Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
October 10, 2021
“This man is blaspheming,” thought the scribes to themselves. Why do they accuse Jesus of blaspheming in their hearts? Because only God can forgive sins. Jesus has just told a paralytic that his sins are forgiven. Jesus, they thought, clearly was not God. So, this must be blasphemy.
The scribes were right about one thing. Only God can forgive sins. This is why it is so ludicrous for a man to claim the authority to forgive. Imagine you are up to your eyeballs in debt, credit card, student loan, automobile loan debt, mortgage. Your friends may comfort you with kind words. Perhaps they can even share in your misery if they too are in debt. But unless they can give you the money to pay your debt so the debt-collectors stop calling and the bank doesn’t foreclose on your house, your debt will remain. Only a letter from the bank telling you your debt is paid will take away your anxiety.
But sin is not like money, where if you work hard and long enough and limit your spending, you can eventually pay off your debt. You can’t pay back your sin. Even if you were able to stop sinning today, and live the rest of your life as a perfect saint, the sin of your past would still remain. There is no amount of money you can pay, or amount of time you can work, or valuable asset you can sell that will erase your debt of sin. Only God, the final judge, who will weigh the balances on the Last Day has the authority to forgive sin.
Sin is your greatest problem. Sin is the source of all your sorrow. All sickness and pain, all conflicts and enmity, yes death and hell are the result of sin. Sin comes in two forms. First, is original sin, which is the sin that you inherited from your first father Adam. This original sin is the corruption of your human nature. It is what makes you a sinner. It is why your very heart desires to do what is wrong. The second form of sin is the actual sin you commit from day to day; when you fail to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; when you misuse his name and fail to call upon him in prayer; when you ignore his preaching and word and refuse to hear and learn it; when you fail to love your neighbor as yourself; when you hate and envy; when you lust and covet; when you speak ill against your neighbor. These sins can be committed in word and deed, but especially in the heart. And all sin, both the sins you commit, and original sin, which is the root of all sins you commit, are offenses against God. And unless God cancels the debt, you will be sentenced to hell forever.
So, it is clear that none of us has a greater problem than our sin. The things that trouble us, our sickness and pain, our broken relationships, and poverty and want: these are all just symptoms of our sinful condition. The greater issue is what we cannot see. Our debt before our Father in heaven. No mere man can forgive this debt. Only God himself.
For this reason, the forgiveness of sins is the greatest treasure you can possibly have! As sin is the source of all your sorrow and trouble, so the forgiveness of sins is the source of all joy and blessedness. The Psalmist declares, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity.” (Psalm 32) If you have forgiveness of sins, you have peace with God (Romans 5:1). More than that, if your sins are forgiven, you are God’s friend (John 15:15). The wages of sins is death, but the forgiveness of sins gives eternal life (Romans 6:23). If you have the forgiveness of sins, then you can be joyful even in sorrow. You have all that you need forever. This is why Jesus tells the young man to take heart, even as he lies in bed as a paralytic. Take heart! That is, be of good cheer! Why? Your sins are forgiven. Yours is the kingdom of heaven. Yours is friendship with God. Yours is eternal life and blessedness. What are a few more years or even decades of pain and sorrow, when you have waiting for you the bounties of the kingdom of God? Even if the man remained a paralytic the rest of his life, he still had reason to be exceedingly glad, because his sins were forgiven!
And this brings us to why the scribes were wrong. Jesus had every right to forgive this man’s sins, because Jesus is God in the flesh. It is he against whom the debt of all sin stands. He alone has the right to forgive it.
The scribes denied Jesus’ authority to forgive sins. They did not believe that he was God or that he had come from God. So, Jesus says to them, “What is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” before he commanded the man to pick up his bed and go home. When the paralyzed man became unparalyzed and walked home healthy as a horse, Jesus proved that he had the authority he claimed. God alone is the creator of all things. He created the cosmos with his word. And so, God alone can restore his broken creation with his word alone. In Jesus’ word alone is the power to forgive sins.
