You’ve heard a string of bad news. Cancer. Surgery. Death. Loss of your job. The hits just keep on coming. Then someone has a new message for you: Take heart! Your sins are forgiven. Is it the truth? Is this truth going to comfort me? Is it for me in the first place? Then there’s the bigger question: Are there strings attached to this message?
Jesus spoke the message: Take heart! Your sins are forgiven to a paralytic. These words not only apply to him, but to you and me as well. They apply to every poor sinner. So let’s put these words to the test and see how well they apply to us some two-thousand years later.
Every poor sinner is confident when they hear their sins are forgiven because the words are certain truth as much as they are comforting truth. Jesus knows the thoughts of the experts in the Law who say Christ is blaspheming. After all, no man may say that someone’s sins are forgiven. Only God can forgive sins. They don’t, or won’t, know that Jesus is God and man in one person. Not only is He able to forgive sins, He is also able to heal the man.
The greater miracle among the two performed in Matthew chapter nine is forgiving sins. That is not to downplay the healing of the paralytic. The word spoken by our Savior does what He said it does. The man stands up, takes his stretcher, and goes home. Yet the words Jesus speaks about forgiveness also do what He says they do. Jesus Himself satisfies divine righteousness for sinners. That’s why Jesus takes on flesh: to earn and to deliver the forgiveness of sins. To show He’s not a liar, He adds the healing of the paralytic. It’s the extra whipped cream on top of the delicious ice cream sundae that is the forgiveness of sins.
You are like the paralytic in the fact that sin paralyzes you. There’s no way for you to delight in forgiveness of sins if you are in charge of your own forgiveness. Your righteousness outside of Christ is nothing. It’s a farce, a joke. It’s actually offensive and, worst of all, usurps authority from Jesus. The afflicted conscience needs a foreign righteousness; one that is outside himself. Christ’s righteousness is that resurrecting balm and consolation for the anxious conscience.
You see this firsthand when you are sick, or when a family member or your neighbor is hurting. Trusting in the foreign righteousness of Jesus Christ, a righteousness that comes from the outside in, brings either recovery from God’s hand or a blessed end under God’s guiding love. Both are welcome. Either you’ll recover from sickness and live a while, bringing joy to all who know you, or you’ll die a Christian death and fall asleep in the Savior. Though there is weeping for a time, joy comes sooner than later, for all who live in Christ shall die in Christ. Dying in Christ is slumber. We wait in joyful expectation for the certain hope of the resurrection.
Poor sinners are confident when hearing their sins are forgiven because no one who hears this forgiveness is excluded. Jesus never pulls a bait and switch with forgiveness. When He speaks this word of forgiveness to the paralytic, He also intends it to be heard by the experts in the Law, even everyone who was there that day, even us today. Jesus is certainly the very Son of God, yet He calls Himself the Son of Man here because He has become a genuine member of the human race in order to acquire forgiveness for all mankind. His life is a salvation for many, that is, for all, as He says elsewhere: the Son of Man came to save the lost.
Little do we realize that we are lost outside of Christ. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, “If I came to your church, I know, for a fact, that the walls would fall in and the roof will collapse. I’m such a so-called ‘sinner’ that the building couldn’t stand me being there.” Well, here we are. The walls remain. So does the roof. They remain not because we’re the righteous and the holy and have no need for a Savior. The opposite is true. The unrighteous and the profane gather here every week. Jesus alone is righteous and holy. Here’s where He gives those gifts that declare us righteous and holy: our Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Absolution, and even the Sermon.
Who would think that Jesus leaves forgiveness of sins in the hands of sinful men? He does. He confers this authority to the Church and to her ministers. They are given to forgive sins in His name, to preach the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins to all creatures. Whoever you are, wherever you are, even if you aren’t here, even if you can’t or won’t believe Jesus as Lord, take heart! Your sins are forgiven. That’s the message of the Christian Church even today.
The problem remains, even for the most faithful of Christians, that there’s strings attached to that message. Your sins are forgiven if…. Your sins are forgiven when…. Your sins are forgiven, but now…. Worse yet, Your sins are forgiven, give your offering to make sure it sticks. The Gospel is not for sale here. We Christians are in the business of giving something for nothing.
Jesus never asks the paralytic for anything in return. He never asks for anything from the people who bring the paralytic. His forgiveness is free, just as the healing was free. He made him well. He saw their faith, yet the experts in the Law go home empty because they would not believe. The only thing that excludes from salvation is unbelief. The Gospel makes no demands. The Gospel seeks and finds believing hearts that appropriate the Good News.
When the Gospel seeks and finds believing hearts, it also changes those hearts from stone into flesh. You are a new person when the Good News of forgiveness hits you. The paralytic became healthy. He stood up and walked. So you also walk in a new life in Christ. Clinging to Christ not only means rejoicing in forgiveness, but also rejoicing in the many ways you get to serve your neighbor. There are no strings attached. You don’t sigh as if you must do it because God is watching you. Faith in Christ can’t help but get busy looking for opportunities to serve. In all things throughout life, in how we live before God and neighbor, all glory belongs to God for His undeserved love. He gives us consolation in believing that we are in Christ, and Christ is in us.
Take heart! Your sins are forgiven. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.