10-23-22 Trinity 19

October 23, 2022
Passage: Matthew 9:1-8
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Jesus found himself constantly surrounded by people – crowds pressing in on him, even into the house where he stayed in Capernaum, even trampling one another, until late at night. And very often Jesus would get up before the sun and leave, go to a deserted place, to get away and be alone and pray by himself. That’s what He had just done before the events of our Gospel this morning. He didn’t leave to escape the world and our problems, to abandon us, as if He disliked our company. He was not like the monks, who imagined they could leave all the mess of the world behind to be alone with God while they ignored their neighbors. Jesus never leaves to abandon. He left to steel his resolve to help sinners and to be with them always to the end of the age.

This is Jesus’ constant pattern, it’s how he acts. He leaves to return with greater kindnesses and greater power to save. It happens at His death. He leaves the world, dies, goes away, in order to come back in the resurrection the Savior who has overcome death and so gives life. So He says to his disciples the night He’s betrayed: “Because I said to you, I am going away, sorrow has filled your heart… but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice and your joy no one will take from you.” The same thing happens in His ascension. He leaves this earth visibly, we cannot see him, but he leaves visibly not to abandon us but to come to us with greater kindness and greater power, to give us His Spirit, to be with us always by the preaching of His Word and in the Supper of His body and blood, until our joy is complete in seeing Him face to face. And this is how it works in our life as Christians too. Jesus seems to leave us, to let us suffer, to make us bear our crosses, to experience something of what Job suffered, when all his friends told him God was punishing him and angry with him, to feel what the faithful suffered when they cried in the Psalm, “Awake! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Arise! Do not cast us off forever. Why do you hide your face, and forget our affliction and our oppression?” But then He comes to us all unaware and makes us own His loving care. Isaiah describes it with prophetic clarity: “For a mere moment I have forsaken you, But with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer.” Know your God, your Savior, know His ways, how He acts and why He does it, and you will see that when He seems far from you and has laid many afflictions on you, He is near to you, one with you as the Bridegroom with the Bride, with love unmatched and the pledge of eternal union in His body and blood and in the words, “Be of good cheer, child, be courageous, stand strong, your sins are forgiven you.”

Jesus leaves to come back. And it is this that draws the faithful. Seek Him where He may be found. Seek Him in His Holy Temple. Seek Him for what He promises to give. This is what faith does and it lets nothing get in the way. The four friends of the paralytic are our example here. The crowd is too big. They can’t get their friend to Jesus. So they carry him onto the roof. They remove the slate and dig through the roof, destroy private property, and then let down the paralytic with ropes to get him to Jesus. They spare no trouble, no pain, no danger. This is what faith does. Nothing keeps it from Jesus. So let nothing keep you from church, nothing from reading the Word of your Savior, nothing from praying to Him, not government decrees, not physical pain, not job, not play, nothing. When you get old and your limbs don’t work like they used to, get your family, get your friends, to drag you to church so that you can be in Jesus’ presence and hear Him say, “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven,” so that you can eat His body and drink His blood, and with the throng of fellow Christians sing Hosannas to His name. Have the children of your church come and sing hymns to you, ask your pastor to visit you, make appointments with Jesus far more numerous and more important than appointments with your doctor, because His medicine is better, and He will give you strength of both body and soul that will overflow into everlasting life.

The friends bring the paralytic to Jesus. And He gives the paralytic the two greatest gifts anyone could possibly receive. He heals his body – the poor man had no use of his limbs, probably no use of his voice, was an empty shell of a man, and couldn’t enjoy life at all. You could have all riches and all fame and all respect, and if you don’t have the soundness of your body you can’t enjoy any of it. The great promise of the resurrection is a body that works, that allows us to work and to think and to enjoy life as God intends. And as a foretaste, Jesus gives this man his bodily health. And He gives him forgiveness, reconciliation with God, the thing without which all is vain and pointless and depressing – here is the favor of God, the Creator, the guarantee of everlasting life, the assurance that all things will work for your good because the Almighty God is on your side and does not hold a single thing against you but will have you as His own child as if you were His own dear Son – be of good cheer my son!

This is what faith does for those it works for. These four men worked hard to get their friend to Jesus and the result was heavenly, extraordinary. The Bible tells us constantly that faith works marvelous things not just for the believer but for those whom the believer prays for and works for. The examples in the Bible are too many to list–Lot asks God to spare the city Zoar so that he and his daughters can live there, and God saves it from the destruction that poured down on Sodom and Gomorrah. Not just Lot, but an entire city, is saved because of his prayer. God would have saved even Sodom, even Gomorrah, because of Abraham’s prayer, if only there were ten righteous in it. Moses time and time again intercedes for the people of Israel and saves them from God’s wrath – because of the prayer of one man God spares a nation. The prayer of the righteous avails much. Even today, God blesses this country because of our prayers. And it is the work of the faithful that continues to bring blessing on countless who are otherwise helpless. How will the child receive Jesus unless his mom and dad bring him to Jesus, to Baptism, to weekly church, to instruction, to the Bible and prayer? How will we care for the needs of the poor and the weak, make sure they get Jesus, unless the faithful give for the support of the preaching of Jesus? Faith does greater things than move mountains. It brings people to Jesus.

But you cannot believe for another. This is true. The four men can’t believe for the paralytic. You cannot believe for your husband or your wife, your sons or daughters, your students, your siblings, your friends, your coworkers. The Lord says through His prophet Ezekiel that even if righteous Job and saintly Daniel were to plead for Jerusalem, yet God would still destroy it because of its wickedness. And Sodom still perished in fire and brimstone. Job’s faith, Daniel’s faith, Abraham’s faith, only saved themselves; they cannot believe for another. And you cannot believe for another. The prayer of the righteous and the work of faith avail much to bring people to Jesus, but each of us stands and falls before God by his own faith. I have brought my children to Jesus, I have prayed for them and taught them and cared for them, and I will till I die, but I cannot believe for them. And that is a beautiful thing, because it is not my faith in which I trust, in which I want others to trust, not my faith that is so righteous, but Jesus. He is the form and content of faith. He is the one you bring people to, precisely because He is the one who saves, who creates faith, who forgives sin, who heals the body and rescues the soul.

The four men cut out the slate and bore a hole through the roof to get their friend to Jesus. But who can take the roof off of heaven, bore the hole to get in? Who can build a tower to reach it, or a ladder that will scale its heights? Who has the right and authority to forgive sins and give unfettered access to the holy God? Who can defeat death and deliver from hell and make children of God out of sinners? Not me, not you, not even my faith, not even your faith, even if it can move mountains it cannot break into heaven. Only Jesus. Only the Son of God who loves us. He opens heaven, removes its roof, and comes down to earth. He becomes the ladder that stretches from heaven down to earth. He is the union of God and man, the reconciliation of heaven and earth, the way to the Father, the gate to Paradise. His suffering removes the slate, His cross bores the hole, His body and His blood transport us to heaven where He dwells, with all our enemies of body and soul under His feet.

Know the way of your Lord. He does not leave to abandon you. He has entered heaven to come back to you and be with you always even to the end of the age. The way of Jesus is to give salvation to your body and soul. You see Him do it with the paralytic. See Him do it now. The way of the Divine Service, God’s service, Jesus’ service, is to speak forgiveness and give blessing. We do not come here because of our own righteousness, but because we hunger and thirst for Jesus and His righteousness. We have sinned and we are not so strong as we could wish. Our Lord Jesus remains the ladder from heaven down to earth and this house remains the house of God, the Bethel, where He meets us. And though the goings on in this world, in our country, in our lives may make it seem He is far away, although pain and trial and our own sin may make us cry out, How long, O Lord, He comes to us again and again, and has never stopped thinking of us or pleading for us. He speaks forgiveness through His pastors, in His Word, and He confirms the truth of it all by His death and His resurrection. The blood of God has been shed. The sins of the world have been borne. Jesus has raised Himself from death and lives to give life. And so He speaks, Take heart, be courageous, your sins are forgiven. Get up, and walk, go about your life, no paralytic, no powerless shell of a man, but a Christian, with faith that works in love, and will risk all danger and trouble and pain to be in Christ’s presence and to hear His voice and in the end to see His glorious face, where the host of heaven of saints and angels, constantly surround His throne and He never leaves us or forsakes us to all eternity. Amen.

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