Sermon Notes:
Trouble and pain caused by mental or physical disability.
By Rev. Trevor Marshall
Presbyterian Reformed Church of Australia.
Brisbane South Congregation. 30th November 2008.
(a) Imagine yourself in a very full car park urgently looking for a parking spot because you have an appointment in the shopping centre. After driving up and down rows of parked cars for what seems like eternity, you suddenly see a vacant parking space which is conveniently close to the entrance. Your heart leaps for joy and you quickly maneuver your car and line up the parking, only to find that it is a parking reserved for those who have a disability. Are you tempted to park there anyway, or do you feel a strong sense of frustration stirring the anger that has been building up as you move on to look for a parking. Do you even find yourself envying the disabled in that there always seems to be available parking spots for them? I guess we all have such foolish and selfish thoughts when we are frustrated and believe that we are not receiving the treatment we think we deserve. Have you ever stopped to think of the trouble and pain that goes with having a member of your family mentally ill or physically disabled?
(b) In 2 Samuel 9 David shows exceptional kindness towards Mephibosheth who was lame in both feet. In John 9 Jesus shows great compassion towards a man who was born blind. This morning God willing we will look at these two passages from the perspective of those who were afflicted with serious physical disabilities and the attitude of society in general towards those who are disabled. What is your attitude towards people who are disabled physically or mentally? Do they make you feel awkward and uneasy? Is your policy to avoid them? What can we learn from the Scriptures concerning the physically or mentally disabled?
1. Disabilities always bring real and deep pain to the sufferers and those who love them.
(a) Listen to what Mephibosheth says of himself in 2 Samuel 9:8, ‘Then he (Mephibosheth) bowed himself, and said, “What is your servant, that you should look upon such a dead dog as I?”’ When Mephibosheth calls himself a dead dog, he does so not to comply with the protocol that subjects were expected to show towards the king, but because that is how he thought of himself. We need to remember that Mephibosheth was the son of Prince Jonathan and the grandson of King Saul who were mighty warriors in Israel’s army. Scripture tells us of the extraordinary friendship that existed between David and Jonathan. Mephibosheth in spite of being born into the privileges of the Royal Palace and his family’s wealth considered himself as a dead dog.
(b) Mephibosheth did not live in a day when geeks ruled and were admired. He lived at a time when physical ability counted for everything. Men who had won great battles in war were treated as heroes. His father was a mighty warrior and his grandfather had won many vital battles for Israel. As a boy he would have heard the crowds praising David by chanting, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’ To be lame in both feet meant that he was considered useless and worthless. All his life he would have felt totally inadequate and useless. I do not believe that there can be any doubt that when Mephibosheth referred to himself as a dead dog he did so with great pain and unnecessary shame.
(c) We are not told in the New Testament how the man born blind felt about himself, but we are told how society regarded him and the condition he suffered. Listen to the question Jesus’ disciples ask him in John 9:2, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus, who is God incarnate, rejected this popular cultural attitude as totally wrong. The idea that people who suffer in dreadful ways, always do so because they have engaged in extraordinary wickedness was widespread in Jesus’ day. Listen to Luke 13:1-5, “There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Matthew Henry sees this attitude as being uncharitably censorious, as being unnecessarily curious and inexcusable because they knew from the Scriptures that all things come alike to all, and from Job’s case that the greatest sufferers are not therefore to be looked upon as the greatest sinners. Such thinking and talking was not honoring to God and Jesus rebuked those who indulged in it.
(d) I do not think that we can begin to imagine the pain this blind man’s parents had lived with. They were surrounded by those who saw them as guilty of extraordinary secret sinfulness. They would have heard over and over again that their son’s blindness was due to their own sinfulness. It was very common for parents of children handicapped in this way to totally disown their disabled children. The stigma of having a physically or mentally impaired child was enormous and inflicted unbelievable pain on the parents. Without much imagination you can grasp that such parents would have felt isolated (emotionally, spiritually and intellectually), ashamed, confused, lonely, unworthy and despair. They would have endured pain when people rejected and judged them as guilty of secret wickedness, or sought to comfort them with superficial and glib words of encouragement.
(e) If you think that we live in an enlightened world which is now caring and accepting of people with mental or physical impairments, you are wrong. Parents of disabled children today endure the same painful experience that fell on the parents of the man born blind. For children with mental or physical impairments not to experience pain and be filled with a sense of shame is extremely rare. In the minds of many Christians the false teaching that distorted the thinking of Jesus’ disciples is still very active. To this old heresy has been added the pain of being told that the only reason the illness or impairment remains is because the sufferer has a lack of personal faith in Christ. False teachers inflict huge pain and suffering on those with mental or physical disabilities by claiming that it is God’s will for them to be healed, and all they need to do is believe and claim healing in Jesus’ name. While the Bible teaches that all imperfections are the result of original sin, it does not teach that those who suffer do so because God’s judgment is upon them for their particular and personal sin. While there are occasions in Scripture where a man receives an illness as a direct result of God’s judgment – it is the exception rather than the rule. You and I need to recognize that those who suffer disabilities usually suffer great unnecessary pain along with their parents because of unbiblical attitudes adopted in and outside the church. People living with those who have disabilities learn to cope and in many cases adopt a code of silence about the matter.
(f) Jesus in John 9:3 says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” God in exercising his sovereign free will according to his perfect wisdom created this man blind so that the Lord would be glorified. God created him blind from birth to bring extraordinary glory to himself. The physically or mentally impaired person has not been created in a way in which the image and likeness of God is less present that in a person without a disability. Why are children born with disabilities? The ultimate answer is because it pleased God for them to be so. Christ died to redeem the elect and among the elect are a great number of disabled people. Christ holds disabled saints just as precious as those who are fully able. You were created as you are because of God’s sovereign ruling. You have been created the way you are so you may glorify God. It is by God’s sovereign free will that you are either able-bodied or disabled. It was God’s sovereign free choice. When it comes to value, worth and usefulness the disabled are equal to the able-bodied in God’s eyes. Through the eyes of men it is not so, but to God disabled and able-bodied are equal in his sight.

g) We live in a world that has adopted the philosophy of the survival of the fittest. If you have good looks, physical dexterity, intelligence and wealth you are high up in this world’s pecking order, but if you are ordinary, physically disabled, poor, and mentally slow - the world will make you feel that it would be a better place if you just disappeared and died. The sad truth is that disabilities always bring real and deep pain to the sufferers and to those who love them. The real world we live in is a world confused and frightened by physical and mental disabilities, a world that rejects and despises them because of their disabilities. The world would like to ignore them and continue as if the disabled did not exist. When it is necessary for the world to admit that there are disabled people, it sees them not as people but in terms of being a burden – a tax burden. This attitude was clearly seen in the case of Dr Bernhard Moeller whose application for a permanent work visa was declined simply because his 13 year old son Lukas has Downes Syndrome. In the world the disabled are counted and seen as a financial risk rather than individuals made in the image and likeness of God. This is the world’s way of thinking and dealing with those who have disabilities. We as Christians should not follow the ways of the world. We need to deal with disabled people in ways that honour our common Creator and bring him glory and honour.
2. Disabilities always bring challenges and opportunities to Christ’s people.
(a) The Lord’s people should respond to disabled people in ways that reveal the glory and grace of God. Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount after commanding his people to love their enemies gives two reasons. The first is given in Matthew 5:45, ‘that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.’ The second is found in Matthew 5:48, ‘Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ The example we follow regarding our attitude towards others is God’s example – he makes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on those who are just and good and also on those who are evil and unjust. We serve a God of great grace and therefore we ought to be gracious towards all men and women. Jesus displayed amazing grace towards the sick, lame, diseased, blind and those morally bankrupt like tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus showed great grace towards those whom the world despised and rejected. Our attitude towards others needs to be the same as the attitude displayed by Jesus.
(b) We can learn a lot from David’s attitude towards Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan. That David desired to extend grace to a direct member of Saul’s family is truly amazing. In those days, when a new king came to power, he usually destroyed every member of the former king’s household, (remember a household included the servants and slaves) in an effort to prevent any attempt by that family to regain the monarchy. David we need to note did not adopt the wisdom and laws of the world, but adopted an attitude of grace towards Mephibosheth. The Bible tells us that he extended grace because of the kindnesses he had received from Prince Jonathan. David remembered the promises he made in 1 Samuel 20:13-17 and 24:20-22 to Jonathan and Saul. David had promised grace without qualification to ­any member of Saul’s house. David’s counsellors would have told him that he was acting in a most foolish way. In spite of the opposition David went against the flow and extended grace to the disabled son of Jonathan.
(c) It is very important to take note of David’s action on receiving the news that Mephibosheth was still alive. Note how the news is reported: “There is still a son of Jonathan who is lame in his feet.” He is not identified by name, but by his disability of being lame in both feet. Ziba a servant of Saul’s household thought that the disability was more important than the man. To talk about a white-man or a black-man indicates that the colour of the person’s skin is more important information than the fact that he is a man. The uppermost thought in our minds about other people must be that God is their creator and he made them male or female, black or white, crippled or able-bodied, sound in mind or mentally impaired. The first fact of importance is that a person is the way he is because God created them that way. David was concerned about Mephibosheth the man and not Mephibosheth the cripple. Learn this great truth from David.
(d) When Mephibosheth came before David, even though he had vilified himself by calling himself a dead dog, he did not get what he thought he deserved. From David he received grace in abundance, he also received more blessings than he could have ever imagined. We need to remind ourselves of the fact that in the eyes of the people of Israel, Mephibosheth had nothing as everything that had belonged to Saul’s household had been confiscated. He was destitute, an outcast and a fugitive. In this world Mephibosheth had no hope and no future prospects. Besides a pair of crutches he had little else. But, when David extended grace to him everything changed dramatically! All of his present needs were met and his future was made very secure.
(e) David’s grace towards Mephibosheth included dealing with him as one of his own sons. According to 2 Samuel 9:11 Mephibosheth would eat at the King’s table like his other sons. This action of David is not only gracious and loving it is also a public declaration that he is not ashamed of Mephibosheth’s disability and accepts him as a son. Mephibosheth’s disability did not diminish his value and worth in any way. This was David’s attitude even though others saw Mephibosheth as a nobody in a palace full of somebodies. Think of Absalom young, strong, handsome and extremely able. Think of David’s beautiful daughters. Remember that Joab the proud accomplished General would often be seen striding through the palace corridors. More frequently than not around the kings table would be seated Princes, Princesses, Ambassadors, Military Attaches and Statesmen. You can imagine all these very important somebodies responding to the sound of crutches and dragging feet as Mephibosheth took his place at the table and exercised the same rights and privileges as every other person present. David’s action gave the man lame in both feet the dignity and respect everyone deserves because they are all made in the image and likeness of God.
(f) People with physical or mental disabilities always bring challenges and opportunities to the local church. The church should be one place in the world where those with disabilities find that they are accepted, loved and valued in spite of their disability. The church must be the one place where the disabled person feels welcome and treated with respect and dignity. The challenge the church faces is to have the spiritual maturity that is able to see beyond the impairment and focus on the person. The challenge to you and me in the church is to love and delight in men and women with disabilities who have been saved by the blood of Christ and make them know that they are beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. The fact that a person is made in the image and likeness of God must rule over the way we respond to individuals with physical or mental disabilities.
(g) There are three massive reasons for the church to respond in this way; (i) It honors God and recognizes his sovereign work in creating every human-being. (ii) It gives obedience to Christ’s command, and makes love the distinguishing mark of the church. (iii) It helps those who suffer disabilities and their families to accept the will of God. Parents and disabled children always ask the question, ‘Why does a loving omnipotent God choose to make the person suffer defects when in a word he is fully able to remove the disability?’ Until this huge issue is dealt with it has a great impact on prayers of the disabled and their families. (We will face this question another time) While we may not be able to answer their questions, we can show them love and acceptance that helps to ease their pain and point them to the Christ who as the Son of God, the suffering servant of God who took upon himself the sin that is the ultimate cause of all our pain and sorrows. Christ alone can supply the comfort they need and give them the grace needed to live each day with their disability in order to glorify God.
Those who are physically and mentally disabled need to be reassured that the Lord’s people see beyond their condition and see them as a person created in the image and likeness of God, who is to be treated with great dignity and respect. The Lord’s people need to see in the disabled those who like all other people need to hear the message of Christ’s saving work and the free offer of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.