The healing happened for three reasons: because Our Lord sees the man and has compassion on him; because He sees the faith of the man’s friends and confirms their faith; He rebukes the unbelief of the scribes calling them to believe rather than to blaspheme Him. The healing happens because our Lord loves us. He loved the man. He loved his friends. He loved the Scribes. The healing was a byproduct of that love which is always given first and foremost in His forgiveness.
We have false notions about God. We believe He is here to be praised. We believe He is here to help us in our need. We believe that if we pray hard enough, believe hard enough, have a big enough faith or get enough people praying for us we’ll get what we want from Him. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. He is here to forgive you. His forgiveness increases your praise of Him as it increases your fear of Him. His forgiveness helps you in your need. His forgiveness means you are already loved by God. You don’t need bigger faith or more prayers, or more people praying. On the cross, God already loved you to the full. He can’t love you more than He already does. There is no limit to His love for you. There is no increase to His love for you because you already forgiven.
The man’s friends brought the man to be healed. They believed they brought him to the long promised seed of Jacob who would bless all the tribes of earth. The source of all blessing is God. This seed of Jacob will bless all. Ergo, this seed is God. They knew who it was walking the earth. It was God. They brought their friend to God.
It is fair to say that they brought their friend gladly and eagerly, but also with great fear. For when God descends out of the heavens fear descends upon people. Why? Because we are sinners. God’s presence reminds us of that. That’s why people who do not know the grace of God are even afraid of church buildings. His perfect presence reminds us of our sin. But He is here to bless you and not curse you. The problem is His mighty power obliterates sin. And that is why our Lord descended our of heaven taking on flesh in Mary’s virgin womb. To obliterate sin. To be a blessing and not a curse.
Which brings us to Our Lord’s question: Which is easier? To say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk?” Which is easier for Our Lord? To heal or to forgive? To heal. Hands down. Every time. But which do you really need? Physical healing as much as we crave it, desire and pray for it, is just a temporary solution in a world where everything is falling apart because of the Fall into Sin. Adam and Eve’s sin was a cause that has set into motion an effect which is only getting worse as time drags on. Entropy and decay impact all. Our bodies, our relationships, our nations, our genes. This world is passing away. Don’t cling to it or anything in it for it will turn to dust, evaporate, and disappear like the morning mist. But forgiveness and the life that comes with it are eternal. They are always what we need in this passing world. For they are the key to that world in which nothing passes away and nothing decays.
So which is easier for Our Lord? Which do you look for? Healing? I know you do. Look how long our prayer list is. So why doesn’t Our Lord seem to dish it out as easily as He dishes out forgiveness? Well, if that’s your way of thinking you are, in one sense, a good Christian. For you have been trained to accept and expect God’s forgiveness through your saviour Jesus. That is good. Knowing God will be gracious to you on account of Jesus’ sin destroying death on the cross is a powerful truth that liberates you. It is the Christian faith. It is what Christianity is.
But the temptation of Christians is to bore with what is so familiar. And so we sinners bore of our forgiveness. We wonder if there isn’t a better, fresher, more interesting message in the Bible than just the forgiveness of sins, Jesus dead on the cross. Tell me something new. No. Jesus dead for your sins is the message of the Bible. When you bore of it you bore of God and His love. Repent.
You have forgotten how hard it is for Jesus to forgive sins! Remember, our God is just. He wrote the laws of the universe into universe. They are part of Him. An extension of Him. He is not a man to lie the way politicians do to the electorate, spouses do to each other, we do to ourselves. He is God. He is truth. He can not be unjust. He can not be dishonest. Justice must be satisfied. Truth must be spoken. Sins must be punished. Wickedness must receive its just desserts.
To forgive sins is to deny justice. To forgive sins is harder for God than to heal. To forgive sins requires God to deny Himself. He must deny Himself and take up His cross. God must die for sins to be forgiven. His justice must be satisfied. And so He pours His own wrath out on Himself so that He can raise up His spiritually paralyzed children. That is the mystery of Christ crucified. On the cross God uses nails to paralyze Himself so that your spiritual paralysis before Him would be lifted from you. He paralyzes Himself to the full in death so that sin and all it effects are removed to the full. He rose in victory over death so that hearing His declaration of forgiveness raises you up, sets you on your feet, causes you to walk, to dance and leap in the joy of salvation. It replaces your spiritual paralysis with a fear of Him who has forgiven you.
Yes, fear, I say. The fear of the Lord. We hate that word. We deny it. We suggest that the “fear of the Lord” (which is the beginning of wisdom) is merely a reverence, a respect of the Lord. But when the forgiving God comes and declares you forgiven, just as He has this day and every Lord’s Day in His Holy Absolution, it increases fear in you. Don’t write that off merely as reverence. It is certainly that. But it is foolish to not be afraid of that which is powerful and beyond your control. This is not a paralyzing fear. It is a healthy and godly fear. The kind of fear you have around industrial power tools and giant machinery. To act on a work site the way you do when bragging with your buddies or gossiping with your girls is to invite limbs to be sawn off and mangled and lives to be destroyed. Fear in that setting is wise, godly, appropriate. Such fear makes you act accordingly. When God comes and applies His forgiveness to you you act accordingly.
When Our Lord promised Jacob to bless (that is, to forgive) all the tribes of earth through his seed He was afraid. He acted accordingly, proclaiming who had done this mighty thing and who was present in that place. When people saw Our Lord heal and forgive that man they feared and glorified God. This is what Godly fear does. It increases in us true faith. Faith gives thanks and glory to God.
You have this day been in the presence of your God. You have had your sins forgiven. You did nothing to deserve it. It was given whether you asked for it or not. This is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven. Your God has come to you. He has forgiven your sins. And He has granted to men, the men of God in the preaching office of His Church, His own authority to forgive sins on account of His cross.
God be feared. God be praised.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON