Trinity 19: Take Heart!

Jesus forgives a paralyzed man of his sins, at which point the scribes accuse Him of blasphemy. To prove His authority, Jesus orders the man to get up and walk, which he does. (Matt. 9:1-8). From a book by Martin Luther interpreting the Epistles and Gospels, 1544.

Lessons: Genesis 28:10-17, Ephesians 4:22-28, Matthew 9:1-8
Hymns: LSB 916, 614, 620, 716, 814

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      In today’s Gospel, Jesus takes a boat across the Sea of Galilee to His own city. The city He enters is not Nazareth, as may be assumed since Jesus grew up there, but the city referenced here is Capernaum, which served as the center of our Lord’s public ministry. Calling Capernaum our Lord’s own city is like me calling Lexington my own city. While Lexington is not where I grew up, it is where God has called me to serve. This is my town, and we like it here.

      When Jesus enters the city, some people bring to Jesus a man who is unable to walk—he’s paralyzed. Jesus performs yet another amazing miracle: He heals the paralytic. By simply speaking! His words are simple: “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” and the man rose, his paralysis was gone, and he returned home. When the crowds saw what Jesus had done, they were filled with fear, and they glorified God.

      When someone suffers physically, it is often visible. In the case of the man in today’s Scripture reading, he could not walk. Others had to carry him. When people suffer in visible ways, they get our attention. We pray for them. We may have benefits to help with their medical expenses. We send cards. We come together with love and support. This is, of course, all good.

      Some had this type of loving compassion on the paralytic. They got him around to places. And they brought him to the Lord of life, who could heal him of his affliction. No doubt they prayed for him.

      We must also bear in mind that people who suffer do not always suffer in visible ways. I read a book by a pastor who was diagnosed with clinical depression, and yet he continued to fulfill the work of his ministry. Parishioners were confused over how a man could seem fine and be depressed. Thankfully he is no longer afflicted with depression. Others suffer from anxiety, addiction, or in a whole host of other ways. These people need our prayers and our help, but they often go undetected. They often don’t reach out for help, not realizing how common their ailments are.

      No matter the type of suffering one endures, all people need the Church. They need the prayers of the Church. They need the love of Christ. They need the compassion that God’s children are to bring to others. So let’s be compassionate, not by virtue signaling, but by our deeds and actions. Let’s bring to others the love of Christ in Jesus’ name. Let’s take time to be in prayer for all those in need.

      In addition to being physically paralyzed, the man in today’s Gospel suffered from another type of paralysis—one that is not so easily seen. In fact, it is one that is regularly ignored. He suffered from sin. He was a sinner. He inherited sin from his parents—original sin going all the way back to Adam. And he committed actual sins.

      He was crushed under the weight of that sin, even if he didn’t feel it. Many would look at him and realize he’s human and figure he’s fine. But the wages of sin is death, and our sin weighs us down.

      It is this type of paralysis that does not get enough attention in our day. We tend to downplay our sins as if they’re minor infractions, harmless misdeeds, or innocent mistakes. But that cannot be further than the truth. If we could be perfect on all counts and commit just one small sin, that little sin would soil us to the point that we would fall short of the glory of God. We would lose all innocence and would become thoroughly corrupt (James 2:10).

      As a result, we all need the same type of love and compassion that people (including Jesus) had on the paralytic. We should be praying continually for ourselves and others, that the effects of sin may be lessened and our temptations be overcome. And just as the paralytic was brought to Jesus, so also we need to continually be brought to Jesus. Left on our own, we would die in our sin. We would die eternally.

      We often want to be left on our own when dealing with sin. We think that since we’re Christians, we should not be facing temptation. And so, we isolate ourselves, refusing to seek help because we think we’re not supposed to have sin. We think being Christian means we have gotten our temptations at bay and our lives are orderly.

      But on this side of the grave, that is never the case. We daily sin much and we deserve nothing but punishment. Yet God continues to meet us in mercy, applying to us the salve of forgiveness, which Jesus earned for us on the cross.

      When we are sick, we go to a physician. When we are sick spiritually, we are to go to the Great Physician. When we need medical treatment, we go to the doctor. When we need treatment for our souls, we go to the physicians sent by Jesus—our shepherds—our pastors. We share all our weaknesses with medical doctors, including all parts of our bodies that are not functioning properly. We should have that same level of confidence when we approach our pastors, for our pastors have sworn to God that they will not reveal our sins to others. And then our pastors will provide us with the very thing we don’t always realize we need—the Gospel.

      That’s what Jesus does in today’s reading from Matthew 9:2. It’s fascinating what takes place. A paralytic is brought to Jesus. Instead of simply healing the man and sending him home, Jesus says and does something on top of that. The first words Jesus says to him are not “Rise and walk” but “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

      To the world, this would seem insignificant. Forgiveness of sins seems unnecessary compared to the many cares and concerns of life. But even the scribes knew this forgiveness is important. For if this forgiveness were not important, the scribes would not have accused Jesus of blaspheming. They thought Jesus was taking the place of God by pronouncing forgiveness. They didn’t think anyone could have authority on earth to forgive sins. After all, this is a lofty matter.

      Their false belief has remained all too common among Christian churches. Many are scandalized by a practice many Lutherans often take for granted. We begin our services by confessing our sin and receiving the Absolution—the proclamation that our sins are forgiven. Lutherans often take these words for granted, assuming that they don’t really need forgiveness or figuring that all Christian churches do what we do. The reality is that all of us always need the forgiveness of sins, for we daily sin much. And most Christian churches do not announce the forgiveness of sins like you heard today in the Absolution. Some say only God can forgive sins, even though today’s Gospel clearly teaches this authority has been given to men. Others say we shouldn’t focus on the forgiveness of sins, as if there’s some way to Heaven without it. Still others say this forgiveness can only come if you attach works to your confession—works of penance or other good works.

      Jesus does none of this. He knew the heart of this repentant man. That is, He saw his faith. And so, He announces to him that his sins are forgiven. The paralytic received the very thing he needed the most. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. The paralytic was no longer bound to sin or death. Instead, his sin was canceled out and replaced with the very righteousness of Christ. And death for a forgiven sinner is gain, for it means being with the Lord.

      The forgiveness of sins is important for us Christians in two ways. First, as I just mentioned, it prepares us to properly die. With forgiveness of sins, we can be confident that we are going to Heaven. And second, forgiveness is important now because it means we are members of Christ’s kingdom, are reconciled to Him, and have belonging (even in this life). Having received forgiveness, we then live with others in peace by forgiving them. We love them in Christ. We enjoy harmony as saints of God, redeemed by the Blood of Christ.

      There’s another aspect of forgiveness that Jesus touches on that perhaps doesn’t get enough attention. Jesus first says, “Take heart.” Then He says, “Your sins are forgiven.” When Jesus says, “Take heart,” this is similar to saying, “Be of good cheer” or even “Take courage.” Jesus connects this cheerfulness—this taking heart—with the forgiveness of sins. Instead of being downtrodden, look up and lift up your heads. Forgiveness of sins is yours. Jesus died for you on the cross to completely cancel out your sin. He paid your entire debt. He defeated Satan. He corrects the things that are wrong with this world. He has triumphed. He is victorious.

      Yes, you’ll endure hard times. But be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven! As you suffer physically, mentally, or emotionally, you can remain in good cheer. You have joy. For your sins are forgiven. God is not punishing you. Christ bore the punishment for your sin. You have peace with God. Your time here in this life as you bear your crosses is temporary, but your time with the Lord in Heaven is eternal.

      Jesus did not say, “Take heart, I am healing you.” Instead, He connected “taking heart” with forgiveness. Had Jesus sent the paralytic home forgiven but still paralyzed, he could take heart. He would know he’s going to Heaven and that God will make him whole and complete in the Resurrection. Certainly, this is reason enough to take heart!

      And it is why we gather in Church Sunday after Sunday. We confess our sins and receive the Absolution. Jesus feeds us His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of all our sins. The peace of God is declared to us. And so, we take heart, joyfully engaging in our labors, serving our neighbors, and rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins. We are redeemed by Christ and are adopted into God’s family by Baptism as His dearly beloved children. In all aspects of life, take heart! Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen