But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Michaelmas 1-2022

Michaelmas 1 – Matthew 9:1-8

When we think of the harmful effects of sin, the first things that may come to mind are the many ways in which human sin ruins our relationship with God and our standing before God. Sin separates and alienates us from God, and invites God’s judgment and wrath.

But sin has harmful effects on our own individual existence, too. It doesn’t just ruin our relationships, but it ruins us, on the inside.

The Psalmist speaks for all sinful human beings when he says, in Psalm 88:

“My soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to the grave. I am counted with those who go down to the pit; I am like a man who has no strength.”

In describing his own sinful condition in Psalm 118, the Psalmist once again describes the sinful condition of all of us:

“The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.”

In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul describes, with alarming detail, what a fallen human nature is capable of – and what we are capable of – as the sin that is in our hearts unfolds and spreads into all arenas of life:

“…God…gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…”

“…God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.”

“…God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful…”

Elsewhere in the same epistle, Paul writes that all of us, before we knew Christ, were ungodly and without strength.

Indeed, sin pollutes our thoughts and our desires, and corrupts our emotions and our will. It turns us in on ourselves, twisting our minds and hearts, causing us to reject the good and choose the evil. Sin is a leprous disease that infects soul and body, keeping us spiritually sick and morally weak.

Because of sin we live to serve ourselves, and not others. Our actions are motivated by pride and love of self, and not by a love for our neighbor in need. Our words are infused with deception and manipulation.

Sin weighs us down and morally crushes us. It binds and strangles us, and spiritually cripples us.

In our natural condition, even if our conscience tells us that we should be living in a different way, with different values and priorities, we are not capable of doing so. As members of the fallen human race, we – by nature – are stuck and paralyzed in our degraded state, with no way of escape by any effort of ours.

We need to be lifted up by a force stronger than we are. We need to be cleansed by a washing more pure than we are.

Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew presents us with an illustration of this universal human problem, and of God’s solution to this problem, in the story of Jesus’ healing, and forgiving, the paralytic. The first thing we are told is that Jesus “got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city.”

Jesus was in a place where he could be expected to be found – that is, in Capernaum, his adopted home. But in the picture that is verbally painted for us by the words of this account, it is emphasized that the paralyzed man could not get himself to Jesus by his own strength and ability, but needed to be carried to him.

We are told that some concerned friends brought to Jesus “a paralytic lying on a bed.” In himself, as far as his need for healing and restoration was concerned, this paralyzed man was helpless and hopeless.

But with Christ, help was to be found. In Christ there was hope.

“When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.’”

This may seem strange to us. Wasn’t the man coming to Jesus for a healing of his body? Why then did Jesus give him a different blessing, namely, forgiveness of sins?

Well, Jesus knew that the man’s bodily weakness, and his inability to walk and live normally, was a picture, or a manifestation, of a deeper problem – a problem that affects everyone, and not just handicapped persons.

As I’ve already noted, sin damages our relationship with God and our standing before God. It’s an offense against his holiness and a violation of his good and loving will for all people. That’s why only God can forgive sin.

But sin is also a burden and a heavy weight on each of us. It is a corruption that damages us on the inside. It pollutes us. It is a spiritual disease that infects us.

In forgiveness, God pulls sin out of us and off of us, by the power of his Word, and by the grace of his Spirit. The Greek word that is translated in today’s text as “forgiven” means literally “sent off.” The sin that had been crushing the paralyzed man’s soul was lifted off of him and sent away from him.

So, in this gracious forgiveness, his relationship with God was restored, and his standing before God was now that of a reconciled and righteous member of God’s family, and a citizen of God’s kingdom.

But also, the damage that sin had done to him personally, and internally, was now also reversed and healed. Not only was his relationship with God restored, but he was restored.

The crippling effects of sin on his mind and heart, and in his thoughts and desires, were now washed away. He was free of the inner burden that had afflicted him and weighed on him.

Our catechism speaks of the salvation from sin that is ours in Christ, in terms of salvation from the guilt of sin, and salvation from the power of sin. The blood of Jesus takes away our guilt and shame before God, and it also liberates us from the harmful workings of sin inside of us.

In Christ we are saved and delivered from the destructive compulsions, the unrestrained greed and lust, and the overwhelming pride and selfishness that would otherwise flow out of our sinful nature and bleed into the rest of our lives.

In the forgiveness that we receive in the Lord’s absolution, these influences are not eradicated, but they are suppressed and restrained. They no longer so thoroughly cripple us and weigh us down. What St. Paul writes about in today’s lesson from his Epistle to the Ephesians, actually happens, by the working of God’s Spirit through the healing power of the gospel:

“You have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”

To use some additional Pauline terminology, we are now able to walk by the Spirit, and to live as children of light. We are transformed by the renewing of our mind, and are able to put on the mind of Christ. We are transformed into his image, from glory to glory.

Now, some of the scribes who were present for the events described in today’s Gospel, and who heard what Jesus said to the paralytic, didn’t like what they heard. They said within themselves, “This Man blasphemes!”

“But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Arise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’– then He said to the paralytic, ‘Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’ And he arose and departed to his house.”

Jesus, as God in human flesh, and as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, did indeed show compassion to this man, by healing him in both body and soul. He had the divine authority to do it, and he did it.

And in both cases, where there had been a crushing debilitation and a paralyzing weakness, there was now health and strength. The physical infirmity, and the infirmity of sin’s inner corruption, were both now reversed.

We are also told that “when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.” We would hope that before long, the multitudes in Capernaum would also have benefitted from this power for themselves.

The other people who were there may not have needed or wanted a dramatic physical healing, but they all needed the kind of inner healing and renewal that God’s forgiveness of sin brings.

And you also need that inner healing. Those who do not know the Lord certainly need it, in a big way. But we who daily falter and fail, and regularly slip back into disobedience, and into the infirmity of sin, also need to be pardoned for that disobedience yet again, and to be raised up from that infirmity yet again.

So, don’t just marvel, from a distance, that God has given this power to men – that is, to Christ, and to those who now speak in his stead in the exercising of the keys. Receive this power, partake of it personally, and let it work in your heart, mind, and soul, by truly repenting of your sins today. Receive this power – and let it free you from the chains of sin that are entangling you once again, and from the heaviness of sin that is bearing down on you once again – by truly believing the absolution that Jesus announces to you today.

Because Jesus did die and rise again for each of us, and because he did suffer and win the victory over sin and death in our place and for our benefit, each of us is able to know that God will not count our sins against us, but will welcome us into his kingdom.

And, each of us is able to know that God will also answer this prayer: “By Your Holy Spirit increase in us true knowledge of You, and of Your will, and true obedience to Your Word.”

Indeed, as far as the shame and guilt of your sin is concerned, God will likewise answer this prayer: “Cast me not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me.”

And as far as the inner destructive power of your sin is concerned, God will answer this prayer, too: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

God in his divine providence has called and carried you to this house of worship on this day, where his Son Jesus Christ is available to you in his means of grace. Jesus is here, in this familiar place where he can always be found, to help you once again, and to heal you once again.

Jesus is here to send your sin away from you, and to remove from you the judgment of the divine law against you: so that your relationship with God is restored, and your standing before God is set right. And Jesus is here to lift your sin off of you, and raise you up from the spiritual paralysis and moral debilitation that your sin causes.

Through the lips of his called servant, he says:

“I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Through the lips of his called servant he says:

“This is my body, which is given for you.” “This cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.”

Jesus has the authority to say these things, and to do these things. And Jesus is saying these things, and doing these things, for you.

Jesus also says: “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Christ and his church amplify that loving invitation to us, and we gratefully heed it:

Come in poverty and meanness, Come defiled, without, within;
From infection and uncleanness, From the leprosy of sin,
Wash your robes and make them white; Ye shall walk with God in light.

Come in sorrow and contrition, Wounded, paralyzed, and blind;
Here the guilty, free remission, Here the troubled, peace, may find.
Health this fountain will restore; He that drinks shall thirst no more. Amen.