In our Gospel this morning, some folks bring a paralyzed man to Jesus for help. They carry him, bed and all, right to where Jesus is. He’s teaching in someone’s home and the place is so packed they can’t even get the man in. But they don’t give up. They climb up on the roof, bust a hole in the ceiling, and with ropes, lower the paralyzed man right down to Jesus.
We could learn from this. This is evangelism at its finest. Folks quite literally carry a man to Jesus. They didn’t need an evangelism program for that. Each and every one of us could do the same in some small way. Telling others of Jesus, and when the opportunity arises, to quite literally take them to Jesus – in His church, in His gifts, right where He’s promised to be.
Jesus is moved by this sort of faith, a faith that believes Jesus is willing and able to help. Seeing this faith, our Lord looked at this paralyzed man, limbs curled and unable to move, and helpless on a bed, and Jesus spoke these words: “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
Well, the scribes, the religious experts jumped all over this. They’re scandalized and muttering to one another, accusing Jesus of blasphemy. Who does this Jesus think He is? Only God can forgive sins! Aha! But that’s the point, right!?
Jesus, knowing the evil in their hearts, replied, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 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 that’s just what happened. The crowd watched in amazement as healing and vitality flowed into that crippled man. His paralysis left him. Filled with a mixture of fear and delight, he sat up, rolled up his bed, and went home laughing, perhaps clicking his heals along the way. When the crowds saw this miracle, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
A number of things are very important here. Perhaps no other miracle so clearly helps us understand the inextricable link between sin and sickness. In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s a message worth repeating. You see, sin is ultimately the root cause of all human suffering and need. That’s just what the Bible teaches us. The sin of Adam and Eve brought the curse of death, sickness, and every malady upon the human race. Cancer, COVID-19, birth defects, even minor aches and pains all serve as reminders that we live in a deeply fallen world under the curse of sin – which, in turn, reminds us of our great need for a Savior.
You see, we so often make the mistake of focusing on all the effects of sin, without really getting to heart of the matter. But Jesus is not interested in just small fix-up jobs. Instead, He’s interested in restoring the whole person – both body AND soul for all eternity.
So when a crippled man is brought to Jesus, you should know and understand this. It would be small potatoes for the Lord of heaven and earth to wave His hand and do a little fix-up job on a paralyzed man. He could do that, but what would that matter, when the man walks away, with moving arms and legs, but still dead in his sins?
This is the point of Jesus’ statement. Which is easier to say, your sins are forgiven, or, rise and walk. He’s helping us understand that the greater miracle is the forgiveness of sins. You see, Jesus came into the world to do the harder thing. To take into Himself the entire burden and load of your sin. This is what brought Christ our Lord to the cross. Jesus’ very name, after all, means that He is the one who came to save His people from their sins. But Jesus’ work of salvation doesn’t stop with the forgiveness of sins offered to the paralytic. Jesus’ forgiveness extends also over all the effects of sin as well. So in the catechism we pray that where there is forgiveness there is also life and salvation. In forgiving sins, Jesus speaks to the root cause of every human need.
So don’t go making the mistake of thinking that the forgiveness of sins is passe. Now if only Lutheran pastors could start preaching on the better more exciting stuff, like how to fix my life, and be more fulfilled, or whatever new self-help craze is going on. Because that would be a big mistake.
You see, some day each and every one of us will stand before the judgement seat of Christ on the Last Day. And let me tell you, there will be no confusion at all about what your foremost need will be. It’s simple. Do you want to depart this world with your sin on your back? Or do you want to leave this world with Christ’s forgiveness poured over you, a new creature?
Well, that’s just what you received in your Baptism. You were crippled by sin, paralyzed by the corruption of your fallen flesh, and yet, just like that paralyzed man, you were carried, brought to Jesus. He said to you: “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.” And you were cleansed, healed, and set free.
This ongoing ministry of the risen Christ continues in our midst. The crowd marvels at the miracle this morning that the authority to forgive sins is given to men. It is because the authority to forgive sins is rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And He gives this authority to forgive sins to His called and ordained pastors, but by extension, this authority and privilege of forgiving sins is also given to every Christian – that the forgiveness of sins should be upon the lips of every Christian.
Dear friends of God, if you’re paralyzed by a guilty conscience and troubled by your sins, just listen to the words from the pastor God sent you, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” If you can’t wait till next Sunday, just grab the closest Christian you can find, because the absolution of Christ is full and free, and we should seek it wherever we can find it.
Finally, there’s a beautiful connection in our Old Testament today. Jacob is having a dream, and a ladder is set up on earth, and the top of it is reaching up to heaven. The angels of God are ascending and descending on the ladder.
This gives us some real insight into the way God works in our lives. Because that ladder in Jacob’s dream wasn’t for climbing. Instead, it was the means by which the Lord comes right on down to bless us. You see, the Lord does not require us to ascend to Him. Instead, in mercy He comes right down to us. This Old Testament lesson finds its very fulfillment in Christ, who descended from His throne to bring us complete and total healing through the forgiveness of sins.
By God’s incarnation in the flesh of Jesus, and through His body and blood that we eat and drink, He provides the eternal bridge between heaven and earth. Therefore today, as we come into the presence of Christ once again for healing, we can say with Jacob, “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
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OFFERINGS TO LMC
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