Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 27, 2014
And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he then said to the paralytic — “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
— Matthew 9:1-8, ESV
If you are reading the Gospel of Matthew, by the time you come to the ninth chapter you should already expect the unexpected when it comes to Jesus Christ. He was born in an unexpected way, through a virgin birth. He was raised in an unexpected place, Nazareth in Galilee. He launched His ministry by unexpectedly requesting baptism from John, who had expected Jesus to baptize him. At the baptism of God the Son, people heard the unexpected voice of God the Father and witnessed an unexpected manifestation of God the Holy Spirit. Jesus picked men you would not expect the Messiah to make His trusted disciples. And, Christ’s myriad of ministry miracles included the unexpected blessings of curing the sick, calming a storm, and casting out demons.
In the passage at hand, as might be expected, we get more of the unexpected from Jesus. It begins with an unexpected act, followed by an unexpected offer, which culminates in an unexpected experience. Let’s follow Jesus as He preaches and teaches in Simon Peter’s house in Capernaum, and let’s learn to expect the unexpected from our Lord.
An Unexpected Profession of Faith
Jesus was, as most modern ministers should be, relatively unimpressed with typical professions of faith. There were many in Jesus’ day who said they loved Him, believed in Him, and would follow Him, with their lips; but, there were few who actually demonstrated real love, faith, and commitment with their lives. So, Jesus was usually flippant in the face of false professions of faith.
Such professions of faith are familiar to we who call ourselves Southern Baptists. We are the largest Protestant denomination in the world. Yet, 70% of us will not darken the door of a house of worship on Sunday, 80% never give a dollar this month to the cause of Christ, and 90% will not witness the gospel to one person this year. This is what we’ve come to expect with Baptists, and it is quite unimpressive.
But what our Lord saw at Simon Peter’s house that day was both unexpected and impressive. “Jesus saw their faith,” says verse two. Though faith is believing in what you cannot see (ref. Hebrews 11:1), you can always see when a person really has faith.
What Jesus saw that day was some men placing a paralyzed man on the floor right in front of Him. Matthew and Luke identify “some,” while Mark counts them as “four.” And, Mark and Luke add the important detail of the paralytic being lowered down through a hole in the roof, torn by the men in a desperate attempt to lay their friend at Jesus’ feet.
Real faith is inspired by God, motivated by love, and demonstrated by action. As our Lord’s half-brother, James, wrote, “Faith without works is dead” (ref. James 2:26). These guys worked, and worked hard, to get their paralyzed friend to the Lord, and the Lord saw the evidence of their faith.
Yet as impressive as their faith was, it may have well been incomplete. Was their faith in a miracle worker who would help their otherwise helpless friend, or was their faith in the Messiah who came to save people from their sins? Jesus’ responded to their unexpected faith with an unexpected offer that would point them in the right direction.
An Unexpected Offer of Forgiveness
What Jesus said next stunned the crowd. It was unexpected, to say the least; and, it was blasphemous, to say the worst, acceding to the Jewish religious rulers. Instead of healing the man, which He had done and would eventually do for this gentleman, Jesus forgave him of all his sins.
As this pronouncement of forgiveness fell upon Jewish ears, all Jewish minds understood two things very well about forgiveness. Common sense dictates that forgiveness is for the sinner, given from the one he has sinned against; and; spiritual sensibilities inform us that all sin is ultimately committed against God (ref. Psalm 51:4). How had this man sinned against Jesus so that Jesus needed to forgive him of his sins? This man sinned against Jesus because Jesus was, is, and always will be, God.
The ensuing debate illustrates the deity of Christ and the degrees of difficulty in His ministry. The religious rulers watching Jesus that day had seen Him heal people before. They were studying Jesus closely to see how He healed people, and see to it that it didn’t happen on a Sabbath day (which was contrary to their man-made religious rules). Furthermore, they had heard Jesus speak for God, but this was the first time they heard Him speak as God, pardoning a sinner, and they were aghast.
Jesus, having already forgiven the man’s sins, then takes away his paralysis. The miracle was meant to reinforce Jesus’ message, that He is the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and that all who come to Him in faith will receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Which do you think is harder, and thereby more significant? Jesus healed people all the time, whether they believed in Him or not. But He never forgives anyone except those who truly believe. Therefore, the forgiveness of sins is the greater, more difficult, more lasting miracle. And no matter what sins you have committed, now matter how bad they may seem, Christ’s unexpected offer of forgiveness is preached to you, today.
Your response to God’s forgiveness should be as unexpected as it is in this story.
An Unexpected Experience of Fear
When all had been said and done by the Lord Jesus Christ, the paralytic and his pals, the Pharisees and other Jewish people present at Peter’s house, “They were afraid” (vs. 8). Some English versions translate this as surprised or marveled or impressed. They were all of those things and more. They experienced phobia (the actual Greek word). They were afraid, very afraid.
I would have expected applause, maybe a shout of “amen” or two, perhaps tears of joy. But fear? This is a bit unexpected. Is such fear, in the face of God and the forgiveness He gives, a good thing or a bad thing?
Fear, as you know, can be a good thing. I have ophidiophobia, acrophobia, and glossophobia. I am afraid of rattlesnakes, heights, and speaking in public. So, I don't handle poisonous snakes (like the Kentucky pastor who recently died of snake bite), I don’t try to leap off tall buildings like Superman, and I only speak in public when I am confident I have a message from the Lord.
I think fear is a very good, albeit unexpected, response to Jesus as a result of the miracle and the message He brings through this episode. For He Himself also said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (ref. Matthew 10:28). Who is to be feared? God. Who is Jesus? God.
The fear of God is not only the beginning of wisdom (ref. Proverbs 1:7), it is also the beginning of worship. The people in this passage feared God, then “they glorified God” (ref. vs. 8). Fear and reverence and awe can be attributed to faith, faith responds to God in worship, and worship results in good works done for others as an offering to God.
At the end of the day, the four men and their friend, made whole, went home. I’ll bet they went looking for another friend they could bring to the feet of Jesus. At least that’s what I would expect them to do, in response to the unexpected favor and unmerited grace they received from God.
Have you experienced the unexpected, unconditional, unmerited grace of God that brings faith and results in forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life? If so, what are you going to do with the rest of your day, this week, all year, and your life? Do something unexpected.
Know that God expects you in public worship, and rather than treating it as an optional bore, consider it a grand opportunity to stand in awe in the face of a mighty God who lovingly cancels sin. Forgive all those who have sinned against you and never seek revenge. Help others, instead of turning a blind eye. Reach out especially to those paralyzed by sin and unbelief, and invite them to come to worship and Bible study with you the next time you come.
And when you bring people to Jesus, expect that Jesus might just do something unexpected for them, and for you.