What is the biggest problem you have? Most of us probably had something just come to mind. Maybe it is a health issue you have; or a relationship that is giving you trouble; or a financial burden; or a problem at work; something right now is the biggest thing in your mind; the biggest problem you have.
But our passage today shows us that your biggest problem may not be what you think it is. It wasn’t for the people in Luke 5 — and it may not be for you either. Let’s look at what these verses teach us about our biggest problem:
I. Our biggest problem is our own SIN.
:20 “Friend, your SINS are forgiven you.”
To me, this episode of this paralyzed man before Jesus is one of the most important, and most revealing passages of scripture in all of the word of God. Verse 17 says Jesus was teaching, and all these people were around, and it says the power of God was there for Him to heal. And :18 says some men were carrying on a stretcher “a man who was paralyzed.”
Now this man had an extreme condition. He wasn’t like some, who could bring themselves to Jesus. He couldn’t walk over to the side of the road and wait for Jesus, like the blind men; or run along side the road shouting out to Him to heal them, like the lepers did. This man was “paralyzed”; he couldn’t move his arms or his legs. Anyone looking at this man, for ONE SECOND, could tell you that his biggest problem was that he was paralyzed, right?
But that’s what is SO amazing about this passage. Just about any of us who looked at this person would say immediately say that the biggest problem this man had was physical. But not Jesus. This man’s friends brought him to Jesus; and then when the crowd was so great around the house that they couldn’t get in, they took the tiles off the roof and lowered him down, right before Jesus on his stretcher. And Jesus takes one look at him, and immediately identifies this man’s most important problem, and He says to him: “Friend, your SINS are forgiven you.”
To all those people who were watching that day, that must have been a huge “Wow! We didn’t expect that!” Here’s this guy, totally paralyzed, can’t even bring himself to Jesus, and somehow his friends get him to Jesus, and He says to him, “Your SINS are forgiven you”? In light of his extreme physical condition, WHY would Jesus say that? One reason: Because Jesus knew that his SIN was the most important problem this man had.
If you don’t understand that, then you probably don’t understand YOUR biggest problem, either. See, the biggest problem that any of us has is not physical. It is not material. Even if you are totally bankrupt financially, or totally paralyzed physically like this man, your biggest problem is not physical or material; it is spiritual.
See, God made you to “run on Him,” C.S. Lewis said, like a car is made to run on gasoline. But we all turned away from God to sin. Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And our sin has messed up everything else in our lives:
— Our sin separated us from God, whom we were made to “run” on; so nothing in our lives runs right
— Sin has corrupted our hearts, so that instead of loving people, and being patient towards them and kind to them, we are selfish and self-centered and impatient towards them instead.
— But far worse even than that: because sin separates us from God, if we die in our sins, we will spend eternity in hell separated from God forever. Nothing else in life compares with that. No other problem you have even begins to compare with the fact that your sin has separated you from God and is sending you to hell.
Last month, a Southwest Airlines flight was headed from New York to Dallas, when an engine exploded, the flying parts broke a window, and nearly sucked a passenger out, killing her, and sending the entire plane to a crash landing. One of the passengers said that while that was happening, she and her husband just held hands, and she said “we were praying, praying, praying” the whole time the plane was attempting to land. Nothing else was more important in their lives right then than that, was it? I guarantee you, the passengers in that plane were NOT sitting there going: “I’m afraid I’m never gonna lose those last 10 pounds”; they were NOT thinking, “How can I balance my checkbook?”; they were NOT worried about whether they needed to paint their house, or what their grade point was — there was something so much bigger; so much more threatening — they were afraid for their LIVES; they were about to crash and burn! Nothing else compared to that!
Which is exactly what Jesus is showing us here. Our biggest problem is not any of these little things we often think of as being our problems: our biggest problem is not our bills or our relationships or even our health. Our biggest problem is that our sin is going to send us to hell; NOTHING else compares to that. Jesus said in Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” He’s saying, you’ve got to realize what your biggest problem is. He said in essence, yeah, there are people who can harm you; they can do some bad things to you; but that is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Death will be over in an instant. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to you. The worst thing that can happen to you is that you might go to hell forever.
