Forgiven. Trinity 19, 2015
19th Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 9:1-8
October 4, 2015
Jesus has authority. His Word comes with the authority of God. He can command a paralyzed man to get up and walk, and the paralysis leaves. He can command a dead man to rise, and death lets go. And He has authority to do something greater than healing a paralytic and raising the dead. He has the authority on earth to forgive sins.
The paralyzed man they bring to Jesus is suffering. His mind works, but his body doesn’t. He can’t get up and take a walk to get some relief from his miserable situation. He can’t even get up to relieve himself. He can’t clean himself after he has soiled himself and the bed. He can’t feed himself. In every way he is dependent on others. He’s bound, a prisoner within his own body. He can’t even get up to bring himself to Jesus for healing.
And what does Jesus do for this man? The first thing He does is say, “Be comforted, my son—your sins are forgiven.”
The paralyzed man is a sort of picture of the horrors that sin inflicts on us. We are born trapped by sin. We are unable to get up and move ourselves toward God. We are imprisoned by guilt and chained up within ourselves under God’s anger and judgment.
But the analogy is not exact. The Scripture doesn’t say that human beings are by nature paralyzed by sin. The state of human beings by nature is worse. They are dead. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked,” says Paul in Ephesians 2. If we were born paralyzed by sin we would be born with spirits that wanted to do the will of God but bodies that were unable. Instead we are born dead. That’s why you don’t see people in our world worrying about whether they are doing God’s will, troubled by their sins, wondering whether they are going to heaven or hell. They don’t want to do God’s will. The thought seldom, if ever, enters their heads. They want to do their own will, and they don’t feel any remorse or fear about it. They are spiritually dead, not spiritually paralyzed.
On the other hand Christians often feel bound, chained, paralyzed by their sins. In Psalm 40 David says, “I delight to do your will, O my God,” (v. 8), but in the same Psalm he laments, “Evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me.” (v.12) St. Paul says, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is good, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep doing..For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:18-19, 22-23) These great saints both found themselves to be like the paralyzed man. On the one hand, they desired to do the will of God. On the other they experienced the ongoing bondage of sin.
Maybe you experience this same bondage, this same paralysis. You want to be free from sin because you know that “the wages of sin is death,” (Rom. 6:23) but you find that sin is at work in you despite your desire to be free of it. Maybe you are tempted to fall into misuse of God’s name, anger and wrath, sexual immorality, stealing, slander, greed and covetousness, or other obvious sins. Maybe you struggle with doubt, unbelief; you doubt the goodness of God, you become weary in prayer because you doubt whether God is listening. You wonder whether God really is with you and you wish He would just do a few miracles today to show Himself. Maybe at times you struggle with doubt about the truth of the Scriptures or even whether God exists at all. That unbelief of the heart is truly sin before God just as surely as if we committed murder or bowed down to a false god. And so as Christians we experience the dreadful bondage of sin. Scripture says, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2) And yet we feel like this is exactly what we do!
So Jesus’ Word in the Gospel today is full of good news for Christians who feel the power of sin at work in them. He says, “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” (Matt. 9:6) He doesn’t just have authority to release a man from paralysis or even to force open the jaws of death and let a man go. Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. The word for “forgive” in the language of the New Testament also means “loose, let go, release.” Jesus has authority on earth to forgive sins—to loose us and let us go free from them.
How does Jesus loose us from our sins if we still experience them? He does not cut our sins away the way a doctor cuts off a cancerous tumor. The cancer of sin has spread too far in us to be able to cut it out. It has infected our whole nature, so that sin can’t be removed from us without our dying and being resurrected and re-created. We sing in a Lenten hymn:
There was no spot in me by sin untainted
Sick with sin’s poison, all my heart had fainted
My heavy guilt to hell had well-nigh brought me
Such woe it wrought me. (LSB 439 st. 6)
So how does Jesus loose or release us from sin? Answer: He forgives them. He pronounces all our sins cancelled and removed from the sight of God. He frees us from sin by forgiving or absolving us. Though we still experience and feel sin raging within us, Jesus’ word declares that sin is not counted to us.
Think of what happens in the general confession and absolution. We confess that we are sinners—that is, that we cannot free ourselves from our sin and that we deserve God’s wrath and punishment. “We confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean…We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment.” Then comes the absolution: “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Through the minister Jesus pronounces our sins let go, released, not counted to us by God.
Jesus has authority on earth to forgive sins. He has that authority first of all because He is God, the One whom we have offended by our sins. But He has come to earth and become a human being, one of us. He did that so that He could be bound by our sins. Our sins bound Him and brought Him in chains before the chief priest and Pilate. Our sins bound Him with nails to the wood of the cross. He came so that He could die in our sins. And as He hung on the cross He died under the wrath of God that was poured out on our sin. Then on the third day He who had borne all our sins was released from sin and death. He became bound by our sins, died for our sins, and rose again for our righteousness.
Jesus applies this to us. When we were dead in our sins they brought us to Jesus and He gave us life. For most of us that happened first in Holy Baptism. Others were not baptized as infants but first came to life when they heard the good news that their sins were forgiven on account of Jesus’ death on the cross. But though we came to life through faith in Jesus, our old nature remained with us. It had to, and still has to, be put to death daily. In Holy Absolution Jesus pronounces our sins forgiven, therefore not counted to us. We are set free as we reach forward to put on the glorious image of Christ risen from the dead. We are set free from condemnation and a bad conscience caused by the old Adam who still fights to have the upper hand within us.
This is why Luther retained private confession and absolution and praised it so highly. Christians want to be free of their sins. Someone who doesn’t care about whether they sin or about doing God’s will is not a Christian. But Christians feel the burden of their sinful flesh. Sometimes it causes us to fall into sin. Other times it harasses us with ongoing unbelief and weak faith, sluggishness in prayer, doubts about God’s goodness. We struggle with an embattled conscience. Sometimes we wonder whether we are truly in God’s grace or whether we are kidding ourselves.
Beloved brothers, we never have to wrestle with our conscience or our sins alone, because “The son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” And He has given this authority to His Church, so that when we receive absolution or forgiveness from the pastor, the Small Catechism says that we should receive it “as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing, that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.” Luther says, “He who feels his misery and need will develop such a desire for confession that he will run toward it with joy…Thus we teach what a wonderful, precious, and comforting thing confession is, and we urge that such a precious blessing should not be despised, especially when we consider our great need.” (Tappert, Large Catechism, “A Brief Exhortation to Confession, 27-28).
Forgiveness brings with it not only freedom from sin’s guilt and condemnation, but also from its domination. Because we are forgiven by God we are also not totally paralyzed by sin. Because even though we have sin in our flesh, we also receive the Holy Spirit with God’s forgiveness, who begins to lead us in the new life of freedom. Our lives begin to be shaped by the Divine Service, Scripture, Prayer, Giving, Serving, and Witnessing. We will hear about those things in the next two weeks.
Soli Deo Gloria