The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Actions tend to speak louder than words, right? People might say the right things, but their actions often tell a different story. The actions tend to reveal where the heart really is, despite the words coming out of the mouth. For example, if somebody tells you that they love their spouse, and yet they're out catting around and having affairs, it's pretty clear where the heart is and what the truth is, right? They may say they love their spouse. They may even firmly believe that they love their spouse, but their actions tell a different story. Their actions tell the truth. You can't love your spouse and also have something on the side. It's an either/or. It's not a both/and.
This morning's Gospel lesson is very clear and very blunt in stating that Jesus saw the faith of the friends who brought the paralytic to Him. St. Luke also tells us in his account that these guys were so adamant about getting their friend into the presence of Jesus that they actually climbed up and dismantled the roof so that they could lower their dear friend down right in front of Jesus. Jesus saw their faith. The evidence of such faith was real. It was tangible. They knew Jesus. They believed in Jesus. They brought their friend to Jesus, and they weren't going to let crowds and roofs get in the way of being in the presence of Jesus. Such faith was physically making itself known. There wasn't a disconnect between faith and action. Their actions matched their faith. Their actions confessed their faith, and their faith was witnessed in their actions.
And yet…many Christians hear this lesson and are very quick to read their own personal interpretation into these very clear and plain words. They practice eisegeses, which is a fancy of saying that they read into the text what they want it to say; what they prefer to believe. "God doesn't look at the outside. God doesn't look at deeds and actions. God only looks at the heart." Sound familiar? God only looks at the heart. That's how this text is preferred to be heard and understood (probably because we know our actions don't exactly merry up with our profession of faith; there is a disconnect, and that doesn't sit well with us).
You know how this eisegeses works…. Jesus looked at the actions taking place as this guy was being lowered down through a dismantled roof, but…that's not what He was really looking at. Jesus was really looking at the hearts and intentions of the party-crashers, right? Well…that's NOT what the text says! Again, it says very explicitly and plainly that Jesus saw; that is, He physically beheld their faith. Everyone did. It was hard to miss. Such faith was willing to make a big hole in the roof, and was now lowering down a paralytic for an impromptu, in-your-face, face-to-face meeting with Jesus.
Now, does Jesus know the hearts of men? Does He know the Truth, no matter how good of a show a man may put on? Does Jesus know the Truth, in spite of all the right phrases and catchwords being parroted out in the name of "faith"? Of course! No one denies this reality. Scripture tells us this all the time. You can't fool God. He is not mocked or deceived. He is not a "respecter of persons," which is the King James' way of saying that God's not impressed with who your daddy is or how good you were in high school or how much money you put in the offering plate. Your tax return, your 401K, your pedigree, your college degree? None of it impresses God. God doesn't care how many Beth Moore or Joel Osteen books you've read, or how many mission trips/vacations you've taken. All those Facebook pictures you post showing how much of a "humble servant" you are don't impress God. He's not fooled. He's know the Truth. In fact, this particular Gospel lesson—just a couple of verses later—goes on to say that Jesus knew the hearts of the wicked Scribes, who were mumbling and saying to/within themselves that Jesus was blaspheming for telling the poor soul on the stretcher that his sins were forgiven. "Why do you think evil in your hearts?" Busted! Jesus knows the Truth! Jesus knows the heart.
But…do you notice here that there is a difference between knowing the heart and seeing the faith? This Gospel text illustrates this fact perfectly. In the case of true, living vibrant faith, there was no doubt; no question. These guys were "walking the walk," putting their money where their mouth was. Their faith in Jesus was bearing good and God-pleasing fruit. The evidence of their faith was on full display. Their faith wasn't seeking personal attention or glory. Their faith was seeking Christ. Jesus saw this faith. Everyone in the room could see it. They didn't have to try and convince everyone that they really were good people who loved and trusted in Jesus. They showed it. The hole in the roof was proof of their faith.
The scribes, however...? The scribes put on a very convincing show. They said and did all the right things…and yet Jesus still says their hearts were evil. Everyone else firmly believed that the scribes and Pharisees were as holy as you could get on this side of eternity. You hoped that your kid would grow up to be a good and faithful scribe or Pharisee. These guys were considered to be the pillars of the Church. They said and did all the right things (and they made sure everyone else knew it too)…and yet their hearts were still evil. In spite of all this perceived "goodness," their hearts were full of wicked unbelief. They hated Jesus. They despised Jesus. Jesus was not their Lord, which makes sense because that would require humility on their part; a submission and lowering of the self to Jesus, which was NOT going to happen. They may have fooled everyone in the room with how "good" they were; they even fooled the reflection in the mirror…but they didn't fool Jesus. Jesus knew the Truth. Jesus sees and knows the heart.
