Today, Jesus comforts the paralytic—and us all—by saying, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).
He shows us the perfect will of God: to comfort each of us—take heart, He says—and to forgive our sins.
That’s why His name is Jesus: He will save His people from their sins (cf. Matthew 1:21).
But this detail might make us uncomfortable: Jesus doesn’t heal the man first, He forgives him.
“Behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said” something that didn’t immediately produce measurable results (cf. Matthew 9:2).
It produced results—his sins were forgiven—but that’s not the kind of results people like and can measure.
His sins were forgiven—but he was still a paralytic.
As good as the forgiveness of sins is and must be, we still prefer measurable results.
Jesus forgives the man. That’s good, but we can’t see that, we can’t scan it, we can’t count it, so it feels cheap.
Hearing this, “Behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’ But Jesus, knowing their thoughts [and ours], said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk”?’” (Matthew 9:3-5).
Today, it’s easier to say “Your sins are forgiven” than it is to say “Rise and walk” because people can fake being Christian, but you can’t fake walking.
Jesus does the more difficult of the two to prove that He can do the more important.
And the forgiveness of sins is more important than the healing of the body because healing without forgiveness will turn to ashes in your mouth, but forgiveness—even apart from earthly healing—still has the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting to look forward to.
That’s why Jesus forgives the man before He heals him, to make this point:
God would rather you be forgiven and suffer as a paralytic than leap like a deer and go to hell.
In the Church, you have to be content with some “unmeasurables.”
You have to disassociate numbers and faithfulness.
Attendance and success.
See, we don’t like that, because we prioritize felt needs. Honestly, we’d rather have both. We’d rather Jesus tack on the forgiveness of sins to a spectacular and miraculous healing.
We feel that would be more impressive.
Maybe you agree with me, and maybe you don’t, but here are some observations.
If you describe church—in any way—as “It would be great if…” you’re missing the point.
“It’d be great if there were more people.”
Not if they don’t vote like you.
“It’d be great if pastor picked hymns I like.”
There are no hymns that literally everyone likes, and every time I pick a hymn you like—that’s also a hymn someone else doesn’t like.
Ultimately, “It’d be great if…” fails to recognize what we have every week.
The Body and Blood of God for the forgiveness of our sins.
Is that not great?
It’s true that where two or three are gathered there He is among us, but we’d rather it not.
Have we so cheapened the forgiveness of sins and the truly miraculous that we’re no longer content to hear God’s Word, believe it unto eternal life, and rejoice together—whether there’s five or fifty?
This is exactly why Jesus forgives the man’s sins first.
And realize that the perfect will of God does include the healing of the body.
You may just have to wait.
Jesus knows what’s in man (cf. John 2:24-25). He knows how the paralytic feels, what he’s thought.
In varying degrees, we all know what it is to be paralyzed, trapped, and restricted.
Some are trapped in their minds.
Some, their bodies.
Some, right now, their homes.
It’s careless and callous to think that God can’t or doesn’t want to care for these people—for us.
But it’s foolish to think that a healed body is what would solve our problems.
Jesus knows what’s in man. He knows how the paralytic feels, what he’s thought.
He knows what it is to be trapped, stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was nailed to the cross in grief and shame—but for our pardon and peace.
The crucified, dead, buried, and raised body of Christ solves all our problems.
Forgiveness is most important.
Jesus forgives the man first to train our hurting bodies to rely on Him for what is most important.
But take heart.
As Christians, we know to prioritize forgiveness, but it’s not a “choose only one” kind of scenario.
There is—for every Christian—only a finite amount of time between forgiveness and perfect restoration.
Jesus does heal the man.
“‘[So] 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.’ And he rose and went home” (Matthew 9:6-7).
In the Apostles’ Creed, we confess that we believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
But we don’t wait for those things as though we are without them.
We have the forgiveness of sins here and now.
“When the crowds saw [what had happened], they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8).
All your sins are forgiven in Christ.
And—you have the responsibility, you’ve promised God, that you will forgive the sins of those who’ve sinned against you.
Every time you pray the Lord’s Prayer, you promise God that you will forgive others.
The Fifth Petition: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What you have, you share with others.
What’s been given to you, you don’t withhold.
Forgive—as you have been forgiven.
We have the promise of the resurrection here and now: “We were buried therefore with [Jesus] by baptism into death, in order that, just as [He] was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too [will] walk in newness of life” (cf. Romans 6:4).
We will be raised. We aren’t unsure about it.
And—we have the medicine of immortality, the Body and Blood of Jesus.
Some of my favorite words in the liturgy are in the Dismissal: “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. Depart in peace.”
This is what we believe, but we don’t wait for these things as though we are without them.
Jesus forgives the man’s sins first on purpose—to check our priorities, to teach us to rely on Him, and to cause us to rejoice in sins forgiven.
For this body and life—and for our life in the world to come—God has given us what we need.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 19 Sermon, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt