Friends, here is an offering. I haven’t been posting much lately because I have been terribly busy reading for my seminary classes. I still need to finish those posts from the 90 Days with Jesus series. This sermon is about grace and will be/has been preached to my congregation December 9, 2007. I hope you are blessed.–jerry
Grace as Unmerited Forgiveness
“One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. 18Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
“The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
“Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.
“Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
We have studied deeply over the last 3 or so years. We have drunk deeply from the well of Scripture and I hope built a lasting theological foundation. I hope by now you understand what the Bible has to say about being a disciple. I hope the sermons I have preached over these last 3 years—sermons about the Cross Driven Life, The Resurrection Driven Life, the Missions Driven Church, The Church in Exile, 90 Days with Jesus, A Theology of Suffering, and many others besides—have strengthened and encouraged your walk in Christ.
Over the course of the next several months, I want to start fleshing out that theology for you. I want to put some legs to it, give it some flesh, give it a little color and depth. But this doesn’t mean the sermons will be easier to understand. I have shown you the world against the backdrop of Scripture, from the point of view of Calvary, from the vantage point of the Resurrection. Now, we must begin to see how this theology ‘works’, what it does, how it affects us, how it determines and guides our each step of each minute.
As we approach that aspect of our ministry together, we must make another stop along the road to visit an important marker that is easily overlooked and under-appreciated and all to often avoided altogether. I am talking of course about grace.
I imagine that all of us have some experience with grace even if we are too ashamed to admit it. And if we have not had experience with grace then perhaps we have missed out on the single most fundamental aspect of Christian faith—the one aspect that sets us apart from every other religion on the planet. Here in this world of Christ’s Grace there is no merit, no earning, no achievement. We are what we are, we become who we are, and all that we can every imagine is solely because of His grace. It is this grace I would like to spend the next 4 weeks talking to you about.
We begin today by looking at a short story from Luke’s Gospel—we have been in John and Matthew already this year—that demonstrates the first of our four grace points: Grace is Undeserved Forgiveness. This morning I’d like to note four particulars of this story as they relate to grace.
Obstacles to God’s Grace (17-19)
Whatever else we might say about this story we can say this: The man in the story, the paralyzed man, the man who never says a word, the man lowered through a hole in the roof, had all sorts of obstacles in his path to grace. Here’s what Luke tells us: “One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there.” Now, was this a literal statement? If every village in Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem had its own representation of Pharisees and teachers of the law—and there were representations from all of them that day—and they were all sitting there while Jesus taught—well, this was the first obstacle to this man experiencing God’s grace.
I imagine some hustle and bustle, some commotion. I picture these people running up to the house carrying this man on a stretcher—yelling, “Clear the way! Move! Coming through! Make space! Man on a stretcher in need of grace!” And there sits all the Pharisees and Lawyers around Jesus—not budging an inch.
Aren’t some folks like that? Aren’t some folks simply and utterly absolute obstacles to God’s grace? Aren’t there some people who will do nothing to make it easier on people to receive God’s mercy? The implication is, of course, that Pharisees and Lawyers actually made it harder on the man to get to Jesus. Doesn’t it rather boggle your mind that these people didn’t move out of the way so that the man on the stretcher could get to Jesus?
On the other hand, you have these man carrying the stretcher. These are the folks who will do anything to get someone before Jesus. I imagine this man waking up that morning and getting ready for the normal day of sitting outside the Dung Gate or the Fish Gate and begging. Someone gets him dressed, feeds him, takes him to the toilet, and then lays him out on the stretcher where he awaits his friends. They come to him. But that day, one or all or maybe even the man himself says: “Today, let’s do something different. Today we are going to Jesus. I hear he’s in town. Listen, I want you to do whatever it takes, with all that is in your power to get me in front of Jesus.” But the Bible says, “Jesus saw their faith.” So maybe the conversation went like this: “Today, we’re doing something different. No begging today. Today we’re taking you to Jesus. Today we are going to do whatever it takes to get you in front of Jesus.”
Some people are those types of people who will do anything it takes to get someone in front of Jesus. They will carry a man on a stretcher. They will ruin someone’s house by digging a hole in the roof to lower him right into the middle of the lecture hall. I can’t be sure, but I wonder if these men who carried that man that day had themselves experienced God’s grace in some way prior to this meeting. Some people will stop at nothing to get someone else before God so that they too might experience His grace.
“And the Power of the Lord was present for him to heal.”
The question before us is this: What sort of people are we? Are we the obstacle or the over-comer? Will we not flinch a muscle or blink an eye to help someone or are we the type who will stop at nothing to get someone before Jesus. Don’t you sense that excitement, the anticipation? This was urgent: This man cannot wait for the crowd to disperse, the man cannot wait until Jesus comes out, this man cannot wait until tomorrow: He needed Jesus right then and there, at that precise moment; there was no waiting—even if it meant ruining someone’s house to do it.
The Pharisees and Lawyers—they were sitting there.
Grace is God’s Prerogative (20-21)
The Pharisees and Lawyers did have something right that day: Grace is God’s prerogative. RC Foster brings a out a rather brilliant point about this scene that might otherwise go unnoticed. He wrote,
The man had come seeking relief from physical paralysis, but God often grants to man more than he asks. He declaration of Jesus implies divine understanding of the human heart and of the deepest needs and possibilities of man, even as it implies possession of the highest authority and power of heaven.
Jesus knew that such a declaration would bring upon Him the fierce denunciation of His enemies seated in the midst. Controversy was sure to result from such an assumption of divine prerogatives by Jesus.
In short, Jesus, I suppose, didn’t have to make the announcement that he made. But there he sat in the midst of a group of Pharisees—Law Keepers—and Lawyers—Law Teachers—and He said the one thing that was certain to rouse their suspicions, stir up their angst, and cause them to perk up their ears a little more to what was going on.
You see, I have this suspicion that they were less offended that Jesus said what he said than they were offended by who he said it to. You see, the Pharisees and Lawyers were famous for their strict attention to the details of the law, to the Letter of the Law. They were noted for their teaching that only through strict adherence to the Law was pleasing God possible. Here comes a man, a man in their books obviously beset by a world of guilt: Why else would he be paralyzed? Everyone back then knew that sin was always the cause of suffering. Here was a man justly suffering because of his sin and Jesus without batting an eye:
“Friend, I announce here in public: Your sins are forgiven!”
What?!? He had done nothing, absolutely nothing, to deserve this. What law had this lawbreaker kept? What alms had he given; only taken? How many prayers and fasts had he obeyed? How much Torah had he memorized? And yet forgiveness? And here we learn they are right: Grace is God’s prerogative. Because let’s be honest with each other. If it were up to you and me, no one other than ourselves would be forgiven. We talk a lot about how much God’s grace has done in our lives, but we are not quite so willing to extend that grace to others.
So the Pharisees and Lawyers were quite right: Who alone can forgive but God? Or, Who alone will forgive but God? Maybe Jesus made this announcement about the man’s sins publicly for just that reason. Maybe was inviting others to see forgiveness for what it was: Grace. The man had done nothingto merit forgiveness. Grace is God’s prerogative and He shows it to whomever He desires. Dare we have the courage to publicly proclaim God’s message of Grace for all to hear?
Grace is Liberating (23-24)
“Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
Robert Tannehill wrote, “The healing of the paralytic both discloses the nature of Jesus’ mission and acquaints the readers with the type of person Jesus’ helps. The man is not only physically handicapped; he is a sinner. It is assumed that the release of sins is the key to recovery for him.” And others say the same thing. The sin had to be dealt with. The Pharisees and Lawyers would have this man remain in his prison. Jesus sets him free. Jesus did, after all, come to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, to set captives free, and release those in bondage from their oppression. (Luke 4:18)
I think perhaps we don’t consider this well enough..enough. Perhaps we don’t take the time necessary to think about the relationship between our physical brokenness and the sin in our lives—indeed in the world. I think if people in this world had any sense about themselves they would fill church buildings before they filled hospitals. But we have become an increasingly materialistic world where the spirit is neglected and where, for some reason, the spirit—if it even exists—has no contact with the flesh. But Jesus says different. And we must too. This is part of the danger of Darwinist teachings: It makes man only the process of chemical, biological—materialistic processes. In Darwinism there is no soul to save, no sin to contend with. But in doing what He did, forgiving sins and healing the body Jesus annouced a powerful relationship between the two. And in announcing that this man needed both, Jesus announces that the man was in bondage to both: sin and suffering.
Jesus heals a man beside a pool and says later, “See, quit sinning or something worser (a little Johnny Cash lingo) may happen to you.” He saves a woman from being stoned and sends her away saying, “Go, and sin no more.” Paul suggested to the Church at Corinth that the reason some of them were sick, in fact the reason some of them had died, was precisely do the fact that they were embroiled in sin. At the root of suffering, at some level, whether our own or others or in general, is sin. As I suggested in our previous series of sermons: We will not be entirely physically well until sin is eradicated from this world.
Jesus demonstrates his mission and his character in these actions: Make whole those who are broken: Physically and Spiritually; liberate those captives, set them free. Darrel Bock rightly notes, “Today we tend to leave sin out of the health equation, seeing it primarly as a matter of chemicals and biology.” But Jesus treats the entire person. Perhaps we should be even more concerned to announce in our messages the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ Name before we are ready to announce all the physical, biological stuff. I think it is imperative in our announcments of God’s grace that we announce to people that Jesus will deal with the sin our lives first. Grace deals with the whole person, starting from the inside and working its way to the outside.
David Seamands wrote in his book Healing Grace: “Because of the Fall, imperfectness permeates the whole universe. Try to grasp the all-inclusive losses which came about. The original and innate human perfections are gone, and we can never again regain them through our efforts, no matter how hard we try.” (61-62) He lists 6 major categories of lostness we are facing since the fall. He then goes on to point out that even though there is no way for us to regain this lostness, there is hope: “If the ultimate cure is grace, then the ultimate cause of the behavior is the failure to understand, experience, and live out grace at every level of our lives. This means we must learn to give up every futile attempt to achieve right relationships by any other means than God’s total plan of grace.” (67) Grace, in freeing the entire person, is liberating, freeing. It enables us to get up and obey and worship.
O, For a thousand tongues to sing
My Great Redeemer’s praise
The glories of my God and King
The triumphs of His grace.
What is Our Response to Grace? (25-26)
Luke records two responses to Jesus’ announcement of forgivenness. Here his words again:
Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.
“Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
The first response is that of the man. His response to Jesus’ grace was obedience. Jesus told the man he was forgiven, Jesus healed the entire man, and the man’s first response to Jesus was to obey. He took his mat, left the room, and went home praising God. Look, it may be nothing, but the word that Luke uses to describe this man ‘standing up’ is a derivative word that means ‘resurrection.’ I won’t take this too far because I don’t want to make this a mere analogy, but isn’t that quite a picture? Jesus raised this man to new life! Jesus gave this man a new day! Jesus brought this man back from the dead!
Isn’t that what grace does? Doesn’t grace bring us back to life? Doesn’t grace give us new hope? Doesn’t grace enable us to raise up to newness of life? Doesn’t grace take root in us and resurrect us in our whole being: Spirit and Flesh? Doesn’t it enable us to walk, talk, move around in Him, obey Him, and give us reason to go home each day glorifying God, that is, continually singing a doxology to God?
There’s another response too. I think this response is from the Pharisees and Lawyers who had previously gathered around Jesus preventing the man from getting to close. The Scripture says: They were ecstatic, but not in our sense. It means they were dumbfounded; they sort of stared off into space with a sort ‘duh’ look on their faces. They didn’t know what to make of what happened: either the forgiveness or the healing. They were also filled with ‘awe’ or in Greek phobos which means literally ‘fear.’
Yet even these ones, stunned silly, cannot help but praise God—perhaps even in spite of themselves. Whatever the case, one thing is for certain: the appropriate response to the action of God’s grace, wherever it is seen, is to praise God and God alone. I can’t imagine there is anything else we can do but give glory to God who gives grace where no grace is deserved, to those who can do nothing to earn it, to those who barely have the strength and the power to even come before God and ask for it. As it is, the man asked Jesus for nothing that day with his mouth—we read none of his words. As it is, Jesus demonstrated God’s grace that day quite apart from the man’s merit. And God deserved all the praise.
So Paul, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
So the Psalmist (103):
1 Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
I ask you, what is your reponse to God’s grace? What has it been? What will it be? I don’t think we are afforded any other option but worship: worship is the only appropriate expressive response to the grace of God.
Howard Marshall wrote, “The lesson here is a deeper one; instead of simply healing the man’s body in response to his faith, Jesus pronounces the forgiveness of his sins, thereby demonstrating that the full salvation of men, both spiritual and physical, depends upon faith in the ability of Jesus to act with the authority and the grace of God.” (213)
Grace is all over this scene. I don’t know if the man in the story had any idea that his day would turn out any different than it normally had, you know, a day of laying by the road, begging for mercy. Those who carried him to that space each day, whether at his behest or of their own volition, had something else in mind: Today we are going to see Jesus.
Along the way they overcome obstacle after obstacle and everntually reach Jesus. How absurd it must have looked. Whatever they wanted that day, they certainly got more than they bargained for: The whole man made whole. Not only did the man walk home that day, but the man also enjoyed new fellowship, liberated from his sin as he was, the chains of the strongman broken as they were. New fellowship with God is the nature of grace; worship is the response of those set free.
David Seamands wrote,
“This same grace will ultimately be our only basis for eternal fellowship with God in the life to come…We can be sure every one of God’s people who will worship and serve Him throughout eternity will be there for only one reason—because they were recipients of grace—God’s love freely given to the undeserving and the unworthy. There is no other basis for entrance into the kingdom of God—here on earth or in heaven.” (199)
Jesus said to the man: Get up and take your mat and go home. Do you think the man was going to not do that? And so if Jesus says to you today, “My grace is free for the taking, my forgiveness is available; rise up, come back to life.” Do you think you will not do that? The man walked; will you? The only other option is to remain flat on our back, paralyzed, left to do nothing but beg. But Jesus offers grace; what else do we need?
Soli Deo Gloria