This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Mark 2:1-12
Sermon prepared by Rev. Harry VanderWindt, Pastor Emeritus, Stoney Creek, Ont.
Dearest people of God,
The Bible passage, which we read, is a story which has one surprise following another. And if we are a little bit like the people in Jesus' days, then we can say with them, "We have never seen anything like this."
The story is loaded with fascinating events: first of all, the large number of people gathered at the home of Jesus so that there wasn't any room left inside the house. The people were packed together. Then there was the rude manner in which those four men let down a friend — not through the door — but through the roof! Would you believe it?
We would think that perhaps only naughty boys would think of such an idea — it's original and sporty, but who would dare do it? A decent man would not even consider it — breaking open the roof of someone else's house.
And then, even more flabbergasting, that a man, paralyzed for life and let down on a stretcher, is ordered by Jesus to get up and on his own legs hops, skips and jumps through the door carrying his worn-out mattress under his arms. No wonder that the people of Capernaum go home that afternoon, shaking their heads, praising God and muttering to themselves, "We have never seen anything like it."
And yet, the lame man was not the centre of interest, nor were the unusual circumstances. Of course, we are all deeply touched by them because we are naturally interested in what happens to people. But that is not the reason why the gospel writer Mark has recorded this incident. Mark wants to show the reader that Jesus is the centre of interest. He gives us another glimpse of the ministry of the Saviour. The people who happened to be in the house were only bystanders and the circumstances were only of minor importance. Jesus stands in the central place! — and that's why the house was so full to begin with.
Already in verse 2 we read that Jesus preached the Word to them. It happened once in Old Testament times that the people of Israel inquired of the prophet, "Is there any Word of the Lord?" And some of you may have come to church wondering whether there is a Word from the Lord for you today? And, yes, there is! The Word of the Lord comes directly from the mouth of Jesus Himself.
Yes, for this purpose Jesus came into the world. And He wants to echo that Word all over creation and throughout the centuries — He wants us to hear it anew today, loud and clear.
Jesus did not come, in the first place, to make sure that all people would have enough to eat, nor to heal all the sick and/or to end all wars and misery. Not so. Jesus came into the world to proclaim the good news that God is in the process of restoring creation and mankind unto Himself.
Ah, how we wish we could have been among the crowd that day when Jesus was preaching the Word to them, "Come unto me... I will give you rest for your soul." And the people listened spellbound to the Preacher that day. What a sermon! What a wonderful Preacher!
And then it happened — while the people were spellbound with that most wonderful news ever preached — there is a disturbance caused by a group of men who carefully lower a mattress through the ceiling and deposit this bundle of misery right at the feet of Jesus. Jesus stops the sermon as He is now forced to deal with this extraordinary situation. A tense hush falls on the packed audience. Their eyes go alternately from focusing on the Preacher and wondering how He is going to handle this rare interruption, to looking up at the hole in the ceiling where four men somewhat awkwardly lean over with great expectations in their eyes.
Yes, who shall say what these four friends had tried before? They may have consulted every doctor available in the area — anything at all to get their buddy back on his feet. But all to no avail. Then... when news went through the neighborhood that Jesus was coming home, they decided to get hold of Him before leaving town. And even the large crowd was not going to stop them from getting to this miracle worker: Jesus. If they couldn't get through the crowd, they would go over-top of them. Quite some daring adventure! What a loyal friends. Wouldn't you wish that you had such friends?
Perhaps you think that they went a little too far. Just imagine the brutal way they tore open the tile/boards of the roof. They Bible says that they were "digging through it", And in this case it was the home of Jesus. It was most likely the house of His mother Mary who, with the family, had moved from Nazareth to Capernaum in some recent year. The Bible says that Jesus had come home. (vs. 1)
And so the Lord was deeply involved in preaching "the Word." In the mean-time some strangers started tearing the roof of His house apart. That could have made Him angry. And Jesus was known for having said some angry words if that were necessary. After all, most people try to make their homes look as neat and proper as possible. Some parents spend more time and money on their house than on their children.
And then some inconsiderate folk began tearing the roof of the house of Jesus apart. There may have been some dust or plaster coming down on the people below. No doubt, Jesus Himself must have looked up too. And what did He see? No, Jesus was not struck by the demolition of the ceiling, nor by their uncivilized rudeness, but he saw their faith, not their face, but their faith!
Jesus knew what to look for. Just like a mother will overlook the dirty clothes and muddy hands when her little child brings her some hand-picked flowers. The mother sees the love in the heart of the child. In a similar way, Jesus was not bothered by the broken tiles or boards. He saw the eager look in their eyes. These four men on the roof were serious with Jesus. They had faith in Him. They believed that Jesus could do something for them. That's what faith is all about — being serious with Jesus and believing that He can do something for you.
And that is what Jesus saw in their eyes. Those four men had done everything possible to get to Him — to be helped by Him. And they firmly believed that Jesus would help them. And so, when Jesus saw that faith in their eyes/in their hearts, He didn't mind that He was interrupted in His sermon. And, after a moment of suspense-filled silence, He looked at the lame man lying on the mat in front of Him and said, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
That's all. It may have sounded rather strange under the circumstances with this lame man lying there. It may have made the people raise their eyebrows when they heard Jesus say, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
Just think for a minute. These four men on the roof had taken Jesus seriously and now it almost appears as if Jesus is not taking them and their paralytic friend seriously. After all, this man lying in front of Him was a helpless invalid.
You may have seen people in wheelchairs. Paralytics, unable to stand on their own legs. It is very hard to imagine what life in a wheelchair is like. It sounded almost a little ironic when Jesus said to this lame man, "Son, your sins are forgiven." As if Jesus didn't address the issue. Is that what this man had come for? Does Jesus avoid the need for physical healing which this man so desperately longs for? This lame man didn't come for his sins — he had come because of his legs! He wanted to be able to stand up again and be able to walk like other healthy people. Not his sins, but the muscles in his legs!
But, no, Jesus had analyzed the situation correctly. Jesus does face the issue at stake here. Before Him lay a man who was lame, not just in his legs, but he may have been lame in his heart. The paralyzed body may well have been the result of having lived a sinful, immoral life. The man may have played with the fire of life and had been badly burned by it.
Therefore, Jesus diagnosed the illness correctly and He offers the right treatment for the real problem. And when Jesus announces forgiveness to him, one can hear the compassion and love in His voice. This man's greatest need was not his legs, but the burden of sin and guilt. And Jesus points that out to him.
Slowly and clearly Jesus had pronounced these words so that everyone could hear it. "Son, your sins are forgiven." That is the greatest need all people have — to have their sins forgiven.
There are many people who don't take their sins very seriously. They do not see that as the greatest priority or need. They think that as long as they go to church, are generous with their financial offerings, live a decent and respectable Christian life-style and pray for the coming of God's Kingdom, things are all right. But the Gospel teaches that man's primary need is to repent and to have his sins forgiven. So, what is most important in life?
Many churches supply the worshippers with a bulletin on Sundays. In these news-bulletins is usually a section called "Our Church Family." The people are informed about the well-being of the members of the congregation. Especially when that well-being is not so well. A good practice, so that the congregation can keep those suffering members in their thoughts and prayers. Most of the news about such members is about their physical condition. But what is most important?
It would be too delicate or difficult to report on the spiritual well-being of the members. What would you say about a member who has been so busy at work the last two weeks, working over-time, including Sundays, that this member has had no time at all for personal prayer and devotions? Or that teenage girl who fell in love two months ago with a very nice fellow — but he is not a Christian and does not go to church and consequently, the young lady has not attended any church services for the last four weeks either. A gradual spiritual backsliding for both church members. But it is not in the bulletin. So, what is important?
Or that elderly widow who had a marvelous experience during the past week. As she was reading in the Gospel of John, she came across that same verse and, as she read it again, she felt a burden lifted from her heart. For many years there had been that nagging problem, numerous times she had prayed about it and, all of a sudden, the Lord seamed to grant her forgiveness and freedom. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she felt embraced by the grace of God. What a wonderful spiritual experience! But is not in the bulletin. So, what is important?
What is important to Jesus? Jesus starts at the beginning — at something that we often cannot even see. Just like we do not see the germination of a seed in the ground, we observe only the plant and the fruits. But Jesus starts with the cause of all misery in life. After all, what would it profit a person if he would gain the whole world, the biggest farm, a most luxurious home or car, popularity and intelligence — but would lose his I her soul? Yes, all people who do not have their sins forgiven, will lose their soul. The wages of sin is death, the Bible says.
And Jesus knew that. That's why He is also very serious with these four men and their paralytic friend. That's why He first of all grants the man forgiveness. That was not some little trick on the side to distract their attention, but it was a necessary beginning before anything else could be done for this man. "Son, your sins are forgiven." Yes, congregation, forgiveness is the heart of the Gospel — the heart of the Christian faith.
Now, some of the teachers of the law, hearing this, don't understand this. "How is it possible?" so they argue among themselves when they hear those words of deliverance for this lame man. "Listen to this Jesus blaspheme God!"
Brothers and sisters, here we have some religious leaders of Jews who argue about forgiveness of sins. It's the world up-side-down! They criticize and argue about the most wonderful thing in the world.
But, congregation, let us be careful that we don't find ourselves saying, "Oh, well, that's what you can expect from those scribes and Jewish teachers of the law. Always criticizing the preaching of the Word." Indeed, before we point the finger at them, we would do well to look at ourselves. How often has it not happened to us that some worshippers — after hearing the Word preached in the sermon on Sunday, yes, after God has proclaimed forgiveness to His people — complain about the sound-system, or the organist played too loudly, or that the singing was too slow. Meanwhile they totally missed out on Christ's offer, "'son/daughter, your sins are forgiven."
There is almost something frightening about the manner in which Christians handle Jesus' offer to have their sins forgiven. Even though it is the greatest miracle to take place in our spiritual life, we often take it just automatically, if not nonchalantly. Then it doesn't surprise us that the world doesn't take sin all that seriously anymore, because the church people have devaluated forgiveness.
In a sense, the teachers of the law thought differently about it. They took sin and forgiveness dead-seriously. They accused Jesus of making it too easy. To them, all this man's sins were, as it were, written on the blackboard and the Scribes and teachers of the law were ready to take them one by one and make the man pay for them. And what does Jesus do? Like a school teacher He took a large eraser and with one huge swipe He wipes all his sins away, "son, your sins are forgiven!"
The teachers of the law were correct in thinking that only God can forgive sins. But they did not realize that Jesus was the Son of God. Yes, Jesus knew what He was doing — that He could do what He did — because He was the Saviour, come to seek and save the lost.
And if there is anyone in church today — or listen to this message by means of a cassette or video tape — who thinks that it was easy for Jesus to forgive sins, then you are invited to come along to Calvary and see for yourself what it cost Him to forgive sins.
There you will see the gravity of the situation — there you will see God's love when He gave His Son to die so that He can also say to you and me today, "son/daughter, your sins are forgiven."
Then... there is one more miracle. Yes, indeed, the people had never seen anything like it. As a bonus gift to the teachers-of-the-law, as well as to the lame man, Jesus restores his muscles and makes him get up and walk again as a living advertisement and proof of God's greet power: so that all may know that God eagerly and generously forgives and heals.
When you have your eyes on Jesus Who wants to bring you home again, forgive your sins... then you will find yourself standing in the gentle rein of God's goodness. Once again you will hear the good news of the Gospel. Perhaps, you will never understand it even though you've heard it so many times. But when the Lord opens your heart to receive it... you will discover how amazing grace is. Then you, too, will be a recipient and personal witness that Jesus forgives sins. You may even find yourself saying, "I’ve never seen anything like it."
When that happens to you — for the first time or again — then you will find healing for your soul and it will be like that lame man who received healing for his paralyzed legs. From then on, life becomes filled with gratitude and joy.
The lame man took his mattress and waved it triumphantly like a banner, symbolic of what God had done for him. Today, Christ is still looking and waiting for people who seek the removal of the burden of their sin. He keeps on saying, "Come unto Me..." and when you come to Him, fall at His feet, confess your sins... you will hear His voice saying, "Son/daughter, your sins are forgiven..., just love Me."
And what would you want to do from then on? The healed paralytic man praised God. When other people see you, following Jesus and praising God, they might also in amazement say, "We've never seen anything like this."
Proposed Order of Service
Call to Worship
Hymn of Praise # 412, "Jesus Shall Reign"
Silent prayer concluded with #625, "Lord Listen to Your Children Praying"
Hymn #232, "You are Worthy"
Prayer and/or song of Confession #42:1, 2, 3, "As a Deer in Want of Water"
God's will for our lives
Hymn of rededication #42:7, "Send Your Light and Truth to Lead Me"
Announcements/congregational joys and concerns
(Children's message and Hymn)
Offertory Hymn #405:1 & 3, "I Serve a Living Saviour"
Scripture reading: Mark 2:1-12
Text: Mark 2:12
Sermon: "Never Seen Anything Like This!"
Hymn of response #363, "Your Hands, O Lord, in Days of Old"
Benediction concluded with the 3-fold Amen