October 4, 2023

The Faith of Friends

Prayer for Illumination:

Teach us, O Lord, to follow Your decrees; then we will keep them to the end. Give us understanding, and we will keep Your law and obey it with all our heart. Amen. Psalm 119:33-34.

Last week, I had a seminar to attend in Vancouver near Burrard & 1st Ave. When I was almost there, I realized that I didn’t bring my purse. I changed my backpack and forgot to take my purse out.

That meant, I was driving without my driver’s license. I could not go back home because it took almost 2 hours from Abbotsford to Vancouver.

Once I realized that I wasn’t carrying my Driver’s License, I was anxious and guilty. I also had to go to my military unit in North Van in the evening. So I was out all day driving from Abbotsford to Vancouver, from Vancouver to North Vancouver, and from North Vancouver to Abbotsford. I was driving in guilt and tried very hard not to speed.

When I was finally driving into my garage around 11 pm, I was so relieved. You don’t know how cautiously I was driving all day, checking the side mirrors and back mirror to see if the police were following.

The guilt and anxiety was so real to me. And then I was thinking of those who are living in guilt. Those whose wrongdoings are not forgiven.

Recently I read an article by a psychotherapist - I don’t remember the exact percentage but - there are so many people that are living in some kind of guilt and remorse. “I should have not done that. I should have not said that. I wish I could’ve said ‘sorry’”, and so on. Most of us experience this at some point in our life

Each Sunday, after prayer of confession, I proclaim Assurance of Pardon. We are reminded that our sins are forgiven by the mercy and grace of Christ. How blessed are we? We do not need to live in heavy burdens of guilt because of God’s grace.

Today, we will meet a paralytic whose sins were forgiven by our Lord, Jesus, in public. Let us see what happened that day in Capernaum.

We will continue to study the Gospel of Mark. Last Sunday, we studied Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law in Capernaum and His highly-valued prayer time early in the morning in a solitary place alone with the Father God.

When He was praying, Peter came, exclaiming, “Jesus, What are you doing here? Everyone is looking for you!” People were bringing all the sick and the crowd gathered to see wonders and signs. But Jesus said, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is why I have come.”

Today’s text begins, “A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum.” After travelling to neighbouring villages, preaching and healing, He and His disciples returned to Capernaum which he used as his headquarters.

When the people heard that Jesus was home again, they once more started gathering around the house until there was no room left. To the crowd - some heedful, some curious, some skeptical, He preached the word.

The primary task for Jesus was to preach and teach the word of God and whenever it was necessary, He healed the sick. And Mark made it very clear on several occasions that Jesus preached the message all the time.

To the jam-packed place where Jesus was teaching, a group of people came, bringing a paralytic. They tried to get to Jesus, but they couldn’t because of the curious crowd.

Imagine that you’re one of the four friends. You’re standing behind the crammed crowd, hoping to take your friend to Jesus. People in front look at you and your friends, but they turn away, totally ignoring you and your sick friend.

What would you do? Would you patiently wait in line OR helplessly suggest coming back later? What would you do if that was your sick spouse or child? Would you do anything to bring your loved one to Jesus, even if that meant having to break into someone’s house?

That was what these four friends did. They had to find a way… a way to Jesus. They went up to the roof and made a hole.

As you may have seen in movies, the houses in ancient Palestine had flat roofs. The roof usually had three layers: the wooden beams, straw mats, and a clay top. The clay would be pressed down tight with a stone roller.

There was also a stairway to go up to the rooftop from outside, so carrying the stretcher wasn’t a huge problem, but making a hole could’ve been quite challenging.

When everybody was quietly paying attention to Jesus’ teaching, suddenly crumbs of straw and dirt were falling down to where Jesus was sitting. Jesus’ sermon was interrupted.  How do you think the crowd felt? Annoyed because Jesus’ teaching was interrupted; angry due to the destroyed roof; amused, assuming it was a performance or a show ?

What about Jesus? Do you think Jesus was even a little bit annoyed by the dirt falling on his head, the commotion, and distracted sermon? Jesus must have laughed and delightfully watched them lower their friend on a mat.

The roof was practically unroofed by now with a huge hole, and the paralyzed man was slowly lowered and set before Jesus. We don’t know what He saw from those friends, but He perhaps saw faith, trust, care, and determination from them.

While everyone was anxiously waiting to see what was going to happen, Jesus, instead of saying, “Get up!” or “Be healed,” said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

We don’t know what the paralyzed man’s life story was - whether he was born with paralysis or had a bad accident, whether he had lived a very sinful life or was just an outcast.

