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J.E.S.U.S. His Life. His Mission. Forgiving Sin and Healing Brokenness, Mark 2:1-12

Forgiving Sin and Healing Brokenness
Mark 2:1-12

One enterprising soccer fan turned several heads when he found a way around the rules preventing him from enjoying his favorite team.

His name is Ali, though most people call him “Crazy Ali” because he really is a rabid soccer fan … when it comes to his team, at least. You see, he’d been banned from his team’s stadium for a year because of an “incident” between him and fans for the other team. The incident led to Ali being charged with a misdemeanor level crime, so he was banned from the stadium for a year.

Not to be deterred, on the day of a really important game against an archrival, he found a workaround. He rented a high-low forklift big enough to lift him high enough to see over the stadium wall.

When he was later interviewed by the local newspaper, he said, “That match was very important for our team. I had to go to the police station to sign a paper to show that I am not watching the match in the stadium. Then I quickly went to rent the crane.” Social media in the area was full of pictures of a jubilant Ali cheering from his perch.

Ultimately, police were summoned and Ali was forced to lower the crane. He did end the day on a high note, though. The stunt only cost him the equivalent of $86, he wasn’t cited or fined by the authorities, and his team won 5-0. Gotta admire that kind of tenacity and committment.

Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll says, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes”

Now, I’m not talking about the power of positive thinking or choosing to be happy every day, because sometimes bad things happen, and happiness depends on happenings. Fully 2/3 of the Psalms are Psalms of Lament. David and the other Psalmists knew how to praise God, but they also knew how to sing the blues. Life is full of ups and downs. I’m not suggesting that we can choose happiness every day. But we can choose tenacity and commitment and resilience.

Right now we’re walking through Mark’s Gospel together, looking closely at the life and mission of Jesus; encountering Jesus together in the pages of Scripture. Today we’re going to encounter three different mindsets. Turn with me to Mark 2:1-12.

The human mind is a powerful thing, but it’s kind of hard to understand. If I asked you where your mind is, you’d probably point to your head, but sometimes the mind is anywhere but there. Your mind is your ability to think and feel and do things. Your brain is the organic thing inside you that enables those things to happen. I often tell people dealing with severe anxiety that we need to “put your mind back inside your head.” Because when we’re really anxious, our minds are somewhere else, thinking about something that might happen, or ruminating about something that has already happened that we can’t change. That’s why one of the first things we do with a really anxious person is ground them in the moment, in their bodies. We have them pay attention to what is going on right now around them and inside them. We put the mind back inside the head.

And every mind has a mindset. A person’s mindset is a fairly fixed thing. It’s hard to change it. It CAN change, but it takes a lot of work and a lot of discipline. Your mindset, or frame of mind, as we sometimes call it, includes your beliefs, your preconceptions, your biases, and your values. And many of these things are influenced by our experiences in life.

When C.S. Lewis made the decision to follow Christ, he was changing from the mindset of an atheist – schooled and trained to logically refute Christianity, to the mindset of a follower of Jesus, accepting and defending the core beliefs of the Christian faith and following Jesus. His training in logic and philosophy and literature, designed to make him a force against Christianity, actually led him to become a follower of Jesus. But that wasn’t a small or subtle change. It was a radical change in mindset, in his frame of mind. And that change, we often think of it as a transformation, radically transformed the way he taught, the way he wrote, the topics he chose to write about, and the way he lived and loved.

The first frame of mind we encounter in this passage is the frame of mind of the paralyzed man’s friends. Look at Vv. 2-4. Jesus is back in Capernaum, and he’s staying in someone’s home. Maybe it was Peter and Andrew’s home, we don’t know. But we DO know that the people were now flocking to see and hear Jesus, and maybe, hopefully, to be touched and healed by him. There were so many people coming to see him and hear him that Mark tells us the house was packed, and there were likely people crowding around outside too.

And there are four men who have a friend who is paralyzed. We don’t know why. We don’t know for how long. Maybe he was born that way. Maybe he was injured at some point and lost the use of at least his legs. What we know for sure is that he couldn’t walk, so he laid on a mat. And his friends have heard about Jesus. And they decide that they HAVE to get their friend to him. So they each pick up a corner of the mat and off they go to the house where Jesus is staying. But there are so many people there that they can’t get inside. And it’s then that we get to see their frame of mind.

