Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Matthew 9:1-3 When Your Problem Isn’t Your Real Problem

I work as an auditor. Sometimes on an audit, our audit team will find errors on financial statements, have problems pulling data and sorting it, or have to corroborate explanations the entity gives for certain financial conditions or activities. In making decisions about audit work, we have to address material risks. What that means, in terms people like me can understand, is we have to worry about stuff that is a big deal—it’s got to matter. We don’t go on fishing expeditions to check out a $100 expenditure in a $100,000,000 account. That just wouldn’t make sense. We have to keep focused on what the real issues are and sometimes something that looks big, and may in fact be big, becomes inconsequential in light of the overall audit picture. To be sure, being unable to walk is a huge disability. However, as we see in this scripture today, in light of the eternal state of someone’s soul, it’s really not that important.

Observe with me how when Jesus “came to His own city” (Capernaum) people came to Him bringing with them a man who could not walk. As we have studied the book of Matthew, we have noticed how the word of Jesus’ miracles had spread and people would come from all over the area seeking healing for themselves or loved ones. Certainly not all of these people possessed saving faith but they had heard about Christ and what He could do. Now, these people had brought this man to Jesus, and as we read in the parallel accounts in Luke and Mark, they went to great lengths to get him to Jesus, even going so far as to tear up the roof to be able to lower the paralyzed man into the crowd in front of Jesus. I’m going out on a limb here, but I doubt these guys were Bible scholars. They certainly weren’t part of the religious establishment. I’d be willing to bet they probably couldn’t have given some sort of deep theological explanation about Who Jesus was—that He was God and man. They certainly didn’t understand what He came to do on the cross. That was a mystery even to His disciples. However, they had something that Christ noticed as they brought this man to Him, probably flailing about in midair as they dropped him into some guy’s living room through his roof, which now had a sky light.

They had faith. Their faith was in Christ and although there were things they didn’t know they knew that Christ could heal this man. This man’s friends brought him to Christ believing that their friend could be made well. That’s what they expected. That’s what the man expected I’m sure. I can only imagine his relief he felt when he started at the Lord as the Lord looked on and saw his faith.
However, look with me as to what Christ did. Rather than heal the man, He declared “Your sins are forgiven.” Now, that’s not why he came. For that matter, that’s not why his friends brought him. And, for anyone who is convinced that physical healing is guaranteed to all Christians, notice that Christ didn’t heal him until a few verses later in answering objections to His bold pronouncement. You see, you and I have problems—health, financial, job, family. All these problems are big and sometimes to us they’re huge—perhaps overwhelming. I am sure this man felt like his paralysis was a huge problem. Otherwise, I doubt he would have let his friends drop him down a hole in the roof of a strangers house.
However, in light of spending an eternity in hell, being lame really isn’t that bad. He thought he knew what his problem was. Jesus, however, knew what his real problem was. His sin would separate him from God and damn him to an eternity in Hell forever.

See friend, like this man we think we have perspective on what our real problems and needs are but God, who is over all and above all, knows what we really need. We need, first and foremost, to be forgiven of our sins and declared righteous in the sight of God. Whatever we think our problem is, like the man today our real problem is the indwelling sin that we struggle with. Even if you and I have been forgiven and stand in a right relationship with God, our real problem is not the temporal things that compete for our attention. Our real problem is the daily struggle to deal with sin and live a life faithful to God. Let’s pray that Jesus will give us His perspective on our lives and let us see our problems as He sees them—small in view of eternity.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

II Peter 3:15a The Four Imperatives of a Forward Looking Faith Part II

“It’s for your own good.” Did your mother ever tell you that? Mine did on a few occasions—usually when I had some medicine I didn’t want to take or perhaps when I had started an activity (tee ball) that I didn’t want to finish. Now that I look back, I’m thankful that she, well for lack of a better word, forced me to do what it was she was telling me to do. While it may have been unpleasant at the time, it was for my good as I can clearly recognize now. As Christians, we live in a world that is oriented in direct opposition to God and the gospel of Christ. We hear and see things that make us ask on a daily basis “How much longer, Lord?” We look forward to our heavenly hope when our salvation is completed and sin is permanently done away with However, in order to live in this world now, we need a radically different mindset—one that has a proper, godly perspective on our suffering here on earth as we eagerly anticipate the fulfillment of our salvation.

This mindset, brothers and sisters, is not based on our feelings. Notice, that Peter calls his readers to “regard” the Lord’s patience in a particular way. The word translated “regard” is a Greek word that means to evaluate evidence and come to a thoughtful conclusion. It was used in mathematics sometimes. In essence, then, Peter is calling his readers and us as well, not to rely on our feelings and allow them to color our perceptions. Yes, this world is sinful to the extreme. Certainly, the Bible and God Himself are mocked by throngs of people who have decided to become their own gods and will reap eternal damnation as a result. It’s hard to hear and see filth strewn over the airwaves and called entertainment—and that’s just on the Disney Channel. However, in spite of this, we know that no matter what our eyes tell us or our hearts feel that Christ will reign supreme over everything and He will righteously judge all sinners who reject Him. Those who mock may laugh now, but they will not laugh last. Because we know what the end is going to be, we should have a different perspective on our situation and “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation”.

In fact, as Peter has reminded us both in chapter 2 and chapter 3 of this epistle, the span of time that passed from Christ’s return to heaven in Acts and now is not an example of God being lazy and inattentive to what’s going on, but rather it is an example of His “patience”—literally, His longsuffering. God endures the scorn and derision of mankind because, in the end, it suits His purposes. Every minute that passes is not something we should view as “It has now taken that much longer” but rather “We are now that much closer”. Rather than letting our feelings be our guide, we should allow ourselves to meditate on the sure truths of God’s word and remind ourselves, and each other, of the promise of His coming. God endures the mocking of the objects of His wrath. If He can do that, surely we can endure suffering for the sake of the gospel.

In fact, I believe that Peter’s point is to align our perspective with just that truth—that God’s longsuffering with sinners should be considered “salvation”. First of all, as I had suggested, we should not think “How much longer” but rather we should consider how much closer we are to our own salvation with each minute that passes. Secondly, though, as long as God demonstrates His patience, we have the opportunity to share the gospel. There’s still time to warn a soul of the danger of hell and the love of God who will save them if they repent and trust Christ. Therefore, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, as long as there is still a day called “Today” there still remains an opportunity for those who will repent and believe to enter His rest.

Brothers and sisters, if you and I truly have a forward looking faith, that faith should regard the time that we have here on earth as a short term mission trip. We should make use of every opportunity to lovingly call men and women everywhere to repentance. As long as God has not brought an end to time and a final punishment to sin, let’s take this opportunity to tell a lost and dying world of a Holy God, His righteous wrath, and a loving Savior who will save.