38. The Old Order

Meditations in Hebrews 9:     38. The Old Order

Heb 9:1   Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary

Tabernacle Ministry: Our writer goes on to compare what went on in the earthly tabernacle (the earthly sanctuary) with what goes on in the heavenly one. In the earthly one the high priest carried out the ‘regulations for worship’ which comprised instructions for sacrifices and offerings. That was what the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, was all about. He reminds us that it was set up with a lamp-stand, a table and consecrated bread in the first room, the Holy Place (v.2) Then behind the curtain was the curtained off area called the Most Holy Place in which were the golden altar and the ark which contained a jar of manna, Aaron’s staff and the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. (v.3,4) Above the ark were the cherubim but, he says, “we cannot discuss these things in detail now,” (v.5) so we likewise will simply move on.

He then reminds us that “the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry, but only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (v.6,7) So, two rooms, the inner one only being entered once a year by the high priest, ad the outer one where daily service to God was provided.

He explains, “The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing.” (v.8) i.e. there wasn’t general access to that inner room and to God’s presence as long as that Tabernacle or Temple service continued under the Law. But then he shows its further limitations: “This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings–external regulations applying until the time of the new order.” (v.9,10) i.e. the priests and the people did these things because they were told to, but they still felt guilty. Their obedience to the Law was good but it still didn’t leave them with any understanding that in fact justice had been done and punishment taken for their wrongs –  apart from by the animals they sacrificed. It DID provide a means of providing an obedient response to God showing the heart had turned but it DIDN’T appease their conscience. That was the old system, the old order, purely external things until the new order came and showed the reality.

Christ’s work: He then turns to what Christ has done: “When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, (or ‘are to come’) he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.” (v.11) We have to wait until later on when he explains, “Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” (v.24)  Christ’s activity on our behalf was acted out here on earth (although I don’t think ‘acted out’ is a good description of his dying on the Cross!) but the reality of it and what it achieved was brought about in heaven.  Then comes the key verse: “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” (v.12)

‘The Blood’: For the new believer, references to “Christ’s blood” may seem strange but it is simply shorthand for “his death on the Cross for our sins”. Having said that, ‘blood’ was a key feature of the sacrificial system or, to be more precise, shedding it by killing the animal, and scripture declares that “the life of a creature is in the blood.” (Lev 17:11 and a number of other verses). We know that when our heart stops pumping blood around our system, life ceases. Remove the blood and you remove the life; it was that simple.

The Impact of a Sacrifice: Without doubt the sacrificial system was horrible, the taking an animal into the Tabernacle or Temple, placing your hand on its head and then having its throat cut so that the blood poured out so you could literally see the life ebbing away out of this creature, but I am certain that people would realise the seriousness of sin in a much greater way than any of us do today. Once you had done it once, you would resolve not to sin and have to do it again! (In comparison to modern Western societies it would certainly be almost crimeless!)

Christ the Offering: He explains that the sinner who was sprinkled with blood under some of these rites would be declared ceremonially clean and if that was so, how much more would Christ’s death on the Cross, “who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (v.14)  That is rather a heavy verse we had better delve into.

“How much more, then.”  If the old order was able to declare a person ceremonially clean how much more can a ritual involving the Son of God.

“will the blood of Christ.” i.e. his death on the Cross.

“who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God.” This was God himself, the One who is Spirit, who died, perfect without sin.

 “cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death.” i.e. our sinful acts are dealt with, acts that lead to spiritual death.

 “so that we may serve the living God!” The end outcome of Christ’s death is that we are left knowing we have done what God laid on for us, i.e. accepted HIS way of salvation, and knowing that justice has been served and our sins properly dealt with.

Us Today? The next verses are also information-packed so we’ll leave them to the next study. Today we may be grateful that we do not have to trek miles to a place where we are required to take an animal to be put to death. Today – and it is almost too easy and therein there is a danger that we become casual about it – we simply turn to God in prayer, confess our sins and declare our acceptance of Jesus as our Saviour and are forgiven and cleansed immediately.

The old was making a primitive people aware of the seriousness of Sin as far as God and people are concerned. The fact that we do not have to follow through those rituals should not make us casual. Perhaps that is the main reason the writer to the Hebrews spells it out as he does; it is another of his warning-encouragements that he keeps on bringing to encourage us to stay on track. Being reminded and being aware of the seriousness of Sin and the wonder of what Christ has done for us, should truly be a motivating factor to keep us in the Faith. Amen? Amen!

31. Be Pure

Meditations in 1 John : 31 : Be Pure

1 John  3:3  Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Sometimes I find myself looking at the lives of Christians, especially young Christians, wondering what I could say when I see the things they do and allow in their lives. Now it is very difficult sometimes to know whether things being done are simply cultural expressions of life today with no great significance to them, or if they are sin. Theologians often struggle when it comes to exactly defining what things constitute sin; they can define it as lawlessness and so on, but when it comes down to particular actions at specific times, it is not always so easy to say “That is wrong.” I know there are parts of the church that are negative about virtually any sort of pleasure and so in some quarters going to the cinema or watching DVDs is even prohibited, but that sort of isolation simply cuts off from the rest of society and means it is especially difficult to communicate with the world and impact it for good, and has very little to do with God’s definitions of righteousness or unrighteousness.

Perhaps this verse, although not specific about specific things, is helpful. But let’s not rush it; let’s deal with it in an orderly way. John speaks here of “Everyone who has this hope.” What hope is he referring to? The hope spoken of in the previous verse: “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” In other words, the hope we have is that one day we will be like Jesus. Now I’m not sure, if I’m being honest, if lots of Christians in their present state relish that thought.

Consider: Jesus is completely given over to his Father’s will, at whatever cost – including that of giving up his life for humanity.  Consider: Jesus put himself out to reach the poor, the sick, the destitute, the unbeliever, and even the blatant sinner. Consider: Jesus never got drunk, never over-ate, never had casual sex and never demeaned or spoke badly of anyone, except those in high places who were being hypocritical – and these he spoke fearlessly against. Jesus never lied, not even white lies, never sought favour, never pushed himself forward, was never violent, never competed with others and never sought to get to the top of the pile. Submit that ‘x-ray machine’ to many modern Christian lives and how will they show up?

Perhaps we don’t respond well to this sort of speaking because we don’t actually think much about Jesus coming back and us becoming like him.  John implies that if we did think about this then we would purify ourselves. Perhaps part of our thinking might be, well he’s not likely to be coming back for a long time and I’ve got to live in this world while I wait, so what does it matter. I can always be cleaned up at the last minute. I would suggest that such thinking is second class thinking. What if Jesus wants to “turn up” not in the skies tomorrow, but simply in revival power by his Spirit? I am told that often in such times of revival, the first part of it is the Saints on their knees in floods of tears, as the things they tolerated are exposed by the purity of the light of the Holy Spirit shining with a power that is only seen from time to time in what we call ‘revivial’.

When John says this person “purifies himself” there is an echo there of the Old Testament, carried on into the New: “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover.” (Jn 11:55)  There was an outer washing and also, as much as they could, a heart cleansing.  Peter spoke of being cleansed when we came to Christ: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Pet 1:22) Coming to the truth and now obeying it meant that their lives were being cleansed from the contamination of sin that we suffered previously, before we knew Christ. John has already touched on this in what may be considered takes place when we come to Christ in repentance and when we confess individual later failures: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)

This cleansing or purifying makes us pure like Christ, part of the general process of making us like him: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:28)  So part of the thing of being remade in Jesus’ likeness means that the Holy Spirit is seeking to work the same purity that is in Christ, in us. When something is ‘pure’ it is being free of impurities. When we came to Christ, he declared us free in this way, but in terms of practical, daily sanctification it is an ongoing process.  Part of that process is becoming aware of things in our lives that are not Christ-like, and then part of that process is making an act of will that we will change and no longer tolerate the things that come to light, and the final part of the process is with the help and empowering of the Holy Spirit, replacing those things with Christ-like things.

On the negative side, the apostle Paul said, Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5) Those are un-Christ-like things. On the positive side he then went on to say, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Col 3:12,13)  That is the purifying process. Let it work!

28. Stumbling Christians

Meditations in James: 28 : Stumbling Christians?

Jas 3:2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

Have you ever wondered why all the pastoral letters of the New Testament were written?  The simple, short answer is because people aren’t perfect.  Once we can accept that simple truth, the Christian life becomes so much more simple.  If you haven’t realised that, then when you do fail you will feel guilty and the guilt will cling and keep on making you feel bad.  When James says We all stumble in many ways he is saying it to both reassure and to challenge.  When I was a younger Christian I encountered those who preached perfection, and because I knew I was not perfect, I felt really bad about myself. I didn’t realize that when Jesus said, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48) he was giving us a target to aim for, something to work for.

Now theologians sometimes refer to ‘imputed righteousness’ and ‘imparted righteousness’.  Imputed righteousness is the righteousness that God imputes or credits to us when we receive Christ’s salvation.  He declares us righteous in His sight on the basis of the work of Christ.  When we receive Christ we are ‘justified’ or, as some have said, God makes it so it is “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned.  In His sight we are declared righteous.  But any honest Christian knows that from time to time they get it wrong, and there are character imperfections in us that need working on, and this is where ‘imparted righteousness’ comes in.  He has given us His Holy Spirit who is totally righteous, and as we learn to let Him lead us and express Jesus through us, so His righteousness is imparted to us and expressed through us.

John in his first letter also alluded to this: I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1). In other words sin, or getting it wrong, should not be a common thing in our lives now, but the reality is that we will stumble, we will trip over our feet and get it wrong sometimes.  John gives two answers to that.  Answer number one: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness(1 Jn 1:9). That is our side of it. Answer number two: if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence–Jesus Christ.” (1 Jn 2:1). That is God’s side of it, Jesus speaking up in our defence, reminding the Father that he has died for all our sins.  The challenge that comes with all this, is can we aim to keep sin out of our lives as much as possible?

But then James says something that seems both an impossibility but at the same time a challenge: If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. The person who is careful in what they say and is never at fault in speaking, is a perfect person and that ability to speak righteously reveals the heart that is within and that heart enables us to control our whole life.  Now is it possible to be perfect?  Well, we’ve already covered that above in the first paragraph.  Maturity is certainly something that the Bible suggests we can achieve.  The writer to the Hebrews commented,solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:14).  There are therefore mature people.  Paul also said, We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature.” (1 Cor 2:6) implying the same thing.  James said earlier, Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:4).  There he linked it with being complete or whole. Jesus’ call to perfection in Matthew 5 is actually a call to wholeness or completeness. So, rather than worrying about being ‘perfect’, and constantly feeling bad when we spot things that are less than perfect, can we instead aim for maturity, for wholeness and completion? This then becomes a goal to work for rather than a means of condemnation. Recognize that you have some way to go, but actually set yourself the goal of letting God change you, like his word says (2 Cor 3:18), to become more and more like Jesus.

There are two things we can do to facilitate this process of change. The first thing is to let the Holy Spirit search you and help you face up to how you fall short. This is similar to the assessing that Paul says should go on in us when we come to take Communion: A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” (1 Cor 11:28). There are some things that will be obvious and we need to confess them and deal with them.  Some things we may feel we need the Lord’s help to overcome.  Ask Him.  The second thing is simply to develop your relationship with the Lord.  As we do that, His presence will change us.  Now there are basic disciplines that Christians through the ages have found build and change us – reading the Bible, praying, worshipping, fellowshipping with other Christians, being a witness to others – all these things work in the process of changing us.

So, to summarise, recognize that sometimes you will get it wrong but there are two things to help us there (see above).  Don’t be content with those imperfections: confess them, seek God’s help to overcome them, and at the same time work positively to develop your relationship with Him.  Be changed!

9. Temptation

Meditations in James: 9 :  Going through the Door of Temptation

Jas 1:13-15 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Trials, tests and temptations are all expressions of the same thing.  Trials, we might say are simply the general descriptions seen from our perspective when life gets difficult. Tests are the same thing but seen from God’s perspective. God allows trials to act as a test of where we are in terms of spiritual maturity, and as a means of strengthening us. Temptations are the same things but seen from Satan’s perspective as a means that he can use to cause our downfall. Every test actually involves a temptation, even if it is just the one to give up.

James, you will remember, is very mindful that the people of God are now scattered in the world, dispersed to be light and salt in fact, and is aware that living in the midst of the world we thus live in an environment that is sometimes hostile and very difficult. He wants to call us into a place of awareness of what is going on. In fact this call is really not seen so clearly anywhere else is the Bible. He wants us to be clear about trials, tests and temptations and now moves on to clarify our thinking about the temptation aspect of all this.

Look, he says, when you are tempted, don’t blame God. God NEVER tempts us because temptation is a prompting to do wrong – and sometimes we fail and give way to it, and God doesn’t ever want us to do wrong. God is always working to lead us into righteousness, into doing what is good and right. When there is a trial, and there is a temptation aspect to it, that temptation aspect doesn’t come from God. Yes, God uses the trial and the temptation but he never brings the temptation part of it, because that part always has a different origin. To see that origin, let’s go first back to the Garden of Eden. The very first temptation came to a sinless couple, Adam and Eve. He prodded them to take unilateral action, separate from God, disregarding what God has said, in other words to be disobedient. They chose to respond to him and temptation became sin.

Now because we all are tainted by sin, which Paul refers to in Christians as our old nature,  if we allow that old nature to remain, then we become vulnerable to the whispers of the enemy who suggests that we give way to that old nature and do our own thing regardless of God. Thus in the midst of a trial, when we are feeling pressurised and weak, that old nature that James calls evil desire, rises up in self-centred concern and submits to the suggestion from the enemy. Some people wrongly say, “Satan made me do it!” No he didn’t; you simply made an act of will to submit to his suggestion. He has no power over a Christian unless you give him it. Because there was an areas of your old life that has not been put to death, you were vulnerable at that point and temptation rose up, either from within that old nature or by Satan whispering to you, and you either had to battle with it and overcome, or give way and sin. No wonder Paul uses such language as,do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” (Rom 6:12) and Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature (Col 3:5)

But temptation is like a doorway that appears before you in your life and if you go through it, it has consequences, dire consequences! James spells it out. He starts out each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. That is the temptation, your unsanctified desires, desires of the old nature that you have not put to death, tugging at you to pull you off course, enticing you away from what is good and right. It is like a doorway of temptation stands there inviting you to go through it, leaving the holy ground that you’ve been called to, to step outside the kingdom of God and do the same as the occupants of the dominion of darkness (see Col 1:13). When we do give way and go through that doorway, we sin. When we do wrong we have two paths immediately ahead of us. The first is the path of repentance back to God: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9). The other path is the path of self-justification and blame of others (see Adam & Eve – Gen 3:12,13) and because the sin has not been properly dealt with, it makes us more vulnerable to further attacks or temptations from the enemy, and the eventual consequence of ongoing sin is death.

So, are there things in our lives that fit into the category of the things that Paul tells us to ‘put to death’,sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed (Col 3:5) and anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips (Col 3:8). If we tolerate these things they will be the means of our downfall. Yes, it is sometimes a difficult world and yes, temptations do sometimes come, but we can minimize them by getting God’s help to deal with these issues which, if left, make us vulnerable and cause our downfall. Ensure you deal with them. Don’t risk the alternative. You aren’t as strong as Satan would like you to think you are. The old nature, if not put to death, will rise up and bite you. Don’t let it happen. Go to God, confess it, and deal with it before Satan has any further opportunity to cause your downfall. Do it!

32. Recognising Sin

Meditations in the Law : No.32 : Recognising Sin

Lev 5:1-4 If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible. 2″ `Or if a person touches anything ceremonially unclean–whether the carcasses of unclean wild animals or of unclean livestock or of unclean creatures that move along the ground–even though he is unaware of it, he has become unclean and is guilty. 3″ `Or if he touches human uncleanness–anything that would make him unclean–even though he is unaware of it, when he learns of it he will be guilty. 4″ `Or if a person thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil–in any matter one might carelessly swear about–even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it he will be guilty.

