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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Forgiveness: Sunday School Notes

The healing ministry is often times seen strictly in terms of a physical miracle. This is wrong on two counts. First of all, much of healing is not "miraculous" in the sense of extraordinary and obviously inexplicable. Life is full of surprises and it is very hard to "prove" that God has healed someone. In truth, most 'healings' are a fast forward of the normal process of healing. Relief from pain is a natural occurring phenomenon and supplementation with medication can improve that. Healing prayer works as a supplement in much the same way--pain relief, fast(er) recovery, fuller recovery, and strength. Life is miraculous and all good things are blessings! A miracle---"when something which cannot happen happens"--is rarer and more difficult (because it takes more openness to the divine energy, more faith and trust in both the minister and the person in need, and/or more battle with dark spiritual forces.)

However, physical healing is not the only type, and it may not be as important as 'spiritual' healing of soul (mind, heart, will and desire). The pain of a broken body or soul both bring us to cry out "Mercy Lord! Save me I'm perishing." However, as we said, along with doubt/unbelief, fear and the demonic obstacles, there is also the power of sin. Sin is a huge obstacle to complete(r) healing and we address that today.

Jesus Himself sometimes discerned a connection between sin and a malady. Mark 2:1-12 is a detailed account of this. Jesus has begun His ministry and word is spreading that He has freed many from demons and healed many who are sick, including lepers! Jesus has to sneak into town because so many people are seeking Him. (Mk1:45) Even out in the country people track Him down. Upon His return home to Capernaum, word got out and the house was surrounded. We forget that in the ancient world medical care was abysmal by our standards. There is also a keener awareness of the spiritual dimension of life. Healing and deliverance (even exorcism) are twin ministries of Jesus. Among those coming to Jesus is a paralytic. Unable to move, he is carried by friends who refuse to be derailed in their quest. Because the crowd was too thick, they go around and climb up to the roof, dig through the mud and thatch and lower the man to Jesus. We can imagine the falling debris and the reaction of the Lord at this. Jesus saw their faith, it is a 'church' event, and says, "Son, your sins are forgiven." The ensuing reaction of offended religious leaders culminates in Jesus asking a simple question. "Is it easier to say 'your sins are forgiven' or 'get up and walk'?" Obviously, forgiving sins is an invisible process. So when Jesus makes the man stand, it is a sign of the power to forgive.

Was the man paralyzed by sin? Was it unrelated? We can only surmise in his case, perhaps this was two unrelated ministrations by the Lord. What we do know is Jesus forgave the sins and healed the man. Forgiving sins is a release from a debt. Our unpayable debt is illustrated in the parable (Mt 18:23-35) of Jesus about the servant forgiven multi-millions of dollars in debt who fails to forgive a debt of thousands. In a conclusion also echoed in the teaching on the Lord's prayer (Mt 6:14-15) Jesus warns that those who do not forgive others will not be forgiven by the Father. Forgiveness has the power to open us to God's mercy, it seems, and the refusal to forgive becomes a horrible, impenetrable barrier to the life giving mercy and forgiveness God offers us. So a disciple must practice the work of forgiving as a means to be opened to forgiveness (and by extension healing!).

The debt of sin (this economic image is easy to understand) is something we "owe" the one we have offended by our "sin" (missing the mark, failing to hit the target). However, and this is important, our debt to God is greater than just sin, it includes the debt of creation. We owe God for our existence. We owe God for our being and for every blessing. Even if sinless, our debt would remain unpayable, ever. God is satisfied with our love. It is a poor return for all we have, but we are poor and it is all we have to give. Understanding that our entire relationship with God is based on His unmerited kindness (grace), Jesus (following Torah-God's revealed instruction) makes clear that loving the neighbor is central to our relationship with God. He says, basically, treat others as God treats them, with gracious love and kindness.

This personal style of interaction (godliness-love and mercy) is institutionalized in the ministry of disciples (followers of Jesus) and apostles (the ones sent by Jesus). We are sent to carry God's love and forgiveness, to bring reconciliation between the sinner and God, and between humans with one another. These two interpenetrate in our life. I (disciple/personally) forgive and I (apostle/minister) bring God's forgiveness. I set people free from their debt to me and I declare the forgiveness of God in Jesus Name to those who are in the clutches of sin and (spiritual) death.

What to do?
We must embrace Jesus' commission; trust His forgiveness ourselves and proclaim it to others. This is a primary component of "proclaiming the Kingdom." Forgiveness invites repentance. Repent is not just "feeling bad"; in Hebrew (shuv) it means to turn around and walk in a new direction (way of life or way of death). This is illustrated in the prodigal son who walked away from his father, then returned home. [Note that in that story the Father cuts him short in his well rehearsed confession. It is the return that matters!] The Greek (metanoia) means to have a new mind, to think differently. Right thinking about God allows us to love God. Knowing and loving are correlated. Bad theology is the mother of bad spirituality... Conversion is to become what we are--a child of God, adopted in Christ. [the function of adoption in the Roman Empire is more about power. cf ]

We have full status as children/heirs; we share in God's Kingly rule. We are not simply the beneficiaries of affection, but the recipients of a "divine" status (we share in the life of God). We are one with Christ, filled with His Spirit and operating with His authority and power. 

John 20:21, 23 - Jesus says, As the Father has sent me so I have sent you... If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained. 

Matt. 9:6; Mark 2:10; Lk 5:24 - Christ forgave sins as a man on earth. Matt 9:8 - when the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.

Matt. 18:18-20 - truly I tell you, what you bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if you ask, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My Name, I am there among them.

2 Cor. 2:10 - Paul forgives in the presence of Christ the one who caused pain. Later in letter,  5:18-21 - All this is from God, Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God is making His appeal through us.; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

James 5:15-16 - Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save (sozo) the sick, and the Lord will raise (egeiro- same word used for Jesus resurrection) them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sinsto one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. (example of Elijah closing heavens in prayer)... My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinners soul from death and will cover a mul
titude of sins. 

1 John 5:14-17 - And this is the boldness we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of Him. If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one--to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin; but there is sin that is not mortal.

[Lev. 5:4-6; 19:21-22 - even under the Old Covenant, God used priests to forgive and atone for the sins of others. Jesus "fully-fills-up" this ministry, but all of the church is holy priesthood of God, continuing the new and improved work in Christ!]

Freedom from sin and its power is a vital aspect of salvation. God is not a magic show. Life on earth is incarnate. God saves and forgives in and through us. The ministry of reconciliation is a real missionary work inside and outside the church. Let's engage in it! 

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