See, all the physical, financial, and social problems we have here on earth are just temporary. They will soon be over, one way or the other. But Heaven or hell is forever; it is for eternity. No earthy problem we have even compares with that. So much of the New Testament is spent trying to teach us this:
— Jesus showed us in Luke that it is better to be a poor man, covered with sores, and starving, for a few years here on earth, than to be a rich man here on earth, and then spend eternity in hell, longing for a drop of water on your tongue.
— Jesus said in Matthew 5 that it would be better to lose an arm or an eye here on earth, and go to heaven, than to have all those things here on earth, and go to hell.
— Jesus told another sick man whom He healed off of a pallet in John 5, “Behold, you have become well, do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you” — because Jesus knew that the worst thing that could happen to that man was NOT that he might get sick again but that his sins might send him to hell! Nothing else compares with that.
The possibility of your sin sending you to hell is THE biggest problem you have. And until you deal with that, you don’t really HAVE any other problems — at least none that compares with this. Nothing else really matters, until you know for sure that you have an answer to your greatest problem, and that your sins are forgiven. Nothing else compares to that.
And this is true even for those of us who are Christians, and know that our sins are forgiven. Our sin is STILL the biggest problem we face every day.
Listen: I am not downplaying our physical bodies. We live in these bodies, and we need to pay some attention to them; we are foolish and poor stewards of what God has given to us if we don’t. I believe in doing what we can for our physical bodies with proper eating and exercise:
That’s why I run 3 days a week, and walk, try to watch my weight.
I DO pay attention to my physical body; I think it is a matter of good stewardship to do that; I want be pastoring this church when I am 70 years old. I’d like to still be preaching when I’m 90. And I need to keep my body in good shape to do that. So my physical body is important.
But at the same time, my physical body is NOT the most important thing. That’s why I spend much time on my spiritual disciplines as I do on my physical disciplines — because my biggest problem is NOT my cardio-vascular system or my weight — the biggest problem I have is my lack of trust in God; the biggest problem I have is my own selfishness; the biggest problem I have is MY OWN SIN that I have to battle with every day.
My own sin is my biggest problem, and it is yours too:
— Your biggest problem is not your husband or wife. It is YOU.
— Your biggest problem is not your kids; it is YOU.
— Your biggest problem is not that picky boss or that uppity co-worker. Your biggest problem is YOUR selfishness; YOUR lack of patience; YOUR lack of love;
— Your biggest problem is not your weight; it’s not your sickness; it’s not your bills; the biggest problem you have is YOUR OWN SIN. And you will never get things right in your life; you will never have the proper perspective in life, until you own up to that, and recognize that the biggest problem in your life is your sin.
II. The answer to our biggest problem is JESUS.
If you say “Ok, pastor. I get that. I admit that the biggest problem I have is my own sin. So what can I do about it?” This passage shows us: JESUS is the answer to our biggest problem.
When they brought this paralyzed man to Jesus, Jesus looked at him, and He saw that the biggest problem in his life was his sin, and so He instantly said to him, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” Jesus gave him forgiveness — the one thing he needed more than anything else; even more than he needed physical healing.
In fact, when Jesus DID go on to heal him of his paralysis, He made a point to say in :24 that the reason He did it was NOT because his physical problem was so important, but He said, “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” That’s an important statement. Jesus was saying, this man’s physical condition, as bad as it is, is NOT his most important need. His spiritual condition is. But he said, I am healing this man right now physically to SHOW you that I DO have the power to do the MOST important thing, which is to heal you of your sin spiritually.
But notice Jesus was the TOTAL answer for this man’s need. What did this man do to save himself here? He did NOTHING. He couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t even bring himself to Jesus; someone else had to bring him there on a stretcher.
And I think one of the reasons God put this story in the Bible was so that it would be a picture to us of our own inward condition before the Lord. Spiritually speaking, we are all just like that paralyzed man. Sin has made us “spiritually paralyzed” before God — in fact Ephesians 2 says: “And you were DEAD in your trespasses and sins.” What can a “dead” man do to save himself? Nothing! And we cannot do anything to save ourselves either.
The Bible teaches us that the forgiveness of our sins was provided for us entirely by what Jesus did for us. HE is the answer to our biggest problem. John 19:30 tells us that when Jesus died on the cross, He cried out “it is finished;” “tetelestai;” a Greek business word that means “PAID IN FULL.” Now, if a businessman tells you that your account with him is “paid in full,” how much do you have left to pay? NOTHING, right? So that is what the Bible says YOU have to pay to God for your salvation. NOTHING! You don’t have to pay any of it; you don’t need to add anything to it. Jesus solved your biggest problem by paying for your sin in full on the cross.
I saw where many of our people watched the Royal Wedding a week ago Saturday. I watched it too; I know some people say we don’t need to watch it; we are Americans, and so on, but I still thought it was a good thing for our world, which so often disparages marriage, to see marriage celebrated, and the Triune God, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, proclaimed before billions of people. So I thought that was a good thing.
But I also read that among the guests present there at the wedding, were some “common” people: like an 18-year old high school student, and others, who were given an invitation to come by the Royal Family. So let’s say that you got one of those invitations to that wedding, and you didn’t really feel “worthy” of it, as a “commoner” like you are. So you bring some money with you, and as you arrive you say, “Will it help if I give you this?”, or you say: “Can I help sweep up after, I know I don’t deserve to be here.” Well that would be like an insult, wouldn’t it? They don’t need your money; they don’t need your work. Your place there was paid in full by the Royal family, you don’t need to do anything or pay anything for it. And it would be an insult for you to think you could.
Well it’s the same way with our salvation. The price for your sins was “paid in full” the moment Jesus died for you on the cross. You don’t need to try to “pay” anything towards it, or “do” anything to earn it. It has been paid! And it’s really an insult to God, for you to think that you could add anything more than the blood of Jesus Himself has already bought! He said: “Tetelestai;” it is “paid in full.” Jesus has paid in full for the biggest problem you have:
— not Jesus plus your money
— not Jesus plus your work
— not Jesus plus your baptism
— not Jesus plus anything;
Jesus Himself alone is the total answer to your greatest problem. He’s paid for your sins on the cross. Believe that. Receive it. Stop going the wrong way and come back to Him. And if someone ever asks you how you’ll deserve to be in heaven, just say “I DON’T deserve it — but JESUS paid my way in when died on the cross.” Jesus is the answer to your greatest problem.
And listen: Jesus is not only the answer to YOUR greatest problem; we need to remember that He is also the answer to the greatest problem of every person you know. This speaks not only to us as individuals; it also speaks to those of us who are the “friends” of people, like the friends of the man in this story. This man’s friends brought him to Jesus because they saw his great physical need. When they got there, Jesus said, hey, your friend’s paralysis is NOT his greatest need; his SIN is.
That should be a lesson to us: we need to remember that the greatest need of the people we encounter in life is NOT what often appears to be their greatest need. The biggest need they have is for Jesus to take care of their sins.
This is one of the dangers we face when we go on mission to places like Haiti, or India, or the gypsy village of Hrip in Romania: or even with local people right here in Burke County. Sometimes because we are accustomed to the riches of America we are taken aback by the relative physical poverty of some of these places, and it’s easy forget that it is really their spiritual poverty that is their greatest need.
We say things like: “Oh, it is so bad in India; the people there are living in cardboard huts along the river”; or “this gypsy family all lives in one room,” or “In Haiti they don’t even have running water,” and so on. But we mustn’t lose focus on what Jesus says is their biggest problem. The biggest problem these people have is not that they don’t have a car, or the most fashionable clothes, or the “American dream home.” We are all going to lose all of these things one day. This passage reminds us that THE single biggest need these people have, is their SIN, and the most important thing they need, more than anything else, is to know Jesus as their Savior. And that’s true, rich OR poor:
— the biggest problem of the homeless person sleeping in the park in Burke County is their sin, and their biggest need is Jesus.
