Epiphany 3 – January 26th, 2014 – Matthew 8:1-13
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Last week in our Gospel lesson, we had one miracle, the changing of water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana. This week, we get two, two miracles in our Gospel lesson. Now, we could spend all our time focusing on the healing of the man with leprosy, or we could look at the faith of the Centurion, but instead, let’s just look at both, because they dovetail together, like a nicely joined piece of furniture, and looking at both of these together, we shall see clearly who Jesus our Lord is. Let us dive in then.
A man with leprosy came and knelt before Him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. Audicity! What audacity! Here we have a Leper approaching Jesus and asking for healing, kneeling before Jesus even, and we can miss the audacity of this. You guys remember the 10 Lepers, right, all healed, only one comes back to thank Jesus. Do you remember how those Lepers approach Jesus? They shout from a long distance. Why? A Leper wasn’t supposed to approach anyone who was healthy, rather, he was to shout “Unclean, unclean” at the top of his lungs to make sure everyone stayed away. And yet, here we have this Leper, coming before Jesus, kneeling before Him. And there are great crowds around, you didn’t come around people if you were a leper. If we were in that crowd, we most likely would be expecting Jesus to give him a stern rebuke. Get back, you mangy dog, and take your illness with you!
Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!” Immediately, he was cured of his leprosy. No squeamish Jesus here. No, our Lord doesn’t back away, He doesn’t shy away, but rather Jesus gets down and physical here. He touches the man. Did you note that? Does Jesus need to touch the man to heal him? I highly doubt it. And yet, Jesus touches the man, Jesus gives that physical contact to this man who has been cut off from human contact for so long. That Leper, who had been cast out of his community, cut off from family and friends, is touched, and not by just a man, but by Jesus the Christ, True God and True Man, Lord of all creation. And holding this Leper, Jesus speaks, Jesus says, “Be clean,” and the man is clean. He’s clean, the spots and sores are gone, immediately. The man is restored to health. Jesus touches the Leper, speaks a Word, and the Leper is Leper no more. So why touch the man? Was it simply an act of compassion? If that’s all it was, it would be a mighty act of compassion. It would show us that Jesus indeed understands us humans, what it means to have a body, what it is to need physical contact. This in and of itself is a great comfort. There is no burden, no pain that we bear that is beyond Jesus ability to understand, for He bore our sickness and infirmities, as Isaiah puts it. But Jesus touches the Leper, and speaks. This reminds us of something else.
The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. With the rest of creation, we have God simply saying, “Let the earth bring forth” whatever God is making. But with man, we see this, we see God taking the dust itself, and fashioning by hand, Adam. Paul was most truly right when he said that we are God’s workmanship, for in the creation of man, we see God crafting His greatest creation. And Jesus touches the Leper. We see in this miracle creation restored, we see God once again taking dust, taking the dead flesh, the dead ash and dust of this Leper into His hands, and making him anew. Who is this Jesus who heals this Leper? He is no simple man, no mere healer or conjuror of tricks, but this is God Almighty Himself, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, come into His creation to restore it. If you had any doubts that God holds human life to be sacred, that all people are to be cared for and protected, the old, the infirm, the young, the unborn, behold God preserving His creation, even a Leper whom the world had scorned.
And of course, seeing God heal the physical, seeing Jesus restore this man’s broken skin, we are of course pointed to the greater healing that God gives, the healing of our sin stained souls. Where God’s Word is, where it is spoken and proclaimed, there is healing. Now, by our sin we are nasty, filthy beings, a fact we will often try to overlook or skirt on by. We can complain about our neighbor and how messed up they are, but we often fail to comprehend just how deeply corrupted we are. But what happens when that sin is brought to light, when we see it, when we feel it, when its burden weighs heavy on us and we know that we are unclean? Because that’s what God’s Law does – it lays us open, it shows us our sin. So what do we do then? Like this Leper, we fall before God and ask for healing, ask for His forgiveness.
Why? How can we be so bold? Have you thought about it that way? Every Sunday we start this service by asking God for forgiveness, declaring that we are poor, miserable sinners. Is that not bold? But in this we are right to be bold, we are right to come before our Lord and ask for forgiveness, for by faith we know that He is always willing to forgive, to cleanse us. He calls out “Be Clean!” That’s a forgiveness word, that points us to how Jesus handles sin, He washes it away. . . does that remind anyone of Baptism? We are bold because our boldness is not based on who we are, of our worthiness to be forgiven. Far from it! We are bold in confessing our sins because we by the gift of the Spirit working through the Gospel we know who Christ Jesus is. In Him we trust, in Him we have confidence, and that is confidence indeed. Or, as Paul puts it, if we are to boast, let us boast in the Lord. Indeed, we boast and celebrate His forgiveness every week here in this place as Jesus speaks to us again His cleansing Word of forgiveness.
