Treating the Problem Not the Symptom

One of the challenges a Doctor faces is the problem of referred or reflective pain. Referred pain is when pain is experienced in a part of the body different from the problem area. For example, sometimes a sore shoulder is because of gallbladder problems. Pain in the neck, shoulders, or back may be due to a heart attack. A splitting headache could be a result of cold on a nerve as you eat ice cream (brain freeze). Every medical professional has to learn that the problem and the symptoms are not necessarily the same thing.

Throughout the course of life we need to recognize this same reality. We need to learn

  • that getting married is not the cure for loneliness
  • throwing money at a problem does not make it go away
  • taking a bunch of pills does not replace living a healthy lifestyle
  • going to church does not make you right with God (that comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ)
  • giving your kids what they want is not the same as being a good parent

We can spend much time and energy seeking to eliminate symptoms and never really address the real problem. The result of this is mounting frustration with life. We feel like for every problem we solve there are two more we have to deal with.

This morning we are going to look at a remarkable Biblical account. On the surface it appears to be just another miraculous healing that Jesus administered. However in this account we see not only the difference a caring friend can make; we also Jesus as he addresses the problem and not just the symptoms.

A Man in Need

According to the gospel of Mark (Mark 2), Jesus was back in Capernaum. He was teaching in a home and the home was packed. It could have been Peter’s home where Jesus had previously healed Peter’s mother-in-law.

Four men heard Jesus was in town gathered their friend who was paralyzed and brought him to meet Jesus. We are not told the circumstances of the man’s paralysis.  We don’t know if it was due to a stroke, an injury, or something else. It is apparent that the man could not walk and there is no record of him saying anything until after Jesus healed him. The four men believed Jesus was the answer to their friend’s problem.

When the men arrived at the house carrying their friend on a stretcher they discovered that the place was packed and no one was willing to make room for these men and their friend. So the men decided to be resourceful. They went up on the roof and dug a hole (which must have been sizeable) so they could lower their friend to Jesus.

The roofs of those days were generally constructed by putting timbers two or three feet apart. This was covered by sticks and then padded with reeds, thistles and twigs. Then the roof would be covered with about a foot of dirt which would be packed down to minimize leakage. People often had stairs which led to the roof.

The men started digging. It wouldn’t have taken long before dirt started falling upon the crowd. I suspect Jesus had to stop talking. When the men finally broke through the roof every eye would have been fixed on the hole. I can imagine the men peering down from the sunlight and then lowering their friend on ropes.

An Unexpected Diagnosis

When the man had been lowered into the room we are told “Jesus saw their faith and said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus was touched by the faith of these men. He was impressed by their single-minded determination to bring their friend to Jesus.

Jesus did not do what the friends expected. I imagine that these four men were hot and sweaty from transporting their friend to Jesus. I suspect they peered through the hole in the roof with great anticipation. When they heard Jesus say, “Your sins are forgiven,” I suspect they might have thought, “Hey, this man’s problem is that he is paralyzed! The idea of forgiveness is nice but what he really needs is a miracle!” From the perspective of these men, Jesus was completely missing the point.  This brings us to the key point of this whole story:Sometimes our greatest need is something we do not even see.

The assumption of the friends was that the greatest need of this man was for physical healing. Why didn’t Jesus immediately meet that need? There are a couple of possible reasons: First, Jesus knew that everyone’s greatest need is for forgiveness. Later in his ministry Jesus would say, “What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?”  We can have all the world has to offer and still be headed to eternal judgment. Let’s state this clearly: there is NOTHING that is more important than your relationship with Christ because this relationship/or lack thereof will impact you literally forever.

Second, Jesus in his perfect wisdom may have seen that the physical problem of this man was actually caused by guilt over something that happened in the past. There are stacks of cases where physical problems are actually referred pain from spiritual or psychological issues. Before you can solve the physical symptoms you have to address the psychological or spiritual problem.

Don’t miss the point. We have a tendency to assume that the biggest problems in our lives our the things such as,

  • Being more popular
  • Attaining a greater level of success
  • Earning more money
  • Gaining victory over a health issue
  • Being delivered from the pressures of life
  • Getting a particular person to like us
  • Keeping the peace

We throw our energy into achieving these goals but find that when we achieve the goal we are still empty. It is like dealing with noise in your car engine by turning up the radio. It may mask the noise, but it doesn’t solve the problem. It is like avoiding a fight with your teenager by simply giving them what they want. Such a tactic may keep peace at home but it does nothing to help your child grow to be a responsible adult. You have treated symptoms rather than the disease. Sometimes our greatest need is something we do not immediately see.

A Negative Response

In response to Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness the Scribes and Pharisees turned hostile. The Pharisees and Scribes were men who were deeply committed to the Law of God and the manmade regulations added to the Law in an effort to guard the law. These men today would oppose dancing, playing cards, watching movies, or anyone who had a different experience from their own because these things might lead to sin. These men may actually have been well-intentioned. They would probably be respected members of most churches.

They heard Jesus tell the man that his sins were forgiven and they immediately concluded that Jesus was uttering blasphemy. Jesus claimed to dispense forgiveness. Only God can forgive someone of their sins. Therefore Jesus was claiming to be God!

Their reasoning is absolutely correct. No one can forgive sins except God alone. Jesus was claiming a divine prerogative. They understood exactly what Jesus was saying. However, their conclusion was wrong. It is not blasphemy to claim that you are God if you really are God!

There are some who occupy pulpits and teach in seminaries today who claim that Jesus never claimed to be God. They say Jesus was a good man but his followers elevated Him to a position he never desired for Himself. They place Jesus on the same level as every other religious leader. Jesus was no different from Mohammed, Confucius, L. Ron Hubbard, Joseph Smith or any other leader of a religious movement.

Those who draw such conclusions have not taken the Bible seriously! They are creating a Jesus that never existed. We have seen in the last couple of weeks that Jesus claimed authority in His teaching, He claimed over disease, over demons, and now over sin. Jesus showed Himself to be God! It was later in his ministry when he actually made bold claims to be equal to the Father.

A Bold Conclusion

The Pharisees and Scribes dismissed the words of Jesus and sought to diminish Him by saying, “Anyone can say someone’s sins are forgiven.” Perhaps in their mind Jesus was simply some kind of scam artist.

Jesus, we are told, knew what they were thinking and confronts them,

“Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

Jesus basically said, “Do you want to see evidence that I have the authority to forgive sins?” And then he told the man to get up, take his mat and go home. And . . . .the man got up, took his mat, and went home.

Remember this man had been paralyzed and he most likely had been paralyzed for a long time. After such a long time muscles atrophy. A normal person in this situation would have to learn to walk all over again! Yet after Jesus spoke to this man he didn’t need anyone to help him get up. There was no need for physical therapy because his muscles were working just fine. There was no tentativeness. The man simply got up, picked up his mat and went home praising God! I can’t help but think the man was doing just a little bit of a joyful dance.

Picture the four guys on the roof: I picture them doing pumping their fists, giving each other high fives, and maybe doing a little dance of joy and gratitude. I imagine that all their eyes were moist from joy at the radical change in the life of their friend. I am sure they came sprinting down from that roof to embrace and celebrate with their friend.

The people were stunned. They had seen a remarkable miracle. They were impressed with Jesus as the healer but they were also confronted with an important question: “Who is this man who is able to extend forgiveness of sins?” The claim was bold and it was backed up with action.

Take Home Points

As we look at this account there are some things we should be taking home from it.  First, we see the unique person of Jesus Christ. We follow Christ not simply because He was a great man. We follow Him and serve Him because He was God in human form. He alone has the authority to extend forgiveness for sin.

Jesus was unique. He alone claimed to be God. He alone proved that what He claimed was true. What sets Christianity apart from every other religion is the fact that it is anchored to the person and work of Jesus. If Jesus was not who He said He was, Christianity crumbles.

It is politically correct to say all faiths are basically the same. It may be politically correct but it is biblically foolish. Christianity is the only way to a restored relationship with God because Jesus is the only one who can provide what we need which a substitute to pay the debt that is beyond us. Jesus alone is God. He alone lived a sinless life. He is alone the Savior.

Second, if Jesus is the one who can forgive sin, we should seek Him. The Bible tells us

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. [Ephesians 1:7-8]

Is it possible that the reason you struggle in life is not because of: your lousy marriage, demanding job, financial limitations, or even your physical problems? Is it possible that your circumstances are a symptom of a deeper problem in your heart? In other words, is it possible that your real problem is spiritual?

You and I have rebelled against the Creator of life. We feel alienated and detached because we were made to fellowship with God and our sin makes that impossible. Until we deal with the core problem, dealing with the symptoms will only yield a temporary solution.

We need what only Jesus can give: a new beginning. We need to be forgiven and made whole once again. The good news that comes from Jesus is this: No matter what lurks in your past, you can be forgiven in Christ.

  • You may have killed people in war
  • You may have abused a spouse or someone else
  • You may have destroyed someone’s reputation by your words
  • You may have been unfaithful to your spouse
  • You may be caught in the snare of some addiction
  • You may even have cursed God and ignored Him for most of your life

If you will come to Christ sorry for your sin and turn to Jesus for forgiveness and new life, you will be forgiven. You will be viewed by God as one who is clean and spotless. There may be some earthly consequences of your actions. There may still be a battle to be fought to overcome sinful habits. There will still be struggles. But your account with God will be settled. You will no longer be working on these things alone.

Third, when God doesn’t do what we expect we need to consider that God may be working on a greater problem in our lives.  This is especially true in the times of trial. There are times when we pray for something specific and it doesn’t happen. We ask God to remove a burden but the burden doesn’t go away. In these times we must consider that God may be doing a greater work than what we see. God may be addressing a character flaw in us, He may be strengthening us for something in the future, He may be using us as a testimony to someone else.. It is easy for us to get hung up on the superficial things of life. The Lord sees the big picture and will give us what we need . . . even if it is different from what we desire.

If you have come to Jesus for forgiveness and you still feel God isn’t paying attention to your prayers then please consider the fact that God may be working on something more important in your life.

Fourth, this account challenges us to love boldly. The paralytic’s life was changed because of his friends. He would not have known new life if these friends had not taken action. They sacrificed, planned, and they found a way to bring their friend to Jesus. They didn’t merely talk about (or even pray about) helping their friend. They took action.

How often do we talk about friends that need to come to faith? We wish they would trust Christ. We wish they would get involved in the church. We wish they would send their children to the youth programs. We wish they could know how much we care. This text leads us to ask a simple question: What are you doing to bring the wish to reality? Are we praying diligently? Are we looking for opportunities to bring our friends to Jesus? Are we offering to drive them to worship or pick up their kids for Sunday School? Are we going out of our way to show the love of Christ to these friends we say we love? Let’s put it real simple: are we willing to be inconvenienced to bring people to Christ?

I think this newly restored man surely never forgot those friends who brought Him to Jesus. I suspect the rest of his life he looked for ways to show his gratitude. There is no greater gift than to lead another to new life in Christ.

I suspect the man probably lay down in his bed that night and gave thanks to God for the healing he received. He probably couldn’t help but wiggle his toes, move his legs, and perhaps hug his wife. He felt he had gotten his life back.

As the man thought more deeply about what happened I am sure the man played the events of the day over and over in his mind. Perhaps he thought about Jesus’ words about his forgiveness. I hope he came to see that forgiveness was his greatest need. Perhaps he even became one of Christ’s followers.  And if this so, I’d bet the man was forever grateful that Jesus did not merely treat His symptoms but addressed the real problem.

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