Gift Exchange

gift exchangeRomans 1:11-12

“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong– that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

Not too long ago, Saddleback Church in Southern California surveyed over 8,000 of their new members and asked them why they joined.  Their results:

#10 – Special Events and Activities
#9 – Location Near Our Home
#8 – Missions
#7 – Different Styles of Worship
#6 – Small Groups and Discipleship Classes
#5 – Pastoral Care
#4 – Children’s and Youth Ministry
#3 – Service Opportunities
#2 – Worship
#1 – Preaching and Teaching 

Interesting list!  There is a lot for church leaders to take in here.  But can I offer one more to the list.  One that might entice you to a church that doesn’t have half of the others:  a place to minister.  (I realize “service opportunities” might provide this.  But I’m trying to hone in on something more specific.)  Every person that joins a church must discover their God given “ministry.”  The purpose of their personal existence and their reason for being a part of that specific body.

I heard many years ago from a popular Christian leader that churches should have “human scaffolding.”  What he meant by this was that there needed to be some that just came and supported the ministry with their money.  I cannot find a Biblical support for this ministry strategy.  Everyone is called to bring their gifts to the body and to find a ministry in which to employ them.

And yet, what do people look for when they visit a church?  Good teaching, cleanliness, friendliness, something for the kids, etc.

In this introduction of his letter to the Romans, Paul informs them that he would like to visit them.  But he is clear on his intent!  He isn’t going to Rome to see the Forum or the Coliseum.  He comes bearing gifts!

What does Paul mean by this?  I don’t believe that Paul is bringing with him a certain spiritual gift that they had been lacking, such as tongues or another manifestation of the Spirit.  Paul never claims to “institute” a specific gift anywhere… that is the job of the  Holy Spirit.  By “impart,” I believe Paul refers to the benefit that they will receive when he exercises his own spiritual gifts among them.  Why does Paul want to do this?

1)     That you may be established.

The Greek word is sterizo (stay-rid’-zo):  “To make stable, firm and to strengthen or fix.”  This is the word that Jesus used in Luke 16:26.  He told Peter that he would deny him three times that encouraged him by saying:  “…but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again strengthen your brothers.” Luke 16:26

The Christian life is one of stability and strength.  But we need the help of others to get there.  Paul’s goal in life:  Colossians 1:28-29 – “to present every man complete in Christ.  And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

We tend to listen to experts on fitness, diet and health (sometimes) as authoritative.  Bur preachers, teachers and evangelists… not so much.  We get defensive.  We get that American pioneer spirit.  “If it is to be… it’s up to me!”

We are forever pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  But we need to receive the gifts that God gives us by way of fellow believers.  They are instrumental in our reaching God’s goals for our lives.

Would you have the humility to do that?  Paul did.

2) “…that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”

NIV omits “both yours and mine”… maybe because it is repetitive… but Paul repeats it to make his point stronger.  This is a gift exchange… not a one way receiving.  Paul says:  “I learn from you as well as you learn from me.”

We need to be encouraged by the gift others bring to the body.  We shouldn’t get jealous or envious… or critical.  We must mutually encourage each other!

So what are you looking for in a church?  We should see if their doctrine is sound and if they are strong in outreach, etc.  But we should also ask… do they need the gifts that I would bring there if I joined? 

Remember, Jesus told us to pray that the Father would send more laborers into the vineyard… but not once did he request any “human scaffolding.”

Lord, Remember Me For Good

FuneralPsalm 25:7

     It is an old joke, but one worth retelling.  A certain minister was met with an odd proposal.  The brother of a rather notorious sinner came into his office one day and offered the minister a sizable gift to the church’s building program.  It seems his brother had just died, and he was willing to give the money to the church in his memory, but only if… during the funeral… the minister was willing to call him a saint.  After some thought, the minister finally agreed.

The day of the funeral arrived and the minister began his sermon.  “This man that just died, we all know his reputation… he was a womanizer, a drunkard, a con artist and a thief.”

He paused for a moment, then continued:  “But compared to his brother he was a saint!”

We laugh at that joke because we have all been in funerals of those with a dubious reputation… and have listened with embarrassment as family members and friends spoke of their character as though they were little Billy Grahams.

But truth be told, there is a lot of truth that we would like not to be told at our own funerals.  We want to be remembered for our good.

While reading Psalm 25, I got to thinking:  What if God were to speak a eulogy at my funeral… what would HE say about me?

In Psalm 25: 7, David asks of the Lord: “Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.”

This is a bold request, but one–that in Christ— He has granted.  This is seen in how some OT characters are spoken of in the NT – of Moses: Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant… Hebrews 3:5; of Job – “You have heard of the endurance of Job…” (James 5:11); of Lot (!) – “and if He rescued righteous Lot…” (2 Peter 2:7).  Did you hear that right?  Moses, Job and Lot.  Yes, Moses.  The one who not only didn’t want to be the deliverer, but wanted God to sent Aaron instead.  Yes, that Moses, was called faithful.  Yes, Job.  The one who complained insistently that he was being treated unfairly and wanted to take God to court.  Yes, that Job, was called patient in the NT.  And Lot… LOT!  The one who steadily moved toward sin, until he reached the point of having to flee from falling fire and brimstone.  Yes, that Lot was called righteous in the NT.  How can this be?

And what will be spoken of you in that final day?  You might think that your list of failures and sin will be an albatross to be worn by you throughout eternity.  But the Scriptures teach, that when you are remembered, it will be for good.  Because Jesus died for you… redeemed you… and paid the penalty of your sin for you… Because of Jesus… God will remember you for good!

After listing a litany of sins, Paul writes this in his first letter to Corinth: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11)   [notice the highlighted verbs are in past tense].

There are days that I am like David… I am reflecting on my past and the things that I have done and I get this sense of dread.  I think:  “What must God (who sees and knows everything – including my thoughts and intentions)– what must He be thinking of me?  Through the blood of Christ… I know that when He thinks of me… He thinks of me for good.  Hallelujah!  Thank you Jesus!

Reaching Out to an Unreachable World

earthActs 17:6-23

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

How do you preach the Gospel in a knowledgeable, trendy, pseudo-intellectual world?  The circumstances we face today in the 21st century seem overwhelming in regard to witnessing for Christ… but we can learn a lot from the first trail blazer for Christ, the Apostle Paul in the 1st Century.

What did he do then that we should be about today?

1)  Follow the Spirit!

Now if we look at Paul’s journey into Macedonia, we see he has a plan.  He begins in Philippi and the moves on to Thessalonica… these are two stops on what was called the Egnatian Way!  It was a paved roadway across the Roman Empire.  Paul’s plan seems to make sense!  Stay on the sidewalk and set up churches along the heart of the land.

But persecution in Thessalonica sends the team to Berea… which was a good thing because many people were saved there.  But then more persecution hits and they are further turned away from the Main Highway and their team is fragmented.  While Timothy and Silas stay behind to strengthen the young church in Berea… Paul departs alone for Athens:  the philosophical capital of all time… home to greats such as Socrates and Plato.

Now Paul was more than ready to minister to Athens, it just wasn’t part of his plan… Rome, the capital of the empire, seems to have been the target.  But by the movement of the Spirit he came to Athens, the capital of philosophical thought.

Is the Spirit leading you to place of witness that you haven’t though of before?  Maybe a class at a local university or a seat on a community board, or a volunteer position at a local hospital would shake up things in your world.  Stay open to the Spirit’s lead and follow the Lord’s call.  You may have to get off your chosen sidewalk… but that’s okay.

2)  Open Your Eyes!

16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.

A.T. Robertson notes: “Pliny [the Roman writer] states that in the time of Nero [A.D. 54-68], Athens had over 30,000 public statues besides countless private ones in the homes. Petronius [a Roman satirist] sneers that it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens. Every gateway or porch had its protecting god” (Word Pictures of the New Testament, notes on Acts 17:16).

That sounds to me like 21st Century America.  We aren’t tripping over marble statuettes, but we do live in a land of religious plurality.

Chuck Sackett in his sermon “At Ease in Athens” wrote:  “I was reading an article from Newsweek recently: “In Search of the Spiritual.” Apparently, the religious website Beliefnet sends out more than 8 million daily emails of spiritual wisdom in various flavors to more than 5 million subscribers. Generic inspiration is the most popular 2.4 million emails, followed by inspirations from the Bible with 1.6 million.  But there are 460,000 subscribers to the Buddhist thought of the day, 313,000 Torah devotees, 268,000 subscribers to daily Muslim wisdom, and 236,000 who get spiritual weight loss messages.

Even nature worshiping pagans are divided up into: Wicca, Druidism, Pantheism, Animism, Teutonic Platonism, and the God of Spirituality folk. And in case you can’t find one to suit you on that list, there’s Eclectic Paganism.

If I were to walk through Beliefnet’s website, I would draw this conclusion: we are very religious people. In fact, 79% of people in the U.S. under the age of 60 would categorize themselves as spiritual. Not religious, but spiritual.

For all of the choices, many chose not to chose.

“I believe in God. I just don’t know if that God is Jehovah, Buddha or Allah.”  – Actress Halle Berry

She is not that different from a lot of your neighbors.  Open your eyes to the belief systems of those around you.  And from that, see… truly see… their desire to find God… All this belief points to the fact that they are questioning and seeking the Almighty.

 3)  Strike up a conversation!

In Athens Paul is without his support team, but cannot remain silent.

17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.

Jews and God fearing Greeks in the synagogue were his typical audience.  But Paul also took advantage of the Agora (the marketplace) where ideas were sold as plenteous as groceries.  Paul took the Gospel to whoever would listen.  Verse 18 states at least two groups took note of Paul.

Epicureans –  Now they believed that life was 100% chance… and death was the end.  The other group was the Stoics – They believed that everything was god, that everything that happened was of god and had to be accepted without question.  Hince, we refer to one that doesn’t show emotion in a situation that calls for it, as someone who is very Stoic.

These groups hear Paul’s preaching and say in verse 18: “What is this babbler trying say?”

The Greek word for “babbler” here originally was used of birds picking up grain and then of scrap collectors searching for junk and then of people that stole other’s ideas and peddled them as their own.  This was not a flattering label they were putting on Paul.

To top it all off.. they also thought Paul was advocating new deities:  Jesus and Resurrection.  The Greek word for resurrection has an uncharacteristic feminine ending.  Meaning, they thought Paul was saying Jesus and Resurrection were a couple.  They apparently weren’t listening that well to Paul’s message.

What can we learn from Paul here about striking up a conversation in a diverse religious setting?  We should expect to be misunderstood, mislabeled and at times, belittled.  But that shouldn’t cause us to run away into our Christian subculture and hide… we need to find our feet shod with the Good News of the Gospel and firmly planted in the marketplace of our time.

But, you ask, how do I engage today’s culture?

>Read the paper, watch the news, if only to gain a frame of reference to talk to others.

>Talk to people:  where you work and where you go to school.

>Talk to people of other faiths, other races, other economic statuses.

You can’t make people believe in Jesus… but that’s the Holy Spirit’s job anyway.  We just work to impact  people toward Him.

Moved to the Core

saying it well2 Corinthians 12:7-10

     I have been reading through Charles Swindoll‘s book on preaching, “Saying it Well.”  It is autobiographical in a lot of ways and there is a reason for that.  He gives three principles in regard to good preaching:

1)  Know who you are.

2)  Accept who you are.

3)  Be who you are.

Authenticity is not a luxury in preaching, it is an essential.  I know this, I really do.  So why is it that I need such frequent reminders?

I remember years ago that I preached a sermon that included my testimony at a church in Tennessee.  I shared about what it was like to be unemployed as your infant daughter goes in for brain surgery.  I share what it was like to see God miraculously supply your needs when you are drowning in medical bills.  I shared as best I could and from my heart.

I wasn’t feeling particularly well that day and stumbled quite a bit in my delivery.  Afterward I was discouraged and expressed that to my wife in the car on our ride home.  I went over every tongued moment and lamented my performance over and over.  Finally she responded:  “Will you be quiet for a minute!”
I was shocked at her tone!  But she then said:  “I have been trying to tell you something.  Do you remember that lady in the wheelchair in the audience?”

I did remember her but didn’t get a chance to talk with her afterward.  Janine continued:  “She tried to come up to you but couldn’t get close enough.  She wanted you to know that words could not express how much what I had said meant to her.”  I was tongue-tied again as tears filled my eyes.

She was moved to the core… and it wasn’t because I was eloquent.  It was because, on that particular day, I knew who I was, accepted who I was, and shared out of the depth of who I was.  With that formula you can hit a home run every time.

Dorothee Soelle once wrote something to remind us that sermons can’t be detached oratory…   She wrote:  “…one of the strange things about the language of religion and theology is that it does not permit itself to be used.  The reason is this is fairly clear.  It is not something neutral, a mere instrumentality.  When we use such language simply for the sake of using it, the result is sheer nonsense, garbled communication.  The language of religion is the vehicle of collected experience and it is meaningful only when it speaks of experience and addresses itself to experience.”

If I am going to share something, I first have to have something to share.  How many “God moments” am I experiencing in my day to day walk with Him?  Without that touch from God in my life… the sermon preparation well dries up pretty fast.

Authenticity… why do I have to be reminded of it so often.  Thanks for the reminder, Chuck.  It moved me to the core.

_______________

P.S.  Swindoll’s book, Saying it Well, is on sale this week (6/12/13) at Lifeway for only $5 as a part of their father’s day sale.  Well worth the 5 bucks!

The Great Bible Heist

BibleMark 4:1-20

“And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (v.9)

It was Easter Sunday morning in my church back in Petaluma, CA.  I was dressed in a nice new dress shirt… unusual for me in my northern California church. (I usually wore a polo.)  I entered the sanctuary from the front and was humming to myself “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” when I heard :  “Pastor, come quick.  I need you!”  One of the women of our church was calling me from the back.  I quickly perceived that my church member was engaged in an altercation with a strange woman I had never seen before.  It seems that this woman had wandered in the front door and exhibiting signs of mental illness became obsessed with our Bible on display in the foyer.  It was one of those large coffee table Bibles.  When my church member called me, the woman suddenly grabbed it and was made off with it.

“Stop her!” my church member yelled to me as I approached… “She’s stealing the church’s Bible!”  As I reached the back of the church she was already half way across the parking lot.  I suddenly caught a vision of me scuffling on the blacktop with this Bible thief… in my nice clothes… on a Sunday morning… just as Easter worshipers were arriving.  It responded:  “Let her go.  It’s hers!”

As I watched her with this 50 pound Bible tucked under her arm making her getaway… I had another thought:  “At least now it might get read.”  It reminded me of the coffee table Bible we had in our home as I grew up.  Never saw it opened.  Never saw it read.

Jesus once told a parable:  A farmer went to sow seeds:  some on the path in full view of hungry birds, some on a rocky hillside where the plants could not put down roots so they withered in the sun, some were sown  among thorns where the plants grew up but were then choked to un-fruitfullness… but some were sown on good rich soil where the plants grew tall and plentiful.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be the soil that grows the big crop.  I don’t want be some sickly garden; I want my life to be robust and healthy.  I want there to be fruit in my garden to share with others.  But I’m not sure my soil is always soft.  You see, I get seed slung at me all day long… and most of it is not God’s word.  My email inbox, the Nightly News Cast, a casual conversation with a friend, or a blog about something that interests me, they each throw at me… opinions, ideas, theologies, and world views each hoping to raise up a crop in me.

What happens after being bombarded day after day?  My soil gets hard.  I become less a student and more a skeptic.  And yet… I still want that good crop!  How do I get it?

There is a word that can help you and I get to a rich crop of righteousness… that word is “receptivity.”  In Jesus’ parable, the seed is sown… and all the soil can do is accept or reject the seed.  Are you adept at accepting the Word of God?   Or does it sit unopened week after week… its life changing message doing nothing for you.

Soren Kierkegaard reminds us:  “To truly hear the word of God is to say over and over again to yourself, ‘It is talking about me, and it is talking to me.’”  He who has ears to hear… let him hear.  Yes, Jesus was talking about you, and he is talking to you.

What condition is your soil?  Do you have ears to hear today?

(By the way, this heist wasn’t unique apparently.  Read:  http://999thepoint.com/woman-busted-for-stealing-a-bible-from-bookstore/)  Blessed reading!

Running Out of Real Estate

Pick up the phone 2

 

  Acts 16:6-8cliff

  “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phyrgia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.  So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.”

Paul is seeking and reaching and praying… and he isn’t getting anywhere.  The Holy Spirit stops him from preaching in Asia.  The Spirit of Jesus won’t let him touch Bithynia.

This is different from his first missionary journey.  It was wondrous.  Paul and Barnabas traveled through Asia, founding churches and setting people on fire for the gospel. But after returning home things cooled off a bit.  They come back to a less than rapturous welcome from a Jerusalem church, who wanted to know what they were doing baptizing Gentiles!  Then there was a fall out between Paul and Barnabas.  The dream team splits.  Barnabas heads off with Mark and Paul journeys with Silas instead.

Now this trip is not going so well!  Bouncing from city to city they can’t plant a toehold in any of them.  They were prevented… they weren’t allowed!  Whatever form this took, it sounds to me like a lot of angry faces and slammed doors.

Faced any rejection lately?  Impeccable skills and a flawless resume have not turned up one good job interview?  Your past experience in a certain ministry field is now turning out underwhelming results?  What gives?  What can you do to find where God can use you best?

In Matthew 7:7, Jesus said we were to “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”  You have probably heard somewhere before that the verbs for “Ask,” “seek” and “knock” are all present tense verbs in Greek… meaning they should be translated:  “keep on asking,” “keep on seeking,” and “keep on knocking.”

That is what Paul does.  He can’t find the place he is suppose to serve… so he keeps moving.  He Troaskeeps going and going until he reaches the city of Troas.  Now Troas was a sea port.  That means that Paul and Silas plumb ran out of real estate!  In the next few verses God is going to open their eyes to a brand new mission field.  But first, imagine the two of them “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.”  They are painted into a corner, at the end of the road… Troas!  Maybe that’s where you are right now…  out of options and very desperate.

God may have you there because he wants to open your eyes to a whole new way of viewing your world.  And this often comes at the end of where your own ingenuity has taken us.  So don’t despair.  Keep asking!  Keep seeking!  Keep knocking!  God will grant a vision in His timing!

Many years ago, a young writer interviewed the legendary IBM president Thomas J. Watson.  He was given some unusual advice by the industrialist:  “It’s not exactly my line,” Watson said, “but would you like me to give you a formula for writing success?  It’s quite simple, really.  Double your rate of failure.”

Watson continued, “You’re making a common mistake.  You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success.  But it isn’t at all.  Failure is a teacher—a harsh one perhaps, but the best.”

Then he looked at the young writer and asked him a critical question:  “You say you have a desk full of rejected manuscripts?  That’s great!  Every one of those manuscripts was rejected for a reason.  Have you pulled them to pieces looking for that reason?”

Arthur Gordon, the man who had interviewed Watson, went on to become a nationally known author and editor.  He had originally gone to Watson for an interview, but Watson gave him something much more precious.  He gave him a new perspective on failure.   (Gary J. Oliver in How to Get it Right After You’ve Gotten it Wrong, pp. 26-27.)

Failing?  Running out of ideas?  Do what Paul did… keep moving… keep listening.

God may be ready to completely blow your mind with what He has in store for you.

Did I Make the Team?

phone ringingPick Up the PhoneGod‘s Call on Your Life

(Part One of Five)

Philippians 3:13 & Luke 7:30

A few Sundays ago I began my sermon with an illustration regarding the NFL draft.  I started by saying that the story I was going to share would probably only reach the men that morning.  Then I asked who was following the draft.  5 women and no men raised their hands.  Go figure!

A story on Yahoo! Sports caught my eye that weekend:  “E.J. Manuel says he didn’t share the rest of the football world’s surprise when the Buffalo Bills made him the first and only quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night. The Florida State signal caller was in on the secret that the Bills coveted him highly and the two sides officially became a pair when the team selected him with the No. 16 pick after trading back from the eighth slot earlier in the night.   Manuel was taken offguard earlier in the night, however, when someone accidentally dialed a wrong number and gave him a slight rush of excitement over the possibility of top 5 money.

E.J. Manuel said his green room hotline phone rang at pick 3. He got excited, then the voice asked if they could talk to Dion Jordan.”

 That had to be a rude disappointment.

It reminds me of when my boys were involved in sports.  After a couple of days or sometimes weeks of practice, they would wait all day by the phone to see if they made the team.  It was a tense time for them… and us!

Some of you are like that athlete in the green room or one of my sons.  You have been waiting ever so long for that phone to ring… for it to provide the answer to your future.  You want to say:  “God, could you help me out here.  I feel like I’m pick #167 or something.  Am I even wanted?  Will I get picked at all?”saints logo

Well first let me say:  Relax, you made the team!  You were picked the day you accepted Christ!  He gave you a new team (the Saints), a jersey (a robe of white) and a team motto:  “If God be for us!  Who can possible be against us?”

But maybe you are more interested in the specifics… What position will you play on the team?  What areas should you be training?  When will you get a chance to score for the kingdom?

I want to start this series with a pair of my favorite verses regarding calling.   The first of these is at the end of Paul’s mini-testimony in Philippians, chapter three.  “…I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”  There was a reason God had picked him for the team and Paul was in hot pursuit of that reason.  Are you?

The other verse is more an observation by Luke, than a complete thought.  In talking about the adversaries of Jesus in his Gospel, he write:  “But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves…” (Luke 7:30)

Putting these two thoughts together I come up with two principles:  1) God has a purpose for your life that He wants each of us to pursue.  (i.e. You made the team!) and  2)  You can either accept or reject that calling.

Who God calls as a higher pick than you should be of no consequence.  Just pick up the phone and get your assignment.  That could be Him calling right now!

Advent: Seeing Jesus as Priest

Matthew 9

Last week we looked at Jesus the prophet… today we look at Jesus as Priest.  This is harder to find in the Gospels.  The crowds tried to crown Jesus as their King!  The crowds after witnessing a miracle would cry out:  “He is a prophet… mighty in word and deed.”  But the term “priest” is not there.

The Theological Ground Work for the concept is actually found within the NT book of Hebrews.  Hebrews 4:14 reads:  14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,[e] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”    That is well and good, but this series I’m preaching is using the Gospels for texts… so I searched the Gospels to find a place where Jesus was acting very “priestly” and I settled on Matthew chapter 9.  It is there that Jesus tells a paralytic:  “Your sins are forgiven!”

This had to stun that paraplegic.  Imagine you are this individual.  You have little control over your life.  You are immobile… unable to care for yourself.  You might not have even wanted to go see Jesus.  Your friends may have carried you there as you angrily protested along the journey.   But finally your mat is laid before this faith healer… a living legend in Capernaum, a town that had become like a second home to Jesus, a town in which Jesus had performed miracle after miracle.

So you are going to be like healing #258… but instead of Jesus saying something like:  “Be healed.” Or “Stand up and try out your new legs.”  He says:  “Your sins are forgiven.”

Talk about the old bait and switch.  You’re there to be healed of an ailment not absolved of a sin.  And yet this Galilean who spoke with such authority over illness, now speaks with that same power over your iniquity.  Why does Jesus make this curious pronouncement?  Many commentators sight a connection between the man’s sin and his sickness.  Sin and sickness are not always, but can be linked.  Guilt over sin can turn your hair grey, overwork your heart, cloud your mind with depression and completely obliterate your immune system.

But I believe Jesus is doing something else here.  Gazing at this man, He doesn’t see the sickness as being the worse thing to befall him.  The guilt of this man’s soul is far worse than the paralysis of the man’s limbs.  He needs a priest… not a healer.  So Jesus intercedes and forgives the man’s sin.

Jesus says to his critics that day:  5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  Which is easier?  On the surface (and his critics probably believed) that “Your sins are forgiven” was easier.  Because there was less evidence one could present of its taking place.  If he said:  Get up and walk… and the man continued to languish.  Jesus would be proven a fraud.

Who could know the condition of a man’s soul?  Who would know if a man’s sin had actually been forgiven?  But Jesus is saying:  “Get up and walk” is child’s play compared to “Your sins are forgiven.”

Jesus was able to speak the words:  You’re forgiven… because he was already committed to paying the price to back those words up.  He knew the cost of that forgiveness.

He would be beaten.  He would be stripped bare.  He would hang in agony and pain between two thieves.  Nails in his hands.  Thorns on his head.  Even in Bethlehem… the shadow of a cross fell across his cradle.  Even in this story… so early in his ministry.  The shadow of a cross falls across His path.

“Your sins are forgiven.”  Not so easy to say.  But the words of a perfect High Priest:  Hebrews 7:26-27:  Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.  Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.

We all need a priest!  Jesus is our High Priest.