Saturday, October 22, 2016

Is it Easier to Heal, or to Forgive?

by Pastor Paul Wolff

Jesus raised Jairus' Daughter from the dead

(Matthew 9:1-8)
Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.

A paralyzed man was brought to Jesus, and when He saw the man, and the first thing He said to him was, “Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven.” This seems like a strange thing to say. I don’t think that this paralyzed man’s friends brought him to have his sins forgiven. He had most likely heard of the miraculous healings Jesus had done wherever He went, and he desired to walk again.
The paralyzed man likely thought that it was more important for him that he would be able to walk, than to have his sins forgiven. But Jesus saw this man and his greatest need, and He addressed it right away. The man’s greatest need was not that he could not walk, but his greatest need was that he was a sinner. He needed his sins forgiven. And so Jesus dealt with that immediately, saying “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

Adam and Eve brought sin and condemnation
to themselves and to all people.

We, too, need to recognize that our greatest need is that our sins are forgiven. Sin makes us enemies with God, and as long as we are guilty of sin we are subject to God’s punishment. If our sins are forgiven, then God is no longer our enemy, but our greatest friend and protector. All problems, all trouble, all sorrow in this life are a result of sin. So the greatest thing that we can have is the forgiveness of Jesus.

Some of the people who were there with Jesus heard what He said to the paralyzed man, and they were thinking to themselves, “This man is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins, but God?” Well, this is true indeed! However, they didn’t recognize that Jesus is God. There He was standing there in front of them: God in the flesh! But they couldn’t see it. They thought, “this man is insulting God by saying that he could forgive sins.” Well, Jesus is God, and He can forgive sins. Jesus also knew what they were thinking, by His divine power, and so He asked them, “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Rise and walk’”?

We can answer Jesus’ question on several levels. On one level, it is easy to say anything. It doesn’t take much effort to say something if you are not too particular about what it is you are saying. But of course, this is trivial. Most of us do take some care about what we say, and this is especially true for Jesus.

On another level, we can look at it and say, it is much easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” rather than say, “Get up and walk”. You can say, “Your sins are forgiven” but there is no outward indication to show if your sins really are forgiven or if they aren’t. We can’t tell just by looking at a person and say, “This person’s sins are forgiven” or “That person’s sins are not forgiven.” So in that sense it is easier to say “Your sins are forgiven” because you really can’t tell if it has been done. God knows, but we don’t. We can’t see forgiveness. We don’t know. We have to live by faith. In the same way, if you were to say to a person, “Get up and walk” and that person does not get up and walk, then you are exposed as being a charlatan, or speaking nonsense, or giving this person hope that you can’t fulfill. So it is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” rather than “Get up and walk” if you don’t have the power to make that person get up and walk. But Jesus did have the power to make that man get up and walk.

Jesus did not, however, tell the man “Your sins are forgiven” because it was easier for Him to say that rather than “Get up and walk.” Jesus had the power both to forgive sins and to heal the man from his paralysis, but Jesus dealt with what was most important first. The man’s greatest problem was his sin, so Jesus first declared that his sins were forgiven. But then to show that He did have the power not only to forgive sins, but also to heal him, He told the man, “Get up and walk” and the man was healed and stood up. By doing this great miracle, Jesus showed those who were there that He did also have the power to forgive sins. If this man, Jesus, could make a paralyzed man get up and walk, which no one else had the power to do, then He certainly also had the power to forgive sins. That was one thing that Jesus was showing by this great miracle. Jesus was also showing that He has compassion for all our needs of body and soul.

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

The paralyzed man had more needs than just having his sins forgiven. He was paralyzed and had the need for healing. Though, it would have been all right for him to go through life as a paralyzed man, and yet have his sins forgiven. He could have lived his life as a paralytic, trusting in God to forgive him, and to provide for his other bodily needs, and he would be saved just like all other believers. You should remember that, at some point in history, that man died, and we should all agree that being dead is a much worse condition than being paralyzed. On the last day when Jesus calls him out of his grave, he will be restored to full health, and full strength, and he will be walking and rejoicing in God with a full, strong body forever and ever. Jesus, however, saw the man’s immediate physical needs as well as his spiritual needs and had compassion on him. He restored to him his ability to walk, in addition to forgiving his sins.

Besides the question that Jesus asks, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Get up and walk’?” I think we can contemplate another question Jesus did not ask, but is important for us to consider. Which is easier to DO: to heal a man who is paralyzed, or to forgive sins? Now, even today, depending on what is the cause of paralysis, in nearly all cases, healing paralysis is still an impossibility even for the most skilled doctors. If someone has a damaged spine, and cannot walk it is virtually impossible for modern medicine to heal them. Many doctors have tried different treatments, but sometimes it is just impossible. For a severe injury, if you cannot walk, you will never walk. And yet, physical problems often have physical cures. It may be possible sometime in the future to develop some healing that we cannot do now. So we may hold out some small hope for that possibility. It is now impossible, though some time in the future, it may be possible. On the other hand, it is absolutely impossible for sinful man to forgive sins.

We sinners cannot accomplish the forgiveness of sins on our own. We cannot do anything that could appease God of our own doing alone, much less for anyone else’s sins. We are guilty of sins, each of us, as we have inherited that guilt going all the way back to Adam and Eve. Even if we could overcome our own sins, we could not overcome someone else’s, and we can’t even overcome our own sins. People sometimes think that if we do enough good that we can make up for sin, but God has given us His commandments. We ought to be doing good in everything we do. How can we do more than everything to overcome our sins, especially once we are guilty of sin? It is impossible. We cannot overcome sins. God says, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) You might, then, think that death might be enough to overcome our sins, but as sinners, to suffer that death would destroy us. We would be destroyed by death on account of our sin. We cannot overcome sin. It is impossible.

Only God can accomplish the redemption of our sins, and in God, only Jesus can do it. God, in His nature, is an eternal Spirit. He cannot die. But in Jesus, God has become a man in order to be able to die and to pay the price for our sins. Because Jesus is a man, He could die for our sins. He could pay the price to redeem us from our sins. And in His grace, Jesus desired to do all that was needed to win forgiveness for us, and so He became a man. As a man Jesus put himself in a place where he could do what was necessary to pay for our sins. He could live the perfect life that we were unable to do, to keep God’s Ten Commandments that we were unable to keep in our sin, so that He could present Himself before the Father as the perfect atoning sacrifice, and to offer His life in payment for ours. This is what it takes to accomplish our forgiveness. God does not overlook sin. He cannot do that in His nature. He is a just God. Sin must be punished, but Jesus took the punishment in our place, as our substitute.

Your Forgiveness was won through
the death of Jesus on the cross.
And the benefits come to you through faith.

This is why it is good for us to ask, “which is easier to do.” What does it take to forgive our sins? It wasn’t just as if Jesus had said, ‘your sins are forgiven, I’ll overlook it this time.’ In order for Jesus to forgive sins, He had to go to the cross. He had to suffer and die to pay for those sins, and for the sins of the world. It was not easy for Jesus to do that. It was more than just saying, “Your sins are forgiven.” It was putting that into action: going to the cross; suffering and dying; having sinners put the crown of thorns on His head; and they beat Him and slapped Him and insulted Him; nailing His hands and feet to the cross; and Jesus remained up on that cross while people were insulting Him and laughing at Him. The worst part of His death was that Jesus felt God, the Father, forsaking Him on account of our sin. He felt God’s wrath over the sins of the world, which He had nothing to do with, but that He was carrying in His body to take away from us. All of this is what it took for Jesus to forgive our sins. Jesus did all these things out of love for us all. He did these so that our sins would be taken away from us, that we might have life forever.

It was not easy for Jesus to do this, but He did it out of love for us. Which is easier? It was not easy for Jesus to do, but He did what was necessary to forgive our sins. So that when we hear the pastor telling us, “Your sins are forgiven, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It is true. It has been done. Jesus did what was necessary. The pastor speaks words to us, but it is more than words, it is what Jesus has done for us. Those words are God’s Word that comes to us to give us life and salvation, to heal us from our sins. This is what we have in the Word of God. This is what Jesus brings to us through His Word, and through the Sacraments, that we receive the forgiveness of Jesus. That we receive what He paid for us. This is the great gift of God which gives us life.

It was not easy for Jesus to do, but He did it all for you, and for that you should thank and praise God that you have such a savior in Jesus. May Jesus strengthen your faith to know that you are forgiven. That He has done everything necessary to redeem you, to make you His Child. That you might live in that faith, trusting in Jesus to forgive your sins, and on the last day you will be raised in glorious life to live with God forever.
Jesus said,
“Let not your heart be troubled.
I have gone to prepare a place for you.”

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