Saving Faith

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It could not have been easy. The roofs of many homes in Israel were made of slabs of burnt or dried clay set on wooden beams that stretched from one side of the house to the other. Over the labs was spread a layer of wet clay. This was left to harden, allowing the family to come up on the roof in the cool of the evening to get some fresh air. To break up the clay and remove the slabs would not have been simple and certainly would have caused a disturbance for the people below in the house.

But that is exactly what four men did in order to make sure that their sick friend got to see Jesus.

It happened in Capernaum (Mark 2:1). Along with the crowds of people who wanted to hear Jesus, there were many Pharisees and teachers of the law who had come from other parts to investigate this man whom they were hearing so much about (Luke 5:17). The house was full to overflowing. There was no room for a stretcher and the four men carrying it. So they mounted the stairs leading to the roof and began their demolition project. They had to get to Jesus.

Years ago, a young woman came to me at church. She was upset. She had been receiving unsigned notes in her mailbox at the Bible College she attended. The notes “encouraged” her to repent of her sins. The author was convinced that the chronic illness from which she was suffering was the result of something in her life that was offending God and for which she was being punished. The woman told me that she had examined her life in case there was something to repent of, but having found nothing to account for a debilitating illness, she didn’t know what to do about the notes and the accusations in them.

As I read the story of the paralytic this morning I was reminded of this incident because of what Jesus said when the paralytic was lowered to His feet. “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). Apparently it was a common belief in the Lord’s day that illness was a direct result of one’s sin. Certainly there is historical evidence in the Bible that sometimes God did call people’s attention to their sin by bringing illness into their lives (i.e. 2 Chronicles 26:19). While there are specific cases like that of Uzziah as recounted in Chronicles, illness is also a general consequence that we all have to suffer as a result of living in a broken world. There was no sickness before the fall of man. Illness and death come to all of us “just because.”

We aren’t told what the paralytic’s story was, but it is likely that he wasn’t surprised at Jesus’ words because of the common belief that sin was the cause of illness. Perhaps his state had been caused by some sin in his life. But whether or not the illness had anything to do with his physical condition, the paralytic was a man who needed a Saviour. Jesus addressed both the spiritual problem and the physical problem based on the faith expressed by the actions of these men.

But there is another aspect to this story. When Jesus proclaimed the man’s sin to be forgiven the religious authorities present in the house went into spasms and accused him of blasphemy: “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:5).

Precisely!

Once more Jesus established His divinity. As God, only He had the authority to forgive sins. “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 there paralytic, ‘I tell you, get up , take your mat and go home’” (Mark 2:8-11).

On the surface it is easier to claim the power to forgive sins than it is to instantly heal someone of their paralysis. But, as John MacArthur points out, “The actual forgiving of the sins was in reality the more difficult task because it ultimately required Him to sacrifice His life” (One Perfect Life, page 115).

The fight for wellness is one that drives our lives and our prayers, sometimes to the extent that we miss an important truth that is illustrated for us in this story. A sick man being healed is a miracle; a sinful man being forgiven is an even greater miracle. It is spiritual wellness that needs to be the top priority of our lives and prayers. Eternity is at stake: “But now he [Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:26b-28). 

Pray for physical healing, but pray harder for the healing of the soul.

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