Trinity Nineteen Sermon, October 17, 2004
ďForgiveness and FaithĒ Matthew 9:1-8
The Gergesenes had begged
Jesus to leave their community after He had delivered two men from demon
possession by sending the demons that possessed them into a herd of
swine. The demons stampeded
the swine off of a cliff into the Sea of Galilee where they drowned.
The men who were physically possessed by the demons were so
completely under their demonic control that they viciously attacked
passersby so that no one could go near them.
Jesus drove the devils out of those men, not only to show His
divine power, but also to show His divine compassion.
He set them free and brought them relief.
The power of the demons that had possessed the men was
graphically illustrated when those same demons drove a large herd of
swine into the Sea. But
apparently the pigs were of more value to the people of Gergesa than
were the two tormented men that Jesus saved.
They wanted Jesus to go. So
He did. Jesus left those
faithless people, crossed over the Sea of Galilee, and came to
Capernaum, where He lived.
If you donít want Jesus
around, He wonít impose Himself on you.
You canít force Him to leave.
He leaves of His own accord, just as He comes to you willingly,
not because you asked Him to come, but because He loves you and wants to
help you in your deepest need. Your deepest need is always to be set free from evil so that
you can hallow Godís name for His great love for you. This is why we pray as we do.
First we ask that Godís name be hallowed among us.
Our final petition is that God will deliver us from evil.
God hallows His name among us by delivering us from evil.
He delivers us from evil by bringing us into His kingdom, by
revealing to us His good and gracious will for us, by providing for
every physical and material need we have, by forgiving us all our sins,
and by preserving us through trials and temptations.
Jesus is the Lord who gives us the right to call God
ďFather.Ē Jesus always
glorified His Father. He
teaches us to do the same. After
He forgave and healed the paralytic, the crowds were amazed and they
gave glory to God. They
glorified God for the power God gave to men.
That power is here among us. It is the power of Jesus to forgive sins.
Jesus saw the faith of the people who brought the paralytic to
Him. From St. Lukeís
account (Luke 5:18-26) of this event, we learn that the paralyticís
friends tore a hole through the roof of the house where Jesus was in
order to bring the paralyzed man to the One who could help him.
Some people ask Jesus to leave.
They find His divine power over evil too unsettling and would
prefer that He leave them alone. Others not only run to where Jesus is, they bring others with
them, breaking through ceilings if need be.
And Jesus, seeing their faith, gave even more than what faith
desired. All his friends
were hoping for was the healing of the manís body.
What Jesus gave was far greater.
By forgiving him his sins, Jesus opened to him the door of heaven
itself. By forgiving him,
Jesus guaranteed him the resurrection to eternal life where there will
be no paralysis of the limbs, deafness of the ears, blindness of the
eyes, or any other physical ailment.
The relationship between
forgiveness and physical health is undeniable.
Not that if your sins are forgiven your physical ailments will
cease. There is no promise
from God that this is the case. What
is the case is that the One who has the power to take away from you what
sin has caused has the power as well to take away the sin that caused
it. All physical ailments
of every description are a result of sin.
Itís not as if this sin must cause that ailment, though
sometimes thatís true. Certainly
kinds of diseases are passed on through voluntary behavior that Godís
law strictly forbids. But
most sicknesses and physical disabilities we suffer canít be traced to
a specific sin unless we are talking about the original sin of Adam and
Eve. Sin is a condition of
sinful humanity. It is not
just things we do that Godís law forbids.
Sin permeates who and what we are and the world in which we live.
Godís good creation was corrupted by evil when sin invaded His
world. The verdict God gave
to the world He made in the beginning was that it was very good.
Had sin not entered the world, neither sickness nor death would
have entered and we would not suffer the kinds of sicknesses we suffer.
When Jesus healed diseases He showed Himself to be the Creator
God who made a good world. He
was not willing to abandon in its sin and corruption the world He loved.
As the hymnist put it:
to thee and adoration blessed Jesus, Son of God
But as St. John lamented:
in the world,
There is only one way for us to
receive Him. That is
through faith. Faith is not
here a virtue that God sees and rewards, as if when we believe in God we
draw God to us by the attraction of our faith.
If we are speaking of faith as a virtue we must place it under
love because the greatest virtue of all is love.
No, faith doesnít draw God to us.
Faith simply receives Him when He comes.
It does so, not by doing, but by not doing anything at all.
To say that faith must do in order to obtain Godís grace is to
define faith as a work. This
is directly contrary to the Word of God.
Faith does not do. St.
