Sermons

Which Is Easier?

Sep 19, 2021

Which Is Easier?

Passage: Matthew 9:1-8

Preacher: Jeff Crotts

Series: Matthew: We Need a King

Category: Sunday Morning

Detail

“Which is Easier?” – Matt 9:1-8

Most agree that years are a blur. 

  • Six kids (one married), a wife, and two big dogs make time pass quickly.
  • The number next to my next birthday gives me pause to reflect.
  • I, am, turning 50.

 “What is the chief thing you want to see happen to you in your lifetime?” 

  • People live for all kinds of things, the proverbial bucket list.
    • Some of you read my blog on surfing the bore tide which was an Alaskan goal to check off.
    • Goals like get married, having children, building financial security and success usually make the list.

Covid virus has appeared, where lately everything is being measured in terms of health. 

Our Lord wants one thing for you, forgiveness from your sins

  • Personal experience tells you this is true.
    • Think about someone you care about.
      • Someone you love, like your child.
      • The most important thing you want for him/her is forgiveness.

“What is forgiveness?” 

To be forgiven simply means a debt owed is now canceled and therefore no longer owed. 

If you have ever owed someone a significant amount of money say, “the debt is paid in full.”  This is unforgettable. 

This is likewise true when you have sinned against a meaningful relationship making it now, beyond repair, and the person moves toward you saying, “I forgive you.”  This kind of restoration is likewise, unforgettable. 

 

Here is a modernized list of how the Bible pictures forgiveness:

To forgive is to turn the key, open the cell door, and let the prisoner free. To forgive is to write in large letters across a debt “nothing owed.” To forgive is to pound the gavel in a courtroom and declare the person not guilty. To forgive is to t shoot an arrow so high and so far that it can never be retrieved. To forgive is to take out the garbage and dispose of it, leaving the house fresh and clean. To forgive is to lose the anchor and set the ship free to sail.

Again, a few more biblical pictures. To forgive is to grant a full pardon to a condemned and sentenced criminal. To forgive is to loosen a stranglehold on a wrestling opponent. To forgive is to sandblast a wall of graffiti, leaving it looking brand new. To forgive is to smash a clay pot into a thousand pieces so it can never be put together again.

Christ canceled all sin for us, so this should be a main desire for others. 

Years ago, I was challenged by this priority when I was in Southern California.  I met up with an old friend, I knew when we are in our early 20’s.  Now, a high school basketball coach, accomplished, godly man who leads an all-American family.  We squeezed a lunch in between his classes. 

Walking out, I remarked how “automatic” it is when we sync up.  We pick right up as if meeting every week.   Then he stunned me, recounting a season right after he graduated college, just before getting married, where he asked me to meet with him for some counseling.  We worked through, Trusting God:  Even when life hurts by Jerry Bridges.  I remembered. 

He began to share how he was bound up by fear and anxiety.  Then he looked at me and said, “You saved me” – “You saved me.”  I didn’t know the significance of what was going on with my friend.  For the next 5 minutes he passionately exhorted me to “Preach Grace” – to “Preach forgiveness found in the Cross.” 

  • The priority of forgiveness is the point Jesus makes with his miracle.

[READ Matthew 9:1-8]

This text makes forgiveness a priority over everything. 

  • “If you could choose between being fully healthy or forgiven, what would you choose?”
    • Ninety-nine out of 100 times, the world chooses health.
      • Daily Covid news and/or new regulations validate that this is our culture.
      • The “have and have nots” dynamic is the conversation representing the premium everyone puts on health.
    • Wanting to be healthy is not wrong, in fact, it can be a good priority.
      • The problem is when health becomes central to life.
      • When suffering is only sad and not redemptive.

Christians, give way to sadness over sickness. 

  • Personal health dominates where forgiveness is the pearl of great price, the pinnacle gift, the access code to everything.
  • Without forgiveness, we are hopeless, guilty, shameful, and lost in our sins.

Sin is the barrier against the One who owns everything. 

  • Our existence, our future, our eternity, our health, our resources, our life circumstances.

 

  • When our sin is broken down and guilt is solved, nothing is withheld in our relationship with God.

ESV  Psalm 84:11 For the LORD God is aa sun and xshield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. bNo good thing does he withhold from those who cwalk uprightly.

 

Which is easier, forgiving or healing?
1. Forgiving
      a. Healing people did not offend (vv. 1-2a)

Everyone wants their health to be good. 

