- Matthew 9:1-8
- Psalms 103:1-5
- Matthew 12:15
A while back I ran in to trouble trying to implement some changes in the church I was serving as pastor. Most folks were on board with the changes and offered their support, but there was a small group of people in the church who, because of their tenure and some crafty posturing, held an excessive amount of power over the rest of the people in community. Needless to say, the changes I was working to implement did not go over well with this particular group of detractors and a few of them lashed out at me verbally. “Who do you think you are?!” one man yelled at me in my office. “Who do you think you are to come in here and make these kind of changes? What gives you the right?” The details of how things played out weren’t pretty, but they are not really what is important here. The point is, the conflict stemmed from a disagreement about my authority as the pastor of the church. His understanding (along with his cohorts) was certainly different than mine. For this band of detractors it didn’t matter if I was a pastor or the President of the United States. I was confident in my identity as pastor and the authority that accompanies the call, but they didn’t care who I was, so I would never hold any claim to authority in their eyes. There is a direct link between IDENTITY and AUTHORITY.
Our reading for today includes this story from Matthew’s gospel. It says,
2Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.” 3But some of the teachers of religious law said to themselves, “That’s blasphemy! Does he think he’s God?” 4Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you have such evil thoughts in your hearts? 5Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? 6So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” 7And the man jumped up and went home! 8Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for sending a man with such great authority. (Matthew 9:2-8 NLT)
So when his friends brought him to Jesus, Jesus declared the man forgiven and it didn’t go over well with the religious watchdogs who were present.
“Does he think he’s God?” (v3)
They understood that only God has the authority to forgive sin. Exactly! But they failed to recognize Jesus for who he was. Jesus, however, was certain of his identity and simply exercised his authority accordingly. There is a direct link between IDENTITY and AUTHORITY.
What Jesus did next is absolutely brilliant! See, in Jesus’ day there was a common understanding that sickness and physical ailments were the result of sin. So a man like the one in the story would have been outcast from the normal flow and function of society because most people would not want to risk associating with someone God was punishing this way. But Jesus completely obliterated this misguided understanding and made clear his identity in one fell swoop. He says,
Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” 7And the man jumped up and went home! (v5-7)
For this man (one who’s condition was perceived to be God’s punishment for sin) to be healed meant he had somehow found favor with God. No one had the authority to declare God’s favor except God. So when Jesus told the man to get up and walk — AND HE DID!!!! — Jesus made clear both his IDENTITY and AUTHORITY. There is a direct link between IDENTITY and AUTHORITY. Jesus declared God’s favor on this sinner based solely on God’s grace… not any kind of accomplishment. The man couldn’t even come to Jesus on his own, much less do anything that could have changed God’s mind about him. But that’s just it, isn’t it? God’s mind was already made up about the man. God had already decided that he loved him without requirement. We call that grace. God’s grace declared him innocent. The man’s ailment wasn’t God’s punishment, but his healing was a declaration of God’s rule and reign (The Kingdom of God) breaking into their current reality through Jesus. After this,
Fear (Not the scary kind of fear… the reverent kind) swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for sending a man with such great AUTHORITY. (v8)
What is your struggle? Where in your life do you long for Jesus to declare his Kingdom come?
Jesus, may we find strength and peace by knowing who you are, and who we are in you. Speak to that which is broken in us with your authority and restore us to wholeness once again.