"Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven."
Sermon by Pastor Edward Brockwell
The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
Based on Matthew 9:1-8
The Confessional Lutheran Church of Finland
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"Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven."
1Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over the sea and came to His own city. 2And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, "Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven." 3And some of the scribes said to themselves, "This fellow blasphemes." 4And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, "Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? 5"Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, and walk'? 6"But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" – then He said to the paralytic, "Get up, pick up your bed and go home." 7And he got up and went home. 8But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men. Matthew 9:1-8 NKJV
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:7). To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood (Revelation 1:5b). Amen.
One the most beautiful of all the accounts of Jesus' healings in the New Testament is that of the paralytic in Capernaum. When the people there heard that Jesus had come, large crowds began to gather. So much so, that there was no room left to gather to hear Jesus, not even outside the door. Some men came, carrying with them a paralytic. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, they lowered the bed that the paralyzed man was lying on. "We see in the action of these four men evidence of both their faith and of their love. God grant that we may always act in faith and love in the case of our sick ones" (Carl Manthey-Zorn).
The paralytic was laid before Jesus' feet. Scripture does not record him as saying even a word to Jesus, or making any request. He lay there quietly and looked at our Lord. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, "Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven" (vs. 2).
Jesus words were the answer to the longing of faith which He saw in the soul of the paralytic, and even his four friends, for we are told expressly that Jesus saw their faith. When we experience severe sickness or troubles in life we often begin to think or reflect on our lives and we become conscious of our sins. Ever since man fall into by the seduction of Satan, sin in turn robbed man of many things, it "hurled him from the peak of the most blessed good fortune into darkness, death, and ruin, and made this world an arena of misery" (C.F.W. Walther). The justice of God has required that man and nature suffer. The fields have their thorns and thistles. Man and beast have their diseases. All must die.
The suffering of the paralytic, however, was not due to any one particular sin. His paralysis did not mean that he was a worse sinner than any of his four friends, or any among the crowd that gathered to hear Jesus. But there he was, lying at Jesus' feet. Looking at the Savior, he probably began to think of not only the need for his body to be healed, he also saw himself as a sinner, and that his greatest need was the healing of his soul. Jesus saw his faith and so He took care of the more important healing first and said, "Son; your sins are forgiven." Here we have an example of the power of absolution and how it affects our lives just as did the paralytic.
However, C.F.W. Walther makes a good point of how Jesus speaks and applies the forgiveness of sins directly and personally to troubled sinners. Walther noted that Jesus "usually proclaimed His grace to sinners in general. For example, when He wanted to comfort the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, He said only that "the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). But on the occasion recounted in today's text, he spoke the forgiveness of sins directly to a highly troubled sinner. Why didn't He speak the general preaching that every penitent can obtain forgiveness?"
"The reason is not difficult to find. The paralytic was so frightened by his sins that they created more affliction for him than even his severe sickness, and he was thus in need of a special comfort. For another example of this, consider Christ's dealing with a very sinful woman. When, with a contrite heart she drew near to Jesus, crying bitterly, wetting His feet with her hot tears, and drying them with the hair of her head, Christ did not tell her that grace is for all sinners. Instead, He turned to her and said, "Your sins for forgiven"" (Luke 7:48).
"Here we see the very special comfort" Walther writes, "that lies in private absolution. This not, of course, the only means by which God speaks forgiveness to the sinner, for He also does this by the general preaching of the Gospel, by the giving of Holy Baptism, and by the eating and drinking of the body and blood of His Son in the Holy Supper. Whoever in faith, holds firmly to these three testimonies of God’s grace toward all penitent sinners has the forgiveness of sins and can be joyfully certain of it. But Christians know from experience that even among those who hold God’s Word as true, those who do not doubt that God wants to be gracious to all sinners when they believe, there can be doubt in an individual's heart as to whether he, too, is in this happy state. When that happens, he may need to be comforted with more than general promises of grace."
I am sure that we, too, need to be comforted. We see and feel our sins, which bite and gnaw and frighten us. We turn to the Scriptures and read of such sinners as David, Manasseh, and Peter, and how they obtained forgiveness. However, our doubts get the better of us, we begin to say within our hearts, "Yes, if I were a David or a Peter and my repentance were as thorough as theirs, then I might well believe that my sins, too, have been forgiven" (Walther). We might also read in our Bibles or hear the pastor preach of how God does not desire the death of any sinner, "that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom, [Paul said], I am chief" (1 Tim. 1:15). We remember also of those familiar verses, such how "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). But, are there not times when someone might be so focused on their sins that they begin to struggle with terrible doubts.
