Good morning! Let’s pray:
Heavenly Father, please speak to us through your word and by your Spirit. In Jesus name. Amen.
We live in a world awash with sickness and death. That’s always the case, of course. But, boy has the virus put that up front and centre – not least with these daily press conferences releasing more figures for hospital admissions and the latest number of daily deaths. So what do we need above all – at any time, and especially at a time like this?
My title this morning is ‘Jesus is the doctor we need’. We’re back to the Gospel of Mark and chapter 2 verses 1 to 12. If you’ve got a Bible with you, keep that open in front of you. Here are verses 1 and 2:
"And when [Jesus] returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 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."
As Ian very helpfully drew to our attention last week, there are three occasions recorded in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus is explicit about why he, the Son of God, came to earth as a man. The first is in Mark 1.38, that we looked at last week, when he says:
"Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is what I came for."
He came not to heal but to preach – and that’s what he’s doing again here in Capernaum.
The second time Jesus says why he came is at the end of next week’s section, in Mark 2.17. As so often, Jesus is getting a tongue-lashing from the self-righteous, holier-than-thou religious types who regularly found reasons to object to the good that he did. Here’s his reaction. Mark 2.17:
"[Jesus] said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.'"
So Jesus draws a parallel between what he does with people, and what a doctor does with people. Sick people need attention from a doctor. Sinful people need attention from him. And that’s everyone. We’re not all sick. Yet. But we are all sinful, and we all need Jesus.
Then the third time Jesus says why he came is in Mark 10.45, where Jesus says:
"… the Son of Man [that’s him] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
That is, to pay the price for our forgiveness by dying for our sins on the cross.
So Jesus came not as a doctor of the body – but as a doctor of the soul, to cure our sin. The body can and will follow, on the day of resurrection.
And this incident we’re looking at today drives that home in a very striking and memorable way. This story is like a big, bold, visual aid displaying before our eyes that truth – that Jesus is the doctor of our sinful souls.
I have two headings. And here’s the first. So:
1. Jesus Cures Our Greatest Sickness
Look on to verses 3 and 4:
"And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay."
Jesus is teaching. A paralysed man has some faithful friends. They believe that Jesus can heal him. With good reason they have serious confidence in the power of Jesus. And they’re not just talk. Their faith goes into action. They can’t get near Jesus because of the crowd, so up they go onto the roof. They rip a hole in the roof. They lower the man down through the hole on his mat – a pretty hair-raising experience I imagine. The paralysed man lands on the floor in the middle of the crowd right in front of Jesus.
Then what? Jesus heals him? No. Not yet. Things take an unexpected turn. Listen to this. Verse 5:
"And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'"
Jesus is a good doctor. He sees the presenting problem – physical paralysis. Serious enough, you might think. But Jesus sees behind the physical issue to the yet more serious issue – what we might call spiritual paralysis caused by sin. This man’s relationship with God is dead. And that is potentially fatal for all eternity. That is the priority. So that’s what Jesus deals with. “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
That’s what Jesus does. He cures our greatest sickness, which is sin – with its consequences of guilt, just condemnation, and eternal death.
What is sin? It’s our rejection of God and his will for our lives. He’s been like a loving Father to us. And we’ve wanted nothing to do with him. Many others get hurt by our particular sins. But they are like symptoms of a disease. And when you get to the root of all sins, you find our sin against God.
And that is like a massive mountain of debt that we owe to God.
Apparently, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the debt of the 34 member countries of the OECD – the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (that’s a mouthful!) – their debt (which includes ours) is going to rise by more than $17 trillion – more than during the financial crisis of 2008-9.
But that’s nothing to the debt that we owe God because of our sin. We have a mountain of debt. We need our debts to be cancelled – in other words, forgiven. But how and by whom?
After all, when debt is cancelled, it's not as if it vanishes into thin air. When a debt is written off, the cost is still paid. It's just that the burden of the debt falls on someone else. How can we be forgiven and by whom? Only by Jesus, and only through what Jesus did when he died on the cross to pay off the debt mountain we owe to God.
"Son," [said Jesus to the paralysed man], "your sins are forgiven."
Whatever the paralysed man thought he needed most – and whatever his faithful friends thought he needed most – what he really needed was forgiveness. And so do we. We need our debt to God to be cancelled. And our only hope is Jesus.
What is our greatest sickness? It is our sin. Jesus cures our greatest sickness. That’s point one.
