Christmas is coming. Think back to your childhood Christmases, when grandma bought you socks. She loved you. She didn’t want you to have cold, wet feet. She didn’t want you to catch pneumonia. At least, that’s what my grandma always told me when, I opened the package intentionally forgotten, hoping I wouldn’t have to open it in front of everyone. Socks are practical. But at Christmas, who wants practical gifts? We want fun gifts—electronics, money, big-ticket items that can impress. But how long after Christmas morning are those gifts forgotten? Socks you wear every day. But that bag of socks is still disappointing.
That “socks for Christmas” feeling is probably what the paralytic man’s friends felt when they brought him to Jesus. We probably know St. Luke’s record of this event better because it’s more dramatic. The friends don’t simply bring the man to Jesus. Seeing the large crowd, they cut a hole in the roof and lower him down, placing him directly in front of Jesus. After all that work, all that excitement, all that hope that their friend would be walking back home with them, not being carried by them, Jesus didn’t heal him. What did He say? “Your sins are forgiven you.” Forgiveness is practical, but for the friends, and probably the paralytic himself, it was a little disappointing.
But Jesus, like grandma, knew that what was wanted wasn’t what was needed. Yes, the man wanted to walk home, to tell everyone that he had been healed, but eternally, that wasn’t what really mattered. The man needed forgiveness. You don’t need working legs to get to heaven. You do need the forgiveness that only the Son of God can give to you.
And what about us? We all have problems we wish God would fix. We want Him to wave His hand and fill our bank accounts, heal our bodies, unify our families, and strike down every last enemy. But He doesn’t do that, does He? He gives us socks, that is, forgiveness, the one thing we truly need. And as we hear that Word of forgiveness each week, how often do we think, “That’s nice, and I appreciate it, but that’s not what I really want. Can’t you work on some of the other problems in my life, God?”
To that question Jesus gives another question: “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’?”
Which do we think is easier? Actions speak louder than words, right? That must mean that the things that really bother us are the harder things for the Lord to take care of. He must be putting off the real work by telling me over and over again, “Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.”
The truth is that healing the man—and us—is the easier thing to do. God could have—and has—done it with only a Word. He has done it three times by this point in Matthew’s Gospel, even healing the centurion’s daughter without even being near her. If He created all things, keeps the stars in their courses, and holds all things together, fixing these problems in our life is no problem for Him.
Forgiveness, on the other hand, is the more difficult task. Consider what your forgiveness cost Him. He didn’t need flesh and blood to heal paralytics. The Old Testament contains all the proof you need that God can work through other people to heal the sick and raise the dead. But for forgiveness to happen Very God of Very God came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. God took on flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ to take onto Himself the entire burden of all your sin. He carried it to the cross and there endured the righteous judgment of holy God against all your sin, and the sin of the whole world. He died the death that you should have, so that you will not die eternally. So when He speaks His Word of forgiveness to you, that Word is covered in His Blood, signed and sealed by His death.
It’s easier to heal you, to make everything right in your world. But it’s not the act of perfect love that He wants to give you. He can heal your body now, but you will still stand before His judgment seat. He can wipe out all your enemies, but you will still stand before His judgment seat. He can reunite your fractured family, but you will still stand before His judgment seat. His concern is for that Day, the Day of the Resurrection of the Dead when you will stand before Him and give an account. And on that Day, what would you rather have, a happy life now, or the garment of salvation covering all your sin and guaranteeing your admittance into heaven, where every tear will be wiped from your eye and no sorrow can ever plague you?
That’s why the Holy Spirit has gathered you here today. He knows all the things that make this life miserable, all the things that weigh heavy on your shoulders and on your heart. But He brings you to this place where you are given the strength to endure life’s crosses because you know that forgiveness and eternal life are yours this day, and they are greater gifts than any trouble today can bring.
The Holy Spirit reminds you that you are Baptized, and because water and the Word placed you in the Father’s hand, nothing can snatch you out of it. The Holy Spirit works through the Word, reminding you that in whatever tribulation you cry to God, He will hear you and He will be your Lord forever. To prove that, He comes to you in Body and Blood with bread and wine that forgive your sins and strengthen your faith to prepare you for everything that this life may bring to you. Through that Meal also comes the Holy Spirit who keeps you steadfast in the faith until your last day.
It turns out that what seemed like Christmas morning socks, the forgiveness of sins, is the only thing that matters. Because you are covered and filled with Christ’s forgiveness, you can face whatever comes your way with confidence because you know what comes next. The same Christ who said to you, “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you” is the One who will stand at your grave and say, “Arise, leave behind this bed, and go to My house which I have prepared for you.”
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.