Such Power On Earth
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
St. Matthew 9:6-8 “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. Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… It is said that God helps those who help themselves. That’s not in the Bible, and it could not be more wrong. In fact, it is just the opposite. God helps those who cannot help themselves. In the case of today’s Gospel, it is a paralytic, a cripple. He can’t walk; he can’t help himself, and so it is up to others. They carry the poor, paralyzed, sick man to Jesus. They take him to church, for that is where Jesus is. Remember, church is Jesus’ home; it is where you go to receive Jesus.
Jesus sees the faith of those who carry the cripple. It is just like parents who bring their child to Jesus at the baptismal font. It is like the faithful church members who bring their unbaptized friends or other family members to church. This handicapped man is ushered into the presence of the Lord in order that the Word made Flesh can have His way with him.
And Jesus does. The Lord says, “Son, be of good cheer.” But this is not the modern, sugary-sweet, empty sentimentality that says, “Smile, God loves you.” This is no idle word. Jesus does not refuse this man, for He has come for all people, even the crippled. He has come for every sinner in whatever situation in whatever time in whatever place. He does not come for the healthy who need no doctor; He comes for the sick, the sin-sick.
And so out of the mouth of Jesus come the most astonishing words: “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus does not say, “Well my boy, I sure hope your sins are forgiven.” Or, “I hope that someday your sins can be forgiven.” Nothing of the sort. Furthermore, Jesus is not giving a lecture concerning the concept of forgiveness. No. He speaks fact, He speaks reality. God’s Word does what it says. God’s Word delivers what it says. And when Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” it is a done deal: sins are forgiven; forgiveness is given out and delivered. Sins are removed right then, right there, at that very instant of the speaking of the words. Forgiveness is given from the mouth of Jesus into the ears of the paralytic, and he is forgiven. The voice of God has spoken. The Word of God has had its way. It is Holy Absolution.
As it still is today, so it was way back then: such free forgiveness causes offense. There were those at the Divine Service that day who were quite put off by Jesus’ words, “Your sins are forgiven.” There were those that day who simply did not believe – nor did they want to believe – that God had indeed given such power on earth to forgive sins. Why, it was just a man who spoke those words, a man named Jesus, the son of a carpenter named Joseph whose mother was Mary. They were just town folk, they were local citizens.
Why, just Who does this Jesus think He is…God? “This man blasphemes,” they said. The word “blaspheme” means to tell lies about God. They were certain that Jesus was lying in what He said to the paralytic, for only God Himself can forgive sins; this much they knew. In St. Mark’s version of this story the scribes respond, “Why does this man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” They also believed that God would forgive but that He would do it sometime in the future on the condition that the Jewish nation kept the Law of God perfectly.
So, what should Jesus do? Should He apologize because the forgiveness which He has been given to speak offends some people? Should He stop absolving because some people just don’t like it? Should He apologize just because some people did not grow up with this? Of course not. Jesus will do what His Father has given Him to do; He will forgive no matter what man says. He will give away what has been given to Him to give away; He will absolve, for He can only follow His orders from His heavenly Father.
Free forgiveness or absolution is scandalous; it does offend. Frankly, it is as offensive as the Word of God Who Himself took on flesh and blood and dwelt among us. Absolution, the forgiveness of sins, is as repugnant as the God who sleeps in Mary’s lap and who hangs bleeding and dying from the Tree of the Cross.
Only God can forgive, that is true. But God does not just think about it in His mind. He does not just say to Himself, “You are all forgiven.” No, God forgives concretely; He forgives through a man, through His Son Jesus Christ, the Son born of the Virgin Mary. This Son of God has a real body, two lips, a tongue, a set of lungs, two kidneys, a liver, and a spleen. This same Jesus speaks His forgiving Word through His Church and the Office of the Holy Ministry which has been given to His Church. It was offensive then, and it is offensive now.
Jesus understands exactly what is going on with those who are put off by His words. He knows that they entertain evil in their hearts. For to refuse to have the free forgiveness of sins be given out in the church is evil. That is why the historic Evangelical Lutheran Church – the Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession – that is why we have always said in our Lutheran Confessions, “We also keep confession, especially because of the absolution, which is the Word of God that the power of the keys proclaims to individuals by divine authority. It would therefore be wicked to remove private absolution from the church” (AP XI).
We understand, therefore, the wickedness of not offering and making available individual confession and absolution for those whose consciences are troubled and who want to make use of this unique and marvelous way in which God delivers specific forgiveness to a person. And He does it just like He did it in Jesus’ day – through the mouth of a man – a man who has a real body, two lips, a tongue, a set of lungs, two kidneys, a liver, and a spleen.
The Lutheran confession of faith, summed up so concisely and so clearly in the Small Catechism of Martin Luther, states, “What is confession? Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting but firmly believing that by it (the absolution) our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”
Some may still ask, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And the answer is the same today as it was in Jesus’ day. God in Christ through a man is still forgiving sins the way He has always been forgiving sins. Nothing has changed. Recall that in John 20, “The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’” This is what we have always called the Office of the Keys, “that special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.”
And of that we also say this: “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.” It is exactly what the Bible says regarding when and where the forgiveness of sins is given and spoken and delivered and received.
Back to our text. So that these people may know that it has indeed been given the Son of Man to forgive sins at this place and time, Jesus tells the paralytic, “’Arise, take up your bed and go to your house.’ And he arose and departed to his house.” Just as it was with the absolution, so it is with the healing. God’s Word does what it says. God’s Word gives what it says. The man gets up, and he goes home healed and forgiven. He has received Holy Absolution; he has received the gracious healing. Absolution and healing; both are gifts. And faith receives what God gives.
The Small Catechism teaches that “where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation.” God is not only concerned with saving our souls, He is also very much interested in saving our bodies too. The spoken word of Absolution is for bodily healing and health. With the Lord’s forgiving Word He gives His very own life. To receive Holy Absolution is to receive Jesus and everything He is, for He is life. To be forgiven is to be given life; that is Jesus.
And what He gives even now in His word of forgiveness will carry us through the ashes to ashes and dust to dust of death and the grave. That is the way it is confessed in the Creed: “I believe in…the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” That, dear fellow redeemed, is where the Lord’s forgiveness takes us. It brings us to the resurrection of the body, to eternal life, to the Lord’s life.
As Luther says in his Large Catechism, “So, if there is a heart that feels its sin and desires consolation, it has here a sure refuge when it hears in God’s Word that through a man God looses and absolves him from his sins” (LC V:14). You, dear fellow redeemed, are as free to walk to your pastor and ask him for such a wonderful gift as you are to come and receive the Lord’s body and blood in Communion. Or, if need be, someone else may carry you there. In any event, we rejoice with the crowd. We praise God who has indeed “given such authority to men” and simply receive the Lord’s divine donation of free forgiveness.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.