Monday, July 09, 2007

Art Thou Weary?

The story of the paralytic who was healed by Christ [Matthew 9:1-8] is another great and encouraging message of God’s love for us. There are similarities between this healing, and last week’s story of the healing of the Gergesenes demoniacs. You’ll recall that the demoniacs had enslaved themselves to darkness and were so far gone that they could not even ask for help from our Lord. In fact, when they saw Him, the devils within those men tried desperately to send Christ away saying, “What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God?” Jesus ignored the foul stench of the demonic presence and reached out to the men with love, casting out the evil, and restoring them to health of soul and body.

Likewise, the paralytic in today’s story was a helpless man. Like the demoniacs, he too was unable to come to Christ under his own power, but actually had to be carried by his four devoted friends. Perhaps he also could not speak because of his palsy, and thus was unable to even ask for healing. But Jesus looked upon the faith of his friends and immediately healed the man.

And so we have two stories here from Matthew’s gospel that each demonstrate Christ’s willingness and ability to heal even those too demented by sin or too sick from its consequences to so much as ask for His help. How great is the love of God!

Are there not times in our lives when we may feel overcome by sin and the guilt of it, or so weak and paralyzed by our spiritual sloth and coldness toward God that to even draw near to Christ for healing seems nigh on impossible? Are there times when we throw up our hands and feel so beyond redemption that we wonder what the use is of even trying? If so, don’t you find encouragement in the discovery that even utter depravity and complete spiritual paralysis are not beyond the power of Jesus to heal? If He can heal these, surely He can help us.

There is a great old Protestant hymn that most of us are familiar with which sums up so well the glorious yet often painful reality of the Christian life. It asks, “Art thou weary, art thou languid, art thou sore distressed?” If thou didst answer, “Yea, verily!” to any of these, then welcome, my friend, to the big fat club of the rest of us. The consequences of sin are real and devastating to us spiritually, physically, mentally—in every way possible. It makes us sick of soul and frequently worn out. And so far no one has come up with a cure for sin’s effects that does not involve the cross in our lives and the measure of self-denial and suffering that it calls us to.

The writer of this hymn understood so well this truth, and went on to declare, “If I find Him, if I follow, what His guerdon here? (IOW, His guarantee for this life) The answer: “Many a sorrow, many a labor, many a tear”. Oh wonderful! When many of us first came to Christ as evangelicals we were assured an easy salvation, in direct contrast with Jesus’ promise of a narrow path and a difficult way leading to the kingdom of heaven. Indeed the whole of the New Testament scriptures testify both to the bone-wearying difficulty of the Christian life, and to the certainty of salvation for those who persevere and endure. Our salvation is certain, because it depends upon the power of God and His love for us, and not upon our human efforts alone. Yet with God’s help we must walk the path He has set before us, carrying the cross He has individually fashioned for each of us, in order that we may die to our sins and live eternally in Him.

If we worry that our labors may be in vain, the writer of this hymn offered one more word of encouragement. “Finding, following, keeping, struggling, is He sure to bless? Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs answer, ‘Yes’.”

What a wonderful hymn. If it seems remarkably Orthodox to you in its content, there’s a reason for that. The lyrics were adapted from the writings of St. Stephen of Mar Saba, an 8th century Orthodox monk and the nephew of St. John of Damascus. So please strike what I said before about it being a Protestant hymn, it is an entirely Orthodox hymn in every way.

Getting back to our gospel lesson on the paralytic, there are times when we may indeed falter in our way along the Christian path and become paralyzed by an unwillingness to correct ourselves or to deal harshly with our own sins. We may go through a season or even seasons during which we just sort of let life pass us by and we seem too weak to even lift a finger in our own defense.

That is when it is good to have friends. Maybe there are times when we aren’t brought to church by our love of God or our desire for salvation; maybe we come just to see our friends, or to make our family happy, or simply because we are embarrassed to have people wonder if there is something wrong with us. But you know what? God can use that too. We may indeed find ourselves in a rather helpless state spiritually, but if we allow our friends to bring us to church where Jesus may be found, we are not without hope that He may also touch our lives while we are here and strengthen our souls and bodies that we may rise again and return to following Him.

There are times when we are earnest in the Spirit and can walk the narrow way boldly and with confidence in God. There are other times when we just plop down on the dusty path and cry. During these latter times we must never, ever isolate ourselves from our friends or cut ourselves off from their company. They may be the very ones who pick us up and carry us along for a time, until we regain our strength and can resume our own walk. After that, there may be times when we must pick up and carry our weary friends and help them along in the way of life.
This is why God gave us the Church, which is yet another sign of His love and care for us. He knows that we need one another, that we draw strength from each other, that we can provide great help and encouragement to one another in the Lord and in so doing, find our mutual salvation in Him. The greatest tragedy is a paralytic with no friends; he lies on an empty, deserted road with nothing but the vultures for his companions. And their only prayer over him is “Lord, for what we are about to receive, we thank Thee…”

When those times come upon you during which you seem to have no faith, let the faith of your friends carry you into the presence of Christ, and let Him do for you what you cannot do for yourself at that moment. Finding your strength renewed, pick yourself up and carry on, dear friend, carry on.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


At 7/09/2007 9:42 AM , Blogger Munkee said...

Thank you Father.

At 7/13/2007 7:39 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The exact words I needed to hear. Thank you.



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