Monday, November 27, 2006

Miracle of Faith, Pt. 1: "Faith Alive and Kicking"

Faith is alive and well in the 21st century. Science, technology and reason tried but they could not bury faith. Without faith, life is like a house without sunlight, without window or occupants. A life without faith is a murky existence, all doom and gloom, a leap in the dark. Without faith, the body is lifeless, without soul, breath or heart. Faith is at work everyday for those with eyes to see. Without faith, hockey players skate on thin ice, rope-walkers perform on a slippery rope and airline passengers fly at scary odds.

People from across the ages and from all walks of life have weighed in on the significance of faith. Augustine, defender of the faith, remarks, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” The philosopher Pascal muses, “Faith is different from proof; the latter is human, the former is a gift from God.” Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. says, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom adds, “Faith is like radar that sees through the fog - the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.” Educator Elton Trueblood observes, “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.”

The account of Jesus healing a paralytic in Luke 5 is unique; it offers a number of “firsts” in the Bible. The loud demonstration of the paralytic and his friends’ faith in the presence of Pharisees and teachers of the law is the first record of faith in Jesus. Also, the Pharisees and Jesus had their first direct meeting and confrontation, and for the first time, Pharisees and teachers of the law from “every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem” descended upon a city, specifically Capernaum (Lk 4:31). What a start, what a meeting and what an audience!

The first display of faith in the Gospels was a group venture, yet a personal risk and a public outreach. Jesus admired the resolve of four friends (Mk 2:3), saw the bravery of a paralytic and offered forgiveness to the curious public.

Why is faith an action and not a feeling? What are the obstacles in the way of faith? How can we triumph over animosity and hostility to faith?

Faith is a Personal Experience, But Not a Solo Effort
17 One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. 18 Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. 20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Lk 5:17-20)

An out-of-towner drove his car into a ditch in a desolated area. Luckily, a local farmer came to help with his big, strong horse named Buddy. He hitched Buddy up to the car and yelled, “Pull, Nellie, pull!” Buddy didn't move.

Then the farmer hollered, “Pull, Buster, pull!” Buddy didn't respond.

Once more the farmer commanded, “Pull, Coco, pull!” Nothing.

Then the farmer nonchalantly said, “Pull, Buddy, pull!” And the horse easily dragged the car put of the ditch.

The motorist was most appreciative and very curious. He asked the farmer why he called his horse by the wrong name three times. The farmer said, “Oh, Buddy is blind, and if he thought he was the only one pulling, he wouldn't even try!”

The paralytic was a friend in need and his four friends were friends in deeds. They surrounded the paralytic, supported and sustained him. If the most supportive twosome in the Bible were Joshua and Caleb and the most stubborn threesome were the fire-walkers Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, then the most steadfast quartet had to be the four rooftop friends.

Someone articulated friendship well: “A friend is someone who knows you as you are, understands where you've been, accepts who you've become and still, gently invites you to grow.” True friends are those who stick with us through thick and thin, ups and downs, haves and have-nots. Lee Iacocca reminisced fondly the advice his father gave him: “When you die, if you’ve got five real friends, then you’ve had a great life.”

The four friends had the highest degree of difficulty. In order to get to Jesus, they had to go up, then down and right through the roof. They removed the tiles, opened the roof and lowered the mat, the man, their mate into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus - before His very nose and face. The persistence of the paralytic and his paramedic friends, the selflessness of the four friends and the crowd-stopping, air-defying, object-balancing act made a strong impression on Jesus. The decision was theirs to make (v 19), the bill was theirs to pay and the work was theirs to sweat. Mark 2:4 records that they had to digging through the roof before lowering the mat.

Jesus looked on with interest, pride and delight. He admired the friendship, the persistence and the resourcefulness the four men had shown. Mostly, he was stirred by their faith. The faith of the four friends was unmistakable, recorded not only in Luke but also to Matthew and Mark. Their faith was in step with and no less stirring than the paralytic’s. Luke 5:20, Matthew 9:2 and Mark 2:3 noted that Jesus praised “their” faith - the paralytic and his friends. After all, they bonded with the paralytic, prized open the roof and lowered down their friend to Jesus. The four brave, smart and loyal men ignored the scowling of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, overcame the obstruction of the crowd and caught Jesus' attention to seek help for their paralyzed friend. They were not frustrated, discouraged or unprepared even when the crowd did not budge. There was no such thing as a dead end, a failing attempt or a futile effort in their vocabulary of faith. The four rooftops were never taken by surprise, flagging in zeal, short of ideas or at a loss.

Faith is a Personal Risk, And Not a Smooth Passage
21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Lk 5:21-24)

Faith is not lived in a protected shelter, tested in a secluded environment or practiced in a safe place! Working faith comes with hostile receptions, strange glances and pot shots. Obstacles, opposition and odds are included, understandable and should be expected.

The faith of the paralytic and his friends was severely tested with the presence of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were present in response to Jesus’ claim and activities in the last chapter - Luke 4. Jesus entered the synagogue on the first recorded Sabbath of his ministry, read from the book of Isaiah on the promise of the coming Messiah and threw down the challenge: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21). The religious leaders were not merely angry; they were outraged or “furious” (Luke 4:28) – the first occurrence of the Greek word “furious” in the New Testament and its only occurrence in the Gospels. They expelled Jesus from the city, even brought him to a cliff and attempted to push him down. Their interest was not in the man healed, but in the Sabbath broken. The sorest point of contention they had with Jesus was that He broke the rules and broke with tradition by healing on the Sabbath.

An orthodox Jew does not work, drive a car or answer the telephone on the Sabbath. In fact, he would not and could not blow out a candle, turn off a light switch to sleep or even put out a house on fire! New York Times (8/16/02) reported that Orthodox Jews campaigned furiously to designate a six-square-mile area in a prosperous suburb of north London as Britain's first eruv, an area defined in religious law where observant Jews are exempted from Sabbath prohibitions such as carrying keys or pushing strollers and wheelchairs.

Joseph Lieberman, the orthodox Jewish senator of Connecticut and Democratic Vice-President for the 2000 elections, admitted he could not go home after a Friday night meeting because operating machinery would violate the Sabbath. The senator had to either walk the four miles from the Capitol to his home or sleep on a cot in his office. Fortunately, a fellow senator then by the name of Al Gore offered an apartment across the street for him to stay, and even turned the lights on for Lieberman, which was another prohibition from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday. (USA Today 8/8/00 “Who is Joe Lieberman?”)

In the thick of the 2000 presidential elections, the Charlie Rose Show (12/8/00) revealed that Lieberman left his TV on the whole day so that he did not have to violate the Sabbath by turning on TV to find out if the Florida Supreme Court would order a second recount in the Bush-Gore chad controversy. On the same night, Ted Koppel also reported that Senator Joe Lieberman was about to walk from his Georgetown home to the Vice President Al Gore's residence on the Jewish Sabbath to offer a primetime concession speech if not for the court's order of a recount.

On the second recorded Sabbath in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 4:31) and the New Testament, Jesus kept the word concerning his mission. He healed people, including a demon-possessed man (Lk 4:33), Simon’s mother-in-law who had a fever (Lk 4:38) and people with various kinds of sickness (Lk 4:40).

Naturally in Luke 5, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law stormed into town to make their presence felt after Jesus' breakout or first Messianic activities in Capernaum were reported to them. When the religious leaders invaded town, the town folks knew their place, curtailed their activities and even stopped beseeching Jesus to heal, unlike the last chapter when they interceded for Simon’s mother-in-law who had a fever (Lk 4:38), when they took the sick to Jesus (Lk 4:40) and when they begged Jesus to heal individuals such as the leper (Luke 5:12). In fact, even the demons (Lk 4:41) stayed away when the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were in town to find out who were in accord and in cahoots with the man who broke the Sabbath! Matthew Henry says the Pharisees and the teachers of the law “sat by as spectators, censors, and spies, to pick up something on which to ground a reproach or accusation.”

Nevertheless, the four men stuck up for their friend at the risk of offending the religious leaders. Together, the five stuck to their ground, stuck to their purpose and stuck their necks out before the watching, waiting, and wandering eyes of the religious teachers. What made the faith of the four accomplices and their paralyzed friend so amazing was their disregard for who was in the way, who was in the crowd and who was in their corner. The religious authorities had descended like flies on the town; however, the faith of the five shone brightest and spoke loudest when they were sorely tested, publicly scrutinized and duly marked.

Faith is a Personal Triumph, But Never a Secret Matter
25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” (Lk 5:25-26)

A woman who was looking for a dog found the perfect dog from the perfect place for the perfect price.

The ad in the local newspaper read: “Purebred Police Dog $25”. Thinking that to be a great bargain, Mrs. Freeman ordered the dog to be delivered. The next day a van pulled up and left her the mangiest looking mongrel she had ever seen.

In a rage, she telephoned the man who had placed the ad. “What do you mean by calling that mangy mutt a purebred police dog?” “Don't be deceived by his looks, Ma'am,” he replied. “He's in the Secret Service.”

Faith cannot wear a veil or a mask, vow to secrecy and confidentiality, shut its mouth or conscience. Jesus’ challenge to the paralytic to get up, take his mat and go home gave him no option in front of the staring crowd and made it impossible for him to remain neutral, back away or to do nothing and be healed. However, no matter what Jesus said, did or commanded, the paralytic’s decision to pick up the mat was still his personal choice, his big test and defining moment. Up until now, with the exception of the teeming multitudes, Jesus had healed Simon’s mother-in-law (Matt 8:15), the sick that were brought to him (Luke 4:40) and the leper (Luke 5:13) with the touch of his hand. However, the paralytic was afforded no such luxury! Interestingly, Jesus never had any form of physical contact with the sick in the presence of the Pharisees, probably to spare their involvement and give them immunity. Besides, anyone looking for healing and seeking a miracle must truly act in faith and take a stand when it counts.

Jesus required more from the paralytic than just to be on the receiving end of His touch and be a passive recipient of God’s grace. He ordered him to pick up his mat and go home. Taking orders from Jesus before the Pharisees was as audacious and as dangerous a test as any. Did the paralytic have the spiritual, mental and emotional resolve to face up to the Pharisees’ persecution and questioning? Ending up on the Pharisees’ blacklist in crossing them was inevitable, as the blind man in John 9 found out. People associated and allied with Jesus in any form were often the target of the Pharisees, who questioned (Jn 9:26), insulted (Jn 9:29) and ostracized the blind man mercilessly (Jn 9:35). To the crowd’s utter disbelief and hushed silence, the paralytic demonstrated steadfast, stubborn yet simple faith. The man who was immobilized in his body mobilized his mind, will and faith to work. He proved that he was no leech, slouch or flake himself, and not a mere taker, an ordinary paralytic or an easy pushover. The paralytic refused to be a crowd pleaser, a secret believer or an anonymous seeker. Not only did he not wait, procrastinate or hesitate before the public, he picked up his mat and walk before the prying eyes of the investigative team. He couldn’t have done it at a better time, at a worst time or a more awkward time.

To the chagrin and dismay of the Pharisees, the paralytic also didn't go quietly. He made a lot of noise, attracted a lot of attention and caused quiet a scene and a stir. The paralytic did not fear repercussions, nor did he leave quietly. He raised his voice to praise and glorify God, and the crowd caught on to his infectious spirit. They were spellbound, listening carefully and paying attention. After that, they couldn’t stop talking about the paralytic or the healing, debating who Jesus was and what He said or noticing the Pharisees’ displeasure at the paralytic’s audacity, at the crowd’s excitement and at Jesus’ words. The man’s healing opened the door to a point of conversation: who can forgive sins?

Forgiveness is God’s prerogative, promise and provision to those who turn to Him (Neh. 9:17, Dan. 9:9, Ps 86:5). Jesus' offer of forgiveness to the paralytic and those who were present spoke volumes of who he claimed to be. Only God can initiate, bring and proclaim forgiveness. Not even priests could do that; they had to follow the good book and the letter of the law on forgiveness. However, the paralytic did not require a priest’s interpretation of the law and clean bill of health; he heard the good news directly from Jesus, who is the direct way of access for sinful man to God.

Conclusion: Man’s greatest need is forgiveness of sins, but it is hard to know what it means, harder to know where to find it, and even harder to know how to obtain it.
Praise the Lord, Jesus came to forgive our sins. He came so that we do not have to spend the rest of our lives yearning, asking and looking for forgiveness. Jesus did not come to address man's physical need, but his spiritual need; not to cure all man’s ills, but the illness of sin. The paralysis of faith, not the immobility of the body, is life’s greatest handicap. Man can pardon, but only God can forgive sins. Jesus had come so that we may not be darkened in our understanding, deceived by the Evil One and dead in our sins. He is waiting to forgive you of your sins, so that you can begin a new life in Him. Won’t you ask and accept His forgiveness today? Won’t you let him be your Savior and Shepherd, your guard and guide, your Lord and life?


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