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This, Therefore, That

Matthew 9:1-8

Pastor Robin Fish

19th Sunday after Trinity
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

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Sun, Oct 30, 2011 

Matthew 9:1-8

And getting into a boat, He crossed over, and came to His own city.  And behold, they were bringing to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed; and Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, "Take courage, My son, your sins are forgiven."  And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, "This fellow blasphemes."  And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, "Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, and walk'?  But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" - then He said to the paralytic - "Rise, take up your bed, and go home." And he rose, and went home.  But when the multitudes saw this, they were filled with awe, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

This, Therefore, That

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our Gospel lesson this morning tells us about a healing, and a whole lot more.  We can observe a principle at work in this account that I call "This, therefore, that".  It is the principle that argues from the lesser to the greater, or observes that sometimes because one thing is true, something else must also be true.

For example, you are here, therefore you must have gotten out of bed this morning.  That is a simple example of how one thing follows from another.  The Gospel lesson gives us a much more complex and powerful example, wherein Jesus does something no one else could really do, and He says things rightly that no one else could rightly say, and He can do it because one thing necessarily follows the other.  He can do things that only God can do, for example, because He is God.  With that much introduction, then, I invite you to consider our Gospel lesson this morning under the theme, This, Therefore, That.

Our Gospel is an account that tells us things that it doesn't say directly, and it says plenty.  Jesus had just come from the calming a storm on the sea and then cleansing the Gadarene demoniac, casting the Legion of evil spirits which had possessed the man into the herd of pigs, who then rushed into the Sea of Galilee to drown themselves.  Why they did that, I am not sure - but they did.  Perhaps it was because they wanted to be free, or as free as they could be for the time being, and, perhaps, because it was a symbol.  You see the common belief back then was that any body of water, the underwater part, was the abode of the evil spirits.  People who went out into the water often drown - they went under and never came back up alive.  The superstition of the people held that the demons, who dwelled in the water, pulled them under and killed them.  When the demons ran the herd of pigs into the sea, they were just acting out the local superstition - going where demons belong.  Demons like to confirm our fears about them, or so it seems.

Now Jesus enters His own city - not Nazareth, but Capernaum.  Then "they", someone, brought to Jesus this man who was paralyzed.  Other Gospels tell us about the crowd around Jesus and how the man was lowered through a section of the roof which they had torn up - but those details aren't in this Gospel account.  It is clear that they brought the man to Jesus so He could do something.  One would assume that they were looking for a healing.

But Matthew tells us that Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, "Take courage, My son, your sins are forgiven."  Notice that Jesus looked at their faith.  We can assume that they wanted a physical healing, but their faith had to do with sins, and the consequences of sin, and their hope and trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus answered what He saw inside, in their faith, not what He saw on the outside.

Their attitude and faith makes more sense than the modern mind might recognize at first blush.  The Jews lived in a society that interpreted every catastrophic illness as a response by God to their sin.  It would be reasonable to say that because the man was paralyzed, he and his friends imagined that his sins had caused this state.  But that isn't what Jesus saw - or at least that isn't what the text tells us that He saw.  We are told that He saw their faith, not their guilt.  He saw the hope for forgiveness, not simply a sense that one sin or another had merited this man's troubles.

In any case, Jesus responded by encouraging the paralytic and then forgiving his sins.  That is when the scribes - local religious experts - got involved.  They stood there aghast!  They probably shook their heads as they said to themselves, "This fellow blasphemes!" They accused Jesus of blasphemy because they knew, as a matter of common knowledge in their society, that only God had the power or authority to actually forgive sins. Certainly, anyone could say it, but since sin is against God, only God can actually forgive sin.  Incidentally, we run into that same fundamental attitude today when many Protestants look askance at our confession and absolution, saying that man does not have the power (and they mean "authority") to forgive sins.  "Only God can do that!", they say.

Jesus not only saw the faith of the paralytic, He heard the unbelief of the Scribes.  He knew their thoughts, and so He challenged their unbelief, putting them to the test.  He asked them why they were thinking evil in their hearts.  When you deny that God has the power to do what He says that He will do, or when you question the validity and power of the Word of God, you are thinking evil.  You are doing the devil's work.

But, to be fair, we need to ask, how could they know?  How could we know?

Well, Jesus was right there, right in front of them.  He fed thousands on what amounted to a sack lunch.  He healed the sick somewhat regularly.  He preached the clear and pure Word of God.  That should have spoken to their hearts, if they were God's people to begin with.  He was fulfilling prophecies of the Messiah.  He doing precisely what the Messiah was supposed to do - and they, the Scribes, the teachers of the Law and the scholars of the Scriptures, were supposed to know.  They were responsible to know.  And they actually did know, but they did not want to accept it.  The situation was somewhat similar to 'closed communion' among us.  We Lutherans know it, we have been taught it all along.  But some people, who know better, just don't like it, and they don't want it to be so, so they reject it, and they question it, and they deny it.  That's what the Scribes were doing with Jesus in our Gospel lesson this morning.

And how are we supposed to know when we confront similar sorts of things?  Same way.  It is in the Word of God.  We are responsible, whether we acknowledge the responsibility or take the responsibility or not.  You have the right - and the duty - to say, "What does God's Word say?" You have the right and the responsibility to ask the Lutheran question, "What does this mean?" But when you have heard the Word of God, and heard it clearly and faithfully expounded, you are no longer free to doubt, deny, or question, if you are God's child.  If you are a Christian, you are responsible to believe it.

For those Scribes, that day, Jesus demonstrated the answer to their question with what I call "This, Therefore, That".  He asked them, "which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, and walk'?" Here Jesus had the Scribes over a barrel.  Sure, it is easier to say, "Your sins are forgiven."  Who can tell if it was so?  It isn't like you can see forgiveness at work.  But if you say, "Rise and walk", the proof is in the pudding - the paralyzed man either gets up and walks - or he doesn't.  You either can do it or you cannot.  But the problem they faced in answering Jesus on that day is that they knew that only God could actually do either one.  That means, of course, that if you could heal the man's paralysis, then you must be God, or have the power to do so from Him, and if so, you actually did possess the authority to forgive sins.  If He actually possessed that authority, then Jesus wasn't guilty of blasphemy, they were.  Unfortunately, they couldn't answer Jesus honestly like that, however, without opening themselves to the charge of blasphemy.  So they remained silent.

So Jesus said, "But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" - then He said to the paralytic - "Rise, take up your bed, and go home."  And he rose, and went home.  With one brief sentence, Jesus demonstrated His authority - the authority to heal, and, therefore, also the authority to forgive sins.  And in the act which demonstrated that authority, Jesus also illustrated His great love.  He saw the need of the man and met it, without regard for how others would perceive it, or what they would say.  He loved the man, He had compassion, and He gave the paralytic what he needed most - forgiveness.  Then, as a bonus, Jesus gave him what he needed next - the healing.  Thereby Jesus demonstrated His love.

We have the principle of this, therefore, that demonstrated for us - Jesus has the authority to heal, and therefore He has the authority to forgive sins.  And He has given that authority - the authority to forgive sins - to the Church, to be exercised by the pastors in the holy absolution.  He gave that authority to the Church after His resurrection - it is recorded in John 20:22-23, He [Jesus] breathed on them [the disciples], and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."  Jesus bound Himself to their absolution, and ours, for the comfort and encouragement and faith of those who would believe.  That is why our Small Catechism says, "I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, especially when they . . . absolve those who repent, it is as valid and certain, in heaven also, as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us Himself." So, when I pronounced your forgiveness this morning, you were truly cleansed.

We also see the love of Christ.  He demonstrated it, of course, in His great compassion toward this paralyzed man, granting him forgiveness first and healing second.  We have that love even more clearly demonstrated on the cross.  Jesus said once, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."  Jesus demonstrated His love for us by dying for us.  He died for our benefit and in our place, the death that we have earned by sinning.  Because of Jesus and His death and resurrection, we have been forgiven.  Once again, this, therefore, that.  God is giving us the forgiveness that Jesus has earned instead of what our sins have deserved.

He is also showing us His love in that He has granted this authority to forgive to the Church, for our comfort and our peace.  He also gives us the same comfort and peace in the Holy Sacrament, thereby showing us our forgiveness, and handing to us, if you will, in such a personal way that we cannot doubt that He has included us in His grace.  It is almost like when Jesus spoke directly to the paralytic.  He has spoken also directly to each of us - and feeds us with His body and gives us to drink of His true blood so that there is no room for doubt in us.

Just as He did for the paralytic back then, Jesus forgives us first, and then He heals us.  He heals us of death and hell, and heals us of spiritual corruption.  One day soon He will follow the forgiveness of our sins with the total healing of our bodies in the resurrection to life eternal.

In the meantime, we enjoy that same love, compassion, and authority at work on our behalf.  We can dare to live life boldly and confidently in the grace of God because God is there with us.  He is watching us and protecting us, and when we fall, He is there with the power and the clearly demonstrated will to forgive us when we sin and to heal us from whatever stands in our lives to hinder us from serving Him.

How do I do I know that?  Well, there are a lot of ways to know.  I have read it in God's Word.  I have experienced God's goodness, His providence and supply, and His power and desire to rescue and bless me.  But I know because in the life of this paralyzed man, and because on the cross, He demonstrated the greatest love one man can have for another, and laid down His life for me, and for you, and for you.  So I know.  I am willing to risk my life on it.  I do, in fact every day.  I am willing to surrender some possible pleasures and ego-gratification for Christ's sake, and for the sake of the ministry, and I know that whatever I give up, He has better waiting for me.  He has explained that in His Word as well.  Whatever I may surrender or let just pass me by, Jesus has promised that He will bless me with so much more both now and in heaven.  And even if I should lose my life, I know that there is an eternity of life, and of a better life than what I have now, waiting for me when Jesus shall call me home and stand me in His presence in eternity, How do I know?  This - the Gospel - therefore, that- the hope of salvation!.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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