It was a common belief in ancient days that physical illnesses were related to personal sin. That’s why, in John 9, after seeing a blind man from birth, the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

When Jesus proclaimed, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” some teachers of the law, who were there looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, were outraged and thought to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Yes, they were at least half-right. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

V8 says, “Immediately...Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?” They might have been startled for a moment because Jesus read their mind.

In the same way that Jesus knew their thoughts right away, He also knows what we are thinking right now. He knows every one of our hearts - secret sins, sinful desires, and hidden intentions.

Sometimes I have these thoughts that I don’t really want to have. I don’t intend to think that way, but judgemental, complaining, hateful, boastful, skeptical thoughts come into my mind. I try not to remain in those thoughts long, and shake my head. Yet many times I am shocked by my own sinful thoughts.

Thankfully, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) If we confess our sinful thoughts and motives humbly before Jesus, He forgives us our sins. How? Because Jesus has authority to forgive our sins. Because Jesus is God. Why? Because He loves us beyond measure.

Jesus asked the teachers of the law and the crowd, “Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” Which was easier for Jesus to say?

Jesus has the power and authority to heal our sicknesses. Jesus speaks, and the blind sees. Jesus speaks, and the mute speaks. Jesus speaks, and the paralytic gets up. Jesus speaks, and the lame walks. Jesus speaks, and leprosy leaves. Jesus speaks, and the demon runs away. Jesus speaks, and the dead rises. Jesus speaks, the heaven shakes and the earth trembles.

To the paralyzed man, Jesus could have said, “Son, Get up, take your mat and walk.” but He wanted the teachers of the law to see that He had authority on earth to forgive sins. They knew that only God alone can forgive sins, but didn’t know that Jesus was God, that Jesus, being made in human likeness, came to earth to save us.

God doesn’t heal us from all illnesses and disabilities even though we pray night and day. Some people feel really rejected by God and even leave the church. However, for God, the ultimate need in our lives is not freedom from physical sufferings but freedom from the bondage of sins.

Our ultimate need is never physical but spiritual. God might not answer to our cries for healing all the time, but He mercifully answers to our sincere prayer for forgiveness without exception. He wants us to stand before God holy, not necessarily healthy.

When Jesus saw the paralyzed man, He saw the need for freedom from the chains of sin in him and pronounced, “Your sins are forgiven.” At that moment, the paralyzed man received salvation. Nobody in the room was able to see what happened in the spiritual realm. But that moment, his paralyzed spirit was freed from the bondage of sin. He became a new creation by Jesus’ word of forgiveness.

Then Jesus told the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” At His word, the paralyzed man slowly moved his fingers, toes, arms, and legs. He was able to get up and stand on his feet by himself. He must have screamed in joy and burst into tears. Still couldn't believe what happened to himself, he took his mat and walked out of the room.

This time, the crowd made room for him. V 12 says, “This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” I think this phrase was understated. If a paralyzed person gets up and walks by you, would you be just amazed? “Wow! I’ve never seen anything like this.”

If we witness a true, real, miraculous, medically attested healing right before our eyes, we probably burst out weeping and kneeling before God, praising Him.

Yet, the greater and incomparable, speechless, heart-stopping thrill should be when we witness our loved one turn his/her life to Jesus. When God’s amazing salvation takes place in your friend’s life.

The salvation and the healing of the paralyzed man were possible because of his friends. He was so blessed to have such friends.

We, as sisters and brothers in Christ and friends who care for one another deeply, pray for our church members, our dear friends and neighbours, and our family members. Most of the time, we pray for the healing of their physical sickness and health. It is vitally important and we must continue praying for the healings of one another in faith.

But more importantly, let us not forget to pray for the salvation of our loved ones. For those who are so stubborn to accept their sinfulness; the need of Savior; the need of God’s forgiveness. For those who live in the burdens of guilt. For those who have not encountered Jesus Christ personally. For those who do not know Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

They can see and taste the goodness of God through YOU - through your determined and persistent prayers and invitation.

Today is World Communion Sunday, which celebrates our oneness in Christ with all our brothers and sisters around the world. It is a day to remember that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church and that every Christian Church that promotes Christian unity is one.

Someday, we will meet all the faithful worshippers of God around the Great Banquet Table in heaven. Different colors, different languages, different clothes, different ways of worship, different hymns, but one thing in common. Our love for Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, all of us have been made clean through the blood of Jesus. God saved you and me, and He wants to continue saving every single person in the world.

Let us become like the caring, brave, and determined friends who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus. So next year on World Communion Sunday, let us pray that one more name is added to the Book of Life because of our unceasing prayers. Amen

Let us pray.

Merciful God, thank you for the blood of Jesus. He died so that our sins could be erased completely, so that we do not need to live in guilt. Thank you for the ultimate healing You have promised us. As we partake in the Communion, touch our body and soul and spirit with Your healing power. Amen.