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Matthew

Raising the Roof

Matthew 9:1-8

Lesson audio

(The astute reader will note that today’s section of Scripture is mirrored in Mark and Luke; from them we derive the additional detail that this man was lowered into the building through the roof.)

Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over the sea and came to His own city. And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, "Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven." And some of the scribes said to themselves, "This fellow blasphemes." And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, "Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? "Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, and walk'? "But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--then He *said to the paralytic, "Get up, pick up your bed and go home." And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

(Mat 9:1-8 NASB)

We shall examine the players in this drama – the paralytic and his friends, the Pharisees, and Christ Himself.

Lessons from the paralytic

“Seeing their faith”

It is a sad thing, but many Christians have the misimpression that faith is some sort of commodity, to be prayed for. It’s somewhat like “credit” in that sense. Your monthly statement for your credit card will tell you how much credit you have left. You can use that credit to purchase whatever you desire, so it is convertible to any number of things. Some people have faith like that. Like Mr. Micawber, they have faith; they’re sure that “something will turn up.” They have faith – in faith.

That is not the faith found in the Scriptures. As we can see here, faith is accompanied by action.[1] This is not a magic formula for faith. It is the logical result. You can no more separate faith from action than you could turn off gravity on this planet.

More important than that, faith is not an abstraction – it is “pointed” at Jesus Himself. It is the confidence that makes you know that Jesus will do as He said. It is faith in a Person.

It is not clear from the text whether or not “their faith” refers to the friends who undid the roof, or also to the paralytic. But I think it means both; otherwise the man would have at least objected. So often the power of Jesus is self-limited to the faith of those He would have believe.

Commands

Christ gives this paralytic three commands:

  • “Get up.” Show me your faith by your obedience! Anyone can have a theoretical opinion on what might or should happen; but true faith means that you rely on Jesus. When He says “get up,” – Get Up!
  • ”Pick up your bed.” There is a highly practical side to faith in Jesus. Most of us will never be called to great things; but we will soon find many good things to do.
  • “Go home.” Do not stay within the mountain top experience; rather, return to the valley of sin below – and spread the Good News.
A greater thing…

If you decide you need to go into the business of producing miracles, don’t go around forgiving people – it offends folks. Healing meets with favor from practically everyone; but forgiving someone can rip the bandages off old wounds. It is, in human beings, a greater thing to forgive than to heal.

Healing, you see, belongs to the physical universe. When you die, you leave it behind. Forgiveness belongs to the spiritual, As a result, forgiveness is eternal, and things eternal belong to God. Which thus brings us to the objections of the Pharisees.

Lessons from the Pharisees

Let’s start with a definition: just what is “blasphemy?” Fifty years ago the definition was clear. Incomplete, but clear: it meant using God’s name in anger in an improper way. And “improper” was the right adjective, so people saw it as defying convention. In the rush to prove ourselves rebels without a cause, and in the great desire to make men and women interchangeable parts we have decided that it is no longer improper, but “realistic.”

But consider a few other examples of blasphemy:

  • Let’s start with the teacher or Christian who tells someone “God really wants you to do…” If this is something explicitly revealed by God to you, then it would be sinful not to share it. If it’s just your own opinion, to attach God’s name to it is blasphemy.
  • It goes further than that. Often enough the advice isn’t personal; it’s a blanket command. When the preacher tells you that God has revealed to him that we should all move to South America…
Argument

It is precisely the second of those points that the Pharisees are debating. Those of you who are old enough will remember the original version of Miracle on 34th Street. In it, an old man is to be locked up in a mental ward because he believes he is Santa Claus. The hero of the piece concocts the only logical defense: the man really is Santa Claus.

So, if you go around claiming the powers of God, then you are or are not a fraud depending on whether or not you can make good the claim of being God.

Is it important? Yes. The Pharisees understand quite clearly that anyone claiming to forgive sin is claiming to be God (this was before the confessional in the Catholic church). God is always the one offended by sin; you sin against Him when you sin against His children. He’s also the one with clean hands. Since He is offended, He can forgive. Since He is innocent, His forgiveness carries with it the forgiveness of others. After all, He’s the one with power to do something about it – eternally.

“Why are you thinking evil…”

I’m not sure the Pharisees got this point – as it is yet another proof that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. They should have known what David told Solomon:

"As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.

(1Ch 28:9 NASB)

This, for those who hold their thoughts to be their own, is more than a little spooky. This Jesus fellow reads minds! What a proof of his divinity this is! That’s why I don’t think they got it.

Envy

These religious leaders face a choice: they can accept Christ for Who He claims to be; or they can stick with Moses. The former is unknown territory; they’re experts on the latter. In the former they are nobody; in the latter, big fish. It’s perfectly understandable – if you reject who Christ is. Christ meets this reaction frequently. He simply states Who He Is – and leaves the choice to the follower.

Interestingly, their opposition helped spread the kingdom. Had He been the product of the Pharisees, He would have been seen as one more legal barrier. Instead, He is the door through which one passes the barrier and enters heaven.

Lessons from Christ

Gentle forgiveness

It may safely be assumed that Jesus noticed the roof being torn apart for this man. See, then, how gently Jesus treats this man and his friends.

  • There is no objection to the hole in the roof. Likely enough some of the material fell on Jesus, but He did not complain. He did not direct them to return after the lesson. He welcomed the man.
  • The priests are aggravated; likely enough the man was sufficiently a sinner that he expected their condescension. But see how Jesus greets the man! “My son,” a welcome word to a man used to the abuse of being a beggar.
  • “Take courage.” It is a moment in which the man on the mat is not certain. Is this all just so much foolishness? Or is He the Son of Man? Fear is inside him; Christ calms that fear.

It is with this as a greeting that Christ forgives this man’s sin.

His oneness with God

It is not hidden; here is yet another place where Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be God. He plainly claims the power to forgive sin. We need to examine that.

Let us suppose that you’ve had enough of this lesson and decide to punch me in the nose to end it right here. I then acquire the privilege of forgiving you. Why? Because you punched me, not someone else. It’s the person who has been sinned against that has the privilege (and for the Christian, the duty) of forgiveness.

So why does God have the right to forgive as well? Think about it: when you sin, you usually offend someone – but every sin is against God. So for every sin you have committed, He has the power to forgive. But it’s more than that. God is willing to forgive – if you are. If you won’t forgive the other fellow, God won’t forgive you. So it is that a terrible, wicked sinner may come to be forgiven by God, but not by Christians. Guess whose opinion counts for all eternity?

Just to make it all clear, Jesus demonstrates the power to forgive sins. The argument is simple: Only God can cause miracles. God would not give such power to a fraud.[2] Therefore, anyone who has this power has been given it by God – or He is God.

Notice please that Christ forgives the man before healing him. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to miss the point.

Obedience

So the man got up, rolled up the mat and took it home with him. Did he somehow “feel” the healing? Or, was this a test of the man’s faith? Perhaps. But whatever else it was, it was a test of his obedience.

Obedience. He tells us to forgive. It is a command; do we treat it as such, or is it merely a “good idea?” There is power in the man’s simple obedience; faith is increased and his body healed. Do we continue in that power? Obedience to his commands; the faith that saves – living in the power of the Resurrection; that’s our question. Do we forgive others as He forgives us?


[1] James 2:14-17

[2] Which may explain why the “miracles” of faith healers in our time all seem to be internal.

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