Sermon for Trinity 19, October 22, 2017
Grace, mercy, peace, and authority to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Matthew 9:1-8 Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven." 3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!" 4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." 7 And the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.
Dear forgiven friends,
To a man so afflicted by the curse of the world that he couldn’t rise from his bed, couldn’t walk on his own, or even try to find help for himself, the surprising announcement came, “Son; your sins are forgiven." That was a shocking statement to everyone present except, of course, to Jesus. Still, the ordinary folk were gladdened to hear such news, and certainly, the afflicted man must have been uplifted. But, the teachers of the law were actually offended. So, where do we fit in this picture? How do we react when we hear the joyous Good News, “Take heart…; your sins are forgiven."?
As anyone who has ever prayed in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” should understand, forgiveness doesn’t come naturally to us. To our sinful nature, forgiving others seems impossible, and to the self-righteous individual, it feels like forgiveness should be earned. However, for faithful Christians, forgiveness is a gift, and for Jesus, forgiveness is His purpose. Thus, we learn in this text that Jesus has authority to forgive, as do we.
Some might question why Jesus declared this man’s sins forgiven when he had come to Jesus for healing of his physical ailment. I would give you two reasons. First, sin is the root cause of every ailment known to man. If sin had not entered our world, there would be no need for forgiveness, nor for healing, for in the beginning everything was good. But, part of the curse of sin, which is death, is that illness and troubles will abound in our lives until our time on earth is ended. Therefore, that poor man’s paralysis was clear evidence that he was a sinner, and thus, a man in need of forgiveness.
But, there was a more immediate reason for Jesus’ prompt declaration of forgiveness. Did you ever wonder why something bad happened to you? Well, that’s not a new phenomenon. Mankind has always struggled with the question of why one person must suffer when others, sometimes even very wicked others, seem to go through life without much affliction. Many people of Jesus’ day were convinced that a serious condition like paralysis was ample proof of God’s anger being poured out upon that person for some grave sin, so it is very likely that because of his affliction, that paralyzed man thought himself being hated and punished by God for his sin. He therefore came to Jesus convinced of his wretched sinfulness, and sure that Jesus was his only hope for a cure.
Now, dear friends, I want you to consider two scenarios. In the first, search your heart and truthfully answer the question, do you ever wonder if you are completely forgiven? For the second scenario, answer whether you have always been able to fully forgive everyone who has hurt you?
I suspect that if we are honest with ourselves, we will be troubled in either case. The scribes present when Jesus healed this man questioned whether any man could forgive sins. You and I might wonder, who are we to speak on God’s behalf? How do we know for sure that we have been forgiven? That takes on even more significance when we near our own demise. I have met several strong believers who still wondered whether they were truly cleared of all the sin they have done.
For the answer to this, listen to Jesus’ response: Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." And the man got up and went home.
Did you ever imagine that when you doubt whether you have been truly, completely forgiven, you are thinking evil thoughts? It is evil to doubt God’s forgiveness. It is the devil’s way of trying to destroy our trust in Jesus; Satan’s way of trying to destroy our confidence in God’s promise. Yet, here in that paralytic, we are shown, without a doubt, that Jesus has authority to forgive.
And, here’s the deal with forgiveness: God sent His own dear Son into this world for one purpose only, not to heal our bodies, not to feed the poor, not to lead a rebellion against selfish rulers, not even to give everyone an equal chance at a pleasant life on earth, but God sent His Son to take away all the guilt of all people. God sent Jesus to suffer every last bit of righteous anger God had for the sins of the whole human race. Jesus’ purpose in life was to bear the full wrath of God on our behalf so that there would be nothing left for us to pay. Therefore, Jesus has forgiven you just as easily and completely as He healed that paralytic with the simple command, "Get up, take your mat and go home."
On top of His gracious willingness and ability to forgive, Jesus is the one Man who lived so perfectly that God could rightly credit His holiness to those of us who had none of our own. And, to that One holy, innocent, sacrificial Son, God gave the authority to judge all things, to forgive all sins, to reconcile the world with His Father in heaven, and to grant to you, dear friends, forgiveness full and free.
The prophet Daniel was given a vision concerning God’s kingdom. He reported: "I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
At the end of His days with the disciples, Jesus told them, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Earlier, Jesus had taught them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)
Forgiveness is the entrance to the kingdom of God. Forgiveness is what sets us free from the world. Forgiveness was given to most of us first at our baptisms when the Lord above washed us clean and raised up in us a new life of faith. Forgiveness is the reason there is a Church on earth. God keeps us here to share that good news of forgiveness for Jesus’ sake with those still struggling with the devil’s lies. Forgiveness is renewed to us, again, every time we hear the absolution spoken over us, and every time the body and blood of our Savior is laid upon our lips in His Holy Supper. Why does God give us this assurance again and again? Because we are frail and weak; because the devil still tries to mislead and hurt us; because the Father loves us with an everlasting love based on the Sacrifice of His Son to take away all our sins.
To prove to the crowds that He did have the authority to forgive sin, Jesus told the paralytic to get up and go home. “And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.” Here was the proof that Jesus truly forgives. And the response of the people proves prophetic. They recognized that God has given this authority to forgive also to us. Jesus declared to His disciples: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19) Jesus has authority to forgive, as do we.
Jesus has given us the gift of forgiveness. And, not only are our sins forgiven full and free, but we have the right and authority to grant His mercy upon others too. For added confidence in our gift, we can look to Jesus’ response to Peter’s question of how often we should forgive. Peter thought perhaps seven times was enough, but Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:22)
Near the beginning of this sermon, I asked whether you have always been able to fully forgive everyone who has hurt you? Truth be told, likely every one of us has struggled with this. To sinners, it feels wrong to forgive without retribution. We want to get our pound of flesh as Shakespeare wrote in his play, The Merchant of Venice. We want people to pay for the pain they caused. The good news for us, and for those who have hurt us, is that God doesn’t demand that we pay to be forgiven. Rather, in forgiving us freely, God shines His pure love on us through Jesus.
God didn’t want any of us to have to pay the just penalty for sin, but rather, that they turn from their wicked ways and live. That’s why He sent Jesus. Jesus, true God and true Man, has the authority to forgive all sins based on the sacrifice He made to pay for the sins of the world. And, in love for sinners like you and me, Jesus forgives us of every sin, and likewise, He forgives also those sinners who have hurt us.
Whenever it feels too hard to forgive another person, return to Jesus for healing for your soul, and hear Jesus declare to you again, "Take heart,…your sins are forgiven." That Good News is the power that opens the gates of heaven for us in spite of our weaknesses, and it is the power that helps us forgive others even when we don’t feel like it is possible. "Take heart,…your sins are forgiven." Then always remember, Jesus has authority to forgive, as do we. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.