A sermon for the second Sunday of Epiphany, first in the series “Chosen: Epiphany Encounters.” Given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on January 17 , 2021.
He Has the Authority
Can I take us through the passage once more? This time I want to use Russ Ramsey’s fine work, Behold the King of Glory. He offers here a paraphrase and harmonization of the Gospels:
“‘Can we take you up on the roof?’ one [friend] asked. ‘What?’ the paralyzed man said. His friend said, ‘I know how to get you to Jesus right now. But we need to get up there.’
The five men climbed up on to the roof, and they began to peel back the tiles until they had made a hole right over where Jesus was sitting. … The paralyzed man grinned apologetically at Jesus as he inched his way down through the new hole in Peter’s roof [!].
Jesus looked up at the four faces peering down into house. He admired their faith and tenacity. ‘Sir,’ he said to the man in the sling, ‘your sins are forgiven.’ Everyone close by leaned forward, expecting him to heal the man. But Jesus said nothing more, just that his sins were forgiven.
The religious leaders in the room, some scribes and some Pharisees, grew angry, though they said nothing. ‘Does he think he can forgive sins? Only God can do that,’ they thought.
Knowing their hearts, Jesus asked the crowded room, ‘What do you think is easier to say? ‘Your sins are forgiven?’ or ‘Get up and walk?’ To forgive I must possess the authority of God, otherwise my words are empty. But isn’t the same thing true about healing? You’ve seen me doing these wonders. Where do you suppose this ability comes from? These signs are so that you might know that I am sent from God to forgive sins. I possess this authority.’ So to help them believe that he had the authority to forgive sins, Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, ‘I say to you, get up. Take your mat and enjoy your walk home.’ (Russ Ramsey, Behold the King of Glory, pgs. 61-62)
This, our first Epiphany encounter moment, has at least four lessons we need to learn. Let’s pray as we look at each of them.
O Lord, may we today lay ourselves before you and your Word, that we would be renewed in the great Gospel of your Son. Amen.
#1. Be thankful for the friends who led you to the Lord, and continue to do so. We all need them. (vs. 18-19)
Let’s start with the man and his friends. What good friends! The faith of these friends (and the man himself) was not, as we often hear today, simply a faith in faith. It was a faith in the authority of Jesus. They knew that he alone could do what needed to be done. That’s what Jesus honored in them!
Today God honors, and mercifully uses, relationships to bring people to Christ. That’s true for you, it’s true for your kids, it’s true in the extended family, and it’s true in the day-to-day friendships we develop in the world. And each one of us no better off than the man on his bed. The paralysis of sin is upon us, and we need to be brought to the Savior.
- You know the names of the people who brought you to Jesus. Your mother, your father, a grandparent, a brother, a sister, a fellow student. They saw your need and knew that the one person sufficient to meet that need was Jesus. Give thanks to God for them today anew.
- Mothers and fathers: do not ever make little of the influence you have over your children for blessing or curse – to drive them to Christ or away from him. Remember the words spoken to St. Augustine’s mother when he was still far from God: “It is not possible that the child of such prayers and tears should perish.” And we must remember that to abdicate the responsibility given us from God, to say “I’ll just let them decide for themselves,” is to make a choice for them, nonetheless. Can you imagine the four friends of this man saying, “We’ll take you to Jesus, but only if you really want!”
- Grandparents: do not let your influence over your children and your grandchildren be no greater than to simply worry about them. As Martin Luther said, “Pray – and let God worry.” Welcome them when you have the chance, and continue to model being a home and place and people where Jesus is known and embraced.
- And lastly, in friendship. Never be afraid to reach out. Never doubt that by seeking to lead someone else to the feet of Jesus, you are doing the right thing. Oh yes, you will catch flack for it – perhaps especially from the religious (that is to say, those who are religious about anything else besides Jesus). But by God’s mercy your friendship may become a golden thread, woven into the very tapestry of eternal life forever, just like the account of the paralytic and his four faithful friends.
#2. The forgiveness of sins is a deeper miracle than the physical miracle (the man was, after all, physically and spiritually “resurrected” – v.25). (vs. 20-24)
Jesus asks his opponents, which is easier to say? I’ve blown past those words in verse 23 many times and come to what I thought was the obvious answer: it is easier to heal than to forgive. In one sense, that’s true – it’s easier to simply say, “you’re forgiven” than to provide the proof of the healing.
But let’s take a closer look. What is the cost required to forgive sins? To make the words a reality? Look to the cross and you have your answer! Jesus fulfilled the cost necessary to speak those words when he bowed his head and proclaimed, “it is finished.” We share in that same costly certainty today.
So just as this man went on his way rejoicing, so we ought to go out that door rejoicing every Sunday that the Lord has pronounced this word over us. It ought to fill us with great joy and cause others around to wonder at the source of such rejoicing.
This means that the Gospel is at the core of who Jesus is and what we truly need. How many times have you thought or heard it implied that if we saw physical miracles, that would be a “real miracle”? Then we would really know that God is in our presence! And that is, in a sense, very true! But, you can also miss the deeper miracle. You can miss the harder word that Jesus pronounced, which is you are (most certainly) forgiven.
J.D. Flynn, writing for The Pillar, expresses the danger that other words might be seen as more powerful or more primary than the one Jesus spoke to this man:
“The danger for the Church is that temporality – the urgent tyranny of the now – replaces the frameworks of vision that should be most important for believers- the framework of the second coming of Christ, and the framework of our inevitable, and soon approaching, judgment.
An eschatological framework doesn’t ignore the political order, is not indifferent to suffering and injustice, but it recognizes the primacy of the order of grace. An eschatological vision sees that chaos, depravity, division, and even violence are the ordinary consequences of fallen humanity, and sees that, no matter the specific maladies afflicting souls or cultures, repentance and conversion are the only lasting antidotes, and the only ones that finally matter.
Evangelization, the Church teaches, precedes other kinds of public activity, because repentance is a necessary precondition to enduring justice.”
(J.D. Flynn, Proclaiming Christ in Fractured America, The Pillar)
The man’s healing is given as proof of the deeper miracle, the “deeper magic” as Lewis called it, happening right before their eyes. Christ has come to bring the miracle forgiveness. May it be ever before our eyes.
#3. The very marks of sin upon us (visible or invisible) can become, in the presence of Jesus, the very means by which his fame and power are spread. (vs. 25-26)
Those places where know the scars of sin best, those regrets, our failures, our frailties, our past, can become the places where the redemption of the Lord is shown forth. Where our lives get placed before Jesus to bring him glory and honor, recognition and fame.
St. Paul said it best, “9 But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
In the YouTube series “I Am Second,” former narcotics officer Andrew Collins shares the power of the Gospel in his unlikely friendship with Jameel Mcgee. In his work as a narcotics officer, Andrew became, in his own words, very corrupt – more focused on arrests than justice. He ended up framing an innocent man for possession of crack cocaine. That man was Jameel McGee. Jameel was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison, wrongfully convicted.
But so was Andrew. His corruption was found out. In the midst of this, Andrew found Christ in the office of a pastor. He made his confession, and the pastor pointed him to GRACE – God Riches At Christ’s Expense. In response to the Gospel, Andrew went to the FBI and laid out what he had done. He was indicted and sentenced to prison time.
Meanwhile, as Jameel sat in prison, he could only think about harming the officer who had done this to him. It was only as he thought about the future of his own son that he made the decision to give the bitterness and anger he clung to over to the Lord. His conviction was eventually overturned 3 years into his sentence and he was freed.
Two years later, at a park, with his son, Jameel ran into now ex-officer Collins. While there was real loss and real pain, instead of unloading his anger onto Andrew, he told him about what God had done for him in prison. At the same time, because of Andrew’s repentance and his faith in Christ, he was able to own what he done, and to ask Jameel for forgiveness. Jameel was eventually able to speak these words to Andrew, “I forgive you and the reason why is, if we were charged for every single thing that we’ve done in our life, where would that leave us?”
Through the Lord’s work, Andrew was eventually (amazingly!) paired with Jameel in a mentorship program. To this day, they claim each other as best friends. They travel together, telling their story in a book they wrote called Convicted.
Friends, only Jesus can write that story.
And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.
What in you needs to be laid before Jesus, that he would display his redeeming power?
#4. The gospel will result in the total healing of the person. (vs. 24-25)
The healing of paralytic shows that the salvation Jesus brings will result in the total healing and deliverance of the person. The Lord does not grant total physical healing in this life (the paralytic, would, after all, have to suffer death), but make no mistake, the Gospel is for the body as well as the soul.
Arthur Just writes, “For Jesus physical and spiritual brokenness are part of the same problem. They are two sides of the same coin, so Jesus treats them in the same way. As the Creator come to this creation as a creature, Jesus is present to free that creation from all its bondage.” (Luke 1:1-9:50, pg. 230)
St. Paul said it best in Romans 8:18-25:
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 … 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved.
We are not dualists. Every time we say the creeds, we cross ourselves and proclaim, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” In this, our first Epiphany encounter, we see just a momentary glimpse, a foretaste, of what will be ours when Christ comes again.