2. We Need to Come to Jesus to Cure Our Greatest Sickness
Take a look now at verses 6 and 7:
"Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 'Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?'"
Those self-righteous holier-than-thou religious types get one thing right at this point. Their hostile reaction is to think: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” In other words, who does this man think he is? God? Yes. Exactly. Verses 8 and 9:
"And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, 'Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven", or to say, "Rise, take up your bed and walk"?'"
Jesus isn’t just a good doctor. He is the divine doctor. He is fully God and fully man. Look at the signs of his divinity here.
He sees right into the hearts not only of the paralysed man but also of his enemies.
He exercises the divine right to forgive sins. Only God can wipe away the debt of sin that is owed to him. And when he does, he pays the price. When Jesus forgives sin, he is deliberately setting himself up for that day when the cost of sin will fall on him as he hangs dying on that cross. He pays our debt – as only God can.
And then as the icing on the cake, if I can say that reverently, Jesus heals the man’s physical paralysis as well. Why does he do that? Does have compassion on this suffering man? Of course he does. But that’s not why he heals him. He tells us why. Verses 10 and 12:
"'But that you may know that the Son of Man [that’s Jesus] has authority on earth to forgive sins'—he said to the paralytic— 'I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.' 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!'"
And so Jesus demonstrated his awe-inspiring divine power over disease, as an astonishing visual aid of his divine power and authority to do the far greater but invisible miracle of forgiving sin.
Jesus is the doctor. We are all his patients. We all need his ministrations. We need to accept his divine authority, listen to his diagnosis, and submit to his treatment.
Julian Barnes in his novel The Sense of An Ending explores the way that things done thoughtlessly in young adulthood – indeed during student years – can lie dormant even for decades and then blow up in the faces of those who have done them. That’s what happens to the main character. And he reflects on what happens in these words:
My younger self had come back to shock my older self with what that self had been… Why had I reacted [in that way]? Hurt pride, pre-exam stress, isolation? Excuses, all of them. And no, it wasn’t shame I now felt, or guilt, but something rarer in my life and stronger than both: remorse. A feeling which is more complicated, curdled and primeval. Whose chief characteristic is that nothing can be done about it: too much time has passed, too much damage has been done, for amends to be made.
It’s a bleak portrayal of life lived with no knowledge of Jesus and the hope that he brings. Because it’s right that we can do nothing to save ourselves from the guilt and remorse of our past sin when it catches up with us in this life. Nor can we save ourselves from the day of reckoning that lies beyond, when we’ll have to give account. But Jesus can save us. That’s why our only hope is to turn to him and trust him.
So what about us? How do we receive this forgiveness? There are five things that we need to do.
First, we must recognise how deep in debt we are. If we don't, we won't see that anything needs to be done, nor will we see that our debt is totally unpayable by us.
Secondly, we must realise that Jesus paid our debts on the cross. If we don't, we won't know that anything can be done, and we won't know who to go to.
Thirdly, we must ask God to cancel our debt because it has been transferred to Jesus. If we're not prepared to ask, we're effectively saying that we don't want God to cancel our debt thank you very much. We'll deal with the situation ourselves. And we can’t.
Fourthly, we must receive forgiveness and believe God's statement that our debt is cancelled. The promise is crystal clear – as the Bible says in 1 John 1.9:
"If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins …"
Finally, we must respond by committing ourselves to a debt-free lifestyle from now on, with the help of God’s Spirit, and always asking for forgiveness when we fail and fall, as we do.
We’re not that paralysed man, lowered through the roof into the middle of that crowd. But we are just as surely right in front of the eyes of Jesus – full as they are of love and grace.
So let’s end by asking for his forgiveness right now, in the quietness of our own hearts. Perhaps you’re well used to doing this – even as we did early in our time together this morning. Perhaps for you this will be the first time you have come to the doctor of your soul, and sought the cure for your greatest sickness. Well, either way, he’s listening. Let’s pray.
Lord God, I see how great the debt is that I owe you because of my sin. I can never pay you what I owe. But I know that when your Son Jesus died, he paid my debt for me. Please forgive me. Thank you that because of Jesus, all my debt to you past, present and future is wiped away. From now on I want to live for Jesus, debt-free. Please help me. Amen.
If you prayed that and meant it, then you have found forgiveness. Your debt to God is totally cancelled, once and for all. That is God's promise. And if that is true of us, then more even than if we’d been healed of paralysis, our burden has been lifted, and we are free – free to serve Jesus who has cured us of our greatest sickness – and we can rejoice.