And that's the difference here. True and living faith doesn't need to convince you with lip-service. It doesn't need to put on a staged performance or an act. It's not a sales pitch that tries to sell you on the fact that "No, really, I am a good and awesomely-humble Christian. Really!" No! True and living faith simply, naturally, reflexively bears good fruit for all to see. Evil and wicked unbelief, however, can lay low and go undetected. God knows the Truth, but everyone else can be fooled.
And don't go taking the cop-out by claiming that ONLY Jesus can see faith. Folks: That's NOT what the text says! That's not what Scripture says. Only Jesus can see the hypocrite's truth, but make no mistake: You are known by your fruits. You can be accused of being a Christian. I know some folks don't like to hear that, but it's true. Faith is able to be witnessed. There is real and tangible evidence of faith. This Gospel lesson makes this crystal clear. "You are that which lights the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden." You don't light your lamp and then hide it under a bushel basket. No! You let your light shine! Folks: What do you think Jesus is talking about in here?! You can see faith! You SHOULD see faith!
So…how does faith manifest/prove itself in such real and tangible ways? I think that's the question we're all worried about now. Well…the guys desiring to be in the presence of Jesus, willing to dismantle a roof in order for that to happen, is an excellent example of visible faith in action. But…is that what the Gospel is teaching us here—an example that we need to follow and incorporate into our lives? Is the Gospel a prescription for what we need to do? NO! You are saved through faith alone in God's grace alone, which is yours because of Christ alone. That's it! Okay…so why all this talk of faith that can be witnessed and seen? Works and faith don't go together, right? WRONG! Works don't save you, but works and faith do go together. They are two sides of the same coin. Works don't save you, but faith without works is dead. It's not faith at all. Faith produces good works. But…more on that to come.
I want you to look right here [the crucifix]. Here is the font and source of living, saving faith. Here is perfect obedience of faith in God above all things. Notice: I don't hold this up to you as an example or a prescription that you need to follow in order to get on God's good side. No! I hold this up to you as a description; as irrefutable evidence of God's love for you. Jesus Christ—very God Himself in the flesh—trusted and obeyed His heavenly Father perfectly, even though He knew full-well what the Father's plan of salvation and forgiveness entailed. "Father, if there's any other way, take this cup of suffering from Me. But…not My will be done; Thy will be done." And it was. Here is the proof. Here is the evidence of almighty God's faith and love towards you, nailed to a cross and lifted up for all the world to see. And God continues to give you irrefutable and real and tangible proof of His faithfulness and love to you. "Take and eat. Take and drink. This is My body. This is My blood. Those who hear you hear Me. I am with you always." Word and Sacrament—God's holy Word and Sacrament—what more proof do you need?! Here is Christ, with you and for you!
And when you understand and hold fast to this divine evidence of unconditional faith and love and grace and mercy for you, this is when your faith can't help but respond by bearing good and God-pleasing fruits. True and saving faith just naturally and effortlessly produces good and God-pleasing works. There's nothing contrived about it at all. Faith in God's divine justification naturally and effortlessly produces God-pleasing sanctification. Sanctified God-pleasing works are nothing more than a reflex-response to God's free gift of Justification, which is ours in Christ alone and because of Christ alone.
Such sanctified faith is witnessed in something as simple as getting out of bed and showing up to be in Christ's presence. Justified saving faith wants nothing more than to be where Jesus is at, giving out His gifts of grace, mercy, and peace. Those friends of the paralytic didn't let huge crowds or even a roof stand in their way of being in Christ's presence. What stands in your way? God knows the Truth. You can't fool Him.
Faith that "gets" this Gospel Truth and actually believes that Jesus is true and faithful to His Word, with us always and with us now, giving out His free and undeserved gifts of Word and Sacrament; this living saving faith wants nothing more than to be where Jesus is at, receiving what He so freely gives. That's the faith of the justified in action. "Lord, to whom shall we go? Where else would we be? You have the Words of eternal life." It really is that simple.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: "Take heart. Your sins are forgiven," in Christ alone and because of Christ alone. Here's the proof. May this Gospel light shine in you and through you (and never in spite of you). Let there be no doubt; no question. May your faith in this justifying Christocentric reality ever and always be witnessed in all that you say, think, and do, now and into all eternity. May your life be a life of humble, justified thankfulness on full display for all the world to see.
To Christ alone be all the glory, praise, and thanksgiving.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.
Send Pastor Jason Zirbel an email.