Come And See His MiraclesErwin W. Lutzer | February 22, 2004
Selected highlights from this sermon
The scribes said that only God could forgive sins. Jesus, proving He was God, did even more when he met the paralyzed man in Mark 2: He not only forgave the man’s sins, He healed the paralysis that was supposedly tied to the sins.
The miracles of the New Testament were used as teaching points. And for us, this miracle shows the importance of being forgiven rather than being healed.
We are living in a day, of course, when we are awash with miracles. Everybody has experienced miracles. There is a book on miracles – a course on miracles. You can do your own miracle. It doesn’t matter much whether you believe in Jesus, or what you believe, as long as you believe in a higher power. We’re told out there that we can access the metaphysical world and do our own miracle.
So I read about miracles - about how a phantom dog appears out of a fog to guide a family; about how a silent hitchhiker leads a doctor to a school bus; about a trucker driving along who hears something over the radio, but he does not have a CD Radio but the message still comes and he has to go to a family to help it. We live in a time of miracles. In fact, everyone can be touched by a miracle, touched by an angel. It doesn’t matter what you believe.
The miracles in the New Testament were very different than that. Jesus did miracles, but first of all He did verifiable miracles. Almost always His miracles were done in the presence of other people who could check it out to see whether or not it was really happening. He loved to take people whom the whole community knew were paralytics or blind, and heal those kinds of people. Those miracles are a little tougher to do than some of the others.
The second thing is that Jesus was always using His miracles as a teaching point. They always illustrated something other than just the physical healing, and that most assuredly is true in our story today. You know that this is a series of messages titled Come and See Jesus, and today’s message is Come and See His Miracles.
Well, we’re only going to talk about one miracle. It’s in Matthew 9, but before you turn there we are actually going to use Mark’s account of the miracle in Mark 2. It’s the same story except Mark adds some details that Matthew doesn’t. Both are accurate, but in this instance Mark gives us more details.
Mark, chapter 2: In that culture if you left your door open people could stop by. It was like a welcome mat. Stop by! So here Jesus is in Capernaum and he’s in the house – at home, the text says – and it could be that this is Peter’s house. If you’ve ever been to Capernaum, as some of us have, you know that the synagogue is there, and then also tradition says that Peter’s house is close by. And it may or may not be authentic, but we can visualize it happening there.
Jesus is in the house. He’s in the living room and people gather around him – many people – and soon the door is so crowded and people are hanging onto His every word, even on the other side of the door. They are straining to see whether or not they can hear, and in the midst of this something happens that really is this story. And it’s a remarkable story because the man was a paralytic, that is to say paralysis, maybe a quadriplegic. One thing is sure. He’s not able to bring himself to Jesus. He is too helpless to do that – to bring himself to Jesus.
And so four men come up with an idea, and you’ll notice what it is. Verse 2 says, “And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the Word to them.” Wouldn’t you like it if we had a tape recorder and could have picked up what Jesus preached? That would be marvelous indeed though we have some indications by other texts.
Verse 3 says, “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.” Oh wow!
What I want you to do is to take three snapshots today, if you have cameras, of this incident, which I will describe and I want you to visualize. The first is what the men did. What did the men do? I mean these were men I think, first of all, who had a vision because they knew that they wanted to get this man to Jesus, and they had to figure out how to get people to Jesus who don’t have the strength or the ability to get there on their own. So they said, “It’s up to us to know how to get him to Jesus.”
Now when I was a child I would read this passage and I would visualize somebody running to get a ladder to climb on the roof. Probably not! In those days the roof was flat and there was a stairway that went up to the roof because people would do various things up there. I mean they could not only get some sun, they could bathe and they could do some things on the flat roof of their house. And so the roof was there and probably the stairs were already there and they thought to themselves, “What we’re going to do is we are going to climb up the stairs and we are going to get this man to Jesus.”
Now if somebody opened the roof of your house you may be very unhappy at the wise idea, but again, context and history! In those days the roofs were made primarily of clay and grass, which of course hardened. And then they would have lathes or beams across the roof, and those beams went all the way to the walls. So you have like a box structure that was strong and supportive, but the roof itself, as it hung onto these beams, was this clay and this grass. So it doesn’t take too much imagination to know that it wasn’t really that difficult. They began to dig through the roof, and then they took this man, and these beams by the way were about three feet across, and so you can imagine that they take this cot and somehow they lower it, and by that time they had Jesus Christ’s attention. No question! Jesus was looking up and He was seeing what was happening, and in some way they got him right in the presence of Jesus. Talk about vision and creativity and ingenuity in getting somebody where he needs to be but can’t get there on his own!
There’s something else about them. They obviously were compassionate. What they said was, “If people can’t get to Jesus on their own we’re going to help them.” We don’t know whether this was a friend. That was possible. Maybe it was a complete stranger who was trying to figure out how to get to Jesus, but thank God for their compassion.
David Dykstra died of cancer at the age of 54. He is the father-in-law to our daughter. He’s Ben’s dad, who is now in heaven. That is, David is in heaven. At the age of 54 when he got cancer and was told he had between 6 and 9 months to live, he spoke to his congregation, a small church, and said, “Now all of you are going to wonder how you can help me.” You know you always have that question. “Well, you have cancer. How can we help?” And this was his story. He loved this story in Mark 2. He said, “There are going to be times when I can’t bring myself to Jesus. There are going to be times when I am too weak to be brought to Him and you are going to have to carry me. And in order to carry me, send me verses of Scripture that you are using in your prayer time on my behalf.”
What a marvelous way to be remembered and to seek help. But David saw something else in this text, which we should not miss. You’ll notice it says in verse 5, “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” And so David said, “When there are times when I can no longer believe for myself, would you believe for me in your faith and in your prayers and in your help?” And he died a death of suffering, but a victorious death. And he is now in the presence of our Lord whom we love, and someday we shall be with him.
But the point is we need one another. There are times when we can no longer believe for ourselves. The waters rush over us. The difficulties are so severe. There are times when other people have to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and they need to be the ones to go to Jesus on our behalf and to believe for us and to trust for us.
This morning here at the church I met a woman whom I’ve not met before, but she told me how much she prays for the church and for our ministry. And I thought, “How marvelous that a woman whose name I did not know has the gift of intercession because there are times when we don’t have the faith and somebody has to come along and carry us to Jesus. Do you have a clear picture in your mind of what the men did? Now let’s move on to what Jesus said.
Okay, this man suddenly is right in His presence. It says in verse 5, “And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” Does it surprise you that that’s what happened? It certainly surprises me when I read it because I’m thinking, “You know, he maybe didn’t come for forgiveness. He was coming to be healed. He was paralyzed. I mean, after all, he wanted to walk again,” and Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Now you have to understand that in the Old Testament times, there was a belief that there is a tight relationship between sin and sickness. That’s why in the book of Job when he had his life totally come unraveled, you know his three friends – friends in quotes – got together and they kept saying, “Job, what sin have you committed? Cough it up, Job. Come on, tell us now.” And Job keeps justifying himself and they become angry, and by the time they are finished they aren’t friends anymore, because they believed that if you were sick there was some sin that you committed. And so there’s a tight relationship. In the Old Testament it was believed that there was a tight relationship.
So you can see here what Jesus is doing. Don’t miss the logic. Jesus is saying, in effect, “On your own premises this man cannot be healed unless he is forgiven first. If sin caused his sickness then he must be forgiven before I can heal him.” Could I say as a parenthesis that in the New Testament you find that there isn’t a tight relationship between sin and sickness? There is a relationship but it’s not tight. And could I say that it is really not up to us? It is really mean for you to look at somebody who is going through some physical calamity and to look at him or her and say, “It is because of your sin – sin in your life.”
Could I say this? I ask that question, but of course I’m going to say it. I’m not looking for your permission. Say whatever you want! Thank God! That’s right! I always like the frontbenchers – not the backbenchers but the frontbenchers. (laughter) Some of the most holy people I know have suffered the most, so you be careful here. There’s not a tight relationship. All sickness is because of sin, but it’s not a one-on-one correspondence.
Now sitting there and seeing this and hearing these words are the scribes. They are sitting there. Should they be there? Absolutely! They were the gatekeepers of Israel. They should check Jesus out. They had a responsibility to check teachers out to make sure that they were teaching the right thing and so forth. Their problem was they were really reticent to grant Jesus what seems obvious to us.
So the scribes are sitting there and they are saying to themselves, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God alone?” They say, “This is blasphemy,” because when Jesus said to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” it almost sounds as if Jesus is saying, “I’m forgiving your sins.” He’s not simply declaring that God in heaven has forgiven sins, but He’s saying more than that. He seems to imply that He has the right to speak and sins are forgiven. And they said, “This is blasphemy,” and Leviticus 24 says that if you blaspheme God you should be stoned. You can imagine what’s going on in their minds here.
Jesus picks up on this and in verse 8 immediately He perceives in His Spirit that they thus questioned within themselves. Did He use here His divine knowledge, or was it an intuition? In the Scripture sometimes you see Jesus exercising both. But He knows that in their hearts this is what they are saying, so He has a question for them. Here’s another parenthesis. You are getting a lot of parenthesis today. Jesus is recorded in the New Testament as having asked more than 100 questions. He was always asking questions. One of the best ways to teach somebody is with question, question, question because you make them think.
So Jesus is asking them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Now here’s my question for you. Which is easier to say to the paralytic? Is it easier to say your sins are forgiven or to say rise and take up your bed and walk? Which is easier to say?”
How many of you think that it is easier to say, “Rise, take up your bed and walk?” How many of you think that it is easier to say, “Your sins be forgiven?” How many of you are not with me at all in this? (laughter)
It’s time to think, folks. It’s time to think. Let me begin by saying that to forgive sins and to heal a paralytic are both impossible. I can’t do either. And when you are in the realm of impossibility it doesn’t really matter how big the impossibility is. It’s just impossible. But what Jesus is trying to get them to see is this: It is easier to say your sins be forgiven, because talk is cheap and you can’t prove whether the sins have been forgiven or not. When you have somebody whose sins are forgiven, if you lead them to the Lord, you don’t notice these sins just float through the window. You say, “Ah, I led somebody to Christ and he had so many sins. You should have seen them all when they left.” (laughter) No! Anybody can say to you, “Your sins are forgiven,” because it is non-verifiable. But to say, “Rise, and take up your pallet and walk,” for somebody who has been a quadriplegic for the last 10 or 15 years, now you had better produce if you say that or else you’ll be seen to be a fake, which you would be.
Now let’s follow Jesus’ logic a little bit more here. Jesus goes on to say, “That you might know that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins, I say to you, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’” Now hang on to that. What Jesus is saying is that on the basis of your own logic, because you are saying that this person cannot be healed unless he is first forgiven, “If I heal him, that proves that he has been forgiven, because unless he is forgiven he cannot be healed.” So that you might know that the Son of Man has power on earth and authority to forgive sins, He says, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”
And what did this man do? He arose immediately (verse 12), picked up his bed and went out before them all so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this.”
And that, by the way, leads us to the third picture, the discussion that Jesus had with the scribes. And the third picture is, of course, Jesus speaking, and the man is healed. So Jesus is saying, “Alright, you think that I don’t have power to forgive sins. You also think that you can’t possibly be healed unless you are forgiven. I forgave him, and now I heal him.”
Jesus is saying, “In light of the fact that you can see that I can heal him physically, you should believe that I can also heal him spiritually. In light of the fact that I have authority over the material realm, that should give you faith to believe that I have authority also over the metaphysical realm where issues of sin and forgiveness and all of these matters come up.” And so Jesus was saying to these scribes, “If you were thinking clearly, you’d have to come to the conclusion that I am God.” They themselves said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The answer is nobody can. And Jesus is saying, “Please realize the logic of your own theology. I am God. I forgave the sins, and I caused a paralytic to walk.”
There are two transforming lessons from this passage. First of all, there’s a lesson for us regarding getting people to Jesus. We have to be creative to do that, don’t we? Here you have four men who figure out, here’s somebody who can’t help himself and ask, “How I can help somebody who can’t help himself, bound by the paralysis of sin, incapable of making a rational decision regarding Jesus? How can I get them where they need to be, namely in the presence of Jesus?” That’s a good question to ask, and we need to think about that creatively.
This past week a colleague here at the church and I were at the National Religious Broadcasters meeting. And we stopped by a new facility of one of our partners in radio ministry. And the man in charge is 70 years old, but I have never seen anyone with such a nimble mind and such a focused desire to use technology to win people to Christ. He’s on the cutting edge of all technology because he believes that technology has been raised up to share the Gospel.
So one day he and his son-in-law were at a computer and they decided to enter into a chat room. Now I have to tell you that I have a computer. I write books on a computer. I have never entered a chat room. I always figure, “Good night, I don’t know what in the world happens in those chat rooms.” But what they will do is they will go into an atheistic chat room, and then they’ll type into the computer, “Of course God is alive. I talked to Him this morning.” Okay? (laughter)
Immediately, you know, you’ve got all these emails. I mean that will even wake an atheist up. And they begin dialoging, and as these dialogues develop, I guess (I don’t know) you can somehow spin off and have a private chat with somebody. And so they end up praying with people and leading them to Christ. He’ll go into a chat room of say a different religion. I’ll just choose one arbitrarily without naming the one that he gave us, and he’ll type into the computer, “Unless you believe in Jesus Christ you are going to hell.” Everybody wakes up at that point. And you have some people who get angry and they get off, but there are others who dialog. And so his vision is, if you can get this, in his new facility he pointed us to an area where he’ll have (I don’t know how many) perhaps 5 or 6 people whose full-time job is to enter chat rooms to share the Gospel. And I thought to myself, “Now you know, that’s creativity.” I mean, that’s awesome because there are people out there who don’t know about Jesus. They are not able to make a rational decision about Jesus, and we have to try to figure out how we get this person confronted with the only person who can speak him clean and grant him the forgiveness that you and I know he desperately needs.
Now what about you? Maybe it’s giving somebody a book and asking them to read it and then telling them, “You read it and we’ll have a discussion about it later.” You know, there are so many different creative ways, and we don’t have to do it all in the same way because what we are saying is that there are people who need to get to Jesus. And they are never going to get there on their own. That’s the first lesson.
The second lesson is that what we really need at the end of the day is, of course, the miracle of forgiveness. It is a much greater miracle than saying, “Rise, take up your pallet and go home.” The gift of forgiveness, which Jesus gives us is a gift that is great.
Now, when you watch television, and you see these healing services (and I’ve watched my share of them to glean characteristics of false teachers.), what you notice is that everybody is supposed to come forward for a miracle, and everybody is supposed to be healed. There is seldom anything said about the need for repentance and forgiveness. It’s just, “Come one, come all, be healed. We don’t care exactly what you believe, and healing is for you.” That’s nonsense. It’s nonsense and it’s also unbiblical, which makes it nonsense, by the way.
And so what you have is this great emphasis on healing, but no emphasis on holiness. What you have is this idea that all these miracles are going to be performed by the power of an evangelist to be able to touch someone and have them collapse on the platform. You’ve heard me say on this platform that that is not of God, and we can show that. And so what you have is this great emphasis on that. Listen, it is much more important that you be forgiven than that you be healed. And I say that with sensitivity because it is no fun being sick and being in pain. But there was a young woman (something like Joni Eareckson Tada) who became paralyzed for life and in that paralysis came to know Christ as Savior. And she said, “It was worth this just to know Jesus.”
It is the contrast, you know, between time and eternity. Your body can be healed in this life, but the question is where will your soul be forever? Now listen carefully. One of the things that you and I cannot do is we cannot forgive ourselves. Oh yes, there’s a sense in which we can say, “Yeah, I did this and this, and I had to come to terms with what I’ve done and so I forgive myself.” But ultimately these scribes were theologically accurate – totally accurate – when they said, “No one can forgive sin except God alone.”
If you are a postmodern person, and you think that you hold within your heart your future and your fate, I want you to hear me carefully when I say that your sin is sin against God. And only God can speak you clean and say, “Your sins are forgiven.” What beautiful words for sinners!
Now if you are not a sinner, you don’t need to hear them. But if you think that you are not, come up to me later and I’ll try to straighten out your theology a little bit. Or talk to your wife, and she’ll do the same thing. (laughter)
Nietzsche, who died in the year 1900, proclaimed the death of God, and though he lived obviously before the time of Hitler and the Holocaust, he in effect, predicted it because he said, “Once God is dead, everything will be permissible.” But one thing that he said about God was this. “Regarding God, we have killed Him.” He proclaimed the death of God. He said, “We have killed Him,” and then he asked this question, “But now who will wipe the blood from our hands?” We’ve done away with God, and if we’ve done away with God, there is no one to say, “Thy sins be forgiven.”
I want you to know today that neither Nietzsche, nor anyone else, did away with God. He only thought so. Today Jesus, who has the power of life and death, can look you in the eye, figuratively speaking, and say to you, “Thy sins be forgiven.” Some of you need desperately to hear those words. Would you bow as we pray?
Our Father, we want to thank You today that Jesus could heal this man physically, but especially we want to thank You that He could heal him spiritually, and that He had authority to say, “Your sins be forgiven.” Today I am speaking to people whose consciences are polluted with moral failure, people whose consciences have a great sense of dullness and emptiness because of sins that plague them. Oh Father, we pray today that they may hear the words of Jesus. And for those of us who know Him as Savior, thank You that we can keep coming to be cleansed, and to be forgiven. And we pray that in our culture, and in our day, you will give us the creativity to reach this world and bring them to Jesus.
Now what do you have to say to Jesus today in light of this message? Let’s just have a moment of silence. If you’ve never received Him you can receive Him right now. Receive His forgiveness. As a Christian, has your heart gone cold as you’ve wandered away from Him? Say, “Jesus, I come home today to Your forgiveness and love.”