How sick are you? How great is the illness of your sin?
Some people think that the disease of sin is only a minor affliction. Perhaps it is like a little sniffle that you get, but nothing serious.
Others think that sin is a pretty bad disease, but they have it under control. They can do the right things and avoid the wrong things, and keep it within manageable limits.
Some do not think that they are sick at all.
Jesus declares today that those who are healthy do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick.
Are you sick? Is it a minor illness that will go away by itself? Is it something you can handle? Or do you need your Doctor?
According to Holy Scripture, the disease is very serious. It is deadly. It causes spiritual blindness. It creates all kinds of symptoms that we call actual sins. However, because of the blindness that it causes, we are often unable to notice the symptoms.
The Pharisees, of course, did not think that they needed Christ, the Great Physician. The Pharisees thought that they were doing just fine. They were healthy and had plenty of good works as fruits to demonstrate their spiritual healthiness.
If you pay too much attention to your good works, whatever they may be, and do not notice your sins, then you will surely become like the Pharisees. Then you may still attend worship, although the only real purpose of worship would be to display how good you are before others. If you are a Pharisee, then you have no real need of forgiveness or Christ.
Meanwhile, many sinners were crowding around Christ. Here was a Teacher who welcomed sinners at Table with Him! He proclaimed forgiveness, which they knew they needed very badly. So they came to Christ in droves.
The Pharisees sneered at these horrible sinners. But Christ said, "Go learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'" Mercy is the quality God desires to show to us. He does not want to be merely a stern God of the Law. But if we reject His mercy in Christ Jesus, then that is all that He will be. If we rejoice and crowd close to receive His mercy, then He will overflow more and more for us.
When we are chiefly receivers of mercy, then why would we ever have room to be self-righteous, judgmental Pharisees? All we should concentrate upon is getting more and more of this precious grace. We should be crowding closer to this Divine Service, where Christ meets us with His holy Meal. We should press close to the Son of God who speaks mercy into our ears. As Doctor Luther said in the Large Catechism, we should be begging our preachers to give us more and more of Absolution and the Lord's Supper and all the gifts of this Divine Service.
But of course, we still find room to have a Pharisee in us. We still find time to notice how the righteousness of others does not measure up to our own righteousness. We notice their flaws, but so often miss our own. We know very well the things they should do better, while we hardly feel there is room for improvement in ourselves.
We will be Pharisees till the day we die. The Spirit fights against the impulses of self-righteousness in each of us, yet they never quite die. This is because we have a disease that will never completely go away in this life.
Saint Augustine said that since we have the disease, we need the medicine for our souls. We need to keep receiving the mercy. The day we decide we do not need the mercy of God, then we have regressed into a full-blown relapse of the deadly sickness of sin.
May it never be so for you. May the Lord produce in you greater and greater desire for every form of mercy that He pours out in this place.
Mercy bled from the Great Physician's wounds as He hung dying on the Tree. Mercy was heard in His dying cry, "It is finished!" Mercy shone out as the Lord of life stepped forth from His own Tomb on Easter morning.
The same mercy shines brightly in this place, although our sin-diseased eyes are not able to see. At the Font, at the Altar, at the Lectern, at the Pulpit, mercy pours out to us. This house is filled to the rafters with the mercy of God for poor sinners like us.
But if we think that we do not particularly need mercy, then the Services of this house will not be that important. If we think that we are not terribly sick, then the Divine Medicine in this place will not be a matter of life and death. We will not urgently seek out the Great Physician, like those sinners and tax collectors who crowded around Christ, pressing in on Him to hear the mercy of God in His words.
Are we sick? We really are, whether we know it or not. The question is, do we know our condition? If we do, then we know our need for the Savior. We know our need for this house.
May the Spirit open our eyes to see our sin, and then point us to the Medicine for us. May He strengthen our trust and increase our faithfulness, that we may always remain people gathered by Him around our Lord Jesus. May He increase our hunger and thirst for these gifts of Divine mercy.
In His Name, and to His glory and honor, forever and ever. Amen.
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