"Your sins are forgiven you."
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It is all too easy for us to doubt the power of God in the lives of men. When you look around you and see all the suffering of humanity—when you see a young woman struggling over her last breath as cancer wins its battle with her body, when you see your life flash before your eyes as the car pulls out in front of you, when you see your parent slowly losing his grasp on sanity as dementia overtakes his mind—it is all too easy to question the goodness and power of God in our lives. Sinners that we are, even as we consider our baptism or kneel in confession or stand before the altar rail, it’s easy to look at the water of baptism or the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, to hear the words of Holy Absolution, and to question their power. Is this Word of God really effective? After all, we can’t read the hearts and souls of men—not even our own hearts and souls—to find out if the forgiveness of sins is doing its work in our hearts. There is no warm and tingly physical sensation to tell us that the Word of God is proving itself powerful in our lives. And without some sort of proof, we don’t trust the Word of God. After all, as the saying goes, talk is cheap. Like the Pharisees and Scribes, our flesh and our reason want nothing to do with the Word of God. These things hear only what they want to hear; they believe only what they want to believe.
When the friends of the paralyzed man brought him to Jesus, our Lord said to him, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” It might seem that Jesus missed the point. After all, this man was paralyzed. Wouldn’t it seem to you that the man’s problem was a physical issue, not a spiritual one? It might seem that way to us, but we don’t think or understand the way the Lord does. To Him, the connection between sin and suffering is apparent. Adam and Eve were not created to die. It is only after they partook of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that they were exiled from the fruit of the tree of life. It is only after they disobeyed the command of God that they became subject to illness, disease, and death. In other words, if this man did not inherit original sin from our first parents, Adam and Eve, he would not have experienced paralysis; he would not have needed healing. He is experiencing what the Apostle Paul calls “the wages of sin”. When Jesus speaks forgiveness to the paralyzed man, he is actually dealing with the man’s greater need, the greater dilemma: the sin which is the cause of the man’s suffering.
So which is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Arise and walk”? You can answer either way, but the reasoning behind the answer is the same. If you assert that it’s easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” it seems easier to say because it’s harder to prove the forgiveness of sins. If you assert that it’s easier to say, “Arise and walk,” it’s because it’s easier to prove that someone has been healed of that which has prevented them from walking. It comes down to proof. We want it, and we want God to provide it. But whichever is easier to say, the person who makes either statement has encroached on God’s territory: for it is because of sin that sickness, suffering and death entered God’s perfect and holy creation; and only God has the power to forgive sin.
But for Jesus, there is no encroachment. Jesus can and does speak both of these with equal ease. He is not stepping on God’s toes, for He is God. Here our Lord reveals Himself as the Savior and Healer of body and soul. The One who has power over the spiritual disease of sin must also have the power to heal the physical diseases which assail us. So which would make us believe that Jesus is the Christ, true God and true Man? For the crowds that day, it was both together that made them fear and believe. And the same holds true for us. The One who can heal our bodies is the same One who can forgive our sins: Jesus Christ. The One who has the power to forgive our sins is the same One who will raise up our bodies on the last day, and we will no longer be subject to the corruption of the flesh through sin. The work of redemption will be completely fulfilled. We will sin no more, and our bodies will never again break or bruise or fail us. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He is the Lord, and the curse of sin that, for now, allows us to die, He will undo forever.
Do you question the power of Holy Absolution when your pastor speaks it to the whole congregation? Are you concerned that the Lord might not be able to hear your confession and address your specific sins? I assure you, the Lord knows your heart, no matter how many people are confessing around you. Is your conscience burdened by something that you believe the Lord could never forgive? I assure you, there is no sin you could confess that Jesus Christ did not die to forgive. Nevertheless, the Lord has graciously provided for you individually, too. The invitation is for you, and it stands open: come to your pastor by yourself. Speak to him in a private setting the sin that troubles you. Confess your sin before the Lord individually. The words of Holy Absolution which your pastor will speak are the words of Christ’s forgiveness, which Jesus applies to you personally, whether you make confession in the midst of the Divine Service or in the solitude of Individual Confession and Absolution. It is for you, given to you individually. As our Introit says, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears. He delivers them out of all their troubles. For this is God, our God forever and ever.” Your sin is removed from you as far as east is from west. It is removed from you, and the Lord never looks at it again. You are cleansed of that sin, and He will never again hold that sin against you.
Every gift of forgiveness is for you. Every healing of body and soul which you receive is a precious gift from God. We receive that healing again today. We received it in the Word of Holy Absolution, spoken by your pastor as by Christ Himself. And we will receive it again as we taste that forgiveness on our tongues in the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth—power over flesh and blood, and power over those things that afflict the soul. Cling to that Word. Cling to the forgiveness of sins. Cling to the promise of the resurrection of the body on the last day, the full healing of body and soul. Do not doubt the power of the Word. Be of good cheer, son of God, for your sins are forgiven you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.