Why Forgiveness Comes Hard
October 21, 2017 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross
WHY FORGIVENESS COMES HARD
The great contrast in our text is between faith and calculation. The evangelist tells us that Jesus saw the faith, not of the sick man, but of the friends who brought him. We don't know how He saw their faith. Probably it was something only He could see from His divine perspective. The scribes, on the other hand, were reasoning in their hearts. Their calculation resulted in a half-truth. Only God is able to forgive sins. So far so good. But why does He forgive them? Leviticus 16:30 tells us that on Yom Kippur God's people would be cleansed from all their sins. The priest killed one goat and put its blood on the Ark of the Covenant. He put his hand on the other's head to put the sins of the people on it before they drove it away. Why? Was it really about goats? Or did they point ahead to the real Scapegoat? The scribes could not know that, so they said, "This man is blaspheming."
This is the contrast between the ladder and the depths. Human reason is always climbing ladders. Each of us comes with a little driver called the opinion of the law. The scribes knew about that. Their religion was a ladder religion, counting the steps to see how high they had come, and how much higher they needed to go to get the reward at the top. Faith has no ladder. It calls to God out of the depths, saying There is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared. We have to fall into the depths. We have to understand that we are in the depths, that there is no ladder. Then we can know forgiveness. But for most people the ladder is the sum of all religion. God's Law is written on our hearts, the Gospel is not. God has shown us the Righteous One who kept the Law, who had the perfect ladder but used it to climb down into the depths to rescue us. Jesus fulfilled all the righteousness of the Law, yet bore the guilt and consequences of sin.
Jesus presents that mercy and forgiveness to us today. We can believe Him, or we can reason in our hearts. If we choose to reason, we will find the Law under which we see all society operating, under which our childhood duties were defined, under which all parts of society find their place. The Law promises to be a ladder for our pride, but it cannot hold our weight. The burden of sin is too heavy for its delicate rungs. Listen to Jesus, and hear Him offer you something better. Forgiveness rests entirely on Somebody Else. Mercy is undeserved kindness, which the merciful extend because they choose to. Nothing in nature, nothing in society, nothing in our hearts can prepare us to depend on mercy. Human nature teaches us to keep control of every situation. Forgiveness is hard to take. Instead of depending on an unchanging Law, you have to depend on God's freedom. God overcomes this resistance by sending the Holy Spirit with the Gospel. The Holy Spirit gives us grace to receive the Gospel.
As hard as forgiveness is to receive, it is harder by far to give. The Forgiver must bear the evil Himself. It costs little to say, "Arise and walk." Either the person does or he doesn't. But Jesus can say, "Your sins are forgiven," because He was on His way to pay for them. Think of the five little words, thy sins are forgiven thee, as the five wounds Jesus bore on the cross. He forgives by the authority of the cross, which is the ultimate yom kippur for the world. He freely takes human death upon himself in order to offer us forgiveness without compromising divine justice. Jesus removes all the accusations, and will no longer listen to the Accuser. No one has any right to be forgiven. That would mean that God was obliged to grant it. He is not. He is free to forgive us, not obliged to forgive us. But He has promised that when we, like the sick man's four friends, cry to Him out of the depths, He will show us kindness. Jesus did not see any redeeming feature in the man or his friends. But He wasn't looking for redeeming features. He saw their faith. That's what he was looking for. Jesus needs a place to put His blessings, and faith is that.
You cannot put a three-pronged plug into a two-hole socket. You need a little device that has three holes on one side and two prongs on the other. We call this an "adaptor," because we can adapt the current to our appliance. We don't come with faith as standard equipment. The Holy Spirit has to give it to us. And He does. Faith is our adaptor. Faith is that all-important third hole where Jesus can plug in His forgiveness, and His other blessings like restored health, which follow from forgiveness. As we confess in the meaning of the Fifth Petition, He grants them all to us by grace. Faith is adaptation to God's Gospel, His forgiveness, His blessings.
God's Law defines righteousness. It places it much higher than the highest rung of the ladder. So we must ask ourselves, just how reliable is Jesus? In the Bible, no one who asked Jesus for forgiveness ever failed to receive it. So to really find out how reliable Jesus is, look to His death and resurrection. These are accomplished, historical facts. True religion does not calculate, but humbly depends on Jesus who demands nothing yet promises everything.
Could you commit yourself into God's hands for the night if you did not believe that He forgave your sins? Could you ask his blessing on your meals if you had reason to believe He was your Enemy? You don't have to. You can be sure that by the authority of the cross your sins are forgiven. You can be sure that you can count on Jesus to give you all good things with forgiveness. He acts in complete freedom to answer you. It may not be in your best interest for him to say, "Arise and walk." But it is always in your best interest to be a prince or a princess in His kingdom. From out of the depths He brings you to that, His New Israel that will endure forever. AMEN.