One might think, 'Yes, God wants to save others, but my sins are too great and terrible. I have excluded myself from any possibility of being forgiven.' Perhaps one might hear a forceful and powerful sermon that proclaims the riches of God's grace and mercy for all. He hears of the kindness of Christ and of His faithfulness as the Good Shepherd that seeks for lost sheep, and His burning desire for the salvation of the greatest of sinners, the lowest of the low. However, one may still doubt all of this, he remains assailed with the devil's fiery darts and begins to think, 'Oh, if only I could know and believe that God has such a burning desire ever for me and for my salvation!' Many Christians, yes, even you and me, are there not times when we doubt? Do we not sometimes wish that Jesus would personally come to us? We wish that He would say and do to us what He did to the paralytic, "Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven."
Christ said to the apostles, and consequently to His whole Church, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them…" (John 20:23 NKJV), "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19). Again, Walther wrote, "When a Christian receives and rests upon private absolution, is he not raised above all doubt? Must he not say that when forgiveness is spoken to him in Christ's name, it is just as if Christ himself had come down from heaven and spoken it to him with His own mouth? What more certain comfort can there be than when it says, "your sins are forgiven" when Christ has declared that such an utterance shall also be valid in heaven (Matthew 9:2)?"
What can be more precious to a troubled soul than the words of absolution from our Lord? But we might ask, "How are we to use this truth in our daily lives?" Do we just do nothing and keep this precious gift to ourselves while we wait to be brought to heaven? I see three things that our Lord would have each of us do. First, we diligently continue to "keep" our Lord’s words. "Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death" (John 8:51). Martin Luther taught that this means that we are to firmly believe in our hearts that with Christ’s sufferings and death, and with His crimson blood shed on the tree of the cross, He has submerged, drowned, strangled and destroyed our sin. The faith that Holy Spirit works in our hearts through the Word is such a faith that holds firmly to the Word, and living one's life in the light of God’s Word.
Secondly, as Christians we don’t use God’s forgiveness as a license to sin, as if we can go ahead and sin and simply think that all we have to do is ask for God’s forgiveness. Indeed, God’s grace is not a license to sin, but quite to the contrary (Romans 6:1-12). The apostle Paul tells us, "We should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin" (Romans 6:6, 7). Therefore, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage" (Galatians 5:1).
Absolution is simply an announcement and the delivery of God's forgiveness, it is a pardon from God, just as pardon is given to a prisoner and he set free. "But how would it help a prisoner if he heard that he is pardoned but then refused to leave the prison and exercise his freedom? It would not help him at all. So it is with the forgiveness of sins, which can be spoken to us both by every preacher of the Gospel and by every Christian. If we want to use this forgiveness rightly, we must depart from the prison of our sins. We do this by heartily accepting our absolution, by comforting our self in it. In other words, it is by maintaining a firm and certain faith" (Walther).
Lastly, absolution, the proclamation of God’s forgiveness of our sins, it lifts our eyes away from our self, our past sins and our guilty conscience. God's words of absolution enable us to forgive ourselves of our sins. A reason why so many find it hard to break away from sin and a guilty conscience is because they cannot forgive themselves. If we do not forgive ourselves, then how can we protect ourselves from the devil’s accusations? How can we sever the cord by which Satan binds us to sin? How can our hearts ever be changed? Absolution is believing God, believing His Word and His forgiveness. It is in the means of grace — in the preaching of the Gospel and in the Holy Sacraments, in the spoken Word of Holy Absolution — the Holy Spirit works and sustains such a childlike faith that enables us place all our faults, sins, and shortcomings on the shoulders of our merciful Lord. We offer God our highest praise, and give Him the great honor and worship by listening to the words of absolution rather than listening to our depressed and sinful conscience. Such faith doesn't focus on our sins or on our past. Rather, it receives what God places in our hearts, namely, His forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through absolution the Holy Spirit works in us a certainty of the incomprehensible and inexpressible mercy and love of God toward us. It us assures us that our merciful heavenly Father saw that we were oppressed by the curse of the law and held under it. On our own and through our efforts and strength, we never could have freed ourselves. But God did in sending His Son. For God so the world, so great was His love for us and for you, that He put all the sins of all the people on Jesus. Though Jesus was without sin, He became sin for us and reconciled us to God.
Absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, these are God’s means to get our eyes off our sins, and onto Christ. Absolution is God's way of redirecting our lives from a life of sin, guilt and estrangement, to life of faith expressing itself in love. Absolution works faith, a faith than now permits God to do good to us, and thus, it works love in us to do good to our brother. "Love does to its neighbor as it sees Christ has done to us. This is the Christian life" (Luther). Absolution is true voice of God, the voice of our loving Father that speaks to you and to me personally. It is loving voice that says, "Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven" (vs. 2). We, too, are absolutely awestruck; we cannot help but glorify God, "had given such power to men" (vs. 8). Amen.