The Hardest Thing To Do - Matthew 8:23-9:8
Question for you: What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
Perhaps something related to an event in your life, maybe some failure you experienced or tragedy you endured, or maybe the difficult journey toward an accomplishment. If you asked professional rock climber Alex Honnold that question, he would likely tell you about El Capitan the 3000-ft piece of granite in Yosemite National Park in CA.
Honnold holds the distinguished honor of being the first person to climb El Capitan with no ropes, safeties, or protective equipment. He performed the climb in 2017, and it was chronicled in the National Geographic documentary titled “Free Solo,” which was released last year. “Free soloing” is the type of climbing in which no ropes or safeties are used.
Tommy Caldwell, another famous climber and a friend of Honnold, assisted him in his preparation for the climb, and Caldwell said, “People who know a little bit about climbing, they’re like, ‘Oh he’s totally safe. And then people who know exactly what he’s doing are freaked out… Everyone who has made free soloing a big part of their life is dead now.”
To prepare, Honnold climbed the rock many times with ropes and safeties, making extensive notes after each climb until he learned the exact path he would take. He started one time and quit, knowing that if he made a mistake and fell, he wouldn’t survive. But he made the climb, and I imagine he would say it’s the hardest thing he’s ever done.
Another question for you: what do you think is the hardest thing God has ever done? Certainly, nothing is too hard for God. Genesis 18 and Jeremiah 32 in the Old Testament assure us of that. God is omnipotent; he’s all-powerful. The Children’s Catechism, sort of an introduction to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, says, Question 13: Can God do all things? Answer: God can do all his holy will. But that doesn’t mean that everything is easy for God, that everything is effortless, that all he does or has done costs him nothing or requires nothing from him. How do we know this? Well, the cross is evidence. God the Son bore the punishment for our sins and absorbed the wrath of the triune God. And it was not easy.
We naturally think that forgiving sins was easy for God to do. You may think, “He’s God – everything is easy for him,” and generally speaking, that is probably a good, reverent assumption. But forgiving the sins of his people was not easy for God; in fact, it seems to have required more of him than any of his other works described in the Bible. That should resonate deeply with each of us because we all know how hard it is to forgive others, especially when they commit serious offenses against us.
That is what sin is – a capital offense against the living God, an offense punishable by death. And because forgiving sin required so much of God, we need to meditate on that reality as we labor to forgive others. Don’t you sometimes think, “Forgiveness is so hard?” You’re right to feel that way. But why is it so hard for us to forgive others. Why is it that we can say, “I forgive you,” but there’s still so much going on inside of us?
Well, to understand that, we should look at what was required of God to forgive us. On page 6 of your worship guide, you’ll see the outline of today’s Matthew passage. In this passage, we see three things that are confirmed in other parts of the Bible: It takes only words for God to exercise authority over the natural world. It takes only words for God to exercise authority over the spiritual world. But It took more than words for God to exercise authority over the sins of the world.
So let’s look at each of these.
The authority of Jesus is the central theme in each of these three sections of Scripture. With each section, Matthew elaborates further on that authority. The first event seems simple enough. Jesus and his disciples are on a boat. A storm comes which is so severe, the disciples fear for their lives. So, they wake Jesus, who is exhausted and sleeping, and they cry out for his help. They’ve seen him perform miracles; he should be able to save them. Look at verse 26: And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
Jesus controlled the storm simply with his words. He rebuked or corrected the storm. He put the storm in its place. He shut it down – just like that. The power of Jesus’ words had already been displayed in Matthew 8, when he healed the servant of the Roman centurion. The centurion asked for Jesus’ help, and Jesus said he would go to the man’s house to heal the servant. But Matthew 8:8 says, “the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
It is with this absolute authority that Jesus controls not a person, but to a violent atmospheric disturbance. Who has this kind of control over nature? Well, when we look at Genesis 1 and 2, the creation of the world, we see that God does. He spoke the heavens and earth into being. We never get the sense that the creation of all things was hard for God, and neither does the controlling and sustaining of all things seem hard for him. God makes it look easy. This was as stunning to these disciples as it would be to you and me, and they ask a great questions: Verse , the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” But who can impose his will on the natural world without invoking God’s name? Only God himself. Matthew wanted everyone to understand – that is who Jesus is: the God-man, the Messiah, God come to earth in the flesh. The winds and sea obey him because he made them and sustains them and everything else.
But the natural world is not the only thing over which Jesus has authority.
Look at Matthew’s next example. In verse 28, Jesus encounters two men possessed by demons and these demons recognize the true identity of Jesus. They call him “Son of God.” They even know what Jesus is the one who dictate their future. They say, in verse 29, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” They refer to the final judgment. See how Jesus demonstrates his power over the spiritual world.
Verse  Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them.  And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.”  And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters.
Jesus has assigned Satan and his demons to their final destination. They will meet that fate one day. And this event foreshadows that great day. Jesus controls the spiritual world just as he does the natural world. We read a reference to this last week in worship from Colossians 1: For by him (Jesus) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
The apostle Paul was describing the preeminence of Jesus, the supremacy of Jesus, the authority of Jesus. But not everyone will embrace Jesus. Notice the indictment of the people in that region as they display what they value. They desire not for Jesus to stay with them and teach them, but for him to leave. It seems that they loved their possessions – the pigs – more than they loved these two men rescued from demon-possession. Not everyone wants what Jesus Christ has to offer. Not everyone recognizes his authority.
But Matthew is not done making his point about the authority of Jesus.
In this last section, Jesus leaves that Gentile-area, obviously a non-Jewish region because they are raising pigs, and he comes back to his own city, which at this point is the city of Capernaum. Jesus had developed a reputation as a healer, and so people were coming to him for healing. Look at verse 2, “And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”  And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.”
The scribes were the so-called experts on the law of Moses, the Old Testament laws, and they see Jesus as doing violence to the name of God. In their eyes, he is belittling God’s power and speaking irreverently. He is putting himself on the level of God because only God can exercise authority over sins. Only God can forgive sins because God is the offended party. And Jesus discerns their skepticism. Verse  But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?
They knew that miracles had taken place throughout the Old Testament and always it was clear that God had exercised his power. And sins had been temporarily dealt with throughout the Old Testament, but again, it was God who was dealing with the sins. And it was harder to say “Rise and walk” in the sense that, if he said, “Your sins are forgiven,” no one would be expecting immediate results. There would be nothing to see. However, if Jesus said, “Rise and walk” and the man did not, then Jesus would be seen as a fraud.
So, to confirm his authority over sins, Jesus says this: verse  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”  And he rose and went home.  When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
The crowds revered Jesus and recognized his authority: authority over the natural world, authority over the spiritual world, and authority to pardon sins against the one true God.
Now maybe you’re thinking, “Ok Stacey, I see all of this. But you said forgiving sins was harder for God. Jesus seems to do it simply by his words, just as he did these other things.” But we know the rest of the story. Jesus was on a collision course with his own sacrificial death. We know he had authority to confirm this man’s saving faith because Jesus himself would pay the penalty for that man’s sin in the near future. That paralyzed man, like all true believers up to that time, were different from us,in that we look back in time on the saving work of the Messiah.
They looked forward in time to that saving work. If words were all it took to save us from sins, Jesus would not have gone to the cross. There would be no need for him to come to earth. He could’ve spoken the decree from heaven. But it took more than words.
Perhaps you are familiar with Tony Campolo, a well-known pastor, professor, author and speaker regarding Christianity. He is now in his 80s and sadly, he has shifted to unbiblical views on some key doctrinal issues. However, his son, Bart Campolo, has gone one step further and rejected Christianity altogether. Among his disagreements with Christianity is the doctrine of what we call penal substitution (that the penalty we deserve for sins has been paid by a substitute). He rejects our understanding of Jesus as needing to provide substitutionary atonement – in other words, that Jesus died in the place of his people according to God’s to pay for our sins. In an interview, Bart Campolo says, “I sort of tend to think that God, if he wants to forgive us, just to forgives us.” So, no atonement is required, according to Bart. But think about your own experiences in life.
When you have to forgive someone for a grievous offense, what do you do with the pain? Where does the pain go? If you’re forgiving the person, you’re not requiring retribution, you’re not seeking vengeance, you don’t demand that they feel what you felt and suffer the way you suffered. But the pain must go somewhere, so to speak. And what takes place when you forgive is that you absorb that pain. Vengeance, bitterness, and grudges are your attempts to deal with your pain and even to cast that pain on the offender. In Colossians 3, the apostle Paul tells the members of those first century churches that they must forgive each other. He says, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” How has the Lord forgiven you, Christian? He absorbed your offense in himself. 1 Peter 3 says,  For Christ…suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.
Look back at what we ready earlier in Colossians 2. God forgives our sins by canceling our record of debt, nailing it to the cross – nailing Jesus, the God-man, who possessed all the authority of God – to the cross. Matthew 26 describes the anguish of Jesus as he contemplated going to the cross. He went with his disciples to a garden to pray late at night. And Matthew writes,that Jesus “fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Jesus knew the pain he must absorb to forgive God’s people. He understood the physical and mental suffering. Even for God, forgiveness was not easy. See, unlike those who try to discredit the clear Biblical teaching of substitutionary atonement, the one true God understands how forgiveness actually works. And if you have or you still need to forgive someone of a great offense, you understand how it works also. It hurts because you must absorb the debt within yourself.The gospel teaches us that God has gone there first. He absorbed your capital offense. This is the ultimate joy. Pastor and author R.C. Sproul once described it this way: “There is no greater state than to get up from your knees knowing that God has forgiven every sin you’ve ever committed.”
Have you known that kind of joy and relief? If not, latch on to Jesus Christ today – his sacrifice is enough! Listen: there is no sin so great that Jesus cannot atone for it as your substitute. You can trust in the only One able to stand in your place before a holy God. And do you need to forgive someone else today? Have you been struggling to forgive? Often, forgiveness is not a one-time thing. When the pain comes back, you have to forgive all over again. But not only does Jesus free us from the debt of our own sin, but he frees us from the burden of grudges, bitterness, and resentment. He has first-hand experience in absorbing the pain of sin against him, and by doing the hard work of forgiving us – something harder even than exercising authority over the natural and spiritual realms – Jesus can help you do what is perhaps the hardest thing for you to do: forgive.
Let’s pray together.