Friday, July 7, 2017

A Bigger Gift ...

Perspective can change your mind, or your priorities.  We make decisions, and set our priorities, based on how we can assess a situation, on what we believe we know of it.  Introduce more facts, expand the vision to a wider time frame, understand those consequences to our actions, and our minds can be changed, even our desires altered.  I’m certain the folks on the Titanic’s biggest concern was which party to attend, wearing which outfit, right up until the iceberg hit.  If that knowledge had been common before that event, not a single person on that ship would have cared about parties, or outfits.  To a person they would have either prepared for the inevitable with far more time to do it.  Or attempted to prevent the event entirely thus changing the history of the maiden voyage of the ship that “could not be sunk”.
It’s not just the big calamities we would avoid.  It is the little ones as well.  Driving just a bit more carefully, or being aware of the erratic or careless behavior of the other driver intent upon hitting us; we would take additional precautions, change our route, and avoid driving altogether if needs be.  But avoiding calamity requires some degree of additional foreknowledge, or does it?  Where it comes to our health, we seem to make one set of decisions before something goes badly, and another set, only after damage is done.  Science has warned us of the dangers of smoking and alcohol consumption for decades, maybe longer.  But the young are willing to “take the risk” believing themselves to be invulnerable, until history catches up with them, and the long-term consequence outweighs the short-term risks they took.  These days it is not just the young.  It would seem the fastest growing segment of our population suffering from sexually transmitted diseases are the old.  Whether the logic is there is little time left, or based on a history of not having to pay the consequences up to now, disease is finding a home in the population you might least expect.
This brings up the question … what do you want?  When you are healthy, the answer might be widely different than when you are sick.  Everyone would want to avoid the fatal car crash, but suffering from a condition for which there is no quick remedy, colors your response.  While the desire for wealth may be strong in us, when we suffer, we look for relief.  Finding that relief becomes more important than nearly anything else.  Therefore perhaps it is understanding what we suffer from that might surprise us.  Matthew records for us an incident in the life and gospel ministry of Jesus Christ that may provide some context on this topic.  Picking up in the ninth chapter beginning in verse one it says … “And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.”
This text has more meaning than might first appear.  Our encounters with Jesus must always be voluntary.  Jesus does not force Himself upon us.  The prior passages outline the story of Jesus healing 2 demoniacs on the far coast of the Sea of Galilee.  The demons entered the pigs, the pigs ran into the sea and died.  The villagers came to see Jesus, and promptly asked Him to leave their coasts.  It is hard to know why.  Maybe they were afraid more pigs would die, or that they would lose further wealth with Him being there.  At the end of the day, their motives do not matter, the outcome does.  They asked Jesus to leave, and leave He did.  Going back to His “own city” could imply Capernaum as He spent much time there, or Bethlehem as that was the town of His birth.  But most likely it was Nazareth where He was raised.
The story continues in verse 2 saying … “And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”  This portion of the story may have hidden meaning.  From a what is more important perspective; we suffer from our sins, more than we suffer from poor health.  Jesus attacks the more important problem with the blessing He offers.  But there may be more to it than that.  In the time of Christ, it is widely believed that disease only comes to those who “deserve it”.  Only sinners of unusual evil proclivity are attached with diseases to match their crimes.  This belief further states that it is not Satan who is allowed to torment them this way, but God Himself who punishes them for their evil.
The long-held view of a punishing God has yet to be extinguished even in our time.  Many Christians still hold to the idea that God is just waiting to “judge” the wicked and send them to hell for all the evil they have committed.  Many Christians further believe that the bad things that happen here, are just a taste of the punishment God has in mind for those who refuse to believe as they do.  In effect, we still believe AIDs attacks those who have sexually sinned.  Ebola attacks those who commit sins with animals (or at least that is how it started).  There is a whole host of misinformation to which the typical Christian mind looks for the punishing finger of God upon the wicked He is just waiting to kill in the flames.  And this with modern minds, and a complete Bible that should dispel this kind of thinking.  But it does not.  Negative interpretations, completely absent of the lens of Jesus Christ and what His life was to give witness to, support in the deceived mind, the continued idea of a punishing God.
So when Jesus says to be of good cheer, and forgives the sins of this victim of palsy, He is undoing the source of why a man would suffer from disease in the first place.  The man is not healed.  But the man is no longer guilty either.  Jesus is destroying the link between the guilt of sin, and the condition of suffering we often find ourselves in.  It is not our sins that cause lung cancer, it is our continual smoking that does.  It is not our sins that cause liver disease, it is the tons of alcohol we consume.  It is not our sins that produce someone else as a bad driver and cause us harm.  They are simply careless, even if only for a moment.  Satan would punish us all.  God would provide us with relief from our suffering.  But there is a distinction.  Sin itself is a punishment.  You do not need additional harm, the harm is buried right in the sin itself.
When we gossip, we hurt people.  When we lie, we hurt people.  When we betray our spouses and our marriages we hurt them, hurting the people we claim to love most, and who do love us the most.  When we dishonor our parents, we cause them grief.  They are flawed, but they have loved us since we were so small we could barely lift our own heads.  Their motives have never been in doubt, but now our actions of rebellion sometimes are.  We treat our God much the same, when we dishonor Him as well.  There is no need for additional punishment for our crimes, our crimes are punishment enough.  When we come to realize this, it is often behind the pain of knowing who we hurt, how much, and why it was so unnecessary.  Our God would provide us relief from this suffering by changing us, and acting as a preventative from sin entirely.
Jesus having broken the connection in the minds of those present between poor health, and guilt over sins, has undone a central tenet of local Sanhedrin doctrine.  The Rabbi’s present immediately jump to the idea of blasphemy, but they dare not utter the words, or the local crowd might stone them.  Jesus is popular after all.  Matthew continues in verse 3 saying … “And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. [verse 4] And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?”  Only our God can read our minds and thoughts.  Only our maker has this insight, is this omnipresent, and omnipotent.  Satan is a created being.  Satan can read our body language, and he is pretty good at guessing what we think.  But he is no mind reader.  Our God is.  Our God reads our very motives, and knows what we are going to say even before we say it.  This act of reading them should have convinced them of who He was.  But it didn’t.
So Jesus addresses the concern.  Matthew continues in verse 5 saying … “For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? [verse 6] But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.”  Jesus is sad, that anyone would look at the forgiveness of sins as being something evil.  Forgiveness of sins, gives us a fresh start, a ground zero from which to renew a relationship with our God.  And yet preachers of the organized religion, use that event as a basis to accuse of blasphemy.  So Jesus, adds the miracle of healing to this man, to show all in attendance, that forgiveness is as real as healing is.  From a priority perspective, the most important thing this man suffered from was the burden of guilt, and the burden of improper doctrine that exacerbated that guilt.  When Jesus broke that burden, the health of this man was not even in palsy stricken man’s mind.  He was free from the burden of his sins.  Made free by Jesus Christ.
His physical healing was only to be a symbol of his spiritual healing.  The short term, as well as the long term, priorities.  Matthew continues in verse 7 saying … “And he arose, and departed to his house. [verse 8] But when the multitudes saw it, they marveled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.”  The witnesses to this event understood, what apparently, we have yet to grasp.  They marveled.  They glorified God.  That is worth considering.  They glorified God.  For the forgiveness of sins, our hearts respond by glorifying God.  For the relief that comes from being unburdened from our guilt, and reformed to be likeminded with our God, we give glory.  Not just for the start of our salvation, but for the finishing of it.  For the relief God brings us, not just for sins past, but for sinning no more.  No more do we ever wish to do, that which brings harm to so many.  That is the relief our God wishes to bring us all.  He looks to punish none, but to redeem all.  Everyone.  From Adolph Hitler, to Saddam Hussein, to you to me; our God loves each of us, and wishes to redeem each of us.
If we can rid God of the false attribute of punishment and guilt, perhaps we can embrace God as the healing of what is wrong with us.  Perhaps we can finally understand that we suffer from our sins, not because of what God does, but because of what our sins do.  We suffer more from the disease in our minds that would actually have us crave sin, than we do from standing on the deck of the Titanic, or being hit by the car, or having our smoking habits finally catch up with us in our health records and lives.  Our sins are worse than all of these.  And the relief from each and every sin comes offered to us as a gift from Jesus Christ, just as He did for the man brought to Him on a bed unable to carry himself there.  That man would have gone home, still sick, but no longer suffering.  What was important to heal, was done at the forgiveness of sins, and the changing of his mind about the nature of God.  Healing his palsy then was only after effect.  The man knew it.  The crowd knew it.  And now the religious leadership knew it.
But their response would not be so positive …

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