What’s Wrong with You? – Sermon on Matthew 9:1-8 for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

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Matthew 9:1-8

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.

Jesus Heals the Paralytic Lowered from the RoofAnd behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– he then said to the paralytic – a “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What’s wrong with you? Self-diagnosis is one thing. But if someone were to follow you for a week, see everywhere you went, hear everything you say, and know your every thought, what would they say is your biggest problem?

Maybe, they would say you spent too much time on your phone and not enough time paying attention to your kids. Maybe, they would say that you spread rumors about people when you don’t really know the facts. Maybe, they would sayyou get angry too easily and quickly.Maybe, they would say that you are lazy and waste time at your job. Or maybe, they would say that your schedule is too full and you are neglecting more important things.

Getting an outside, impartial observer can be helpful in diagnosing your problem. But even people who have total access to your life might not correctly diagnose your biggest, most central flaw.

Now, imagine the scene in this house. Jesus is in His hometown. Mark tells us (Mk. 2:1-12) that Jesus is in His own house preaching the Word of God to the people gathered there. So many people come to hear Him that there isn’t any more room inside the house. But imagine that you are one of the people who are blessed to be inside.

As Jesus preaches, you notice sounds of footsteps coming from the roof. Then you start to hear faint sounds of scraping and pounding making the walls shake slightly. Some sprinkles of dust fall from the ceiling. A few blows later, and a thin beam of light hits the floor. You look up toward that hole and you can just barely make out the shape of fingers reaching through the hole. Suddenly,the hole expands as a bunch of rubble falls to the floor. Dust and straw fill the room. You turn your head away for a moment so that the dust doesn’t fall into your eyes. And then, when it sounds as though the debris has settled, you look up once again and notice a huge bundle being slowly lowered by four ropes.

The bundle finally reaches the floor, and the sheets fall flat revealing a man. He lies there. One arm is bent over his chest and the other lies motionless stretched out at his side. His legs are crossed, but in the most unnatural way. You wait to see him maneuver himself into a more comfortable position, but he doesn’t. In fact, the only sign of life is his eyes darting back and forth and his chest rising as he breathes a little frantically. You diagnose the problem: this man is paralyzed. And you think to yourself, “Well, whoever brought him here did the right thing. If anyone can help this man, it’s Jesus.”

Jesus looks up at the hole in the roof. He sees the faces of the people who have safely lowered their friend down. Then, Christ looks at the man and says, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

Think about this for a moment. This man’s biggest problem seems to be apparent to everyone but Jesus. The friends are probably up on the roof thinking to themselves, “Wait, what? We didn’t lug him up here, rip off the roof knowing that we’ll have to fix it ourselves, and lower him down to get forgiveness. What gives?”

But Jesus knows what this man’s biggest problem is. Christ knows what this man needs most. But don’t run too quickly with this either. Yes, the forgiveness of sins is what we need for our eternal welfare. Forgiveness is more important than food, clothes, shelter, and the ability to walk. But Jesus doesn’t always forgive people before He heals them.

In fact, in all the previous healings in Matthew, Jesus doesn’t follow this order. Chapter 8 contains Jesus’ first healing in Matthew. Jesus heals a leper and doesn’t absolve him. Then, He heals the centurion’s servant, but Jesus doesn’t announce forgiveness there. He heals Peter’s mother-in-law and large crowds with no mention of forgiveness. He casts out demons from two men, no absolution. And as chapter 9 continues, Jesus keeps healing, but He’ll tell people that they are healed because of their faith in Him. And we can’t (at least we shouldn’t) conclude that in those instances Jesus cared more about their physical well-being than forgiveness.

Put that on the back-burner for a moment because Jesus isn’t done diagnosing people’s problems.

Ministry of Word and Sacrament, Keys IconAfter telling the paralytic, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven,”Jesus diagnoses the scribes’ problem. They were grumbling in their minds thinking, “Just who does this guy think he is? Forgiving sins is God’s job.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”

Notice that. Jesus says that doubting that He, a man, has the authority to forgive sins is evil. He doesn’t beat around the bush. Jesus calls out their evil. And He proves that He has the authority to forgive sins. He tells the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home,”and the paralytic does, which proves that Jesus does indeed have the authority to forgive sins.

What’s your problem? I hope you see that it doesn’t matter so much what your problem is when you see that Jesus knows what it is (He does), and Jesus fixes the problem (whatever it is).

See Jesus’ pastoral heart. Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, and ‘shepherd’ is what ‘pastor’ means. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows the needs of His flock, His sheep. Answering the question, “What’s your problem?” isn’t so important because Jesus knows what your problem is. He correctly diagnoses it and fixes it.

While everyone in that house – the listeners, the scribes, and the friends who lowered that man down from the roof – might have been scratching their heads when Jesus tells this paralytic that his sins are forgiven, the paralytic lying there heard the exact words he needed to hear. He needed to hear that his sins had been removed from him as far as the east is from the west, so that is precisely what Jesus gave him.

The scribes needed to hear Jesus call out their evil. And the crowds needed to see that God had given men (plural [foreshadowing Jesus giving the authority to forgive sins to all Christians]) the authority to forgive sins on earth (Mk. 2:10). Jesus gives each person exactly what they needed.

So, you here today, what’s your problem? Well, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is here today. Surely, the Lord is in this place even if you, like Jacob in our Old Testament text, didn’t know it. This is the gate of heaven (Gen. 28:10-17), right here in this sanctuary. Jesus is here to give you exactly what you need. Jesus is here to give you His Word, Law and Gospel. Jesus has called you to put off your old sinful self, to put away your sin, and to be renewed in your minds (Eph. 4:22-28).

Communion Cross with JesusJesus is here, here to give you exactly what you need. He comes to give you His Body which was hung on a cross to endure the wrath of God for your sins. He comes to give you His Blood which He shed for the forgiveness of your sins. Whatever your problem is – even if you are unclear what it is – Jesus is here to deliver you from it. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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The Finger of God – Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent on Luke 11:14-28

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Luke 11:14–28

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. Jesus Rebuking Demon15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Some people will never believe. Their hearts are so hardened that, no matter how great a sign they see from the hand of God Himself, they still refuse to believe. This doesn’t mean that we should stop proclaiming the Gospel to them or stop praying for them. It is just reality. And, in fact, it is a call to further prayer because we recognize that conversion is always, always a work of the Holy Spirit chiseling away at sin-hardened hearts.

Jesus casts a mute demon out of a man. Some marveled. Some were still seeking from a sign from heaven. And some accused Jesus of casting out the demon by the power of Beelzebul (which means ‘lord of the flies’ a derogatory title for Satan stating that the devil is the lord of the dung heap).

Now, as illogical as the accusation is, we need to see how that it infinitely more blasphemous. Jesus delivers a man from a demon that made him mute. But people say, “Jesus is doing the devil’s work.”

And we need to pause here because nothing has changed. This world still calls good evil and evil good. If you are pro-life, you are sexist who just wants to control women’s bodies. If you stand for marriage as God created it or believe that men are men and women are women, you are homophobic.

Believer, this world hates God and hates Jesus, and it hates you too because you are God’s child. We live in a world that constantly stands good and evil on their heads. And the sooner you admit it, the better.

Jesus shows how ludicrous the claim that He is casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul. Instead, Jesus says it is by the finger of God that He is casting out demons which means that the kingdom, the reign, of God has come among those who scoff at wheat Jesus is doing.

This expression Jesus uses “the finger of God” is interesting. That phrase is only used four times in the Bible. You heard it in our Old Testament lesson (Ex. 8:16-24). Pharaoh’s magicians recognize that the plague of gnats is the finger of God coming in judgment against them. In Exodus 31[:18] and Deuteronomy 9[:10], Scripture talks about God’s finger writing the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets. Now here, Jesus talks about God’s finger casting out demons. The point is that Jesus casting out demons is a fulfillment of the Law and a plague on hell. Jesus tells demons to go and they have to go.

Then, Jesus tells something like a parable. He says that when a strong man [the devil] who is fully armed guards (and keep that word ‘guards’ in the back of your mind because it comes up again in a little bit) his house [the world] his goods [sinners] are safely under his lordship. But Jesus says that when one stronger than him [Jesus] is going to come and attack him, take away his armor, and divide the spoil [you].

Jesus says that He has come to rob the devil’s house and you are the spoils, the treasure, the plunder that Jesus is taking out of the devil’s cellar. He has won, redeemed, purchased, and grabbed you from the devil’s clutches. All by the power of His finger.

He has pulled you out of darkness and into His marvelous light. And notice what Jesus says, “Whoever is not with Me is against me.” There is no spiritual neutral ground. You are either rescued by Jesus and delivered into His kingdom, or you are held captive in the devil’s domain. And if you are not filled by the Holy Spirit, then the demons come back, and your last state is worst than the first.

So how do you know if you are in the kingdom of God or in the kingdom of the devil? Well, Jesus answers that. A woman says to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that nursed you.” Now, Mary was certainly blessed. She is the mother of our Lord. But Jesus says, even better than being His mother is to hear the Word of God and keep (there is that same word used about the devil ‘guard’) it.

Though you were guarded by Satan, Jesus has come and rescued you with His finger transferring you to His kingdom. Now, you guard the Word that Jesus used to deliver you from Satan.

Cross and CommunionGuard it. Keep it. Take it. Eat and drink it. Because Jesus joins that Word of deliverance and forgiveness of sins to bread and wine. With His little finger, He destroyers the stronghold and armor of the devil. He claims you as His own. And He guards and keeps you now and for all eternity. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.