Have you ever been in a situation that is way more than you can handle? Have you ever been in an impossible situation? Have you experienced tragedy or unexpected suffering or circumstances beyond your control? Have you ever felt like throwing in the towel? What’s going to get you through those tough times? One word. Faith. That’s what I want to talk about today.
Please turn with me to Matthew 9. We are going to briefly cover the entire chapter so we will read the relevant verses as they come up. In this chapter, there are six instances when faith is required and several obstacles to faith.
The first instance of faith is found in the opening verses. Read v1-2.
1 Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
A paralytic was carried on a mat by some men, presumably his friends. And Jesus refers to this act as faith. When Jesus saw THEIR faith. “Their” includes the friends. They had faith that bringing their paralytic friend to Jesus would lead to his healing.
The paralytic also had to have faith to allow his friends to carry him on a mat. This is no small thing on the part of the paralytic. There are many people who have some form of paralysis–physical, mental, emotional–but they don’t want help. They are stuck but they are fine remaining stuck. They are fine staying in their paralysis. But this paralytic didn’t want to remain paralyzed. He had faith. And his friends had faith enough to carry him to the feet of Jesus.
We have a similar account in v32-33.
32 While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. 33 And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”
This man was worse off than the paralytic. He was demon possessed. He was not in a right frame of mind. On top of that, he was mute. Even if he were of a sane mind, he could not articulate his desire for healing. No matter how badly he wanted to demonstrate faith and go to Jesus, he simply couldn’t. He was seriously stuck. But luckily, he had people around him who wanted to help. He was brought to Jesus. Presumably by people who loved him and wanted to see him well.
What does this teach us? Sometimes, personal faith is not enough. We need others who love us and who might have greater faith than we do to bring us to the feet of Jesus. Let’s thank God for faithful, faith-filled friends who bring us to the feet of Jesus when we are unable or unwilling to do so ourselves. Let’s thank God for brothers and sisters in the church who can bring us to Jesus and point us to Jesus and pray that we would see Jesus, esp. in those times when we lack faith.
In these 2 encounters of faith through faithful friends, we also see 2 obstacles to faith. In the case of the paralytic, prior to the healing, Jesus says to the paralytic, your sins are forgiven. This underscores the obvious point that while healing the paralysis is important, it’s not the most important thing. There is something far more important. There is a sickness that runs so deep that fixing the external problems and issues will only provide temporary relief. What matters more than being able to walk again is addressing the deep, internal problem of sin.
This forgiving of sins by Jesus causes quite a stir. The obstacle to faith comes in the form of the teachers of the law. Where do these guys come from? The gospel is teeming with teachers of the law and Pharisees, religious-minded people who opposed Jesus constantly.
Some teachers of the law overheard what Jesus said to the paralytic and they react in v3.
3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”
We can cut the teachers of the law some slack here because what they are saying is right. If you or I went around saying to others, your sins are forgiven, we should have the same reaction. That’s blasphemy. Only God can forgive sin. It’s a true statement. And we pick up in v4–
4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7 And the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.
Which is harder–to say, your sins are forgiven, or to say, get up and walk? To us, we’d probably answer the latter. It’s harder to tell a paralytic to get up and walk. I don’t believe that healing powers is listed in anyone’s resume in this room–right under programming in C++, ability to make the lame walk. I could be wrong, but I highly doubt anyone can do that. If you do have special powers, please see me after service because I have been having a stiff back.
For us, we’d say, making the lame walk is much harder than saying, your sins are forgiven. For the teachers of the law, saying, your sins are forgiven is harder. Why? Because only God can say that. How dare we, mere mortals, utter what only God can say.
Only God can forgive sin so any human saying that would be a blasphemous statement. Unless Jesus really is God. And so to prove that Jesus is who he says he is, Jesus tells the paralytic to get up, take your mat and go home. And guess what? Knees wobbly at first, the man actually gets up. Jesus did both. He said, your sins are forgiven. He didn’t stop there. To prove his divinity, he heals the paralytic.
You have the faith of the paralytic. You have the faith of the friends of the paralytic. And you have an obstacle to faith. What’s striking here is the silence of the teachers of the law. After seeing the miracle of the lame man walking with their own eyes, shouldn’t they have said something? How did you do that? I saw that man. He’s been paralyzed for years and how is he… walking now… Could we be wrong? Could we be blind? Could Jesus actually be the Son of God? They said nothing. The silence is deafening.
Likewise, you have the faith of the people who brought the demon-possessed man who couldn’t talk to Jesus. And again, you have an obstacle to faith. Listen to what the Pharisees say in v34.
34 But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”
Unlike the first comment when the teachers of the law speak before witnessing the miracle of the lame man walking, this time, the Pharisees speak after the demon has been exorcised and his speech was restored. There wasn’t even a pause to consider what just happened. No hesitation, who is this man, Jesus? They’ve already made up their minds. They made a snap judgment. A quick dismissal. The only reason Jesus can do this and drive out demons is because he is the devil’s right hand man. He is a prince of the demons. They dismissed the miracle without even giving it a second thought by demonizing Jesus’ good intentions to help people.