All of us live on a continuum somewhere between fear and faith. Even as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead never to die again, we often struggle to understand what that resurrection power has to do with me. How can it help me cope with fears that threaten to paralyze me or imprison me from real joy in my life? God doesn’t want us to live in fear. He tells us in II Timothy 1:7, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.”
The story of the four friends who bring the paralyzed man to Jesus on a mat is a crazy and inspiring story of friendship and love. It is also a story of Jesus’ love in response to the needs of this man. Jesus is in a home sharing the Word of God. The home is so crowded with people who want to hear what He has to say that the paralytic man’s friends can’t even get in. So they take him up on the roof, tear a hole in it, and bungee him down on his mat, right in front of Jesus. You can almost imagine Jesus smiling as He commends them for their great faith.
In that moment, we would expect Jesus to say, “Rise up! Go register for a marathon,” “Get up and dance for joy,” or “Walk into whatever you want to do in your life, because you’re healed!” But Jesus does not say that. Instead He says to the man, “Take courage, son. Your sins are forgiven you.”
Immediately the religious leaders accuse Jesus of blasphemy. They question His authority to speak the forgiveness of sins, for it is God’s task only. Of course, that is just the point – Jesus is God, and He does have the authority to forgive sin.
Jesus says to them, “Does the Son of Man have the authority to forgive sin? Which is easier to say: ‘Rise up and walk,’ or ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ So you may know that the Son of Man (Jesus) has authority to forgive sins, I say to you, ‘Rise up and walk.’” Then the paralyzed man gets up and walks away to whatever his new life would be.
The beautiful truth is that Jesus’ words of forgiveness are the same words He speaks to you and me. Wherever we are, wherever we’ve journeyed, whatever we’ve done, Jesus comes to us and speaks the same words – Take courage. Don’t be afraid. I forgive your sins. He has the power not only to do miraculous things, but also to forgive us. He validated that power on the cross where He said the same words, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” Jesus then was raised from the dead never to die again so the forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed to everyone in His name.
Jesus was addressing the paralyzed man’s deepest problem –- his sin and alienation from the Creator God who made him. The world’s brokenness, illness, alienation, relational struggles, self-absorbed lifestyle, are all rooted in sin. Humanity – all of us – live not just in brokenness, but also in an estranged state from the God who gave us life. When we encounter Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and come to understand that He is our Savior who forgives our sins, then we are given power in His name to believe that we are graced, forgiven, and no longer defined by our failures. We are now forgiven believers in Jesus.
I don’t know what your journey of life is for you. I don’t know what your past might be, but I know that when Jesus says to you, “Take courage; your sins are forgiven you,” you are defined in your identity as a faithful, forgiven, follower of Jesus. You become Abba’s child, a child of your heavenly Father. You are unconditionally loved by Him, and in faith you can embrace your new identity. You are no longer defined by your failures, or your immorality, or your regrets. Your identity is a loved and forgiven child of God. You can believe that!
It is this profound truth that allows all of us to hear Jesus say, Rise up! Rise up out of your old patterns of life that might be destructive or far from the intended abundant life God desires for each of us as His children. Rise up and walk in newness of life.
I love the phrase, “Take courage.” What is it that allows the resurrected Jesus to so lay hold of our lives in His power that we lose all fear and become courageous in our faith and the way that we approach life? I believe it is our faith that understands we belong to Jesus. It is also the power of His Holy Spirit who dwells within us and beckons us to rise up out of destructive paths that do not give us life or bless others. Jesus asks us, Don’t you want something better? Rise up and embrace the life I have for you! Come walk with me, child, and I will give you new life.
I think of how the same word was spoken by God to Joshua when God asked him to be the leader of God’s people and take them into the promised land. Joshua, grieving the death of his mentor, Moses, and was overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy. God was now asking Joshua to embrace the destiny of the Godhead for him and his people. But God told him, Don’t be afraid. Be of good courage. Be strong and courageous for I will be with you wherever you go.
King David, in many of his songs, wrote words like this: Wait for the Lord. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord.
So when we know and believe that God is for us – not against us – fear melts away and is replaced with faith, with peace, and with courage. Our sins no longer create a barrier between us and the God who loves us. In fact, He sees us as people who belong to Him, and He wants to use our lives for His purposes.
I love a story that Brennan Manning tells in his book Ragamuffin Gospel. It tells about how, when Easter is celebrated in France, one phrase is found in the words of saints and sinners. It is spray-painted on buses and on buildings, proclaimed in alleys and cathedrals. It is, “L’amour de Dieuest foli,” meaning the love of God is foolishness, folly. As they remember Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, dying on the cross outside Jerusalem’s gates, they celebrate His victory over sin, death and the devil. And thus they shout, “The love of God is foolishness,” What kind of God speaks forgiving love to rebel people who run away from Him and live out of sync with Him? That is the heart of our heavenly Father. The love of God is foolish.
G. K. Chesterton, a great theologian and author, spoke of the intensity of God’s desire to have a relationship with us. He called it “the furious love of God.” That is the reason Jesus addressed the paralyzed man’s greatest problem before He healed him.
You don’t have to be afraid of God. You don’t have to wonder if God is disappointed in you, or if He’s lost patience with your repeated mistakes or regrets. Your sins are forgiven, son. Take courage.
Francis Chan, in his wildly popular writing debut in a book he entitled “Crazy Love” spoke about that same thing. “God’s crazy about you. He loves you, and He wants for you to put your faith in Jesus Christ and begin to live in His love and share a relationship with Him.”
I love the passage in Ephesians 3:16-19 where Paul writes, “I pray that you, being rooted and deeply established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, that you may know the Christ who loves you in a way that surpasses knowledge so that you may be filled up with all the fullness of God.”
Jesus comes to you again today, calls you by name, and asks you to be His. You see, when He forgives us, it’s not as if we stand before a judge who says, Well, the sentence of condemnation has been removed from you, but get out of here. I never want to see you again! Quite the opposite. In the name of Jesus, God says, “Your sins are forgiven. You are My son. You are My daughter.” He calls you by name so you would come to Him and allow His arms of love to embrace you, and, in faith, you can embrace your identity as a forgiven child of God.
Have you ever heard God call your name? He does love you, and He wants to live within you. On that first Easter, even though the disciples had seen the empty tomb and heard the angels tell them that Jesus was raised from the dead, they were still behind locked doors paralyzed by their failure, by their denial of Jesus, and by their desertion of Him. But Jesus came right through those locked doors to find His disciples trapped in their fear. He said to them, “Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit.” Then He breathed on them and encouraged them to be receptive to His Spirit coming into them. Such was the close intimacy and level of dependence between the disciples and Jesus. When Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” He not only wants to absolve you of your guilt, He also calls you by name. You are in a relationship in His love.
Finally, Jesus wants to fill you with His Holy Spirit and restore you to your mission. Then, full of His Spirit and free from your fear, you can live each day of your life sharing the forgiving love of Jesus and shining with the light of His love to everyone you meet.
May you this day believe the promise that, in Jesus’ name, your sins are forgiven. Amen.
Rev. Lee Laaveg