Blessed Are The Sick

Matthew 9:1-13/Mark 2:1-17/Luke 5:17-32

The last few weeks we have been challenged by the words of Jesus--challenged by His Sermon on the Mount. This week, in Matthew chapter 9--paralleled in Mark chapter 2--we have a fascinating encounter being described to us.

I'd like to encourage you to follow along in Mark 2:1-17 as it parallels Matthew's account, but with a little more detail. This encounter is so fascinating that I would like to help you visualize what is going on here.

The episode begins with Jesus and His disciples getting into a boat and traveling to Jesus' home town, at the time, Capernaum(Mk.2:1). In Capernaum, Mark's account tells us how Jesus was teaching at His home(Mk.2:1), and how "many were gathered there"(Mk.2:2).

Now, when Mark says "many", he does not mean to say that 20 people showed up for a dinner party--he means to tell us that the house is completely packed. Mark describes how there was so many people in this house that "there was no longer any room"--"even near the door"(Mk.2:2), he tells us. What I picture here is not what you might find at a busy family dinner, but what I used to endure on a daily basis on the Toronto subway.

Some mornings I would be waiting at Eglinton for the subway, it would arrive, I would be first in line, the doors would open, but I couldn't fit in--the car was completely full. This is the type of scene Mark describes at Jesus' home--a packed house, literally.

In case you were wondering what would have occasioned this full house, we need only to reflect on what has happened earlier in Matthew. "Multitudes" had heard His "Sermon on the Mount" and were "amazed" at His authority(Mt.7:28), He had just healed a leper, a centurion's servant, Peter's mother-in-law, and cast demons out of two men(Mt.8:1-34). So, as you can imagine, every Pharisee and Scribe in Palestine wanted to hear this man with "authority" teach(Mt.7:28). And every sick person in the land came wanting healing.

Mark describes how four men wanted to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing, but were prevented because of the size of the crowd(Mk.2:3,4). Being the resourceful men they were, the four men headed for the roof of this packed house and began to dig an opening to lower the man through on his pallet(Mk.2:4).

Bible commentators, I must warn you, take great pains to mention that the thatch and tile roofs of Palestine were much easier to disassemble and repair than the roofs that adorn our houses today. When they do that, however, they entirely miss the point: a hole in the roof is hardly the normal way to enter someone's house!

It is unlikely that they could have done this without seriously disrupting the meeting with clouds of dust, bits of straw, and clay falling on the guests below. Yet Jesus was not bothered by this interruption, He was impressed by it. He saw the "faith" of the men and He responded.

Looking at the paralytic, Jesus said, "My son, your sins are forgiven"(Mk.2:5). I am sure Jesus' response baffled the observers. Who said anything about sins! This man was a paralytic, not a murderer! This disabled man was lowered through the roof to be healed, not forgiven! And who was Jesus to forgive sins? The scribes objected, asking themselves, "who can forgive, but God alone?"(Mk.2:6,7).

It His typical fashion, Jesus answers the objections of the scribes with a question: "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say, 'Arise, and take up your pallet and walk'? But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--Jesus said to the paralytic--"Take up your pallet and go home"(Mk.2:9-11). Mark records that the man "rose" to his feet and "immediately" took up his pallet and walked home(Mk.2:12).

This was nothing short of a miracle. Jesus had healed a paralyzed man. How? Luke's account answers "how?" by saying that "the power of the Lord" was present to Jesus for the healing(Lk.5:17). But what was the purpose of this healing?The reason Jesus healed the paralytic is stated: "in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins". Healing a paralyzed man was Jesus' proof that the man was forgiven. Forgiveness of sins is not something tangible. It is not something we can see or verify. But a physical healing is. A physical healing can be verified. So what Jesus does is make a claim only God Incarnate could make--"I can forgive sins"--and then he performs a healing of the most extraordinary kind--the healing of a paralytic.

Now, I realize, this whole episode begs the question: "What is our "proof" that we have been forgiven?". Jesus forgave the paralytic's sins and then He proved it by physically healing him. I must warn you, however, that Jesus DID NOT heal the man to assure him of forgiveness, but to assure those present that He had the authority to forgive sins. Our assurance of our forgiveness does not rest upon any physical healing, but on the sure Word of the Scriptures that promises salvation to those who confess and repent from their sins.

I don't need to look far into my own life to see that physical healing does not always occur. I found that out as a young boy when my best friend, my father, died. I know from hearing some of your stories that many of you know what it is like to lose a loved one to disease or accident.

We marvel at this miraculous healing in the Gospel, and we are all tempted to ask, "Why can't I see this type of healing for my friend, or for my family member, or for myself?". Praise be to God that HE SOMETIMES DOES MIRACULOUSLY HEAL US--often through the gift of medicine and successful surgery. But, at the same time, to focus ONLY on the physical healing here is to miss the MAIN POINT of the passage--the paralytic got his SINS FORGIVEN.

Jesus wants the crowd to care as much about their spiritual healing as they do about their physical healing (repeat). And spiritual healing is Jesus' point with His encounter with a hated tax collector named Levi, otherwise known as, Matthew(Mk.2:14).

The calling of Matthew is another one of those amazing accounts of someone who left everything to follow Jesus. It is amazing, first of all, because Matthew leaves an occupation that pays quite generously. And the general view was that only dishonest people would be tax-collectors since extorting money from others was the only way 1st century tax-collectors could make money. So it is also amazing from the standpoint that such an immoral man would be attracted to the person of Jesus.

I can't overemphasize how hated Matthew would have been. To be a tax-collector was to be a traitor to Israel. Here was a Jewish man extorting money from fellow Jews for the Roman government. Nothing in the mind of Jewish people was more offensive. Yet Jesus approaches Matthew and says, "Follow Me"(Mk.2:14), and he does.

Matthew then throws a party--he invites all his tax-collector friends and the other "riffraff" of society over--and Jesus and His disciples join them for dinner.

The fact that Jesus, such a devout Jew, would eat with such "sinners" startles the Scribes and Pharisees. They approach the disciples and ask, "Why is (your teacher) eating and drinking with tax-collectors and sinners?"(Mk.2:16).

Jesus, overhearing their question, responds, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners"--repeat--(Mk.2:17).

A paralyzed man came to Jesus for physical healing and the first thing Jesus did was forgive his sins. We are so quick to seek healing when we are physically sick, and Jesus wants us to have this same eagerness to be healed spiritually . He does not want us to pretend, as we so often do, that we are spiritually healthy--He wants us to come for healing and forgiveness. Not just once, when we commit ourselves to Christ, but DAILY. Every single day we should be seeking forgiveness and spiritual healing, because every day we mess up. We act selfishly. We are short tempered with family members. We go about our day as if we don't need God's help.

Philip Yancey comments how people, when asked what they must do to get to heaven, respond by saying, "Be good". The story of the paralytic, the calling of Matthew, contradicts that answer. All we are required to do for healing is cry "Help!".

The unmistakable message of Jesus is that His gracious call for spiritual healing is not extended to those who view themselves as righteous, but to those who know they are spiritually sick.

Don't be afraid to admit your illness because we are all sick. We all suffer the effects of sin. The good news is that healing is available for us everyday. We may not see our physical infirmities go away, but we can surely see our spiritual infirmities subside.

We are not in a hopeless situation here, we are in a HOPEFUL situation. Peace, love, and joy beyond comprehension can be ours, but we must first seek the Divine Physician.

Go to Him in prayer. Read the Words of Scripture and pray that they would be a reality in your life.

Blessed are we who are spiritually sick, for there is a daily cure--and His name is Jesus Christ. Amen.