  • Mark and Luke’s account specifies that “four men” were driven to bring another man to Jesus for healing.
  • This was all their concern.

Based on Jesus’ prior healing ministry, they had no doubt Jesus could do it! 

Jesus had been away from Capernaum for “some days” (cf. Mk. 2:1). 

  • News of Jesus' miracle powers had traveled fast.
    • Limiting Jesus’ preaching ministry.
      • By indiscretion of the now healed leper (cf. Matt. 8:4).
      • Jesus healed a Centurion’s slave and Peter’s mother-in-law also sparking the whole city to show up for their miracle.

 

  • This was a culture on a mission to be made whole.
  • This rush pushed Jesus to exhaustion.
    • He traveled across the Sea of Galilee (calms the storm and cast out a Legion of demons).
    • Now has returned and crowds rush back and found him.

Verse 1 says, Jesus “…came to his own city” (v. 1). 

  • Capernaum was his new base of operations post-Nazareth.
  • The large sea town of Galilee.

Teaching in a home (assume Simon Peter’s) (cf. Mk. 1:30). 

  • As before, the house is jammed but smaller, not “the whole city gathered together at the door” (cff. Mk. 1:33; Mk. 2:1 “he was at home”).
  • But still crammed, blocking the door.

ESV  Mark 2:2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.

Jesus had been away, making the crowd more willing to hear Jesus’ message but nevertheless there for healing. 

  • Not necessarily made up of converted believers.
    • Curious with suspect faith.
    • Jesus later rebuked Capernaum with a scathing denunciation.

ESV  Matthew 11:20 aThen he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 ab"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in bTyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.22 aBut I tell you, it will be more bearable on bthe day of judgment for zTyre and Sidon than for you.23 And you, aCapernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to bHades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.24 aBut I tell you that eit will be more tolerable on xthe day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you."

 

At this point, Jesus is preaching grace.

  • Mark’s account, “…preaching the word to them” (cf. Mk.2:2).
    • To crowds, scribes, and visiting Pharisee’s (cf. Lk. 5:17).
    • All while, “four men” were “stubbornly” on their mission.

Not sure the level of their friend’s paralysis, though he was carried as “dead weight.”  

  • Jesus healed paralytics (cf. Matt. 4:24).  
  • Verse 2 calls this man “a paralytic” (v. 2).
  • They knew he would heal him if they could get him to Jesus.

When they could not get through the crowd.

  • They go outside, up the stairs, up to the flat roof.
    • A roof, made up of clay tiles, dry mud.
    • Thatching supported by horizontal beams.
    • Spaced enough to lower a pallet down by ropes.
      • Ropes used as Peter’s fishing gear, laying around, we do not know.
      • Necessity became the mother of invention.

Was this distracting Jesus?

  • Instead of being an interruption.
  • This is an opportunity to minister grace.

I assume like me, when taught this story as a child, the point of this was:

“Because these four worked hard to get their friend to Jesus, Jesus did a great miracle.” 

  • Creativity and serious effort equal “faith.”
    • Grabbed Jesus’ attention.
    • Impressed Jesus and so Jesus blessed.

 

Matthew makes the opposite point. 

This group knew Jesus would heal, what comes unexpectedly is what Jesus does first!  Pronouncing forgiveness.

     b.Forgiving someone did offend (vv. 2b-4)

“And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven’” (v. 2).  

  • Jesus is discerning hearts.

Matthew might be contrasting “some people” (v. 1) “the four,” from the one.

  • Jesus saw something in all of them but addressed the one.
  • Believing isn’t always saving (cf. Jas 2:19 “demons believe”).
  • The word “believe” is used 90 times in the Gospel of John and not every time is it saving.

This was the case in John 2:23-24.23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name awhen they saw the signs that he was doing.24 But Jesus aon his part did not entrust himself to them, because bhe knew all people

 

With this extreme situation, with all this ruckus, Jesus very serenely says, “Son [teknov], your sins are forgiven” (v. 5). 

  • Using the term “Son”, he is being paternal, loving, and endearing to someone who has said nothing at all.
  • It was almost like he and Jesus were the only two people in the room.

Most in Jewish culture connected a malady-like paralysis with sin. 

  • Even the paralytic would have thought so! 
  • Job’s counselors tried to convince Job his unconfessed sins brought on his horrible 
  • Jesus' own disciples made this same assumption asking about a blind man saying, “…who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).

ESV  John 9:1-3 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.2 And his disciples asked him, a"Rabbi, bwho sinned, cthis man or dhis parents, that he was born blind?"3 Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but athat the works of God might be displayed in him.

 

Jesus’ pronouncement “Take heart…your sins are forgiven” is a present passive, meaning Jesus speaks reality that has already happened! 

  • Jesus confirms this man’s state of heart.
  • Be encouraged to know that you are set for heaven!
  • You are here for healing, but I am stating something more significant.
  • You are forgiven.

By doing so, Jesus makes two things clear. 

  • His sin is not the cause of his paralysis!
    • This is not a cause-and-effect judgment.

 

  • Second, this man’s priority should be forgiveness over health.   

By Jesus pronouncing forgiveness of this paralytic, he’s making the statement that this man has genuine faith because sins are not forgiven any other way. 

  • Grace always comes “through” the instrumentality of “faith” (Eph. 2:8).
  • It was not their “faith” or their efforts no matter how noble.
  • Instead, it was the effortless faith of the paralytic that meant “forgiveness.”  

This highlights the priority of forgiveness.  What this man needed.  What we all need.  Forgiveness more than healing.  Though healing comes in heaven for everyone who is forgiven while on earth. 

J.C. Ryle got this when he asked, “Who can doubt that to the end of his days this man would thank God for this palsy?  Without it he might probably have lived and died in ignorance, and never seen Christ at all.  Without it, he might have kept his sheep on the green hills of Galilee all his life long, and never been brought to Christ.”

The next several verses describe the level that forgiveness offends. 

“Scribes” accused Jesus of blasphemy. 

  • I am not sure what could be a worse thought to have.
    • A worse thing to whisper inside.
    • They may not have spoken anything out loud, but Jesus heard the subtext of their hearts.

ESV  Matthew 9:3-4 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, a"This man is blaspheming." 4 But Jesus, aknowing1 their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts?

ESV  Mark 2:6-8 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this man speak like that? aHe is blaspheming! bWho can forgive sins but God alone?"8 And immediately Jesus, aperceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts?

 

A strong contrast is made between what is happening on the outside from the inside. 

  • Jesus spoke words out loud about a transformation on the inside.
  • Ironically, grace spoken out loud triggers vitriol on the inside of the scribes.

What speaking Truth does.  “The same sun that melts the wax hardens the clay!” 

“Why were the scribes were not offended by healing but were offended by grace?  Forgiveness?

  • This comes down to authority.
    • Their control was now threatened!
      • They could control a crowd following a healer.
      • But not a crowd following one who could pronounce forgiveness.

 

  • The logic is clear. “He is blaspheming because God alone forgives sins.”

Understand the real threat was not this logic. 

  • Or their disagreement with who Jesus claimed to be.
  • This was a threat to their power.
  • Either Jesus is in the position of authority, or they were.  

Jesus was doing what only God was permitted to do! 

It would be one thing to say, “God has forgiven you” based on God’s Word.

But it was entirely another thing for Someone to pronounce someone forgiven based on his Word. 

At the end of verse 4 all Jesus can do is expose what’s going on inside them saying, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” (v. 4)

We make this same dogmatic claim for Christ, when we say, Jesus is God – He is the answer to your eternal destiny – He is the only way – The only sacrifice – The only savior – The only True God – The only path to heaven --- It is this and only this that is the Truth about Christ. 

Jesus was not merely a good man, good teacher, good example.  His claims, his message means he was and is either God or an absolute lunatic! 

He is either God or Satan himself!  And Jesus Christ is God!  And his witness from the Word proves it!  And this message is equally threatening to our culture, desperate for control. 

The “scribes” (and “Pharisees”) create a stark contrast with the paralytic. 

  • Not from the local synagogue but spies to test and catch Jesus in terms of his mission and message.

ESV  Luke 5:17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and ateachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And bthe power of the Lord was with him to heal.1

  • These were the same ones who’d questioned John the Baptist.
    • “Who are you? We need to give an answer” (John 1:22).

The scribes or Pharisees were keepers of Jewish culture, life, and tradition. 

  • Legalists who had missed the point of the Old Testament Law, who had added legalistic traditions to it.

It is noteworthy that they “were sitting” (cf. Mk. 2:6) which connotes prominence in a jammed house. 

  • These men sat in judgment evaluating everything.
  • Looking for a way to catch Christ and which led to a cold-blooded plot to kill him.
 2. Healing (5-8)
     a. A question (v. 5)

With an economy of words, Jesus balances the scales with forgiving and healing. 

  • He targets his critics with a question

ESV  Matthew 9:5 For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'?

  • Jesus’ question is rhetorical.
    • He does not pit one miracle against another.
    • Physical healing versus heart forgiveness.
    • The simple answer to his question is “neither”.

The authority to “say” “Your sins are forgiven” is the same authority to “say” “Rise and walk” (v. 5). 

Neither is more or less difficult for Jesus, period.

“So, what’s Jesus’ point?” 

  • Jesus is the source for both!
    • Authority to heal.
    • Authority to forgive.

 

Jesus’ authority is bathed in his sacrifice.

  • Being both healer and forgiver come from Jesus’ sacrificing his life on the Cross.
    • His death on the Cross saves every believer from the curse of sin (experienced in heaven).
    • His death on the Cross saves every believer from the penalty of sin (you will not go to Hell!).

Jesus’ Lordship is a key theme in Matthew. 

Lord over demons, diseases, creation’s dominion, dead religion, and sin that would damn you!  He is Lord over all.

     b. A resolution (vv. 6-8)

Jesus makes this clear in verse 6. 

ESV  Matthew 9:6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he then said to the paralytic--"Rise, pick up your bed and go home."

Jesus is not proving that he can heal, he has proven that. 

  • Jesus is proving he has authority over someone’s “sins.”
    • He forgives them.
    • All sin, all guilt, all fear, all punishment.

 

  • What makes pronouncing forgiveness so offensive!
    • The religious leaders were desperate to keep their control.
    • Their authority was everything to them.

You either believe Jesus is sufficient to forgive you or you do not!

Do you know why you should? 

Because when Jesus said, “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home” (v. 6), the crippled, palsied man did!

Verse 7 in a matter-of-fact way says, “And he rose and went home” (v. 7). 

Cf. Mark 2:12 says “And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying ‘We never saw anything like this!” (v. 12).

What was the response in the room?

ESV  Matthew 9:8 When the crowds saw it, athey were afraid, and athey glorified God, who had bgiven such authority to men.

Their response was an admixture of “fear” and “glory” (v. 8). 

This miracle was not Jesus’ first healing and perhaps most in the room were witnessing Christ power for the first time but maybe not. 

There is more going on here.  

I think their “fear” and “amazement” (cff. Mk. 2:12; Lk 5:26 “And amazement seized them all”) and their “glorifying God” had more to do with the fact that Jesus is vindicating who he was claiming to be. 

Jesus’ pronouncement regarding this man’s heart was as real as this man’s healing! 

This one who calls himself “Son of Man” can do that! 

 

The key issue is Christ’s authority. 

When you truly understand his authority in view of everything that is happening to you in life, the only legitimate response is a combination of “fear”, “amazement”, and “glory!” 

Whether or not this crowd, who was both “afraid” and “glorified God” did so as new believers is intentionally left vague. 

Had they made the full connection, that Jesus was God?  We are left unsure. 

One thing is certain, they knew who was in authority. 

This one called, “Son of Man” (v. 6).

They knew Jesus had been engaged by God’s power, but was this enough? 

Knowing Jesus was empowered is not the same as knowing Jesus is God. 

There is always the subtle difference between knowing about God and knowing God. 

The difference between head and heart.  “Was Christ empowered by God or actually God?”

 

Incidentally when Jesus calls himself “Son of Man” (v. 6) he’s purposefully highlighting his humanity and deity (cf. Dan. 7:13).  This is Jesus' favorite title for himself. 

Being true to form, Jesus targets faith, not fame.  

Jesus wants people to grasp who he truly is, Messiah, Savior. 

Jesus as a miracle worker alone falls way short of saving faith.    

Conclusion:  This weekend I spoke with a couple who observed the hardship of working with liberals. 

Our society has historically been polarized by broad categories called liberals and conservatives.  People are deciding where they feel they should live and where they can tolerate to work based on how people think. 

I am not in complete denial about the influence of this in life. 

Still, I reminded them that Jesus makes a different designation between two kinds of people.  Those forgiven and unforgiven. 

You have people who prioritize forgiveness and those who prioritize self.  Those who know grace and those who deny themselves of grace.   

Living for health or not getting sick will become an idol if not reigned in. 

Please note that I am saying, living for such things!       

Only one thing separates you from the LORD and that is Unforgiven Sin.  He will forgive you.  Simply believe. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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