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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Justification - Paul and James Easily Reconciled | Main | Love, Unity, and Doctrinal Precision »

    Images of the Savior (15 – His Healing of a Paralytic)

    Mark 2:9-11 Which is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Your sins be forgiven you; or to say, Arise, and take up your bed, and walk? But that you may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins, (he says to the sick of the palsy,) I say unto you, Arise, and take up your bed, and go your way into your house.

    The next miracle that our Savior performed is especially notable in that it is coupled with the clearest expression of the ultimate purpose that Jesus had in his many merciful acts of healing. In other accounts, we may certainly suppose that Christ’s mighty works demonstrated his divine power and vindicated his claims to be the Messiah. But in this story alone do we find Christ saying so clearly that such a healing was so that, “You may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins.” We will do well to learn from this saying. Christ’s authority over the effect necessitates that he also have authority over the cause. His power in the sign demonstrates his power in the thing signified. His ability to heal the dreadful disease of paralysis ought to have instructed all who saw him, that he was likewise able to heal that terrible ultimate source of paralysis and every other unhappy affliction of mankind: the sinful nature that Adam passed down to all of his descendants. And if it were so mighty and blessed a circumstance to be delivered from the effect, how blessed must it be to be delivered from the ultimate source?

    So we must learn from this story. And to that end, let us consider the priority that Christ himself gave to the problem of sin and guiltiness, over and above the problem of sickness and disease. For, first of all, we see that Christ, having been surrounded by a great multitude who had heard of his wonderful works, was preaching to them the gospel. Surely he knew the hearts of the crowd, that the great majority of them were only following him because they had seen his miracles, and wished to behold more for their own petty amusement (as King Herod, Luke 23:8); or else they wished some physical boon (see John 6:26). If he had been mindful to keep their attention or secure himself in their good graces, he had but to perform more miracles, and provide more free bread. But instead, he was pleased to give them true meat and drink, which is the preaching of the gospel. It is not by bread, but by the word of the Father that man may live (Luke 4:4); and so Christ, recognizing the far vaster import of the gospel than the temporal benefit of physical healing, was pleased to preach the gospel of the Kingdom to all who had come to observe him.

    And second, we must observe that, when Christ saw this pitiable man, he was moved by his compassion, first and foremost, to address his deepest need, and provide for his most necessary wants. Here was a paralyzed man, who had gone to great lengths to be here in the presence of Jesus – surely, the most careless observer would recognize at once that this man’s need was to be healed of his disease. But Christ, looking deeper than the mere external and obvious, immediately addressed the source, not only of his paralysis, but every trouble that ever had or ever should beset him, in this life and the next: his sinful nature. And so, he immediately heals him of his root problem; and in so doing, ensures that he will eventually be healed of all that flood of attendant evils that still plagued him. He first addressed the problem of guilt; and only later overturned the manifold effects of that guilt. Which is a circumstance we all ought to remember. How often we cry out over our remaining thorns in the flesh, and wonder if God truly loves us when he leaves us still sore-afflicted: but let us be assured that, as he has begun a good work in us, he will complete it (Philippians 1:6); as he has delivered us from our guilt and sin, he will surely lead us in victory until we finally overcome all the troubles to which sin has given rise in this world! If God delivered up his own Son so that we might be forgiven, then what good thing will he finally withhold from us (Romans 8:32)? So then, let us remember our priorities, what is truly important; and let us hope certainly in the ultimate overthrow of every evil thing which plagues us in this lifetime: for so we will honor him who alone is able to reverse the devastating loss of our first Adam, and change every evil thing to good (Romans 5:19-21)!

    Let us now take note of how Christ responds to the various heart-conditions of the men whom he encountered. First we see that, to all men, he freely proclaims the gospel. Although the crowd around him was variously composed, containing both the Pharisees, in their pride and hardness of heart; and seekers of entertainment, with no true spiritual discernment; and even a few hearts of genuine faith, as his own disciples, and the five men who sought him out; yet we see that Christ was willing to proclaim the gospel to all, those whose hearts the Father would not enlighten (which Jesus knew from the beginning), as well as those who, by the hearing of his word, would be awakened to eternal life. Let us be very sure that, if Christ, who always knew what was in the heart of man (John 2:23-25), was pleased to proclaim the gospel to all the world; so also should we, who do not know whether God will call out this man or that, likewise proclaim the gospel in all the world, from the most willing of listeners to the most seeming-hopeless cases.

    And next, we see that, to the hearts which possess genuine faith, he immediately forgives, and washes away the guilt; and then, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, he removes all other various trials and evils which in this life we must bear. And let us make sure we note that, the good effects of faith in this paralyzed man, first in forgiveness, and then in physical healing, were strengthened and made effective in community. Christ sees “their” faith, that is, the faith of all five of them, which, by such a reciprocal buttressing each of the others, was fully formed and made strong and vibrant. O brothers, let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25)! For God has so designed the spiritual body of Christ that, if one were to be cut out of it, how soon his faith must whither away! Let us support each other in prayers and exhortations, let us pray for the sick and afflicted among us (James 5:13-16), and let us be careful not to be so presumptuous as to think that we may live the Christian life alone. Remember, “a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

    Finally, we see our Savior’s response to the heart of proud self-sufficiency. For first, he exposes the evil thoughts of such hearts, and makes their prideful and unbelieving reasonings apparent to all. Be certain, that whatever evil thought you may treasure up in your inmost being, Jesus already knows it, and will one day call you to account for it (see Matthew 12:36)! And second, he refutes their evil reasonings, and openly proves the truth of what he has proclaimed in the gospel. They had thought it easy to say, “Your sins be forgiven you,” as there was no ready proof that such had indeed occurred, and that Jesus was, therefore, God (for they were correct in this much, that God alone can forgive sins). But to say, “Arise and walk” must be much more difficult, for whether or not such a command had been effective could be seen at once. When Jesus said, “Take up your bed and walk,” and when the paralytic did in fact do so, then he demonstrated with certainty that his was the authority to forgive sin and to heal its manifold effects. And so he utterly overturned the specious arguments of false religion, and left all who would still cling to its delusion of hope cut off from every excuse of ignorance.

    And what was the result of this mighty miracle and authoritative teaching of Christ our Savior? We see, once again, that every heart was filled with wonder, and every mouth glorified God. We may be certain that this will be the final result of Christ’s ultimately being revealed in all his glory, before every inhabitant of earth. One day, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11). How many of those present, who confessed to God’s glory, were yet unregenerate, and finally fell under the eternal wrath of the Almighty God? And so we may be certain that, we will indeed glorify God in our lives and eternal destinies – but oh, let us turn in faith to Christ, and so glorify him as an object of his unfathomable grace and everlasting mercy, and not as a vessel of wrath (see Romans 9:22-24)! This the paralytic did, and you may be assured that he is now more blessed and eternally at ease than all that multitude of Pharisees who trusted in their own impressive lists of righteous deeds performed.

    Posted by Nathan on April 3, 2007 08:25 AM

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