The Greater Miracle (Full)

(From a message given September 23, 2007)

One of my favorite times during our Sunday morning worship service is prayer time. We come as a body before our Lord with praises and thanksgivings for what He has done for us or for the people we know during the week. Sometimes we give thanks for miraculous healing, and other times for salvation. But we also come with many requests to meet needs. A large number of the needs that we bring to God are health related. So-and-so has the flu. So-and-so fell and broke her hip. So-and-so has terminal cancer. Things were not much different during New Testament times.

During Jesus’ three years of ministry, many people followed Him to see the miracles He performed. People back then were just like we are today. They had problems just like we have problems; pressing problems, difficult problems, worrisome problems. And they didn’t have the kinds of resources we have to deal with their problems, like health care, medicines, and insurance.

From the beginning of His ministry, word spread like wildfire that Jesus could meet unmeetable needs. For example, in Mark chapter 1, Jesus came to Simon Peter’s house where Peter’s mother-in-law lay bedridden with a fever. He took her by the hand, and raised her up, and her fever immediately left her. By that evening, Mark says the whole city was gathered at the door. They brought all who were sick or demon-possessed to Jesus so He could heal them or cast the demons out… and Jesus did so. Who needed a doctor or health-insurance when Jesus was around?

The gospels record many miracles Jesus did to meet people’s needs, but which one do you think was His greatest before His death and resurrection? Was it when He fed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fishes? That was done, not just to one or a few people, but to several times the population of my home town of Beatty! Or how about when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead after he had been in the tomb for 4 days? That has to rank right up there near the top.

Jesus did a lot of amazing things, but I believe the greatest miracle was the one He did in Luke 5, where Jesus did for someone in need what that person could not do for himself.

It happened on one of those days, that he was teaching; and there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every village of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. The power of the Lord 1 was with him to heal them. Behold, men brought a paralyzed man on a cot, and they sought to bring him in to lay before Jesus. Not finding a way to bring him in because of the multitude, they went up to the housetop, and let him down through the tiles with his cot into the midst before Jesus. Seeing their faith, he said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this that speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”

But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, answered them, “Why are you reasoning so in your hearts? Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you;’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (he said to the paralyzed man), “I tell you, arise, and take up your cot, and go to your house.”

Immediately he rose up before them, and took up that which he was laying on, and departed to his house, glorifying God. Amazement took hold on all, and they glorified God. They were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen strange things today.”

– Luke 5:17-26 (WEB)

In this very familiar story, Jesus is in the city of Capernaum, by the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had moved there earlier from Nazareth. Capernaum was where He healed the centurion’s servant and Peter’s mother-in-law. In fact, so much of His work was done there that when the people did not repent after seeing all of His works, Jesus pronounced a woe against them:

“You, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, you will go down to Hades. For if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in you, it would have remained until this day.”

– Matthew 11:23 (WEB)

Jesus arrived at the house, and suddenly word got out that the Healer was there. Many came to hear Him: common people as well as Pharisees and teachers of the Law. They knew this was Jesus’ home town, so they came from as far away as Jerusalem and Judea to see and hear Him. And Jesus spoke the Word of God to them there.

So many were wanting to see Jesus that day that the place was soon packed. Not only was it standing-room-only, late-comers had to stay outside and listen through the door.

I expect the paralyzed young man was at a significant disadvantage if he wanted to see Jesus that day. After all, he didn’t have a working set of legs to run ahead and find a good seat before the crowd did. There was no reserved handicapped seating available in the house. But that didn’t stop him. He let his friends know that he wanted to see Jesus.

They probably thought this would be as good an opportunity as any to see their friend healed. So they picked up the bed he was lying on and brought him to the house. But when they got there, the place was too crowded to enter. They went through all that effort lugging him over and couldn’t even make it to the door to see Jesus.

No problem! Someone came up with the bright idea of coming in through the roof. Houses at that time were commonly flat-roofed, with a trap door for access from inside. But trap door or not, the bed was too big. So they got up and took part of the roof apart, then they lowered the bed through the roof right in front of Jesus.

I can see it now: The people were listening to what Jesus was saying, and suddenly bits of roof were coming down on their heads, …and then a man lowered on a bed. This was a rude interruption, but Jesus offered no rebukes. Instead, as it says in the Matthew passage, He said to the paralytic, “Cheer up, child! Your sins have been forgiven you.”

This hit a wrong chord with the Pharisees and scribes. They thought, “Who is this guy who speaks so irreverently? Nobody can forgive sins except God.” You sin against God, only God can let you off the hook.

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For what is easier, to say, Your sins have been forgiven you; or to say, Rise up and walk?”

It’s a good question, and it has a simple answer: They’re both easy to say! You can say it, and I can say it, because they’re merely words. But just because I have the ability to say the words doesn’t mean I have the ability to forgive sins or restore the use of a man’s legs. I don’t have the power, and neither have you. The religious leaders didn’t think Jesus had the power or authority to forgive sins. They thought He was saying empty words. How could they know that the man’s sins really were forgiven?

So Jesus showed them that He did have the authority. He said, “But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on the earth to forgive sins,” and then He proceeded to heal the man.

The people witnessed a great miracle that day – and I would go so far as to say it was one of the greatest miracles of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

It was greater than the feeding of the 5000.

It was greater than bringing Lazarus back to life.

It was even greater than… giving a paralyzed man the ability to walk again!

You see, Jesus did two miracles that day. The first was not spectacular: nobody got excited about it except the scribes and Pharisees. I’m talking about the miracle of forgiveness of sins – a miracle more significant than restoring the full use of one’s legs, or raising the dead.

A miracle is something that cannot happen through natural means. A true miracle can only happen if God intervenes in the natural course of things to bring it about. Man cannot bring dead people back to life – especially after 4 days. Man cannot walk on water. Man cannot turn water to wine. And man can not do anything to cause sins to be forgiven. God has to do all of these things, or they won’t get done.

Having the burden of sin removed is a much greater miracle than healing the sick or casting out demons. Here are four reasons why:

Forgiveness is eternal. If you get healed physically, it’s a great thing. But that healing is only temporary. It only affects your life here on earth. If you get the use of your legs back, you still might having something else happen to you later on. You could go blind, get cancer, or lose your mind. Even if you retain your health for the rest of your life, you’re still going to die anyway and face the judgment. But forgiveness of sins is much better. It is eternal. It is a miracle for which the consequences continue long after death into eternity.

Another thing that sets forgiveness of sins apart from other miracles is with our relationships. Forgiveness restores our relationship with God. Physical healing can restore relationships with our fellow man. For example, those Jesus healed of leprosy no longer had to live apart from the rest of society, and the healed paralytic could go for walks with his friends. But forgiveness of sins restores man’s relationship with God. Sin is like a spiritual leprosy. In sin we have to live apart from God because we are “unclean”. But when God removes our sin and cleans us up, we have fellowship with Him, and He with us. That is why Jesus could say, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And that is why the Holy Spirit can dwell in us.

Third, the scriptures mention only one emotion in heaven over what happens down here on earth. We read nothing about heaven’s response when Jesus raised the dead or gave sight to the blind. But we are told there is more joy in heaven over one repenting sinner than over 99 that don’t repent. The angels rejoice when one sinner repents and receives forgiveness of sins! Forgiveness brings more joy to heaven. I think that goes to show what heaven thinks is more important. (True, Luke 15:7 doesn’t mention forgiveness, but it is implied. Why would the angels rejoice over a repentant sinner if he’s going to go to hell anyway?)

Once more thing that makes forgiveness a greater miracle: We all need it. Not all of us need our sight or hearing restored, or cancer removed, but we’re all sinners with the need for God’s forgiveness and He offers it freely to anyone who asks. Jesus fed thousands of people at one time, and they eventually got hungry again. But millions have received God’s forgiveness, which lasts for eternity!

Forgiveness is a much greater miracle than physical healing. I don’t know why most of the people came to Jesus merely for physical healing. Maybe it was pride, or maybe it was because they didn’t realize who Jesus is. Only one other person that I know of came to Jesus for forgiveness: the repentant woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears while He was eating in a Pharisees house. As I recall, that Pharisee also had a problem with Jesus’ forgiveness.

Personally, I believe the paralytic man was seeking forgiveness more than healing, because Jesus addressed that need first when He didn’t usually do so. When Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven”, I wonder what the man felt? Relief? The crowd got excited when Jesus healed him, but I think the paralytic felt joy before he was healed because the burden of sin was gone.

Jesus forgave the paralytic man for the man’s benefit. He healed him primarily for the crowd’s benefit: “…so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”.

God freely forgives the repentant sinner. And He does so without making Himself less righteous, holy, and just, because Jesus Christ paid the full penalty for our sin. God did not ignore our sin when He forgave us. If that were the case, He could just as easily bring our guilt back upon us. No, He dealt with it permanently by laying it all on His Son, Jesus Christ. Our redemption is secure.

This forgiveness that God freely offers us is deserving of further examination. I don’t think we appreciate it enough. Jesus told us to pray, “forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors”. From the way we sometimes forgive those who offend us, either we’re blatantly disobeying our Lord, or we have a poor concept of God’s forgiveness of our sins.

I’d like you to think about seven characteristics of God’s forgiveness of our sins. These are qualities that we don’t typically find in man’s forgiveness of man, but we do need to emulate.

First, God forgives any sin. In Luke 6:37, Jesus said, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” There’s no mention of God limiting forgiveness to only “minor” sins. Just forgive others and you will be forgiven. No sin is too great. You have God’s promise.

King Hezekiah was a good king, but his son Manasseh who succeeded him was extremely wicked. He was the most evil king Judah had – worse even than the kings of the ten tribes of Israel. He made altars to Baal and Asherah and worshiped the stars. He burned his sons in fires of idolatry. He practiced sorcery. He put an idol in the temple of God. But when God brought Assyria against him, they captured him, took him to Babylon, and tortured him. In 2 Chronicles 33:12, it says:

And when he was afflicted, he sought the face of Jehovah his God, and was humbled exceedingly before the face of the God of his fathers; and prayed to Him, and He was entreated of him and heard his supplication, and returned him to Jerusalem to his kingdom; and Manasseh knew that Jehovah, He is God.

Manasseh humbled himself and repented, and God forgave him, returning him to Jerusalem and restoring his kingdom. King Manasseh didn’t have to make up for what he did. All he had to do was repent. If God can forgive Manasseh, He can forgive any sin. If God can forgive the murderer Paul who considered himself the “chief” of sinners, He can forgive any sin. He can do so because Jesus paid for our sin “in full”.

Second, not only does God forgive any sin, God forgives all sin.

God does not forgive partially. Remember Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18. The servant had a huge debt that he could never repay. His lord did not just reduce the debt to a more manageable size. No, he forgave the entire debt so that the servant would not have to pay any of it. That parable is a picture of God’s forgiveness of our sins. We had a huge sin debt that we could not repay – incomparably more than that servant had. But God forgave our debt completely. Jesus’ last words were “paid in full”. We have nothing left to repay. 1 John 1:7-9 says:

But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of His Son Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous that He may forgive us the sins, and may cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

What a great promise to us from God!

Third, God forgives repeated sins.

One thing you’ll notice if you read through the book of Judges: Israel sinned over and over again. They repeatedly worshiped idols. They intermarried with the nations that God commanded them to destroy. Like a broken record, the book of Judges records Israel “again did evil in the sight of the Lord.” God would punish them when they did, but He did not abandon them. When the people called to God for relief from their punishment, God would send them judges to save them. He never said, “I’ve had it with you! You don’t want to obey me? Fine! You’re on your own! I’ll never save you again!”

Matthew 18:21-22 says:

Then coming up to Him, Peter said, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times? Jesus said to him, I do not say to you, Until seven times, but, Until seventy times seven.

Jesus is not just telling Peter how often he should forgive his brother. He is describing God’s own forgiveness. God forgives us over and over again, without keeping count. Aren’t you grateful for that?

Fourth, when God forgives, God forgets our sins. This is hard for us to understand because when we forgive those who sin against us (I’m assuming we do that!), we still remember the sin vividly. It’s hard or impossible to forget completely.

But when God forgives, it is as if the sin never happened. Isaiah 43:25 says God blots out our transgressions and does not remember our sins. In the heavenly record of your life, the sins that God has forgiven are completely erased – just as if they never happened. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

In Genesis, Jacob’s son Joseph is a type of Christ, and in one of the ways he is a type is in his forgiveness of his brothers for selling him into slavery in Egypt. His brothers thought that Joseph was in such a high position of authority that he would have them killed for what they had done to him. Genesis 50:15-21 says:

And Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead. And they said, What if Joseph should bear a grudge against us and should surely repay us all the evil which we did to him? And they sent a message to Joseph, saying, Your father commanded before his death, saying, So you shall say to Joseph, Please lift up now the rebellion of your brothers, and their sin; for they did evil to you. And now please lift up the rebellion of the servants of the God of your father. And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also went and fell down before his face. And they said, Behold, we are your servants. And Joseph said to them, Do not fear. For am I in the place of God? And you, you intended evil against me, but God meant it for good, in order to make it as it is this day, to keep a great many people alive. And now do not fear; I will nourish you and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spoke to their hearts.

When God forgives us, He treats us as if the fellowship was never broken. He continues to provide for all of our needs. He continues to love us just as much as before we sinned. How amazing is that?!?

Fifth, God forgives at His own expense. Forgiveness isn’t cheap. Somebody has to pay. If I forgive someone for setting fire to my house, the burden of paying for a new house is no longer on that person because I forgave him. The burden is now on me. I have to buy a new house. (If I say I forgive him but make him pay for some or all of the rebuilding of the house, then I haven’t truly forgiven him.) James Buswell Jr. said, “All forgiveness, human and divine, is in the very nature of the case vicarious, substitutional, and this is one of the most valuable views my mind has ever entertained. No one ever really forgives another, except he bears the penalty of the other’s sin against him.”

Paul says in Acts 20:28 that God purchased the church with the blood of His own Son. 1 Peter 1:18-19 says:

…knowing that not with corruptible things, silver or gold, you were redeemed from your worthless way of life handed down from your fathers, but with precious blood of Christ, as of an unblemished and unspotted lamb.

God’s forgiveness of our sin is not like the cheap imitation that we offer those who offend us. It didn’t just inconvenience Him. It cost God tremendously. It cost His Son for us to restore us to Himself. He held nothing back in doing what was necessary to obtain our complete forgiveness and complete redemption. We must not make light of the cost of this forgiveness!

Sixth, not only does God forgive us at His own expense, God takes the initiative to make forgiveness possible.

We know that God forgives the repentant. But the truth is that if God had to wait for us to repent on our own before He would do anything to secure our forgiveness, He would never have sent Jesus, and we would have no hope of getting out from under the burden of our sins. Psalm 53 says there are none who seek God. We have all turned after our own way. But Romans 5:8 says:

…but God commends His love to us in this, that we being yet sinners, Christ died for us.

God did not wait for man to repent before sending His Son Jesus to die for us. While we were still sinners, enjoying our sin, God took the necessary steps to secure our forgiveness. A few verses later in verse 10, Paul says that we were still enemies of God when Jesus died for us. God, the one we offended, took the initiative to restore us to Himself.

Which brings me to my last point… Why would God do this? Why would a holy, righteous God go through all this trouble and expense to let us poor miserable sinners off the hook? Because God loves us and wants to forgive us. God doesn’t forgive us because He’s sick and tired of holding a grudge and wants to feel better. He does so because He loves us and genuinely wants us to have fellowship restored with Himself. 1 John 4:10 says:

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins.

God doesn’t love us because He forgave us. He forgave us because He loves us!

How different than the way we treat those who offend us. “Oh, I don’t want to have anything to do with him after what he did to me!”

God, on the other hand, wants us to be reconciled to Himself as soon as possible. Those He has reconciled are to go tell others they can be reconciled, too. As Paul told the Corinthian believers, God has given us the ministry of reconciliation. We are ambassadors, proclaiming the good news of God’s reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). We need to take that responsibility – our ambassadorship – seriously.

I hope looking at these seven characteristics of God’s forgiveness will help us appreciate His forgiveness of our sins even more. And I hope we will also try to emulate these traits when people sin against us. Jesus told us to forgive those who sin against us. We must forgive them in the same way that God forgives us:

• We must forgive any sin… big or small.

• We must forgive all sin. Don’t just reduce the debt.

• We must forgive repeatedly. Jesus told Peter in Luke 17:4 to keep forgiving, even when someone sins against you seven times in a day, repenting in word only.

• We must forgive and forget – meaning we must ensure the relationship is fully restored. Treat the person you forgave as if the sin never happened – again, seven times a day if you have to.

• We must forgive at our own expense, not our own convenience. It wasn’t easy or convenient for God to send Jesus to die to forgive you.

• We must take the initiative by offering forgiveness. Don’t wait for signs of repentance. That might not come until you take the first step towards reconciliation. Or it might not come at all.

Even if the other person has not come to you for forgiveness, don’t let that be a reason for holding a grudge yourself. When Jesus died on the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.” As a result, you will find no prophecies or promises in the Bible that God will judge or punish His people for crucifying Jesus. God will only judge them for continuing to reject Him.

• Finally, we must love the person who hurt us, and want to forgive him so the relationship can be restored. Do so cheerfully – God not only likes a cheerful giver, He likes a cheerful FOR-giver!

Do you think this kind of forgiveness is impossible with man? It is. But nothing is impossible with God. Our forgiveness of others must also be a greater miracle of God. He has to enable us to forgive that way. Will you let Him?

Notes:

  1. Notice that the ‘power of the Lord’ is described here as something other than Jesus’ own power. This is a reference to the Holy Spirit, who did miracles through Jesus (i.e. Luke 4:18, Matthew 12:28).

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