✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Sometimes church doesn’t seem particularly practical. We come and we hear about God’s Law and sin, we hear about Jesus and forgiveness, and we’re tempted to say, “That’s all well and good, but I’ve got some really important issues that I need help with in my life. My marriage is strained right now. With all this inflation I’m having a hard time just paying the bills. It’s not easy trying to raise kids in this crazy and messed up culture. I’m dealing with health issues and pain every day. I’m paralyzed by depression and anxiety. I just lost a loved one. I feel isolated. I don’t need the same old doctrine and theology, I need practical help right now. I need something that’s going to give me a spiritual boost and make me feel closer to God. Forgiveness is fine, but I need something more.”
Perhaps similar thoughts were going through the mind of the paralytic at the beginning of today’s Gospel. There he is, lying on his stretcher-bed, the one that his friends had worked so feverishly to get lowered before Jesus, literally going through the roof because of the crowds. They had certainly come with the expectation and hope that Jesus could help him and heal him. I mean, why else would they have gone to such great lengths? I don’t think that they went through the roof simply so that they could hear Jesus better. They were undoubtedly looking for something more. They rightly believed, passionately so, that Jesus could help the paralyzed man.
And yet, it is written that when Jesus saw their faith, this is what he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” That’s it. Nothing else. And that might well have been the end of the story, except that some scribes got upset at Jesus and thought He was blaspheming for doing this. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they say. Of course, they answered their own charge, didn’t they? Yes, only God can forgive sins, and guess who Jesus is–God in the flesh, the Word incarnate, Son of God and Son of Man. Surely God was in that place, and the scribes did not know it. “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” Jesus says. God the Father forgives sins in and through His Son, the Man Jesus. That’s what Jesus offers and gives to this paralyzed man.
But why does Jesus deal with the paralytic in this way? You could see how the bed-ridden man might have taken offense at Jesus’ words. “Are you blaming the victim? Are you saying that the reason I’m like this is my own fault, that it’s because of my sin?” But Jesus doesn’t particularly focus on what the implication of His words might be. He simply says, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” In the Gospel of Matthew it is recorded that Jesus preceded His absolution with the words, “Take heart; be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven you.” There we begin to see the reason why Jesus addresses the paralytic as He does. The man who had to be carried wherever he went certainly must have felt the spiritual burden of his condition. “Has God forgotten me? Is this a punishment for my sins? Does God love me or is He angry with me?” All of that is addressed in Jesus’ words, “Be of good cheer. God is on your side. I am with you. Your sins are forgiven you.”
It is very often in times of trouble or physical distress that our conscience attacks us. “Is this a sign of God’s disfavor toward me?” When the body isn’t well, that’s a reminder of our spiritual unwellness before God. The fact is we are all very much like this man on the stretcher–inwardly paralyzed by our sin. Just as the paralytic couldn’t move his limbs, neither can we do anything by our own strength that moves us toward God or merits favor with Him. Just as the paralytic couldn’t work, neither can we on our own power do works that are counted as good and holy in God’s sight. It’s all limp and corrupted. But then we are carried before Jesus, even as our parents literally carried most of us to the baptismal font, and Jesus speaks to the deepest need of our troubled souls. He says to you yet again today, right now, “Child, don’t be dismayed and discouraged; be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven you.” God is with you and for you. In Christ you are at peace with the Father. Take heart.
Jesus addresses those who questioned His authority to forgive by saying, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? 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.’ And he arose and departed to his house.”
The proof that Jesus had the authority to forgive sins was in the healing of this man’s body. That outward cure confirmed and uncovered the truth of the greater inward cure. For the real and lasting power that brings physical healing and restoration is the forgiveness of sins. After all, the Bible says that death came into the world through sin. In other words, everything that troubles us, everything that causes us to deteriorate and lose our health and finally die is a result of the sin to which we are all in bondage. So it follows that if the sin is taken away and forgiven, then the consequences of sin will also be taken away–the sickness and paralysis and disease and pain will also, in turn, be removed. If the wages of sin is death, the forgiveness of sins is life, including full bodily life. Now there’s a good reason to invite your friends and family to church: tell them that we raise people up here from disease and death whenever the forgiveness of sins is pronounced.
So when Jesus healed this paralytic, He didn’t actually give him anything new. Jesus simply revealed what the paralytic had already been given when He forgave his sins. Jesus first went right to the root of the problem. He didn’t only treat this man’s physical problems, the outward symptoms and effects of sin. Jesus destroyed the deadly sin-cancer itself. This paralyzed man is healed as soon as Jesus forgives him.
And that’s exactly how it is also for you. The power of Christ to heal your body and your mind and your soul and eternally restore your lives is contained in His words, “I forgive you all your sins.” For those absolving words get to the heart of the situation. They deal with the very spiritual syndrome which attacks and eventually tears down your life. You may suffer from any number of aches or pains or physical or mental ailments. But when Jesus pronounces to you the forgiveness of your sins, He is also restoring your entire being to the blessedness of paradise and healing you. For Christ has taken away the very source from which those troubles come.
Now, that healing is probably not visible to you yet. You may not feel any differently. For just as it was with the paralytic, there is a delay between the forgiveness being spoken and the healing being revealed, just like there’s often a delay between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder. The one comes now, the other in all its fullness at the return of Christ. But the point here is that they are intimately connected. In fact they are one and the same thing. To be forgiven is to be healed and made whole, in both soul and body–by faith now, by sight on the Last Day. Therefore, you can face your troubles and your health issues with bold confidence and firm trust in God. For all of your prayers are answered most profoundly, all of your needs are addressed most deeply in Christ’s words of absolution.
What could be more practical than that? Forgiveness addresses not just our perceived needs, but our real and deeper needs–fellowship with God, a restored and clear conscience, confidence in who we are as His beloved children. When you say, “I have problems; I need answers; my life’s a mess, I sure could use a miracle,” our Lord replies, “Here’s your miracle: your sins are forgiven you. I was paralyzed for you on the cross to release you from the bondage of sin’s curse. I was lowered into the depths of the grave to set you free from the power of death. And I arose from my mortal bed so that you also might rise with me in glory to a life that is free from disease and trouble and pain. Every problem and trouble you face is conquered and overcome in Me. I will see you through it. Trust in Me. Cling to my words. Walk with me by faith till the day of Resurrection comes. All of those prayers you’ve prayed for healing and relief are answered with a resounding ‘yes’ in Me. There is peace and contentment and even joy for you right now as you wait for those answered prayers to come to pass, when I return and tell you also to rise.”
It is written, “All the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus]” (2 Corinthians 1:20). He says “yes” to your prayers here in Lord’s Supper. Here is the remedy that heals you, the medicine of immortality, the living body and blood of Jesus given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, to enliven you and make you whole. Here is the gate of heaven, where you are not only close to God, you actually commune with Him. Surely God is in this place, and you have been given to know it. Here you partake of Him who is the Life in the flesh, who incorporates your bodies into His own, and who will therefore raise you from the grave just as He was raised.
So be of good cheer. Through Jesus God is not angry with you. Do not be angry with Him. Be at peace. Your sins are forgiven you. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation and the resurrection of the body.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