When I initially delivered this sermon, my late bride, Beth, had just begun receiving chemotherapy for her thymic carcinoma. The Lord, in His infinite wisdom, called her home on May 12, 2007.
IN NOMINE JESU
He was to be avoided at all costs. If one was to encounter a leper, he was to flee from him as from the devil himself. The leper was unhealthy, and, as such, he was declared ceremonially unclean. This was done according to the law which the LORD spoke to "Moses and Aaron, saying: 'When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling, a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes on the skin of his body like a leprous sore, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests. The priest shall examine the sore on the skin of his body; and if the hair on the sore has turned white, and the sore appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous sore. Then the priest shall examine him, and pronounce him unclean. But if the bright spot is white on the skin of his body, and does not appear to be deeper than the skin, and its hair has not turned white, then the priest shall isolate the one who has the sore seven days. … "'Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, "Unclean! Unclean!" He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp'" (Lev. 13:1-4, 45-46).
The Lord also said to them, "Moreover the person who touches any unclean thing, such as human uncleanness, an unclean animal, or any abominable unclean thing, and who eats the flesh of the sacrifice of the peace offering that belongs to the LORD, that person shall be cut off from his people" (Lev. 7:21). The leper was to be cast apart from his people until the time when the priest declared him clean and the sacrifice was made in accordance with the ceremonial law of the Lord. But until that time, no one was to be in contact with someone who had such a disease of the flesh, one that would cause flesh to fall off the bone. The Lord went into great detail regarding what was to be done with the leper, leprous garments, and leprous homes, garments, and houses that were infested with leprosy. Anyone who came into contact with a leper would also be considered unclean and had to undergo the cleansing rite prescribed by God in the Old Testament. In fact, the Lord devotes two chapters of the Book of Leviticus, chapters 13 and 14, to leprosy and those people, garments, or homes that contained it. We shall examine the cleansing rite for the leper later.
In our text we behold a leper, who came to the Lord, seeking healing from his disease. The text indicates that this leper believed in Jesus as the long-promised Messiah. The posture of the leper indicates such faith, for he implored Him, knelt down to Him, and said to Him, "If You are willing, You can make me clean" (v. 40). This man had no doubt whether the Lord was able to make him clean, but he got down on his knees and prayed, "Thy will be done." The leper assumed the posture of prayer, prayer that is borne of faith, faith borne of the Holy Spirit. The leper prayed that the Lord would give him that day his daily bread, which "includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as…health…" (4th Petition).
The issue here is the will of the Lord, who was willing to cleanse the man. The Blessed Evangelist St. Mark notes that the Lord was "moved with compassion" (v. 41). A more literal translation would render the Lord's innards were moved. In other words, the Lord had a gut reaction, and His heart was moved. He saw the man's faith and heard his expression of the faith, and He saw the devastation of the leprosy that was before Him. Then came the act of divine mercy. The Lord by a word cleansed the man of his leprosy: "I am willing; be cleansed." He was cured! He was clean! Yet this was unthinkable in first-century Jewish thought: the clean touching the unclean! But it happened: the Lord stretched out His hand and touched the leper. Christ had mercy upon him. This is what our text is about: the divine mercy of Jesus Christ, God the Son, who stretches forth His hand and touches us, His people, with His mercy. In the words of the prophet Isaiah who spoke of the Suffering Servant, "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows" (Is. 53:4a). Christ took this man's leprosy and sin upon Himself, becoming unclean so that the man in need would become clean. The ancient church father Origen says, "The hand of the Lord is found to have touched not a leper, but a body made clean! Let us consider here, beloved, if there be anyone here that has the taint of leprosy in his soul, or the contamination of guilt in his heart? If he has, instantly adoring God, let him say: 'Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.'"
We behold the Lord's divine mercy in our lives as He gives us this day, and each day, our daily bread, but we grouse and complain like Naaman in our Old Testament Reading. He was furious with Elisha's instructions, than Naaman wash himself in the Jordan River seven times, and his flesh would be restored to him, and he would be clean. Elisha, the prophet of the Lord, through his messenger, told Naaman he needed to be washed in order to be cleansed. Naaman was furious. He expected Elisha himself to come, call on the Name of the Lord, Elisha's God (not Naaman's), wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy (2 K 5:11). Naaman was also incredulous about having to be washed in the Jordan River, as if it was inferior to the rivers in Syria. Naaman was furious. He expected big and grand things to happen for him to be healed. We are like Naaman. We expect the Lord to make a big scene in healing us, and anything short of that is a disappointment to us. He's God, after all. He can do anything. So why doesn't He make a big production out of healing us, so that others could see it happening, too? The truth is for us, as it was for Naaman, that we don't want to have others see God's divine mercy and healing as much as we would like to have others around us to shower us with shouts of praise and adoration for our being healed.