Very often in Christian circles there appears a confusion as to what is sin. Now this is somewhat understandable because even theologians have disagreed over what constitutes specific sins. Certainly the Bible speaks generally of lawlessness  (1 Jn 3:4) and wrong doing (1 Jn 5:17) as sin, and sometimes of specific sins, but often we are not given specific lists and those who have sought to produce such lists run into difficulties. However in chapter five we are given four instances of things that constitute sin, even though they were done unintentionally. This tells us that we can sin without realising it. Indeed for the Christian, we would hope that this is the only sort of sin that is ever committed, especially when the apostle John says, No one who is born of God will continue to sin.” (1 Jn 3:9) So let’s look at these identified sins.

What similarity is there between the first and fourth sins? They are sins to do with speech. The first one is a failure to speak up when you should (v.1) and the fourth is speaking carelessly (v.4). How are the second and third similar? They are both about touching something that is prohibited and which will make the person ‘unclean’.

Why do we think these particular sins are mentioned? Because the people of Israel were called to be a special people, a holy people and they were holy because of what they DID. We need to realise that holiness is not something abstract. It is a way of life, and that includes thinking, speaking and behaving. Justice was an important issue in maintaining the Law and therefore failure to take responsibility and speak up when you should (v.1), undermined justice. But truth was so important that sometimes an oath was required, and so responsibility over making an oath was high. Don’t carelessly make an oath said the Law (v.4).

But they were also holy because of what they ate and how they kept themselves clean, i.e. there were hygiene laws to promote good health and that, we suggest, is what was behind verses 2 and 3. For a people who, initially at least, were often on the move, and who lived in a hot climate, hygiene was particularly important. We may not understand God’s thinking in terms of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ animals but it is probable that their potential for carrying or conveying disease was a likely factor. “Human uncleanness” similarly refers to anything about our bodily functions which, in a hot climate, can cause or convey germs and bacteria. If we had greater understanding of these things we would almost certainly wonder at God’s wisdom in these things. For the time being we have to simply accept that He knows better than we do about such issues.

When a person became aware that they had failed in one of these ways, there were two things they needed to do. The first was with their lips – they needed to confess their failure. The second was bringing a sin offering. Words can be cheap but bringing an offering cost you, and that drove the point home! These were means of dealing with the very basics of being the holy people of God, and maintaining that holiness.

Now poverty is not to bar a sinner from coming to God using the sacrificial system and there are two options given. If the person doesn’t have a lamb to bring then they can bring two doves or two pigeons instead (v.7). If they can’t afford those then they can simply bring fine flour (v.11) as their offering – every family would have some of that and that was to be their offering.

If the offering was two pigeons or two doves, they would be used in different ways. The first was to be seen as a Sin Offering and was killed and some of its blood shed thus brings cleansing and forgiveness by the giving of a life. (Note: only the blood is used – the sign of a life being given). The second was a Burnt Offering (see 1:14-17) and it is burnt on the altar as an offering to please the Lord (see 1:17c) and acting in an atoning way (5:10) to restore fellowship with the Lord.

If the offering was flour, it is to be brought without any additives (v.11) and the priest took a handful of it and burnt it on top of the other offerings on the altar as the most simple of the sin offerings. The rest was to be for the priest, part of his support, if you like.

I wonder, as Christians, are we aware that we are a holy people and as such we have responsibilities that preclude certain behaviour. We may think it is all just a case of ‘believing in Jesus’ but it is also about being children of God – children of a holy God and we care called to be holy as He is holy (1 Pet 1:15,16)

As we have noted before, no one is excluded from God’s presence because of lack of possessions. The concern was to deal with the sin and to re-establish the relationship with the Lord. Today, because of Jesus, the way is always open. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” (1 Jn 1:9) and that is all because Jesus has been our sacrifice and we come to God on that basis, and no one is excluded!

11. The Forgiver

SON OF GOD MEDITATIONS 11 of 20

Mk 2:5-7 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

We have seen previously, Jesus saying things which the Jews listening to him realised were blasphemy – unless of course he was God! This is another of those times but with a different focus. To us, some of these things might appear minor or trivial, but that is simply because we do not understand the Jewish culture that prevailed at that time. Unlike today, when a minority in the West worship God, in Israel there was at least a token acceptance that He was their head. In some ways they were very God-focussed or God-aware, and this meant, although in their daily lives the outward working of their relationship with God seemed rather frail, they still nevertheless had much understanding of who He was and what He could do and what they couldn’t do!

Now we come to this quite well known incident, where Jesus is teaching in a home in Capernaum, when suddenly there is a disturbance from above and a hole appears in the roof and four men lower down their paralytic friend before Jesus. Clearly the crowd had been so great that they could not get into the house but so desperate were they to reach Jesus that they decided to come in through the roof. Jesus, it seems, is almost thrilled with their faith. They are so sure that Jesus can heal their friend that they will let nothing get in their way to reach him. Now Matthew adds that when Jesus saw ‘his’ faith, he forgave him, and so it seems that it is a collective thing, all five men have faith in Jesus.

One of the things we see about Jesus when we read the Gospels is that he read people’s minds, he knew what they were thinking, he knew why they acted like they did. In this case it seems apparent that the man at least believes that his being paralysed is linked with a past sin. Now we don’t know why he was paralysed or what he had done. It is almost as if the writers say, don’t worry about that, that was not the issue. We see the same thing in John 9 when they encounter the man blind from birth and the disciples debate over whether this was caused by his sin or the sin of his parents. Jesus refuses to get drawn in to that and simply focuses on healing him. We, so often, want to apportion blame, or show others up as failures. Jesus is more concerned to restore us rather than reveal our failure to the world. He knows what it is and he knows when we are repentant. These men would not have brought their friend to Jesus if he hadn’t been repentant about his sin. He wouldn’t have let them take him if he was still unrepentant for they all seem to have this clear understanding that sin of often linked to illness or infirmity.

Now I say all this because of the way Jesus deals with this man. He doesn’t immediately reach out and heal him, for he sees that there is still an inner concern in this man. He feels guilty. He’s sorry for what he’s done in the past, but he still has this inner nagging about his guilt. There can be no other reason why Jesus approaches this case as he does. He simply proclaims forgiveness over this man. Do a study of the Bible and you will see that God only forgives where there has been repentance. Our problem sometimes, is that we may have repented but we need to hear God’s voice affirming our forgiveness.

John the Gospel and letter writer was to eventually write, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9). He learnt that clear principle: when we repent and confess our sins God WILL forgive us. So Jesus forgives the man. At that point it seems, as they say, the fat is in the fire! There are some seriously religious characters in the crowd listening to Jesus and they know their Bibles (Old Testament scrolls). They know that only God can forgive sins. Only God has the right to say that a man’s sins are cancelled and that man’s issues before God are resolved.

We may not think sin is a big issue, but before God it is! The whole sacrificial system within the Law of Moses was about dealing with sin. Try reading the book of Leviticus and you’ll see that. From our point of view today, sin was and is so important that God had to send His only Son to deal with it – but that’s later in the story! Oh no, sin was important and only God could say that it was dealt with and, up until then, it appeared that only offering a sacrifice in the Temple could properly deal with it. Then suddenly Jesus appears and declares over this man, you are forgiven.

The religious experts are not happy! They are quite specific in their thinking: He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone? There it is again. They have no doubt that Jesus is claiming to be God, taking the role of God. We cannot emphasise this enough. It may not be a big thing to us, but they were quite clear – this was blasphemy, this was Jesus claiming to be God.

But is doesn’t end there. Jesus wanted them – and us – to see that he DID have the right to forgive. See what follows. Listen to Jesus: “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.” (Mk 2:9-12) Words are easy. We may disagree with them, but they are easy to say. OK, says Jesus, by implication behind what we see him actually saying, you see a link with sin and sickness. So, if the sin is dealt with, the sickness can be removed. Right? That would have been the logic behind all this. Sometimes we just see the power behind this healing and it is wonderful in itself, but it is the logic behind it which undermines these religious men.

If sin causes sickness, then while sin remains then obviously the sickness or infirmity will remain. But if the sin is repented of, and forgiveness is granted then we may assume that healing can come. So he heals him to make the point that forgiveness HAS been granted – he IS the Son of God with authority from heaven to forgive sins. This is why this healing is so significant. It is Jesus claiming Sonship by declaring forgiveness and then proving it by bringing the healing. Again, this is one of those occasions when, as we start to realise the dynamics of the situation, we realise that this is yet just one more of those instances where Jesus is claiming and demonstrating his divinity. We have no alternative – this IS the Son of God.