Trinity 19 Sermon, 2016
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Friday, I went on an adventure through parts of Macoupin and Sangamon counties. It sounds so much better when I say it that way.
A little before nine in the morning, I paid my first visit to the Carlinville Emergency Room. I have only positive things to say about the ER there, but, unfortunately, they had to transfer me to the ER at St. John’s in Springfield.
I’ll spare you the details, but that’s how I spent my Friday.
When Christian’s suffer, it’s perfectly reasonable to wonder why, to accuse God, like Job did, with wrongdoing. To compare the many and various miraculous healings that Jesus accomplished during His earthly ministry with the many and various ailments that afflict humanity today, seemingly, without any care or concern coming from God.
That is a reasonable reaction to our suffering, but not a faithful one.
We hear and see Jesus heal the paralytic man by forgiving his sins, and we wonder why God doesn’t interact with us in the same way.
Why are there surprise trips to the ER, and broken ankles, and sick children, and, and, and…
It’s scandalous to us that forgiveness is no longer accompanied by miraculous healing.
Now that’s interesting, because the scandal in today’s Gospel lesson isn’t Jesus healing the paralytic but forgiving his sins.
“Behold, some people brought to [Jesus] a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.’ And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming’” (Matthew 9:2-3).
First of all, it’s a modern notion that healing and forgiveness are different.
From Psalm 41: “The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health. As for me, I said, ‘O Lord, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you’” (Psalm 41:3-4). Healing is required because of sin, and the Lord is gracious.
From Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name…who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:1,3).
That’s Hebrew parallelism. In Hebrew poetry, you would say the same thing in two different ways, one after the other, to emphasize your point. In this case, God forgives iniquity and He heals diseases and that’s the same thing.
And from Isaiah 38: “Oh restore me to health and make me live! Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back” (Isaiah 38:16-17). Again, God delivered my life casting my sins behind His back.
The forgiveness of sins is the healing of our bodies.
The scandal for the scribes is Jesus is forgiving sins apart from the temple, apart from the shed blood of a sacrifice, apart from the presence of God.
And, of course, our response to that is, “No, Jesus is the temple, He is the sacrifice, He is God. It makes perfect sense for Him to forgive sins.”
The scandal for us is not that our sins are forgiven by men.
Every Divine Service begins with Confession and Absolution where a man, a sinful man at that, declares to you all, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord, Jesus Christ, I forgive you all of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” To which you respond with “Amen!” meaning, “Yes! It’s true!”
Consider, too, the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray in this way regarding the forgiveness of sins: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (cf. Luke 11:4; Matthew 6:12).
Not only can man forgive, he should always forgive.
But, again, the scandal for us isn’t the forgiveness of sins.
The scandal for us is that forgiveness is no longer accompanied by miraculous healing.
Or is it?
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus forgives, and He heals.
“Knowing [the scribes’] thoughts, [Jesus] said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—‘Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And he rose and went home” (Matthew 9:4-7).
Jesus forgives, and He heals.
It’s perfectly reasonable to hear that and conclude that Jesus must also forgive and heal us today exactly like that.
It’s reasonable to do so. But it isn’t faithful.
That Peter walked on water, that early Christians spoke in tongues, that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren’t burned by the fire doesn’t mean that you can walk on water, that you can speak in tongues, that you can play with fire and not get burned.
Miracles are not promises for what your earthly life will look like.
“In many and various ways God spoke to the people of old by the prophets, but now in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1).
Miracles show Jesus’ authority over creation.
Jesus says, “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” (Matthew 9:6) then He healed the paralytic.
Miracles demonstrate God’s kingdom. And what I mean by that is this: you aren’t promised earthly healing. You aren’t promised earthly wealth, or health, or even joy.
Job eventually received from the Lord twice what he lost, but even while He lacked, God was faithful.
In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Lazarus had nothing to look forward to in his earthly life except maybe the dogs licking his sores; nevertheless, God was faithful.
When you suffer, when you’re sick, even when unthinkable tragedy befalls you and yours, not only is God still faithful, He has also already provided for your everlasting forgiveness and health.
We believe and confess the resurrection.
All of Jesus’ miracles show us what God’s kingdom looks like, what the resurrection looks like, and what we have to look forward to.
The Christian’s difficulty is that we experience this in a “now and not yet” kind of way.
It’s now true that you have the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of the resurrection, when God will say to you, “Rise and walk.”
But it’s also now true that you endure the pain and suffering and groaning of this world.
It’s now true that you are righteous in the sight of God by faith in His Son, Jesus.
But it’s also now true that sin clings to your members and fights against God.
In this daily back and forth between faith and sin, it’s easy to suffer and forget the healing that is ours for Christ’s sake.
What is most helpful, I think, is to remember what the Church teaches regarding Justification, how you are made righteous before God.
Your sins and the sins of the whole world are forgiven. Forgiveness before God for Christ’s sake is an undeniable fact.
This is called Objective Justification.
“In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Objectively, all sin is forgiven. Period. Full stop. The blood of Jesus avails for all sinners everywhere.
If that sounds strange to you, hear me rightly: Universalism teaches that everyone, eventually, goes to heaven.
Objective Justification is what Paul teaches: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…[and this is] to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25).
Do you see how marvelous that is?
You can’t out sin the crucifixion of Jesus, the sacrifice of God’s blood for your redemption.
Don’t try, but never fear that God has abandoned you, that you’re too much of a sinner for God to love, or that “you” doesn’t mean you when Jesus says, “Take heart, my [child]; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2) or when your pastor says, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord, Jesus Christ, I forgive you.”
As familiar as those words are, we still need to be encouraged to believe them. And to live our lives believing them.
The forgiveness of sins in Christ and the promise of the healing of the resurrection doesn’t make our lives immediately easier.
In the “now and not yet” of our forgiveness and health in Christ, we wait. And if you’re familiar with Tom Petty, you know that the waiting is the hardest part.
So while we wait, help those who are in need.
Help and be of service to those who doubt their forgiveness and health in Christ, bring them to Jesus, bring them to church, where they can hear God’s Word, the Gospel, and by hearing believe that their sins are forgiven and that they will live forever.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!