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Forgiveness and Healing – Part 1

April 6, 2008

Psalm 103, Mark 2:1-12; Luke 22

Olive Lawton, a missionary in China, was asked on her eightieth birthday how she managed to stay so young. She said that every day, she took a big dose of Psalm 103:1-5. Those verses remind us that God forgives. God heals.

Sometimes people will make a comment about a difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. They will say that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath while the God of the New Testament is a God of love. Refer them to Psalm 103. There, God is a God of love. His wrath is certainly mentioned, but His wrath is limited. His love, His steadfast love, is boundless.

You can see clearly in the first few verses of Psalm 103 that healing and forgiveness are combined. In these verses, a person who has experienced both the healing and forgiveness of God offers praise to Him. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me. Bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases.” God knows our hearts. He recognizes our sin. He knows the ways we violate His law, violate His will and intention for our lives. The apostle Paul would say, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We all do. Here in Psalm 103, we see God forgiving and forgetting our sins. “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our sins from us and remembers them no more” (Psalm 103:12). Corrie Ten Boom, commenting on this passage, said that God takes our sins and sinks them in the deepest part of the ocean. He puts up a sign that reads, “No Fishing.” God does not want us to dredge the sins back up and relive them. Once God forgives them, He wants us to let them go. We find this connection between healing and forgiveness throughout Scripture.

In February, I attended a conference at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with Richard Foster. While there, I met a remarkable Lutheran pastor, now in his seventies. He realized early in his ministry that he had a special gift of prayer and healing. You have never seen this pastor on television. He is not the kind of person who would ever take his show on the road. He is not, as Paul describes some people, a peddler of the gospel. He has no intention of trying to make money out of this gift from God. He is simply a man of quiet devotion and prayer. Because of his life of prayer, it seems that God has given him a special gift of healing. He talked very humbly about some of the experiences he has had in this ministry of healing, but was quick to add, “I don’t understand it. I certainly cannot explain the mechanics. It is not a gimmick. It is not a system. It is simply coming before the Lord in prayer and praying on behalf of other people.”

This pastor described a time when he was visiting a woman in the hospital who was seriously ill. He prayed with her several times over a week’s time, and she made a dramatic recovery. The physician noted her healing and called this Lutheran pastor aside, saying, “I want you to pray for me. I have been dealing with an illness for several years. Please pray for me.” The pastor made visits to the physician at his home, praying over a period of about three weeks. The physician recovered from his illness.

The pastor also described a time late his life when his own wife was diagnosed with cancer. He admitted, “One of the most frustrating aspects of my life is that my own wife had cancer. I prayed for her just as I had prayed for other people. I tried everything I knew; and at one point, I took her to France where people go for miraculous healing. There, we were able to put her down in the water, but she was not healed. I had an appointment with God but did not realize that when I met a priest there, a priest who was praying for people to be healed. When he realized that I also prayed for healing, he asked me to pray for him. He had been sick for several years. During our conversation, he made some confession to me. I prayed for the priest, and he was healed. My wife was not.”

This power of healing is a mystery, and I do not pretend to know how all of this works. I can only tell you that in the Bible and in my personal experience, a clear connection exists between forgiveness and healing. I am not suggesting that you will never have arthritis again, that you will never have an asthma attack, that some terminal illness will suddenly go away, or that you will not need that surgery. I am simply saying that the connection between forgiveness and healing makes a human being whole.

Let us look at the evidence. In Mark 2, we see that Jesus has returned to Capernaum. He is at the home of Simon Peter, which was his home-away-from-home. News about Jesus’ ministry of healing and his ministry of teaching has now spread throughout Galilee. When he comes to the home of Simon Peter, a crowd awaits him. There is standing room only. That evening, Jesus teaches and heals. All of a sudden, people in the room look up and notice little bits of straw and clay, filtering down from the roof. You can imagine that everyone in the room stops and looks up when they realize someone is above them, tearing a hole in the ceiling. Before long, the hole is large enough for four men to lower another man through the ceiling to the floor. These men are so intent on helping their friend get well that they go to this drastic measure of cutting through the roof of Simon Peter’s house to place this man, who is paralyzed, at the feet of Jesus.

What does Jesus do? Mark 2, Verse 5 states, “The first words out of his mouth were, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” Do you think these men expected to hear that statement from Jesus? They bring a paralyzed man to Jesus for healing. Instead of speaking a word of healing, Jesus speaks a word of forgiveness. Of course, the Lord has an incredible ability to see right to the problem. He can put his finger right on the issue. He sees that this man is not only paralyzed physically but that he also has another kind of paralysis. He is spiritually paralyzed by the sin in his life. Therefore, Jesus first speaks words of forgiveness to this man.

A crowd of scribes, constant critics, is always nearby, checking on Jesus. When they hear Jesus’ words, they become condemning, exclaiming, “This is blasphemy. Who has the power to forgive sin except for God and God alone?” Jesus poses a question, “Which is easier: to say… ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise. Take up your pallet and walk?’” Just saying the words would be easy, but which is more difficult: forgiving the sin of a human being or restoring that human being to physical health? Both are miraculous. Jesus does both, speaking words of forgiveness and then words of healing: “Rise. Take up your pallet and walk.” The man is restored both spiritually and physically. He has received a double blessing, the kind of blessing that only the Lord can give.

The relationship between healing and forgiveness has been known for a long, long time. In the twentieth century, the psycho-therapeutic movement really took this into the clinical area. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung tried to describe this in clinical language. Freud talked about physical maladies being connected with guilt from the past, using words like transference, reaction formation, hysteria. Jung referred to the “shadow side.” Both men recognized that something in the very soul of a person leads to physical illness and mental illness. Often guilt is the cause of the ailment.

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to go to the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, a remarkable place started by two brothers, Dr. Carl Menninger and his brother, Dr. Will Menninger. These two men, both devout Methodist laymen, both psychiatrists, treated a wide variety of illnesses there. Every Tuesday at the clinic, Dr. Carl and Dr. Will took turns bringing a message from God’s Word in the chapel service for staff members and patients. These two highly trained clinical psychotherapists and devout Christians believed in a connection between healing and forgiveness. While they were firmly grounded in their clinical tradition, they also knew the truth of the Bible: the experience of God in human living is very important.

Dr. Carl, the writer of the two, wrote The Vital Balance. In that book, he basically says that we are all just a little bit crazy, that we are all just trying to keep our balance. He says that some people have been so scarred by life that they struggle to maintain their balance. They develop psychopathology. They develop neurosis in an attempt to keep that balance. It is a very compassionate way of understanding mental illness.

Near the end of his life, Dr. Carl wrote another very important book, Whatever Became of Sin? He said that the psychotherapeutic movement had tried to explain away guilt, to find ways of dealing with it clinically. He said the Christian concept that we have all sinned, that we “all fall short of the glory of God,” is really the nerve ending that must be touched. He also said that until we take seriously the sin in people’s lives and their need for confession, repentance, and forgiveness, those in the healing profession will never be effective.

The Menningers would never say that you should not go to a surgeon. They would never say that you should not take the medicine prescribed for you. They would never say that medical practice is wrong. They would say just the opposite. All of this is a gift from God. They would say, however, that at the heart of human illness and spiritual illness is the problem of sin.

The Bible certainly knows that. Psalm 103 makes a connection between healing and forgiveness, and we see it in this passage from the Gospel of Mark. God has the power to forgive sin. God has the power to heal.

In our Call to Worship this morning, I quoted from Psalm 51, a psalm of David. David committed adultery and conspired to murder. One day, David did something very unusual for a king. When his army went to war, he stayed home. While strolling out on the roof of his palace, he looked down in the garden and saw another man’s beautiful wife. It was somewhat of the king’s prerogative to have her. When she became pregnant, he decided to have her husband, Uriah, placed on the front line of battle, knowing he would be killed. David would probably have gotten away with this murder except that in his court, a prophet named Nathan did what good prophets do. He held up a mirror and questioned David, “King, do you see what I see?” It was as if David was able to see into his own soul, into his sin. Psalm 51, his confession, is the way of healing.

I want to introduce you to this illustration from a masterpiece of American literature. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, takes places in a New England colony. A young woman named Hester Prynne has come to this country, leaving her husband behind in England to complete business. Alone, beautiful, and lonely, Hester has an illicit affair and becomes pregnant. The child of her pregnancy is Pearl. Clearly an adulteress, the community requires Hester to embroider and wear a scarlet letter “A” on her clothing whenever she goes out in public. Puritan communities dealt with adultery in that manner. Hester bears the letter, forever wearing her sin before the community.

