The Bigger Deal
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
So, which is easier? Is it easier to say to the paralytic to, “Get up and walk,” or to say, “Your sins are forgiven?” In many so-called Christian Churches, we are told that “Get up and walk” is the more important of the two, and so the harder to say, because there is empirical evidence to prove whether or not bodily healing has actually been accomplished. Like the Old Testament scribes, such modern-day Pharisees demand visible signs: healings, manifestations of the Spirit, speaking in tongues, or some other power that will prove that God is really with them.
We recently heard the account of the man Jesus healed on the Sabbath. And just as the Pharisees objected to Jesus healing on the Holy Day of the Lord, so the scribes objected to our Lord forgiving the sins of this paralyzed man. Since Jesus didn’t defile the Holy Day before the Pharisees, surely He must have blasphemed by forgiving this man’s sins in the presence of the Scribes. After all, everybody knows that God alone has the authority to forgive sins.
The world agrees, but for a different reason. Anyone can say that someone is forgiven by God. But the world requires a demonstration of power in a visible way before it will allow itself to believe. Do something—still the storm, heal the sick, make me wealthy, or raise the dead—and then I will believe. But the Scriptures are clear: even if someone comes back from the dead, they will not believe.
Jesus says that He heals the paralytic to prove that He can forgive sins. Jesus knows how we think, doesn't He? But our Lord’s answer to the question is the opposite of how we think. To win the forgiveness He delivers to the man, Christ must suffer. To earn the absolution He speaks to us, Jesus must be beaten, bruised, mocked, and finally die. The cost of the paralytic's salvation, the cost of your salvation, is the blood of Christ, shed on the cross.
The crowd rejoices over the healing. That’s a big deal, truly. But the man had been already made well by Christ before he could walk. Jesus forgave this man's sins! God reconciled this man to Himself in Christ. Whatever else was said about the paralytic at that point, whether he walked away or remained paralyzed, he was a child of God whose sins were forgiven. The big miracle was not the one the crowd thought was so impressive. Seeking the lesser miracle of healing, the paralytic received the greater miracle of forgiveness.
You are privileged to witness this miracle first-hand every Sunday. It's easy to miss. We don’t seem to think it’s very profound when your pastor, acting “in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ,” forgives your sins “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It seems mundane, but it’s a profound miracle. After all, every sin you commit in thought, word, and deed, every sinful thing you have done and every righteous thing you have ever left undone, was forgiven in Holy Absolution, covered in the blood of Jesus. This is as certain and sure as Christ your dear Lord had spoken that Word of forgiveness to you Himself! God makes you well by forgiving you all your sins in Absolution.
Which is easier: to forgive or to heal? Only Jesus knows the answer for sure, for He is the only one who can do both. Jesus healed the paralytic to prove that He had the authority to forgive the man’s sins. Jesus has forgiven your sins too. You are a child of God. No matter what else is true about you, you have already been made well by the forgiveness of Christ, won on the cross, and spoken by the mouth of your pastor. All glory be to God, who has given such power to men. 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.