What is our greatest problem?
Let me give you some suggestions from the news in the last week.
1. The Reserve Bank has just put up interest rates. And of course the banks are following suit. Apparently the Global Financial Crisis is weakening, and it’s time for some solid financial policy.
Is the Global Financial Crisis our greatest problem.
2. Iran is building 10 nuclear enrichment plants. Seems like they want to develop nuclear weapons. The United Nations is worried. Even China and Russia are worried.
Is nuclear warfare our greatest problem.
3. The government and opposition are at loggerheads over the legislation for the environmental trading scheme. There’s new leadership in the Coalition, talk of a double dissolution, resignations, by-elections. And that’s even before you GET to the problem of the environmental trading scheme itself. OR the problem causing all the fuss – climate change.
Is political turmoil, or climate change our greatest problem?
4. Australia has drawn Serbia, Ghana and Germany in the World Cup soccer next year. And we’ll struggle to make it past the group stage.
Is sporting mediocrity our greatest problem?
Or perhaps there’s a few issues A LITTLE CLOSER TO HOME that rate for you. It’s about this time of year the kids start saying “I NEED an iPhone for Christmas, or a xBox 360, or a pony, or an electric guitar.
Or maybe it’s YOU. “I need a new bathroom, a new figure, a new job, or a new car.”
Is our greatest problem a lack of STUFF?
Or maybe it’s less frivolous things. You’re UNEMPLOYED. No money, no reason to get up in the morning. And you need a job.
- You’re lonely, and you need someone to share your life with.
- Or you’re sick, and you really NEED healing. Or in PAIN, and you need RELIEF.
- Or you’re kids are mixing with the wrong crowd, and they NEED to find some good friends.
They’re big problems. But is our ULTIMATE problem unemployment, or loneliness, or sickness, or pain, or unhelpful relationships?
As important as all of these things are, Jesus would say our greatest problem is none of these things. Our greatest problem … is our sin, and alienation from God. And our greatest NEED… is forgiveness. We need MERCY more than we need MOBILITY. We need mercy more than we need mates or money or motorbikes.
Mercy or mobility
Let me show you what I mean. We’re in Matthew ch 9. Jesus has just arrived back in his home town, Capernaum. He’s been healing people, calming storms, and casting out demons. And the word’s got out. He pulls up in the boat on the sand, and the crowds gather almost immediately. With all the great needs we’ve talked about. All wanting Jesus to DO something about them.
And the one guy we zoom in on is PARALYSED. Can’t even make his own way there. He needs his mates to carry him on a mat.
It’s obvious what HIS greatest need is. HIS ultimate problem. It’s there for everyone to see.
Perhaps you saw the story of Kurt Fearnley on the news recently. He was born without the lower part of his spine, including legs. But despite that he’s a champion paralympian. Won the New York marathon four times in a row. And he’s just returned from completing the Kokoda Trail. DRAGGING himself along by his hands.
And he arrives at the Jetstar check-in counter, and they make him put his wheelchair in luggage, and then offer him a specially designed trolley that can fit down the aisles of the plane. But Kurt couldn’t steer it – he felt like apiece of baggage himself. So he declined their invitation.
And so Kurt had to drag himself again by his hands, through the airport terminal. From the checkin counter to the departure gate. Part of the way he was piggybacked by his brother.
Terrible situation. It must have been humiliating for him. And it’s obvious to everyone what his greatest problem was. Although he might say JETSTAR AIRLINES is his greatest problem. It was LEGS THAT WORK. Surely that’s what he really needs.
And everyone watching Jesus and this paralysed man knew the same thing. They look at Jesus. Jesus looks down at the man. The man looks up at Jesus, His friends look down at Jesus…
Everyone leans forward in their chairs. They’re sure they know what Jesus is going to say next. Fix the ultimate problem. “Get up and walk!”
There’s a hush.. and Jesus says instead, it’s there in v2. He saw their faith – the man and his friends – and he says…. “Take heart Son, your … sins are forgiven!”
(pause) Let’s consider the FIRST part of that sentence. Take heart. It’s literally, BE COURAGEOUS.
Be courageous, your sins are forgiven.
Being SCARED would be something this guy had plenty of experience at. Paralysed. Helpless. Exposed to any and every danger. Sunburn, boiling water, animals, thieves, fire. Completely powerless to defend himself. Completely dependent on HIS friends to look after him.
And Jesus tells him to be courageous. Which there’d be some HOPE of / if he’d been HEALED. If his LEGS worked again. And he could DEFEND himself, or RUN AWAY.
But what’s FORGIVENESS got to do with it? How is THAT going to help him be courageous? To overcome the things he’s afraid of?
Since when are SINS more dangerous than SHRIVELLED LEGS?
Imagine the crowd! What’s forgiveness got to do with it? It’s HEALING he needs! ANY FOOL can see THAT – he can’t even WALK!
But somehow for Jesus – the big thing’s eternity- and where you stand WITH GOD. Which is a whole lot more significant than being able to stand simply for THIS LIFE.
Somehow for Jesus, the lame man needs MERCY more than MOBILITY. FORGIVENESS more than FITNESS. Restored relationship more than running races.
Somehow for Jesus, there’s something more FEARFUL than danger from animals or sunburn or insects or thieves. It’s being in danger from the righteous judgment of a holy God.
And when you get THAT danger sorted, then there’s REAL reason to be courageous. Your perspective on life changes when you’re in a restored relationship with the Creator of the Universe, and the judge of all humanity. The one who holds your every heartbeat in his hand. Who orders every breath of your lungs. Who’s planned every minute of your eternity. Getting right with HIM is reason for courage. Everything else just falls into place. Assumes a different importance after that.
And getting right with God is fixing the ultimate problem. For THIS GUY. And for YOU TOO. Have YOU turned to Jesus to fix up your relationship with God? There’s nothing more important!
Who does Jesus think he is?
(pause) At this point, we move our attention to some OTHER people in the crowd. Some teachers of the law. They listen to all Jesus has to say, that he forgives sins. And a light bulb goes on in their brain. “Hang on a minute. Did he just say he forgives his sins? Yeah, he definitely said ‘Your sins are forgiven!”
But only GOD can forgive sins. He’s the only one every sin is ultimately committed against. WHO DOES JESUS THINK HE IS? “Your sins are forgiven!” That’s blasphemy! That’s standing in the place of God. It’s making yourself equal to him!
That’s what the teachers were thinking. And they were ALMOST RIGHT! To claim to forgive sins IS to make yourself equal to God. And that’s EXACTLY who Jesus thinks he is. But it’s only blasphemy is Jesus doesn’t have the authority to SAY IT.
We spoke last week about the AUTHORITY of Jesus’ words. And to forgive someone’s sins is just as authoritative as calming a storm or casting out demons. It’s authoritative because it’s claiming the clout of God himself to forgive sins.
Jesus works out what they’re thinking. And then has an OBJECT LESSON for them. V5. Anyone can SAY they forgive sins. Crazy people, and con artists included. But you’ve got no way of knowing whether they can actually DELIVER.
Unless they could SHOW you in SOME CONCRETE WAY. Show you some PROOF. Which is what Jesus is going to do. V5.
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.”
A sentence that’s just as easy to SAY as “Your sins are forgiven.” But everyone can tell pretty quickly whether you can BACK it UP or not. It separates the pretenders from the contenders pretty quickly.
And, of course, Jesus CAN back up the talk.
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.
The crowd are amazed. And the teachers are silenced. But I wonder what it was that AMAZED the crowd. We’re told that it was because God had given such AUTHORITY to men. But how did they SEE that authority? I’m guessing it was the healing of his legs. They saw THAT as the greatest miracle. As the greatest need. Rather than forgiving sins.
But is that the way Jesus saw it?
What was the greatest miracle? legs working. Broken nerves firing. Wasted muscles contracting?
Or a heart made alive. A black conscience cleansed? A broken relationship restored? A perishing soul given life?
For Jesus, that’s the REAL miracle. That’s what REALLY counts. It’s what he did FIRST. It’s what this guy needed MOST. The thing that would last FOR ETERNITY rather than MONTHS or YEARS.
It was certainly the most DIFFICULT thing. The most COSTLY thing. A paralysed body is fixed simply by a WORD. But forgiven sins would take ALL THAT JESUS HAD. It would take HIS LIFE. His . His complete obedience. His life for our life. His punishment for our punishment.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying healing is unimportant. That would be taking no notice of these chapters AT ALL.
Jesus heals the paralysed man, just like he heals the leper, or the sick servant, or the mother in law, because he has COMPASSION. Because his kingdom IS about RESTORATION. Restoring what sin and rebellion have BROKEN. Because he LOVES to reduce suffering, and show love.
But it’s restoration that will only be COMPLETE in eternity. At the moment, Jesus’ physical healing here is only A SHADOW of the restoration God’s got in store. When there’ll be no more pain, or crying, or sickness, or paralysis, or .
But for THAT to happen, it’s got to begin with the restoration of relationship.
The MOST compassionate thing. The most LOVING thing. The HARDEST thing. Is to forgive sins. To forgive the paralysed man’s sins.
Money or mercy
And as Jesus moves on in his travels, we see TWO very different responses to that offer of Jesus. First there’s Matthew the tax collector. There he is sitting in his booth on the side of the road, collecting the taxes as people passed. Counting his piles of money as he wiles away the time.
Jesus walks up to him, Matthew holds out his hand for the tax. But instead of offering him MONEY, Jesus offers him MERCY. Follow me! He says (v9). And Matthew has a choice. What’s his greatest problem? Not enough money, or not enough MERCY?
He gets up, leaves everything behind and follows Jesus. And the words he uses to describe what happens suggest he sees it as just as great a miracle as what Jesus did for the paralysed man. What does it say Matthew did at the end of v9? Jesus said, Follow me. And what’s Matthew do? He GOT UP. Literally says he AROSE. Exactly the same word that describes what the PARALYSED MAN did after he was healed.
Because they’re BOTH miracles. And Matthew sees THIS ONE as fixing HIS ultimate problem.
(pause) The OTHER reaction comes a bit later. Jesus is having dinner at Matthew’s house. There’s all sorts of people who want to find mercy. Who recognise what their greatest need is. Tax collectors and sinners.
But there’s the leaders again – v11. “Why is Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners?” Why doesn’t he just write them off? Doesn’t he care about his reputation?
They might be sinners says Jesus. But at least they recognise they’ve got a problem. And they’ve come the right place to deal with it. The right place for a SICK person is at the DOCTOR’S. v12
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
That’s the attitude Jesus wants above anything else. To recognise your greatest need. Your ultimate problem. And then turn to Doctor Jesus to DEAL with it.
And it’s what the Jewish leaders AREN’T doing. They reckon they’re FINE. There’s no NEED. No PROBLEM. And Jesus has a word for THEM.
13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Go and do some homework, he says. Jesus is quoting from Hosea 6:6. It’s in the middle of a long section where God is pleading with his people to turn to him TRULY. They’ve turned away from him, followed idols. There’s injustice and greed all through the land. God sends them invaders and sickness and famine. All to make them wake up to themselves, and return to him.
And the people think it’s AN EASY thing to come back to God. That he’ll be happy with cheap words, and surface actions. Hosea 6 v1.Listen to what the people say.
“Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. 3 Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”
But listen to what GOD thinks of that attitude. V4
4 “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. 5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you. 6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Don’t just SPEAK about repentance. Don’t just offer meaningless sacrifices. I’m not interested in external appearances. Recognise your problem. Make your repentance REAL. Show that you’ve understood mercy, by SHOWING it in your relationships.
And that’s what the leaders WEREN’T doing with Jesus. No mercy. No humility. No forgiveness. Just harsh judgmentalism. Go away and think about it, says Jesus. Learn what it means.
Because that’s the attitude I can work with. A recognition of your greatest need. I haven’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.
Matthew and his mates got it. The paralysed man got it. The Jewish leaders didn’t have a clue. What about YOU?
So what’s this have to say to us?
The first thing to recognise is that Jesus’ priorities haven’t changed. What was important THEN is still important now. The ultimate problem THEN is still the ultimate problem NOW.
It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? Especially if you’re struggling with some sort of chronic illness. That you need to repent. And have your sins forgiven more than you need physical healing.
You need to repent and have your sins forgiven more than you need a long life, or a new job. You need to repent and have your sins forgiven more than you need that holiday, or that spouse, or that new house.
If you haven’t repented, and allowed Jesus to be boss, then NOTHING ELSE MATTERS!
So how does this work itself out in the things we do?
What about prayer? What sort of things do you pray about? What sort of things are you determined and committed and regular about praying for?
(pause) Reflects your priorities, doesn’t it?
I know that EVERY NIGHT since before our kids were born, my parents prayed for them. They pray they’ll grow up continuing to love and serve the Lord Jesus. Which is a much higher priority than health or wealth, or any of the other things we fill our prayers with.
What are YOUR prayers filled with? Prayers for YOURSELVES. Or prayers for OTHERS.
Are you PRAYING for missionaries? For the gospel to be powerful in people’s lives. Are you praying for your family, and your neighbours, and your workmates. That they’ll grow in their understanding of Jesus, and their need to repent and turn to him.
Or are your prayers filled with all sorts of OTHER priorities instead?
Or how you use your money? We say WITH OUR HEADS that the gospel is our number 1 priority. But is it backed up with your wallet? Where does giving for missionaries, or Christian books or resources fit in? Do you pinch pennies when your kids ask to go on a Christian camp? Or is that a PRIORITY?
And what about us as a church? There are LOTS of good things we could be doing, but unless we’re telling people the gospel – the good news about repentance and forgiveness and a relationship with Jesus, then we aren’t doing our job.
We could find jobs for the unemployed. Some churches are doing that. Great government funding! We could run injection rooms for addicts. Housing for poor people. Food parcels. Movie nights. Festivals. All sorts of things we COULD do. Some things we ARE doing.
But if we’re not calling on people to repent and turn to Jesus, it doesn’t matter HOW MANY good things we do, we’re not really helping where it counts. We’re not fixing anyone’s ULTIMATE problem.
We need to be a church who’s number one priority is the same as Jesus. We need to be a church who preaches the gospel before all else. Proclaims it to each other. And to outsiders.
A church where we LEARN how to be doing that. Learn God’s priorities, and how HE thinks about his world.
Where we’re BUILDING EACH OTHER UP, encouraging each other, so we can be TAKING those priorities to OTHERS.
It’s OUR greatest need. It’s the greatest need for THE WORLD.
It’s what Jesus was on about. And it’s what we need to be on about too.