The Church Year is always preparing us for what lies ahead. Advent prepares us for Christmas and Lent for Easter. The Lectionary, our calendar of readings, has its eyes in two places. First, what we need to know for our Christian life at this moment. Second, what we need to know to be prepared for what is coming. This wisdom of the Church is timeless. We have been using this cycle of readings for well over 1,000 years and they are just as applicable today as they were when the lectionary was assembled, yes, and just as applicable as when the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of these sacred Words a thousand years plus before that. As we march on towards the end of the Church Year our attention shifts. Yes, we still see the focus on growth in the faith, but that focus becomes less general and more specific. Our growth in the faith is precisely because the devil wants to defeat us. Over the next several weeks we will see more and more how the devil is doing his best to try to defeat us. Though, thanks be to God, he lacks God’s omnipotence, he still works in this world just like he did in Eden when he deceived Adam and Eve. Today as we hear the healing of the paralytic, the devil wants us to focus on the wrong things. He wants us to see Jesus as someone who doesn’t listen to us, as He first forgave the man and only after a little bit of outrage gave the man what he really needed—or what everyone thought he really needed. The devil wants us to focus on this body and this life as all there is at the neglect of the life to come. But Jesus has come to precisely to heal us, but to give us forgiveness, the only healing that truly matters.
This Gospel Reading tells us how we should have been listening to the Gospel Readings in September as we heard one healing miracle after another. It’s easy for us, who know all too well the burden of the flesh we wear, to get caught up in the healings and get a little frustrated with Our Lord. He healed all of these other people, but when is He going to heal me? It doesn’t seem like much to ask, especially when we hear of Jesus healing someone three weeks in a row. But then comes this paralyzed man and Jesus starts to shift our focus. He shows us that the healing miracles are never about the healing. That miracle is always secondary to the real miracle: forgiveness, faith, and the eternal life that comes from those two things. That’s what Jesus shows us here, as these men bring their friend to Jesus. He heals him of his real problem. No, his legs did not work. It’s true, the first century was an awful time for people with disabilities. They had no ramps, no Americans with Disabilities act, no anti-discrimination laws, no organizations dedicated to teaching you how to normalize life with limbs that did not work. So even though it seems like the paralysis is the real problem, it’s not. See, the man’s legs are going to stop working again. He’s going to die, he’s going to go the way of all flesh. If Jesus merely healed his legs and not his soul, what good would that be for him? Jesus saw what was more important for the man in the long run. He looked past the difficulties of the here and now and saw the need he truly had and filled that need.
That is what Jesus does for you. He knows you need healing from any number of ills. He addressed that last week when we heard His Sermon on the Mount, His reminder not to be anxious. He knows what it is that you need for this body and life and He will give it to you because He loves you and takes care of you. You may not receive the physical things you want in the way or at the time you expect them, but you have to trust God’s timing. God’s time is the best time. Remember, He is omniscient, He knows everything. He knows when giving you what you want might actually be harmful for you, something you don’t see at the time. So instead, He gives you what we truly need. What He said to the paralytic He says to you: “Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven.”
Remember, the devil doesn’t want that. So he hisses into your ear that this is the easy way out, God holding out on you, God once again not giving you what you really need. But the devil is a murderer. He does not want your sins forgiven and he wants you to see forgiveness as a nice side bonus, but not something you need today and every day.
The truth is that healing the man’s paralysis 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. 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 His Word spoken by 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 Last Day, when you will stand before Him and give an account. And on that Day, what would you rather have, what would you rather point to, a happy life now, something that cannot save you, or the garment of Christ’s perfect righteousness, His saving Blood 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?
The answer is easy, and, thanks be to God, that has been given to you at your Baptism into Christ, and it is given to you again and again in the Words of Absolution and in the Feast of Jesus’ Body and Blood. You are forgiven; heaven is opened to you. Faith, clinging to everything Jesus has done for you, has saved you. But that doesn’t mean life here will be a smooth ride. That’s why the Holy Spirit has gathered you here today. He knows there are countless things that weigh you down. So He has brought you here to give you Jesus, the one thing that gives you the strength to bear life’s crosses. The Holy Spirit points your eyes to font and altar. You are Baptized. You are fed with Christ. Take heart; your sins are forgiven. Heaven is opened and eternal life is yours.
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.