Trinity 19, 2015

 

The Epistle. Ephesians 4:17-32

The Gospel. Matthew 9:1-8

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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 

Taking a cue from the lecture last Sunday on the early formation of Church worship, it may be of some interest to point out that the Collect for today is from the Gelasian Sacramentary…an early 8th century Roman liturgy.

 

Secondly, the 1662 English Reformers altered this Collect slightly to clarify or emphasize the fact that it is the Holy Spirit that in all things is to direct and rule our hearts.

 

We are familiar with the concept since on the first Sunday of the month we recite the Decalogue and after each Commandment our response is “Lord have mercy upon us and incline our hearts to keep this Law.”

The Holy Spirit is the one who inclines our hearts to hear, to obey, and to desire even, the things of God.  Exactly how He does it is not easy to understand or explain.

 

Any time the discussion of how God works in our lives comes up, however, people immediately and instinctually will say “we have free will.”

 

It’s not entirely clear why we have to run to this phrase every time.  It may be simply that our hearts have an inclination to freedom.  But do people really know what they are saying when they utter this phrase?

 

If we are asking, as we did this morning that God would direct and rule our hearts, or incline our hearts to do something, are we not asking God to take the reins so-to-speak?

 

What are we asking God to do when we pray for those in our family or for friends who are unbelievers and we desire that they come to faith in Christ?

 

We are asking God to do something.

 

What are we asking God to do when we pray that He would change our desires from worldly, fleshly, sinful things to the things of righteousness?

 

Are we not asking God to intervene?  In other words, are we not asking God to override our sinful misdirected will and to form it in the direction of true righteousness?

 

Some may not like ‘override.’  It sounds too much like control.  So since words are difficult to find when describing the work of the Holy Spirit on our hearts and our wills, we need to at least have some sort of idea or understanding that God, in some way, works or redirects, or alters our lives and makes changes to what He finds in us.

 

What is happening in the heart?  What God is doing in the heart….is not easy to say.

 

Augustine of Hippo was very clear and for a long time the Church accepted his teaching (and in some places still does accept his teaching)

that the will or heart of man must have divine intervention first….if it is to turn to God.

It cannot do it on its own.  So how free is it? 

 

If you are here this morning and you find yourself accepting fully the Epistle lesson and the Gospel lesson as the Word of God.  If you are saying Amen to prayer prayed, and receiving the Sacraments of the Lord's Supper by faith, then take heart, the Holy Spirit has been here.

 

It is He who has awakened you to the truths of the Christian faith and it is He who sustains you and causes you to grow in that same faith.

 

We can see the evidence of hardened hearts and wills in bondage to the world in action here this morning in the Gospel lesson.  We also will see hearts that have been indeed enlightened by the Holy Spirit as well.

 

Let’s take a look at these lessons.

 

In the Gospel Jesus arrives by boat back into His own city.

Some people brought a paralyzed man to Him to be healed.  And what is the first thing we have recorded from the lips of Jesus?

“Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.”

 

Immediately those in the room who opposed Jesus say, “This man is blaspheming.”  

 

Why is this their reaction?  Some in the room, as we see in the end glorify God, but why then is there mixed responses to Jesus’ act of kindness and His absolution and forgiveness of this man’s sins?

 

The short answer is:  They do not have the Spirit of God.  The Spirit has not broken through the hardness of their hearts.  They are still in darkness and still in their sins.

 

The longer answer is: the ancient Jew thought that illness or sickness was a punishment for sin.  And its cure was the breaking of the power of sin over that person.  Only the priest could pronounce the man whole again…even though the priest did not have the power to do make him well again.

 

Only God alone has the power or the authority to forgive sins.  Jesus forgives sins. Therefore, Jesus is God and has the same power and authority God has.

 

To accept this fact takes the work of the Holy Spirit changing the heart of man to accept it.

Jesus is setting a challenge before these men.  Who is this man and where does He get His authority? 

 

Jesus challenges these men.  He not only heals the man, but forgives him of his sins as well. 

 

Jesus by the power of God makes this man whole again in body and soul.

 

Commentator: “…physical health and spiritual health are intimately bound together, and…there is often nothing more healing in its power than the relief and the release that come from a consciousness and acceptance of God’s forgiveness.”

 

A consciousness and acceptance of God’s forgiveness. 

To be conscious and to accept God’s forgiveness is an act that we cannot be open to without the inner working of the Spirit of God on our hearts. 

 

Now down at the end of this lesson, we see at the end of this account the evidence in those whom God has begun His good work…opening hearts and minds to receive Him.

 

On command, the paralytic gets up, takes his bed and goes home.  There is no comment here on what this man was thinking or what he did.  He seems to have obeyed Jesus and leaves. 

 

But we have this at the very end: “ When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.”

 

R.C. Sproul simply says of this passage: “As was proper, what Jesus did resulted in praise to God.  How we ought to praise Him for the healing of our souls that He has wrought.”[1]

 

He is exactly right.  God in Christ has healed our souls.  We didn't heal them.  He did.

 

Jesus is found in Luke’s Gospel saying these words:  “...Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

(Luke 5:31-32 ESV)

 

That line comes from Luke’s Gospel account…a much fuller account of the same event.  Recall this paralytic man again this time being brought to Jesus.  The crowd is too large to get near him so they head up to the roof of the house….tear open the roofing and lower the man down into the room.

 

Jesus admires the ingenuity of these men…and their perseverance.  But most of all, Jesus admired their faith.  He could see that they trusted Him.  They had a trusting faith in the healing power of Jesus.  And their faith was quite persistent.

 

And it was by this faith that the paralytic man was healed.

 

Furthermore, we might think again about the story of Joseph back in Genesis.  He is hated by his jealous brothers.  They plot to kill him but agree rather on selling him into slavery instead.

 

And all along this story we see the events unfold.  Joseph rises from slavery to one of the highest positions in the land of Egypt.

 

Years later when his father and brothers have to come down to Egypt to buy food they find Joseph there ruling.  They do not recognize him at first and upon revealing his identity to them there is much emotion and tears.

 

And we have heard this line rehearsed many times and this example used many times but it still holds up in helping us to understand God’s working in our lives.

 

Some time soon after, we read this:   “When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.’

So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, ‘Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:15-21 ESV)

 

There is so much here, but what we can see is that first of all, from the outside, it is a story, a tragic story of jealousy and anger.  And yet every thing turns out ok in the end.  Forgiveness…reconciliation.

 

But looking deeper, and taking what Joseph says we see that all along God’s hand was at work on or in the actions of men. 

And yet at the same time, men’s actions seem to remain and appear to have nothing to do with God.

 

Once you know the story, as you do now, reading it again, you can see God working all along….because you know where its going….and you are coming at it seeing that God was in fact involved in the movement and decisions of the characters of the story.

 

But had you not known what Joseph said, or had you read it not understanding God’s interaction with the actions of every person in that story, it would just appear as blind fate or chance or luck on the part of Joseph that he survived.

 

To Joseph, his life took a radical turn the day he was sold by his brothers into slavery.  But to God, the ordained journey for Joseph as well as that of his brothers and father, was part of the bigger plan….including their repentance and changed hearts.

 

So, we back up here and see that the story of the paralytic today was ordained by God as well to illustrate the power of God.

 

We might think also about Jesus purposely delaying another couple of days when hearing about the illness of his friend Lazarus.

 

Jesus allows time for Lazarus to die and be in the grave 4 days in order to execute His greater plan.

 

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  Some glorify God that day, and some go deeper into rage against Him and seek even more to put Jesus to death.

 

Lazarus died as we all do, but Jesus uses this opportunity to glorify God and to show those standing around watching that He had indeed come from God….and that it was the power of God that raised Lazarus from the dead.

 

Lazarus, in fact, is the Greek form of the name Eleazar. …which means… God is my help.  The man, the name, the death….none of it was accidental.

Charles Spurgeon notes on this event that “We should have said that the sickness was unto death, but ultimately, to the glory of God.  But he who sees the end from the beginning streaks with a grandeur of style which could not be imitated by us.  So the Lord speaks of things, not as they seem to be, nor even as they are in the present moment, but as they shall be in the long run.”

 

So our prayer today.  God, may you direct and rule our hearts…

 

Those hearts of Joseph, his father, his brothers, of Lazarus’ family, of those seeing Lazarus raised, of the paralytic and his persevering friends….all directed and governed by the power and will of God.

 

All directed and heading to an end purposed by God to show His power and His glory.  We too are in this story.  We too have hearts that are being directed and ruled or governed by God. 

 

 

 

Let us pray then with earnest, in this time, that by His Holy Spirit, God would direct and rule our hearts in all things.

 

That He would direct and rule us in all that we do.  That we would keep in mind that nothing is happening by chance…. and pray in faith with confidence that He who has begun a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.



[1] Sproul, R.C. Matthew.  St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary. Crossway Publishers. 2013. P. 267.