Trinity 19 – October 1st and 2nd, 2016 – Matthew 9:1-8
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
It was love, pure and simple. It was love that motivated these people to bring this paralyzed man to Jesus. These nameless people in the text – we don’t even know if they were family or friends – whoever they were – out of love and concern they bring this man who can no longer walk to Jesus. In our Gospel lesson today, we see an incredible story of love – love shown to a poor paralyzed man. But we also see a tale of how often God’s love isn’t desired by man, but rather how it is despised and rejected. So that is what we will do - let us compare our thoughts about love and about how to love with God’s Word, and see what we learn about God’s love for us.
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.” When we hear this, we can think that there is something wrong. We can think that the solution doesn’t fit the cure. Your sins are forgiven? Jesus, the guy can’t walk! Who cares about his sin right now – heal him, make him walk! We can almost, if we dare admit it, get slightly annoyed with Jesus – oh, Jesus, just get to the point and heal the poor guy! You know what this means? It means that often our expectations of God’s love are wrong. We can think, “the chief problem here must be that the guy is disabled – so fix it.” But note something from the text. And when Jesus saw their faith – when Jesus sees the faith of these people, the faith of this paralyzed man – sees their heart – that’s when Jesus tells this poor man that his sins are forgiven.
Before this account, Matthew records many miracles – it seems almost routine. Jesus heals lots of folks of lots of things. Chapter 8 itself has a leper, the Centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and two demon possessed men. But this is the first time in Matthew that faith is mentioned with a healing. So maybe it’s not a case of Jesus missing the point, but Jesus hitting things spot on. Think about, for a moment, the times when things go badly in your life – when things go wrong. How often does that thought creep in – “maybe I did something to anger God – maybe this is my sin coming back to bite me”? How easily we can become burdened with guilt and shame! This was the case with this paralyzed fellow. The popular Jewish understanding what that if something bad happened to you, some tragedy, it was direcly your fault. In John, when they see a blind man, the disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” So there you have this paralyzed man – and Christ sees his faith – sees the faith of the man’s friends – and our Lord speaks. Take heart – be enheartened – your sins are forgiven.
This is the sadness of our day and age. We so often only see things in terms of this life – how much we have, how good or poor our bodies are – we think with our stomachs and plan with our pocket books – and we so often miss the more important reality. This paralyzed man of faith didn’t have our weaknesses; he knew what was important. He was concerned that his sin condemned him, not just to a life stuck on a mat, but to an eternity of damnation and hell. And Christ speaks a word of forgiveness to him, and he is enheartened! Would that our approach be the same as this paralyzed man’s! Would that our faith, our desire for forgiveness dominate our lives, whatever comes down the pike, be it sickness or health, wealth or poverty, droughts or floods! But too often we don’t think this way, we let the cares and concerns of this life push the things of faith and eternal life to the back burner. We let ourselves be filled with worry about this world instead of simply trusting. So Christ says to you the same thing as he says to this paralyzed man. Take heart, your sins are forgiven. Take heart. Be encouraged – let nothing take your joy from you, for your sins are forgiven – and all these trials, all these troubles – they are temporary, they will pass away, but God’s love for you never passes away, the peace of forgiveness and the joy of Christ never pass away – for they are eternal, they are the things of eternal life. No tragedy, no trial of this life can overshadow this truth.
But Satan will try to overshadow this. When Jesus says these words, the scandalous thing wasn’t that He didn’t just out and out heal the guy, but rather that Jesus asserted that He could forgive sins. And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” There was a good reason they said this. One of the things we can forget about sin is that sin is always against God. If someone sins and it hurts us, we complain about what they have done to us. You’ve sinned against me. Yes. . . but that’s not the main thing. The main thing is that sin, all sin, is against God. When David gets caught in his adultery and murder, he doesn’t say, “Boy, I sure sinned against Uriah by killing him – boy, I sure sinned against Bathsheba by dragging her into adultery.” He had, I suppose, but that’s not the angle David takes. Instead, he says, “I have sinned against the LORD.” David then writes in Psalm 51 “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight” and then begs for a clean heart and a right spirit. Sin is always, first and foremost, against God. When your neighbor sins against you, that isn’t primarily a sin against you – but against God. When you sin against your neighbor, when you think poorly of them or speak ill of them or harm them in any way – that isn’t a sin primarily against your neighbor, but you are sinning against God – the God who told you to love that person. This is what those Scribes knew – sin is always against God – and this is why they are shocked by what Jesus says. Sin is against God – so therefore, only God can forgive sins. If Jesus were just a man, this would be most blasphemous!
And Jesus will respond to this. And 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?’ 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. Jesus knows what these scribes are thinking – of course He does, He is God with us, Emmanuel! Yes, Jesus can forgive sins, yes He has this authority. But how to show it, how to demonstrate it? Well, watch this. Hey guy, get up and go home. I am Christ Jesus, I have authority over the Body, I have authority over the soul as well. The healing here – the man being cured of his paralysis, is only done to show that the Spiritual healing which Christ proclaimed was real. Christ wants to prove that when He says sins are forgiven that He has the authority to do so.
Authority is a big, important word in Scripture, and in the New Testament authority is always tied to being able to forgive sins. And here is the thing – the idea that just confuses and shocks so many folks out there – Christ Jesus gives this authority to His Church in order that even to this day people might receive forgiveness here on earth and know that it is true and valid in heaven. For example, think about the Great Commission. Before Jesus sends out the Disciples to do their work, what does He say? All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Do you see how it works? Christ says, “I have authority to forgive sins, and now I am sending you out to go forgive sins. You have My authority now, you speak My Word and act in My Name – go baptize people for the forgiveness of sins in My Name. Authority to forgive sins. Or in John 20 – what does Jesus say to the disciples? Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. Even as the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.” Again – Jesus sends out the disciples, His Apostles – for that is what Apostle means – it means “sent one” – with a very specific mission – to exercise this authority to forgive sins.
And this is what God’s Church is to be about to this day. That’s why in the Nicene Creed we call it the Holy Christian and Apostolic Church – it’s the Church that does the same thing the Apostles did – shower out forgiveness upon people. And this is a marvel – that forgiveness is available. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. That’s what we do even to this day – we glorify the God who gives forgiveness. You see, this is the heart of God’s love for you. Not in the temporary things that fade away, but in the fact that He constantly provides you the forgiveness won for you upon the Cross by Christ Jesus so that you may be cared for, not merely for a day or two, not just until the next crisis, but that you may be cared for for all eternity! God’s love for you is focused upon the big picture, the long run, and He will focus your eyes upon His forgiveness and strengthen your faith so that you may stand and remain strong in the face of all trials in this life, large or small. His forgiveness is real, His love for you is real, and His Cross overshadows all things in your life. You are His, and nothing shall separate you from His love in Christ Jesus. Whatever came at you this week, whatever sins clawed at you again, whatever fears loom large in this week to come – take heart, my friends, your sins are forgiven. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.