Today, I want to continue the theme of seeing and hearing the real Jesus.
Do you notice a pattern from this chapter?
In one short chapter, Jesus is criticized 4 times by 4 different sets of people and each time he defends himself. I want to begin by pointing out that most, if not all, of these groups of people who criticized Jesus were religious. And so I think it has particular relevance for most of us who grew up in the church or who have been Christian for many years.
By studying these critiques and Jesus’ responses to these critiques, I think we can learn 2 things. First, we can explore the mind and seek to understand someone who would level these kinds of complaints against Jesus. Second, Jesus’ response provides a helpful corrective for people who fail to recognize Jesus precisely because they are experts in religion and think they have things all figured out.
Last week, we talked about the difficulty in hearing and seeing God because our hearts are crooked. The two questions I want you to keep in mind are:
1) What does each critique against Jesus reveal about the person giving the critique?
2) How does Jesus’ response to each critique provide a corrective for these groups of people who criticize Jesus?
First, Jesus is criticized by some teachers of the law after he heals the paralytic —
6Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7″Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
What does this critique against Jesus reveal about the person giving the critique?
Basically, they are saying Jesus, you are a blasphemer because you claim to be able to forgive a paralytic of his sins, but only God can do that. And obviously, you’re just a no name Rabbi, you’re certainly not God so why are you saying that? Who can forgive but God alone?
Let’s explore the root of that critique.
It’s odd. Out of anyone, it is these Jewish religious leaders who are the leaders of the people of God and they knew the Old Testament laws and prophecies inside and out. Yet, they don’t recognize God who is standing right in front of them. And instead of bowing down in worship, they call him a blasphemer. It’s like an avid bball fan who studies all the teams and stats and Kobe Bryant shows up and they are like, who’s that guy? Man, he’s tall, I wonder if he plays bball.
Or it’s like Stephen Hawkings shows up to Caltech and he is a guest Physics lecturer and you guys don’t recognize him. Come on, Caltech students, this guy is your idol, how can you not know him?
Come on, they’ve got to recognize him! That’s what I want to shout at these religious leaders, God is standing right in front of you and you don’t recognize him.
How could they miss him? Why do we miss Jesus today?
They had their strong prejudices and biases about how religious life works. Only God can forgive sins and this guy is just a man so of course he is not God. God is way up there. He is powerful, he is holy, he is omnipotent and omniscient. Even the thought that God would take on human flesh is unthinkable. God becoming a man? No way! That’s outrageous. There was no precedent for that. That’s not the God from the OT that I have studied. At best, God appears in a burning bush and Moses takes off his sandals because he is walking on holy ground. God doesn’t appear to us as a man. That’s not what my Rabbis taught me at Hebrew school when I was kid.
Their religious bias blinded them to them seeing the real Jesus. They thought they knew how religious life worked and because Jesus did not fit into their system, they dismissed him.
Not only do the religious have biases, but non-religious people have their biases. Truth is not exclusive. There are many roads to God, or heaven or chi or nirvana. It’s all the same. There is no such thing as one truth. Everything is relative. And to such a person, Jesus can be reaching out to him for years and he will fail to recognize God because Jesus is just one of many options.
How does Jesus respond to their critique?
8Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .” He said to the paralytic, 11″I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
Of course, it is easy to say, I forgive you. Anyone can say that. I can say that. But what would you think of me? You’d be thinking, I need to get away from that guy. He’s crazy. He’s a cult leader. He’s an Asian Jim Jones.
Jesus says, I forgive you. v10 – But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, he said to the paralytic, I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home. You get the sense that Jesus did what he came to do — he forgave the paralytic of his sins. He healed him spiritually. That was a salvation moment. This is the most important thing that could have happened to him, and it is the most significant thing that can happen in all of our lives. And it almost seems that unless these teachers of the law criticized him, Jesus may have walked away.
But he doesn’t. Because his heart goes out not only to this paralytic but to these teachers of the law. He wants everyone to be saved and healed spiritually. So he heals the paralytic to cast some doubt on the teachers of the law and their religious system.
Of course anyone can say I forgive you. But how many people can actually make a paralytic man walk? Throughout his ministry, Jesus used miracles to validate his claims that he was the Son of God.
We just celebrated Easter and it is a historical fact that Jesus’ body was never recovered. As Christianity was spreading throughout the Roman Empire, the Romans could have saved themselves a lot of energy persecuting Christians by just producing the body of Jesus. Here is the body, Jesus is not risen, Christianity is a farce. And that would be the end of story.
But Christians, we bank everything on the certainty of the resurrection. It was totally unprecedented. It shatters our preconceived notions of God. It is the greatest miracle which validates the claims that Christ made about himself.
Do you have biases that blind you to God? Are you genuinely open to God to speak to you each day in new and fresh ways?