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LSB Epiphany 3 Sermon – Matthew 8:1-13

January 23, 2017

January 22, 2017 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“When Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who followed Him, ‘Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.’”

Today’s Scripture readings present a series of healing miracles. People with grave diseases are cured. But the cure doesn’t come by applying knowledge of medicine. There is no discovery of a new drug to use or new technique to try. No, these healings take place because the LORD’s power is exercised to relieve those who suffer from their illnesses.

The healing of Naaman recorded in the Old Testament Reading provides a great example of that. The Syrian general comes to Israel looking for a cure for his leprosy. His Israelite slave girl had said: “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” Naaman seeks a remedy that no one in Syria could provide. But in fact, no one in Israel could give it either, not even Israel’s king. Only the prophet who spoke the LORD’s words could offer the cure.

Recall what happened when Elisha the Prophet grants him that cure. Naaman is told: “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored, and you shall be clean.” But that instruction made him angry, since Naaman knew that the Jordan was no better than the rivers of Damascus. Bathing in them had not cured his disease. So why would dipping himself in the Jordan seven times do so? It can do so only because the prophet had spoken a “great word” to Naaman that this act would give a cure. That is made clear in the account of what Naaman did: “He went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like at the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” The presence of that divine word and its effects lead Naaman to his great confession: “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.” The LORD’s power had healed Naaman, and he rightly praises the LORD for it.

When Jesus is confronted by two people seeking healing of diseases, the same is seen. The leper who comes to Jesus desires what Jesus can offer: “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.” He couldn’t say that about any of the physicians he may have previously seen. As much as the leper may have desired it or his loved ones may have wanted, they were powerless to help. But that is not the case with Jesus. Why? Because Jesus exercises the LORD’s power. He does so by speaking: “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” Jesus provides the cure that the leper had previously been unable to find: “Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”

The incident between Jesus and the centurion in Capernaum drives the point home more clearly: “A centurion came forward to [Jesus], appealing to Him, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.’” Jesus can relieve his servant of the great affliction that has paralyzed the man. The soldier requests it be done, and Jesus offers to do so: “I will come and heal him.” But what happened next? The centurion speaks about the ability that Jesus has in His words, that what Jesus says will be done: “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” The centurion speaks about the authority he has been given, and how his commands are obeyed without question. By doing so, the centurion also confesses that the authority Jesus has is even greater and will be exercised as Jesus desires.

So what does Jesus do? He heals the servant by His command: “To the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed at that very moment.” But before that was done, Jesus makes a statement that all His followers in the generations that have passed since this incident are to mark well: “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.” Jesus’ praise of the centurion’s faith provides us with the example that we are to imitate. His commendation of what the centurion believed is tied to the understanding of how the LORD’s power will be exercised for those who suffer afflictions that they cannot relieve. And that will be the portal for many others to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

These incidents are to make us think about how the LORD will provide blessings and benefits to us, so that we can be relieved of our afflictions. How are we to obtain restoration from sin and its effects, from death and disease? Many cures are offered. Some actually do what is promised, like killing off the bacteria that cause infections. Others show themselves only to be treatments of symptoms, only partially effective. Some don’t work at all. Yet, even the successful remedies ultimately prove to be a failure, since not one person has been completely kept from dying. That makes them empty vessels of hope.

But that isn’t what Jesus offers. He doesn’t hawk the latest and greatest drug. He doesn’t promote a new technique. No, He presents Himself as the divine answer to sin and guilt. Jesus introduces Himself as the way to enter the kingdom of heaven. He does so because He wills for mankind to be redeemed. He demonstrates that desire by being the Redeemer, the One who atones for guilt, the One who wrestles with death and prevails. That’s the identity partially revealed through the healing miracles that Jesus performs, examples of divine power being exercised. But the greatest way that is done is not in Capernaum or some other city of Galilee, but in Judea on the hill of Calvary. For there Jesus displays the fullness of His power to overcome the curse of sin and to overpower mankind’s great enemy.

And what does Jesus do after He dies and rises? He places His authority and power in others to take out into the world. He reveals how this works to His apostles: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Jesus authorizes them to carry this out. This is why the Apostle Paul writes in the Epistle Reading: “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

What is established in this is the same concept that was seen by Naaman, by the leper healed by Jesus, and by the centurion: that deliverance comes only from the LORD’s power that He exercises for the benefit of others. Without that, neither Naaman or the centurion’s servant would be healed. But it is the LORD’s desire to do so, even though not one single person is worthy of it. Life and healing are given as people believe in Jesus and His exercise of divine authority for the salvation of the world.

This critical point is demonstrated in what the Scripture readings have told us today. Naaman’s anger at Elisha’s instructions would have kept him from receiving the cure for his leprosy. But when he was led to trust what the man of God said and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, the LORD’s power provided healing for him. The leper who came to Jesus knew about His ability to heal, but did not fully know His will to do so. But when Jesus spoke, that will was revealed and the leper was restored. The centurion also knew about Jesus’ ability to heal. He had so much confidence in Jesus’ ability and will, that he just asked Jesus to give the command, knowing that it would be done.

The same confidence, trust, and hope in Jesus is what Paul exhorts the Roman Christians and us to have: “[the gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” That confidence, trust, and hope will be shown by us as we rely on how the LORD says the word and we, His unworthy servants, are healed. It’s seen in our coming to this place for the benefits that Jesus promises to give. For the same Jesus who gives commands that are fulfilled has authorized His gospel to be spoken in the world: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…. Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned…. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

So how do we respond to this? Is it in the way that Naaman first did in doubt? “I thought that he would surely come out to me and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.” Is it in the way that the leper came to Jesus but didn’t know if He had the desire to heal him? “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.” Is it in the way that many sons of the kingdom scoffed at Jesus as the One whom the LORD had sent with His power? “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

No, those are not the responses elicited from us. We have been called, enlightened, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit to understand the LORD’s gracious will for us and how He has completed it in Jesus’ work. We know and believe that the gospel is the power of God for our salvation. We have come to trust that Jesus has placed that power of His gospel word in preaching, teaching, baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. That leads us to speak as the centurion did: “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” We call on Jesus to speak to us through the men of God He sends here, knowing the divine authority they carry. We look for the forgiveness, life, and salvation that comes through them. And to that faith, Jesus responds: “Let it be done for you as you have believed.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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