And then we have the Centurion. We have this Gentile, this foreigner, one of those hated Romans who holds the people of Israel in vile oppression, a leader of their’s who commands 80 soldiers, and he comes to Jesus, and he asks healing for his servant. And Jesus offers to go. Now, this in and of itself would be shocking! Why should Jesus heal this Centurion’s servant? Why heal the miserable lapdog of this Roman dog? The thought of healing a gentile would have been disgusting to people in Jesus’ day – but before we get too proud that we are so much better than them, and know that Jesus loves all people, let’s ask the question. What of the people you don’t like? The people who anger you, who disgust you? The people you gossip about and slander, the people you glare at? The ones who if they walked through those doors would make you in your sinfulness grit your teeth. This isn’t an abstract “Jesus loves everyone” we see in this text – this is up and in your face, see, Jesus loves even that person you hate and vilify. Christ Jesus does not think with a sinful heart, He seeks to bring comfort and healing even to the people we hate. Thanks be to God that our Lord is willing to go, for He is willing to come even to such miserable sinners as us.
The Centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have You come under my roof. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Isn’t this just fascinating? Even Jesus is astonished at this. . . but in a good way. A few weeks ago we had John the Baptist trying to hinder the will of Jesus, trying to tell Jesus what to do. . . but do you see the difference between what John did and what the Centurion does here? The Centurion says, “Lord, thank you for offering to heal my servant, but you don’t need to spend the time to come to my house. Simply speak, and it will be done. You have this authority and command, and what you say will happen.” I mean, this is just great stuff. There is a reason why Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” So what makes the Centurion’s faith. . . great? What makes it greater than, that of the Leper, who we just saw, who was certainly bold in His faith?
The strength of the Centurion’s faith isn’t that He believes more. . . it isn’t that while other people believe he really, really, really believes. That’s how we tend to view the strength of faith, like some sort of anything you can do I can do better contest. But that’s not it. What shows the Centurion’s faith to be strong is his understanding. The Centurion sees the consequences of things. This Man is God, all He has to do is say the Word. This is His authority, this is what He possesses because of who He is. The Centurion knows, and he sees the ramifications.
There are many things that could have distracted the Centurion. He could have noticed all the disdain that the Jewish folks there listening to Jesus had for him – I’m sure there were plenty of dirty looks. He could have been thinking about how far away his home was, or how dire and close to death his servant is. There could have been so many other thoughts and concerns rattling around. But that’s not where He looks. He looks, he sees Christ. Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, the Alpha and Omega of our faith, the beginning and end of our faith, the end-all be-all of our faith. He sees Christ, not any the problems, not the distractions. Because this is what Satan loves to do. He loves to show you troubles and hardships and all sorts of direness. Satan is called the Accuser for good reason – Satan has no problem with you seeing the Law, but then he wants things to stop right there. But God with His Word, but the Holy Spirit does something beyond that. Are you a sinner – yes… but Christ Jesus comes for sinners to forgive and restore them. Are you going to die – yes… but in Baptism you have already been joined to Christ Jesus in His death and are you most certainly united to Christ Jesus in His resurrection. Do you see the world around you falling apart? Sure, but Christ Jesus will come again, and He will bring with Him new heavens and a new earth, where you will reign with Him. Jesus wins. Jesus trumps all. Even though our thoughts, or deeds, our flesh, our hatreds, our lusts, our angers, the world around us and even Satan himself strive to distract us – the truth remains. Christ Jesus has said, “All authority on Heaven and Earth has been given to me – go. Baptize. Teach. Forgive. And I will come again.” It’s all about Christ – and Christ Jesus has died and risen all so that He can say you are cleansed of all your sins, you will be raised from your death bed to everlasting life, you are forgiven. Oh depths and the riches of the wisdom of God!
Dear friends, we are God’s cleansed and healed people, washed clean in the Blood of Christ shed upon the Cross. We are His people who receive His forgiveness over and over again, who continue to marvel and wonder at His goodness to us. We behold His Glory, and see ever more that it is greater and deeper and wider than we had imagined before. Thanks be to God for His great mercy to us who deserve it not. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World. Amen.