Seminarian Brian Johnston, Vicar
+ Grace, mercy, and peace unto you, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. +
Have you ever had someone encourage you? What did they say? Did they say, “Keep it up!” “Good job!” “There you go!” These are some sayings that people say when you are already in the thick of whatever challenge to encourage you to keep going. They are words to help you persevere and see things through to the end. You will probably hear some of these sayings at the Brat Trot next week.
Perhaps you had someone encourage you to do something that you haven’t started yet. Maybe in such an instance they would say, “Go for it.” “Why not give it a shot?” Or, “Just do it!”
And what do people tell you when things are not going well or not going the way you had hoped? Maybe they would say, “Come on! You can do it!” “Never give up!” “Hang in there!” Hopefully you have had people in your life that have encouraged you in these ways. Doesn’t it feel good to have someone believe in you? When someone believes in you, you really do feel encouraged. You feel as if whatever is going on, things are going to be okay.
As we think about this text for today, I wonder how the friends of the paralytic encouraged him to see Jesus. Surely they had heard of Jesus and what he had been doing. They surely heard that Jesus has been healing the sick and casting out demons and feeding people by the thousands with minimal food! And if Jesus can do that surely he would be able to heal their friend who is paralyzed. I mean it’s worth a shot!
And so they brought their friend to Jesus. In the parallel texts in Mark and Luke they lowered their friend through the roof to get him to Jesus so that He could heal their friend. And when they finally get him to Jesus, the first thing that Jesus says when he sees their faith is, “Θάρσει” (tharsay) “Be encouraged.” “Take heart, child. Your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). One could imagine all of them being dumbfounded by Jesus’ words. They came to have Jesus heal their friend of paralysis, not to ask for forgiveness. But yet Jesus is encouraging the paralytic, his friends, and us through this statement. But why are Jesus’ words encouraging?
Well to start, to tell this man, “Good job!” does nothing to help the situation. And simply healing the man does not deal with his deepest need, which is the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is going to deal with the man’s deepest need before he heals the man. He is going to take care of the man’s salvation and forgive him before he deals with the man’s paralysis. In fact, when Jesus says to him, “Take heart, child. Your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2) he is indicating that He is here to not only heal the man of his paralysis, but even save him from his sins. And if Jesus forgives sins, which only God can do, surely he can and will heal his physical disabilities.
Now Jesus doesn’t have to heal the man of his physical disabilities. He could have stopped with forgiving his sins. But Jesus doesn’t just do the easy thing, which is forgiving the man’s sins, but he does the hard thing and heals the man of his paralysis, “So you know that the Son of Man has authority on the earth to forgive sins” (Matthew 9:6). It is for your benefit today that Jesus heals this man of his paralysis. In demonstrating his authority to heal this man’s paralysis, he shows that he is the one who has authority and will bring people to salvation through the forgiveness of sins because of his atoning sacrifice on the cross. Jesus, in healing man shows that he will forgive even your sins.
But just as Jesus says these encouraging words to the paralytic, he says them also to you today, “Take heart, child. Your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). And sometimes in our lives he stops there. Not because he is not concerned about cancer. Not because he doesn’t care about your heart attack or stroke. Not because you didn’t pray hard enough or believe enough. But because our deepest need is the same as the paralytic. Like the man who was paralyzed physically, we are paralyzed in our sin. We are incapable to get up and walk away from it. Rather we lay there in our sinful state. We need someone to declare our paralysis in sin forgiven so that we may get up and walk in the path of righteousness. We need salvation. We need restoration.
And we find that salvation and restoration through the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ crucified. Because of the cross of Christ, God declares us back into a state of righteousness. The forgiveness of sins that is won for us on the cross, which is received in baptism through faith assures us of our salvation and is our restoration. It is in baptism where you are called a child of God and he forgives you and restores you to do your God given vocation. With forgiveness comes restoration which allows one to pick up their mat and go home. Jesus restores his creation through the forgiveness of sins. You are righteous, a new creation. He has restored you through the washing of water in baptism. He restores his creation back to the way it was in the Garden of Eden where no sin existed and everyone did their vocation according to the order of creation.
When Jesus heals the man of his paralysis, he is now able to carry out his vocation to the fullest extent. He is no longer bound to his paralysis. He is not stuck lying where he is at. Instead of having others take care of him and bringing him to Jesus, he is now encouraged and set free to be a man and be the head of his household and bring them to Jesus. He is now able to tell them what Jesus has done for him. How Jesus encouraged him in forgiving his sin knowing with full assurance that Jesus was going to heal his paralysis. Jesus, through forgiving him, saved him and gave him hope and comfort for a future, an everlasting future with Him.
And such encouragement is still here for us today. The church is given the authority to forgive sins. And where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation. For the sake of good order and by Christ’s institution we call a man to do this in our congregations to forgive sins in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ. He does so not on his own authority, but rather on Christ’s authority. Forgiveness is still given by God, but exercised through ordinary men for the sake of good order, and there is trust and confidence that what is confessed during private absolution is not shared with anyone, because it belongs to Jesus. And He forgives and remembers your sins no more.
When our sins are forgiven, Jesus sends us back home and we are encouraged and comforted to carry out our daily vocations. To be the forgiven husband who loves your wife as Christ loves the Church. To be forgiven wives who submit to the husband and nurture’s the family. To be parents who instruct your children in the way of the Lord. To be children who honor father and mother so that they, “May live long on the earth” (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16) the forgiveness of sins we are set free to go home and work whole heartedly for our employers, or be students and study faithfully and diligently, and we all are to love everyone the way that Christ has loved us. Who would have thought that the forgiveness of sins could free us and encourage us to do so much?
Christ’s words today are extremely encouraging because he does not direct you to your prayers. He does not demand that you make a sacrifice for your forgiveness. Rather he sees you, he sees your faith, and declares to you today, “Take heart, child. Your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). He says this through the Scriptures and his preached word. He says it through ordinary men, especially through the words of your pastor during private absolution. And he says this to you in His Supper, where we receive His body and blood given and shed for you. This is for the forgiveness of your sins. This Supper is to strengthen and encourage you in your faith until life everlasting when we are fully restored and are told to go home to be with Jesus forever and ever in heaven.
+ The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. +