Forgiveness Comes First


Mark 2:3-5 “Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”

Do you suppose these four men thought Jesus could help? They were willing to cut a hole in the roof of a home that did not belong to them. Would you have the audacity to take a chain saw and cut a hole in your neighbor’s roof just because he had a visitor you wanted to see?

Nor was getting through this roof as simple as taking a chain saw and cutting a hole. The flat roofs on the homes in Israel were used as upstairs patios for the family to spend time with each other. A layer of clay or mud mixed with straw lay on top of a layer of brushy wood laying on top of rafters. These men had to dig through a surface hard and thick enough to support a number of people, probably by hand, and create an opening long and wide enough to lower a person lying on a stretcher.

Do you suppose they had come to the right place for help? We all believe that Jesus is the person to go to for our needs. We can be thankful that getting to him is so much easier today. He is never more than a prayer away. There is no ceiling between us that we have to dig through. And we expect that he still has the power to heal us when we are sick, keep us safe when we are in danger, help us find work when we are unemployed, fix our fractured families, lift us out of our loneliness, or fulfill an endless list of perceived needs that preoccupy our thoughts by day and trouble our dreams by night.

But first things first. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” All that hard work to carry this man to Jesus, dig through the roof, and lower him into the room, and what did they get? Disappointment, or so we might think. We aren’t told how the four friends or the man on the mat reacted to Jesus’ words, but what they had come for was obvious, wasn’t it? Jesus was supposed to heal the man!

But Jesus sees the heart’s true need. It was common for people in Jesus’ day to assume that people who suffered in some terrible way were being punished by God. It’s not so different today. We hear preachers proclaiming that the reason you don’t have more money or aren’t cured of your cancer is your lack of faith. They imply he won’t help until you shape up and trust him more. Even Christians who should know better speculate about whether God is paying them back for past sins when tragedy strikes.

That is why, for Jesus, forgiveness comes first. Paralysis, blindness, unemployment, loneliness– none of these things ever damned anyone. But despair that God doesn’t love me is deadly to faith. Who can trust God when you don’t think he loves you? Jesus looked at the man lying in front of him. He saw the paralysis. But the Doctor of our souls also sees the heart, and whether this man was conscious of his greater spiritual need or not, Jesus was. Forgiveness came first. Before anything else, Jesus made this man sure God loved him.

Is our need any different? I know Jesus can help me with so many things I am concerned about in life. I know that he holds the answer to every question I can think to ask.

But I also know that what I need more than anything is not more advice on how to work Christian, or how to date Christian, or how to raise a family Christian, or how to vote Christian, or how to diet Christian. What I need more than anything is to know that God loves me. There is nothing that my heart longs more to hear than how much God loves me, how much he was willing to do to save me, how much he was willing to give to have me, how much he was willing to sacrifice to make me his own. There is nothing that so changes me as when Christ is held before me in all his grace, and mercy, and compassion, and forgiveness.

They have been telling me to stop sinning for as long as I can remember. It hasn’t stopped me yet (not that I didn’t need to hear that!). But nothing so changes my taste for sin, and fills me with the desire to live a life of love, as hearing about Jesus and his love for me. And his love always begins with forgiving my sins.

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