Though she experiences condemnation from those in the village, she refuses to reveal the name of the father of her child, thus protecting his identity. By the end of the novel, the reader has discovered that the father is Arthur Dimmesdale, a young minister in the community. Throughout the story, Dimmesdale’s health fails. He becomes frail without any apparent physical cause. In the final scenes of the novel, he takes a place on the pillory, the place of public ridicule and condemnation. Burdened with guilt and weakened by shame, he collapses on the pillory where he should have stood with Hester years earlier. He calls for Hester to take a place beside him. He loathes himself and realizes that Hester has become a stronger individual because she has acknowledged her sin before God and others in the Puritan society. Arthur’s sin, however, has remained hidden from the community. He has never confessed his part in the adultery, and he has never accepted forgiveness from God.

Let us examine the lives of two of the disciples. Simon Peter, a fisherman from Galilee, was an impetuous man. He would make a profound statement one moment and put his foot in his mouth in the next moment. A declaration he made in Caesarea Philippi is a good example of that characteristic. There, he confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” That is one of the most amazing affirmations of faith in the Bible. When Jesus tells the disciples that he himself must suffer and die, Simon Peter rebukes the Lord. It is on that occasion that the Lord says to him, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Simon – always impetuous, sometimes profound – comes across as very foolish.

Luke 22 records Simon Peter’s reaction at the last supper when Jesus foretold, “One of you will betray me. You will all fall away.” The disciples all wondered, “Is it I?” Simon Peter boasted, “Lord, I will never do that. I will go with you, even to death.” A second time, Jesus rebukes him, “Simon, Satan has sought to sift you. Before dawn tomorrow morning, you are going to deny me three times.” Just as Jesus had predicted, Simon Peter denies that he even knows Jesus on three occasions. When the rooster crows in downtown Jerusalem, the Gospel says that Simon Peter turns and looks at Jesus. Jesus catches his glance. Then Simon Peter goes out and weeps bitterly, tears of remorse, tears of confession.

The other disciple, Judas Iscariot is from a little town in Judea called Kerioth. This town was a hot bed of resistance, as the Zealots had a center here. As far back as the year 165 B.C., now almost 200 years before the death of Jesus, a man from that area of Judea rode down the Mount of Olives on a colt into the capital city of Jerusalem, while people waved palm branches, spread their garments out before Jesus, and shouted “Hosanna!” This man, Judas Macabees, cleaned house, overthrowing Antiochus Epiphanes, a Syrian with a Greek name. Judas Iscariot was named for Judas Macabees. Naming a child “Judas” after this great man, this great patriot, was considered a high honor.

Judas Iscariot is a Zealot who never understands Jesus’ mission. When he sees Jesus come down the Mount of Olives on Palm Sunday, those memories about his namesake click in his mind. Thinking Jesus was coming to overthrow the army of occupation and retake Jerusalem for the Jews, he sees an opportunity to bring Jesus into direct conflict with the authorities. We know he cared nothing about the money he was given to betray Jesus. When he realizes what he has done and how wrong he has been, Judas throws the money at the feet of the high priest.

What do these two men, Simon and Judas, do following their act of denial or betrayal? They had traveled with Jesus, walked with him, heard him preach, and saw him heal. Peter accepts the forgiveness of Christ, but Judas goes out and hangs himself. Can you imagine what would have happened if Judas had not decided he had to die for his own sin? What if, instead, he had gone to the cross and said, “Lord, I am sorry. I had it wrong. Please forgive me”? What would Jesus have done? He would have done what he did for Peter. He would have done what he did for you. “Father, forgive him. He did not know what he was doing.” Healing was available through the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, but Judas died a sin-sick soul.

Do you know what happens to many people? They secretly carry sin in their lives, thinking that somehow it is just going to vanish. You do not have to tell any person about that sin. You do not have to tell me about it. You do not have to walk down the aisle and confess it, but you do have to confess it. You must confess your sin to the only one who can forgive you: Jesus. If you confess your sins, Jesus is faithful and just. He will forgive your sins. He will cleanse you from all unrighteousness, and you will be made whole. It does not mean that you will never have a physical problem. It does mean that your very soul will be healed.

Do you know Jesus? Have you accepted him as the Lord of your life? Have you come before him and said, “Lord, you know my sins. I bring them to you. I need your forgiveness”? You may have been a Christian a long time, but it has been a long time since you have come clean with the Lord. Unburden your soul. Confess your sins. Repent and receive the wonderful healing forgiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

© 2008 Kirk H. Neely

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