Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity + October 7, 2018
Text: Matthew 9:1-8
So, which is it? Which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” or “Rise and walk”?
Jesus leaves us with this two-edged question, because if we say it’s easier to forgive sins, then we risk thinking too little of what that forgiveness cost. If we say it’s easier to say rise and walk, then we might wonder why God doesn’t seem more active in the world for good.
Which is easier? The answer to the question is “Both.” God is able to do all things, but the thing that scandalized the scribes and led them to accuse Jesus of blasphemy, is that God was doing His work the “wrong” way. How could God put His powerful Word on the lips of a man? How could God perform miracles through human touch?
But this is the mystery of our faith, that God does do these great wonders, and through a Man, Jesus, who is the Son of God. That fact is the difference between the Christian faith and all man-made religions: God brings salvation through human flesh, we come to know God and His will through His Son, and that the way to paradise and eternal life is a gift which is ours by faith in the merit and works of Jesus alone.
Now if we’ve been Christians long enough, we start to become familiar with these things. As the proverb goes, familiarity breeds contempt. What I mean is we believe the word of forgiveness, the words of institution easily enough. But, why do we struggle to believe that God is able to take care of the mundane things of life?
There is a tendency for the well-known Bible stories that we learn in Sunday School to become fairy tales when we grow up. Take for instance the Walls of Jericho: “So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city.” (Josh. 6:20) Our sophisticated adult minds think, how could blowing trumpets and shouting cause city walls to fall flat?! There must be some other explanation like an earthquake and sandstone.
This reveals what is still lacking in our faith. We find ourselves believing in God in theory, but not so much God in fact.
Where is God when the rubber hits the road in life? We just confessed that we believe in Him who created heaven and earth, visible and invisible. But He is right where He has always been. He continues to make Himself known and act for the good of His elect with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. To His children, He gives His Holy Spirit, Who brings us to lament our breaks of faith with God. It’s the Spirit who convinces us that the stories we read in the Bible are not just pious dreams about a fictional God. They are the story of our very same God at work in the world we live in today.
Our God also strengthens our faith to believe that He is not only able to do great things for those who love Him, but He is also able to breach the greatest gap (between God and man) and cleanse even the filthiest heart and mind. Which is easier to do, forgive sins or heal broken bodies? Listen to His Word from Romans 8:
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If God is for us—and in Jesus Christ, He is—what power remains in the world to oppose Him? If it’s a powerful disease like cancer, He is the one who knit us together in our mother’s womb (Ps. 139:14-16) and He is the One who broke the power death has over us. If it’s abuse from a person, remember that He is the one who rescued David from the hand of Saul multiple times (1 Samuel 18-31)—“The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 118:6)
Believe His holy Word, believe that He does exactly what He says, and the right response is Amen. Rolled into that is the promise that nothing in all of life—on earth, in the body, even against spiritual evils—is greater than God who wills good for you.
It’s seemingly easier that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins, but if we believe that (and we do), then let us also believe the rest of our heavenly Father’s love and care by which He will bring us through the passing trials of this life to Paradise.