Matthew 9:1-8 The Man who Couldn't Walk

Sun, 08/03/2015 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

Let me ask you a question. What is your biggest need? What do you need more than anything else? I it good health or improved health? Is it to have love and friendship, to know that we are valued, that other people cherish us, not to be alone? Is it to be able to contribute to the needs of others, not to be just wrapped up in our own affairs, but to have something to offer to the wider world. What is your greatest need?

You know the children’s stories, the fairy tales, don’t you? You come across a fairy, a wizard, a genie, a whatever it is. And you’re told: “You may have one wish”. What’s it going to be. And let me say to you know: You are not allowed to say this: “Could I have four additional wishes, please”, because that’s cheating. You’re allowed genuinely one wish. And in the context of the fairy story, what’s your one wish? “I wish I could live happily ever after.” “I wish for an enormous pile of gold”. Or chocolate. “I wish for the man or woman of my dreams.” What’s your one wish?

And the appeal of stories like that is this: In the story is the wizard, or the genie, or the fairy, who is able to grant your wish. So that if you say: “I wish for…” you actually get the thing you long for. That’s the appeal – meeting someone one day who could give you your deepest needs, give you the things that you long for the most.

It’s less of a fairy tale when we have children. When you have children you actually have to start to ask that question: What is the one thing I want for my children more than anything else? Is it that they get into good schools, have a good education – is that the most important thing for them as they grow up? Is it that they learn to be wise with money, so that they don’t get themselves into difficulties? Is that the single most important thing for your children? Is it that they have a happy childhood, they don’t grow up too fast and miss being children? Is that the most important thing for your children? What is the most important thing for your children?

We’ve just baptised Oscar and Elliott, and it focusses your mind: What is it that you want more than anything for those two boys as they grow up? You really long for them to grow up, to do, to be … this? And actually never mind kids. Do you not find yourself day-dreaming from time to time and thinking: “If only I could change … this in my life. … If only I could have this. If I only I could develop this habit, stop this habit, more there, do this … my life would just be so much better. That’s the one thing I really, really want.”

That’s the question we’re thinking about in this passage of Matthew’s gospel. Matthew’s about a third of the way through describing us the life of Jesus. And the section we’re in is one where he’s showing us that Jesus has authority. That’s where the bit about: “Wouldn’t it be nice to meet the genie who actually has the authority to grant your wishes” comes from. Matthew is showing us that if Jesus actually wants to do something, there is nothing that stops him doing it.

So, we saw in the end of chapter 8, we had a story in which Jesus calmed a violent storm. We see that he has authority over the natural world. Then we had a story where we saw Jesus’ authority over the powers of evil. And today we have a third story. If you look at how it ends here in verse 8: “When the crowds saw this, they were filled with awe, and they praised God who had given such authority to man.” What impressed the crowds at the end of this story was Jesus’ authority.

And the question is: What is it that he has authority over in this story? We’ve had nature. We’ve had evil. And now we get authority over … what?

Matthew tells this story relatively briefly. The story is also in Mark’s gospel and Luke’s gospel, and both of them add a lot of details. Quite colourful details. Like: Jesus was teaching in an enormously crowded house, so busy that when the men brought the paralysed man to Jesus they couldn’t get to him. They had to climb up on the roof, take the tiles away, and the lagging and the insulation, and lower him down through the roof to land in front of Jesus. Matthew doesn’t tell us all of that. And that’s because he’s just focussing on one thing: The authority of Jesus. And the rest of the details – he just cuts them.

What I’m going to do now, is I’m going to read to you this same story from a couple of children’s Bibles. Now, children’s Bibles (so called) tend to be not so much the whole Bible for children as a retelling of some of the most important Bible stories in the ways that children understand. It’s an anthology of Bible stories with some lovely pictures. You have to be discerning when you choose kids’ Bibles, because some of them tell the story brilliantly, whilst other miss the point. We’ve got a number at home that I think are really, really good. They’re really accurate, they’re really colourful. Kids love them, and they can follow the story – I’d happily tell you later which ones I’d recommend to you to get.

So I’m going to tell you this story from two children’s Bibles that I like and trust. And then we’re going to play a game called “spot the difference.” I’m going to read to you the reading to you from this Bible that’s in the pews and we’re going to see what is different. Because the children’s Bibles miss something rather important.

Here we go. Here’s number one: “One day, Jesus was teaching in a very crowded house. Some men wanted to bring their sick friend to Jesus. The house was full. So they climbed onto the roof and made a whole in it. Then the men let their sick friend down into the room. The man’s friends believed Jesus could heal him. So Jesus said: ‘Stand up’, and he did.”

Here’s another ones. “Crowds of people went to see Jesus. They listened to him teach. He even healed the sick people. One day, Jesus was teaching inside a house. So many people came to see him that the house was full. Four men came with their friend. Their friend could not walk. They had to carry him on a little bed, but they could not get to Jesus – the house was too full. That did not stop them. There were some stairs outside the house. Up the stairs they went to the roof. They took off the tiles of the roof and made a hole. And then they let their friend down, right through the roof, right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw the man, he said: ‘Get up and walk.’ The man stood up. He walked home praising God, and everyone else was amazed. They thanked God, too.”

Can you see, yet, what the difference is. Let me read this again, and see if you notice what’s different: “Some men brought to him a paralysed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’ At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, ‘This fellow is blaspheming!’ Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, ‘Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the paralysed man, ‘Get up, take your mat and go home.’ Then the man got up and went home.”

In the children’s Bibles, the story goes like this: Jesus saw that the man was sick. So Jesus healed him.

In the Bible, the story goes like this: Jesus saw that the man was a sinner. Jesus forgave him. The crowds didn’t believe that he had the authority to do that. “Who does he think he is?” And so he healed him to prove that he could forgive him.

What the children’s Bibles miss is the whole surprise of the story, the scandal of the story, the thing that you would never expect. You see, ask a few really simple questions. Why did the man want to be taken to Jesus? Why did his friends carry 65 kilograms of weight, probably over a mile, to get to see a Jewish teacher? What did the friends hope Jesus would do for the man? What did the crowds expect would happen next? In fact, never mind them: What about us? As we are reading Matthew’s story of the life of Jesus, we have already watched Jesus effortlessly healed countless sick people of their diseases and infirmities. So what are we, the readers of this book, expecting that will happen next.

What Jesus does is utterly unexpected. Actually, it’s insensitive, it’s rude, it’s crass. He says: “Your sins are forgiven.” The friends have just carried a man who has not been able to walk, probably his whole life. It ought to be obvious what the man needs. And yet Jesus is so blunt and rude that he manages to miss what is right in front of his face, and instead goes off on some tangent to talk about sin. How insensitive can you get? How badly could Jesus manage to miss the point? Surely what this man needs is to walk!

Except that that is exactly the point. Jesus is able to see what this man’s greatest need is. His greatest need was his sin. And so this is a story about Jesus’ authority to forgive sin. When the man lands in front of Jesus, he forgives him. He claims his authority to do just that. He then heals him. “I want you to know that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” And then the crowds are amazed at Jesus’ authority – his authority over sin.

Now we will misunderstand this story if we think that sin is doing things that are especially naughty, or doing things that are especially criminal. You know: sin is what Adolph Hitler did. Or if we think that sin is doing things that are naughty but nice, they’re not desperately serious – they’re a bit cheeky and probably rather enjoyable – like eating too much chocolate.

Sin is not any of that. Sin is an attitude. It’s an attitude deep down in here that says: “I am the most important person there is. What other people want is less important than what I want. And certainly what God wants is less important than what I want. The last thing I want is God messing around in my life, telling me what to do.” That attitude is “sin”, and it comes out in all kinds of behaviour.

It’s an attitude that every single one of us has. Not just a few particularly bad people. And Jesus came to this world to deal with our sin. So right at the very start of Matthew’s gospel (think back to the Christmas story) the angel appears to Joseph and says to Joseph: “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Go to the very end of Matthew’s gospel, we see Jesus strung up on a Roman cross to die because all the sin that I have done is placed on his shoulders, and it killed him.

And then here we are in the middle of Matthew’s gospel, and we see Jesus able to forgive this man’s sin. And when the religious experts see this happening, they say: “That’s blasphemy”. “Some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, ‘This fellow is blaspheming.’”

Blasphemy is nothing about drawing cartoons. Blasphemy is claiming to be God. Blasphemy is claiming to be God. And they’re saying: “Jesus, if you’re saying you can forgive this man’s sins, you are claiming to be God.” Think about it for a moment. Imagine you do something to hurt me. Now imagine that Peter here says to you, “It’s OK, don’t worry you did that – James forgives you.” Aren’t I going: “Excuse me. I’m in the room. Isn’t it me that needs to say that.” He’s got absolutely no right of saying, “That’s OK, you’re forgiven.” The only person who can forgive you, if you hurt me, is me.

Well, sin is doing things to hurt God. So there’s only one person who can say, “That’s OK. You’re forgiven.” And it’s God. So when Jesus says to this man, “It’s OK. God forgives you”. They’re saying, “You can’t say that. You’ve just claimed to be God.” And Jesus says, “I will show you that I have God’s authority to forgive sin, because I will show you that I have God’s authority to make the man walk. And that’s something you can see is successful, and so you’ll know that it works. You will know who I am.

Which means that our single, greatest need as human beings is to be made right with God. Our single, biggest need is not our health. It’s not our finances. It’s not our family. Our single biggest need is to be put right with God. The one thing that must not happen is that we reach the end of our lives and we and God are still out of sorts with each other. Because when you get to the end of your life, that is the only thing that matters – what does God think of you.

So have another look at Oscar and Elliot. Or picture your own children, if you’ve got them. Picture yourself. Picture your closest friends. And ask the question: “What do I need more than anything? What’s my one wish that I would give when that genie appears in a puff of green smoke? What would my one wish be?” Complete this sentence: “My life would be better if only I could … {what}.” And then ask Jesus, “How should I complete that sentence? What wish should I ask to be granted? What’s the one thing I need more than anything else?” And Jesus would say to you: “Your one need is for your sin to be dealt with. Your one need is for it no longer to be the case that you and God are fighting each other. That is your one need.” And Jesus is the only person who can do that for you. Which means that when you know Jesus you know God. And when you know Jesus you know forgiveness. When you know Jesus you know life.

And so for all of us here, the single most important thing for us here is to know the person of Jesus. Not just to know about him, but to know him for ourselves. It’s more important than everything else that we think matters. It’s more important for these two boys as they grow up, than anything that anyone else might wish for them, or give to them, or do for them – that they get to know the Lord Jesus Christ for themselves.

There’s the genie in the lamp. “I will grant you one wish.” You go to the desert island, and you’re allowed to take one thing with you. You’re mapping out your priorities for your children. What is the one thing that you would put in place, that if everything else falls apart at least they have that. What do you pick?

For me, the answer is that, more than anything, I would like to know Jesus. And I hope that we can all say that that is true for me. It’s true for my children. And it’s true for everyone that I care about as well.

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