God’s Story, Our Story: The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Preaching: Brian Keepers
Text: Mark 1:40-2:12

“Let us go on to the neighboring towns,” Jesus says to his disciples, “so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.” (1:38)

What message did Jesus come to proclaim?  We talked about it last Sunday.  The urgent and “breaking news” that God’s kingdom (or reign) was at hand-- it had finally arrived!  And people could enter and receive this kingdom by turning around and switching the “scripts” of their lives (“Repent and believe in me!”).  In other words, they were invited to step into a new story—God’s Story-- by becoming a follower of Jesus.

Jesus not only announced this kingdom.  He also demonstrated it by performing miracles.  We see him do two miracles in our story today—heal a man with leprosy and also a paralytic who was lowered through the roof by his friends.   In a way, Jesus’ miracles are enacted sermons.  They are signs of God’s kingdom, windows into the future of what God intends to do for all creation when his kingdom comes in its completion.  A preview, really, of that glorious day when, in the words of Revelation:

“Death will be no more;
Morning and crying and pain will be no more,
For the first things have passed away…
See, I make all things new “ (Rev.21:4).

Jesus also performs these miracles to reveal his true identity—he is the Son of God, the one to whom God has given authority and power to defeat all rival powers in the spiritual and physical realm and to bring God’s restoration to the whole world.  These miracles are evidence of his authority and power.

The miracles are important and should grab our attention, but they are not the main focus.  It’s what Jesus’ says that is the main focus of the passage we heard this morning.  After all, it is not what he does that upsets the religious authorities (the scribes), but what he says that so deeply offends them.

What did he say that was so offensive?  After the friends of this paralyzed man, so determined to bring him to Jesus, lower him down through the roof, Mark writes: When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  That’s it right there—that’s what sets the scribes off:  “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  The friends brought the paralytic to be healed from his physical affliction.  Jesus turns around and forgives him of his sins.

Mark goes on: Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way?  It is blasphemy!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  And the scribes are exactly right.  Forgiveness of sins was exclusively God’s right.  No one else could do this.  There were plenty of Jewish healers around, but none of them claimed the authority to forgive sins.  To do so was a violation of the first commandment!  Only God can forgive sins.

And Mark wants us to see here that this is exactly what Jesus is claiming.  He is the Son of God, God in the flesh.  While it is true that in the narrative structure of the story, Jesus wants to keep his identity hidden, Mark wants to make Jesus’ identity clear.  This is the one who not only has the authority and power to overcome the evil forces and physical illnesses but he is the One who overcomes the greatest enemy of all: sin.  Jesus is God in the flesh who has come to bring God’s healing power of forgiveness.

One of the biggest ironies in this story is that the leper and the paralytic—whose outward physical affliction was an indication in the ancient world view that they were being punished for sin or the sin of their parents’—end up being the ones who are forgiven and healed; and the ones who outwardly think they are fine (the scribes) turn out to be the ones who are most severely sick and in need of forgiveness and healing.   Augustine rightly pointed out that the ones most in need of healing in this story are the scribes, for they suffer from an inward “leprosy of the heart,” an inward “paralysis of the soul.”

In other places in the gospel, Jesus exposes this ancient assumption that sickness and disease are a consequence of individual sin.  But he does connect physical healing here with sin.  Why?  Because the deepest malady we all face, every single one of us, is the malady of sin.  None of us is immune; we all are infected.  Jesus reveals that at the root of all the world’s brokenness and problems is this issue of sin. 

To be born into a sinful world, born into a sinful condition as we all are, means that things are not the way they are supposed to be.  There is disease and sickness, mental illness and emotional brokenness, addiction and depression, suffering and pain in all its forms.  Jesus wants to heal all of that.  He wants to heal us as whole persons.  But to do so—to heal body and soul conjointly-- he must get at the root of the problem, which is sin itself.  And so he announces that he has the authority to forgive us of our sins.  Later he would say, “The Son of Man has come to be ransom for many, for the forgiveness of their sins.”  Ultimately, he would accomplish this in his greatest display of power—suffering on our behalf on a Roman cross.

John Van Gorp’s life was turned upside down when, at 36 years old, he was diagnosed with cancer.  For the next several months he would find himself driving back and forth to the hospital, spending hours in a brown leather recliner with bags of chemo being pumped into his body.

One Sunday morning in church, about midway through John’s treatments, we were celebrating the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  John’s wife, Anna, was perched up in the balcony with the choir.  John sat on the main floor in his usual spot next to his three children, his head bald and his body swollen from all the chemo.   Mitchell, the youngest who was 3 years old at the time, was sitting there playing with his John Deere tractors.  We had already shared in the bread.  Next we passed the tray of grape juice.  When it came to John, he gingerly took a little cup out and passed it on to the next person.  Mitchell stopped what he was doing and looked intently at the little cup clutched between his dad’s thick fingers.  He crawled up on the pew next to his dad and whispered in John’s ear: “Daddy, is that the blood that’s going to make you all better?”

