The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
October 6, 2013
Christ’s Evangelical Authority
St. Matthew 9:1-8
So he got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city. Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you." And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, "This Man blasphemes!" But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise and walk'? 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. St. Matthew 9:1-8
While the four Gospels are filled with extraordinary events and claims, this particular event is one of the most striking. It epitomizes the difference between Jesus and the religious establishment. And it’s timely. The very same objections that were raised against Jesus’s claims in the first century when he was walking the roads and highways throughout Judea are raised today in the United States of America. Examining the words of our text for today, three things come to mind. First, Jesus claims a different sort of authority than does the religious establishment. Second, his claims cause offense. Third, his authority brings glory to God.
Jesus claims a different sort of authority than does the religious establishment. The religious establishment considers what the market demands and sets out to meet market demands. Religion is like any other commodity. It is advertised, packaged, and sold. What it offers is what the market demands. If people don’t buy it, it won’t sell and selling is what religion is all about.
Check it out for yourself and see. The unsolicited magazines, fliers, and other literature mailed in bulk to churches across America treat the gospel as a commodity to market. Find out what the people want and give it to them. Invariably, the gospel is presented as something that will improve their lives, finances, relationships, and so forth.
What would the religious establishment say that the paralytic lying on a mat needed most? What appears to you to be the man’s most pressing need? To be able to walk! Think of the miserable life this man had to face every single day! There were no wheelchairs in those days. There was no handicap access. If he wanted to get from here to there, people had to carry him. Day after day, he was completely dependent upon the charity of his friends, unable to do anything for himself. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t even go to the toilet without depending on others to take him. Nobody could heal him. His friends hear about Jesus and they seek him out. They bring him to Jesus for healing. And what does Jesus do?
Jesus looks at this pathetic man, unable to stand, unable to walk, requiring the help of others to accomplish the most basic functions of life, and in looking at the man’s need for bodily healing – a need obvious to anyone with eyes – Jesus does not heal his body. He forgives him. He says to him, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.”
Imagine yourself in that man’s place. What do you expect from Jesus? You have just been brought before the One who has demonstrated power to cast out demons, still a storm, and cure all kinds of diseases simply by speaking the word. You are paralyzed, lying on a mat. What do you expect from Jesus? But Jesus doesn’t do what you expect. He does what you need. You may not be able to walk. Your life is severely limited. You have few options open to you. But there is something you need more than the ability to stand up and walk. That is the forgiveness of your sins. Your sins are a greater burden than your paralysis.
Here is where faith is formed and Jesus is the One who forms it. You think you know what you need the most, and of course, the religious entrepreneurs have just what you are looking for! But Jesus knows what you need and he has the authority to provide it. You need the forgiveness of sins. No other need in your life comes close. You need the forgiveness of sins because God made you in his own image and you cannot be what God created you to be unless and until your sins against God are taken away.
“Son, be of good cheer.” A child of God isn’t afraid. A child of God is safe, secure, and confident. A son or daughter of God has a status that nobody can deny or take away. And you become a child of God when God forgives you your sins. Whatever else you need in life; whatever else you fear in life; whatever else brings you pain, frustration, or anxiety is overcome by the power of the forgiveness of sins. Because if God has forgiven you, if he doesn’t hold your sins against you, this means he is not angry with you, he will not punish you, he holds nothing against you, and he will move heaven and earth for your benefit. He won’t deny you anything you need. If God is willing to forgive you all your sins, he is on your side. There is not a part of your life he won’t bless. All depends on him forgiving you your sins.
Only Jesus has this authority. This sets him apart from other religious leaders who promise everything else but the forgiveness of sins. They offer you their own versions of peace, fulfillment, consciousness, health, success, wealth, or whatever – but only the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world can forgive you. Only Jesus can give you what you really need in life.
His claims cause offense. It is the religious folks who are offended. They are offended by his claim to have the authority to forgive sins. Sins are committed against God. Therefore only God has the authority to forgive sins. Who does Jesus think he is? God?
Well, as a matter of fact, that’s exactly what he thinks. For the three years between his baptism in the Jordan and his crucifixion on Calvary Jesus showed by many infallible proofs that he was indeed God in the flesh. He did what only God could do. He proved his authority to do what only God could do by doing what only God could do over and over again. He changed water into wine. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead, stilled the storm, and fed thousands of hungry people with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of small fish. By doing what only God could do Jesus showed that he was God. God has the authority to forgive sins. Jesus is God. Jesus has the authority to forgive sins.
They were not only offended by Jesus’s claim to have the authority to forgive sins; they were offended by how Jesus exercised that authority. He insisted on forgiving people who didn’t deserve it: the woman caught in adultery, the woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, tax collectors, and various other undeserving sinners. Jesus forgave freely without exacting a cost. After all, he would pay the cost.
Don’t misunderstand the free grace of God. And don’t join with Jesus’ critics in being offended by what he does. When Jesus freely forgives sinners he is not teaching that forgiveness is free. It isn’t. Forgiveness is freely given, but it is not free. It is very expensive. Jesus paid for the forgiveness he gives. He purchased it with his own innocent suffering and death. Grace is not absolute – that is to say, grace doesn’t stand alone. Grace depends on the obedience of Jesus, on the suffering of Jesus, on Jesus living a perfectly righteous life and receiving in his own body the punishment of God against the sins of the world.
Christ’s obedience, suffering, and death is referred to as his vicarious satisfaction. Vicarious means he did it in our place, as our substitute. Satisfaction means he has satisfied the demands of God’s law. He has obeyed them perfectly and he has suffered fully for our disobedience. The vicarious satisfaction is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. Nowhere does Jesus or the Bible claim the authority to forgive sins without the shedding of blood. Every time Jesus forgives anyone, it is by virtue of his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.
This is how Christ’s authority to forgive sins here on earth brings glory to God. God gets all the credit, praise, and glory. The most devoted and religious activity of the holiest saints does not bring to God the glory that his dear Son gives to him when he forgives unworthy sinners. Remember that! Remember, when you have done wrong and you feel estranged from God, and you want to avoid coming to church, you want to avoid eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood, you want to avoid Christians, because you feel inside that this isn’t really where you belong. Remember that when you come to Christ with your guilty and broken heart and he absolves you of all your sins, this brings glory to God. St. Matthew writes that the crowds marveled and glorified God for giving such power to men. When Jesus healed the paralytic’s legs he gave him the ability to walk around here on earth, proving his power to forgive him his sins. When Jesus forgave him his sins he set him at peace with God and made him a citizen of heaven and an heir of eternal life.
This is what Jesus does right here in this place every single time we gather together in his name and by his authority. Jesus claimed the authority to forgive sins here on earth. He exercises that authority here on earth where we sinners live.
The paralytic had friends. Friends brought him to Jesus. Friends keep on bringing their friends to Jesus. Here is Jesus. No, we’re not a big crowd. We’re not the richest or the most prestigious group in our community, but we have Jesus. Where his gospel is purely preached and his sacraments are rightly administered, there he chooses to be. He forgives sinners and sets them free from the binding power of sin. He sends the forgiveness of sins with them wherever they go. It is not just the minister of Christ through whom Jesus forgives sinners here on earth. He forgives through the words spoken by all of his children when they bring the gospel of the forgiveness of sins to those suffering from guilt.
The chief topic of the Christian religion is that poor, lost sinners are justified by God and forgiven of all their sins freely by God’s grace through faith alone in the suffering and death of Jesus and not by their own good works. This precious teaching gives all the glory to God. It offends the proud. It scandalizes those who are working their way to heaven. But for guilty sinners in search of righteousness this precious truth raises them up from the paralysis of sin and enables them to live lives that glorify God. The Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins. He will exercise this power until the end of time.
Rolf D. Preus