18th Sunday After Pentecost 2019: Going Through The Roof
Matthew begins this story of Jesus by telling us, "And entering into a boat . . ." That points us back to some of the other "boat" stories we've studied concerning Jesus; and to what they taught us about Him.
First, we saw that He was in the boat asleep while in the midst of a storm; and we saw that He rose from His sleep to rebuke the wind and the waves (8:23-27) - which taught us that Jesus has authority over the natural realm. He commands the wind and the waves, and they obey Him. Second, we saw that He crossed the Sea of Galilee to meet two demon-possessed men; and He cast the demons out of them (8:28-32) - which taught us that Jesus also has authority over the spiritual realm. He commands even the evil spirits, and they must obey Him.
In all these things, Jesus is showing Himself to possess full authority as the Son of God in human flesh. He has authority over the physical world, and over the spiritual world. And now, as He enters the boat once again to cross over the Sea of Galilee.
We're told that he "came into his own city." This is Capernaum; by the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The news that Jesus had returned to Capernaum spread; and very quickly, huge crowds gathered to the house in which He was staying, in order to hear Him teach. In fact, there was such a huge crowed gathered at this house to hear Him that there wasn't any room for any more people. Even the doorways where stuffed with folks. And with all these people packed tightly into the house, Jesus preached the word to them.
And that's when this poor, helpless paralyzed man comes into the story. Matthew says, "And behold they brought to him one sick of the palsy lying in a bed." Mark, in his gospel, tells us a little more of the details of what happened. He said, “And they came to him, bringing one sick of the palsy, who was carried by four. And when they could not offer him unto him for the multitude, they uncovered the roof where he was; and opening it, they let down the bed wherein the man sick of the palsy lay.” (Mark 2:3-4).
Now it's important to recognize that this "tearing up the roof" was not a destruction of property. A first century home in Palestine had a flat roof composed of large stone tiles which were easy to remove and easy to replace. The tiles were sometimes covered with dirt or sod for insulation purposes. So there was no need to rip up shingles and saw through plywood and beams in order to make a sizable opening in the roof! God is certainly not teaching us from this portion of His Word that it's OK to break the law and destroy property as long as it's for the purpose of getting a person to Christ! The roof was not destroyed or damaged--only temporarily opened up.
Remember also that a first century home had an outside staircase up to the flat roof. This enabled the four men to carry their paralytic friend and his bed up to the rooftop without spilling him and without employing an elaborate ladder or block and tackle system! The "bed," of course, was not a heavy inner spring mattress and frame but a lightweight pallet or mattress-like pad. Thus the hole in the roof was not gigantic in size!
Now Matthew continues the narrative with theses words, “And Jesus, seeing their faith...”
Jesus SAW there faith.
Saint James says, that “What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him?... So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself. But some man will say: Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without works; and I will shew thee, by works, my faith. Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, offering up Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou, that faith did co-operate with his works; and by works faith was made perfect?..Do you see that by works a man is justified; and not by faith only?...For even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also faith without works is dead."
Many years ago I heard it put this way: “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” The application is always the same. Live so there can be no doubt.
Understand this: That in order for faith to work, it must be practiced. Faith isn’t just believing that God can do what He says; faith is entrusting yourself to Him so He can do His work through you.
Let me give three points concerning Faith without works is dead.
I. Talk is cheap
Let’s start with the little phrase “if someone says.” By putting the matter this way, James imagines a hypothetical person claiming he has faith in Jesus, but whose life offers no “works” of any kind. In the Greek “does not have works” is in the present tense, indicating an ongoing condition of the heart. James uses the word “works” to cover the vast range of things a godly person might do, from praying and preaching and singing and giving and testifying to serving and helping others.
Here is a person who boasts of something that apparently he does not possess. He says, “I believe in Jesus” but there is nothing there, nothing at all, nothing remotely Christian. He thinks he’s okay because he says he believes. But he does not show the love of Christ, and he lives like the pagans around him.
In many ways, the problem is in his lips as much as in his life. His mouth writes a check his life can’t cash. He apparently is completely unchanged by the gospel he says he believes. He might as well be an unbeliever because, for all intents and purposes, that’s what he is. You can find people like this in almost every church. They are apparently unchanged by years of church attendance, hundreds of gospel sermons, and stirring worship services.
