis and so much worse and I knew it.
But it was no small grace of God that he gave me friends: A godly neighbor who came to my aid when he heard my screams, a godly brother who with his friends – now two of my very best friends – took care of me. They took turns feeding me, rolling me to prevent bedsores, cleaning me and changing the straw after I soiled my mat, even reading to me to keep my mind active. What blessings those four were to me.
But one day, some time later, a man came to us who I thought I recognized, but just barely. I'd only seen him from a distance. But I thought he might be the leper that I would occasionally see on the edge of town when I left for business (before my paralysis, of course). I would toss him a coin and he would wait until I had passed by a safe distance to retrieve it. But this man was different. He couldn't have been the leper I'd seen. This man was healthy and clean, not a leper. And he came with this report:
"Jesus! Jesus of Nazareth!" he cried, "He did this to me! Three days ago he made me clean! You remember me? You used to toss me a coin or two as you left town. I heard your sad story—of your paralysis—and I mourned for you, and… well… for me that I would no longer receive your coins.
"Well, when Jesus healed me, I immediately thought of you. He told me to keep quiet about what he did for me, and to go to Jerusalem to show the priests. But I couldn't help it. I had to come here. I had to tell you. If he could heal me of my leprosy, surely he could heal you of your paralysis. You should go to him. He's back in town! Go to him now while he's still here! He's known to leave town at a moment's notice."
My heart lifted with hope, and then immediately sank. It lifted with hope that this Jesus could heal my body. But it sank when I thought, "But would he?" Perhaps for a leper, who by no fault of his own contracted that contagious disease, Jesus would offer his help. But for me… for me who earned this paralysis, who deserved this suffering by my own sinful lifestyle… No. Maybe Jesus could help. But he wouldn't help me. I deserved my fate. Surely, he would tell me what teachers of the law had told me with a chuckle at their clever pun: "This is what you deserve. You made your bed, now lie in it." Besides, even if I wanted to go to him, how would I? It's not like I could just walk over there.
But it didn't matter what I wanted or what I believed. My neighbor who was at my side, heard the report of the former leper. He ran to my brother and told him what he had heard. And of course, my brother, in turn, got his two friends. The four of them fashioned a harness of sorts out of rope. One man would wrap the rope around his waist and shoulders, then under a mat they made for me with wooden slats, and then on to the next man who would wrap the rope around himself. They did this in pairs, two at my torso and two at my legs. They picked me up and they carried me to Jesus. Thank God for such loving friends!
When we got to the house where Jesus was, I was again disheartened. The crowd that had gathered there was already so large they didn't fit inside the house. They were pressed in around the doorway and near the windows so they could hear what was said inside. There was no way, that we would ever get in to see Jesus.
But my friends were undeterred. If they couldn't find a way, they would make a way. They went up the outer staircase to the flat roof of the house. And taking one of the slats from my mat, they started digging into the clay roof. Once they had dug a small hole through, it was easier for them to start pull sections up and away from the roof. Soon they had a large gaping hole in the roof. Then they took the ropes and tying them to the corners of my mat, they lowered me through the roof until I was lying just beneath Jesus.
What would he say? What would he do? Would he help me? Would he heal me? Or would he send me away? Would he tell me that I had received what I deserved for my sin? Would he scold us for our vandalism?
But what he said when he saw me, was the most beautiful, wonderful thing he could have said! He looked up at my friends. He looked down at me. And as if looking right into my soul he said, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
Forgiven! He knew what I had done. I don't know how he knew, but he knew. And he didn't condemn me. He didn't tell me, "You got what you deserve." He forgave me! He forgave me! My heart not only lifted, it soared. If I never walked again, I didn't care. I had been forgiven!
But the teachers of the law, the very same who had told me I deserved my fate, objected to Jesus claiming authority to forgive sin. They understood that he was claiming to do what only God could do. If he claimed authority to forgive sins, he was claiming to be God. This, in their minds, was blasphemy—robbing God of his glory by claiming it for himself.
But Jesus looked right at them and I could tell that he knew their thoughts, just as he knew my sin. He knew they doubted his ability to forgive sins and his authority as God. And he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…." He said to [me], 11 "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."
And immediately, I felt a warmth spread from my chest down my arms and legs—a power surging through me giving strength to my whole body. I wiggled my fingers, then my toes. I lifted my arms and legs and with an energy I don't think I ever had before the paralysis, I leapt to my feet! I could move freely! I could walk! I was paralyzed no more! Surrounded by gasps of amazement, I picked up my mat and did as Jesus told me! I went home praising God!
But as I left, I wondered if the teachers of law understood the lesson that Jesus gave them that day. I wonder, do you?
You see, you too were once paralyzed. Now you may not have been physically paralyzed as I was, but like me you were paralyzed by your sin. You were unable to move, spiritually speaking. You were unable to do anything good, unable to move toward God, unable to do anything to earn his favor. And your paralysis, like mine, was self-inflicted. It was well deserved, well earned, caused by your own rebellions against his laws.
And I won't ask you to tell me what those sins were as I'm sure you too might be haunted by them and shamed by them, just as I am ashamed to speak of my sins. And, honestly, you should rightly be ashamed, just as I was. For our rebellion against such a loving and compassionate God… there is no excuse! You deserve hell just as much as I do.
But… he has done for you what he did for me. He has not only seen you're your faith, but has given you your faith. And the promise he gives to you for your faith to cling to, is the same promise that he gave to me. "Son, your sins are forgiven." "[Daughter], your sins are forgiven."
Do you doubt it? Do you even wonder if Jesus really does have the authority to forgive your sins? Look at the miracles he performed. Look at my strengthened arms and legs! See the proof! That's why he healed me—not just to bless a poor paralytic who deserved the consequences of his sin—but to prove who he was, to prove to those teachers of the law that he did indeed have the authority on earth to forgive sins.
He proved that he wasn't just the Son of Man, but also true God in every way!—true God who could read men's thoughts, true God who could heal paralysis, true God who lived a perfect life in our place, true God who's' death on a cross was more than enough to pay for the sins of all mankind. If you ever doubt, just look at the miracles. See the proof! It's not blasphemy because he is true God! He does indeed have the authority to pay for sins—mine and yours!
You know, had he forgiven me of my sin and then left me paralyzed, I would still rejoice. That grace would have been sufficient for me. But he did even more for me. He took away my paralysis and gave me strength and renewed my ability to live for him.
Well, friends, you too have not only had your sins forgiven—every one of them!—but he's also removed your paralysis. He's enabled you to go and live for him and for others. So, go and do as my four friends did for me: Look for those in need and meet their needs as best as you're able. It may not be as grand as caring for an invalid or physically carrying someone to church, but it could be offering someone a ride or simply reaching out to them to learn why they haven't been here lately. It may be giving above and beyond your offerings, to someone in need. Or giving someone a ride to a doctor's appointment or a shelter, in the hopes that you might someday give them a ride to church.
What can you do to be like my neighbor, my brother, my friends, who picked me up and carried me to Jesus? How can you meet others' needs? And especially, how can you help carry them to Jesus? Figure it out, and then, go do it. Do it not because you must or you will feel guilty if you don't. But do it to thank him who said to you, "Son, your sins are forgiven." "[Daughter], your sins are forgiven." Do it for them who are spiritually paralyzed and cannot come to him without your help. And one day, they may love you for it as much I love my neighbor, my brother, and my friends, who did all they could to bring me to him.
"Your sins are forgiven." Now go live for him in thanks, in the name of Jesus, who has healed me and you, who has forgiven me and you, who wants to use me and you to bring others to him, amen.