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Matthew 9:1-8

Who is this?

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We study through books of the Bible at the Village Chapel. If you would like to read along with a hardcover copy, just raise your hand and someone will bring you a Bible as we look at a couple of different texts this morning. Also, welcome those who are worshiping with us online today. I hope that you can follow along in the text from your screen. 

We find ourselves gathered in this chapel by the guiding grace of our Lord this morning. His spirit has something for each of us to glean from His word today. Towards the end of our service, we will have the privilege of coming to the Lord’s table. It is a sacrament instituted by our Lord as a physical reminder of what He has done for each of us. Almost 2000 years ago, Christ laid down his life on the cross, on behalf of all of us rebellious sinners, to provide a just way for us to have peace with God and new life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our King has come, and has defeated our greatest enemy, death itself. Some streams of the faith call this table Eucharist, meaning “thanksgiving”, and it serves as a symbolic predecessor of the forthcoming hope for the great feast of which we will one day partake in celebration when our King, in His full glory, comes again to restore all of what has been disordered by sin. When we come to this table, we are simultaneously looking back to what He has done on our behalf by stepping into His created history to be our righteousness and looking forward towards all that He will do when He wraps up human history with justice and righteousness. I have a friend who often says, ‘Friends, we are one day closer to heaven’. We are each day joyously closer to this hope of all being made new because of the person of Jesus Christ and His great love for us.  

Matthew, in his gospel, gives an account of the life and ministry of this Jesus with his goal being to provide his readers with a clearer vision of the immeasurable worth of who this God-man, Jesus Christ, was on Earth and is in spirit within our hearts. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s premeditated good plan for our redemption. He is the Messiah who the Jewish people had been awaiting and the bright hope for both Jews and Gentiles alike who come to Him in faith. The Old Testament prophets spoke of the deaf hearing, the lame walking, and new life where death once was. We see this foretold in Isaiah thirty-five, and years later Matthew unfolds the actualization of this prophecy through his telling of the story of the person of Jesus Christ. 

Throughout the gospel of Matthew, whether it be implicitly or explicitly, we naturally ponder the questions of, ‘Who is this Jesus?’, ‘Who is this who speaks with authority unlike our religious leaders?’, ‘Who is this that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’, ‘Who is this who can command demons to go from this man to these pigs?’. Matthew invites these questions to be asked upon reading his gospel with the anticipation of the joy that comes upon discovering our Savior as the answer. I seek to persuade you that forming the question and finding the answer to “Who is Jesus” is the most significant, life-altering realization that you can ever come to be awestruck by.

Thus far in our study of Matthew, in chapters one through four we learned about the person of Christ in His birth, His baptism, His temptation, and in preparation for His ministry. The principles of Christ were studied in chapters five through seven. The Sermon on the Mount starts with ‘blessed are the poor and spirit’, who are those who know their need. He describes in this great sermon how those who are in, and a part of the Kingdom should live. In our current study of chapters eight and nine, we have already seen the power of Christ vividly on display. We see His power in the nine miracles recorded in these chapters. 

We are going to study one of these miracles today. The miracles of Jesus are not magic tricks, nor entertaining spectacles to attract the crowd. His miracles have purpose and intentional meaning for his ministry. The miracles reveal Christ’s compassion in His relatable human experience of suffering, and His great love for all of those whom He encounters. The miracles also display His authority, affirm His identity as the only One who is worthy, and the miracles inspire faith, wonder, and worship to all who experience these events.

However, sometimes the miracles reveal unbelief and the hardness of hearts of those who witness miracles. In the book, “The Explicit Gospel”, the author, Matt Chandler says, 

“The miracles of Jesus are signs of the right order of things. Jesus was not so much turning things upside down as turning them right-side up or, at least, giving His followers glimpses of the right-side up. The miracles of healing, deliverance, provision, and resurrection all reveal that God, through Jesus, is making all things new. He is restoring what once was unbroken.” 

I pray for us this morning, for my own heart and for yours. If you are on the fringes of faith and perhaps still wrestling with the question of, ‘Who is this Jesus?’ I pray that His word might come alive to us wherever we are, and that we might witness more deeply and clearly just who He is. Before we do that, I am going to pray for us to begin our study.

Living God, help us to hear your Holy Word, so that we may truly understand. In that understanding, we may believe, and in our belief, may we follow in all faithfulness and obedience. In following, we may come to know You with such intimacy that tunes our ears to Your voice. May Your spirit empower us to seek Your glory in all that we do, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen. 

If you will go ahead and turn to Matthew nine, chapter one, I will begin reading our text, “Getting into a boat, He crossed over and came to His own city. [I’ll pause here to note that His own city would be a reference to Capernaum. He is currently across the sea of Galilee where Gergesa would be the city from which they likely would have been coming from. They were on the Eastern side and now they are going back to Capernaum, which became the hub of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew gives us more detail by noting this miracle was in a home. This encounter that we will see likely occurred in Peter’s home. Verse two,] behold, some people brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart my son, your sins are forgiven.’ [This is familial, intimate, and tender language. Some of your translations may say ‘take heart’, or ‘be of good cheer’. Jesus uses the same language later in His miracle healing the woman hemorrhaging blood when He says, ‘take heart my daughter’. This language is a surprising response by the omnipotent shepherd tenderly caring for His sheep. It further supports the goodness of the person and spirit of Christ.  Verse three,] the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’ But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts?’ [Jesus cuts to the quick, right to the motives of these scribes.] For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven’, or ‘Rise and walk’? So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. [To simply display His power and authority, Jesus immediately says to the paralytic], ‘rise, pick up your bed and go home’, And he rose, and he went home. When the crowd saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God who had given such authority to a man.” [Verse six states that this miracle was performed] so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority. [‘Son of Man’ is Jesus’ most often self-referenced title. It is used over thirty times in the gospel of Matthew, and over eighty times in all the gospels. This would have been a reference to Daniel chapter seven which prophesied the coming Messiah who would have dominion and authority, which is exactly what Jesus’ displaying here. Jesus is revealing who He is to the scribes. The scribes would have known the message of the prophets, and Jesus is now saying that He is that Son of Man who has authority. 

I invite you to turn if you would in your Bibles over to Luke chapter five. The synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell this story, and each author gives his own perspective and detail of the miracles of Jesus. Let’s also read Luke’s perspective to provide more detail for our understanding. It is good to get different perspectives of the same event for each author has a different point of view. For example, we recently went to a birthday party for my niece and nephew. We went to this farm, and somebody asked us to describe the setting. It was a petting zoo for kids and the first thing that I said to my wife was that the farm had spitting alpacas. That was the thought that immediately came to my mind. On the other hand, my wife mainly noticed the landscape and said how beautiful the grounds were. Same story, different perspectives.

Luke investigated this and asked people questions. He would certainly, as a doctor himself, be interested in understanding how this paralytic was raised from his mat. Luke five, seventeen, “On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there who would come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. [So, it was not just the scribes, which is the information that Matthew provides to us, but it was also others, Pharisees, other teachers of the law, and they were from every village in Galilee and some even from Jerusalem. We could even speculate that these people were maybe an official investigative party, who were coming to figure out who this man making bold claims, healing people, casting out demons was, who Jesus was. Verse eighteen], some men who were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed. They were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus. But finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. [Many of us are familiar with this story, but briefly consider the details of the great cost this would have been. This group of friends take their companion to this healer, bust through the crowds, and go to the top of a roof at great cost to themselves. They pry open the clay tiles and the folks in the room look up as the dust falls to see the sky and this man being lowered down on a cot. These men are tenacious, creative, and Jesus, the text tells us, saw their faith. 

I had a professor at seminary who would make the word “faith” into a verb and call it “faithing”, which is demonstrating one’s faith and bringing it to action. These men are faithing, knowing they simply must get their sick friend to Jesus. Verse twenty], When He saw their faith, He said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven.’, then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question saying, ‘Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’. When Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered them, ‘Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on Earth to forgive sins, He said to the man who is paralyzed, ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.'” 

[It is almost a riddle that Jesus poses to the scribes and religious leaders. Which is easier to say, ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘rise, pick up your mat and walk’? You can take this question from different angles. On one hand, it is easy to say your sins are forgiven because it cannot be demonstrated, not objectively, in front of this group publicly. One cannot know exactly what will happen metaphysically unless he has authority. On the other hand, if one proves that he has authority to both heal people and forgive sins, then to forgive sins is one of the hardest things one can do because it can only be done by God alone. This is something the religious leaders would of course have known that only God has the authority to forgive sins, a message that they preached themselves. Because Jesus chose both imperatives, forgiving this man’s sins and commanding him to rise, He demonstrates the power of which only He in His authority can execute. Jesus says to this paralyzed man in verse twenty-five], “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home. Immediately he rose before them and picked up what he had been lying on and he went home glorifying God. [It is important to note the detail that he was worshiping on his way out the door, as it is the only proper response.] Amazement seized them all. They glorified God and were filled with awe.” The paradox of the atypical response of those who observed what happened in this encounter is extraordinary.  

