A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, First Baptist Church, Pastor, Rome, Ga., on February 5, 2012.
O God, our Father, we do not know how to ask for forgiveness as we should. Our pride will not let us speak the need too dramatically. Yet our hearts will not let us off easily for we know our sin is great. We offer our hearts to you today that you would shape them as they should be. In your holiness, we pray that you would move us to accept your grace. Also, allow us to receive forgiveness from others when we have been in the wrong. Take away our pride in those areas. Take away our resentment and our rationalizations which get in the way and give us both humility and courage to accept what someone else might offer to us in your name. We offer our hearts as well for you to shape them to help us forgive others. Lord, lead us to forgive those who have done wrong to us, for wounds recent and for wounds from long ago. We pray for the ability to let them all go and to, at long last, heal ourselves and allow your spirit to work its healing power to take away continual bitterness. Lord, for those from whom we would seek forgiveness and offer forgiveness, we pray for them. Grant to those who have been as enemies to us and those we would find it hard to forgive, some goodness, some blessing, and some victory in their life today. We pray that in our prayer for forgiveness and in our offering ourselves to you, we would find the peace that only forgiveness offers. Heal our hearts today. In Christ’s name we ask it. Amen.
Pardon one another so that later on you will not remember the injury. The recollection of an injury is in itself wrong. It adds to our anger, nurtures our sin and hates what is good. It is a rusty arrow and poison for the soul. It puts all virtue to flight.
—Francis of Paola
Let’s see if we can make a mental list of the types of miracles that Jesus performed. We all remember that he walked on water. When we remember water, we also remember that he turned water to wine. He fed multitudes on more than one occasion. He cast out a lot of demons. At least twice, he brought someone who had died back to life again. Then, of course, he healed people. That is quite an impressive list of miracles, isn’t it?
Did you know that in the 14th chapter of John, there is a statement that Jesus makes as he is preparing to say goodbye to his disciples the night before he is betrayed? He says, “Because I am going to the Father, you will do greater works than these.” Have you done greater works than these? I know I certainly do not feel like it. I have known a few people who have been healed but, typically, it comes at a moment after a doctor’s visit and a diagnosis that the cancer is gone or something unexplainable has happened. I have never seen someone who was actually touched or commanded to be healed. I have never seen that or done anything like that. Do we do a work greater than Jesus who did these things?
Let’s turn our attention to the passage today from Mark 2, and perhaps there is a clue here. This is a story that I remember since childhood. It was always one of those stories that the Sunday school teacher had a picture for. It is an easy thing to visualize. These friends who are bringing this man must be good friends to work through the crowd. There must be some sense of desperation to climb up on the roof. As a child, it always seemed very dramatic to hear how they climbed up and started to tear away the roof. There was Jesus in the room teaching, and all of a sudden, this man is lowered down on a pallet into the room where Jesus is. Jesus sees the man. He is so perceptive. He has to know that this is a need for healing.
In the first chapter of Mark, he has done many healings in Capernaum and the crowd has now built back up in expectation. As very typical of Jesus, someone asks for something, someone expects something, someone brings up a particular subject, and Jesus goes another direction. Here is this man who obviously cannot walk. He is at the concern of his good friends who lowered him through the ceiling. You would expect Jesus to perform a healing, but instead he says, “Son, my child, your sins are forgiven.” It would have been so much easier if he had not said that. It would have been so much easier if he had just given the man what he came for. It would have been so much easier if Jesus had stuck to the obvious and said, “Obviously, you cannot walk. Let me heal you. Get up and walk.”
Notice what takes place. Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” He perceives that those who are gathered around are critical. Who can forgive sins except God? They are very upset about this. If you read all the way through chapter 2 into chapter 3 of Mark, we find out that this is actually what begins the movement toward the cross. They are going to crucify Jesus because he forgave sins, and Jesus perceives their hardness of heart and he asks them about it. He said, “Just so you know I have authority, which is easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say ‘Rise up and walk’”? Jesus turns back to the man and says, “So that you might know the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins upon the earth, I tell you to take up your pallet and take it home.”
If the story just went like this: The men lowered their crippled friend down through the hole in the roof, and Jesus said, “Oh, you are healed,” it would have gone straight to the people being astonished and everybody would have been happy. While they are astonished at the healing, they are unhappy about the forgiveness. Which is easier? There is actually some irony here. It would have been much easier for Jesus only to heal. To us, that looks like the greater miracle. You and I don’t have the power in our hands to heal. None of us have the power to pray and be assured that a person is immediately going to be healed of whatever it is we are praying for them. It appears to us that saying, “You are forgiven,” is so much easier, but for Jesus it is really the hard time.
There are two things that we take from this passage. (1) Forgiveness may be just a bit harder than we think, and (2) when Jesus looks at us, no matter what it is that we present before Jesus, our greatest need is for forgiveness. Forgiveness is necessary for all of us. If we think about what makes a good and right relationship with God, there has to be forgiveness. If we understand correctly, the principles of relationship apply whether it is between God and us or whether it is between two, three, or four of us. This means forgiveness is one of the most essential parts of relationship.
In the month of March during the Lenten season, I will be preaching on The Lord’s Prayer. We know in The Lord’s Prayer, there is a line that is hard for all of us to speak: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. When that sermon comes around , I am going to speak more about the forgiving process.
Today, we are in the series on No Ordinary Relationships. We are reminded in our love and care and in our separation from one another because of things that have transpired, of how important forgiveness is. It was important to Jesus. This is why he has come—to extend forgiveness that we might be made one with God. He skips the miracle to begin with and only goes back to it in order to make his point. It is important enough to Jesus that he is willing to risk the cross. This is the place where the movement toward the cross begins. It is utterly important.
In preparation for this sermon, I read a quote I had not seen before. It says that marriage is the union of two good forgivers. The quote is about marriage, but really any good relationship is a combination of two good forgivers.
If you have brothers and sisters, you have probably had a little sibling rivalry. Do you remember who was the favorite at home and who got better treatment and the resentment that you still feel today? Forgiveness in a family is the union of two good forgivers.
There are children who harbor things against their parents, some justified and some not. There are parents who resent things that their children have brought into their lives. Any family that is above the ordinary consists of at least two good forgivers.
Friends require being good forgivers. Which one of us has never been disappointed by somebody else? Which of us has never disappointed someone? Which of us has never been irritated by something that somebody else keeps on doing? Which of us has never irritated somebody? Which of us has never had our patience tried to the max and which of us has never tried somebody else’s patience?
In all of these things, in the good relationships of life, sometimes we are on the giving end and sometimes we are on the receiving end. There just simply are no good relationships unless we recognize the truth of what Jesus is trying to teach us, and that is that perhaps the greatest healing is when we forgive and reconcile with one another. There is no good relationship anywhere without forgiveness.
Some of these things are recent and some are so ingrained into our lives and are such a part of how we relate to somebody else that we have a physical reaction to their presence. Is there someone that if you see them coming, you get a knot in your stomach or feel your heart rate begin to go up or feel your blood pressure go up? All of these things take place in us. We don’t like to think about it, but it is possible that we give someone else the same reaction. Forgiveness is a healing power that is even greater in the mind of Jesus than to say, “Rise up and walk.”
If the promise in the Gospel of John is that we might do works greater than what Jesus has done, where is that possible? Is it possible that if we turn and forgive one another, we have performed a work at least equal to what Jesus has done? I think we all could say that we have had illnesses or physical circumstances that were much easier to heal than to heal that broken, wounded, and bitter place within the heart that just keeps eating at us day after day. Which is easier to say, “Get up and walk” or “Your sins are forgiven.”
We work a miracle of healing, we participate in the ministry of Christ, and we have relationships that are above the ordinary when we are willing to turn, to forgive, and to be forgiven as is our turn that day.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.