Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sermon: Luke 5: 17-26 Our Greatest Need

As we think about mothers today, there are so many things to give thanks for. One, among many, is that mums (and dads too) provide for the needs of their children - even if the kids never realise it. Just think of the number of times you’ve heard yourself say this (or it has been said to you): It’s a rainy day, your son is ready to go, happy to splash about. ‘You need to put your coat on.’ Or you’re in a cafe, your daughter would be happy to have three courses of ice cream. ‘You need to eat your dinner up first.’ Or they get home from school, they think they need to get onto the computer game; it’s been neglected all day. ‘You need to do homework first.’ I’m sure you can add lots of examples!

When we look at our Bible reading today, it’s as if something similar is going on. We’re introduced to four men, carrying a paralysed man on a bed. The stretcher party have heard that Jesus is in town, so they’ve brought their friend to be healed. We’re even told that ‘the power of the Lord was with him to heal.’ (17) This paralysed man can’t walk. They’ve carried him to the house where Jesus is; but their way is blocked. There’s too big a crowd; they can’t get into the house. Was it in vain?
But then they have an idea. The house would have an outside set of steps leading onto the flat roof. Up they go, carefully carrying the man, until they’re above where Jesus is. Imagine you’re inside with Jesus. He’s healing some people, he’s teaching; then you hear some scratching, some digging, and bits of plaster drop into your hair. You look up, and suddenly there’s now a skylight where once was the roof. There’s a man on a bed being let down into the room.

So what is the man’s need? Well, isn’t it obvious? His mode of transport was a bed; he’s been through this ordeal; he can’t walk. His need is to be healed, to be able to walk.

But that’s not what immediately happens. Look at what Jesus says in verse 20. ‘When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”’ Do those words of Jesus trouble you? It’s not what you expect, is it? It almost seems insensitive, doesn’t it? They’ve heard that Jesus is the healer; they’ve gone to a lot of effort; they’ve put their friend through someone’s roof, only for Jesus to ignore the fact that his legs don’t work and instead talk about sin? Even if he talks about his sins being forgiven, you might be thinking to yourself, well that’s not going to change his day to day life, is it? He’ll still be paralysed.

Jesus highlights the most urgent need of each of us; yet it’s a need we may never know we need unless it’s pointed out to us. We’re all a bit like the kids we thought about at the start. We go through life, reacting and responding to our felt needs - we need qualifications to get a job, so we work hard at school and training courses and university. We need company / commitment, so we find a partner and get married. We need a roof over our heads so we find a house. We need to fight the signs of ageing, so we ask for Olay products for Mother’s Day. We need to keep healthy so we cut down on the sticky buns and eat our five a day.

All these needs and so many more, yet left to ourselves, we may never realise our greatest need: that we need to deal with our sins; the need for forgiveness. To be able to walk, yet walk into hell wouldn’t have been enough for this man. Jesus focuses on his and our greatest need.

I wonder how you react to that? Does it make you uneasy? It caused an uproar that day - just look at the reaction of the scribes and Pharisees. These were the very religious people. In verse 17 we’re told that they had come from all over the country to hear Jesus and make up their minds about this new teacher they had heard about. They can’t believe what they have just heard: ‘Then the scribes & the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”’

They’re right that only God can forgive sins - because sin is our heart rebellion against God; and all our sins (plural) are ways in which we are disobedient against God’s law. If our sins offend God, then it’s only God can forgive them. It would be blasphemy for anyone to say that they could forgive your sins - unless that person was actually God.

But in order to spell it out, in order to leave absolutely no doubt in their minds, Jesus confronts the Pharisees. He asks them: ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you”, or to say “Stand up and walk”?’

Well, what do you think? Which is easier to say? It’s not that they are difficult to pronounce words, but rather that it’s probably easier to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ because there’s no outward change; there’s nothing to be seen. It would be harder to say ‘get up and walk’ because it would be obvious if a paralysed man was to get up and walk. Anyone can say ‘your sins are forgiven’ - but would it make any difference? There’s only one way to prove it, and that is to then demonstrate his power. As Jesus says: ‘But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...’

The Son of Man is Jesus’ favourite way of talking about himself - it comes from Daniel 7, where ‘one like a son of man’ comes with the clouds of heaven and is given power and glory and kingship - a way of pointing to himself as the promised Messiah King. So he’s saying that in order to show that he has this divine power, that he is God, that he does have the power to forgive sins (something which can’t be seen); he commands the paralysed man to get up and walk (something that can be seen).

Jesus not only has the power to heal, he also has the power to forgive sins. He leaves us in no doubt at all that he can deal with our greatest need; that he can provide forgiveness of sins. If we were to fast forward to the end of Luke’s gospel, we’d see how he brings that forgiveness - by his death on the cross; which is now proclaimed to all nations. (see Luke 24:46).

Perhaps you’ve never realised your need of forgiveness before. You’ve been caught up in the busyness of life, dealing with your every other need. Don’t neglect this most urgent need - to find forgiveness for your sins. It could be the greatest gift you’ll ever receive on Mother’s Day. Jesus has authority on earth to forgive sins.

Perhaps you’re a Christian. You already know the joy of sins forgiven, but things have slipped. You’re caught in a particular sin and you wonder if Jesus forgives even that sin. It seems too terrible; too awful. It might be a sin you’ve confessed time and time again; it seems as if you’re bearing it yourself. Listen to those words of Jesus: ‘the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ - that’s all sins, not just some; all sins, not just little ones; all sins, even the darkest, most distressing sins.

As commanded, the paralysed man got up (or rather, was raised - an Easter, resurrection word) - a picture of what Jesus does to each of us as we are forgiven - and he walked home ‘glorifying God’. When our greatest need has been dealt with, when we have been raised - and given assurance of being raised with Christ on that last day, when our bodies will be renewed and made new; how can we also not glorify and praise our God?

In a moment of quiet, let’s bring our hearts; our deepest need to the Lord. (Pause) We hear his words: ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’ Let’s pray.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Mothering Sunday, 10th March 2013

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