We will briefly reflect on three groups in this account, the religious leaders, the crowds, and the paralyzed man and his friends. Each of these groups came with different expectations, perspectives, fears, and hopes of what would happen when they would see Jesus. They were all witness to His extraordinary power and were in some way surprised. Each of these groups faced this question of ‘Who is this?’ and the various responses in the story reveal the disposition of their hearts towards Jesus. Perhaps in our witnessing of their responses, the spirit can pry open our sometimes dry and crusty hearts, to reveal ways in which our personal answers to the question of, ‘Who is this?’ is lacking, or blinding us in some way to the blazing hot glory of who Jesus is. He is the Lord of all, who has done everything necessary so that He might be our Savior, conforming us to His image so that He might be our sanctifier. He has made a way that we might be called His children. 

Let’s first give our attention to the unbelieving religious leaders who we meet in this story. In Matthew’s gospel account, this is the first recorded confrontation between the religious leaders and Jesus. With the helpful added details of Luke and Mark, we can conclude that their initial posture towards Jesus is one of cynicism. It seems apparent that they had heard about this Gallian carpenter who had been teaching about a new kingdom and healing sick people, so they went on an investigative trip to observe Jesus. Some initial level of skepticism would have of course been warranted. It is easy to flatten all the religious leaders and their motives into a sole one-dimensional group of bad guys. They were the authorities on religious law and practice and an untrained man making extraordinary claims needed to be investigated and judged according to the scriptures. However, they were blinded to the reality that stood before them in Peter’s home that day. Their initial response to the healing of the paralyzed man was discreet. Matthew tells us that they were grumbling to themselves whispering that Jesus was a blasphemer. 

In a future display of Jesus’ power and authority, He perceives what they were saying and there is a progression of this cynicism which even transforms to anger among the religious leaders. Today, they are saying it discreetly, they call Him the blasphemer, but in just a few chapters they will complain publicly that Jesus associates with sinners. Then later, when He heals another or casts out another demon, they will publicly say that He did so by the power of Satan. The leaders obviously recognized that there was something different about Jesus, but rather than claim that His power and authority is from God, rather than connecting the dots from the very scriptures that they themselves were experts in, they responded in antagonistic unbelief. Isaiah thirty-five proclaims that, “the lame will walk, the deaf will hear, and what was once dead is now alive.” They see it, they witness it, and yet they do not see it. 

We cannot know the motives of each religious leader, but we do know that Jesus has claimed to forgive sins. He steps right onto their territory as experts in the law of God. They would certainly never claim themselves to be able to forgive sins, but as professionals in the Mosaic Law, it was their responsibility to recognize when someone has done what was necessary to be forgiven of their sins. So, Jesus, stepping right onto their territory, and forgiving this man directly, was claiming authority from God. In doing so, Jesus threatened their earthly power and authority, which was obviously one of their motives to seemingly maintain control of their earthly influence.

It is easy for us to stand from on high and make judgements, but we are prone to similar self-protecting errors in our own lives. When the Lord speaks through His written word, or through a Godly brother or sister to remind us of a truth that might contrast with something we desire, it is easy for us to immediately go into territorial mode. It is easy to say, ‘Jesus is Lord of all’, however it is another thing entirely to live as if He is the Lord of all, especially when it does not align with our plans. 

Lord of all is a big claim. We like to seemingly claim “control” of our territory. We do not want others to tell us what to do with our time or money. We sometimes do not understand how certain people are forgiven or healed. Our finite minds, like the religious leaders, want some clearly understood, black-and-white boundaries concerning who is in, and who is out. The religious leaders walked away from Jesus with hard hearts. They asked the question, ‘Who is this?’ This was not the Messiah that they expected when the scriptures were just fulfilled right before their eyes. 

When we are presented with the King who claims to have power and authority over all of life, we can harden our hearts, or walk in faith, or humbly fall to our knees in worship of the One who has the power to heal and to forgive. The good news is that He uses His omnipotent power for His glory and for our good. We will find rest when we come to His Kingdom. Fleming Rutledge says this, 

“If the kingdom of heaven is at hand, then all our other kingdoms are called radically into question, including my own private kingdom, and yours.”. 

Let’s turn for a moment to look at a second group in our story, the crowds, the uncommitted crowds. Matthew tells us that the crowds were afraid and awestruck after Jesus performed this miracle. Luke tells us they were seized with amazement and said we have seen extraordinary things. The crowds glorified God because of the healing, and they knew something was different about Jesus, but were not quite sure what it was. They were certainly pondering the question, ‘Who is this?’. 

The gospel writers do not call this group of people, disciples. There is a distinction here. They are simply called ‘the crowds’. This is likely an ever-changing group of people that we will witness as we continue to study the gospel of Matthew. This is the group of onlookers, astonished from the fringes, but not yet followers of Jesus. Their disposition is that of surprise by Him, amazement at His power to heal, and perhaps curiosity about this Kingdom that He proclaims. These are ultimately insufficient responses to the one who has the power to forgive and to heal. While it is certainly reasonable to believe that some of those from the crowds eventually come to active faith in Jesus, there is a difference between reading a book about swimming and getting into the water to swim. There is a difference between observing Jesus and committing to following Him.

The miracles of Jesus reveal His compassion, His great love for people, and for the sick man in this story, His miracles display His authority, affirm His identity, and draw out the only proper response which is simple faith and worship. Charles Spurgeon says, 

“I may know all the doctrines in the Bible, but unless I know Christ, there is not one of them that can save me.” 

I may know all the doctrines about the Bible, I may think that Jesus was extraordinary, I might even marvel at the spectacle, and I might even think He is a wonderful teacher, but as Spurgeon says it, ‘unless I know Christ, none of those things save me.’

We have seen the unbelieving religious leaders, and a little bit closer to Jesus we have observed the disposition of the uncommitted crowds. Now, let’s give our attention to the paralyzed man and his friends who demonstrated an unwavering faith. We are not told much about the paralyzed man himself, but we do know more about his friends. The text tells us that Jesus saw their “faithing”, which was perhaps a budding faith, but a bold faith made visible in their tenacity to get their friend to the feet of Jesus. ‘Who is this?’ might be the question they asked as they were lowering their friend through the hole in the ceiling. These friends likely could not give you a snappy ten-point systematic theology of the person in the work of Jesus, but they knew they needed to get their friend to this Man. This is a vivid display of Jesus’ own words, “Blessed are the poor and spirit”. Blessed are those who know their need. These four men and their friend knew their need as they busted through the fringe of the crowd, tore open the roof of someone’s home, and desperately came to the One who had the power to meet their need. Do you have friends like that? Are you a friend like that, who would tear open a roof and stop at nothing to bring your friend to the Lord of all? Deep, committed loving friendships are perhaps one of the greatest needs of our day. We have never been more digitally connected, but both statistics and our own observable experience tell us that many of our brothers and sisters have never been lonelier. Sociologist Sherry Turkle labels this phenomenon, “Alone Together.” True friendships, such as demonstrated in this text, tether us to the King. They keep us accountable and hold us close to the good ancient pathways, walking side-by-side with our brothers and sisters towards our Lord. One of the great objectives for pastors in cultivating church life is praying for the Spirit’s guidance to resource, support, and strengthen the bonds of genuine friendship as best we are able. I hope you see this value in community, in groups of all kinds, one-on-one discipleships, and simple things like sharing a meal together. The world of flesh and the devil would like nothing less than to keep us distracted and busy to erode the tether of Godly friendships. I pray that we are cultivating those friendships, my friends. John Piper says, 

“Love means doing all that we can, at whatever cost to ourselves, to help people be enthralled with the glory of God. When they are, they are satisfied, and God is glorified. Therefore, loving people and glorifying God are one.” 

After these friends lowered their paralyzed companion to the feet of Jesus, it is likely that everyone who was in that home was caught off guard. I hope we were. 

It was a surprise that Jesus did not heal the man physically first. We should not misread the fact that Jesus did not first heal the man before he was lowered through the roof as an unconcern for the physical body. Jesus opened the hopeful eyes of those in need and now, with that same hope, we wait patiently, “faithing” in the meantime, with the fullness of the promise that Christ intends to one day to fully restore all of creation. All things new means all, including our ailing bodies. In this account, Jesus looks at the paralyzed man with tenderness, gentleness, and uses the intimate language of a father when He says, “Take heart, be of good cheer my son, your sins are forgiven.”. Were the friends or the paralytic himself disappointed? They had come simply for a touch from Jesus to restore limp legs. However, Jesus instead offers something much more fundamental. He meets a deeper need of the heart first. Jesus loves this man. He knows the greatest need of every person. The greatest need of every human person is a restored relationship with God. To enter the kingdom, one must be made new from the inside out. It is important to note clearly that Jesus is not forgiving this man because of a particular sin that caused his paralysis. Jesus is forgiving this man all his sins. He can do the same for us, which is why we will come to the communion table.

We know from our understanding of first century views on disease and disability, that it was culturally believed sickness was a result of sinful behavior, either their own or as the parents’ punishment to witness a child suffer for their sin. I am sure that this man had heard most of his life the painful inquiries of others asking what sin he or his parents had committed to deserve his current state of failing physical health. These accusations cast him aside as less than human, but Jesus reaches out with tenderness and calls him son. We should not let that escape our view. Jesus is doing far more than they begged of him, far more than they could even comprehend they needed in that moment. 