— and the biggest problem of people who live in million homes on Lake James is that THEY are lost in THEIR sin too, and they need Jesus just as much as the homeless person in the park — and maybe more so; because rich people are often more reluctant to admit their need!
NOW: this does NOT mean that we shouldn’t minister to people’s physical & material needs. In fact we have seen in our daily Bible reading recently where God has given us several commands us to take care of the orphan and the widow, and to minister to the poor.
— We need to make it a priority to see that the needs of the elderly of our church are met.
— We should bring food and help minister at Burke United Christian Ministries (this month they are asking for tomato soup and chicken noodle soup and we need to help with that).
God has commanded us to minister to people’s physical needs, just like Jesus did. And as people see us minister to their physical needs, just like Jesus did here in Luke 5, that will help them to believe that Jesus “has power on earth to forgive sins.” When they see us help with their physical problems, they might believe when we try to help with their spiritual problems. In fact, this is one of the reasons why we want to minister to the poor through an organization like BUCM, because it is a “Christian” ministry that witnesses to Christ through what they do. The “C” in that acronym stands for “Christian;” it points to Christ. You can donate to other organizations that will give people material aid, but that doesn’t touch their biggest problem. Groups like BUCM also minister to their spiritual need, which is the most important, which is why we want to work through them.
Just like Jesus, we must never lose sight of the fact that the BIGGEST problem anyone we encounter has, is their sin. Every other problem they have, is just temporary.
Listen: if you know Jesus as your Savior, you have so much to be thankful for. Many of us here today can and should thank God for our homes and cars and food and family and jobs and health. But we should also keep all these things in perspective. All these things can and will one day be lost: one day that home will burn. One day that car will be a rusty heap. One day, no matter how much you diet and exercise, you WILL lose your health. All these things are only temporary. But what Jesus has done for us is eternal, and can never be taken away.
In fact in my worship time the other morning one of the things the Lord comforted me with, was that as a Christian, all the problems I have, are only temporary; but the blessings I have — especially my greatest blessings — are eternal! That really puts things into perspective. And that’s true for you too, if you are saved: If you are a Christian, your problems are only temporary, but your blessings are eternal!
But that phrase: “IF you are a Christian” is the key; all this is ONLY true if you have received Jesus as the answer to the biggest problem of your life, and you know that your sins are forgiven, and that you have eternal life in heaven.
Many of you know the story of Joni Eareckson Tada, who broke her neck in a diving accident 50 years ago and became a quadriplegic. She has been confined to a wheelchair ever since. Many have criticized her “lack of faith” as a reason why she has not been healed, but Joni has consistently testified that she is grateful to God because He has healed her of the greatest problem of her life: her sin. In fact, some time ago, someone came up to Joni, and said, I bet when you get to heaven, you will be so happy not to be in that wheelchair! And Joni said, yes, I will be happy to be out of that chair, but she said, the thing I am really looking forward to, is that my HEART will be totally free of SIN!
Joni Eareckson Tada is an amazing person, and her perspective is exactly right. She knows that the biggest problem she has, is NOT that she is a quadriplegic; the biggest problem she has is NOT that she is in a wheelchair, or any other physical problem. She knows that the biggest problem she has, is her own sinful heart — and thankfully she also knows that the answer to her sinful heart is Jesus, who totally paid for her salvation, so that one day she could be totally free from sin.
God is trying to show us in this passage today, that we think so much about the physical and material things of this world — but there’s a real sense in which this whole world is like that Southwest airliner last month; this whole world and everything in it, is one day soon, all going to crash and burn. And all those things we think are so important, will very soon mean nothing. The only thing that will really matter, is whether you, and the people you care about, have ever taken care of “The Biggest Problem You Have.”