The Festival of the Reformation, Observed
Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
St. Matthew 9.1-8
27 October 2019
+ In the Name of Jesus +
“And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven…’” And Jesus said, “…The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” (Mt 9:2,6; ESV)
In the early morning hours of Feb. 18, 1546, Martin Luther closed his eyes for the last time in this temporal life. And the hand that hammered the 95 Theses into the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517, had already penned its final words:
“We are all beggars. This is true.” Words found on a slip of paper in Luther’s pocket.
And this is the truth that our Lord says makes you free. Ironic, isn’t it? That, in order to be free, you must be a beggar; you must be utterly dependent and reliant upon God. You must be the paralytic in today’s Gospel.
This makes us uncomfortable – the way we’re uncomfortable when someone gets us a Christmas or birthday present when we haven’t gotten them one. We feel we owe them. And we don’t much like being in someone’s debt.
But Luther reminds us with his last words is that we are all indeed beggars. But we’re not just anyone’s beggars. We’re God’s beggars. And this is Luther’s legacy to the Christian Church. Christ came for sinners. He came to seek and save the lost. He came to heal the sick and raise the dead. He came for sinners, and He dwells only with sinners.
And, if we are to be where He is, we must be willing to be counted among the lost, the sick, the paralyzed, and the dead. We must be willing to be beggars. We must cry out for mercy, for grace, for his undeserved love and kindness. We must be dependent solely on Him and what He gives.
Dr. Luther preached on today’s Gospel:
“It is ordained that no one shall come into God’s presence, find grace, nor obtain forgiveness of the least sin except through the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Luther, Church Postil, v.5, 222)
The paralyzed man could do nothing on his own, literally. He had to be carried by friends to the Lord Jesus. He did not say one word. Not even a “Lord, have mercy…” Some people brought – offered – the man to Jesus.
But in Jesus no one gets what they expect. The paralyzed man and his friends turn to Jesus for healing and find something unexpected. They do not find a temporal healing, not a temporary fix to a physical problem. They find something much more important, much more eternal. They find in Christ the forgiveness of sins. They find the essence of God’s presence for them. They find the enacting of God’s grace.
No matter how much of a beggar he may be. No matter how paralyzed a person may be. No matter how sick and diseased a person may be. No matter how far unto the point of death itself a person may be. That person needs more than a cure for what ails them bodily. They need the forgiveness of sins. They need the eternal cure.
There is nothing more important, not in all of heaven or earth, not in all of time or eternity, that you have – there’s not a single activity, not a ballgame, not a camp out, not a family trip of any kind, not a house to clean, not a bed to sleep in upon, not a charity to raise funds for, not even a widow’s mite to drop in a box somewhere, not a thing that you ought to be doing, there’s not one thing ever more important than to be brought into the presence of God, to find His grace in the preaching of His Gospel, to obtain the forgiveness of sins in the Lord Jesus Christ. You don’t have to take my word for it.
You have Christ and His Word. He did not blaspheme. The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins. He proves it by healing the paralytic. The first thing out of Jesus’ mouth is the eternal needs of the paralytic man. “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.” He is the one true Son of God, come from the Father to bring on the Kingdom of His Father, in the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus would tell His apostles after His resurrection “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Lk 24:47)
This preaching of and giving out of the forgiveness of sins is the first and only item on the agenda for the Church, and therefore, for every Christian to receive as a gift, in the Church. This was the gift God gave through the Lutheran Reformation and the Blessed Reformer: the very heart of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins, is what we must preach and teach and confess and receive by grace through faith to our dying breath. So again Luther on today’s text:
“Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come from heaven and has been made man, has suffered and died for your sins. This is the cause, the means, and the treasure, through which you obtain the forgiveness of sins and for the sake of which the grace of God is bestowed upon you… Therefore… Jesus Christ, God and Man, and through His suffering and death made satisfaction for your sins, and paid for them. This is the price that has been set, and has been expended for you, by which sin has been quenched and the wrath of God appeased, the Father has been reconciled [to you] and made your friend.” (Luther, Church Postils, v. 5, 221-222)
How this forgiveness of sins is applied to you is also seen in the healing of the paralytic man. How very much like your Baptism into the Lord Christ is the healing of the paralytic. He is carried on a bed to Jesus by others, even as infants are carried forth to the font.
Even if you were baptized as an adult, you can still see this, in that nothing you could do or say could earn that Baptism and what it gives, because all of the promises in Baptism come from God’s Word of promise attached to that water. It is all gift, pure grace and forgiveness.
He gives us everything. Everything – forgiveness of sins, salvation from death and the devil, and eternal life. This is not because of any worthiness or merit in us, but it is because of God’s fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.
On account of Christ’s death and resurrection, the Father forgives you, saves you, and is pleased with you. And you receive. You receive His love, His righteousness, His holiness, His acceptance, and His inheritance. We are all beggars. This is true.
God justifies us, and He declares us innocent and righteous by His grace received through faith for the sake of Christ. This is not because of our works; this is because of His work on the cross. This is the heart and soul of Christianity and the life-blood of the Church of the Lutheran Reformation. This rings out from practically every word that Luther wrote and taught from the 95 Theses to the Small Catechism to that slip of paper in his pocket on his deathbed. We, who once were enemies of God, are reconciled to Him and made to be His children in Jesus Christ our Savior.
This is what Luther would point us to when He took up his pen for the last time and scribbled “We are all beggars. This is true.” We are beggars. But we are beggars of the God who does not ignore us, who doesn’t pass by us on the other side. We are beggars of the One who descended from heaven to make His dwelling with sinners. Who received that man paralyzed on the cot and showed him mercy.
We are beggars of Him who deigns to dwell with us, among us, and – yes – even in us by grace for Christ’s sake. For in the bread and cup that we bless, we share together with Christ and each other the riches of God’s grace.
So inexhaustible are the riches of this grace – the Gospel in sermon and absolution, in Baptism and Holy Communion – that our cups overflow. We, who are God’s beggars, are not only inexhaustibly satisfied, not only raised up to new life, but have something to give back in thanksgiving and praise.
God grant you, by His grace, to hold firmly to His healing power for you, the forgiveness of sins, offered to you though our Lord Jesus Christ, and received by faith in and through His Word alone, now and unto that great day when we follow Him into eternal life.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +