Today, we have been brought into the House of God as paralytics - those who are paralyzed by sin. Today, we do not stand upright before Christ. We lay upon the ground. I am not speaking physically, of course. What I mean is that our souls can offer nothing to make us righteous. We are as spiritually helpless as that paralyzed man in our Gospel text.
When it comes to our sinful flesh, we are unable to do any good work before God. Can we walk the extra mile for our brother when we are paralyzed? Can we raise a hand in his defense, when we cannot lift a finger? Can we carry the burdens of others, when we cannot even stand?
Our sinful flesh is able to do things that appear to be good works. But without Christ, they are not really good, since nothing is good without Christ. Acts of love done according to the old Adam are really only acts of selfish love. Our sinfulness would hold us down, completely motionless. At times, when it appeared to the eyes of others that we had gone out of our way to show love, or had walked the extra mile for a brother, in reality, we had never moved an inch.
Apart from Christ, we cannot move and cannot crawl. We cannot even reach out to Him who can save us. But He, nevertheless, does not wait for us, but He reaches out to us. We contribute nothing. He contributes everything.
Therefore, we are not here today to do good works. Certainly, we will do them. But that is not why we are here in the House where Christ is. We are brought and laid before the feet of Christ so that He will look with pity upon our bodies and souls, paralyzed by sin.
We are here to receive forgiveness. There are all kinds of other ailments we also wish were cured. We pray for healing and for help in all our needs. But the real need, behind all others, bigger than them all, the root of them all, is our sin. From sin comes all sickness, sorrow, death, and hell. Christ Jesus sometimes heals our other distresses. But He mainly goes after the sickness of sin from which all symptoms come. If He cured the symptoms but not the illness itself, the source, then He would be a poor physician. But He is the Great Physician, who cures all sickness by destroying all sin upon the Cross in His body, and by rising for our eternal health.
Let us not be distracted, or we will miss the Great Physician in action. Our eyes may focus on some small cure in our lives, and we may be amazed by how miraculous it is. But the greatest miracle is the Gospel: the forgiveness of all our sins. Let us find our amazement in that.
See how miraculous our salvation is. By nature, we resisted even the Doctor Himself. We desired no treatment, no medicine, no cure. Our flesh loves its sickness, and calls it "health." We needed someone to bring us to Christ, since we could not go ourselves.
So the Holy Spirit picked us up on our sickbed. He lifted us up, and carried us to Christ, and lowered us down, as surely as the paralytic was lowered down before Jesus.
Christ Jesus has looked into our hearts, like a doctor looking at an X-ray. He sees the secret thoughts that we try to hide, and the dark cancer of sin that fills our heart. Nothing is hidden from the all-seeing Son of Man.
Then Christ administered His mighty medicine. That medicine is His Word. He speaks, and all sin is forgiven and erased from God's record as if it never existed. He speaks, and eternal life is yours. He speaks, and hell's door is closed to all who believe.
How can Christ's Word do such powerful things? Because He is the eternal, crucified Son of God, all-powerful and all-gracious. His Word does not work merely by its own power, but it delivers the power of the Cross. At the Cross, mighty Blood was shed. A life was given, that gives life. Death was swallowed for you. So the Cross became a healing medicine, that is delivered by Christ's Word.
So be informed, and know for certain, that Jesus is here, now. He is speaking to you through this Word. He does not say, "Walk by your own power," because He knows that you are paralyzed by sin. He does not say, "Try harder and get it right." That would lead you only to despair, or maybe to deluded self-righteousness. Christ does not preach that way in His Church.
No, Christ preaches this way: "Your sins are forgiven you." What a blessed, wonderful Word He speaks! In an instant, His Blood has washed you clean. In an instant, His righteousness has covered over your sins. In an instant, you are declared innocent before the Holy Throne of the Most High God. In an instant, the paralysis of your sins is cured, and you are able to leap and dance with joy before Christ!
This is what happens in the Divine Service: No less than our Lord Jesus Himself comes to you and speaks. This is not a figure of speech. This is not symbolic. Christ Himself, true God and true Man, the Lord of His Bride the Church, speaks to you. The Crucified One speaks salvation and redemption. The Risen Lord speaks love that conquers death. The Ever-Living One speaks everlasting life. And through His Word of forgiveness, all these things are given to you, here in the Divine Service.
More than that: You are made living and active through His Word. He gives you strength to do good works in this life. Your arms begin to move, and your legs to walk in the deeds that God has prepared. You still stagger clumsily, and your hands are all thumbs when it comes to good works. For your flesh still tries to slow you down and tangle you up. Yet in Christ, your clumsy works are seen as perfect and righteous before God.
What is better than this? What can hold a candle to the mighty Word of our omnipotent Savior? All other religions of works are not only paralyzed by sin, but actually dead.
Brothers and sisters, treasure what you have here. In so many churches, the voice of Christ has been silenced because people wanted other things. In so many churches, the sermon is only the Law clubbing people over and over, or else a watered-down Gospel which is no Gospel at all. But we have here the precious voice of Jesus in the Gospel in all its purity and fullness. That is the precious heritage of the Lutheran Church.
May we never find ourselves looking for excuses to reject the Gospel. May we never find ourselves saying, "Yes, the Gospel is here, but..." There is no "but." The Gospel is everything. The Pharisees found a way to reject the Gospel. The Pope found a way. The so-called "Evangelical Lutheran Church in America" has by and large rejected it. So many others have, even in Missouri Synod pews and Missouri Synod pulpits. So many leave the Church on some pretext of an excuse. But what is more important than the voice of Christ?
Do not tolerate the false voices and false shepherds that preach other Gospels. Do not tolerate the false churches that mix the truth with error. Why would you ever take the true medicine of the Gospel when it has been mixed with the poison of false doctrine? Insist upon pure preaching and teaching.
So lay yourself, paralyzed, upon your bed. By this I mean: Look upon your soul as it truly is: helpless and full of sin. Hunger all the more for Christ and His Word of forgiveness. Listen for that Word at every opportunity, and fill your heart and your ears with the blessed Gospel of Christ Jesus, your Lord and your God.
And may you continue to receive God's grace with faith in your hearts, until Christ takes you home. Amen.
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