Jesus shows us, through the paralyzed man, what the Christian life is all about. The Christian life is not about having it good in this world. It’s not about being free from disease, pain, poverty, and the like. If that’s what the Christian life is all about, if that’s what makes someone a Christian, then there are no Christians! There isn’t a single person anywhere in the world who can honestly say that they are free from anxiety, pain, disease, weariness, or any other problem. Everyone, despite economic status, gender, age, or any other demographic, struggles with something. And all of that proves what Jesus shows in this healing of the paralytic. What we really need is not the elimination of all problems. What we need is forgiveness. That is to say, what we need is Jesus.
But so often we don’t realize that what we need is Jesus. We look at all the things going wrong and think that if God would actually act like He is all-powerful and get rid of all these bad things, then I’d be happy. If God would heal me, fill my bank account, and strike down every enemy, then I’d be happy, then I could praise Him, then all would be well. But remember again what happened in today’s Gospel. Jesus didn’t heal the paralytic! At least not at first. All Jesus does for him is forgive his sins. Jesus leaves him paralyzed. By that Jesus says to you, to me, “You can live with pain. You can live with disease. You can’t live without My forgiveness.” But I bet that left the paralytic and his friends with one thought: All this work for forgiveness?! A lousy word ‘Cheer up! You’re forgiven!’ I could have said that! What about the real problem this guy has? What are you going to do about that?
But the real problem that man had was sin. The real problem you have is sin. We all walk in the futility of our mind, with darkened understanding, alienated from the life of God because of our blind hearts. We have given ourselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. These things for which St. Paul confronted the Ephesians are the same things that the Holy Spirit, through the holy Words of Scripture, confronts us over today. We all make light of our sin, thinking it’s not as bad as it seems, like we can walk away from it when we want to. But when we try to stop sinning, when we try to leave behind sexual immorality, greed, gossiping, laziness, hatred, and anything else God forbids in His holy Law, we find out that we are just like the paralyzed man. We can tell our legs to get us away from the sin, but they sit there, useless. We see then that sin really is our problem. Our problem isn’t cancer or blocked arteries or poverty or terrorism. Our problem is sin. Until someone forgives us, we are helpless to escape the inevitable death that sin will bring.
So Jesus steps in to do the harder thing. It’s easy to say “Rise and walk.” Forgiving sins requires death. And that’s exactly what Jesus does. He took on the paralytic’s sin, the sin of the world, your sin, and died for it. He went to the cross to give His life for yours, to shed His holy, innocent Blood to satisfy the Law’s demands. And taking your sin on Himself, He gives you His righteousness. At your Baptism all that Christ died to give is given to you. There the paralysis of sin is washed away, drowned in the flood of Jesus’ Blood. There death is washed away as Christ’s resurrection and ascension are given to you as a pledge and guarantee of your own.
The reality of the paralytic’s situation is that he could have remained paralyzed and been just fine. The reality of your situation is that you can live with pain, poverty, depression, anxiety, and any other crosses because you, too, are forgiven. From that forgiveness Jesus died to win comes the power to live with difficulty, to suffer, to believe that God truly is good and loves you even when the world tells you He doesn’t, even when it seems He doesn’t. He has promised to love you, to be with you always, never to leave you nor forsake you. Your God cannot lie.
Truth be told, the paralytic would have walked someday, even if Jesus had left him paralyzed. Because Jesus forgave him, heaven was opened to him. Because Jesus forgave him, he waits in heaven for the promise of the Resurrection of the Dead on the Last Day. Even if Jesus had left him paralyzed in this life, when the Resurrection of the Dead comes and his body is raised incorruptible, with no trace of sin, he would have walked, even ran and jumped and danced. But by the grace of God he was afforded that opportunity in this life, and awaits it again in the heavenly life. The same is true for you. Even if your every bodily ailment goes unhealed in this life, it will be healed in the life to come. There hearts will be perfect, backs without pain, organs without cancers and diseases. Because Jesus forgives you all your sin by His Blood and cross and death, because Jesus has Baptized you into His death and resurrection, no matter what befalls this body and life, you will receive this body back perfected on the Last Day. “Be of good cheer. Your sins are forgiven 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.