Let Down By Jesus
There is a sad litany in Scripture of people who believe they've been let down by Jesus. We can start with Mary. At the wedding of Cana when the wine ran out, Mary went to Jesus with the problem. Jesus said, "This doesn't concern you and I." Mary and Martha felt let down by Jesus. When their brother Lazarus died, Jesus came to them. Both Mary and Martha said, "Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Even after Easter the disciples felt let down by Jesus. Right before Jesus ascends into heaven the disciples eagerly ask, "Lord are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?" Jesus answered that really wasn't their concern.
In our text, the 4 men carrying the paralytic must've felt let down. Jesus had entered a town again. Last week we read that He had to stay in the wilderness because the healed leper told everyone making it impossible for Jesus to enter a city. In the wilderness, they had no chance to get their friend to Jesus, but now He's back in a city. But look at the crowd! The picture is that of a house with people coming out the doors. They can't get their friend anywhere near Jesus, so they push and jostle their way through the crowd to reach the stairs that led to the roof. Think of how hard it is to carry a man on a flimsy bedroll. Think of how many, "excuse me's" you would have to say. Think of all the twisting and turning and almost dropping you would do. Think of the effort of taking a man in a bedroll up narrow stairs.
Once they got their paralyzed friend on the roof, they must have been exhausted, but more work was ahead for them. They had to dig through the roof over where Jesus was. Think of the size hole you'd have to make to let a man laying on a bedroll down. Think of how difficult it is to let a man down evenly when 4 people have the 4 corners. It had to have been jerky, uneven, and exhausting. All the while you're letting your friend down, you're afraid of dropping him.
All this sweat, all this effort, all this strain, and Jesus says to their paralyzed friend, "Son, your sins are forgiven." That's what they had wanted to hear all right. That's why they had fought through the crowd, carried their friend up stairs, dug through a roof, and lowered him by ropes into Jesus lap. Yup, they did all that so Jesus could forgive the man his sins. Now that Jesus had done this. They could hoist their paralyzed friend back up. Carry him back down the stairs. Push back through the crowd, and carry him back to his hovel where someone could back to feeding him, helping him use the bathroom and changing his soiled sheets. But at least his sins were forgiven!
How let down by Jesus these 4 men must have felt when Jesus said, "Son, your sins are forgiven." How let down we feel by Jesus sometimes. Just like these 4 men, we know what we need Jesus to do. We need Jesus to heal us or someone we care about. We need Jesus to provide this or that for us or someone close to us. We need Jesus to bring this or that person to the faith. We need help for our kids, our marriage, our family, our work situation. There are uncountable situations in our lives that are as much of a weight, a concern, a burden to us as this paralyzed man was to his 4 friends. It's an effort for us to bring these situations before Jesus. It's hard to pray about them.
Whatever is on your heart. No matter how big and heavy it may be. No matter how complex the situation. No matter if we don't even know exactly what we expect Jesus to do. No matter if it takes us forever to finally get around to praying about it, one thing we do know. Jesus can do what we need done easily. In fact, whether it be healing a marriage or a body, bringing a friend to the faith or an enemy to friendship, it is easy for Jesus. Mary knew running out of wine could easily be solved by Jesus. Mary and Martha knew that if Jesus had been there He could've easily prevented their brother from dying. On Ascension Day, the disciples knew that restoring the kingdom to Israel was an easy matter for One who had just rose victorious over sin, death, and the power of the devil. In our text, the 4 men knew that the Jesus whom they had heard healed a leper could easily heal their friend.
With but a word, Jesus can send cancer from a body. With just a thought, Jesus can bring that person you know to the faith. With no more than a nod of Jesus' head, the situation that plagues you, bothers you, scares you, would be solved for good. You know that, don't you? You know that as certainly as Mary knew Jesus could handle the wine running out and as sure as Mary and Martha knew Jesus could help a sick brother. As sure as the disciples knew Jesus could restore the kingdom to Israel and the 4 men knew Jesus could heal their paralyzed friend, you know Jesus can heal, help, solve, or save your situation...Yet, Jesus doesn't do it.
We need to learn to be let down by Jesus. In all the cases in the Scripture where Jesus doesn't do what a person expects, it's because he/she doesn't understand who Jesus is or what He does. Mary at Cana didn't understand that she didn't have a part or share in Jesus' ministry. Mary and Martha didn't understand that Jesus Himself, in His person, was the resurrection and the life. The disciples didn't understand that the kingdom was already restored in Jesus. The 4 men in our text didn't understand that Jesus was on hand to do something far more important than healing their paralyzed friend.
We have to go back to the Gospel readings for the last 3 weeks. We've been reading Mark's Gospel straight through. 3 weeks ago Jesus appears as the sin bearing Savior in the Baptism of John. Jesus goes out proclaiming that the Kingdom has arrived in Him. The main thing Jesus does is teach, but His teaching reveals demons that have been quietly present. Jesus promptly sends the demons away. 2 weeks ago people are not only coming to Jesus for His fresh teaching but for His power over demons and disease. Yet Jesus refuses to set up a healing clinic but moves on leaving some in their sickness and saying that He came to preach. No more healings are mentioned till last week when we learn that in a particular case of compassion Jesus heals a poor, suffering leper.
Still Jesus wants no miracle worker reputation. He doesn't want people flocking to Him for physical healing, so He sternly commands the healed leper to tell no one. The healed leper disobeys and literally preaches to many and spreads the word about Jesus' healing him. Now Jesus was so famous for healing that He couldn't even enter a city without being mobbed, so He stays in the wilderness. Now those who wanted to come to Him just for a show or out of curiosity are discouraged.
In this week's text, Jesus' fame as a miracle worker has died down. He is again able to enter a city, and look what all these crowds are doing there. They're listening to Jesus preach the word! Not one healing is mentioned. Unlike the last time He was in this city, no one is bringing their sick or demon possessed to Jesus, except for the four men in our text. These men are carrying their friend to Jesus for one reason only, to get him healed of his paralysis. If they were bringing him to Jesus so he could hear the forgiving word Jesus preached, they wouldn't have had to go to the trouble of carrying Him up to the roof, digging a hole, and lowering him before Jesus.
Do note that our text says, "When Jesus saw their faith [that is the faith of these 4 men], He said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'" Jesus says what He does to the paralytic based on the faith He sees the 4 men have. We wrongly assume that the faith held by the 4 men was good, noble and right. No the faith they held was in a miracle working Jesus, a Jesus whose main purpose was to save from the sicknesses, diseases, and ills of this fallen life. They came to Jesus as a super doctor, not as a Savior. The text says Jesus "saw" their faith. He saw it by what they did. They weren't bringing their friend to hear the forgiving gospel but to be healed of disease. Jesus plainly shows the priority of forgiveness over healing by forgiving the man. He heals him, as He explicitly says to show the teachers of the law that He has the authority on earth to forgive sins. It's to testify to His power to forgive that Jesus heals the paralyzed man.
Jesus came into this world to take our place under the Law of God. He came as a Man to be under the Law of God. Jesus did everything the Law requires. In thoughts, words, and deeds, Jesus was the perfect Son, Child, church member, and parent. There is not one law that Jesus did not keep, fulfill, satisfy. What about the punishments and judgements the Law pronounces against the person who sins but once? Jesus bore these too. All the suffering, all the wrath, all the judgement, all the damnation that a whole world full of sinners deserves, Jesus bore, suffered, fulfilled. This is the Gospel: that Jesus kept the law that we could not keep and paid for our not keeping it. Therefore, He has authority, power on earth to send sins away from sinners.
This was the ministry of Jesus. Forgiving sins, preaching the Gospel. That's why the chief benefit of the 3 Sacraments He instituted is not health but forgiveness. He gave His Church not a fountain of youth but a font for forgiveness. He gave His Church not doctors to heal but pastors to forgive. He gave His Church to eat and drink not medicine but the Body and Blood He won forgiveness with and gives forgiveness in.
Are we not to pray for healing or help for our bodily needs? Of course we can and should. The Lord told us to pray for daily bread which includes all that we need for this body and life. However, when we feel let down by Jesus because an illness persists, a need goes unmet, a problem unsolved, that's an indication we are forgetting who Jesus is and what He came to do. Jesus did not come to earth to make wine, prevent people from dying, restore the kingdom to Israel or heal people from sickness. He came to preach the forgiveness of sins He won by His life and death.
The miracles, healings and resurrections Jesus did all served the preaching of the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of souls as we plainly see in this text. Likewise, when He did not heal, do a miracle or raise from the dead, this too served the preaching of the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of souls, and this is the greater miracle. Anyone can use healings, miracles and resurrections to serve the Gospel, but only God can use illness, problems, and even graves that way.
Take this paralyzed man. If Jesus had merely healed him, he would've walked out of there a man damned in his sins. But if Jesus had said no more than, "Your sins are forgiven," He would've been carried out of there a forgiven man with heaven as his home. Ah but he got both, why can't we? Yes, but why did Jesus give him both? So we might know that Jesus has authority on earth to heal us? No, so we might know that Jesus has authority on earth to forgive us even in our illnesses, at our graves, and in our troubles. We will never be let down by Jesus in this regard. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany VII (Mark 2:1-12), 2-23-03