Today, Jesus forgives the paralytic’s sins saying, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).
Eventually, Jesus heals the man—“[saying] to the paralytic—‘Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And he rose and went home” (Matthew 9:6-7).
Jesus forgives sin and later connects the forgiveness of sins with the healing of the body.
He makes that connection—and that connection still exists today—but we need to understand it rightly.
Some of the scribes understand Jesus wrongly.
They hear Him say, “Your sins are forgiven,” and they say to themselves, “This man is blaspheming” (Matthew 9:3).
But how? We need to ask how.
How is forgiving sins blaspheming?
In Mark 2 and Luke 5—just like in Matthew 9—the scribes and Pharisees consider Jesus to be blaspheming when He says to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven.”
But in Mark 2 and Luke 5, the scribes and Pharisees are recorded to have also said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21).
To them—that’s the blasphemy—that Jesus, here, forgives sins instead of God.
The scribes reject—what we believe—that Jesus is God With Us. For them, it’s impossible for a man to forgive sin, because the authority to forgive sin belongs to God.
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus puts forward this rational argument, saying, “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.” And he rose and went home (Matthew 9:4-7).
Jesus does two things here.
First, He does the more difficult thing to prove He can do the easier thing.
We draw conclusions like this all the time. If you need help at four o’clock, and someone’s working with you until five, you know they’ll be able to help you.
If you need to lift one-hundred pounds, and you know someone who can lift two-hundred pounds, you know they can do it.
When you prove the more difficult, you also prove the easier.
To say, “I forgive you” may not change the look of anything—to our eyes, it’s not immediately verifiable—but it is in the realm of divine things, the forgiveness of sins.
The scribes believe man can’t do that.
So for Jesus to say, “Rise, pick up your bed, and go home,” that is immediately verifiable to our eyes.
But that is in the realm of divine things, too.
The scribes believe man can’t do that either.
“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” Jesus does the more difficult thing to prove He can do the easier thing—forgiving sins.
That’s His argument. That’s what He does first.
For our comfort, He demonstrates His authority over fallen Creation to then demonstrate further His authority to forgive sin, which brought about the Fall in the first place.
The second thing He does is the result He brings about. “When the crowd saw [the previously paralytic man walk home], they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8).
Second, Jesus brings about this conclusion, that man, in fact, is able to, can, and does forgive sin—in the stead of God, as from God Himself.
The scribes hate Him for it, but we rejoice—receiving, again and again, the absolution as from God Himself.
Now, in some ways, we don’t have the same problem as the scribes, because we’ve heard it said every week of our Lutheran lives, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you of all your sins.”
We’ve been trained—and rightly—to hear and receive the absolution from the pastor as from God Himself.
We don’t conflate the two—but rather—rejoice that God works through means, even simple ones.
But when sins are forgiven today, the response is usually one of two things…thanks or no thanks.
It’s “Thanks” when forgiveness is received and believed and cherished for what it is—the forgiveness and salvation of sinners.
We all like the Gospel.
We all like the idea of heaven and peace and unity—but the Gospel is the forgiveness of sins. Our peace is found in the wounds of Jesus who was delivered up for our trespasses. There’s only discord if we don’t believe the same things, hence the very word concord or Concordia.
What I mean is, sometimes the forgiveness of sins seems as blasphemous to us as it did for the scribes—but for very different reasons.
And then—it’s no thanks.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (cf. 1 John 1:8).
The first words Jesus says in His public ministry, in His first sermon, are “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
Our preaching should be the same, not different.
The last sermon Jesus preaches, according to St. Luke, is fundamentally the same. Jesus says, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (cf. Luke 24:45-47).
Our preaching should be the same, not different.
But the Gospel is scandalous—blasphemous, even—if you don’t want to talk about sin.
Because the Gospel is the forgiveness of sins, earned by Christ the crucified, given by the work of the Holy Spirit in the Word, unto all who believe.
I’ve said before that only sinners will go to heaven.
What I mean is, “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
Having your sins forgiven seems blasphemous if you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong.
If you don’t believe me, the next time you’re at the bank, the next time you’re at the gas station, and somebody messes up and says, “Oh, I’m sorry,” look them in the eyes and say, “I forgive you.”
The awkward silence, the uncomfortable grimace is proof that the Gospel is often—to us—a scandal, as though we don’t expect to be forgiven.
I think you should expect to be forgiven.
And I think you should expect to forgive.
Do you know what that means?
For you and for your neighbor, do you know what that does?
If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (cf. 1 John 1:9).
To rejoice in the forgiveness of sins is to rejoice in what God has done for all in Christ, who was lifted up, that everyone who suffers because of the curse would look to him and be healed—forgiven—saved.
To deny forgiveness to any is to deny what God has done for you—and all—in Christ.
After Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer, to forgive as we have been forgiven, He says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
Don’t be scandalized by having sin defined—or defining sin.
Don’t be scandalized by having sins forgiven—or forgiving sins.
Do not think evil in your hearts.
For which is easier to say—“You shall not want, you’ll lie down in the greenest of pastures, beside the stillest of waters, with a restored soul”?
Or—“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”?
But that you may know that God is at work in you to accomplish both—to forgive sin, to heal the body, to raise the dead, and to bring life and immortality to light—that you may know this, I say to you what Jesus said to the paralytic: “Take heart, [dear child of God], your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 19, 2021
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt