Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 9:2c “. . .said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer;. . .”
“Son, be of good cheer” translates two words which literally say, “Courage, child.” This succinct phrase conveys encouragement and endearment.
“Child” bespoke endearment. It was a term of tenderness. This whole incident was at best awkward. Everyone was probably embarrassed. The four had broken every rule of propriety. They had destroyed property, butted in line, interrupted a lesson, and forced their patient into Jesus’ face.
Despite their rudeness, Jesus was gracious. By calling the man “Child,” Jesus set everyone at ease, filling the room with an air of comfort and compassion.
Jesus always endeared Himself to hurting people. He cared. Maybe no passage in Scripture would be more pertinent for North Americans believers to rediscover and heed than, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted” (EP 4:32a). My prayer for Second Baptist is that we will become a caring center for Springfield.
I pray God will weave compassion into all the Christian community of our city. We need a renewal that would cause hurting people to think first, not of the government or social agencies, but of churches. I fear we are the last place many people would think to turn to for help. When all the dust settles, and the last history of our country is written, it may record that Christians lost America not so much due to the hardness of their message as to the harshness of their messengers.
“Courage” bespoke encouragement. Jesus sensed a tinge of concern in the sick man. He saw “their” faith (9:2b), obviously referring to the four, and probably to the lame man, who was at least a consenting party in this bold adventure.
Maybe he was having second thoughts, fearing Jesus might not heal him. Possibly he feared being rebuked for his intrusion. Either way, Jesus sensed his apprehension, and tried to encourage him. “Courage” was meant to inspire hope.
The offer of hope is the very keynote of Christianity. Aspiration for a better lot in life, the heart-cry of all humanity, is ultimately offered only in Christianity. We seek it elsewhere in vain. Other world-religions are fatalistic and pessimistic, discouraging any thought of lifting one’s station in life. Women, children, lower castes, the poor, the sick–their best hope of advancement, of being lifted to a higher level, is in the tender teachings of our Savior. Christianity is mankind’s only hope for a better life after death, and our best hope for a better life before death.
Jesus heartened the hesitant palsied man, “Courage.” To the frightened woman who had touched His garment and been healed, Jesus said, “Courage” (MT 9:22). In the storm at sea, Jesus came walking on the water and inspired the disciples, “Courage, it is I; be not afraid” (MT 14:27; MK 6:50). When the twelve were sad, Jesus told them, “Courage, I have overcome the world” (JN 16:33). In a Jerusalem jail, Jesus encouraged His beloved Apostle Paul, “Courage, you have testified of me in Jerusalem, you must also testify at Rome” (see AC 23:11).
What a loving, kind God we serve. He not only offers us hope. He commands us to hope. He forbids us to be sullen and defeated in this life. Even in our darkest hours, we are to have a resiliency, to sense that beneath the pain all is well.
For believers, waiting on God is not a detour in life, it is life, and what Jesus desires to do to us while we wait is as important as what we are waiting for. In the midst of trials, we find direction, not fatalism; purpose, not pessimism. In the darkest night, hear “Courage.” “Facing the inevitable sorrows, evils, and toilsome tasks of life with glad and courageous buoyancy, is a Christian duty” (Maclaren).
When we consider the gloom and glumness which predominate other world-religions, the gladness imparted by Christianity shines forth as a welcome beacon in the dark. Let’s examine the light Jesus shined into this palsied man’s night.
Matt. 9:2d “. . .thy sins. . .”
Where did this thought come from? Neither the four nor the lame man had said anything about sin. They obviously were not expecting to hear this.
Let us be astute readers of the Word. Do not miss the vital lesson Jesus was teaching here. Paralysis of the body is not as urgent as peril of the spirit.
A human being is not a body with a soul, but a soul with a body. We are spiritual beings first of all. Spiritual concerns have priority, they are most important. A healthy spirit in a sick body is far better than a sick spirit in a healthy body.
This is not to downplay healing. Health is important and desirable. Just before our plane landed in Nairobi, Kenya, the world’s most famous faith healer had concluded there a campaign which one million people attended. Five people died while waiting in line to be prayed for. I do not begrudge people longing to be healed. My parents took my deaf sister to faith healers when she was a baby. She was not healed, but many are, and we rejoice in each healing. The issue is priority.
Essence matters most, for it lasts forever. Our bodies, even if healed numerous times, will die, but our spirits will live forever, either in Heaven or in Hell. Therefore, having a healthy spirit is more important than having a healthy body.
In Africa, at the outset our missionary told us we would see poverty and tattered clothes. We did. He warned us we would see sickness and squalor. We did. He challenged us to look past these things, to remember the people’s greatest need was spiritual, their everlasting destiny. We often found this hard to keep in mind.
We met with leaders in three locations. In the remotest village, the United Nations had already long been there, helping with water and farming. World Vision was well established, arranging help for children. This helped reinforce the missionary’s insight. Others can meet physical needs, but only Christians who bring the Gospel of Christ can remedy spiritual needs. This is not to minimize any and all efforts at the former. I am grateful for every act of kindness shown by one human being to another. Whatever our political or religious persuasion, be glad the U.N. and World Vision are there. In Nicaragua, I found myself in the paradoxical position of being grateful for an atheistic, communist lady government leader who had enough compassion to cry over the plight of hurricane victims. She had been a revolutionary soldier. We toured her house, which contained a shrine room displaying portraits of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and a picture of her holding a machine gun and wearing ammunition belts. Yet she was willing to swallow her political and anti-religious bigotry to allow North American Christians to come in and help the homeless. I remember outwardly thanking her while inwardly struggling to hide feelings of bewilderment and perplexity. Strange bedfellows indeed.
Fortunately, for believers, when dealing with physical and spiritual matters, the choice is not either/or, but both/and. Our assignment is to care for the whole person, and each soul exists through spirit, mind, and body. Thus, we must minister to human need in all three areas. The only precaution is to maintain priority. We seek to help spirit, mind, and body, but spirit has to take first place. Spiritual concern is the point which leads, and the piston which drives, the other two.
James 5:14-16 is the New Testament’s most often used and quoted directive with regard to healing. It is rightfully regarded the “how to” text for ministering to the sick. In this passage, the spiritual is given prominence. On behalf of the sick, church elders are to come, pray, and anoint with oil. Included in this scenario is the command, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (v. 16a NAS). Sin is always a higher concern than sickness.
Prechristians, in a world rabidly craving mental stimulation and physical indulgence, we plead for you to look past superficial matters, to focus on substance.
Deal with the spiritual, and begin in it where Jesus does, with sin. This is the leak in the side of our ship that will sink it, whatever else we are doing to rearrange furniture on the deck. For a man on his way to execution, being offered a bottle of aspirin for his headache would be nothing compared to being handed a pardon. Let Jesus forgive your sins. It is your most desperate, everlasting, need.
Christians, when in serious prayer, always deal with sin. Do pray about sick family members, tough business deals, and hard decisions, but always remember, “heavy as they are, they are inconsiderable compared with sin” (Spurgeon). If we do not deal constantly with sin, we will be powerless in dealing with other matters. Our cleansing must be consistent and ongoing for the power to stay free flowing.