Why Does Grace Heal The Wounded And Anger The Self-Righteous?

Text: Matthew 9:1-8

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

It is hard to imagine why, but many individuals become very angry at grace. Yes, you heard that correctly. Many people in our world become furious when grace is given out. Take, for instance, the religious leaders from the reading in the Gospel of Matthew.   

In Matthew's Gospel, we hear that Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic man. And the religious leaders?  They did not respond with glee and joy. But instead, they said, "This Man blasphemes!"  They had vicious malice and diseased wickedness in their hearts, when Jesus said to the paraplegic on a stretcher, "Cheer up, son. I forgive your sins!"   

But why the harsh reaction from the religious leaders?   

By forgiving sins, Jesus was claiming divine authority, which the religious leaders obviously did not agree with. But also, it is important to keep in mind that the religious leaders did not like grace itself. Throughout the Gospels, the religious leaders got more and more upset with Jesus' gracious ministry.

But why such animosity towards grace?   

Dear friends, when grace is proclaimed and given, the wounded will get healed, and the pompous-stiff-necked-religious-jerks get angry. Or, another way of saying this is: the desperate welcome grace and the deceived hate grace.  

Now, you may not realize it, but one of the biggest accusations thrown at St. Paul's and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is that the pastor forgives sins in the Absolution. People will say, 

"No way!  A pastor can't forgive sins; he is only a man!"  

To which we quickly reply, 

"The pastor is forgiving sins in the 'stead' and by the 'command' of Jesus. Read John 20, Jesus gives this authority to the pastor in the church!"

But dear friends, while it may seem that people are upset with a pastor forgiving sins, this is not the real objection. As they say, the issue is never the real issue.  

You see, I am not a betting man, but if I were, I would put money down that those who object to the public Absolution – the forgiveness of sins – are no different than the religious leaders of Jesus' day. I would put money down that they have the same heart full of malice - if I were a betting man.  

You see, the forgiveness of sins is a big problem for people who perceive themselves as morally righteous. Now, keep in mind that the self-righteous do want grace for themselves but they do not want to admit that they are sinners. Frankly stated, admitting sins would put a major kink into their righteous pecking order. Therefore, the self-righteous make grace not about God's goodness for poor miserable sinners but rather; they make grace into a reward from God for good behavior. They condition grace as a reward for people who are righteous – people in their little circles of so-called goodness. So, what ends up happening is that they create a spiritual monopoly. God's grace is only for good people like them and not for bad people, unlike them. 

Now, permit me to opportunity to let you in on a little secret. Self-righteous people like having grace for themselves because when grace is withheld from sinners, they are then able to use shame and guilt to manipulate sinners to get them to do what they want. Tragically, after 17 years of ministry, I have seen how easy it is for the pastor to give grace to people the pastor likes and use shame for the people that the pastor dislikes. In fact, this is a very common temptation for anyone in leadership – grace is given to the good ol' boys club, and shame is applied to everyone else that is not in the club.  

Sigh, God have mercy on us all for treating grace like a commodity or a reward for good behavior.  

And so, the scandal with grace is that when grace is freely given to sinners, it exposes the foolishness of the pompous-stiff-necked-religious-jerks. Grace destroys the manipulative power of guilt. Grace destroys the tactics of using shame to manipulate tired souls. When everyone beats their chest while confessing sins and the pastor comes forth to declare the forgiveness of sins upon every single soul, it creates faith in the brokenhearted while simultaneously causing the self-righteous, 

"Those sinners are not working for righteousness – they are getting off the hook scot free.  It can’t be that easy!  They shouldn’t get for free what I work so hard to get."

And so, it makes sense why the self-righteous do not like Absolution. It makes sense why people get angry at a pastor pronouncing the forgiveness of sins. It makes sense why the religious leaders had malice in their hearts towards Jesus. It makes sense why the self-righteous oppose free grace. Deep down, their hearts hate grace. Their hearts mumble, and their mouths sputter,

"Grace shouldn’t be easy. It is scandalous; nothing is that free!"

Perhaps it is also a bit more clear now why Cain killed Abel in the Old Testament! The attitude of Cain hates grace and will seek to draw blood on anyone who finds comfort in grace. 

Tragically, too many churches feel the animosity of the self-righteous. 

And too many pastors become weak-kneed with grace. Frankly, a church will often be more peaceful if the wounded are condemned, and the self-righteous are rewarded. But then again, this is not a church. The church is found only where the dynamite power of the Gospel of Grace is delivered to poor miserable sinners.   

Baptizes Saints, consider our Gospel reading a bit more. In Matthew Chapter 9, right after Jesus' encounter with the religious leaders, He was eating supper at Matthew's house with His close followers. But there were also a lot of other disreputable characters eating with Him, too; after all, Matthew was a dirty tax collector. And so, when the religious leaders saw Jesus eating with crooks and misfits, they said, 

"What kind of example is this from your teacher?" 
 But Jesus shot back, saying, 

"Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to invite not the righteous but sinners." 
And so, the point being, Jesus did not come for the self-righteous but for sinners. Jesus' statement was to stress the priority of grace for sinners! This was consistent with the pursuing nature of Jesus. 

Baptized Saints, hear this loud and clear! Do not let this escape your ears! Jesus came not to be served but to serve. He dined with the tax collectors and sinners. He ate at Zacchaeus' house. He touched lepers. He sought lost sheep. He embraced children. He raised the dead. He called a tax collector a disciple. He was crucified with criminals. And He gives you unearned free grace every single Sunday here in this sanctuary. Grace is given to you when the Word is poured into your ears in the Holy Absolution. Grace is laid upon your tongue in His body and blood with the Holy Supper. Hear this! Even though you confess that you are poor miserable sinners, the Lord of the universe says, Take heart, dear children! Your sins are forgiven. When you beat your chest and say and hang your head low for all your failures of the past weak, you are not met by Christ's guilt or shame but met by grace. You are met by forgiveness. You are met by life. Take heart, dear children. Your sins are forgiven!    

Martin Luther speaks to this quite bluntly and wonderfully. Luther once said to a man named Friar George, 

"Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners. . . . For why was it necessary for [Jesus] to die if we can obtain a good conscience by our works and afflictions? Accordingly, you will find peace only in [Jesus] and only when you despair of yourself and your own works. Besides, you will learn from [Jesus] that just as he has received you, so he has made your sins his own and has made his righteousness yours."[1]

Friends, who cares what people say about St. Paul's or the Missouri Synod regarding the free forgiveness of sins announced every single week in Holy Absolution. Is it scandalous? Will it make people upset? You bet. It will always upset the attitude of Cain. It will always upset the self-righteous. But, dear friends, we mustn't care about the self-righteous. We are about Christ. And what Christ says to us is good, right, and salutary. What Christ says through the mouth of His servant – the pastor – is not only what we need but that which gives us good cheer and comfort.

And so, beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to confess sins or be a sinner but hear the free grace of Christ, “Take heart, dear children, your sins are forgiven.” Hear this loud and clear so that shame and guilt are chased away, “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven!”

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

[1] Excerpt of Martin Luther's Letter to Friar George April 8, 1516

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