Did you hear what that guy said just a little while ago?!? The arrogance! The presumption! The hubris! He stood there before all of you and said, “I forgive you all your sins.” Now he wasn’t saying that some person had done something to him, and so now he was going to forgive that individual. No, he spoke those words to all of you.
And that means something much bigger was going on. It means that when he said “I forgive you all your sins” he was speaking like he was God. Now let me tell you. I know that guy, and I can tell you for certain that he is not God – not even close. I mean have you seen him try to help his youngest son pick out clothes to wear to school? It’s not pretty. You know, there is a difference between black and navy blue shorts.
And now that I think about it more, what’s up with this obsession with “sin” anyway? “Sin”? As if there is some kind of absolute standard of right and wrong that a person keeps or violates, and some vindictive God in the sky who is just waiting to zap the poor schmuck who does something wrong. Give me a break! How about he get out of those weird looking clothes, and join the rest of us in the twenty first century?
Every Sunday you hear me stand in front of you and say, “in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins.” It is something to which you have become accustomed. Often it is not until you bring someone with you to church who is not a Christian or who comes from a tradition outside of Lutheranism or the Roman Catholic church, that you are reminded about how radical that statement really is. People take offense at the language of Holy Absolution. They recognize exactly what is going on and bristle at it: “Who is he to speak like he is God?”
The same thing happens with the very word “sin.” Because you see, as soon as you define sin as a violation of God’s law you have said that there is indeed some kind of absolute standard. You have said that there is right and wrong; truth and error. That puts limitations on people and means that they don’t get to do whatever they think is right. And in doing so you have also said that there is a holy and just God who judges and punishes. Now there’s a view of God that will raise people’s ire. Because if there is anything in today’s world that you had better not be, it’s judgmental. So if you go and try to ascribe that to God … watch out, because you are going to hear about it.
In today’s Gospel lesson, we see that the Gospel is indeed about forgiving sins. It is about the forgiveness that Jesus Christ provides – the forgiveness that he gives. This forgiveness – the way it was won and the way it is delivered – is offensive to fallen man. And we see that actually, sin is even worse than the description of it that people find offensive. Yet when received in faith Christ’s forgiveness is the powerful word of salvation. And we learn that his forgiveness reaches into the grave itself.
In our text this morning we learn that after conducting his ministry, Jesus returned to Capernaum. Matthew tells us that
some people brought to him a paralytic who was lying on a bed. The man couldn’t walk, and because they believed that Jesus could heal him, people who cared about the man went out of their way to carry him to Jesus.
Jesus saw their faith. And we should certainly understand this faith to describe the paralytic as well as those bringing him. It’s not like they were taking him to Jesus against his will! And because Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
Now if we are honest, this probably strikes us as odd. I mean, is our Lord dense? They are carrying a man on a bed to him. It is pretty obvious that they are bringing him for healing. It is pretty obvious that the paralytic wants healing. He wants to walk! And what does Jesus say?: “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
What would you have been thinking if you were the paralytic? Would you have been confused? Would have been disappointed? Would you have been angry?
Actually, it’s not a hypothetical question. For you see, quite often you are the paralytic. You come here to where God is present for you in a unique way. You come with physical ailments that need healing. You come with mental illness that needs healing. You come with family and work situations that need healing. And what does Jesus say to you?: “Take heart, my son. Take heart, my daughter; your sins are forgiven.” He doesn’t give you the thing that is foremost in your mind. Often he doesn’t give you the thing you want. Instead, he gives you the forgiveness of sins.
He does this because he knows something that you do not … or rather something that you are prone to forget. Sin is your real problem. Sin is the root cause of all that is wrong in your life. In fact, it is the root cause of all that is wrong in the whole of creation. People are offended to hear that sin is a violation of God’s law. But what they don’t realize is that sin is not just about things that we do. As fallen people sin has caused us to be turned inward on ourselves and away from God. Sin as caused all of the issues we experience in the various relationships of our life. Sin has caused all the things wrong with our bodies that produce pain and suffering and frustration. Sin, you see, will kill us.
Of course, the scribes weren’t worried about what Jesus hadn’t done. They are angry about what he had said. We learn that “some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’” The scribes perceived that Jesus had spoken in a way that only God can.
Our Lord knew their thoughts, and so he replied, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” We learn that the man then rose and went home. And when the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
Jesus shows that he has authority to do the harder thing – to forgive sins. He does this by doing the easier thing – he heals the man. Jesus came to bring forgiveness. He came to bring salvation from sin. The angel said to Joseph about Mary, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” This forgiveness; this salvation would extend to the very depths of every way that sin has warped our life. It would extend to death itself.
As Jesus was about to enter Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week he told his disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” Sin is a violation of God’s law and so Jesus came to receive God’s wrath in our place. He said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
But in his saving mission, Jesus came to bring salvation from sin all the way into the depths of the grave. He came to bring a forgiveness of sins that defeats death. And that is exactly what he did in his resurrection on the third day. In his resurrection Jesus Christ was the second Adam who overcame every way that sin has harmed us. He defeated death and began the renewed humanity that is free from every single harm that sin now causes in our life. It is this renewed humanity – this transformed resurrection body – that Jesus Christ will give to each one of us on the Last Day when he raises the dead.
That is why when Jesus says, “I forgive you all your sins,” he has given you everything you need. True, it’s not everything we want. Our Lord is gracious beyond measure, and according to his will he does give those things too – he gives healing, recovery, health and resolution of problems. But no matter whether those things are his will or not, he always does for us the harder thing. He gives us the forgiveness through which we again have fellowship with God – a life with God that is eternal and will extend into a resurrection body and the new creation.
The events in our text occurred two thousand years ago. The incarnation of our Lord occurred at a specific time and place. We don’t live then. We don’t even live there. But Jesus’ authority is not limited by time and space. When he had risen from the dead he said to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Through baptism Jesus has washed away your sins and given you forgiveness. And he does indeed continue to be present with us in ways that reflect his own incarnation. He continues to use located means to provide forgiveness where we are at.
Here at his altar he uses bread and wine to give you his true body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. He comes into our midst as he gives his body and blood into your body. Through that gift you receive forgiveness. Through that gift the Holy Spirit nourishes and strengthens faith. Through that gift the risen Lord guarantees that your body will be raised and transformed to be like his.
And our Lord still speaks his forgiveness to you. This brings us back to the way that I began this sermon, and to our text. Jesus does still say “Take heart, my son; take heart my daughter, your sins are forgiven.” He does it through his Office of the Holy Ministry, and the pastor he has placed in that Office here in this place. Jesus has given the gift of Holy Absolution to his Church. He has given authority to forgive sins. He has promised, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”
It is Christ’s Office of the Holy Ministry – that’s why in Holy Absolution the pastor says “by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word.” That is why the pastor says, “in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ.” And therefore, it is the risen Lord who says, “I forgive you all your sins.” He does the harder thing by giving you forgiveness of sins and salvation. And because he is the risen Lord, you know that on the Last Day he will give you everything else as well.