Mathew 9:5 and Ephesians 4:17-28
Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
October 15, 2023
“Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” asks Jesus before causing the paralyzed man to walk. But you’ll notice that Jesus never answers the question. Which is easier? Well, the point is not whether it is easier to forgive sins or easier to cause a paralyzed man to walk. The point is that He who has the power to cause a paralyzed man to walk also has the authority to forgive sins. And it is not simply that Jesus is God, therefore He has the authority both to heal and to forgive. But rather, the point is that forgiveness and healing for the body are intimately connected. This is because every physical ailment, every sickness and weakness, whether paralysis, cancer, chronic pain, what have you, are symptoms of mortality. They are symptoms of your impending death. You die, because you are a sinner. You suffer the pangs of death, because you are a sinner.
So, when you are forgiven, death is taken away. When you are forgiven, the pangs of death are taken away. When you are forgiven, the consequences of your sins are undone. When Jesus suffered on the cross for our sins, he took our illnesses and bore our diseases (Matthew 8:17; Isaiah 53:4). This is why Jesus suffered and died when He took on our sins, because that was the just punishment for our sins. And because Jesus made full atonement for our sin with his death, St. Paul declares, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him.” (Romans 6:9) Death no longer has dominion over Him, because He has done away with our sins.
This means that if you are forgiven, then all your bodily ailments will pass away. No matter how weak and ill you are today, whether your legs or eyes don’t work, or your memory is failing you, if your sins are forgiven, you will run, you will see clearly, you will remember with perfect clarity. The forgiveness of sins necessitates the resurrection of the body. What Jesus did by raising the paralyzed man was foreshadow that man’s resurrection and the resurrection of every person who receives the forgiveness of sins through faith.
But does the forgiveness of sins have any effect on you today? Today, few people value the forgiveness of sins. They’d rather have the miracle worker heal paralysis and other diseases. But since the Church offers only forgiveness, people spurn it. What good is forgiveness? They don’t think of the promise of the future resurrection connected to forgiveness. Yet, within the Church we have another problem, which damages our faith and unity with Christ. People take the forgiveness of sins for granted. They appreciate being forgiven, but they don’t think it has any effect on their lives today. But does the forgiveness of sins have no effect on your life, except to remove your guilt? Does the forgiveness of sins, which will cause your body to rise to immortality really have no effect on your life today?
Jesus asks, ‘Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” You could similarly ask today, ‘Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, 'walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’?” (Ephesians 4:1-3) Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.’?” (Ephesians 4:17) Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
Sometimes we get so comfortable confessing to being poor, miserable sinners, that we forget that we have been washed, sanctified, and justified by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11). We forget that being baptized into Christ, we have died to sin and have risen to walk in newness of life. By the same power by which He forgave the paralytic’s sins, Jesus told the man to rise and walk. And the man walked. So, you also should believe that by the same power by which Jesus forgives your sins, He also is able to tell you to rise and walk.
The word for rise Jesus uses here is the same word used for Christ being raised from the dead. In Romans 6, St. Paul teaches us that as many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death, we were buried therefore with Him through Baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. The word Jesus used for walk, περιπατέω (peripateo) is the same word St. Paul uses for to walk in newness of life in Romans 6. It is the same word St. Paul uses for no longer walking as the gentiles do, but to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Ephesians 4:17, 1).
Yet, we think this is impossible. We think Christ can forgive our sins, but we don’t think he can give us power to set aside our old sinful self and walk in newness of life. We believe that God can tell us that our sins are forgiven, but he can’t lead us to reform our lives. But which is easier, to say, “I forgive you all your sins,” or to say, “stop misusing God’s name”? Which is easier, to say, “I forgive you all your sins,” or to say, “stop skipping church and ignoring God’s preaching”? Which is easier, to say, “I forgive you all your sins,” or to say, “be reconciled with the person you are mad at”? Which is easier, to say, “I forgive you all your sins,” or to say, “stop looking at smut on the internet and TV”? Which is easier, to say, “I forgive you all your sins,” or to say, “speak kindly to your neighbor and forgive those who sin against you”? We think the former is easy to say, but the latter is impossible. Yet, that same power, which forgives our sins, also causes our old self to die and our new self to rise and walk!
Indeed, it is true that in this life, we will always struggle with sin. Our old self will war with our new self to get us to do those things we do not want to do (Galatians 5 and Romans 7). Yet, that is not an excuse to give up and to give yourself over to the desires of the sinful flesh and to live indistinguishably from the unbelieving world! That is not the way you learned Christ! You didn’t learn Christ by misusing God’s name, avoiding the preaching of God’s word, speaking hateful and filthy words, indulging in sexual immorality, or holding grudges. Rather, you learned Christ by putting off your old self by repenting of your sins and by putting on your new self after the image of Christ, which means in humility to love God and your neighbor.
We must stop thinking that God’s word is powerful to remove the guilt of our sins, yet it remains powerless to renew our lives. We need to stop thinking that we are living as Christians, when we claim to believe in the forgiveness of sins, but then go on living in those same sins without remorse. We need to believe that the same power, which takes our sins away, also gives us the power to resist temptation, to resist the power of Satan and our sinful flesh, and to walk in the light of Christ.
St. Paul argues in Romans chapter 8, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” The life St. Paul speaks of here is not the resurrection of the dead, which will happen on the Last Day, but the new life, which every Christian lives after receiving the forgiveness of sins. This new life foreshadows the resurrection of the dead. If you receive the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ, then you also receive the Spirit of Christ, who renews your spirit to walk with God.
So, you must not be a defeatist. Do you believe that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake? Then believe that God will empower you to overcome temptation and to live according to His love, to put off the old self and to walk in newness of life.
Now, you won’t do this perfectly. In fact, many of those sins for which you have asked God for forgiveness many times will return to haunt you. And Satan will try to convince you that you cannot be renewed, that you cannot overcome sin, that you may as well continue in sin. But don’t believe Satan’s lie. Scripture states clearly that you will continue to struggle with sin, that the good you want to do is not what you will do, but the evil you do not want to do is what you will keep on doing (Romans 7:18-19), that if you deny you have sin, that the truth is not in you (1 John 1:8). That is why Christ has established for you a way to receive the forgiveness of sins throughout your life. Jesus proclaimed that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. And that authority, Christ gave to His Church on earth (Matthew 28:19), saying, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (John 20:22-23) Therefore, you should believe that when the pastor declares that your sins are forgiven, that they are forgiven before God in heaven! And you should also believe, that with that forgiveness comes the power to overcome sin, to walk in newness of life, to love God and your neighbor.
When your sins give you alarm, when it seems like you are not getting any better, but in fact, you’re getting worse, when you fall for the same sins over and over and over again, so that you wonder whether you are any different than an unbeliever, then go to church. Confess your sins to the pastor. And believe that the forgiveness he speaks to you is Christ’s forgiveness. And believe that your past sins do not define you, but the forgiveness Christ’s minister speaks to you defines you. Satan tells you that you are a blasphemer, a despiser of God’s word, a lecher, a gossip, a miser, and a hater. You tell Satan, “I am forgiven.” And walk in the power of that forgiveness, to the scorn of Satan and to the glory of God. Amen.