Trinity 19 2018
In the Name of the Father, and of the X Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Holy Absolution, like the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, is always personal but never private. Baptism is a public act. Even if for some reason it happens one-on-one (as with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch), it still publicly makes one a Christian and puts the triune Name on him for all heaven, earth, and hell to see. So also the Eucharist is public, even for the hospitalized or home-bound. The demons shudder and flee and a confession of Christ is made before the world. “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26). That you are known as one who goes to church every Sunday to receive the body and blood of Jesus is a witness to your friends all on its own. They are not unaware that you take Jesus seriously. By your conduct you seem to agree with St. Paul who taught the Ephesians that “the truth is in Jesus” (4:21). And that makes them a little uncomfortable.
And so Holy Absolution is a public act, even in the case of individual confession and absolution. Yes, you confess in private to the pastor and receive the absolution Jesus gives personally and custom-delivered just for you, but the fact that you have confessed your sins and received the absolution is nothing to be covered up or kept secret in the sense that you should be ashamed for having needed the forgiveness of Jesus. All Christians publicly confess before church and world, heaven and hell, that they are sinners who need and have the forgiveness of Jesus. Blessed are you if you publicly become known as one who is dependent on the forgiveness of Jesus. As the Holy Spirit says: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven; whose sin is covered” (Ps. 32.1).
There is no shame in the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is not shaming the paralytic by forgiving him his sins publicly, but blessing him. “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” That was not a put-down. The man does not object: “Wait! Why do I have sins that need to be forgiven?” Or: “Jesus, did you really have to say that in front of my family and friends?” No. The paralytic is not the one who complained. He did not say: “What use is forgiveness if I still can’t walk.” Jesus forgave him his sins personally and publicly. “Your (singular) sins are forgiven.” Everyone saw it, and his heart was cheered.
O sons and daughters of the king: Be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven you. There is a reason why the Bible calls the Gospel a “proclamation” and a “preaching.” It is good news and it is public news. Jesus forgives you all your sins. Everyone has seen it. Let your heart be cheered.
Because the Gospel is a public word it is received with joy by some and rejected with mockery by others. The scribes and Pharisees balked at Jesus’ forgiveness. They accused him of blasphemy and speaking an unauthorized word. Moderns balk at Jesus not only for speaking of forgiveness but especially for speaking of sin. They also accuse Jesus of speaking an unauthorized word: “Who are you, Jesus, to judge what is sin?” Like the scribes, they do not think that the truth is in Jesus.
This should not be surprising. Remember, it is the Absolution itself that gets Jesus killed. He receives the sentence of death for making himself equal to God by publicly forgiving sins.
On a human level, the absolution got Jesus killed, and his execution became a public spectacle for all to see. As the Scripture foretold: “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” He hung there for all to see. Yes, the absolution is public because the cross is public.
But on a cosmic level, something even more public happened to Jesus on the cross. All the sins of all the world—all the sins that Jesus has and does forgive—had to go somewhere. You see, Jesus forgives sins, not by winking at them but by taking them. He forgave the paralytic just the same as he forgives you, not by calling your sins cute or telling you to take “pride” in them, but by taking them into himself. “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” Look at his corpse on the cross before you answer! See what it cost him to speak the Absolution to you.
At the cross the Father held court in public. He publicly damned Jesus as the sinner who got what we deserved for all to see. Even the centurion had to confess: “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). The Scriptures teach us what happened on the cross, saying (1 Cor. 5:21): “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Then, when it was finished, when Jesus was made our sin and condemned for it, Jesus died to rise again as a public proof and testimony that the forgiveness he won for you is bought and paid for in full.
Jesus is not afraid to speak the absolution in the face of ridicule and certain death. Christians are not ashamed to receive that forgiveness and call it theirs. Because this is so, Christians have no interest in minimizing their sins or going along with them to better fit in with the world. Paul reminds us that we are daily to put off the old man that died with Jesus on the cross and put on the new man created in true righteousness and holiness. The new man speaks the truth. He does not get caught up in the anger machine of social media and gossip. He wants to give no opportunity to the devil by the places he goes and the shows he watches. He is not afraid to be called “prude” or “uptight,” because he knows his weakness in the face of temptation and does not want to give an opportunity to his fallen flesh. And though the Christian often walks in weakness, he believes that Christ’s absolution is true, and he has the joyful confidence that the new has come and the old is passing away.
All this is depicted for us in today’s Gospel. Jesus made the paralytic a new man than he was before and gave him new life. It was outwardly evident by his ability to walk home, but that only came later. His true newness was in the “true righteousness and holiness” he received in the forgiveness of his sins. You are no different. Jesus has made you new and given you a new life. You have publicly received the same righteousness and holiness by the forgiveness of your sins. And in a little while Jesus will make that outwardly evident when, on the Last Day, he will come to your grave-bed and publicly say to you: “Rise, pick up your bed, and come home.”
Come soon, Lord Jesus.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.