What was the Reformation all about? We’re about to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Luther nailing 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church. What was he planning when he nailed those statements to the university bulletin board? Was he planning to change the world? Was he planning to start a rebellion? Was he hoping to get rich and famous?
No. He just wanted a debate. He had no idea in 1517 that churches would bear his name. He had no idea that anyone outside the German area called Saxony would ever know his name. He had no idea he would someday be out of the Roman Church. He just thought something strange was going on where he lived.
He was not just a professor, but a pastor. And as a pastor, his flock came to him to confess their sins. But a strange thing happened. They started telling him they had bought indulgences from a wandering preacher outside town. It was like buying a get out of jail free card. But how could they ever be forgiven by spending a few bucks? That’s why he wrote his 95 Theses. The Reformation was one pastor’s fight to discover this authority of The Church to forgive sins. In short, it was all about the Absolution.
Today we enter a new part of the Trinity Season. We’ve been learning about the Christian life these past few months. It’s a life of hearing God’s Word and living according to it out of love for Jesus and His Cross. But we often hear it said that the devil always builds a chapel next to God’s Church. So in the coming Sundays we want to remember we always struggle with Satan during our life of faith. There is never a time he doesn’t want to attack us to drag us down to him in hell.
We see this no clearer than with the Absolution, with forgiveness. The scribes in today’s Gospel weren’t fazed when Jesus healed that paralytic. They got mad when He forgave his sins. The translations say Jesus had this “power,” but the word ought to be translated “authority.” Jesus has authority to forgive sins. The Evangelist makes it clear He has given this authority to men, that is, to His faithful Christian people.
When the friends came carrying their paralyzed friend on a stretcher, they were only thinking, “Maybe this miracle worker can help him out.” They had plopped him onto the stretcher – maybe he didn’t even want to go – and carried him off. That’s all they want, right? If so, were I one of them, I might have gotten a little testy when he didn’t take care of the problem right away. Instead he said, “Have courage, child, forgiven are your sins.” To make it worse, it would be at least another 5 minutes before he was healed! How impatient I would have been.
But Jesus is God, so He knows all things. He knew there was more here than met the eyes. He knew the heart of His child. Perhaps he was wondering if God cared for him at all, and if He did, why couldn’t he walk? Perhaps he had done something to injure himself, or thought he had done something really bad to his parents so that’s why he couldn’t walk. After all, Jesus is asked in John 9 if someone’s sin had caused a man to be born blind! These thoughts could have been afflicting this paralytic.
Jesus knew His child was being afflicted by his sins. He knew the devil was trying to overcome him with unbelief, with the idea he could never be forgiven. So Jesus says to him first: “Take courage, child!” Don’t be afraid. Don’t think this has all been in vain. I’m going to help you. I’m not going to let the devil snatch you out of My hands. You are My sheep, and he can’t have you; you belong to Me and you can never perish.”
Then Jesus says to him: “Forgiven are your sins.” They are forgiven. He says “forgiven” first because He wants His child to change his focus. That word got his attention. It took his attention away from his sins and put it where it belonged, on Jesus and His saving grace. Forgiven! Pardoned! Freed from sin! No more heavy load. No more wondering why this paralysis. God is not angry! God loves!
But the devil was at work, at work in the hearts of those scribes. They heard Jesus forgive His child’s sins and lost it. “No one can forgive sins but God”, they cried, and with that they implied He’s not God. But they didn’t just imply that. Jesus’ answer makes me think they were implying that sins shouldn’t be forgiven. Do they mean to say the sinner should atone for his own sins? They were rejecting not just Jesus’ Divinity but also His work. They didn’t want Him to be God and they didn’t want to have His forgiveness, and they didn’t want anybody else to get it either.
So Jesus put them to shame by proving He’s God. He knows all things. Therefore He knew what they were thinking and saying quietly, sheepishly, amongst themselves. Their unbelief led them to call Him a blasphemer. He returns the favor by telling them they were thinking evil in their hearts. They were the ones blaspheming God, for He is God. They didn’t think He knew their thoughts. He knew full well. So to prove His authority to forgive, He healed His child.
That is the point of Jesus’ miracles. They were not done to be a pattern for us to follow today. I could try all day and never heal you of any illness. That’s what doctors are for. Jesus healed people to show the world He is God the Son, sent down to earth from God the Father and made man in the womb of Mary in order to forgive His children’s sins.
He is given this authority to forgive sins by His Father. It’s backed up by something far more secure and trustworthy than our money: Jesus’ Blood. He purchased it with His Death. He suffered everything we deserve to suffer for our sins. He suffered the ultimate punishment for our sins: death and hell. But since He has suffered the punishment, we are acquitted. The eternal God emptied the chalice of His wrath for sin; His eternal Son drank it to the dregs. He is punished, you go free. He is made sin for us, you are forgiven, pardoned, absolved.
He has ascended into heaven. He’s not physically speaking to us, saying “I forgive you.” So how will His forgiveness go out into the world? When He rose from the dead, He told His Apostles to forgive sins. That’s why the pastor says at Absolution that he forgives you “in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ.” But long before that He told His disciples to forgive sins. Therefore, children of God, you too have the authority to forgive sins. You too have the authority to tell those who have sinned against you or your loved ones and those who confess their sins to you that they are forgiven, forgiven for Jesus’ sake.
Your sins are forgiven you. This is a message the devil hates, but it is Gospel truth. The devil will work to try to get you to doubt God’s forgiveness. But Jesus’ Word is true. God out of His bountiful goodness, for the sake of Christ His Son, is not angry with you due to your sins. He loves you. He forgives you. He will keep you from all harm by taking you to paradise of the blessed. He has adopted you as His children. He is pleased with you and loves it when you please Him as children love to please Him. So let us devote ourselves to what He wants done. What is that? He wants us to forgive sins, for Jesus’ sake.