There is a big difference between forgiving sins and denying that sin is a sin or that sin is a big deal. Often, to avoid the uncomfortable feeling that accompanies repenting of your own wrong doing, people will try comforting themselves with sayings like, “Everyone is a sinner.”, as if being in the company of sinners is any comfort (Psalm 1). Even more brazen, people seek comfort in denying that sin is sin. It is now tabu to claim that homosexuality is a sin. But does denying what God says do any good to those plagued with the temptation of same-sex attraction? Certainly not! Likewise, it is common to deny that fornication is a sin or at least that it is a big enough deal to mention. People justify divorce, gossip, slander, coveting, hatred, gambling, skipping church, laziness, and many other sins by simply denying that they are sins or finding some explanation for why their actions are not sins. But does this do you any good? If a well-meaning friend tells you that you are not in debt, will that keep the bank from foreclosing on your house?
You know, there have been a number of people who have claimed that they did not have to pay taxes. They claimed that the federal government had no authority to tax income, saying it was unconstitutional or immoral. So, they refused to pay their income tax. And you know what, I think they were sincere! I think they actually convinced themselves of their arguments that they were not obligated to pay their taxes. But do you know what happened to them? They went to prison for not paying their taxes! Convincing someone that his sin is not actually a sin does not do him any good any more than convincing someone he doesn’t have to pay his bills does any good. Sin is what God calls sin, not what we decide is a sin or not. And unless those sins are forgiven, the debt will be required of us.
But Jesus’ word is different from the empty words of those who deny the danger of sin. Jesus backs up his word with authority and action. Jesus said, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”, he said to the paralytic, “Rise, take up your bed and go home.” Well, what has Jesus done to show that he has the authority to forgive your sins? He has done much more than tell a paralyzed man to rise and take up his bed and go home. Jesus, who is God in the flesh, perfectly obeyed God’s Law so that he had no sin of his own, yet he took all your sin and the sin of the whole world upon himself and went to the cross. He suffered not only the physical pain of being scourged, beaten, nailed, and strangled on the cross. He suffered the anguish of God’s wrath against sin, which caused him to sweat blood even in the garden before a hand was laid upon him. Jesus endured the hell our sins have earned for us! And Jesus died. He was not just paralyzed. He didn’t have a spinal injury or palsy. He died. His blood coagulated in his veins. They laid him dead upon a slab of stone, and his body temperature became as cool as that stone.
Yet, to show that he had the authority on earth to forgive your sins and the sins of the whole world, Jesus rose. He was seen alive by Mary and the disciples and by over five-hundred witnesses at one time. And he went home to his Father, sitting at his right hand of power with all things under his feet. Jesus defeated death, proving that he had once and for all washed your sins away in his blood. This means that Jesus’ word of forgiveness is a word you can trust. It means he has authority over your sins, over your death, and over hell itself.
And because Jesus is God, he has the power to wash away as many sins as you have; your original sin and all the sins you have committed from the time of your youth until your old age. And he has the power to forgive your greatest sin. Scripture says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18)
And Jesus has given the authority to forgive sins to his church, so that this forgiveness may remain on earth where sinners need it. Jesus said to his disciples, “Whosever sins you forgive, they are forgiven.” This means that your pastor has the authority to forgive your sins by the power of Jesus’ word and with the guarantee of Jesus’ death and resurrection for your sins.
Forgiveness is given through God’s word. This means it can only be received through faith. Faith is the open hand that receives the gift. Faith is believing and trusting in the promise of forgiveness. Believe the word and you have the forgiveness.
Faith is an act of the heart. Jesus, who is God can see our heart. That is why Jesus knew the evil in the scribes’ hearts, even though they kept their thoughts to themselves. You cannot hide your unbelief from Christ. Yet, faith does not only reveal itself to God in the secret heart, but to everyone, as Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus saw the faith in the heart of the paralytic and his friends who carried him. Yet, even the scribes saw their faith. Saints Mark and Luke tell us they made a hole in the ceiling to lower the man down to Jesus to be healed. This is what faith does. Faith causes parents to carry their babies to Jesus to be baptized and Christians to come and hear God’s word even when life is busy. Faith causes us to love our neighbor and be patient, helpful, and forgiving. We are saved through faith alone, because only faith can receive the forgiveness of sins. Yet, faith is never alone, because faith holds onto the forgiveness Christ won for you. This forgiveness not only gives you assurance of your heavenly home. This forgiveness changes you as a person here on this earth. Take heart, sons and daughters of the Lord, your sins are forgiven. May we live as forgiven children and love God and one another. Amen.