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The Eye of the Beholder

Matthew 9:1-8

Pastor Jason Zirbel

19th Sunday after Trinity
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View Associated File

Sun, Oct 7, 2018 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

Looking over the text, it’s clear that St. Matthew really wants us to see how important “seeing” is in this account.  “Idou,” which is the Greek word for “seeing/beholding,” is used five times in just eight verses.  A quick inventory shows us that (1) we are to idou/behold/see certain folks bringing their paralytic friend to Jesus.  In that same verse we’re told that (2) Jesus idou’s/sees their faith in this action.  Verse 3 instructs us to (3) idou/see/behold how some of the scribes who were present accuse Jesus of blasphemy for forgiving the paralytic his sin.  And after healing the paralytic (and forgiving his sins), verse 8 tells us that the crowd, (4) idouing/seeing this miracle, was filled with faithful fear and they glorified God, who had given such divine/powerful authority to men.  *If you’re keeping track, that’s only four times.  What about the fifth?  Matthew tells us quite plainly in verse 4 that (5) Jesus “idou’d/saw” the wicked thoughts of the scribes.  The English translation here is a poor translation.  The original text doesn’t say that Jesus “knew their thought.” It says that He “saw/idou’d” their thoughts, which caused Him to ask, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”

So…what does this mean?  We need to start with establishing just how important this word is and what it means.  Idou: This is the Holy Spirit’s way of saying “Look here and pay attention!  Behold!  Big, important things are happening!  God is at work!” Consider some of the other places we see/hear this call to “behold.” “Idou/Behold, the virgin will conceive and bear a Son.” To the lowly outcast shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks by night: “Idou/Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy which is for all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” “Behold/idou, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying ‘Where is He who was born King of the Jews?  We have come to worship Him.’” John the Baptist points right at Jesus and proclaims to everyone in earshot, “Idou/Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus on the cross: “Woman, behold your son.  [John], behold your mother.” You get the point.  This is a very big word that cues us in the fact that big things are happening. 

Back to our text.  “Behold/Look/Pay attention, for some people were bringing a paralytic lying on a bed to Jesus.” Okay…that makes sense.  Folks: This isn’t just a sentence starter.  This is what faith does!  Faith comes to Jesus and calls upon Jesus.  Pay attention and take note!  Not surprisingly, within that same verse Matthew makes a point of telling us that Jesus idou’d their faith in/through this action.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Jesus took notice of this action.  Jesus SAW their faith; faith that was willing to destroy a roof in order to get their friend before His holy presence.  More on this in a minute. 

Jesus sees their faith, and says to the paralytic who has just been lowered through the roof to be right in front of him, “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.” *Notice: Jesus doesn’t heal him; not yet.  He doesn’t even hint at the possibility.  Rather, Jesus gives this man (and his friends) the most important thing: the blessed assurance of forgiveness.  And how do the scribes respond to this holy absolution?  “Idou/Behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming!’” Again, “idou/pay attention and be sure to see this.” Scribes were actually complaining that Jesus forgave sins.  Scribes were actually accusing Jesus of blasphemy (a transgression that merited death by stoning).  Umm…who here is surprised by this?  Why is it so important that we behold and take note of this wicked behavior?  The key is in the fact that Matthew never says that the scribes were dialoging with each other, as if they formed up their own little “mean girls” clique and started whispering and murmuring to one another.  That’s what we assume, because—let’s face it—that’s how things so often work in our world, right?  But that’s NOT what happened here!  The text is very clear in stating that they were monologuing; that is, silently talking to themselves within the privacy of their own hearts and minds.  They never voiced their wicked accusations.  They only thought it.  They said it to themselves.  Pay attention! 

