Take Heart, Your Sins Are Forgiven (19th Sunday After Pentecost)

GRACE, MERCY AND PEACE are yours this day from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN.

The text for us to consider is our Gospel lesson where Jesus proves the authority of the Son of Man to forgive sins on earth, and heals the parlytic telling him to take up his bed and go home.

In the NAME of JESUS. AMEN.

Our text for today gives us the Gospel and shows us the consequences of faith so clearly that we might pass it by quickly, thinking we have exhausted it’s meaning with the merest of glances.

On the face of it, It is simply another confrontation between Jesus and the scribes. The Scribes assert that Jesus is blaspheming by offering the forgiveness of sins to this paralyzed man. The thought in their mind is, “Only God can forgive sins.” The irony, of course, is that they are accusing the divine Son of God, born in human flesh of blasphemy. As proof that God had, indeed, given such authority to men, Jesus heals the paralyzed man and sends him back to his home and his life.

But there is much more going on here. And this short text challenges us in both faith and faithfulness to the breaking point so that we find we, ourselves, are the ones who must be assured and comforted by Jesus’ words, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.”

Right from the outset, as we see some men bringing the paralytic, we are confronted. We aren’t told what they expect or desire for Jesus to do. What we are told is they have a faith that leads them to bring this broken, hurting man to Jesus.

How frequently we find that our own faith is paltry in comparison to these men. These men carry this man who knows how far. Another Gospel tells us that, when they arrive, the crowd was so large that they couldn’t approach Jesus, so they climbed the roof, hoisted the man up, cut a hole in the roof and lowered the man before Jesus.

How many of us would even consider doing the same for a friend or a coworker or even a family member? How often would our expression of faith simply be, “I’ll pray for you.” Or perhaps we’ll bury our faith deep and simply say, “Good luck!”

And just consider for a moment how much easier we have it than they do! Jesus comes among us several times per week – in this place – to speak to us and deliver His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation. There is rarely a crowd, there is no need for us to cut holes in the roof and lower people down for them to get in. We don’t need to carry them on our shoulders long distances. At most, we may need to stop in front of their house and beep the horn and offer them a ride.

How much easier we have it to bring people into the presence of Jesus than these men did, and we don’t. We can’t bring ourselves to do it. We can’t even bring ourselves to suggest that they come or ask them to meet us here – because all to often, we are embarassed or we somehow feel unprepared or unworthy to talk about who Jesus is and what He came to do.

Yes, indeed, it is sin to hide your faith. St. Peter says, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” And yet, how often do we prefer to stand in the shadows – and pretend we are not children of the light for the sake of appearances?

And so, here right out he gate, we are confronted with our own failures and our own lack of faith, our trust in Jesus wavers. Hear then for yourself the words that lead to life.

“Take heart, your sins are forgiven.”

Let these words take root in your heart – believe them, trust them, for they are certain and true. Don’t let them be taken from you through lies and deceit. Don’t give into the temptation to think, “You don’t understand who I am – what I’ve done or what I’ve failed to do! There are some things that just cannot be forgiven.”

“Take heart, your sins are forgiven.”

Jesus has died for all sins. There is nothing outside of the circle of what is forgiven in Christ.

Therefore, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven!”

Do you believe this?

It’s not something to hope – it’s not something to wish for – it’s an accomplished reality by the shed blood of Jesus. “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.”

And certainly don’t call Christ Jesus and His Word a liar by thinking in your heart, “That’s blasphemy! You are a man, and only God can forgive sins.” Our text is clear – and not only directly tells us that God has given such authority to men, but it tells us that even Jesus did not claim this authority by appealing to the fact that He is God in human flesh.

Though we know the truth and see the irony in saying that the God-man Jesus is sinning against God, Jesus doesn’t let them in on the joke. He doesn’t tell them, “You don’t even know who I am – I AM God.”

Instead, he points to Himself as the Son of Man. This is a title used for the Messiah that points to his humanity – the fact that he is a true flesh and blood man descended from Adam. So when Jesus says, “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He is asserting that as a human being, He has this authority – not as the divine Son of God. And He asserts that He has this authority in space and time here on earth.

This isn’t some pie in the sky – Jesus in your heart – idea. It’s a concrete reality – that this man has authority to forgive sins – and we see that He does not reserve it for Himself.

The phrasing here is tied directly to the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel where this same Jesus, raised from the dead, stands before His disciples and says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” just before He sends them out to make disciples of all whom they encounter – by offering and delivering the forgiveness of sins through Baptism and through teaching of God’s love and forgiveness.

But if you need more proof, just recall what Jesus did when He came among the disciples unexpectedly in the locked upper room on the night of His resurrection. The doors were locked, and yet, there the risen Lord Jesus stood. And He breathed on His disciples and said, “Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me, even so I send you,” And then He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit, If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

So, this Son of Man, who proved his authority to forgive sins by raising a paralytic – gives this authority to the Church – so that as the Church offers, hands out, and delivers the forgiveness of sins – as the Church sends men to hear the confession of those who have sinned, and as you hear from another Christian and they say to you, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven,” what happens here on earth it is just as valid and certain in heaven as if Jesus descended and stood before us and spoke these words Himself. This is what it means that God has given such authority to men.

These are the Church’s words to all who grieve and mourn their sin, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.” And it is just as blasphemous to claim that the those to whom this authority has been given do not have it – because it is given by God to the Church.

The Son of Man – who came to seek and to save the lost, gave the Church the Holy Spirit – and along with the Holy Spirit – he gave the authority to pronounce forgiveness to those who know and feel their sin and to withhold this comfort and assurance from those who are comfortable and secure in their sins so that they might yet come to repentance.

Those who hear these words and believe them are like the paralytic on the mat. In these words, they hear Jesus tell them, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” This is why the believer longs to hear the comfort and consolation of the Gospel spoken in their ears, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.” Because in these words, we have release.

That is what “forgiveness” means. It means release from our sins. It is not merely that the penalty of our sins is removed. Instead, because of Jesus’ work for us in His death and resurrection, we are set free from sin.

Before these words take root in our heart, when we are left on our own without the Holy Spirit working faith in our hearts, we are dead – or in the imagery of our text – we are paralyzed. We are held captive – in bondage even within our own bodies – unable to do anything.

But through these very words, Jesus comes and gives us new life – as we hear them spoken, as these words are attached to the waters of Baptism, as these words are attached to the bread and the wine given for you for the forgiveness of sins, we are made alive – these words release us from our bondage – these words set us free from our paralysis. And we praise God that He has given such authority to men.

Now, there are three possible reactions to this message of release – there are three ways to respond to this forgiveness offered by Jesus through the Church – whether it’s delivered by a pastor or another Christian doesn’t matter, it is still delivered by one who has the Holy Spirit and it is still valid and certain in heaven as on earth. But when those words are spoken, there are three ways the people react.

The first is to deny our need for it. To claim that we are not a sinner who needs to receive forgiveness for our sins and to deny what we did was sin. Sins that are denied cannot be forgiven. St. John says it this way, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Those who deny their sin deny the testimony of the Holy Spirit who seeks to convict them. This is the blasphemy against the Spirit that the Scriptures warn about – it a hard-hearted denial of our sinful condition and a refusal to hear the word of God that shows us our thoughts words and deeds are contrary to what God commands. It is a rejection of Christ’s work. Those who deny that they are sinners call God a liar and reject the gift of forgiveness He offers.

The only statement that is possible to speak is, “Your sins remain bound to you. Because of your rejection of Him and your hardness of heart, Christ’s sacrifice does you no good.”

Sadly, because of their depravity, such a warning often falls on deaf ears.

May God preserve us from such haughty arrogance. May His Spirit keep us from believing we have no need for Jesus and His forgiveness.

Instead, may we always always have believers surrounding us who would, if needed, carry us before Jesus and lower us through the roof in order that we might be convicted of our sin, acknowledge it’s reality, and hear those words, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.”

For God promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

So a denial of our sin and a rejection of the need for forgiveness is one reaction. Another reaction is similar in consequence and cause. It isn’t a denial of our need or our sin. It is a denial of Christ’s power to save us from it.

Imagine if you will, the paralyzed man was healed by Jesus. Jesus makes him fully able to take up his bed and go home. But the man refused to do so. Imagine if, after Jesus said, “Rise, take up your bed and go home,” the man remained there. He refused to move his limbs – and instead claimed they were still immovable. He didn’t deny he was a paralytic, but he did deny that he had the ability to get up. He did deny that he had the capacity to stand and walk. If we knew this the case, what might we think of such a person?
Sadly, this is the condition many find themselves in. It comes in the form of those pet temptations – those pet sins. Jesus has released us from from all sin, but we show our rejection of His mercy and forgiveness when we refuse to give up our sin. When we too much enjoy our gossiping, our grudge holding, when we give into our explosive anger. We deny the work of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s power to save us from our sin when we give into the desire to be a voyeur peeking into the bedrooms of others through pornography or fantisizing and giving into the lust in our heart. And when we allow ourselves to imbibe too much alcohol so that we let go of our ability to control our thoughts and actions. The list goes on and on, there are hundreds of examples. But such denial occurs whenever we think to ourselves, this is too powerful, I can’t say no, I can’t give this up.

Realize dear friends, when Jesus says, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven,” He is not merely saying the PENALTY of your sin is forgiven, Jesus is saying, “Your sins are released – you are set free” – Like the paralytic who was given new life and made able once again to walk, you are given the ability to resist sin.

This is why St. Paul in our Epistle says to the Ephesians – this is what you were taught as the truth in Jesus – you were taught “ to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

In other words, “Rise up” from your bed of paralysis, “Take up your bed and go home.” You are free from your former way of life and given a new life.

And here we notice that Jesus doesn’t say leave your bed. He says pick up your bed. Just as elsewhere Jesus says, “Pick up your cross.”

And this represents the third response to Jesus words. When Jesus says, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven,” it is both a comforting word, reminding us of all He has done. Telling us that because of His suffering and death, we have freedom from sin – redemption and release – so that we may live in this world as His new creation.

Likewise, it is a gentle invitation, “take up your bed and go home.”

The bed represents the ongoing struggles and trials that exist in our life because of the sins we’ve committed. It also represents the ongoing struggles and trials we face in the midst of a corrupt and sinful world. In this life, we will never be free from the bed upon which we laid. It’s weight will sometimes be heavier and sometimes lighter, but we always carry it with us as a reminder both to ourselves and others of what Christ Jesus has released us from. What He has rescued us from, what He has saved us from. It is the cross we bear through this life as we put off our former ways of life – seek to be free and pure from the sin which so easily entangles us – and live the new life given us in Jesus.

And how does He give us this new life? He gives to us here, on earth, through the words spoken, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.” He gives it to us as He washes us clean in the waters of Baptism – where He gives us the Spirit of rebirth and renewal. And He gives it to us in His Holy Body and precious blood given and shed for us to eat and to drink.

Through these things, we have delivered to us the reality of our forgiveness – through these things we receive here and now in space and time the forgiveness won for us by Christ.

For the Son of Man has given this authority to men to deliver His Word and Sacraments – – – so that here, among us, we can all take heart, our sins are forgiven.

In the NAME of Jesus. AMEN.

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