Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 40. Faith opens the way
Matt 9:2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
At least twice in this series I have commented about our tendency to settle, to just accept an easy life, to aim for peace, prosperity and a placid way of viewing the world. The only trouble about such a mentality is that it flies in the face of the revelation that we find in the Bible, i.e. that we are living in a Fallen World where things go wrong, a world where there is a deceiver-destroyer called Satan, and a world where Sin exists in the hearts and lives of mankind. It is a world, if you like, that is not at peace.
Now we could just view those descriptions as accurate but of no interest to us. We could adopt the approach of the desert fathers and others throughout the past two thousand years, who took to the hills or the deserts or behind enclosed walls, to escape those things and live at peace with God alone. Now the bad news for this escapee is that their Saviour left the comfort of heaven to live in this battle scarred world until the age of about thirty, after which, for the next three years he took constant action to right falleness, to counter the works of Satan and to bring down the works of Sin, before giving his life to act as a judicial remedy to appease justice.
What am I saying? That we do not have the freedom to sit back and do nothing. We are indwelt by the Spirit of the one who came to wage war on darkness and bring his light to all who would receive it. In general terms in the world, there is a favourite quote that comes in various forms and is attributed to various people. One form of it says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Now the danger at this point, the temptation that faces any leader, is to lay down a manifesto of things we ‘ought to do’. We need to counter that temptation. Let me suggest why.
The heading to this meditation says “Faith opens the way”. Let me explain that. Look again at our starting verse: “Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matt 9:2) Four friends had another friend who was paralysed. We don’t know why he was, he just was. They heard of Jesus and saw his healing power. The obvious thing was to get their friend to Jesus. When the crowd was too great to get through, they went down through the roof. These were men who were convinced Jesus was the answer, they had accepted the will of God, and they were right – because he was! They were men who were so convinced that they would let nothing put them off getting to Jesus.
It was their faith that got the man to Jesus, and Jesus recognised this. Now we’ve said many times that faith comes from hearing and so these men had heard from God. They would not have put it like that but that, I believe, is the truth of it. People don’t act like this until they have heard from God. Now if they have heard from God – and Jesus recognises that – that is good enough for Jesus; he knows his Father is on this case and wants to heal this man, so he proceeds as the Holy Spirit guides him and first of all pronounces forgiveness of sins for this man. How can he do that? Because the Father seeing from outside of time, knows that His Son will die for this man’s sins and so coming in repentance, this man can be forgiven. This is shortly followed by his healing.
Now do I believe that the faith of the four friends somehow sanctified the paralysed man to make him worthy of being healed? (because often we link the two things in our minds). No, I do not. There are two things here, separate and distinct although nevertheless linked. The first thing is the faith of the four men that we have explained already. Then there is the healing of the paralysed man. The link between the two, as we explained above (read it again if necessary) is that the faith of the men gave Jesus the clue that his Father was on this case and so he could proceed with forgiving and healing. Why the forgiving part? We don’t know because we aren’t told. We must assume Jesus knew that this man suffered a sense of guilt for some reason and had a big doubt in his mind over Jesus’ being willing to heal a sinner.
I say this, not only because I believe it is right, but because I come across this again and again in good evangelicals who have read books on healing and have linked sin, repentance and healing. i.e. healing can only follow repentance for the sin that has been committed. Now as much as I would like to follow that logic because it does appear to make sense, unfortunately it is not born out by the Gospel record. If you are aware of a personal sin, repent of it, renounce and reject it for now on. However when it comes to Jesus’ healing or accepting people, the Gospel record reveals Jesus’ example, clearly showing that HIS order of working is i) unconditional loving acceptance, then ii) healing or deliverance and only then, iii) change of life seen through repentance. Hundreds if not thousands came to Jesus for healing and we find he healed them all, and there is no indication whatsoever that he checked out their sinful state beforehand.
We see again and again his loving acceptance of people brought their repentance and subsequent life change. See the guilty adulterous woman (Jn 8) “Neither do I condemn you… leave your life of sin.” Loving acceptance, THEN a requirement to change. Then there was Zacchaeus (Lk 19) – total acceptance, no sign of correction (dealing with issues) but that brought very clear repentance. Then there was the Samaritan woman (Jn 4) faced with sin but not condemned – her acceptance transformed her. There was also the man blind from birth (Jn 9) – the disciples wanted a blame party, Jesus refused and simply wanted to heal – salvation clearly came later (v.35-38). We want to judge before salvation or healing and in so doing put blocks to Jesus moving.
The four men brought their friend regardless of his history; he was a friend, that was all they cared about. Jesus knew of his guilt and dealt with it and then healed him. A quick aside: look Jesus knows about your friend, church member of whoever else is in your sights and he knows when they will repent or change or whatever else it is you want for them. It was Jesus’ acceptance of Zacchaeus that changed him, it is Jesus love for me that has changed me, not loads of guilt-ladling sermons. I know my life has been transformed by love. When I have been loved, that has enabled me to feel secure enough to come out from behind my protective walls and face my guilt, and confess it and repent of it. I simply say these things to remove some of the barriers we put up to moving in faith. We’ll see some more tomorrow.