TITLE: “God Working All Things for Good”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is the Gospel lesson just read, with focus on Jesus’ words: “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’?
Right before our text as St. Luke records it, we hear that Jesus often went off by Himself to pray. It was especially in preparation for visits like this that Jesus needs the strength of the Word of God sanctified by prayer. While Jesus is on the way, he crosses over the Sea of Galilee in a boat, and lands in His own city of Nazareth. There some friends bring a man who is paralyzed to see Jesus. In other versions of this text, we hear how these men actually lowered their friend through the roof, by removing the tiles of the roof. We see their persistence paid off, for they had brought their friend to the right place for healing. They brought him to Jesus.
There is something terribly lonely about being sick, especially when you are seriously ill, so that you can hardly move, hardly even have the energy to read a book, talk on the phone, or engage in that most passive all activities, watching television. When you are sick, you are stuck. Here you are, in this bed, and there isn’t a thing you can do about it. You are trapped. But this bed you lie in that should be a source of comfort, which should symbolize home for you, is really for you a bed of pain. Many of you have been there. Others can imagine it. How is it that God can let you end up in such dire straits? If we can imagine the self-reflection and loneliness from being sick, how much more so would that be to be paralyzed. Trapped in your own body, unable to move. Today we would have lots of scientific explanations for it, but in Jesus’ day, it would have been much simpler: he was cursed.
It is at this point, when things could hardly get worse it would appear, that the Scriptures often point us to the value and need of prayer. David once confessed in prayer, I will water my couch with tears. There are times when the loneliness of sickness, heartache and helplessness get the best of us all. Even King David. Jesus Himself wept for Lazarus, and even for Himself and for us all with tears of blood at the Garden of Gethsemane.
This man’s friends bring him to Jesus, the One who makes all things right. They bring him to Jesus, and pray that He would heal their friend. Now this is the wonderful and dangerous thing about prayer. God always answers with more than we asked for. God loves to answer prayer. He delights in it. He revels in answering your prayers more than a father or mother does in helping their own children. God is gleeful at the thought of you coming to Him with your needs, fears, and sorrows. He is gleeful, because He sees right through you. He knows your real needs. He knows that underneath all of the muck of your life, all of the trials, all of the things that you face each and every day, that underneath at all, the root cause is the paralysis of sin. Sin causes all of the brokenness in your life. Oh, not in a one-to-one causal relationship, like I didn’t help a little old lady across the street and so a bus hit me. No, sin is the root and cause of all of our problems. Even paralysis. Even death itself. This is why forgiveness is the very lifeblood of the Church, and therefore of any Christian.
So these friends bring the man to Jesus and entreat Jesus to heal Him. Our text then says the following: When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” So the man is paralyzed, and Jesus recognizes that the man’s deeper problem is not his nerves, muscles and bone. No, the man’s problem first and foremost is this sin which lurks beneath the surface of us all. So Jesus, being God, does what only God can do: He forgives the man his sins. He then goes on to heal the man of his paralysis. Most commentators will say that this story is a prefiguring of the resurrection of the dead. Our sins are forgiven, our bodies are raised up at the last day, and we go to be with Him forever. Does it get any better than that? Clear Gospel, straight from Jesus’ mouth: your sins are forgiven.
Now that we understand what this text means for us at the Last Day, I want you to reflect on this with me for a moment, because this episode also gives us a deep insight into the Christian life, and how Christians view suffering and the trials that they face. If this man had not been paralyzed, he may not have been brought to Jesus and had his sins forgiven. Think about that, because it’s kind of amazing. What this means is that God uses the terrible things in your life, even sin itself, and brings about good for you.
Think about it this way: You are one of God’s elect, His chosen ones by Baptism into Christ Jesus, right along with little Grant here today. Because of this wonderful reality, God now works everything for your good. Saint Paul put it this way:
And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Eph. 1:22-23).
What this means for you, dearly baptized, is that God orders all things in your life for your benefit. Even when terrible things happen to you. Even when you sin. That doesn’t make sinful things good, but it does mean that we can see God’s miraculous hand at work in the strangest of places. If God can take the death of His only begotten Son and bring about the salvation of the world, then God can use the hurricanes that strike, be they big or small, and use them for the good of His Holy Church.
That is the real benefit and blessing of being in the water of holy baptism. In holy baptism God works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to those who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. Your baptism into Christ means that Jesus’ cross marks your life. It means you can look at all of sin and sorrow, suffering and pain that you and your loves ones have faced over the years, and know that God is at work in you, forgiving your sins, and preparing you for that great final resurrection of all flesh at the Last Day.
Unbelief cannot see the world this way. Unbelief looks at hurricanes big and small, and says that God cannot be God. He either doesn’t care or he can’t do anything about it. Unbelief looks at all of these things and cannot recognize God’s hand at work, forgiving sins, preparing the world for the Last Day. But you, dearly beloved by God, you see the world differently. Because you have been baptized, God smiles upon you with a friendly face, and He takes all of these troubles of this life, and turns them around, so that even the terrible things are but a shadow compared to the glory which shall be yours. The prayers and entreaties of these men in bringing their friend to Jesus brought forth fruits of forgiveness and everlasting life. In the very same way God hears your prayers, and answers them with the greatest gift of all: God has forgiven all of your sins in Christ Jesus. You are free and healed. Go in peace. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.
Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Trinity 19 (October 14, 2012)