–By Elizabeth Ahlman
Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:16-17 ESV).
And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men (Matthew 9:1-8 ESV). (Readings are from the one-year-lectionary).
So often we want God to be found when and where we say and think He should be found. We want Him to be found in our circumstances. We want Him to be found in the fact that two people suggested the same car to us. We want Him to be found in our feelings. We feel led to do this or that, so we think that is where God is to be found. When bad things happen, we want to explain where He was and how He was acting. And sometimes, when others tell us where God REALLY is, we get angry like these scribes in the Gospel reading from this past Sunday. When someone tells us where God says He is found, and it doesn’t coincide with our emotions and our felt needs, it makes us angry. Obviously those who would counsel us that God is, in fact, NOT found where WE think He should be, are gravely wrong.
The scribes feel just this way about Jesus’ proclamation of forgiven sins to the paralytic. Only God can forgive sins, and God is only found where the scribes think Him to be found, and therefore Jesus is blaspheming. God cannot possibly be found in a man. God cannot possibly be found in this Jesus of Nazareth. The forgiveness of sins cannot possibly be proclaimed by a man. They want everything on their terms, and they refuse to see what is right in front of them. But Jesus has a point to make: He does, indeed, have the authority to forgive sins, and therefore where He is, there is God. He IS God in the flesh. So He heals the man as proof of His authority. Surely the LORD (Yahweh) was in that place, and they did not know it.
Then Jesus takes all the preconceived notions of all time — the notion that He will be a warrior against the Romans, and the notion that He cannot forgive sins, and the notion that He will reveal Himself in our emotions, and the notion that we know what God is doing in His hiddenness, and He blows them all out of the water as He does that which no one could have conceived. He gives Himself up as a lamb to the slaughter, is hoisted upon a cross, and dies. God dies. Every notion we ever had about Who He is or how He works is swept away in a dead Jesus hanging on a cross. It defies all human logic. It makes no sense. Yet it is the very place where Jesus displays His authority to lay down His life for the sake of the world and to take it back up again. In that glorious death is found the forgiveness of sins for all people for all of time.
In His blessed death and resurrection, He does not leave us as slaves to our own feelings, circumstances or notions. He doesn’t leave us searching for where He may be found. Rather He gives His authority to the the men ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry and tells us where He may be found with all of His gifts and promises: in Words spoken by our pastors, in water with the Word, in bread and wine. Here may we find Him, true God and true Man, for us. We, like Jacob, can say: “Surely the LORD is in this place,” His Church, and there was a time when “we did not know it,” but now it has been proclaimed and given to us. We know for certain where He is to be found, and for that we glorify God, “Who has given such authority to men.”
Let Us Pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, we give You thanks and praise that You have given our Lord Jesus Christ authority to forgive sins, and that He has given that authority to those who hold the Office of the Holy Ministry; we pray that You would always direct us to where You have promised to be found in order that we may receive the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
- Read last week’s devotion.