The Healing of the Paralytic
Trinity 19 – Matthew 9:1-8
Faith Lutheran Church – Wylie, TX
14 October 2012 – Pr. Mark Preus
We need to hear the forgiveness of sins. We can’t get it on our own. It’s not some knowledge that we figure out. It’s revealed only by the Holy Spirit. Once you have it your flesh wars against it. The world laughs at it and goes on her merry way. The devil attacks it and tries to wrest it from your conscience. We need to hear the forgiveness of sins.
I learned that from Jesus. He taught me this in the Bible. That is where we learn everything there is to know about Jesus while we live on earth. And the Bible story from Matthew 9 teaches this lesson very clear. In the midst of our lives, no matter what we are doing, no matter what has happened to us, no matter what other urgencies we think there are that are more important, this single need reigns supreme in the thoughts of our Lord Jesus: we need to hear the forgiveness of sins.
The forgiveness of sins is never given to us on the basis of our own works. We don’t get forgiven by doing something. We get forgiven because God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the law. Our catechism students (they’re called catechumens, if you must know), learned yesterday what the word redeem means. It means to buy back. When did Jesus buy you back? He bought you back when He died on the cross. From what did he buy you back? From sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. God forgives you because Jesus redeemed you. So if he bought you back when he died on the cross, then when did God forgive you? When did God accept God’s sacrifice, and say that you are forgiven? When was the righteousness of God revealed to poor sinners who had no righteousness? When Jesus bore the sin of the world; when the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all; when God was reconciled to us by the death of his Son; when God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them, when He raised his Son and justified Him, declared him clean from the world’s sin that he bore – then God forgave you, then God reckoned to the whole world the obedience that Jesus had given to Him in our place.
This grace and truth is called objective and universal justification. God reckons to the world the righteousness of Jesus. This crediting to us of Christ’s obedience to God in our place is nothing less than God covering our guilt and forgiving us our sins. This is the heart and center of the Gospel. This is the message by which we are justified and forgiven through faith apart from the deeds of the law.
And this is why Jesus could say to the poor paralytic, “Take courage, son, your sins are forgiven.” It was on the basis of his own future redemptive work. It was not that Jesus looked into the paralytic’s heart to see his faith. Matthew doesn’t say that Jesus saw the paralytic’s faith. He saw the faith of the paralytic’s friends. Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic to create faith in him. That is how Jesus gives us faith, by forgiving us our sins. This is the sweetest message we could ever hear. It is the voice of God Himself, spoken through the lips of the Son of Man. It is called the absolution because it absolves, that is, sets free, looses us, from the chains of guilt and shame that weigh our consciences down day after day of living our lives under the Law. The absolution delivers what Jesus has acquired. This is why Jesus could do or say nothing more wonderful, miraculous or comforting to the poor paralyzed cripple, than, “Your sins are forgiven.”
But the scribes didn’t see it that way. “Who can forgive sins but God? This man is blaspheming.” They accused Jesus of breaking the second commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord Your God.” They thought Jesus was saying something that only God could say. They denied that a man had the authority to speak to another sinner, “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.”
And what does Jesus call their thoughts? He says, “Why are you thinking evil things in your hearts?” He calls their thoughts evil. He says that the opinion that a man cannot forgive sins in the name of God is evil and wicked, a sin against God. In fact, those who deny that a man can forgive sins on earth are doing what they accuse their opponents of doing – taking God’s name in vain, misusing the Lord’s name.
Now, one might make the argument, “But this is Jesus. He is God, so of course he can forgive sins. That is why the scribes were thinking evil, because they didn’t believe in Jesus.” It is true that the scribes’ unbelief led to their wicked thoughts about Jesus. But there are a few reasons why we know here that Jesus is not simply speaking about his own personal authority to forgive sins as God.
First, he does not say to the scribes, “But that you may know that the Son of God has authority on earth to forgive sins.” No, he says, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” This is a big difference. We all learn that Jesus Christ has two natures. He has always been God, the eternal Son of the Father, begotten of the Father before all worlds, as we just confessed. But He became man in time, born of the Virgin Mary. So he has a divine nature, meaning he is true God. And He has a human nature, meaning he was made man.
Jesus specifically says that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. This is because you cannot separate the two natures of Christ. Wherever God goes, man goes. Whatever God does, man does. If Christ, true God, forgives, then Christ, true man, forgives. It’s not like there are two Christs, one who is true God, and the other who is true man. It’s not like Christ is only forgiving as God, as if Christ the man waits around while Christ the God is doing the God stuff. No, his natures are inseparably joined together in one personal union. He became a man to take our place under the Law of God and redeem us. He redeemed us as God and as Man. Therefore He forgives sins as a man just as much as he forgives sins as God. Therefore God has given man the authority to forgive sins. The crowds themselves believed it. They feared and glorified God because he has given such authority to men.
