The only place of grace…

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Jesus was teaching in a house crammed with listeners, round which crowds were pressing. The friends of a poor crippled man found it impossible to edge their way through the press with their stretcher. So they climb to the flat roof, cut through it and lower their friend down, until he is at the very feet of Jesus.

It must have been an amazing sight! Maybe the crowd applauded the ingenuity with which the one furthest from Christ was now centre-stage. They would have admired the perseverance, or the dexterity, or the sheer inventiveness.

But Jesus saw it differently. He went to the heart of it. “Jesus saw their faith.” Faith is the deepest human motivator. It is the warring principle of this world which wins in life’s battles. The Bible says “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. “All things are possible to him that believes.” It wrestles with difficulty, removes mountains, tramples upon impossibilities. It never believes in failure, leads people of business to their biggest successes, making them believe a thing possible because they hope it; and giving substantial reality to that which before was a shadow and a dream.

It was this “substance of things hoped for” that gave America to Columbus, when his whole crew rose in rebellion against the obstinacy which believed in “things not yet seen.” You see it in FA cup finals pushing through to that final goal, discovery of new medicines, military conquests….. almost any human endeavour. It’s that want-to attitude that pushes through to success despite every obstacle.

Because faith doesn’t belong to theology, but it is one of the major principles of how we do life.

If you go for it, believing that “God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him,” then you will win what you venture. “Be it done to you according to your faith.” So how big is your Want-to? How much do you want?

But once the man’s there, at the feet of Jesus, something unexpected happens. The thing that needed dealing with seemed obvious: the man was crippled. He needed healing. But again, Jesus sees it differently, and he goes to the heart of things. He didn’t first say “Take up your bed and walk;” but “Your sins be forgiven you.” He goes deeper than the outward evil; down to the root of all evil,-sin itself. And I think he read in the crippled man’s heart a burden worse than being crippled, and a longing for a rest more profound than release from pain-the desire to be healed of guilt. And that’s what he responds to with the words “Your sins be forgiven you.”

People forget that sin has both natural consequences and moral consequences.

There are natural consequences by which sin and suffering are linked together. If you drink too much booze you get problems with your liver. If you go crazy with a credit card you face bankruptcy. Your health or your wellbeing suffer because of your wrong behaviour.

Was the man’s condition the natural result of sin? Otherwise the words of Christ were pretty meaningless. Remember, these natural consequences of sin are often invisible as well as inevitable.

Well, there were two people there who would know for sure. The crippled man and Jesus himself.

We look on the outside, but God looks on the heart. Our physical condition might be tied up with our emotional, psychical or spiritual condition far more than we realise!

In Wilde’s book The Picture of Dorian Gray, there is a disjunct between the outside and the inside person. What you see is not quite what you get! So what are you like inside? Perhaps you struggle today because of long-ago issues.  Nothing here stands alone and causeless. We are all the product of the places and problems we have faced.Well, Jesus looked on a crippled man and saw a crippled heart. He saw the miserable wreck of an ill-spent life.

Are you really going to say you’re any different?

So there are natural consequences to wrongdoing, but also moral consequences too. Your character changes. It deteriorates and you grow miserable. You lose blessing. No one can sin without blunting his own sensibilities. If you touch Gardenia petals, then there is ever afterwards a stain. I think we’re the same. And it’s not a light loss.

And it makes you hide, like Adam, when God comes looking.

Don’t we all know about self-contempt or self-reproach?

Maybe with this man on his stretcher, his physical condition was just the counterpart and reflection of something much deeper. Pain had laid him on a bed, and said to him, “Lie there face to face with God-and think!”

So how did Jesus deal with it?

He declared God’s forgiveness. The Gospel means the blotting out of sin. The forgiveness of God acts upon the moral consequences of sin directly and immediately; and on the natural too.

When you admit your sin, you come out of hiding and God begins to speak. He comes into your life and starts talking. He takes away your self-contempt, because you learn to forgive yourself. You experience rest, because “being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” And remember, God’s love is not an offer but a gift; not clogged with conditions, but free as the air we breathe.

But notice that the forgiveness of Christ did not remove the physical condition; that was the result of a separate, distinct act of Christ. What if he hadn’t been healed? That’s what happened in David’s case: on his repentance there came to him the declaration of God’s pardon: the moral consequences were removed, but the natural consequences remained. “The Lord has put away your sin, nevertheless the child which is born to you shall die.”

What if an old drunk repented of his wasted life? He would be forgiven, but would he have a new liver? Not necessarily.

Jesus offered pardon to a dying thief, but the guy still died, right?

So here’s the point: the consequences of past deeds remain. You cannot undo your acts. The damage you caused in someone else’s life remains. Your sin is forgiven, but the mess remains. It’s a grim thought, isn’t it?

But even here the grace of God’s forgiveness is not in vain. It cannot undo the natural consequences of sin, but it may by his mercy transform them into blessings. For example, suppose this man’s condition to have been left still with him, and yet he himself is forgiven and at peace. Well, he is disabled, sure, but is that all that matters? We read of people, like, say Joni Eareckson or Brother Lawrence who sought God for healing, didn’t receive it, and yet found God in a new and deeper way through the very circumstances of their condition.

What makes the outward events of life blessings or the reverse? Is it not all from inside ourselves?

What makes death the worst of all terrors to one person, and a doorway into a marvellous future to another?

Once you meet Jesus, then even death gets transformed because of his resurrection!

But where you right now?

Surely, like me, you’re conscious of the natural or moral results of sin working in you? Believe me, I’m an expert. Ultimately, as John Lennon said, “One thing you can’t hide is when you’re crippled inside.” And who am I to give advice? All I can say is, I have seen what the Bible says and I’m announcing it as something bigger than me, something to which I must submit, with a broken heart.

My heart is broken because of my own failure, but it is also full because of the last word from this story: “The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins.”

And remember too, that the crippled man was incapable of getting to Jesus, but his wonderful friends pushed through on his behalf! And “Jesus saw their faith”! Let’s go there together! Let’s help each other!

There is forgiveness available. You just have to break through the barriers of difficulty that would keep you from Jesus. Force your way through! Get to Jesus!

And once you’re there, everything will get exposed for a moment. It may be painful, but it is the only place of healing, and the only place of grace.

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