Sermon for Trinity 19
Genesis 28:10-17 + Ephesians 4:22-28 + Matthew 9:1-8
Let’s be real and open here this morning. Depending on the vote this next Wednesday, this is either my last sermon from this pulpit, or it’s the last sermon I’ll preach to you as a congregation of the WELS. In my 5-1/2 years here I don’t think I’ve ever deviated from the assigned Scripture readings for any given Sunday, and today certainly won’t be the exception. It’s the 19th Sunday after Trinity, and the Gospel before us today is the same Gospel that was before Martin Luther every year on the 19th Sunday after Trinity, Matthew 9:1-8. I couldn’t haven’t have asked for a more relevant text.
In the OT lesson we encountered Jacob’s ladder, or the stairway to heaven. There has to be a stairway or a ladder because of sin. Sin cuts us off from God. Sin makes us ugly and selfish and wicked and unable to approach God. We have no access to Him any longer. Just remember why Jacob was fleeing from his brother Esau—for Jacob’s own deception and self-serving lies. But here in Jacob’s dream, there is a stairway, a ladder where heaven and earth are connected again. Where could such a ladder be? What could it be?
The ladder is Jesus. He says so in the Gospel of John (chapter 1). Jesus, the Son of God, Jesus the Son of Man, brings God and man back together. How does He do it? By bearing the sins of mankind, by satisfying the righteous requirements of God’s law and by satisfying the Law’s demands that sinful man must die. In the Person of Jesus Christ, God and Man come together and are united. In the Person of Jesus, God and man are reconciled. In the Person of Jesus Christ, God has opened up a place on earth where sinful man can have access to Him. The ladder is set in place. The ladder is firm and reliable—the one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. Here there is forgiveness for all, here on this ladder. But not anywhere else.
We encounter Jacob’s ladder again in the Gospel—Jesus bringing God down to earth, Jesus giving sinners access to God, through the forgiveness of sins.
To whom does He give such access? To the sinner who is paralyzed and lying on a mat, to a sinner who can do nothing to help himself, either physically or spiritually; to the sinner who is brought to Jesus for help.
His friends already had faith in Jesus. It tells us that here. Jesus saw their faith. He could see into their hearts, but He could also see with His eyes. They came to Him for help. They wouldn’t have come to Him for help if they didn’t have faith in Him. That’s the simplest definition of faith: to come to Jesus for help, to expect good things from Him, not because you’re good, but because He is good. They had already heard the Word of Jesus’ kindness and goodness, of His love toward undeserving sinners. So they brought their friend to Him to be healed, and they weren’t disappointed. Faith never is.
Jesus healed the paralytic, first spiritually, then physically. He said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” Your sins are forgiven… Let’s consider that statement. What is Jesus doing here? Is He announcing a fact that was already true before the paralytic and his friends came down through the roof? “Your sins were forgiven before you were born”? Or, is He announcing a fact that will be true in a couple of years when Jesus dies on the cross? “Your sins will be forgiven in two years time”? Or, is He actually forgiving that man his sins right there on the spot?
The phrase can cause confusion in English. “Your sins are forgiven.” A mom could say to her son or daughter, “Your clothes are washed and waiting for you in your closet.” And what she means is, your clothes were washed at some time before; they have been washed and are now clean.
But that’s not what the words mean in this Gospel. Not, “Your sins were forgiven.” Not, “Your sins will be forgiven in two years when I die on the cross.” No, Jesus speaks in the present tense, more like, “OK, here are your sins and your guilt. You know them all too well. They are vile and offensive and would keep you locked out of heaven forever. But take heart, my son, because right here, right now I take them from you and throw them away. Your sins are forgiven. You are clean. You have access to God. Why? Because I say so!”
By the authority of the Son of God Himself, by the authority of the God-Man, who is Himself the very bridge or the ladder between heaven and earth, between God and man, by the authority of Jesus Christ, the sins of the paralytic man were removed from him and sent away right then and there in the present tense. He was innocent before God, righteous, absolved, justified by the Son of God Himself—forgiven in the present tense. And the paralytic was comforted and given peace.
But the scribes who were there grumbled. Who does he think he is?, they thought. This man is blaspheming. In other words, he is slandering God by claiming to have God’s authority. Only God can forgive sins.
Exactly right. Only God can forgive sins. See what Jesus was claiming for Himself by doing what only God has the authority to do! He speaks about this authority more in John chapter 5, For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.
Why does Jesus have the right to execute judgment—to free sinners from condemnation through the forgiveness of sins? Not only because He is God, but because He earned the right as the Son of Man. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain. He took the burden of the Law upon Himself and obeyed it, down to the letter. He shed His blood on the cross and acquired this treasure of forgiveness, eternal life and salvation for the whole world of sinners. He earned it on the cross. It belongs to Him, and it is His alone to give out.
Where does He do it? Where does He give it out? On earth. “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” When does He do it? When does He forgive sins? Right here, right now in the present tense. “…authority on earth to forgive sins.” Not to announce that sins were forgiven or will be forgiven at some other time. But authority on earth to forgive sins. How does He do it? How does He forgive sins? By speaking the Word of forgiveness, that glorious, Spirit-filled Word of promise. Take heart, my son. Your sins are forgiven.
But Jesus, the ladder between heaven and earth, isn’t here living and walking among us like He was during His earthly ministry, is He? No matter. The Son of Man, before He ascended from earth to heaven, promised to leave a ladder for His Church, and on the Day of Pentecost, He granted it by sending His Holy Spirit. Now it is the Holy Spirit who brings Christ the ladder to the earth again, wherever the Word of Christ is preached.
Where does the Son of Man forgive sins? Still here on earth, through this ministry of the Word authorized by Jesus Himself. He said to His apostles, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. Where does the Son of Man forgive sins? In the word of the Gospel, telling of the goodness, mercy and love of Jesus for sinners; telling of His sacrifice and His resurrection from the dead. In the waters of Holy Baptism where water and Word are combined. In the sacred meal called Holy Communion where bread and wine and Word are united. To whom does He forgive sins? To every sinner who seeks it from Him. He has acquired forgiveness for all, so that all who look to Him receive from Him forgiveness of sins, grace and every blessing.
This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that He has merited forgiveness of sins for the human race, that He promises this forgiveness to all who believe in Him, and that all who believe receive exactly what He promises, the forgiveness of sins, by grace alone, for the sake of Christ alone. And, as our Lutheran Confessions say, “to receive the forgiveness of sins is to be justified.”
As you well know, this is the Gospel I preach—with faltering lips and in great weakness—, that sinners are justified by faith alone in Christ. This is the Gospel for which I have been condemned by the district presidium of the WELS and by the synod that I called home for 35 years. That hurts me. It hurts you. It hurts the whole Christian Church on earth and in heaven. So be it. If God is for us, who can be against us? The forgiving Word of Jesus gives us strength to stand against an army, to stand against the whole world, to stand against the devil himself, and to stand in God’s presence now and on the Last Day without sin and without fear, because if the Judge has spoken to you the Word of forgiveness, who can overturn His decision?
A decision will be made at this church three days from now. Choose wisely. The Lord Jesus says one thing; the WELS has said another. As Joshua once charged the people of Israel, Choose you this day whom ye will serve. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Amen.