We, like Naaman, are also impatient for the Lord's cleansing powers. I know that I have been most impatient with the treatment process of my bride's cancer. We have gone back and forth, to and from doctors' offices and hospitals, having her undergo numerous tests and scans and receive injections and intravenous solutions, which drip ever so slowly into her bloodstream as she receives chemotherapy. The process is slow, especially in my estimation. There are times when I want to ask God why this is taking so long, why He doesn't just take it away instantly and make my bride of 16 months whole, make her healthy, make her cancer-free, and make her cleansed. Some of you have dealt with these thoughts yourselves, as you have been treated for major illnesses yourselves and wondered why God had not or has not brought you physical healing yet, or as your loved ones were stricken with illnesses themselves and you have struggled with the same issues that I have. Why do we struggle so? Quite frankly, the answer is really very simple. We are sinners, and we do not trust God as we should. We do not fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. We do not love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. Our hearts are not right with God, and our will for us is not in line with His. It is not God's will that anyone suffers for any reason, but He, in His truly infinite wisdom, allows suffering, pain, illness, and death to take place to test us in our faith, that we would be drawn closer to Him, that we would place our complete fear, love, and trust in Him to give us our daily bread.
In our text, Christ had instructed the man to show himself to the priest and offer for his cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them. This was the Old Testament rite of cleansing. Among the rubrics of this rite, "the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest. And the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall examine him; and indeed, if the leprosy is healed in the leper. "He who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean. After that he shall come into the camp, and shall stay outside his tent seven days. But on the seventh day he shall shave all the hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows—all his hair he shall shave off. He shall wash his clothes and wash his body in water, and he shall be clean. And on the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish, three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering, and one log of oil. Then the priest who makes him clean shall present the man who is to be made clean, and those things, before the LORD, at the door of the tabernacle of meeting" (Lev. 14:1-3, 8-11).
One key component of this cleansing rite is the act of washing in water to show that the disease has been washed away. The leper was to wash himself in water, and he would be clean. Without this washing, there would be no cleansing. Naaman finally submitted and was washed in the Jordan River. The leper in our text would undergo a similar washing for the priest. We too have undergone this washing, for we are baptized. The word baptize literally means "to wash," and this is what has been done in our Baptism. The Blessed Apostle St. Paul writes, "You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11). The Mother Church has washed you, and Christ her Bridegroom has taken your sin away by the washing of water with His Word, for Baptism "indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge to arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever" (Baptism IV). We also believe, on the basis of Scripture, that Baptism "works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare" (Baptism II). The leper in our text possessed this saving faith. And in the verse immediately following our Old Testament Reading, Naaman, following his washing, confessed that "there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel" (2 K 5:15); Naaman recognized the divine mercy in Elisha's words. There—at the font—is where divine mercy takes place today, for at the font Christ, our Fount of every blessing, has washed away the disease of sin created by the Old Adam in us, and He continues to bestow upon us His divine mercy each day in the forgiveness of sins. As we daily live our Baptism, we get to come before our heavenly Father and confess our sins to Him, imploring Him in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness. Almighty God, our heavenly Father, has had mercy on us and has given His only Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us all our sins. We, like the leper in our text, approach our heavenly Father on our knees and implore Him, "Thy will be done. If You are willing, You can make me clean." He looks at us through the blood of His Son and says to us, "I am willing; be cleansed, I forgive you for the sake of My only-begotten Son!"
Sacrificial offerings were to also be made in the cleansing rite for the leper. The Lord further instructed Moses, saying, "And the priest shall take the one male lamb and offer it as a trespass offering, and the log of oil, and wave them as a wave offering before the Lord. Then he shall kill the lamb in the place where he kills the sin offering and the burnt offering, in a holy place; for as the sin offering is the priest's, so is the trespass offering. It is most holy. "Then the priest shall offer the sin offering, and make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. Afterward he shall kill the burnt offering. And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. So the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean" (Lev. 14:11-13, 19-20). Just as there was a lamb was sacrificed so that the leper would be declared clean, so too has a Lamb been sacrificed for us, Christ our Passover Lamb and our great High Priest, who sacrificed Himself for our sins, making the sacrifice we could not offer. "Therefore," says the writer to the Hebrews, "when [Christ] came into the world, He said, 'Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for in You had no pleasure. Then I said, "Behold, I have come 'in the volume of the book it is written of Me' to do Your will, O God."' Previously saying, 'Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them' (which are offered according to the law), then He said, 'Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.' He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:5-10).
And again the writer to the Hebrews says, "But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleans your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Heb. 9:11-15).
Fellow redeemed, Jesus Christ gave His body and shed His blood to win the forgiveness of your sins. This is the greatest act of divine mercy and love, for Christ, our great High Priest, is also our sacrificial Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, has mercy upon us, and grants us His peace. He shed His blood upon the altar of the cross to atone for our sins. From the cross His mercy flowed in streams of blood, the blood He gives you this day. Regarding the blood of the sacrifice in the Old Testament cleansing rite, the Lord said, "The priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass offering, and the priest shall put it on the tip of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot" (Lev. 14:14).
Today the body and blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, are placed on your lips, that you would taste and see that the Lord is good, that the Lord would again declare us clean, that the Lord, who has risen to win for us eternal life, would give us the forgiveness of sins that He won for us on the cross. "For where there is forgiveness of sins," Luther writes, "there is also life and salvation" (Sacrament of the Altar). The divine mercy our Lord showed us from the cross He gives to us this day through Word and Sacraments. Unlike the leper whom the Lord cleansed in our text, we as the Church have the commission of our Lord, our Bridegroom, to tell others what the Lord has done for us, for He has revealed Himself to us in His Means of Grace; His Epiphany continues this day here in the Divine Service, and, with His thrice-holy Name placed upon us before we leave for our vocations, we get to tell others the good news about Jesus, the good news of His divine mercy.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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