Sermon audio here.
Jesus never said, “Let go and let God”, He said, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” There’s a big difference.
Both “let go and let God” and “repent and believe” acknowledge that we have trouble, but they locate the source of that trouble in two very different places. One leads to Christ and the other leaves you dead in sin.
In “let go and let God”, the reality of trouble is acknowledged, but you’re always the victim. Your only job is, as Elsa put it, to “let it go.” Don’t sweat it. Leave it in God’s hands. The trouble might seem to come from work, stress, or some medical condition, akin to the paralytic in today’s text.
But the trouble only seems to come from these things. Where faith is rock solid, there’s peace, because you’re content with knowing that God works all things to His glory. The paralytic’s real problem isn’t his paralysis, it’s his sin—and the only solution to sin is to repent.
Even something as terrible as paralysis is no problem where faith is living and active. Faith looks at paralysis and says, “So what? I exist to glorify God, and I don’t need to walk to do that. If God is content for me to glorify Him without legs, so am I.”
It’s easy to blame your troubles on work or health or whatever. This is why “let go and let God” theology is so popular. The Gospel according to Elsa avoids the uncomfortable truth that the real problem is staring back at you in the mirror. Sin is the problem—and not some generic sin, but your sin. Nothing would trouble you if it weren’t for your lack of faith. Repent and believe in the Gospel.
That’s not to say our Lord doesn’t care about stress or paralysis or any number of terrible things. He does, and He brings help in every need. But like the paralytic, you have needs that go far beyond the temporal.
This is evident by the way our text unfolds. Our Lord had just returned to “His own city.” You might think that was Nazareth, but Jesus left the familiar confines of His hometown for the Gentile Capernaum at the beginning of His public ministry. As Isaiah said, Christ came to shine light on those dwelling in deep darkness. Or as Simeon put it, He’s a light to lighten the nations.
If only we had the same concern of our Lord for those not like us, LCMS congregations wouldn’t be 95% white and racism wouldn’t exist. There would be no misfits or outcasts or immigrants. We would care equally about everyone. It’s probably not possible to have a nation without borders—even trying to imagine how such a thing would work boggles the mind—but there are no borders in heaven. The human heart is so full of hatred that it would rather be in hell than spend eternity in a place without borders. Repent, or that’s exactly what you’ll get.
Christ suffered and died that you would no longer be an outcast, a stranger and alien to God, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). Just last week our text from Deuteronomy said, “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”
But instead of working to tear borders down, we’re trying to figure out if we really can build that “great wall of Trump.” The sad part is if our nation were as unwelcoming as LCMS congregations can be, we wouldn’t need a wall. Nobody would want to come to America. There are people who won’t to come to church because they can be some of the coldest, gossip-infested, unforgiving places on earth. You have driven people away from Christ by your lack of love. Repent.
Our Lord doesn’t avoid the people He probably should, which is why He keeps coming back here every Sunday and why He returns to Gentile Capernaum. But probably before He can even dock the boat, some people bring Him a paralyzed man. The text doesn’t actually say why they brought this man to Jesus, but it’s pretty obvious: they wanted Jesus to heal Him.
But He doesn’t. Not right away, least. He eventually gets to that—and of course, the paralysis is what we’d be fixated on it were us—but the healing is really almost an afterthought. What would have been really funny would have been if Jesus told the paralytic, “Let go and let God.” But He doesn’t, because that would have been totally useless. Worse, it would have ignored the real problem. The Gospel according to Elsa doesn’t even want to acknowledge sin, much less have a solution for it.
The Gospel according to Christ does, and so He speaks His Holy Absolution: “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” Now I don’t know about you, but if someone brought me to Jesus and I was paralyzed, I’d much rather hear, “Take heart, my son; your paralysis is healed.”
Eventually Jesus gets around to that, and when He does, the reason He gives for the healing is surprising. He says He healed the man for the sake of the unbelieving scribes, so that they might know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. If you’re able to do something as miraculous as heal paralysis merely by speaking, this would tend to inspire confidence in the power of your word. That’s why Jesus does this healing.
But the greater problem remains sin, and as the Great Physician, our Lord correctly diagnoses the problem while we’re still dwelling on the symptoms. Our Lord cuts right to the chase. He takes one look at their faith and says, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
Ultimately, the paralytic’s problem, and your problem, is your sin. It’s easy to forget this and start thinking your trouble is money or health or politics or whatever. It’s not.
Which brings us back to our two ways of dealing with trouble. Letting go and confessing your need for a Savior are two very different things. There’s no contrition—no sorrow over sin—in letting go. To acknowledge your need for a Savior is to acknowledge that you are the problem. Those who have no use for repentance have no use for Christ. Victims let go; perpetrators repent.
There are certainly times when you’ve been the victim—the paralyzed man was that way presumably through no fault of his own—but even when you’re the victim, you’re still always the problem.
Faith yields peace even when you’re suffering unjustly. Look at Christ. He’s the innocent Lamb of God, victimized by the unbelief and brutality of His own children. Even still, there He is on the cross, looking after His mother, praying for His enemies, dying for your sin, and commending Himself into the hands of His heavenly Father.
Whatever is troubling you wouldn’t be if your faith didn’t have a tendency of putting on a vanishing act that would give Houdini a run for his money. It’s not that your faith is weak; it’s that it’s absent. Repent and believe in the Gospel. Then the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
Unless you repent of your sin, it’s a problem that will vex you daily and follow you beyond the grave. Then, worldly paralysis will look like a cakewalk. Those who remain impenitent will suffer an eternity of something so much worse than paralysis, and they’ll do it in a place that makes the Middle East look like a paragon of brotherly love.
Christ would set you, His baptized child, free from your sin by His gifts of preaching and the Sacrament, but these gifts can only be received by the penitent and in true faith. Your problems are not ultimately your boss or your health or what someone said or did to you. Your problem is always your lack of faith. Repent and believe in the Gospel.
The things you keep looking to for help—that miracle drug, a new job, more money, better skin, for the Cubs to win the World Series, or even for Christ to do some miracle for you on par with the healing of the paralytic—can easily become your highest good. What God intends for good, you’ve turned into an idol. Repent and believe in the Gospel.
The glory of the world is fleeting. This is why the Yankees are still going even after winning the World Series 27 times. Christ promises salvation that brings true and lasting joy. The healing He brings is eternal. He will raise your body in glory on the Last Day, just as He Himself was raised in glory.
The answer to whatever is troubling you is to repent, not to try harder or to let it go. Look to Christ, and take heart, for your sin is forgiven you, in the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.