THE BIG GIFT
In the past twelve days we have seen Americans responding to American needs
with an outpouring of concern unseen in this country for decades. The images of
firemen rushing up a burning, collapsing building as thousands flee that building
astound us. The images of policemen securing a disaster area by placing their own
lives in jeopardy are riveting. Nationwide long lines of people gave blood, and some
donors had never given blood before. This summer our hospitals pled for blood, but
very few gave. Those who exhaust themselves in recovery and rescue efforts have
their physical needs addressed as people bring food, water, and anything else they
think is needed. If any personal equipment is needed by the hundreds of people
working at ground zero, Wal-Mart sends it if they can find it. In New York's business
community, competitors sacrifice to assist each other. A massive influx of people
continue to go to New York to volunteer their help.
Everyone wants to do something. People do not just want to do something. They want to do something that makes a difference.
Therein lies a major issue. What makes a difference? How should you measure
differences when they are made? What criteria determine if a difference is an
- Think with me about an incident in Jesus' ministry recorded in Matthew 9:1-8.
- This particular incident involved a man who was paralyzed.
Jesus' statement would not have been heard as an insignificant statement.
- Remember that Jesus already caused enormous curiosity and incredible
interest by performing miracles.
- Matthew 8 recorded Jesus healing a man with leprosy, healing the
servant of a Roman centurion, destroying a fever in Peter's mother-in-law,
causing a storm to cease, and casting demons out of an uncontrollable
- This miracle in the beginning of Matthew 9 just followed in the flow of
- Some friends or family members of the paralyzed man either heard or saw
what Jesus could do.
- They were convinced that Jesus could make a difference.
- Jesus could end their friend's [or family member's] paralysis.
- Jesus arrived in Capernaum by boat.
- They brought the man to Jesus on a bed; his physical condition was bad.
- Jesus looked at the faith of the people who brought the man on a bed and
said to the man, "Take courage, my son, your sins are forgiven."
It is possible to focus on two reactions to Jesus' statement.
- Remember, these were Jewish people in Galilee who knew and understood
the beliefs and traditions of the Jewish people in Palestine.
- Remember first century Jewish people commonly regarded disease and
serious health problems to be the result of acts of evil the sufferer committed.
- Often a serious health problem existed as proof of a serious sin.
- To tell a first century Jew with a serious health problem that his sins were
forgiven quite significant.
- That statement made to a seriously sick person today would likely cause
a lot of people to laugh, but not then.
- From the teachings given to Israel in what we call the Old Testament, they
clearly understood that God used disease to punish evil Israelites.
For a moment I would like to focus your attention on the paralyzed man and
the friends or family members who brought him.
- Matthew focused on scribes' reaction.
- The scribes overheard Jesus' statement and were appalled by what Jesus
- Among themselves they said, "This man blasphemes God."
- In their view Jesus acted as if he were God by presuming to do what only
God could do.
- Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he classified those thoughts as
- Here were men who served a very important religious role in Jewish
society by, among other things, making copies of scripture.
- Scribes had an earned reputation for detailed knowledge of scripture.
- But Jesus said in this situation their perception of God caused them to
think evil thoughts.
- I seriously doubt anyone but Jesus considered their thoughts evil.
- Most Jews considered the scribes' thoughts to be godly in any
situation, particularly a situation that involved knowledge of God.
- So Jesus revealed to them the evil of their mistaken perspective.
- He asked which was harder to do, to say the paralyzed man's sins
were forgiven, or to tell the paralyzed man to get up and walk?
- To document his authority to forgive sins, Jesus told the man to get
up, pick up his bed, and go home.
- That is exactly what the man did.
- The large crowd who watched and listened were in awe of what
happened and glorified God for giving such authority to people.
- Matthew did not record their reaction to Jesus' statement, "Take courage, my
son, your sins are forgiven."
- I wonder if they realized that Jesus gave this man his greatest gift first?
- I wonder if they were disappointed because Jesus did not immediately heal
the man as they expected?
- Let me try to put the situation in perspective.
- Jesus' forgiveness would last for eternity.
- Jesus' act of physical healing would last only until the man died.
- Would he feel and understand the blessing of forgiveness if he spent the rest
of his physical life paralyzed, unable to get up or walk?
- Would he feel blessed only if he could get up and walk?
- What do you think?
Allow me to focus our attention on us.
- The greatest single blessing God wants to give each of us is the
forgiveness of sins through Jesus' atoning blood.
Right this moment in our lives, there is no gift that Christ can give anyone
of us that is more significant than forgiveness.
- You and I can be reconciled to God only if we are forgiven.
- You and I can be at peace with God only if we are forgiven.
- You and I can worship God only if we are forgiven.
- You and I can serve God only if we are forgiven.
- You and I can live in hope only if we are forgiven.
- You and I can die in confidence only if we are forgiven.
- You and I can be resurrected to live eternally with God only if we are
- Every good thing God wishes to give us depends on our forgiveness.
If you could have God do anything you can imagine to make a difference
right now, what would it be?
- Yet, the truth is that forgiveness is the least appreciated gift God gives us
- We each want God to do something for us that makes a difference.
- Forgiving us while leaving our physicals situations untouched is not what
- Right now, forgiveness is not the difference we expect and want.
- The situation is much like the immaturity we see in our children who live
- Their expectation wants a difference that is immediate and visible.
- If their parents do things that have the potential to make major, lasting
differences throughout the child's life, those things are not significant
to the child unless they are immediate and visible.
Let me approach the same thought from a different direction.
- If we let our imaginations run wild, we can think of a lot of things we would
like to change instantly.
- We would like to have the Trade Center Towers standing and the
- We would like to have all those wives have their husbands back, all those
husbands have their wives back, all those children have their parents
back, and all the dead have their lives back.
- We would like to have the same secure feeling we had two weeks ago.
- We would like to have the terrorists become as committed to peace as
they are to destruction.
- We would like for all the innocent people of Afghanistan to have their
wounds healed and lives restored.
- We would like to have people understanding each other instead of hating
- Could it be that nothing we want would be eternal?
- Could it be that nothing we want would last longer than our lifetimes?
- Could it be that nothing we want would be the thing we need the
- How long have you been a Christian?
- In the time that you have been a Christian, has there been an occasion or
situation in which you knew beyond doubt that God powerfully touched or
blessed your life?
- I am not talking about your everyday type of experience.
- I am talking about an unusual circumstance or situation.
- If someone who was not a Christian was in a serious conversation with you
and asked, "Has God ever done anything for you?"
- How would you answer? Would you say yes?
- If the person sincerely asked you to illustrate how God has blessed and
helped you, and you were moved to answer, how would you illustrated
- Let's say you shared more than one illustration.
- What would be your number one illustration?
- Would the fact that God forgives you on a daily basis be one of the
If we through God's mercy and grace hear our Lord greet us and accept us as
faithful servants in the judgment, we will hold a unanimous conclusion about God's
greatest gift to us. It will be God's forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ. And
we will praise Jesus for dying for us. And we will glorify God for sending His son.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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Evening Sermon, 23 September 2001
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