But he has not given just any people this authority. He has given this authority to his Church. Let us open up our hymnals to Luther’s Small Catechism on page 326 (LSB). On the left hand column on the bottom you will see the question, “What is the Office of the Keys.” I will ask the questions and we will all answer aloud.
What is the Office of the Keys?
The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
“Where is this written?
This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:22–23)
What do you believe according to these words?
I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”
Why did Christ institute an office, which if a man hold it, he is in duty bound to God almighty to preach the Gospel, to absolve you of your sins, to baptize you and your children, to give you your Savior’s body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins? Why did Christ institute an office that is so heavy it forced the apostle Paul to cry out, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel?” Jonah ran from preaching this forgiveness because it seemed unjust that the ungodly should be forgiven. Today people change this office into something more akin to a therapist or a life-coach because they want something more relevant or practical to help their daily lives than all this constant talk about sin against God and forgiveness in his Son.
But Jesus knows what doctors don’t know, what every other religion under the sun ignores, hides, or openly attacks as heresy. Jesus knows that we need to hear that our sins are forgiven. Our ears are channels to our hearts, where sin festers day by day, where one moment we are pure, and then next we are assaulted with impure thoughts, anger against our neighbor, and grudges we thought were long quenched. We need clean hearts, but we cannot give them to ourselves, because, as Jeremiah says, the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?
Yes, who among us really knows the depth of all his sin? David cried from those depths of woe because he couldn’t get out of it. He couldn’t escape himself.
Jesus knew the paralytic’s bodily needs. He knew his body didn’t work. He knew he was crippled. But he doesn’t even mention it when he sees him. Instead he tells him his sins are forgiven. This seems the opposite end of matters under importance, doesn’t it? You can imagine the people saying, “Well, that’s great Jesus. He’s forgiven. Did you notice he can’t walk? Did you notice he’s in pain every day? Did you notice his friends brought him here to you so you could help him? Could you find something more relevant to say, something that will enable him to do something and thus not be such a pain to his friends?”
But Jesus knows the man’s pain. He knows it well. He was bearing it as he spoke. He knows the real pain that lasts beyond this short life here on earth. He knows the pain of seeing us leave him. He knows the pain of having everything he gave to us squandered and misused and unappreciated. He knows the feeling of being ignored, being treated like you’re worthless, having us act as if he is of no value, as if he can’t do anything for us. He knows because we have done this to him. That is our sin. It is an unbelief in God that just basically rejects all his help, doesn’t give him thanks properly, doesn’t look to him and trust in Him when times get rough – the unbelief that grumbles, that complains, that turns away, runs away from God, so that He seems more like an enemy than a friend. After all, He’s the one who allowed the man to become a paralytic anyway.
Jesus knows all the blame. He knows the pain. Why? Because he knows the sin, which is the cause of it all. He knows your sin. And He doesn’t know it as an angry judge. He knows it as your Savior. He knows it as your brother. He is God made flesh for you, incarnate for you. And he has something to give you that is of more value that your ability to walk on earth, more precious that your ability to see or to be as young as you used to be, or to feel as healthy as you want, more valuable than your desire to do the things you think might make you happy.
He gives you words that are as powerful as the words he spoke to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your mat, and go home.” He says, “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.” And he decrees this to you because God has decreed it to be true. Because the Father sent Him to bear the sin of the world, so he sends me to tell you today what the world in her wicked love for her own works denies. Your sins are forgiven. And I can say this, not seeing your hearts, not knowing what you believe. I can say this, knowing that these words are the very power of God to make you believe unto salvation in Christ Jesus. I can rely entirely on these words, and not on my own worthiness, and speak them with an intrepid heart, and you can believe them with an intrepid heart, in the face of every sin you can imagine, in the face of every accusation the devil throws against your conscience – you can believe that your sins are forgiven because God says so on the basis of Christ’s perfect obedience unto death in your place.
Did Jesus forgive you when he saw that you believed? Believed in what? In a potential forgiveness? No, he forgave you before you believe and you believe that. Faith trusts in a God who has forgiven you, not in a God who might forgive you, if you somehow find the strength to believe. There is no strength to believe, there is no faith, apart from the Gospel, but there is forgiveness waiting even for the one who does not have faith. And it waits for you, who have lived in sin, and can’t find your way out of it. It is your only way out when God’s Law has shown you no way out. It is Jesus not asking you for anything but your sins, because they already belong to Him. He already took them away on the cross. It is your God and brother speaking the truth, “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.”
And there is nothing we need to hear more than that. Amen.