Read: Matthew 9:l-8

The kind of Christianity practiced in this country for the past fifty years or so is on its way out. I remember the puzzlement of some when I once said  that we'd see the day when some of our fine modern church buildings would be converted into bowling alleys and automobile agencies. Now the idea doesn't seem so far-fetched.


The falling away has begun, all across the land. And the reason is simple. It's the same reason that's behind the fact that you no longer see the young men on university campuses wearing coats and ties. Years ago they didn't question wearing a coat and tie, they just wore them. Some years ago a lot of people didn't ask questions about going to church, they simply went. It was a good thing to do. Good for the family. Good for the soul. There was something comforting about getting dressed up and marching off to church with the family. The service might be a little boring. Maybe you caught a few winks of sleep during the sermon. But when it was over, you felt clean. This was a good way to live.


Then these vast social upheavals began sweeping across the land. Some people began to wake up. And as they awakened, one of the first questions they asked was, "What am I doing in this church? What good is it?" They no longer felt clean when they came home for their Sunday dinner. They felt bored, or angry, or they felt as though they had wasted their time.


So they began to play hooky, and didn't even feel guilty. "What ever made me keep the church habit so long? Think of all the beautiful weekends I wasted!" And I suppose that unless we have a war or some other catastrophe to scare people back to church, the landslide of disinterest across the country will pick up momentum in the next few years and cut down the crowds a lot more.


And really, why should people go to church if there's nothing there? Why should they, if nothing real, nothing divine ever happens? If it's the same old routine week after week, the same old hymns, the same old faces, the same old platitudes? Is God going to give them an A on their report card just because they suffered through it?


According to Mark and Luke, a wonderful healing was performed in a house. The place was so jammed that they couldn't bring the paralyzed man in. They had to lower him through an opening in the roof. They didn't get crowds like this in the synagogue, and some of the scribes who ran the synagogue were wondering about that as they watched the man being lowered down in front of Jesus.

"Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven." 

This man is blaspheming: Who has any right to forgive sins but God alone?


Which is easier? To say, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Rise and walk?" ..... But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, "Rise! Take your bed and go home!"


Authority on earth to forgive sins. This is why that house was crowded. They weren't listening to platitudes. They were watching a man being set free from his sins. And the proof that this man is set free from his sins is that he is a different man from the man they brought in on a stretcher. He's been changed. He can walk. He can stand on his own two feet. Nobody has to carry him around any more!


This ought to be happening in our churches every Sunday. People who have been paralyzed by a troubled conscience – paralyzed physically, mentally – ought to be coming out from under the curse, coming free. And the sign of this freedom ought to be evident in the way they walk, the way they live. People ought to be experiencing the grace of God with such power that they fall on their faces with gratitude. If we are the Body of Christ, we ought to be doing the works of Christ.


We ought to have the authority of Christ.


Authority on earth to forgive sins: this is the only thing that makes a church a church. If it isn't able to do this, don't call it a church.


Of course, if a man is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink. If he is suffering from an injustice, do what you can to help – suffer with him. But don't stop there, thinking you have done something. You haven't done anything but prolong his agony, until you speak with the authority of Christ the gospel of forgiveness – until you tell him his sins have been paid for in blood, and prove it with power.


Churches have often thought, "Well, if we can find the right pastor, a pastor who has authority in his message, then we'll have the authority of Christ in our church." That may work for a while. I suppose that when Paul went to Corinth, he was the only one with the authority of Christ. But if, after five years, he was still the only one with this authority, something was wrong.

If Paul hadn't quickly made himself part of a fellowship of God-filled men and women who were all exercising that authority, they would soon all have been dead spiritually, including Paul.


I may be the pastor of this church, but the time has long-since passed when I could function as some kind of maverick prophet. If the authority of Christ is not operative in this church as a congregation – in everybody – something is wrong with me, or with you, or with both of us.


The time has passed when we could expect Christ to heal the paralyzed among us through one man or five men or seven women. The authority has to be held by the flock. We have to carry corporately the authority of Christ, corporately speak His word, bring His healing, call men to repentance at His cross.


If we lack this corporate authority, (and who can deny that we do?), it is for three reasons:

1. If we lack authority as a church, as a people, it is because we are dull toward the call of God.


"Lift up your eyes and see. Behold the fields are already white for the harvest."


"0h, isn't that wonderful" we answer, and keep sitting."


"Go, make disciples."


"Sure, Lord." And we keep sitting.


We read about Jesus forgiving this man's sins and raising him up. But we never see the connection between what happened in that crowded house that day, and what should be happening here. We still don't accept the fact that we, together, are His Body, and that together we are called and sent down into the shadowy streets of the city of this world to bring the mighty power of His forgiveness to the paralyzed thousands around us.


2. If we lack authority as a church, it is because we are undisciplined.


People who have no discipline – who never make themselves do the simple things that need to be done to stay close to Christ – can't carry His power. Would you give a million dollars to a man to put in the bank for you, if you weren't sure that he'd get there by closing time? How many  discipline themselves to pray – to really pray?


For how many of us is gathering with others each week a matter of discipline instead of convenience? How many of us discipline ourselves to nourish our souls daily on the bread of God?


You discipline yourself to brush your teeth, do your exercises, stay on your diet. But there are far too many of us who have never gone a month in our life with any kind of discipline as far as God is concerned. God isn't going to make you say your prayers or read your Bible, or gather with the other believers, or cut down on your compulsive eating. But the power of God surely will not rest upon your life or upon our corporate life until we are disciplined.


3. If we lack authority as a church it is because we are afraid to run the risks of faith.


Many of us have the wrong idea about faith. We think having faith is like reading the end of the book before you start, so you know how it's going to come out. That's not faith. Faith doesn't have a clue how things are going to come out! To have faith is to see the wind and the waves and have no idea how we're ever going to make it through the storm, but to hang on to God and keep going anyway. That's faith.


The life of faith is not a life that is locked in, safe and tight, so that nothing can go wrong. It is a life of risks and dangers and uncertainties. It is a journey through war and bad weather, in which the only certainty is a God we've never seen, a God who speaks to our hearts but never shows himself to our eyes.


It's a risky business. Even to go out there and talk to a man about the Kingdom of God is a risk. To tell your best friend that you are convinced that Jesus Christ is God is a risk.         To treat your fellow man like a brother, when to do so has become less and less acceptable. To treat him like a brother involves risks.


No church is going to carry the power of the living Christ in its human hands until those hands are freed from the chains of fleshly prudence and are ready to take risks – until that church walks with Christ not only in the sunshine, but in the storm, when it's hard, when it's dangerous.


Jesus Christ has formed us into His body and filled the body with His authority. He calls us to draw together in His will and be His body as never before. If we respond, then when they bring that paralyzed man down here and lay him in our midst, the same authority that raised him way back there will raise him now.


But if we are not prepared to go that far and be His body together, we may appear to be a "successful" church, we may keep the appearance for a long time, but what will we be?


May the authority of Christ in our midst not be dissipated but increase, that the sound of His voice may be heard far and near, and that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness may come and be filled.


Opening prayer;

Heavenly Father, you have set me free from the bondage of the Dark Powers.  Now I draw near to you with my shoes off.  May your will be done in me as it is done in heaven, as the Spirit of our Lord Jesus guides my steps into the exact place where desire me to serve.