Summer’s over. Things aren’t the way they were not that long ago. It’s getting cooler out. There’s definitely a lot less light today than there was a month ago. Darkness is starting to overtake the light. Cold is starting to overtake heat. The joys of summer are about to be replaced by the doldrums of winter.
Today we enter a new section of the Trinity Season. We’ve been focusing on sanctification. Now we focus on the war we wage against Satan. Satan has been at war with God since he fell. He’s brought the world into his army. God plucks people out of that army and puts them in His armies whenever somebody comes to faith and is baptized. We struggle with the devil all our life long to live the sanctified life. He wants us to reject what is good and follow him again. Only with the help of Christ our God do we overcome and win the victory.
Today’s Gospel reading follows the famous story of Jesus casting devils out of a couple men and letting them go into pigs who promptly dived into the Sea of Galilee and drowned. The people of that region told Him to leave, so He did. He got back in His boat – He had just sailed over there and stopped a storm – and sailed back across the lake, back home to Capernaum. And because He was back home, people did what they did when they knew He was there or anywhere: they brought Him somebody to heal.
He was paralyzed. We don’t know why – perhaps he was born that way, perhaps an accident or a disease took away his ability to walk. Whatever the reason, he couldn’t walk. But that wasn’t his only problem. Being unable to do something like walk can affect us a lot, can’t it? When we get really sick, we don’t just think about being really sick. In such times it’s normal to wonder what God thinks of us.
Why is that? We’re used to doing the things we like to do. Changes upset us. We get real upset if we can’t do the things we used to be able to do. We dwell on it and let the changes become the most important thing in our life. By that I mean it’s all we think about and it gets us down. That means we don’t focus on what God has done and is still doing – right then! – for us. Instead you wonder if God still cares about you, still loves you, still forgives your sins.
So you can put yourself in the shoes, maybe even on the stretcher, of this paralytic. It doesn’t feel good, does it? You can’t help but think about it. It’s very sad. “Why did God let this happen to me? Why aren’t I getting better? If God really loves me, shouldn’t I be getting better? Then again, should I have gotten sick? Does He really love me?” These are some of the questions we might think. Those questions are all temptations of the devil who wants us to reject Christ. He wants us to think God no longer cares for us. He wants us to think either we must go to hell or neither heaven nor hell exist. He wants us to fall into unbelief and despair so he can have us forever.
Into that despair and unbelief steps Christ Jesus Himself. The man was hoping He would heal him. His friends wanted that too. But that’s not what He did, not at first. That wasn’t so important. The physical problem wasn’t so important. What was important was his spiritual condition. What was important was for this man to know God did love him, had not forgotten him or rejected him, did care for him, was defending him and watching out for him. That was the most important thing. So Jesus right away, knowing the condition of his heart, said: “Take heart, child, forgiven are your sins.” “Take heart, child, forgiven are your sins.” Jesus does not focus on the man’s sins. He focuses on the forgiveness of sins. Satan wants us to focus on our sins, on how unforgiveable they are, on how enjoyable they are. God comes to us through His Word to stop that. He comes to tell us our sins are not good for us, they are not proper and they harm us, both in this life, and potentially in the life to come. But He also comes to take away that harm. He comes to forgive us. With that forgiveness He gives us eternal life.
He has authority to forgive sins. This surprised and angered the scribes. They didn’t think anybody could do that but God. They rejected that this Man is God. They did not believe that He, by dying, could take away the sins of the world. But this is exactly what He did. God died for us sinners. The God-Man bore in His flesh all our sins. Jesus was punished for them all. God loved the world so much He gave His Son to die for us, that whoever believes in Him have eternal life.
But He didn’t stay dead. He rose from the dead. That was the Father saying He accepts what He did for us. That was the Father giving His Son all authority in heaven and on earth. The chief authority He has is to forgive sins. He already was exercising that authority in Capernaum, and He exercises it today. He chooses to forgive sins. He loves you. He does not want you to perish. He cares for you. Therefore He forgives you. He gives you eternal life.
This is the most comforting message in the world. It brings joy that nothing else can bring. For this is a message you can take with you into eternity. Earthly comforts do not last. They wear off or die or make you feel bad the next morning. This comfort lasts. It stays with you through the grave into life eternal. It takes your focus off yourself and what’s wrong with you and squarely grounds it on Christ, your salvation.
This is what defeats the devil. If you don’t have Christ on your side, he can easily defeat you, for your mortal nature is far too frail to combat him by itself. Only Christ can save you. Only His Word can be your defense. Only His Word can comfort you and give you strength against the devil. This is why you were taught to memorize Scripture. It was not just something you had to do to get confirmed. The purpose was this: So you can confess Christ against both men and devils and prevail and so that you too with authority can tell others their sins are forgiven. You will only prevail against them if you are armed with His Word, for He alone is stronger. He alone delivers us out of our troubles, for He alone is our God forever and ever.
Jesus did heal the man. He had compassion on his physical weakness too. But the forgiveness of sins came first. So Jesus forgives your sins first. He sends the pastor to you, in church, at home, in the hospital, in the funeral home, at the graveside, to tell you that. But He may send healing in this life. He sends it when He desires, when He knows is best, not when you want it and think it best. More importantly, He will completely heal you on the last day. Though you rot in your grave, He will raise you up. You will be better than ever. You will be strong and beautiful. You will never age or get sick or die or even hunger and thirst or be cold. You will live forever. And Satan will never harm you. For Christ has defeated Him. You are forgiven. Salvation is yours.