When John told me about this after the worship service, he explained that it was in that moment, when his son asked him that question, he knew that no matter what happened, whether he beat the cancer or not, everything was going to be okay.  “As I drank that juice,” he said, “it hit me that Jesus’ blood was really shed for me and that somehow it’s all going to turn out all right.  So I pulled Mitchell close, held him in my arms and said: ‘That’s right, buddy, Jesus’ blood is going to make Daddy all better.  Jesus’ blood makes all of us all better.”

How did the prophet Isaiah say it so long ago?  Here it is: “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases….He was wounded for our transgressions and crushed by our iniquities; he bore the punishment so that we might become whole; and by his wounds, we are healed” (53:4,5).

By his wounds we are healed.  Hear the good news today: Jesus’ blood has the power to forgive us all our sins.  He is the Great Physician who has the power to heal and restore us all—to make us well, body and soul.

That includes you.  Whatever your brokenness today, whatever your wounds, whatever your affliction.  Jesus is the Great Physician who can heal you.  “If you choose,” said the man with leprosy, “You can make me clean.”  And Jesus said, “I do choose.  Be made clean.”

Jesus not only is able to heal you, but he chooses to do so.  Healing may not come in the way we expect or even think we want.  It reminds me of a story of a man who had acquired a life-threatening illness and who was bitter and angry inside—angry at God, angry at his family, angry at the world.  One day his wife dragged him to church, and the pastor was offering prayers for healing.  Reluctantly, he went forward and was prayed over.

Several months later, his wife called the pastor and told him that her husband had passed away.  The pastor said he was sorry, and thought back to the prayers of healing for the man, thinking to himself a lot of good that did.

The woman said, “You don’t understand.  When my husband walked into church Sunday, he was a bitter man, angry with God.  And the angrier he got with God, the meaner he was to everyone around him.  But after you prayed for him, something was different.  He was a different person.  It’s like he finally was able to let go of his bitterness.  The last four months have been some of the best days of our whole marriage.  We talked, we laughed.  We even sang hymns together.”  She paused, and then said, “Pastor, my husband wasn’t cured, but he was healed.”

While Jesus did choose to physically cure some while he walked on earth, there were many he did not cure.  Remember that the main point of his healing was to point to God’s Kingdom and give us a preview of what he will one day to for us all who put our trust in him.  Jesus may not choose to cure us on this side of the grave, but he does offer us healing at the deep level of the soul right now.  He offers us forgiveness, which is the one thing that will eventually lead to our complete healing.

And this healing is not just for us personally or us as faith community; it is healing for the whole world.  Jesus heals us so that we might be a community that embodies his forgiveness and healing for others.  I love these words by 20th century missionary Lesslie Newbigin:

“The whole congregation is called to be a healed and healing fellowship, in which the healing love of God is ever at work to bind up the wounds of its members.  And beyond this, the healing work is to spread beyond the congregation into the community around it….Whoever touches the Church—even in the most tenuous fashion, even in the midst of all the bustle and press of our business—should find that he has touched the source of healing.  The healing that we receive here…is given for the sake of all our neighbors.” (The Good Shepherd, pp.72-3).

What if this was really the case?  That we, Fellowship Church, were seen as a healed and healing community?  That all who touch us (and all the people we touch) would discover that they have touched the source of healing, Jesus himself?

It begins with us being healed ourselves.  So let me ask you: what kind of healing do you need today?  Maybe you need physical healing, but Jesus our Great Physician doesn’t stop there.  He offers spiritual healing, emotional healing, mental healing.  Maybe you are in a relationship that is badly wounded and needs healing.  Maybe you need to be healed of baggage in your past or painful memories.  Maybe you need to be healed of shame and guilt.  Maybe you need to be healed of a grudge that you’ve been holding onto for much too long, and it’s become like leprosy of the heart, paralysis of the soul. 

Whatever kind of healing you need, Jesus is the one alone who can forgive your sins and make you whole.  Jesus is the one who brings us back into right relationship with God, and makes us clean, transforms us into a new creation.  Put your faith—your trust and confidence—in him.

We’re going to create some space this morning to seek Christ’s healing presence.  There will be several stations around the sanctuary where elders and pastors will be standing by to offer prayers of healing with oil.  You may come and receive prayer on your own behalf, for whatever healing you stand in need of.  You also may come on behalf of someone else, like the paralytic’s friends came on behalf of him.  It is a powerful lesson about the nature of faith when Jesus chooses to heal the paralytic not necessarily because of his own faith but the faith of his friends!  So come on behalf of someone who may not even be here today.

“If you choose, you can make me clean,” the leper said.  Jesus stretched out his hand and said to him, “I do choose; be made well!”  He stretches out his hand and says the same thing to us.  So come, and know that by his wounds, healing is now possible for us all—indeed, for the whole world!

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Fellowship Church