Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Which is easier?

I am sorry it has been so long since my last blog...I may truly be a man with no audience by now. Anyway, for the last few weeks, I have been praying for a dear friend and brother in Christ who is battling pancreatic cancer. His name is Dave Maynus, and he lives in Marion, Indiana. If you aren't already praying for him, would you begin? The Lord has intervened in wonderful ways to this point, and He is to be praised for that.

This friend's struggle actually refreshed an ongoing meditation I have had recently on Luke 5:23. A paralytic has been brought by friends to Jesus for help and healing. Jesus sees their faith, and He pronounces that this man's sin has been forgiven. The Pharisees immediately begin to think, "Who does this guy think he is? Only God can forgive sin." It is at this point that Jesus says, "Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.." Then, he heals the paralytic of his physical ailment.

That got me thinking...which is easier? To heal or to forgive sin? I asked a Bible study group this question, and they all seemed to think that forgiving sin was easier. That's probably how most of the Christian world feels, isn't it? Forgiving sin would certainly be easier than healing a paralytic simply by speaking to him, wouldn't it? We can easily forgive someone who has hurt us, but we can't restore health to anyone at the local hospital simply by speaking to them. Asking "Which is easier?" created one of those moments where everyone had answered the question, nobody was sure of their answer, and they desperately wanted me, the teacher, to relieve their stress and give them the right answer. We've all been there.

Back to the question, though. Is it truly easier to forgive someone? Thinking of the context in which Jesus asked, He was certainly proving His ability to forgive sin. The thought of the day was that being paralyzed, blind, deaf, etc., were all the result of sin. Jesus is proving to the skeptical Pharisees and teachers of the law that the Son of Man had the authority to forgive sin...how would He do that? He would exercise His authority over the paralyzation.

That doesn't answer my question. Which is easier? To forgive sin or to heal the paralytic by speaking to him? When we think of forgiving sin, we think of just saying the words "I forgive you" to someone who has hurt us, whatever the level of pain. The problem with that is...this doesn't seem to be biblical forgiveness. Forgiveness restores a relationship. Forgiveness is visible. Have you truly forgiven someone if you avoid contact with them...no conversations, use a different hallway at church, no eye contact, etc.? I don't think so. Remember how we are to pray? "Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors."

Imagine a God who forgives the way I just described. He forgave you, but there's no relationship attached to it. The forgiveness doesn't really accomplish being right with Him. What a desperate place that would put us in! Isaiah says that it was our sin that separated us from God...forgiving our sin restores our relationship with God. It is this forgiveness that gives us the assurance to say we are saved. In forgiving us, God had to pay the debt Himself. That's what forgiveness is. If you owe me $10,000, and I choose to forgive the debt, then I am choosing to pay the $10,000 myself...you will never pay it back. If I have slandered you with my words, and you choose to forgive me, then you are paying for those words with the pain that I caused you...I can never say enough words to restore things. Your choice to pay the debt and forgive my sin against you did that.

Now, pick up your camera, and go to the wide-angle view. How did God provide for the forgiveness of sin? It was through the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. Romans 3:25 says that Jesus died on the cross "to demonstrate [God's] justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished." Ephesians 1:7-8 says that "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding."

Now, back to Luke 5...which is easier? To forgive sin or to heal a paralytic with words. Jesus has forgiven the man (v. 20), knowing that He would go to the cross to pay for the sin. This mission for which Jesus was sent is the same "cup" that Jesus prays would pass from him, if possible (Luke 22:42). Authority over disease? That was something Jesus merely spoke...it was part of His deity. He didn't have to die to be able to speak to disease and watch it flea. Sin? That had to be paid for...why? Because God is just...and when it comes to punishing sin, He gives justice with no mercy. His wrath had to be satisfied, and either all of humanity would suffer for all eternity paying an eternal debt for an eternal offense against an eternal God...OR one man, Jesus Christ, the God-Man, would pay the eternal punishment for our eternal sin in one moment of human history. He would be the propitiation for sin, and God's justice without mercy would fall on him..."God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Which is easier? It seems that speaking to a paralytic and making him walk again is easier than forgiving sin. Does the same hold true for us? Well, you and I have no ability to do either. It is impossible for us. We have no authority over sickness, and we have no authority over sin. Our only ability to forgive sins committed against us exists because we are a forgiven people...filled with the Spirit of Christ. We only love because God first loved us, and we can only forgive because God first forgave us. If left to ourselves, it is impossible for sin to be forgiven. "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."