Sunday, February 23, 2003

Seventh Sunday of Epiphany
Isaiah 43:18-25
Psalm 41
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Mark 2:1-12

Now he that establisheth us with you in Christ, and anointed us, is God; who also sealed us, and gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.

One of the most fascinating things we were able to do while we lived in England was to see a couple copies of the Magna Carta. There are only four known copies left out of the several dozen originally written. Two are in London (these are not available for viewing), one is in Lincoln and the other is in Salisbury. They are well preserved, carefully protected. Though the Magna Carta was never really put into use in England, it is the basis of many democratic documents around the world, including our own constitution.

When the Magna Carta was written in 1215, copies were made for every shire in the country, plus one for King John I. Since this was a legal document, it was necessary that ever copy be exact in its words, leaving no room for alteration. The writing went from edge to edge and began at the very top of the vellum. The scribes (several) who made the copies each had individual handwriting, so would need different amounts of vellum to produce the work. A large enough piece was required, often leaving excess at the bottom. When the entire document was complete, the excess was folded up, with the bottom of the paper touching the bottom of the words. Holes were put in the vellum, a string tied and a seal placed over the string. Even if the seal was removed, the holes would show where the document ended so that nothing could be added. This is what it meant to be 'sealed'.

Paul writes that God set His seal of ownership on us. When He sets His seal, nothing can be changed or altered. He has given to us His Holy Spirit, which dwells in our hearts. What God says is true, what He promises is now and ever will be. We are guaranteed the fulfillment of those promises in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God.

But what promises? "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake; and I will not remember thy sins." (Isaiah 43:25) God has promised to take away our sin, to blot out our transgressions. He will forgive and forget. Isaiah tells us that God is going to do a new thing and that we should forget the things of the past. If God can forgive our sins, make us new and give us the living water in the deserts of our lives, why can't we? Yet, we try so hard to do whatever we can to make restitution for our sin. In the Old Testament, the people provided sacrifices and burnt offerings. What good did they do? They were not lasting solutions to their problems. They were never really healed.

It would take something new, something great. It would take Jesus Christ to bring true healing and forgiveness. The people of Capernaum seemed to know that Jesus could do something. When he returned home, they came running to hear Him speak and be healed of their dis-ease. The room was so full that the crowd overflowed outside the door. No one could get near Jesus. There were some men who had a friend who was paralyzed. They were determined to get their friend into Jesus' presence, knowing the Jesus would heal him. Since the doorway was blocked, the men carried their friend to the roof, made a hole and slipped him into the crowd near Jesus. He saw the faith of their friends and said, "Son, thy sins are forgiven." This isn't exactly what the men were looking for, they were expecting their friend to walk again.

Yet, it was exactly what the man needed to hear. The people in the age when Jesus walked on earth believed that disease was caused by sin. The paralyzed man must have certainly done something horrible to have such a debilitating disease ruin his life. It would have been physically as well as emotionally disabling. The man needed more than healing. He needed to be restored to his community. In that day, forgiveness came through sacrifice, by the priests in the temple. But they could do nothing for the man. Sacrifice could not bring the man to his feet. Only God could heal him, restore him to the community by forgiving his sins.

Jesus fulfilled the promise of God in Isaiah and He showed them in this story that He has the authority to forgive sins. He is the living water that runs through the desert of our lives and quenches our thirst. Jesus is the new thing God promised. The Old Testament law and sacrifice did nothing to restore our relationship with God, only He can bring healing and peace. Jesus speaks words of forgiveness to the man, healing him inwardly even before healing his body. He was more concerned about the salvation of the man's soul than the crippling effects of his disease.

The teachers of the law did not believe Jesus. "Who is this man?" They were offended by His bold proclamation of forgiveness. He proved to them He was who He was claiming to be, He made the man walk again. The people were amazed for they had never seen anyone with such authority. They were seeing the revelation of God, and though they did not know that yet, they would come to see more as Jesus continued His ministry in their presence.

God's Word is certainly true. He has put His seal on us and there is nothing that can take away the guarantee we have in Jesus. Of course, there will be those who will doubt. They will require proof and not believe when it is given. They will demand proper sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. However, we can know God is faithful and answer that all God's promises were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He has restored us in body, mind and spirit, healed our dis-ease and made us a new Creation.

At our baptism, God put His seal on our lives and filled us with the living water that is Christ. We now live confidently and praise God together for His mercy and His grace and He makes us stand firm in those promises which He has fulfilled. Thanks be to God! 

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