Epiphany 3 – January 25th adn 26th, 2020 – 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 +
So, here we are, in the midst of the season of Epiphany, and we have seen that Jesus is the promised King of the Jews, True God come to earth. This True God is also True Man, who takes His place with sinful man in baptism, who joins in with us in our lives and blesses us and restores us. We have seen that this Jesus is True God, that He is the Messiah who is come to bring restoration and salvation... but to whom? Who does this Christ Jesus come to save? This is a big question. You realize that even with the wise men, we see Jesus there with His family. Last week, at the wedding of Cana - that was probably the wedding of a sibling or a cousin. Has He only come just for His blood kin, His close family, and the rest of the world gets held at arms length, at best only second class servants bringing Him gifts? Not quite, as we see in our Gospel today.
So today we have two healings. First, we see a leper who kneels before Him saying, "Lord, if You will, You can make me clean ." And Jesus touches him and says, "I will; be clean." The second healing happens when a Centurion comes forward and says, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly." And when Jesus offers to come, this Centurion says, "Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed." And, of course, the servant is healed. So here we see two people who make requests of Christ - a leper and a Centurion. Dear friends, you could not find two more different, more hated people living in Judea. Consider the first - a leper, the lowest of the low. To be a leper was to be an outcast, to be outside of society, where even the criminals and the robbers would have scorned and despised you. And then you have the Centurion - a gentile, a foreigner, a stranger. And not only that - one with power. A Centurion was an officer over 100 men, probably the highest ranking Roman official there - a man of wealth who has servants. Opposite ends of the spectrum, aren't they? The local but outcast, the foreign and powerful but despised. And yet, when they ask, they receive – indeed, Christ Jesus gladly intervenes personally in their lives.
If you were a good Jewish person of the day, you wouldn't have expected the Messiah to consort with either of these men. If a leper came up to a Pharisee in those days, the Pharisee would have recoiled in horror. Instead, Jesus reaches out and touches the man, healing him. You would never touch a leper - it defiled you - yet Jesus does. If a Centurion came up to a Pharisee, the Pharisee would be curt but polite at best, do whatever business had to be done and then move on. And yet, Christ offers to enter this Centurion's home. You didn't enter their house, who knows what defilements that house would hold, there might be pig's blood or something even worse. And yet Christ hears the pleas of this Centurion, and He even offers to enter the man's house! So, what does this mean, what does this teach us, what does this reveal to us about Christ? Christ Jesus has come to save the world, to save all sorts and kinds of people, and not just the people that we might expect.
We say the words often - we say, "For God so loved the world", we'll talk about Jesus being the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the World (we say that one several times in the service). We know Galatians, for their is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female - all are one in Christ. Yet, let us be honest. How often do we fall back into the worldly practice of judging, of categorizing, of thinking where someone "belongs"? There are people who if they walked into this Church seeking Christ's forgiveness and mercy, well, our first reaction would be to draw back with a raised eyebrow. One of the things that we know, but is so hard to put into practice, is the truth that God desires all people, that He came for everyone. We know this - but too often we listen to our flesh. There are individuals that we just don't like, or there are stereotypes or attributes that we fear, and this can tempt us to cut these people off, to cease showing them love. We must fight against this, my friends, we must fight against focusing our eyes upon our differences or upon the things we don't like - instead, we must focus our eyes upon Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the entire world.
Why? Why should we look to Christ? Why should our eyes be focused upon Him instead of having our eyes focused on and by the world, by those divisive all around tribal ways of thinking? Why should we repent of our judgmental thinking or thoughts that are shaped by earthly power? Because the sinful thoughts and dreams of man never really pan out, never satisfy. Because the world is broken, is fallen, and as such it tries to drag us down along with it, to twist our thoughts and bring us ruin and despair. Consider the text. A man had leprosy, and according to the world there was nothing to be done but to banish him and let him die. Another man was paralyzed, and to the thinking of the world - that's it, that's all she wrote. The world often thinks this way, fatalistically with doom and gloom, but you have been given ears to hear, you have been given the gift of faith in Christ Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit you know that Christ Jesus, your Lord has come into this fallen world to defeat sin and death with His death upon the Cross. And so eager is Christ to restore this Creation that as He goes to the Cross, He fixes things along the way. The leper cries out, and Christ heals. The Centurion prays, and Christ answers. Christ comes and gives small, temporary restorations to His creation, even as we all await the true restoration of the last day, when we will rise as He has risen, live never more to die, never more to even worry about death. The world says, "You have to do precisely as I say otherwise we are all going to live horrible lives and lose everything!” (enjoy the election campaigns, people) - whereas faith says, "Behold Christ, and know that because of Him that even though you die, yet you shall live."
And my dear friends, do not fall prey to the false teachers who want to take this promise of Christ and then just twist it back to vain, worldly goods. Don't give heed to the faith healers or the prosperity preachers, for all they do is peddle the same rotten wares of the world, just with a veneer of artificial Jesus flavoring slathered upon them. Place your trust in Christ, pray "Thy will be done" - and if He gives you in this life better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health, so be it... you know what His will for you for all eternity is. He has paid the penalty for your sin and that because of Him you are forgiven. Because of Him you will receive the full restoration in the life of the world to come. It matters not what you face in this life, it matters not what people think of you, or how even how they categorize you and judge you, for Christ Jesus has suffered and died and risen again for you. This is where our focus is, and remembering Christ, hearing His promises, we are given strength to endure whatever we face in this life.
I would have us note one more thing. With both these healings, Christ accomplishes restoration by His Word. Consider the leper. Christ looks at him and says, "I will, be clean." When He heals the servant of the Centurion, He does so saying, "Go; let it be done for you as you have believed." The Word does it - and it really should stand out by how Christ speaks - "be clean, let it be done." Does that sound familiar? "Let there be light"? The Word of God is creative, it is restorative, it makes things come into being and restores them to the way they should have been and would have been had it not been for the fall. The Word of God, Christ Jesus Himself, fixes things by proclaiming the Word. And we see this same thing happen in the Church in our Sacraments. Christ Jesus takes water and the Word and washes us in Holy Baptism and says, "Be clean, all your sins are forgiven." Christ Jesus calls us to His altar, where we believe that He comes to us to give us not a mere symbol but His own true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins, and He says to us, "let it be done for you as you have believed." Christ Jesus comes, He brings His own creative Word to us, and because He has spoken to us, because the Holy Spirit has called us through the Gospel and enlightened and sanctified us, we know that we have forgiveness and life in Him. And the wonderful thing is that this Word cannot be taken from you, it can not be stolen from you – Christ Jesus has given Himself to you, made you His temple, and thus His salvation is yours. His victory for you is complete.
So, what do we see and learn today? That Christ has come for all people - that not just His blood relatives are to be saved, but that "I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven". Moreover, we know that He means us, for like so many from around the world we have been brought into His true family, for He is our brother and we have received the adpotion as sons in Holy Baptism. We kneel at table with Him, we share in His Supper. And as He lives, so shall we live too. God is with us, with us to forgive and restore us, to lighten the darkness of the this fallen world with His love. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +