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Sermon – Matthew 9.1-8 (Trinity 19 – 2019)
Forgiveness, Fear, Courage
O mighty and everlasting God, by Your Son Jesus Christ You mercifully helped the paralytic both in body and soul: We beseech You, for the sake of Your great mercy, be gracious also to us; forgive us all our sins, and so govern us by Your Holy Spirit, that we may not ourselves be the cause of sickness and other afflictions; keep us in Your fear, and strengthen us by Your grace that we may escape temporal and eternal wrath and punishment; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city.
2 Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you."
3 And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, "This Man blasphemes!"
4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts?
5 "For which is easier, to say,`Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say,`Arise and walk '?
6 "But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins "-- then He said to the paralytic, "Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house."
7 And he arose and departed to his house.
8 Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.
Dear fellow redeemed,
In disasters and emergencies, medical staff perform triage, that is they create an order of ailments or patients from those that are most urgent and need immediate attention, to the ailments and patients that are not so urgent.
Jesus performed triage on this man that was brought down through the ceiling, and he had two problems, one physical and one spiritual. Physically, the man was paralyzed. Spiritually, he was afflicted in his conscience, burdened by the guilt of his sins. The physical problem was plain to all, but the spiritual problem was plain only to Christ, since He alone being God is able to know the hearts of men. And thus seeing the problem of sin being the greater more urgent issue, Jesus deals with that first. For sin is the cause of all trouble in life. And so Jesus has compassion on this believer, for again He alone is able see whether there is faith in the heart. And Jesus speaks graciously to him, saying, “your sins are forgiven you.”
Then as it is now, those words of divine forgiveness are received either as joyous comfort, or are viewed as a scandal. Thus Jesus said to his disciples, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mt 10:22). And Paul to the Corinthians, writes about the source of forgiveness, the cross, “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Co 1:23) There were a few different reactions to this. And we’ll talk about each of these. One reaction consisted in the fear of God, and another lacked the fear of God.
The scribes were scandalized. What man can forgive sins? Certainly, they didn’t recognize Jesus as true God. As they silently objected to Christ, they would have done it thinking that they were being devoted to God. They were defending the honor of God and His law. Righteousness is through the law, they would have thought, and only God can forgive offenses.
Yet they did not fear God. As long as they were filled with self-righteous pride and held to works-righteous beliefs, such forgiveness, especially from such a lowly man is offensive. It is a scandal.
But there was another reaction to Jesus’ forgiveness, and His accompanying miracle of healing the paralytic. The text translates it “marveled”, though “feared” is another acceptable translation. Luke’s account of the same event uses the word “fear.” Fear may seem to be a strange reaction to the gracious declaration of God’s forgiveness. However, it is a proper reaction, as Psalm 130 (:4) states, “There is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.”
This is not kind of fear that is the terror of God’s eternal wrath, the fear that even an unbeliever may have. Though the proper fear of God does recognize His just wrath. Jesus’ forgiveness means that we have sins to be forgiven. Jesus’ forgiveness means that we are rescued from the just wrath of God. And so since we are forgiven in Christ, we fear God, which means we recognize the fullness of His holiness and justice, but also find comfort in in His infinite grace and mercy in Christ Jesus, who by His blood has blotted out all our sins. And so through faith God receives us as His dear children instead of seeing us as children of His wrath. He counts us righteous instead of judging us as sinners. He makes you heirs of the resurrection onto life instead of the resurrection unto death! And thus because of such grace and mercy with which He forgives us our sins, we marvel at Him, and revere Him. And that is why our worship reflects this reverence of God. While we are worthy of being outside the ark experiencing God’s judgment, He call us into the ark into the Church to receive the gifts of His grace, His forgiveness and salvation.
Since we are forgiven for the sake of Christ’s saving work, and thus trusting in His grace, we fear Him, and we may also be of good cheer as Jesus speaks to the paralytic. You may be of good courage.
You may live in the full confidence that you are forgiven, and that the Lord receives you as His dear believer. This is the gospel message the Lord has given the church to proclaim. This is the ministry of the Church. Christ has given His ministers the authority to retain sins to the impenitent, but to you whose consciences are troubled by sin, Christ has given authority to ministers to proclaim to you Christ’s forgiveness. I speak it to you corporately, as a group, as I did earlier this morning. Or it is also spoken in private confession and absolution, which is beneficial for you when you have particular sins that burden your conscience, that you may hear the words personally and individually applied to you, “Your sins are forgiven you.” Whether corporately or individually, the word of forgiveness I and other called ministers of the word speak to you, that word of forgiveness is Christ’s very own forgiveness, for the pastor speaks in the stead of and by the command of Jesus Christ.
But then there are those who are scandalized by this forgiveness, especially a forgiveness won in such a lowly way as a cross, and a forgiveness spoken to you by Pastor Jo-shmo Sinner. The world delights when Christians fall into sin, and they cry out “How can you be a Christian?” How can you expect to be accepted by God? You’re a sinner! Righteousness is by the law, and you don’t keep it. But that same voice is in each one of us. The Scribe and Pharisee in each of us says righteousness is by the law. “How can Christ’s forgiveness really be a free gift? You must be worthy of it first. And you are not worthy. Righteousness must be achieved by the law at least to some extent, shouldn’t it? How can God just clear all my sins, and what good is that forgiveness that is spoken by the pastor? Who is he to make that declaration of forgiveness?”
But in response to this, did not Christ say on the cross, “It is finished!” Didn’t the Father raise Him from the dead confirming that forgiveness has indeed been won. Doesn’t Scripture say, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And it says that it is by grace you have been saved. Your forgiveness and salvation is a free gift won totally and perfectly by Christ.
He has redeemed the world, and has gathered to Himself a congregation of believers. The Christian Church is His Church and He has given authority to His Church to proclaim this forgiveness. This forgiveness is not some concept out there that you have to wonder how to get it or how it can be yours. But this forgiveness is concretely given to you and placed upon your ears in holy absolution, and it is placed upon your tongue through the body and blood of Christ given for you in the Sacrament of the Altar. So may these promises of God put to silence and conquer all doubt and offense whether it comes from the world or from within us!
You are forgiven, therefore fear the Lord and be of good cheer. Have courage! The Holy One of God who judges the world, has forgiven you! Live each of your days, and work in your vocations with this confidence! Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.