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By Mark Chen

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8 am service, 2003-03-16

Text: Matthew 8:14-17; 9:1-13

So far in the series of messages we've had at the 8 AM service on 'Do you know my Jesus,' we have considered among other things, His prayer life, His compassion, His submission, His kingship, His humility, and His authority. But among the topics, the most pertinent ones I believe, if you can at all rank them, are the last four. They all deal with Christ's work of salvation. We dealt with one last week - Christ as the lover of sinners, we will deal with one today, and the last two will be dealt with, God-willing, in the weeks to come. 

And although the topic is on the Lord Jesus and who He was and what he did, in today's message, our focal point will not be directly on Christ but on the souls that he healed. Now, you might ask, 'What is so remarkable about these individuals that we must sacrifice our focus on the Lord to focus on them?' Well, we're not sacrificing anything, because as we move from the picture, if you will, of each individual to another, and examine the focus of each, we will realize that the settings of all these three pictures are the same. And when we put them together, as with a panorama picture formed by putting three or more photographs together, we will see a magnificent view of that setting, of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Thereby revealing our Lord even more. 

The first picture that we see is of Peter's mother-in-law in her house at Capernaum. We learn that she was sick in bed with a fever, and being the Great Physician He was, Christ healed her of the fever, and we learn that she arose and ministered to them. What we see at the focus is a woman, sick, and bedridden with a fever. And the fact that it was Peter's mother-in-law is not remarkable except that it proves Peter was married, and not single as some Christian sects would claim. However, what is remarkable is not seen right away. As every photograph has a focal point, it also has a background. And it is the background of this photograph that is remarkable. What is interesting about this picture is the fact that the one healed was a woman. And this tells us something about Jesus as the Healer of Souls. How so?

Now, the first thing that many Jewish men did every morning was to pray 'Lord, I thank you that I was not born a slave, a Gentile, or a woman.' The reason they did this was because of the low social status of such individuals in the land. The position of the slave was despised not only because he had no property to his name but because he had to perform the most menial tasks; the Gentile was despised because of his uncleanness as he did not perform the purification rites of the Jews; and the position of the woman was also loathed because she was a burden to the family - with no wealth to her name. And not only was Peter's mother-in-law a woman, but she was sick. We are told that this fever, and Luke called it a great fever, had made her bedridden. The prospect for complete cure was, in those days, only something to be hoped for. Diseases ran rampant and medical science was non-existent. If a person survived a disease it was usually because the illness had run its course, and whether it was a fatal disease or not, most illnesses caused pain and suffering. And in those days, you couldn't take a Panadol to alleviate the pain - you had to bear with it until the disease left you. 

But the background tells us something else. We also learn that she was living in Peter's house, meaning, very likely, that she was a widow. To be a widow in those times was seen to be a curse; the poverty and the stigma of uselessness was enough cause for many to consider it better for such a one to die, rather than to nurse her back only to sustain her again and who knows what kind of debilitating effects the disease would leave her with.

But Jesus cured her illness despite her social status. And interestingly, just before he healed Peter's mother-in-law, in the 9 verses before, he healed, now get this, the slave of a Centurion, a Gentile! So we see that Jesus is a healer of the souls of the lower caste. Indeed, the proud and self-righteous Jewish men would have seen all these things - that the caste of a person or even the race made no difference. Jesus' healing, as spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, the healing of the Messiah was to men and women alike no matter what their social status was. 

But one other thing we want to see before we move on to another picture is the fact that Peter's mother-in-law, after she was healed, ministered to them - and we learn from parallel passages, she did this immediately. Not only had the great fever left her, but she had no adverse side effects. And straightway, she tended to His needs. This showed her gratitude. Another example of such gratitude is seen in Luke 17. Jesus encountered 10 lepers pleading for mercy, and he healed them; but when they were healed, only 1 turned back and glorified God, falling at the Lord's feet. And he was a Samaritan, another of the lower castes. And the Lord's words to this man were, 'Arise, go thy way, thy faith hath made thee whole.' And so too, it was with this woman. She ministered unto the Lord, the only thing she could do, as an expression of her gratitude and faith - and that's an important point. What a picture of healing. But we move on.

The next picture we take a look at is that of the man afflicted with the palsy. We know, through parallel passages, that this man had to be lowered into the room where Jesus was, through the roof, because the crowd was so large. And obviously the room in which Christ was in was crowded, with the stories of his works and miracles being noised around. We learn that many came to him and he taught them. Where did all his fame come from? We learn from John chapter 2 that Jesus had worked a miracle in Cana, also a city long the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We learn from Mark chapter 1 how when he was first in Capernaum, he cast out a demon from a man in the synagogue, of course, as we just saw, he healed Peter's mother-in-law of the fever she had. We see that in his preaching tour of Galilee he did the same, casting out demons wherever he went. We also see him cleansing a leper from the disease, effectively healing the man completely, in a place and time when leprosy was considered the most deadly communicable disease. And with this sort of fame, it is no wonder that he had a throng of people following him wherever he went. These people followed Jesus, I'm sure for many reasons - some out of sheer wonder at the miracles that he worked and some because of his teachings. We are told in Mark 1:22 that there were those who were amazed at his teachings because he taught as one having authority. So there were those who followed Jesus because they could get something out of him, and others because they wanted to learn from him. Jesus, you could say, had his own fan club early in his ministry. And so, the friends of the paralyzed man had to brave the crowds in a most unusual way in order to get to Jesus. And the fact that the man with the palsy was lying on a bed showed the great extent of his paralysis. All this we are able to see at the focal point of the picture. But what does the background tell us? 

Well, we may surmise, that this man afflicted with the palsy no doubt, thought that his illness was a punishment for his personal sins, as was the common Jewish belief then. This, too, was the belief among Job's friends concerning Job's afflictions. So not only was this paralytic suffering from his illness physically, but he was probably tormented with this thought, suffering emotionally. And so this would have made him more determined to see Christ, even to the extent of risking death being lowered down the roof of a house. And since he associated his illness with his own sin, his paramount concern would have been to seek out forgiveness. But one thing we take note of in this picture is that the man and his friends had faith in the power of Christ to heal. And when the Lord Jesus saw the extent of faith this man had in seeking healing for his soul, the Lord said to him, 'Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.' Or, as another translation has it, 'Take courage, My son.' In other words, Jesus was assuring the man whose heart was yearning for forgiveness, that indeed it would be given him. And it was then that the man was healed of his illness and of his sins, over which he had felt great guilt. In this picture, focus and background, we see that Christ is a healer of the souls of the downcast.

But it was then that the proud and self-righteous scribes said to themselves that Jesus blasphemed. And just as Christ saw into the heart of the paralytic and saw his faith, he saw into the hearts of the scribes and saw their thoughts. He called their hearts evil, because what was so plain to the rest that Christ's forgiveness of that man's sins was authenticated by the healing. Indeed, there is no one blinder than the one who refuses to see. And such were the scribes - they refused to see, the plain facts in front of them were blurred beyond focus by their false righteousness. What wondrous healing and what colossal stupidity we see in the same picture. But we leave this picture and go to the next.

In the next picture, we see a man named Matthew sitting at the receipt of custom, meaning, at the table of the tax collectors. And from this as well as parallel passages, we know that Matthew was a publican. And according to the parallel passage in Mark 2:13, this was by the sea, and Jesus continued to have a multitude of people following Him. Jesus called to Matthew to follow Him, and Matthew arose and did so. On the surface, the focal point, if you will, we see a man who has had absolutely no prior history with Jesus, who at this one command, leaves the table and follows Him. A bit strange you might think. Why would a publican leave his table, his prosperous job to follow a man he had never met? That is all we are told at the focal point. But the background sheds a bit more light. It is a known fact that tax-collectors and publicans, in the days of Jesus, were prohibited from worshiping in the synagogues and even to enter the temple, as they were considered unclean, even on par with the pig. And the reason why they were viewed as such was because they were collaborators with the Romans who oppressed the people, which they did - by taking more than what was required. 

But nevertheless, Jesus looked beyond that and came to Matthew's table. This is not surprising, seeing as how our Lord Jesus was not common at all. He looked beyond the exterior and straight into the heart. He commanded Matthew to follow him. This commandment, 'Follow me!' doesn't just mean to simply follow. Christ here was telling him to keep on following, to continue to follow. He wasn't just telling Matthew to leave his tax table and follow him for a season, but he was telling Matthew to keep on following him, forever. Jesus had a fan club, as I said. He had many followers. But as it is with many celebrities, they will one day lose their fame and attraction, and soon the fan club dies out. The fan club that Jesus had during his 3 years' fame quickly dissolved once he was arrested and crucified, and this is common with fans who have no reason to follow anymore, when they have nothing to gain. But what Jesus was saying here to Matthew, was that he was to follow, and to follow continually, even through the toughest of all times, through persecution and trials and great adversity. What Jesus was prescribing to Matthew was not just a temporary errand or task, but a completely new life style. And we learn that Matthew followed - he arose and according to Luke 5:28, he left all - most likely turning over his money and books to his employer and followed Christ. We then learn from Luke 5:29 that Matthew made a great feast in his own house for Christ, where there were gathered a great company of publicans or tax collectors - for this, Jesus received criticism from the religious elite of the day. They questioned why he could do such an unseemly thing, by being in the company of sinners. Christ's answer was simple and conclusive in verse 12. Jesus equated the tax collectors with sinners and identified them as those who are sick. And for those who are sick, they have need of a doctor. Jesus here was saying that he was their doctor, their healer - Jesus was saying that he came to call them, as sinners, to repentance, and not the righteous. Now, just as Jesus was not condemning tax-collecting, he was not disregarding those who tried to live morally. What he was doing here was drawing a comparison. Jesus is not saying that there are truly righteous people who have no need of repentance. He is talking about the attitudes of the people he was eating with, comparing them with the Pharisees. The Pharisees, thinking that they were morally upright, felt that they had no need of repentance, that their strict adherence to the Law and ritual purity was sufficient to make them righteous. They did not see their deeper sin problem. They were as white washed sepulchres and tombs - clean on the outside, but rotting and decaying as the dead on the inside. They were morally and ethically pure, having committed no great sin in the sight of men. They were the 'righteous.' They saw no sin in themselves and whatever sins they had committed, they would atone for them by carrying out the proper sacrifices. But they had no heart devotion - no true realization of their sinfulness. On the other hand, those with whom Jesus dined, came to realize their sinfulness - they knew they were sick and hence knew their need for a physician. And this is what Matthew knew - this was the incentive he had to follow Christ. Not to gain anything temporal from Christ, like physical healing or physical sustenance, but salvation and healing from sin. 

The fame of Jesus would have spread far and wide even before he had reached Capernaum. The news of what he had done, and even the things that he had taught would have reached the city. And inevitably, Matthew would have heard it, and by hearing it, it would have affected him. He realized his sinfulness and the wretchedness of his heart. When Matthew, pig as he was, encountered Christ, at his table calling to him, he knew that this was the chance of a lifetime, to have his sins forgiven and his life changed. Here, we see that Jesus was a healer of the souls of the outcasts.

So from the three pictures we have seen, we know that Jesus heals the souls of those who are in the lower castes, those who are downcast, and those who are outcasts. But the principles we learn from these three photos are more profound. We learn that in order to be healed, you don't have to be someone special - you can be anyone. Jesus does not reject anyone because of their social status, race, color, or even degree of sinfulness. There is not a single case on record in the whole history of mankind where a person came to God in repentance and faith and was refused salvation. But one thing we realize is that the one needing healing must come in faith, believing that Christ does heal our souls from our sins. And the most important, is that such a one must come knowing that he is sick.

So this message gives hope to those who are outside God's kingdom, to those plagued with their sins. But it is a stumbling block to those who do not think themselves sinful at all. Indeed, those who do not see themselves as sick, neither sinful, they will not come to Christ, because they are blind, just as the scribes who refused to see. But to those who do see, come to Christ, the healer of souls.

But what of us, who are believers in Christ? Does Christ still heal our souls, even though we've already been healed? Indeed he does. In the words of J. Gresham Machen, teacher of Carl McIntire, our Pastor's teacher, 'Jesus the great physician! The great healer of every sickness and every infirmity! The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear. And this cure of bodily ills was but a sign and proof and seal of the healing of the soul. He who said, 'I will, be thou clean,' said also, 'Thy sins are forgiven thee.' Jesus the healer of souls! God knows, we need Him still. When past sins rise up to mock our best endeavors, when our strength is sapped by the power of evil, when our lives seem to be a hopeless tangle, unlike anything that was ever seen before, escape shut off on every side, regret and remorse staring us in the face whichever turn we take, a strange miserable hopeless puzzle, beyond our own comprehension and far beyond our own power to help - we need a healer. We need one who knows us better than we know ourselves, one who can untangle the snarl of our lives, who can apply a healing touch to the dreadful wounds of the soul, and set us forward in some new, strong, healthy life.'

Many of us today are facing spiritual dryness. Sure, we go to church, we have a semblance of godliness, but what power does Christianity have over our lives? No doubt, we will always sin because of our sinful human nature, but Christ promises us victory in our lives over sin. But sometimes victory and the joys of Christianity are more often than not a thing only remembered at best or even hardly experienced. We may come and sing how Christ leads us all the way, that we have nothing to ask beside, and we do not doubt his tender mercies, but rather have heavenly peace, divinest comfort, and faith in him to dwell; but many of us come week after week singing those things, but have no power in our lives. We are sick with sin - be it besetting sins in our lives that we revel in or plain apathy which is no less destructive. And I guess I can say this because I have often times experienced it myself. Week after week we come back to worship, but there is little heart - a form definitely, but where's the heart? And the solution to such apathy and rebellion is always the same. To recognize our sickness and to come by faith and repentance to seek healing from our Lord. Indeed, this was the charge given to the Pharisees: 'But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.' Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6. Here, God spoke of an unfaithful nation in Israel who continued in her rituals and sacrifices, but had no love for Him. They had a form, but no power. And we, if we have that attitude, have faired no better than the Pharisees and scribes who recognized not their sickness. But let us do like Matthew and the paralytic man, no matter who we may be - a member or a leader, and consider our sickness and go to the Lord for healing, for He can heal our souls.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25