Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Who Can Forgive Sins? You!

Luke 5:17-26 (ESV)
On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. [18] And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, [19] but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. [20] And when he saw their faith, he said, "Man, your sins are forgiven you." [21] And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, "Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" [22] When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, "Why do you question in your hearts? [23] Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? [24] But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—he said to the man who was paralyzed—"I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home." [25] And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. [26] And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, "We have seen extraordinary things today."

“who can forgive sins but God alone?” In short the answer is you. I’m always a bit baffled by this question. Do people not know they are quoting Pharisees when they say this? Generally, the position of the Pharisees is not the position to be taken, especially when it is a position posited in antithesis to Jesus Christ himself. But I get this question Sunday after Sunday when ever a Baptist or Evangelical has happened to visit and hear me declare peoples sins forgiven during the corporate confession and absolution, or as I am wont to do, after they have received the forgiveness of sins in Holy Communion. I’m told over and over, only God can forgive sins. I find it strange, especially given all the times throughout the New Testament we are admonished to forgive. What are we forgiving if not sin? And the sin is never against you alone, it is always an affront to God. But he tells you to forgive. So forgive. He has forgiven you.
Now it is true, finally only God can forgive, but he forgives through you, because in giving you the command to forgive, as in forgiving your brother 7 times 70 and all that, he has given you the authority to forgive, and all forgiveness, as all things baptized children of God do, is forgiveness in his name, because that is the name we have been baptized into, we belong to him. So just as the adulterer and murderer sinned only against the Lord, so it is the Lord alone who forgives. With him there is forgiveness, therefore he is feared.
But Jesus doesn’t bicker with the Pharisees. There are many peculiar things going on here. Jesus sees, faith. Then he forgives sins. When questioned, he offers another miracle as evidence that he is the messiah and can forgive sins.
Bo Giertz brings up here that Luke has given us 3 miracles in a row, one after the other, and that here we see what a miracle is. He goes on to give somewhat a definition of a miracle. The first is that it is something “inconceivable” something unforeseen, something unexpected. This does not mean that it goes against the laws of nature, he says. A miracle doesn’t have to. There might actually be ways of “rationalizing” what has happened. I find this to be at least somewhat helpful. The problem today is, we don’t really know what the laws of nature are. In fact, laws of nature have gone by the way side with the idea of natural law. No one really believes in either of them anymore. I waffle on the concepts myself. Anyone who has watched a PBS special on String Theory, or Quantum Mechanics, should realize that the idea of laws of nature is just a bit in danger. No one talks about scientific proofs. The moment they do, one is given reason to not listen anylonger. A Bio 101 class will tell you the best you can determine is probability, higher or lesser. So yes, miracles are things that have a low probability of happening, but have happened nonetheless. But not every improbable occurance is a miracle. A miracle is a “sign” done by God at a particular time and place to show that he has something to say, to reveal something for us men.
So did they happen? The thing is, the miracles historically speaking, stand. People want to rule them out a priori. People say well this religion claims this happened too? Why don’t you then believe in that religion? Well, even if I do believe that miracle happened, I have plenty of reason not to believe in that religion. I’ll be honest, I am as skeptical as anyone else when I hear that bizarre things have happened, when I hear of demon possession and ghosts, and all sorts of different things. But I don’t rule out that something has happened. I believe in a supernatural world, where pharaoh’s priests could do mighty things in the name or Raj. I believe that there are voodoo witch doctors in Haiti, that can do some incredible things. I once accidently had my hand read at a Chinese bistro, and to this day I find it uncanny how true it has turned out, only time will tell if the reading remains true. Perhaps it was just a good guess based on the law of averages, but I can tell you if I could have done anything to make it untrue, I would have. And I mean accidently, I would not have eaten there if I had known the waitress would just grab my hand and give me a reading before I knew what was going on. I take solace realizing that Joseph read tea leaves, and Chemnitz read horoscopes for Melanchthon. I don’t dismiss every story concerning Mr. Crowley. But believing that others can do miraculous things in the name of false gods and demons, does not mean that I then have to consider their religions true or worthy of worship. Those gods don’t forgive sins, nor do they counsel that we should.
There are so many reasons to follow Jesus as Levi will. Perhaps a bit counterintuitive at times. But Jesus offers forgiveness, and he dies to deliver, and rises from the dead to confirm. He gives of himself, that we might live. Yes, other gods might be able to give me money, power, sex, but they can’t give me self worth, they can’t spare me from the grave. Seeking the kingdom first, and all the rest is given to me, my daily bread provided. And even more, my selfworth, your selfworth, the blood of Christ poured out for many, no longer bound to consider my bank account, my car, my trophy wife, or how well I can get by using and abusing others. I’m baptized, I’ve been washed in the blood of the lamb, loved by a God who forgives my sins, and delivers me from death. That’s right, he delivers me from death, he doesn’t expect me to do it with his help. He did it. And he did it for you. The miracles? Icing on the cake.

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