Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. In our Gospel Reading for this morning, our Lord is presented with a man who has an obvious physical problem—he is paralyzed. He needs healing from this ailment, and so the man’s friends go to great trouble to bring him to Jesus. But what is it that our Lord first says to this paralytic? He says:
“Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).
This is a surprising statement, to say the least. The scribes are surprised by this statement because they are concerned about whether or not our Lord has the authority to forgive sins. However, I would like to focus on the other surprising aspect of this statement: Why does Jesus offer this man forgiveness when it seems so obvious to us that his true need is physical? To ask the question differently, why does Jesus ignore this man’s obvious physical problem? The answer to this question is really quite simple. Our Lord isn’t ignoring this man’s physical problem. He is treating the root cause of his physical ailment. This reveals the major point that we should not miss: Sin is the underlying cause of all the brokenness in this world. With this in mind, we will consider the following two points:
1.) How is sin the underlying cause of all the brokenness in this world?
2.) How does this knowledge lead us to our true hope?
II. Sin is the Underlying Cause of All Brokenness
2. First, we consider the manner in which sin is the underlying cause of all the brokenness in this world. Most of us learned in Catechism class that sin manifests itself among us in two ways. Said differently, there are two kinds of sin: Original Sin and Actual Sin. Both of these kinds of sin cause different kinds of problems in our lives and world. Actual Sin, as the name implies, are sins that we actually commit. They are sinful acts where we have done or left undone something which is contrary to the eternal will of God. These sinful acts can manifest themselves in thought, word, or deed. The way that this plays out in our lives is fairly straight forward. When I sin in thought, word, or deed, the consequence is a brokenness which manifests itself in some way. For example, if I sin in thought by becoming angry with someone but refusing to speak to them about it, the brokenness that results is a fractured relationship. If I sin in word by telling a lie, trust is broken. If I sin in deed by failing to help my brother move a heavy object, the result might be a physical hurt that results from lifting too much by oneself. Sinful acts always result in brokenness. However, Actual Sin is not the only cause of brokenness in this world. In fact, it could be argued that the true, deepest-rooted cause of the brokenness in this world is Original Sin. The Scriptures teach us that the deep, underlying sickness of humanity is our sinful nature, which was inherited from Adam. Consider our Lord’s words in John 8:34:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”
Our Lord’s logic is clear: My sinful nature is the reason why I commit acts of sin. Original Sin brings forth Actual Sin. I sin because I am a sinner, not the other way around. And so, while it is good and right that we struggle against the impulse to commit acts of sin, the true fight is against our sinful nature. So long as the effects of Original Sin remain, so long as the corrupted sinful nature is within me, I will struggle against the effects of sin. And this is the hard part to admit. As long as I live, I will continue to struggle against the effects of Original Sin because I am helpless against it. I can’t do anything to rid myself of the corrupted nature within me. Original Sin is the underlying cause of all the brokenness in this world—and I am helpless against it. This is a stark, yet important reality to admit. Our condition is as Saint Paul expresses in Romans 7:
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
III. This Knowledge Gives Us Hope
3. This leads us to our final point of consideration: knowledge of sin as the underlying cause of our brokenness leads us to our true hope. Saint Paul’s answer to his own question in Romans 7 is the same answer that we see our Lord Jesus provide to the paralytic in today’s Gospel Reading. It is “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25) alone that we can find healing for our deepest-rooted brokenness.
And when Jesus say their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).
These may not have been the words that the paralytic wanted to hear, but they are the words he needed to hear. He wanted to hear the words, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Matthew 9:6). To be fair, he would hear those words and receive the physical healing he desired, but it was these words of forgiveness that our Lord spoke to him which are of greatest significance. The man’s true problem was not his paralysis. His true problem was the effects of sin weighing on him, which were manifesting in this paralysis. The paralysis was the symptom. Sin was the cause. Now, don’t misunderstand. That’s not to say that he or anyone else committed an act of sin which brought this paralysis on himself. The story of the man born blind in John 9 comes to mind for this. This paralytic was helpless against the effects of original sin, and so he needed the forgiveness that only his Lord Jesus could provide. Had Jesus simply healed his paralysis and walked away, the man would have experienced relief in this life from his symptom, but he would not have received true and eternal healing. This is why knowledge of sin as the underlying cause of our brokenness leads to true hope. Without recognition of the corruption caused by sin, there is no hope of the true healing which is only provided by our Lord Jesus.
4. We see examples of this in our world today. When a person is suffering from the effects of sin, a treatment of the symptoms will never offer true hope and healing. I heard of a pastor one time who had a homeless person come into his office. The homeless person asked him for money to feed his family, and the pastor responded by saying, “I don’t have money to give you, but I can give you forgiveness.” The pastor proceeded to share about Jesus, but was quickly interrupted by the homeless person, who replied, “Forgiveness doesn’t do me any good if I starve!” The pastor replied, “You’re wrong. When you die, that’s precisely when you’ll need forgiveness.” Now, think what you will about whether the pastor should have given the homeless person money. That’s not the point. The point is that we so often are obsessed with the things that don’t truly matter. We care about the symptom rather than the cause. We want relief from our struggles in this life, but Jesus offers us eternal healing. We want relief from our struggle with anxiety, but Jesus offers us hope of eternal healing. We want a few more years with our terminally-ill loved one, but Jesus offers us hope of eternal life with them. We want a life of comfort and convenience, but Jesus offers us the hope of pleasures forevermore in his presence. We want the wrong things because we don’t see what Jesus sees. We see a life filled with heartache and struggles. Jesus sees a world corrupted by sin. When we begin to recognize that sin is the underlying cause of all the brokenness in this world, then we begin to see why Jesus is the only source of true hope. And so, our Lord says to you this day: “Take heart, my son, my daughter; your sins are forgiven. Your struggle against this corruption of sin will come to an end. I will heal you. I will restore all things. I will grant you life everlasting in my presence where you will be free from the struggles of this life. Endure for a little while with this as your hope, and I will heal you.” May God grant us wisdom to see our struggles as Jesus does, patience to endure them, and hope to trust in Christ’s promises.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.