Because they didn’t pout. They didn’t get discouraged. They didn’t get frustrated or angry. They got creative. Their goal was to bring their friend to Jesus so that he could get help. And undeterred by apparent obstacles, they found a way. Most houses in that region featured flat roofs that doubled as outdoor living space, so they had stairs going up. And up the men went, doing a little math as they climbed, so that they knew where exactly Jesus was standing. The roof was thatched, and most people re-did their roofs, or at least refreshed them, once a year anyway. So they made a hole in the roof and, having found some rope or vine somewhere, they lowered him down through the roof and ceiling.

Everyone needs a friend like that. And as followers of Jesus, we need to BE friends like that. A friend determined to let those we love see Jesus. A friend who doesn’t quit when the going gets tough and there are too many obstacles in the way.

Stephen Mansfield tells a true story about a church that had an incredible ministry to men. For years the driving force behind the men’s ministry was a man named Taylor. His ministry rocked on for years, changing lives and impacting the community. But in the midst of a major transition within the church, Taylor got hurt deeply and left the church. He wouldn’t talk to anybody. People figured he’d come back eventually, but he didn’t.

Finally, some of the men in the church took it upon themselves to reach out to Brother Taylor. After some discussion with the other guys at church they came up with a bold plan: they would set up camp in Taylor’s yard – 150 men! So they set up rotating shifts and said they wouldn’t leave until Taylor came out. They had electric lines running from neighboring houses to power televisions. About twenty smokers and grills worked up some great barbeque food. They were in for the long haul! They even had big signs all over the place: “Taylor, come out.” “We love you.” “Taylor, we know you’re in there.”

Taylor didn’t appreciate it. He even called the police on his former friends. As a matter of fact, the police showed up twice a day for almost a week. And every time they came, Taylor would came to the door to explain the situation. And every time the men camping in his year would explode with cheers until Taylor finished his chat with the police and went back inside.

But on the sixth day, when Taylor opened the door for the police and the men exploded with cheers, Taylor finally broke down and started crying his eyes out. He sputtered how sorry he was, and then he came out from his porch and greeted the guys who had camped in his yard and refused to go away. Such is the power of committed, persistent friendship. Creative, persistent, and kind. That is the mindset of a godly friend. Or group of friends.

Now, look at Vv. 1-2. Jesus is preaching a sermon, teaching the people. Mark says that he was “preaching the word to them.” And what was that word? Look back at Mark 1:14-15. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” He’s preaching the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God. He’s preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins. And then some dirt starts to fall from the ceiling. And pretty soon shafts of light break through as the tiny hole the men on the roof made gets larger and larger. And then a man on a mat is being lowered into the house from above.

Now, we all expect Jesus to heal the man, right? But that isn’t what he does. At least, not at first. Look at V. 5. Put yourself in the shoes of the men on the roof for a minute. You have a friend you dearly love who is paralyzed. And you hear about this new rabbi traveling around Galilee. His teaching is new and powerful and has authority. But he also heals people. He touched and healed a leper. Might as well have raised someone from the dead. He drove out demons. Maybe, possibly, he would heal your friend too. So you and three friends carry your paralyzed buddy across town. But you can’t get anywhere near the door, there are so many people. And then you spot it – the stairwell going up the side of the house to the roof. You point to it and off you go, carrying your friend, on his mat, up the stairs. And then, having decided where to make the hole, you start working your way through the mud and palm leaves and sticks that make up the thatched roof.

And then you lower your friend down through the hole and he’s laying on his mat on the ground right in front of this powerful teacher and miracle worker. And then the teacher speaks. “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Wait. What? That’s great, but this isn’t why we did all of this. We did it so that he can be healed. So that he can walk. I mean, yes, forgiveness, I get it. We all need it. But really, we want our friend to walk.

But what’s Jesus’ frame of mind? The forgiveness of sin. The kingdom of God. Restored relationship with God. He never loses sight of the kingdom of God. He knows the difference between our felt needs and our deepest need. Our felt needs, our pain and suffering in this world, or very important. They’re real and they matter. But our deepest need, our need for forgiveness for the sin that taints every human heart, that is of utmost importance. Our felt needs versus our deepest need. That which is very important verses that which is of utmost importance. Felt needs matter. Forgiveness matters most. And that is what Jesus focuses on first.

Oh, he remembers the felt need to. But before we turn to that, let’s look at the third mindset in this passage – the mindset of the scribes. Look at Vv. 6-7. Scribes were men schooled in the written law of God and its oral interpretation. They weren’t rabbis. They functioned below the rabbis, teaching the people what the word of God said and how the different rabbis interpreted the word of God and applied it to daily life. They were a closed order of legal specialists, highly educated in their own right, even though they weren’t rabbis. New scribes were admitted to the order only when deemed fully qualified and they were set apart for their work through the laying on of hands and prayer. It was a highly respected position in the community.

And – obviously – word about Jesus has been getting around. Evidently the scribes decided they needed to see this new phenomenon, this new rabbi, for themselves, and so several found themselves in the crowd in the house that day. The teaching was new and interesting, but when the man was lowered down from the roof, well, that’s when things went off the rails. Why? Because only God could forgive sin. And this Jesus just claimed to forgive this paralytic’s sin. That’s blasphemy!

We’re just starting the 2nd chapter of Mark, and Jesus has already challenged the expectations of his cousin John the Baptist, his first followers Peter, Andrew, James, and John, the men who lowered their friend through the hole they made in someone else’s roof, the paralyzed man himself, and now … the scribes. Men who studied and taught the word of God as a profession. They knew the law of Moses. They knew the writings of David and the other psalmists. They knew the prophets. They knew it all. You come into this career unless you had it all memorized. They knew it. But they didn’t. And when Jesus didn’t fit into their box … they rejected him. Jesus consistently refuses to fit into our boxes.

Frame of mind is hard to overcome. We have to be willing to let Jesus challenge our biases, our assumptions, the way we’ve always thought about things. The mindset of the friends – creative determination and faith that Jesus could and would heal their friend. The mindset of Jesus – felt needs are important, but nothing is more important than the forgiveness of sins and the kingdom of God. The mindset of the scribes – dry orthodoxy.

But now, back to Jesus. He is paying attention, and he knows what the scribes are thinking. Look at Vv. 8-12. Jesus deals with the deeper need first. He forgives. And that is all the man NEEDS. But he also has compassion on the felt need. And so he heals. And the man walks out of there whole, and the whole crowd, scribes included, are astonished. Mindsets have been challenged, and they’re changing.

In that day, people viewed injury and illness as being the result of sin. And it really is. But there isn’t always a one to one correlation between a specific sin and a specific illness. Sin in general, the brokenness of this world, also leads to injury and illness. But in that day, someone dealing with a terrible sickness or injury clearly deserved it. And so even as Jesus heals, the focus is on forgiveness of sin. Healing the man’s paralysis is evidence that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins in their eyes. Healing is the presence IN history of the promise OF history – the promise of the kingdom of God – a world and a people fully forgiven, healed and restored.

But let us never think that physical wholeness in this world is the essence of faith. St. Paul had his own physical ailment, a thorn in the flesh. And he begged God to heal him. 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Sometimes God chooses to heal. Sometimes God chooses to give us the strength to carry the burden. But God ALWAYS forgives those who ask him. And sometimes, as in the case of the paralyzed man, those who don’t.

Have you ever seen those “lost pet” signs people staple to trees and power poles. There was once one that offered a big cash reward for whoever found the lost dog, and a description of the dog. It said: “He’s only got three legs, he’s blind in the left eye, he’s missing a right ear, his tail has been broken off, he was neutered accidentally by a fence – ouch! – he’s almost deaf, and he answers by the name ‘Lucky.’”

That dog isn’t lucky! He’s been through a whole lot of mess. But he’s lucky because he’s got an owner who loves him and wants him back. That’s what redemption is all about! That’s what life in the kingdom of God is all about. Let us pray.