Just as Jesus met this man at his deepest point of need, and in all His glorious authority forgave his sins so that he might walk as a new man and be adopted as a child of the King, He does the same for us today. His love is constant and never changing. Just like the man in this miracle, we have the hope of a fully restored resurrected body when the King comes to bring His Kingdom.

After offering forgiveness to the man, the religious leaders grumble at the audacity of this untrained carpenter rabbi. Jesus then calls them out by telling them why He is going to do this healing; so that all might know that the Son of Man has the power to forgive and cast away any sickness or burden, so that we may freely rise, get up, and walk. When Jesus invites this paralyzed man to get up and walk, we cannot miss the gravity of this moment in history. Here in this moment, the messianic hope of the Jews who were in that room, the hope of every nation, tribe and tongue hung in the balance. If this man gets up off the mat, then Jesus has the power to both heal and to forgive, proving before them that He is the Lord of all. If he does not get off the mat, then Jesus is a liar or a lunatic. But the man gets up, and he goes home in an overwhelming state of joyous worship. Jesus is indeed the Lord of all, and worship is the only fitting response to the Son of Man, Lord of all, and to the King of Kings.

Believers can be forgetful people. We must be reminded afresh to be pointed back again to the glory that is the treasure of our Lord Jesus. For if He has the power to heal broken bodies, to calm stormy seas, and who would willingly lay down His life and then raise it up again almighty, then it is no stretch to believe that He is presently reigning right now and will continue to fulfill every promise of scripture when He returns. There is not a square inch of the cosmos that is not under His rule. 

Jesus did not heal every broken body in the first century, nor does He heal every broken body today. We wish He did, or that we could understand His ways. I talked to a friend this morning who just lost a coworker. We turn on the news and hear of such grave sadness. I have another friend who is going in for surgery for cancer, and my sister is dealing with chronic pain, and we do not know why. I do not know why, which is where faith comes in. We are blessed to be able to pray directly to the all-powerful good God for healing. He invites us to pray, and we do know that He can heal, as we have seen genuine answers to prayer before. He will be faithful.

If you, or a friend, may be in a state of wandering today, I invite you to ask yourselves where your trust is located. It cannot be in our own expectations, timelines and hopes. If it were, God would be formed in our image. He is above anything we can possibly imagine. Our trust must be in the One who holds all things together. The healing we read about today is one of many demonstrations of both Jesus’ power and authority to save those who would only come to Him in simple faith. Blessed are the poor in spirit. The friends of the paralyzed man were desperate, which is why Jesus recognized them as displaying, and demonstrating genuine faith. 

We also look to the resurrection of Jesus that proved once and for all that He has the power and has made the promise to fully restore all things. We pray for His coming soon as each day we are one day closer to heaven. Until then, we wait, walking side-by-side with friends, with hope grounded in the person of Jesus Christ, who really walked to the earth, who really raised paralyzed men up from their beds, and who really laid down His life and was resurrected after three days in a tomb. Our hope is rooted in something that happened for us and will happen again when He returns. The good news of Jesus can be summed up in His surprising words to the paralyzed man in today’s miracle when He says, “Take heart my son, your sins are forgiven.” 

John Stott tells this story from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Kogan,

“There was a sculptor once, so they say, who sculpted a statue of our Lord. And people came from great distances to see it, Christ and all His strength and tenderness. They would walk all around the statue, trying to grasp its splendor, looking at it now from this angle, now from that. Yet still its grandeur eluded them, until they consulted the sculptor himself. And he would invariably reply, ‘There’s only one angle from which this statue can be truly seen. You must kneel.'” 

He is the Lord of all with the power to heal and the power to forgive. We come today to give thanks at the table for this truth and grace. Let’s pray. 

Our Savior, King, and Lord, thank you for your immeasurable kindness to us. Lord, this morning we acknowledge our need. Some of our hearts are broken. Some of us are on the fringes, perhaps in the crowds, a little bit uncommitted, but curious. We pray Your spirit would soften our hearts to see You as our greatest treasure. Wake us up to all the riches that we have in Your love for us. And Lord, we acknowledge that our hearts long for healing this morning of all kinds. And we say along with the Psalmist, ‘How long oh, Lord?’ Come quickly. But spirit, we pray that this act of history of which we have just read stirs up our faith, strengthens our trust, and our hope that you intend to fully restore all things. In Jesus name, we thank you. Amen.

(Edited for Reading)

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