And here’s where it gets very interesting (and a bit unnerving, if you’re honest with yourself): Jesus idou’s their thoughts!  He knew and actually saw the wickedness in their hearts, which is why He engaged them.  He could’ve let it go.  After all, they didn’t say anything out loud.  They didn’t make public accusations that required Jesus to defend Himself.  But…God desires the death of no man.  God is not content that people dwell in the darkness of sin.  Your Lord loved those wicked scribes enough to speak first; to engage them.  “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘rise up and walk’?  But so that you may know that I have the authority to forgive sins [because only God can forgive sins],” Jesus then turns to the paralytic and says, “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And the guy did just that.  Matthew then tells us that the crowd idou’d this miracle and they were instantly filled with faithful fear, and they began to glorify God, “who had given such authority to men.” They feared and loved God precisely because they saw/beheld God in their midst and in action. 

Behold!  Take heed!  Pay attention!  When Jesus saw the faith of the faithful friends, what exactly was He looking at?  Was it their actions/deeds, or was it the faith that produced such God-pleasing fruit?  This is important!  We understand that Jesus saw the wicked thoughts/hearts of the scribes.  They didn’t say a word out-loud.  They didn’t make a scene.  In fact, they did nothing that would draw attention to their disapproval.  And yet…Jesus saw their wickedness, and He called it out.  Folks: The same goes for those faithful ones bringing their paralytic friend to Jesus.  It wasn’t merely the external actions that Jesus saw, as if simply going through those motions somehow equaled “faith.” Keep in mind: The scribes and Pharisees were always coming to Jesus too, and no one will ever accuse them of being faithful!  It wasn’t the mere outward actions that Jesus saw.  Jesus saw their faith.  He saw their faith in action.

So…what does that mean for us today?  We could, at this point, easily turn this into a law-heavy lecture on what you need to do or not do so that God will look at you and see “faith” (and not “wickedness”).  It’s sad, but that’s how this text often winds up getting preached; i.e., “Do all these good deeds and actions so that Jesus will see your ‘faith,’ but don’t be like the scribes, because Jesus knows your heart.” Folks: That’s putting all the focus on all the wrong things.  That’s putting the focus on you and what you do or don’t do.  Worse yet (and it’s often the case), the focus gets shifted to what the “other guy” is doing or not doing.  We move past a works-righteous examination of the self, and wind up playing self-righteous inquisitor, looking for “faith” or “sin” in the other guy, as if Jesus needs our help. 

Look here.  Idou.  What do you see?  You see ordinary bread and wine.  You see ordinary water.  You see a very ordinary and unimpressive sinful man.  You look around and you see a very ordinary and unimpressive setting.  However, through the God-given eyes of faith, which He opens through the hearing of His holy Word, you do see Christ in your midst.  Behold!  The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  By grace, through faith, you recognize His authority in action.  Through faith, you recognize how God is working in your midst.  “In the stead and by the command of my Lord and Savior, and by His authority….” You hear Christ (through the pastor) bespeak you forgiven.  By grace, through faith, you’re not scandalized or offended by this.  You’re thankful.  You hear His peace that surpasses all understanding. 

You look to this altar and this rail and you see the earthly side of God’s feast table.  You lift up your heart in thanksgiving in the full joy and confidence of faith, knowing that you are joining with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven as you laud and magnify the Lord Christ in your midst for you and your salvation.  Let that sink in.  Your Lord comes down to you!  You don’t ascend into heaven to meet Him.  You can’t.  You don’t have the authority.  This is why He comes to you, and through faith you see and recognize this blessed Immanuel reality in your midst.  Through faith, in recognition of this blessed reality, you do what all faithful have done when they behold Him and His blessed presence: You cry out in joyous, faithful fear and praise, glorifying God.  You offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving. 

Folks: I can’t make you see any of this, but by God’s grace, through faith, you will.  This is why I point you to and focus you on Him.  We let Him work this blessed miracle of life.  Behold!  Here is the most important thing!  Here is Christ.  May you never lose sight of this.  No matter how bad or dark or scary or busy things may get on this side of eternity, may your eyes and ears of faith be ever and always focused on Him.  May you ever and always desire to be in His holy presence, and may this blessed Christ-centered, Word and Sacrament reality be your focus, your joy, your glory, and your praise, now and into all eternity. 

In His holy name…AMEN

Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.

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