Epiphany 3 – January 26th and 27th, 2019 – 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 +
Who do you hate? Who do you just hate? Okay, maybe that's too strong of a question to start off a sermon because well, we're good people and we aren't hateful. Okay, so who do you dislike? Who makes you uncomfortable – is that better? What sort of person if you see them gives you a bit of an – ewwwww – feeling, or what sort of person makes you a bit nervous and worried and angry, even? Picture them in your head, think about them for a moment, alright? Because if you want to understand what is going on in our text, you need to have that image in your head – the image of someone who gives you an ewww feeling, someone who makes you nervous and makes you fearful a bit. Because what Jesus does in this text is an abrupt and sudden turn, a shocking and surprising shift. Listen.
When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed Him. Jesus has just finished the famous Sermon on the Mount. Matthew Chapters 5-7 are the Sermon on the Mount – the beatitudes, teaching the Lord's Prayer, consider the lillies of the field, judge not lest ye be judged, seek ye first the kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount is our wheel house – we love it. It's got some hard teaching in it, but it's comfortable – 5 times a year we get something from it. But the thing with teaching, the thing with a sermon or a bible class is that we tend to think of it happening here – in our heads. It's abstracted. Okay, Jesus – yeah, yeah, yeah – love your enemies, do unto others as you'd have done to you, don't be anxious about anything – got it. Got the idea in my head And the crowds were listening then, and they follow Jesus all excited – and what happens?
And behold, a leper came to Him and knelt before Him, saying, “LORD, if You will, you can make me clean.” Now, this leper is fantastic – he kneels before Jesus, but this isn't just any kneeling, this is assuming a posture of worship, of prayer. This leper calls Jesus LORD – worships Him. He nails the Lord's Prayer – Thy Will be done – if YOU WILL, you can make me clean. This is one of the most excellent confessions of faith and trust in Jesus that you will hear... but if you were in that crowd, you wouldn't have heard it. Oh, the sound might have entered your ears, but you wouldn't have been paying attention. Why not? HE'S A LEPER! AND HE'S HERE, RIGHT HERE IN FRONT OF ME! Remember that person that gives you that “ewww” feeling; well, if they suddenly pop up right in front of you, you're not quite ready to calmly and rationally evaluate what they are saying, or the merits of their argument – it's get them away from me. That's how our sinful, selfish fears work. Protect me, and get this dirty, nasty, evil thing away from me!
Jesus is not sinful. He is the Son of God, True God and True Man come to deal with sin, to redeem and rescue people who are in bondage to sin and suffering from it's impact. And so hear what He does, and know how shocking this is. “And Jesus stretched out His hand and touched Him, saying, 'I will; be clean.'” Jesus touches the leper – touches the person who by definition was untouchable. You did not do what Jesus does. Jesus just reaches His hand right on in – and personally, in a hands on way, without a hint of disgust or disdain, heals the guy. Then Jesus says, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded for a proof to them.” Alright fella, go on, get out of here – you're freaking out the crowd... get yourself cleared with the priestly health officials, get everything squared away legally with your offering/sacrifice, and then go enjoy your life and the gifts that I have provided you. And off this fellow goes – all done and finished before our heads would have cleared from the shock.
But it gets worse. “When He entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to Him, 'Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” Things have settled down, a nice calm walk home – and then a Centurion shows up. Remember that person you hate – okay, strongly dislike? The person whom the thought of just makes your blood boil a bit – well, that's what this Centurion is. Filthy Roman dog, vile oppressor, the MAN – every epithet you can think of – there he is, personified. And again, if you were there you'd miss it, but this Centurion does things so well. That word “appealing” there – that's parakalo – that's the very word that gets used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete. Take it to the Lord in prayer? Lay your burdens on Jesus – this is it, textbook. Not a one of us in here could do better – but, but, but he's a filthy Roman dog. You grimace and sneer when you think of him – yet by the power of the Spirit he prays rightly. By the power of the Spirit – oh, surely not him!
Jesus responds. “I will come and heal him.” WHAT? Jesus, don't You dare go into that dirty gentile's house, that would be horrible and just utterly shocking... and before we can even grouse at Jesus and tell Him not to do this, that Roman Dog speaks up - “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'go,' and he goes, and to another, 'come,' and he comes, and to my servant, 'do this,' and he does it.” The Roman Dog gets it. Submitting doesn't seem like a dirty word to him – he understands authority. He knows that authority is to be used for the good and benefit of those under your command, who are subordinate to you. And Jesus is going to do good to those under Jesus' authority – like this Centurion and his servant. Whereas the crowd, where we, would see division and distinction and anger and fights – Jew vs. Gentile, slave vs. free, or all the divisions we manufacture today, so on and so forth – no, we are all under Your authority Lord, and You are good, and Your Word is the way it is.
And then marveling, Jesus says to that crowd that had spent months and years hating this Centurion - “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” Yeah, crowd – faith. I told you that “parakalo” word was a Holy Spirit and faith word – and this Roman Dog – no, not a dog, but a brother and an heir and one sitting at the table – this Roman has faith... and if you don't like that, well, you might be the one ending up in the outer darkness gnashing your teeth. “Go; let it be done for you as you believe.” Did you hear it – Jesus said “Let it be” - or as we normally think of it, “Let there be...” just like at creation. The Word of God speaks, and it is, and it is good. The servant is healed.
Do you want to know who Jesus is, what it means that He is true God and true Man? He is the God who created all things, who loves all His creation, and who comes down to forgive and redeem that creation, to save and deliver the people therein – even the people we don't like. Even then people, dare I say it, that we hate. Cause if you hate someone, that is a you problem. That's you opposing God, because that person you are disgusted with or angry with – that is precisely the person Jesus comes down from heaven and goes to the cross for, to die and redeem. And that is a tough and hard and bitter pill to swallow – it shows the reality of that do unto others and love your enemies and forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us. And frankly that's why a lot of people rejected Jesus – His love and goodness showed them their hate and disdain, and instead of receiving and living in mercy that He gives, they chose their own hatred.
We live in a day and age where we are quick to hate and condemn. We are quick to blame. We are quick to take sides. That's how we “prove” that we are better – and that's the goal of the game today – to prove that you are better than everyone else and that it's their fault. And that's the game our sinful flesh likes to play. And the reason this temptation towards hatred is so hard is because so often it is... true. It is true, that leper was gross. And potentially dangerous, could infect everyone – all true. And that Centurion was an oppressor – when Rome would crack the whip he'd be the guy cracking it – all true. And you know what – the people you hate, sometimes it's for a silly reason, but sometimes you hate them for a really good reason because they have done you wrong, or are a pain and a threat to the people you care about. That's true. And you know what's an even scarier truth – the people who hate you, because let's face it, we all have people who don't like us or are mad at us – the scarier truth is this. Often they've got a good reason to be mad at you. And it's not abstract and distant or theoretical – but it's real and up close. Your neighbors, the people at work, at school. Your family. Legitimate, real and reasonable bad blood. Even in here – I'm sure I've done stupid, hurtful, wicked and evil things to folks here in this room, where if you wanted to complain your anger would be completely reasonable. That's the reality of sin.
And over and against that very real sin, over and against our hatreds and fears and disdains – be they silly or spot on accurate – comes Christ Jesus. True God. The Word of God who created all things, and it was good – and He says, “Enough of this. Enough of this pain, enough of this anger, enough of this fear, enough of this death, enough of this sin. I will go to the Cross and I will die and rise, and it will be good again. You will be good again, because I have said so. And even that other person – they will be good again.” And so Christ Jesus, in His wisdom and love for you, wisdom and love that seems like utter stupidity to the reckless rage and anger of the world, washed you in Holy Baptism. He cleansed you from all your sin, and He made you an heir of eternal life. And you do realize what this is for – this is not just for your good. You are an heir of eternal life, eternal life is your possession. It is yours to give out. And as Christ simply gave you forgiveness, forgiveness is yours to give out freely. Even to the people who don't deserve it – what do I mean, especially to the people who don't deserve it. That common saying is silly – you and I, we are the ones who don't deserve forgiveness, we are the ones who are rightfully hated and disdained, we in our sin make others go “eww” or “err” - and yet Christ Jesus comes to you – take and eat, take and drink. You are forgiven – let this gift grow your faith in Me and grow your love toward one another – and it is so and it is good.
My dear friends, when we say that Jesus is True God and True Man, that isn't just some theological mumbo jumbo. No, we are confessing that Jesus is Real, and He deals with reality. And the reality of our situation is this – we are real sinners dealing with real sins and real hatreds, things we have caused and things we have suffered under – things we have done and things that have been done to us. And this Jesus Christ is no play-time pretend God – He takes that very real and terrible junk, and He puts it to death with His own Body upon the cross, and He rises to give you His life, real life, a life more real that anyone can know apart from Christ. And the world and Satan and our flesh keep pulling us to just stay “happily” in our hatred and grievances and wickedness – but over and against that, Christ Jesus comes to forgive, redeem, and save. And this is what He has done for you and to you and what He brings about for others through you. Oh Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise. In the Name Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +