Vol. IX — No. 44 November 3, 1968
And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city. And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee, And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house. But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.
In Christ Jesus, who would help us establish a proper list of priorities in our lives, Fellow Redeemed:
Each one of us has consciously or unconsciously made a list of priorities that guides our decision-making in life. If we go out to dinner, the waitress will hand us a menu with a listing of the dinners available. After study and consultation a choice will have to be made. That choice receives top priority for the evening. At any given hour the television will bring a Variety of programs. Determining which program has top priority may cause quite a commotion in the family. One could continue with illustrations that demonstrate that we all have our own private list of priorities.
The matter of priorities, however, is not only concerned with the small everyday decisions in life. Priorities also determine the major course of a person’s life. The choice of a partner for life, a decision in regard to a job or a place of residence is a more serious matter of priorities. When decisions must be made amidst the tension between the material and the spiritual, the right and the wrong, the true and the false, basic priorities become extremely important—yea a matter of life or death, of eternal weal or woe.
Our Lord was concerned with priorities and with His disciples having the proper priorities in life. When he said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you,” He was urging that the basic and prime priority in life be always the kingdom of God and His righteousness. When Jesus asked the rhetorical question: “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” He was saying that the welfare of one’s soul should always take priority over the accumulation of wealth, even if that be the accumulation of all the wealth of the world. A simple reference to these well-known passages reveals how extremely concerned our Lord was with priorities.
What our Lord did on specific occasions and how He acted and what He said reveals His priorities—which should always be a pattern for us. Our text this morning brings us a very familiar story, generally known as the story of the man sick of palsy. More accurately, he was a paralytic. As we review the story, let us keep our eyes and ears on the Lord, for we shall learn from Him something of—
The first is this—
Our story takes place in Capernaum, the city that Jesus had made the hub of His prophetic activity in Galilee. St. Matthew does not bring us the details that are familiar to us—that Jesus was preaching in a private home, that the building was crowded, that the friends of the sick man could not make their way through the crowd, that they then carried their sick friend up to the roof and finally uncovered part of the tile and lowered him before Jesus.
All of this did not occur without considerable disturbance. When the people heard the footsteps above and when eager hands began to loosen and remove the tile, all eyes were surely directed upward. The excitement and concentration increased as the paralytic was lowered and brought to rest before Jesus. Here was a painfully paralyzed man lying before another Man whose fame for healing had begun to be known throughout the countryside. What do you imagine the people were thinking about in those moments? What would have had top priority in their thinking and in their hoping and in their expectations? Picture the scene in your mind’s eye—a sick man lying helpless before a famed Healer. Surely all were thinking: If He can, He will heal this man. Certainly it would have been most natural for all present to place the curing of this man in a position of top priority. Would they not have faulted Jesus, if He had continued preaching and ignored this man? Would they not have considered Him a failure if He had just walked away without even trying to heal the man?
Jesus needed no one to point out to him the obvious—the need of this poor man for healing. He had compassion upon him in his pain and suffering. And His compassion was deeper than that of the curious crowd. But Jesus saw a greater need than the cure of this man’s body. He saw the basic cause of his ailment. I’m not suggesting that our Lord made a medical diagnosis of the case. He never did that. Such a diagnosis would not and could not get down and back to the basic cause of all sickness and disease—the problem of sin. Jesus knew that this problem was troubling the man lying helpless and in pain at His feet. He knew that this man understood, however faintly, the relationship between sin and sickness and disease and suffering. He also knew that the paralytic had been trained to believe that unforgiven sin could well stand in the way of a divine cure for him.
Now let us pause for a moment to make sure that our thinking is straight on this subject. We are not suggesting that this paralytic was guilty of some specific sin that directly caused his paralysis. Sometimes there is a direct causal relationship between sin and sickness, as the fact that alcoholism will contribute to cirrhosis of the liver and that drug addiction will cause forms of dementia. Such was not the case in this instance. But all sickness and all disease and all human suffering and misery is ultimately caused by man’s revolt against his God. Thus the problem of sin is a basic factor in the life of man. The Lord Jesus teaches us that even in times of great sickness and pain, it should always take priority over the cure of the body. That is why Jesus said, “Thy sins be forgiven thee” before He said, “Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.”
Now I would like to show you how I always try to make this basic priority my guide in my pastoral work, specifically in the visitation of the sick. I visit people who are facing surgery and recovering from it, others who are the victims of accidents, still others who go to the hospital to have tests run in order to determine what ails them, and still others whose cases are terminal either because of the nature of the ailment or because of advanced age. In all of these cases I am genuinely concerned with the cure of the individual’s body—if that be the Lord’s will. I also direct such patients to pray to the Lord to enlighten the diagnostician, to guide the hand of the surgeon, to bless the efforts of the therapist, and to make the medications effective. But these concerns for the cure of the body are not the top concerns on my mind. They do not have top priority. I have a greater concern than this that one or the other of you should recover from an operation or the on-slaughts of a disease. My concern is that you face the basic problem in your life, which is the ultimate cause of the ailment, whatever it is. And that basic problem is the matter of your sin. That is why my devotions with the sick are lay-gospel centered. They are a call to repentance and a call to faith. They are a reminder that you are guilty, yet declared pardoned for Christ’s sake. I frequently use this very pericope to make that point that our Lord is first of all concerned with with healing you from your sin and after that with the healing of your body. I never know when my visit to a sick bed will be the last visit. That is why it is so important that I preach Christ crucified and risen at the sickbed. Sometime I know that the sickness and the pain and the discomfort are a blessing because it gives me opportunity to urge repentance and faith upon someone whose spiritual life may have been weak.
My concern for you when you are sick and hospitalized should also be your concern, for it is the concern of your Lord. He gave top priority to the problem of sin. That is why He came into this world. That is why He suffered Himself to be cruelly abused, nailed to the cursed tree of the cross and forsaken by His Father. He came to solve the problem of sin for you and me. He wants us to take that problem seriously in our livesu He wants us to find permanent relief from that problem in His holy life and in His wounds and death. This He wants for us, for He wants us to be His own!
A second divine priority comes to light in this story. It’s related to the first, but presents a different angle:
The most amazing statement in this story is the first statement that Jesus made to the paralyzed man lying in excrutiating pain at His feet. It wasn’t a word of sympathy or concern over his pain. do, it was this: “Son, be of good cheer.” Jesus was telling this man that in the midst of the pain and agony of his body, he still had good, sound reason to be of good cheer and to rejoice. Why? “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” The forgiveness of sin is such a great and glorious blessing that it is to bring joy in the midst of pain, of agony, of misfortune, of sorrow, of death. He who has the forgiveness of sin can experience the joy of salvation—no matter what circumstances he finds himself in. It was only after the Lord had given him the assurance of this joy that He relieved his pain by healing him. So for the Lord the joy of salvation takes priority over any and every creature comfort.
Now think for a moment and you will realize that our society has turned these priorities upside down. Creature comfort is the top priority of our society. There was a time when the preservation of life was the chief goal of medical science. Now it has become the comfort of the patient. Sickness without pain, sorrow and death without emotional upset, the infirmities of old age without even knowing it—all through the use of drugs. Just keep the patient comfortable even if he doesn’t know whether he’s alive or dead, asleep or awake. One can’t fill a suffering child of God with the joy of salvation when he is under the influence of drugs. One can’t comfort mourners when they aren’t in condition even to hear what you are saying. Jesus brought joy to one suffering. He knew that pain is one of the facts of life in this sinful world.
For some twelve years I visited a woman who had multiple sclerosis. At first she sat at times in a wheel chair. Later she was confined almost entirely to her bed. At first she could move her fingers slightly; later she could move no part of her body. He didn’t pray for recovery, for it was obvious that the Lord willed her to bear her burden to the grave. But we did seek again and again, month after month, year after year to bring her the joy of salvation in Christ Jesus her Lord. She tasted of the Lord and found Him good. In the midst of suffering, in the midst of the humiliation of being completely dependent for everything upon others she knew what the joy of salvation was.
I have and I do visit people here who have had one sickness after another, one family crisis after another. We have people who realize that they must learn to live with pain or with a handicap, that they must learn to bear up under the burden which the Lord for some reason had laid upon them. There are not cures for all the ills and aches and pains of life. Not all are healthy. Not all are successful in life. Not all find love and appreciation. Not all find financial and social security. There are aches and pains, physical and emotional bruises. There is a struggle for existence. There are cares and worries over material things and over Spiritual problems. This is the nature of life. But in the midst of it all our Lord says to you and to me: “Son, daughter, young, old, healthy, sick, fortunate, unfortunate, successful, unsuccessful—be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” He wants to and He does give the joy of salvation to all who would receive it. Let us realize that finding and having the joy of salvation can ease any and every burden that we must carry in life. “Be of good cheer!” Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.