30 September 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 9:1-8 (Gen 28:10-17, Eph 4:22-28)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Our Lord Jesus doesn’t just complain about the rotten condition of our fallen world – He has done something about it. He has come into our world to fix the world; he has come into our lives to renew our lives; He has come into our stubborn hearts to recreate them into contrite hearts. And this He does as God, commanding darkness to become light, ordering water to become wine, decreeing the sinful to be righteous – all by His word alone.
Only God can do such things. And only faith can accept the reality that God has become man, and has done this.
Those without faith are without hope. They are also without a clue as to how a man can forgive sins. In fact, not recognizing their Creator standing before them, they accuse Him of blasphemy. For when our Lord Jesus speaks as only God can speak: “Take heart, My Son, your sins are forgiven,” it is not just a wish or a hope or a prayer – it is a done deal, a fait accompli, a reality.
And yet in spite of this reality – a reality that played itself out in front of the eyes and ears of the scribes, they believed in a different reality, a “reality” that was not real at all. They jumped to the wrong conclusion in their jaded faithlessness: “This man is blaspheming,” they claim. And they really believe this.
But again, our Lord Jesus does what only God can do, reading their hearts, “knowing their thoughts,” saying, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” And then He challenges them. “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk?’”
“So that you may know…” says Jesus. And then the paralytic “rose and went home.”
Jesus puts it all on the line. Either He is a fraud, or He is the Son of God. Either He is a magician or showman, or He is the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel. There are those who talk the talk, but Jesus does so much more. He walks the walk that would end on the cross. And He walks again out of His own tomb. He afterwards He would walk with men who did not recognize Him at first, until as He broke bread in a mystical meal.
Sometimes there is more to reality than what meets the eye, more to what is real than our cynical, self-serving, and sinful selves want to believe.
For our “old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” does not want to believe that God has come into the flesh. For He did not come to put on a show, work a few miracles, toss us a few softballs, and then leave.
Jesus came to radically reorder our very lives. Jesus came to be the most important thing to us. Jesus came to make everything else unimportant by comparison.
That is why He lays down the challenge: “Which is easier to say…?” For Jesus can easily forgive sins. He is God. He was born into our world to be the atoning sacrifice. He promised to do it, He has done it, and He is here to remind us of it, and He distributes that promise to us anew.
Even today there are those who marvel that God “had given such authority to men.” God gave the authority to forgive sins to “men” – in the plural. For God the Father delegates authority to the Son, who in turn delegates that authority to the apostles, to the ministers of the Church. And while pastors have no power to cure paralytics, they have been given the joyful command to pardon the penitent, and the somber duty to bind the sins of the impenitent and call them to turn from their evil ways from death to life.
But again, “when the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.”
We glorify God for His mercy. We glorify God for His forgiveness. We glorify God for His presence in the sacraments. We glorify God for giving us pardon and peace through the ministry of the Word. For just as surely as the paralytic was cured of his physical infirmity, he was pardoned of his spiritual iniquity.
And this is not blasphemy, for it is God doing it. And even today when the pastor speaks these words: “As a called and ordained servant of the Word, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins,” He is doing so based on this authority given “to men.”
Those who deny this authority do so for lack of faith – faith in the Lord’s words, faith in the Lord’s promise, faith in the Lord’s authority itself. Those who deny this authority act in the manner of the scribes whose jaded lack of belief stood between them and the glory of God.
And the glory of God is to be found among things that are not always as they seem. Jacob went camping, and using a rock for a pillow saw a vision. He saw the reality that lurked just behind what his eyes could see and his ears could hear. The Lord rolled back the veil and showed him what was really happening: “Behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!” And God spoke His glorious, gracious promises to Jacob in that place. And Jacob would declare: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” – even though when the vision ended, all he saw was a field with a rock in it.
Dear friends, we need to see reality through the promises of God. This is called “faith.” We need to see redeemed saints when all our eyes see are ourselves and others who “are by nature sinful and unclean.” We need to look at a world broken by sin and death, and instead see the glorious destiny built upon the ladder that reaches to heaven. We need to see the bread and the wine, and confess that there is more than meets the eye.
And even in this humble place, we must keep in mind that this is where Christ is proclaimed, where Christ is present, where Christ comes to us to “forgive us, renew us, and lead us,” giving us delight in His will and in walking in His ways, putting away falsehood and speaking the truth with our neighbors in the realization that we are “members one of another.”
So, dear friends, let us glory in the Lord’s miraculous work. Let us hear His miraculous Word. Let us partake of His miraculous sacraments. Let us bask in His miraculous forgiveness!
Take heart, my son. Take heart, my daughter. Take heart O child of God. Take heart, you who are by nature, sinful and unclean. “Take heart, your sins are forgiven!” And thanks be to God that He has indeed “given such authority to men.”
“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Amen.
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In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.