In the prayer of the day, we asked that God would keep us safe in body and soul, , so that we can do works pleasing to God. In the Gospel reading we see an example of that – Jesus shows us what it is we are to do. Because yes, Jesus is the Savior from our sin. His death on the cross paid the penalty – we can never repay that, and the forgiveness, life and salvation he gives is given freely to all who believe in his name, without any merit or worthiness in us.
But there is another aspect to Christ’s work – and it’s one we must never forget. He not only fulfilled His heavenly father’s will on the cross, he was obedient to that will his whole life. The technical term for this is the active obedience of Christ. It means that as Gods Son, Jesus was not subject to the Law. He reigns at the right hand of the Father in glory. And yet, he willingly subjected himself to it. He not only allowed himself to be crucified, before that he actively feared, loved, trusted in his Father above all things, and loved his neighbor as himself.
When we talk about doing the things of God, there are two realms to consider – the church and the world. That is how God gives us his law. The first three commandments require that we Love the Lord God, the last seven require us to love our neighbor. When we break the commandments, we are not trusting God for all things, and we are not loving our neighbor. Jesus keeps all of these commandments – and he does it not out of compulsion, but in love to you and to his Father in heaven.
So, how does Jesus do that? He helps those in need, and he brings them the Gospel of forgiveness. Now it’s true that Jesus does these in an extraordinary way that is not open to us. He forgives sins directly, and on his own authority as the Son of God. And he can take away even sickness, undo even death with only a word. We obviously have not been given that power. We can not heal with a word. False teachers pretend to do it. But it’s a scam. Not that the apostles didn’t occasionally heal. Not that it can’t happen. We pray that God would heal those among us who are sick. We trust that he will hear our prayer and respond according to his merciful will. But we can’t just walk up to someone who is paralyzed and say, “Rise take up your mattress and walk. We could bring them food to help them. Drive them to the doctor or to Physical Therapy while they learn to cope with their disability. There are a thousand ways we can show love to them, but we don’t have the raw power Jesus did. God doesn’t expect us to do things at the level Jesus did – it is not given to us to do things like that. They are miraculous. They may happen, oftentimes medicine can come up with no logical reason why someone was healed. But we do not assume that they will. We do not walk up to the sick and command that the illness leave them. That is God-territory. Jesus wields it in love to his neighbor. All of which really just means, “In Today’s Gospel reading he heals the guy.”
But he does something else for that man – and he does it first. He forgives the man his sins. This is also God-territory. Man can not just go around declaring forgiveness of sins in God’s name, any more than anyone here can randomly appoint members of the Supreme Court. There’s a process. President appoints, Senate gives their consent. So, forgiveness is God’s to give. When the people hear Jesus forgiving sin, they think it’s blaspheme. Calling yourself God, pretending to have his authority. But Jesus shows them he has the authority, by showing them he has powers reserved only for God. The man walks.
And that is a great comfort to us. Because Jesus can forgive sins. He has the authority. He is the one who earned the forgiveness by his death on the cross. And he now comes to us with that forgiveness.
And he does it in a tangible way. It isn’t just forgiveness as thoughts in the heart. Jesus actually gives the authority to forgive sins to the church. He tells the apostles after the resurrection, “Whoever sins you forgive they are forgiven, whoever’s sins you retain, they are retained.” The church is given the authority to forgive and retain sins on Jesus behalf and at his word. That’s amazing. God power, given to man. And it isn’t just given to one or two. All Christians can forgive sins. Not standing in the chancel, not publicly on behalf of the whole church. But every Christian can speak the forgiveness of sins to their neighbor. Husbands forgive wives, wives forgive husbands, parents forgive children, children forgive parents. Friends forgive friends. Each Christian can speak the word of absolution to his neighbor when they are sinned against. Saint Augustine used this example: If two men are stranded in a boat on the ocean, one a Christian, the other not, one man could baptize the other. And then the newly baptized Christian could absolve his baptizer of his sins. That’s the power Christi gives the church – that any baptized Christian can forgive sins privately in the stead of Christ. Publicly, on behalf of Christ and his church, he gives pastors to do that. To preach the good news, to pray for the saints on earth, to forgive and retain sins on his behalf. The entire church is ordered so that sinners would receive forgiveness. That’s what we do.
The works of mercy flow from that forgiveness. We show love to our neighbor as we help him in every bodily need, defend and support his marriage, for those who are married, love and honor for the spouse, help him to improve and protect his possessions and income, defend his reputation, all while living in godly peace with our neighbor, and praying for those who rule over us. That’s the pattern of live for the Christian. We see that in Jesus work in the parable today. He forgives the sins of the man brought to him, because that’s our most desperate need.
He also heals the man, because that’s the physical need that the man has.
We look at this and are tempted to see it the other way around – as if the healing is the important thing, and the forgiveness something small. But that’s a sin clouded picture. Forgiveness is what we need. Its our sin that earns us the judgment of death. And not just death in this world, eternal death. Jesus comes with forgiveness by his death, so that you would not die eternally.
In this world we still struggle with sin. Our flesh is corrupted by it. We see that working itself out in our own bodies. They fail us. But the real corruption is in our souls, which are by nature turned away from the things of God.
Jesus forgives your sin, and brings you back into the loving arms of your heavenly Father. That’s the wonderful gift he gives – that you are no longer an enemy of God. And he even sends the Spirit so that you would have faith to believe the promise. So that you would receive the gift he gives. So that you would turn back from your sin, so that you would turn to God. So that you would again fear love and trust in him above all things.
And now, renewed by the Holy Spirit, you can do the works of God. Oh, not god-works – like healing. You don’t get special powers. But you do get – as we are about to pray – a clean heart, a renewed and right spirit. A beginning is made in you through Baptism. You are joined to Christ’s death, you are brought into the kingdom of his grace and forgiveness, and you are now able to desire the things of God. To love and trust in him for every good thing. Your heart is made alive. God has taken from you the heart of stone, and replaced it with a heart of flesh.
Thanks be To God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.