October 7, 2018 A+D
St. Matthew 9:1-8
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A group of men take their paralyzed friend to Jesus the miracle worker. When He sees their faith he says to the paralytic: “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.”
It is most likely that this was hugely disappointing.
People are not much concerned about the forgiveness of sins or if they are it is high on Maslow’s pyramid, that is, it is something to be sought only when all other needs and desires are met. If I am in good health and have a nice car and a fat trust fund, if I am popular and successful and all the boys like me, then I can concern myself with the metaphysical, with spiritual concerns. Until that is done, until my material needs and wants are met, don’t bother me about sin and righteousness.
The long term effects of such an attitude are disastrous. Eventually this leads to Hell. But it is not even useful in the short term. Because it misses what truly ails us.
What human beings crave, whether they know it or not, is the presence and acceptance of God. Our sin has deformed us so that we know something is missing but without God’s Word we don’t know what. Apart from Him we seek to fill our need with nearly anything and everything imaginable: material things or honor among men or constant amusement and physical pleasure.
Augustine famously described this reality in the opening of his confessions. There he prays: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” That is the truth. The image of God lost by fallen humanity is a haunting longing. Nothing but God Himself can satisfy it. The image that was lost is restored when God declares a man or woman righteous by faith for Christ’s sake, that is when God pronounces him or her forgiven. Apart from that there is no rest even if there is physical health and earthly success.
The friends of the paralytic didn’t bring him to Jesus for that, for the forgiveness of sins. They brought him for a healing. But Jesus saw the greater need. Therefore He gave him what he needed most. He said: “Take heart,” literally, “be courageous,” “my son, your sins are forgiven.”
If your sins are forgiven you can face paralysis, debasement, and torture. If your sins are forgiven you can even face abandonment, betrayal, and death. In fact, healing from paralysis without the forgiveness of sins would almost be a tease. It would give temporary relief without peace and it would soon be removed when the person was cast into the place of fire and gnashing of teeth.
All this to say that we cannot value the forgiveness of sins too highly. It is the heart of our relationship with God in Christ. Consider how the Psalmist praises God for forgiveness in Psalm 103:
Psalm 103:2–5 (ESV) 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3 [He] forgives all your iniquity, [He] heals all your diseases, 4 [He] redeems your life from the pit, [He] crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 [He] satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Messiah, our God who takes up our flesh, says of Himself in Isaiah:
Isaiah 43:25 (ESV) — 25 “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”
Micah marvels at God’s compassion in forgiveness. There are no mythologies in the ancient world of a god who takes up human flesh in order to be abused and killed for a people who hate Him. If ancient mythologies speak of gods taking up flesh it is always to ravish a maiden or to engage in the bloodlust and sport of war. Our God is not like us. He is compassionate and forgiving. He is incomprehensible in this goodness. Micah writes:
Micah 7:18–19 (ESV) — 18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. 19 He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
Thus it should be no surprise that the Christ is announced to the world by John with the following sentence: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” In fact, John seems to be blending two Old Testament types: the Passover Lamb and the Scapegoat. The Christ is the fulfillment of all the ceremonies and sacrifices of the Old Testament which forgave the sins of the repentant who looked in faith to Him.
Thus Paul confesses in Ephesians:
Ephesians 1:7–8 (ESV) — 7 In (Christ) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.
And again in Colossians 2, Paul turns to us and says:
Colossians 2:13–14 (ESV) — 13 You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with (Christ), having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
No one wants to live with paralysis or in mourning or with pain. None of us will forever. We do so now insofar as God in His mercy has seen that it will be good for us and good for the world. The paralytic has to suffer his paralysis a bit longer to demonstrate to the world the power of the Messiah.
Your suffering is not without purpose either, nor is it without end. He who has power and authority to forgive sins on earth also has power and authority to raise you from the dead and perfect you in your body and restore what He has taken away. He does not lie. He has promised that you belong to Him. He has gone before to prepare a place. He is coming back.
In the meantime, He says to you “Take heart, my son. Your sins are forgiven.” Or to put it another way He says: “Drink of it all of you. This Cup is the New Testament in My Blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.”
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.