What good is that sort of religion? It’s useless! It’s empty, vain, pointless, and self-deceived. There isn’t one good thing to say about this man and his faith. He does no good for himself or for anyone else.
Can that faith save him? No, because it’s really no faith at all. Remember that his problem is not just his lack of works. It’s that he makes a claim for himself that is not true.
II. What sort of “works” does James have in mind?
Let’s begin with a simple observation. Coming to Christ ought to change a person from the inside out. Without much effort, we can imagine a number of changes that ought to be obvious:
You don’t get drunk on the weekends.
You don’t sleep around.
You don’t watch porn.
You get serious about the Bible.
You sign up for a missions trip.
You become a generous giver.
You clean up your potty mouth.
You start hanging around fired-up Christians.
You look forward to going to church on Sunday.
You pray for your friends to come to Christ.
You make spiritual growth a priority.
You cheerfully endure mockery from those who don’t know Jesus.
That’s a pretty good list, but it’s far from exhaustive.
James focuses on how we respond when confronted with the practical needs of fellow believers. The phrase “brother or sister” means he’s thinking about needy Christians. These are the ones closest to us spiritually. They are close enough that we actually see them hungry and virtually naked. The Internet has turned the world into one village. We “see” suffering brothers and sisters every day via the media and the Internet. How do we respond? Here comes a suffering, starving, nearly naked brother or sister. We see them. We can’t help it because their plight is right before us. That’s part of the point. We see them just as much as the priest and the Levite saw the hurting man on the road to Jericho. They saw him and passed by on the other side. That’s an easy response. We’re busy. We’re tired. We’re behind schedule. We’ve got a meeting to attend. People are depending on us. We’re under pressure already. So we pass by on the other side for reasons that in themselves are not wrong. Eventually, along comes a Samaritan who helps the man by the side of the road. That’s the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
But James asks us to imagine a response even worse than passing by on the other side. It’s one thing to see a need and simply walk away because you feel like you can’t get involved. But in this case, the Christian who brags about his faith doesn’t simply walk away. When he sees his suffering brother or sister, he actually says something. The translations handle it in different ways:
“Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!” (CEB)
“God be with you! Stay warm, and make sure you eat enough” (GW).
“Good luck to you. I hope you’ll keep warm and find enough to eat” (Phillips).
Another good one comes from the Living Bible:
“Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat hearty.”
This is worse than what the priest and the Levite did. They went to the other side of the road, but they didn’t mock him with their words. How much worse it is to mouth pious platitudes while not caring one bit about hurting people.
To be clear, James is not suggesting that caring for the hurting is the only measure of a living faith. The other things matter too. He’s not giving us an exhaustive list. But he is forcing us to realize we can’t hide behind noble religious activity as an excuse not to care for others.
It all goes together.
My faith is dead if I talk without caring.
My faith is dead if I give the gospel without loving.
My faith is dead if I quote the Bible without applying it in my own life.
My faith is dead if I pray on Sunday and don’t show compassion on Monday.
My faith is dead if I give my tithe and spend the rest on myself.
III. A Sobering Conclusion
So my question to you is this: When Jesus sees your faith what does he see? Are you doing works so that you can be right with God? Then your faith is dead. Are you living like the world but proclaiming that you have a faith in Christ? Then your faith is dead. Are you ignoring the needs of others because you do not want to deal with it? Then your faith is dead. What kind of faith do you have?
Or let me put it this way, “Are you a Christian?”
That’s what the gunman asked the students at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. If they answered yes, he shot them in the head. If they answered no or didn’t answer, he shot them in the legs.
Those students in Roseburg, Oregon had no inkling what was about to happen when they went to class that day. The Christians who died were given no advance notice. They had their own hopes and dreams for the future. They were thinking about their weekend plans. Some were no doubt thinking about a guy or a girl they would like to date. They were, in short, totally normal young people. Then the killer began to shoot and everything changed. God bless those young people who in the crisis answered “Yes” when asked, “Are you a Christian?” They paid the ultimate price for their faith.
For most of us, the tests of life will not be like that. But the challenge is the same for all of us. Get your faith in gear so no matter what happens today or tomorrow, you’ll be ready to stand up for Jesus.
Make it your aim to brighten every corner with the love of Jesus. Decide now to live for Christ every day. Take your stand so when you are asked, “Are you a Christian?” no one will be surprised when you say yes.