Jesus casts out demons with a word. He cures an old woman’s fever with the touch of his hand. He cleanses a leper with a touch and a word. He teaches and preaches with unheard of authority. And the people are amazed. And as hard as Jesus tries to stay out of the limelight, the people won’t let him. The word about Him has spread all over Galilee. Jesus, the healer. Jesus, the wonder worker. Come to Jesus and be healed of anything that ails you. Like a pop celebrity, Jesus has to slip in and out of town secretly. And when He returns to Capernaum, to the little house of Peter’s mother-in-law, another crowd. A crowd so thick you couldn’t get to the front door.
And again, Jesus preaches. The people come for miracles, and Jesus gives them a sermon. To preach is why He came. To proclaim the kingdom. You come for miracles and Jesus has a sermon to deliver. So as long as you’re here, you may as well listen: Repent.. Change your mind. There is good news about God and you. The kingdom of God is near. As near as Jesus.
Some men came to that little house in Capernaum with their friend who was paralyzed. The crowd was clogging the door. There was no way to get the man to Jesus. So they went up on the roof, rearranged the tiles, and dug a hole. Poor Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Two weeks ago, they trampled the daisies. Now they’re digging holes in her roof! Dust and chunks of dirt are raining down all over the people. You’ve got admire these guys. We let a little rain or cold weather keep us from church. These guys can’t get through the front door so they dig through the roof.
They lower their friend on his pallet down through the opening right at the feet of Jesus. And Jesus is impressed. Now that’s faith! You have to believe in something to be willing to dig a hole in someone else’s roof. And He looks at the man lying there on his board, paralyzed, helpless. And He looks at his friends peering down through the hole in the roof. And He says to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”
Now that probably wasn’t his friends expected when they lowered him through the roof at Jesus’ feet. They expected Jesus to heal him, to make him walk. But instead, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” They believed that Jesus could heal their friend. They had faith in Jesus the healer, Jesus the miracle worker, Jesus Christ superstar. And Jesus wants to lead their faith, and ours, to the greener pastures of forgiveness.
Forgivenessis where the action is. “Where forgiveness is, there is life and salvation,” Luther said. If all we had was forgiveness, we’d have everything. Life and salvation. Jesus wants to push the miracles, beyond the demons and diseases, to sin and its forgiveness. Like a good physician, Jesus isn’t content to treat the symptoms, he goes for the disease. The root cause of all that ails us. Sin. And He reaches for the cure. Forgiveness.
“Child, your sins are forgiven.” That’s unexpected. You’d expect Jesus to stick out his hand, as he had done with Peter’s mother-in-law, and lift the man from his mat. But instead he says an outrageous thing, “Your sins are forgiven.”
It’s not what the Bible scholars and religious expect. They’re looking at each other and thinking, “Wait a minute! Who does this guy think he is, anyway? God? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The miracles may have been popular with the crowds, but forgiveness always stirs up trouble. The closer you get to forgiveness, the more trouble there is. [catechism]
“Your sins are forgiven.” Outrageous! To tell a poor, paralyzed man his sins are forgiven when he’s expecting a miracle! Almost cruel. As though Jesus were holding back something, or making him an example in front of everyone, calling this poor man a sinner, saying, “Your sins are forgiven,” when what he expected was for Jesus to make his legs work again.
Forgiveness is not what we expect from God, either. We want answers, solutions, miracles. We want a pill, a quick cure, principles, programs. We want creeds and codes of conduct and rituals, rules and regulations. We want religion, that’s what we want. Religion that offers quick answers and easy miracles and good feelings and healing for whatever ails us. But forgiveness?
“Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus says to us.
“But I have problems,” we say.
“I know that. Your sins are forgiven.”
“But I need answers.”
“No you don’t. Just ask Job. You need forgiveness. Your sins are forgiven.”
“My life’s a mess. Don’t you have a program or something?”
“I don’t deal in programs. Just death and resurrection. Your sins are forgiven.”
“How about a miracle? I could sure use a miracle!”
“You already have it. Your sins are forgiven.”
Jesus knew what they were thinking. “Why are you debating these things in your hearts? Which is easier? To say to the paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “get up and take your mat and walk?” It’s almost as though Jesus is put out for having to do this miracle. And, in truth, he shouldn’t have to. Not if they believed He was God in the Flesh. He wouldn’t have to prove it. They wouldn’t be challenging His authority to forgive if they believed He was God.
And here we get to why Jesus does miracles in the first place. Not to set a pattern, where if you believe hard enough and say the right things and have your friends dig a hole in a roof for you, then you can have your slice of the miracle pie too. Not to set us up to expect miracles. You can’t expect miracles. If you could expect miracles, they wouldn’t be miracles, that if I just pop in the right combination of prayer, praise, and perserverance, out pops the prize. No, the purpose of the miracles is to serve as a visible sign that you might believe that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sin. That’s why Jesus did what He did. So that you might believe that He has the authority on earth to forgive sin.
How do you know that Jesus’ word has divine authority? How do you know that Jesus has the authority over the demons? He casts out demons. How do you know that Jesus has authority over disease? He heals disease. How do you know that he has authority to raise a paralyzed man off his mat? The man rises, takes up his mat, and walks. You can see it. The evidence is right there, staring you in the face. How do you know you are healed? You’re healed. You get well. No faith at all is required. You see it. You see the paralyzed man get up and walk.
But how do you know that his sins are forgiven? How do you know that your sins are forgiven? What proof, what evidence is there? The truth is that you can’t know, feel, taste, touch, or see that your sins are forgiven. You have no visible proof that your sin are a far from you as the east is from the west. You have no evidence that God is reconciled to you in the death of Christ. You have nothing that tells you that God does not condemn you, that the Law cannot convict you, that you are pardoned and your death sentence has been overturned, and the court has been dismissed. All you have is God’s Word, which you must believe.
The miracles Jesus did were signs, visible tokens that Jesus really is who He said He was – the eternal Word, the 2nd Person of the Undivided Trinity, the eternal Son of the Father, the Word through whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together. The miracles revealed Jesus for who He was so that we might believe that He has the authority on earth to forgive sin. In other words, the miracles are a sign for unbelievers, not believers! In fact most of the miracles in the Bible are done on unbelievers, not believers. The miracles are not a reward for believing but are a sign for the unbeliever, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the “yes” and “amen” to all of God’s promises.
“Arise, take up your mat, and go home” And the man did. He arose, took his mat, and went home. In full view of the skeptical theologians, the thrill-seeking crowds, and Jesus’ disciples. He got and walked in the power of Jesus’ word. The same word that moments earlier had forgiven the man his sins. The same word that earlier pronounced your forgiven. Same Word. Will you believe it? That this word has all authority in heaven and on earth behind it? Or do you still need a miracle to prove it?
Actually, you have far greater signs than a paralyzed man walking. You have Jesus’ own death and resurrection. Remember, at this point in the Gospel, Jesus’ dying and rising were still to come. And so He gave people miraculous signs, which were signs of the resurrection. But His own death and resurrection are the sign par excellence that Jesus is the real thing, the Son of God and Savior of the world. No one else but Jesus can lay claim to a death and a resurrection. And what can you do to top rising from the dead?
And, if that weren’t enough, we have our own signs of Jesus’ death and life. Infallible, divine signs. Miracles in their own right. Holy Baptism, where we are joined to Jesus in His death. The Lord’s Supper where we feed off His death and His life, His body and His blood. The word of forgiveness, where by a word spoken through a fellow sinner we hear the voice of God forgiving us. These are the greater signs, greater than casting out demons, or healing sniffles and sneezes, or fixing paralyzed legs.
What Jesus did for that paralyzed man that day in the crowed house in Capernaum, He does for each of us and for the world. He forgives sin. And He raises the dead. That’s what He did for the paralytic. He forgave his sin, and He raised him. Forgiving sin and raising the dead are what Jesus alone does. No one else has such authority to forgive and to raise.
Now He forgives you. Soon He will raise you, and heal all that’s wrong with you – in the resurrection of your body from the dead. Every promise of God, including the ultimate healing of your body, has it’s “yes” and “amen” in Jesus. Now you must trust Him, take Him at His Word, believe in Him.
You have all received a great miracle. You sins are forgiven in the name of Jesus. You can’t see it, taste it, touch it, feel it, or prove it. You must trust it, bank on it. Believe it, for Jesus’ sake.