Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 19

14 October 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 9:1-8 (Gen 28:10-17)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Son, be of good cheer,” Jesus says to a paralytic. Why? Because he will be walking around, running, even dancing within the next couple minutes? Well, that’s not the reason our Lord gives. Listen to what He says: “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.”

Our blessed Lord specifically gives the reason for the “good cheer” – the forgiveness of sins. To a person who sees the world only in terms of the physical flesh, this must seem to be a heartless and even odd thing for Jesus to say. “Be happy,” He tells this paralyzed, frustrated, and probably desperate man, “your sins are forgiven.”

What good is that when all the man can do is lie helplessly on a cot? How can anyone be expected to be of “good cheer” in such a circumstance?

The second miracle only happens in response to what happens next. The scribes, the skeptical legal experts, gasp inwardly at our Lord’s declaration of the forgiveness of sins. For how can this flesh and blood man stand there and forgive sins – when every educated Bible scholar knows that this is a divine attribute – only God Himself has the power to do any such thing. For a mere man to claim divine authority is nothing other than blasphemy! Of course, the scribes won’t utter such things out loud. Perhaps they have seen Jesus working miracles already. Maybe they have been burned before by picking a debate with Him. For whatever reason, their objections go unvoiced. However, along with forgiving sins, there is another divine attribute: omniscience. God knows everything. He isn’t limited to knowing those thoughts which are spoken by the mouth and received as vibrations upon the eardrum. God simply knows all things – and Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus reads their thoughts, and instructs them no differently than if they had the courage to accuse Him with their mouths.

“Why do you think evil in your hearts?” He asks them. For instead of believing the Word of God spoken in love to a man imprisoned by the consequences of sin, instead of rejoicing that God saw fit to pardon a poor miserable sinner of his offenses, the scribes react with unbelief, with false accusations, with perhaps even jealousy. And they do so in a cowardly fashion. They are afraid to confess what they belief with their mouths. Perhaps their fear is at least in part driven by the fact that deep down inside, they know this is no mere man standing before them. For they certainly know what is coming next.

Jesus challenges them with a rhetorical question: “Is it easier to tell a cripple to walk, or to tell a sinner that he is forgiven?” Before they can answer, our Lord continues his instruction, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins...” Notice that our blessed Lord does not complete his sentence. The Greek word for “scribe” was “grammateus” – from which our word “grammar” is derived. If the scribes were sticklers for grammar, Rabbi Jesus using a fragment instead of a proper sentence may have struck them odd. It’s not that our Lord fails to complete the sentence, rather He truly completes it with deeds. He utters a prophecy with one breath, and fulfills it with the next: “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” And he arose and departed to his house. Just as God, through the Word, in the beginning said: “Let there be light” and there was light - the incarnate Word of God speaks: “Arise” - and he arose.

The healing of the cripple’s paralysis was not the greater of the two miracles. For Jesus told him to be of good cheer, to have courage, to trust, to take heart - upon being forgiven. The forgiveness of sins does not merely give temporal physical health, but rather eternal health to both body and soul. This one little sentence spoken by the lips of Jesus has power that belittles the might of atomic bombs and even the energy of the sun. When the Creator speaks, reality happens. And when the Creator forgives sins, they are forgiven. And where sins are forgiven, there is life, there is health, there is wholeness, and there is salvation!

In response to this most spectacular miracle of all, the scribes could only grumble inwardly. Lacking the eyes of faith, they didn’t see the extraordinary miracle that was happening before them. In fact, their sight was so blinded by evil that they not only failed to recognize the merciful God standing right in front of them, but they accused God himself of blasphemy!

But our Lord does not simply walk away and leave them to suffer in disbelief. He performs a work of mercy. For knowing that they only believe in what they see with their sin-blinded fleshly eyes, our Lord gives them a sign. He was under no obligation to do so. Nor is He simply driven by ego to win the argument and garner the praise of men. Rather, our Lord knows what will challenge them, what will shake their foundations – hopefully unto repentance. He gives them a miracle their eyes see. He demonstrates that He is truly Lord of creation, Master of the world, the very King of the universe.

As He did with their ancestor Jacob, God is giving them a little peek into the Kingdom of Heaven, proof that the Ladder between earth and heaven is but feet from them, hopefully so that they will join their father Jacob in saying: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”

The holy evangelist doesn’t reveal to us if the scribes were converted, but he does tell us: “when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.”

Our Lord heals the paralytic not only as an individual act of mercy to a suffering man, but also to demonstrate the Kingdom of God Where sins are forgiven, there is healing, there is life, there is “good cheer,” there is the house of God.

And notice also that the crowds do not marvel that God has given such power to a man, but rather St. Matthew clearly tells us they were amazed that God “had given such power to men.”

For Jesus, the God-Man, does not hoard this authority. The authority He receives from the Father He passes on to men who further this ministry of reconciliation. Our Lord will explicitly give this same divine gift through the giving of the Holy Spirit to other men. The apostles will likewise amaze the multitudes and challenge the scribes by likewise freeing men from sin and its consequences.

That, dear brothers and sisters, is the very essence of the Kingdom of God. God continues to speak this declaration of forgiveness, through His Word, through Jesus Christ, through men who have been given this authority. And where His Word is, there God is, there Jesus is, there life is. Where this Holy Absolution is proclaimed, there is the house of God, the gate of heaven.

Just as our Lord bids the cripple to “be of good cheer,” to “take heart,” He bids us to “lift up your hearts” – as we prepare to meet Him in the flesh in this house of God, this gate of heaven. Even as angels ascend and descend in God’s merciful vision to Jacob, He reminds us here in this holy place that we are not alone, but rather our prayers are united “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.”

And while miracles of healing are rare (though they do happen), the greater miracle of the forgiveness of sins happens every time we meet in this holy house where we offer our worship and praise. While we may never see a paralytic rise and walk, we routinely see sinners kneel before Jesus, receive His life-giving body and blood, and then arise and walk with the blessing of Jesus that they may “depart in peace.”

The peace our Lord gives is not the peace the world gives. It is true peace, true reconciliation, true communion with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is the peace that conquers death, overcomes the flesh, and is victorious over the very devil himself.

Let the modern-day scribes grouse, let the skeptics doubt, let the devil be condemned, and let the life-bearing Word of the Lord resound in this place and in every house of God now and unto eternity!

“Sons and daughters, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you…

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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