Paul writes in Roman 4:5, ďBut to him who does not work but believes
on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for
righteousness. Again, in
verse 16 he writes, ďTherefore it is of faith that it might be
according to grace, so that the promise might be sure . . .Ē Faith doesnít do. Faith
is done to.
Jesus saw the faith of the
paralyticís friends. He
also saw the unbelief within the scribes.
Jesus is God. He
sees all things. He knows
if you believe in Him. He
knows if you donít believe in Him.
Nobody but God can see faith or unbelief.
We can see the fruit of faith but we cannot see that it comes
from faith. Only God can
see this. We can also see
clear evidence of denying the faith, but we can never pass final
judgment because we cannot know for sure that someone who denies Christ
one day will not trust in Him the next day.
So we leave the judgment of faith up to God.
God doesnít leave us to judge
faith. God does, however,
give us the words to which faith clings.
The multitudes glorified God, who had given such power to men. It is not only the single man, Jesus, who is clearly and
undeniably also God, who has the power to forgive sins.
God gave this power to men.
Jesus said, ďBut that you may know that the Son of Man has
power on earth to forgive sins.Ē Jesus proved his authority to forgive by healing the manís
paralysis. That much is
clear. What should be
equally clear to us is that the Son of Man retains His power on earth to
forgive sins because He has given this power to men.
Mere sinful, mortal, erring men have the power here on this earth
to forgive sins in the name of and by the authority of Jesus Christ
The One to whom the treasure
belongs has the power to give the treasure away.
He purchased the power He gave.
God doesnít forgive sins in opposition to His nature as a holy
and just God. God forgives sins and God forgives sinners in accordance with
His nature as a just God. Listen
to how St. Paul sets this forth:
God is just to justify the one
who believes in Jesus because Jesus has shed His blood to redeem us and
to take away Godís anger against us by taking away our sins.
Jesus has the full right to forgive sinners their sins because
Jesus has purchased full forgiveness for all sinners by redeeming us
with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.
If Jesus has the right to
forgive sinners their sins Jesus also has the right to give us the right
to forgive sinners their sins in His holy name.
And that is precisely what He has done.
This man is blaspheming!
So the scribes slandered Jesus.
But Jesus answered their slander by proving He had the authority
to forgive sins here on earth where sinners live.
And Jesus has given to His church on earth the same authority.
When the minister of Christ speaks Christís words of
forgiveness to the penitent the penitent is forgiven of his sins just as
surely as was that paralytic that Jesus forgave nearly two thousand
years ago. Only God can
forgive sins! So people
argue against the absolution, against Holy Baptism, and against the
Lordís Supper. Their argument is that no man laying on the hands or pouring
water or distributing sacramental elements can give the forgiveness of
sins to sinners. But they
most certainly can. They
can because Jesus says so. Jesus
is the One who is doing the forgiving when mere sinful men speak in His
stead and by His command.
But the mere saying of words
canít accomplish anything, can it?
Think of the unbelievers who told Jesus to leave their town.
Think of the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees who questioned
Jesusí authority to forgive helpless and sinful people.
Think of all the unbelievers who have heard Jesus words and
despised Jesus and His suffering, shut their hearts to His gospel, and
refused to acknowledge their sin. Certainly
they are not forgiven! Well,
they certainly havenít received forgiveness.
They may not regard themselves as forgiven by God because
forgiveness comes only from Jesus and they do not have Jesus.
But the words of the gospel and the sacraments most certainly do
give forgiveness. Those who
donít believe the words donít receive what the words give.
But this does not mean that the words donít give what the words
say. They arenít mere
human words, but divine words. Christ
forces Himself on no one, but wherever His words are spoken, there He
Himself is pleased to be, forgiving helpless and undeserving sinners.
Christís church is that
assembly of believers who want to be with Jesus and hear His words of
forgiveness. The church
lives on the words of absolution. She sees these words as her greatest treasure and her most
compelling need. It has
happened that churches have shut Jesus out and Heís been left standing
on the outside, knocking on the door of His own church, inviting Himself
But He wonít break down the
door. Instead, He will speak.
By speaking through men He will absolve. He, who has all authority in heaven and on earth, will
continue to forgive sins here on earth where sinners need it. His holy Christian Church on earth will be found wherever His
words are spoken, for by means of those words the Holy Spirit will call
and gather Christís church on earth.
Where and when God pleases He will bring unbelievers to faith by
the power of His almighty word. So
that we remain Christians, we will go to where that pure gospel is
proclaimed and we will never ask Jesus to leave.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus