The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
The season of Epiphany (which we’re smack-dab in the middle of), is all about God manifesting Himself, His glory, and His grace, mercy, peace, and love to the fallen and sinful world He came to save. Not surprisingly, Scripture shows us that God often makes use of miracles in order to accomplish this. Miracles are a BIG part of the Epiphany season. Today’s no different. And as we look over our lessons for today, we do see that God’s “epiphanizing” actions didn’t begin only after Jesus was born. No. God was manifesting Himself and His love throughout the history of the Old Testament; from the Garden of Eden, on. Today’s Old Testament lesson is a prime example of this. The Syrian (Gentile) military commander, Naaman, having his leprosy washed away, and such washing bringing him to faith in God as the only God in all the earth (“There is no God in all the earth except the God of Israel”)…all par for the course as far as God manifesting and making Himself known through miraculous actions. God desires the death of no one. It’s always been this way, and it always will be this way, so long as sin remains in our DNA.
Our Gospel lesson only reinforces this fact when we hear Jesus Himself say to the leper that comes to Him for healing, “I do desire to heal you; to save you; to make you clean.” Jesus then does the unthinkable—He reaches out and touches the leper. He doesn’t just talk the talk. He actually reaches out and takes hold of the “untouchable” in love, and then He proclaims, “Be clean.” And with that, the man is immediately cleansed of all leprosy. He’s no longer an outcast. He’s no longer a “dead-man walking.” He’s been restored to life; life within his community; life within his family; worship life within God’s house—the Temple. In a very real sense, he’s been resurrected to new life.
And it’s in the midst of all this joyous chaos that a Roman centurion comes to Jesus, asking Jesus to heal his dying servant. Only, did you notice what was special about the centurion’s request (a “pagan,” mind you)? Jesus sure did! Jesus picked up on it right away, and then made sure to manifest this miracle; that is, to let everyone else know about it. The centurion humbles himself before Jesus and says to Him, “I’m not worthy to have You even come under my roof. Just say the Word and I know that my servant will be healed.” This just blows Jesus away! “Amen I say to you, with no one else in all of Israel have I found such faith!”
And that leads us to a very important point: What healed the centurion’s servant? Was it the faith of the centurion that made his servant well, or even assisted in making that servant well? Was it Naaman’s faith that healed him of his leprosy? Was it the leper’s faith that healed him when he came to Jesus for healing? What worked the healing in all these instances? It wasn’t faith.
How can I say such a thing? Naaman didn’t even have faith to begin with. “The rivers in Syria are far cleaner and purer than this dirty, muddy glorified pasture creek!” That’s not faith; not at all. Even in the case of the Roman centurion, his faith didn’t work the healing, or even help out and contribute to the healing. Contrary to popular opinion; maybe even contrary to your own opinion and your own over-inflated opinion of your own faith, faith does NOT have any sort of magical power. Faith is simply another word for “trust.” Picture faith like a grasp or a hug. It’s not the trust that has the power to move mountains. It’s not the trust that raises the dead or heals the sick. Rather, it’s the object/person that the trust holds fast to that has the power/ability to do these great and mighty and miraculous things. God can move mountains. God can raise the dead. God can make lepers clean and sick people well again.
Look again at the accounts of Naaman, of the leper that comes to Jesus, and the Roman centurion. The common denominator in all of these is the Word and Promise of God. Naaman’s servant says to him when he’s voicing his doubt about the effectiveness of something so silly as washing in the muddy old Jordan River, “Did not this prophet—this man of God—say to you, ‘wash and you will be clean?’” Basically, “You heard the Word. Trust in his Word.” The leper that comes to Jesus? “Be clean,” and immediately he was. It wasn’t the physical touch that healed the man, as if Jesus had some sort of “reverse Midas touch” and everyone who even brushed up against Him was instantly made clean and blemish-free. It was the Word of Christ that worked the instantaneous and total healing of the man; the same Word that created the heavens and the earth out of nothingness; the same Word that would become flesh and dwell among us.
As for the centurion, it’s plain as day. “Only say the Word and I know that my servant will be healed.” This man then goes on to explain how he fully understands and trusts in this almighty Word of Christ. “I’m a man of authority. I understand the power of the word. I say ‘go’ and people obey. They go. I say ‘come’ or ‘do this,’ and it happens. I know the power and efficacy of the spoken word. I am not worthy to have You, Jesus, even step foot in my house. I’m nothing. Simply say Your almighty Word, and I know that it will happen. I know the almighty authority that Your Godly Word possesses. I know what Your Word is able to do.”
And I’m sure at this point that I’m preaching to the choir, right? We all know all this already. Yeah…but do you believe it? Do you trust this Word? I know everyone here will profess to trusting in the almighty and all-powerful Word of God. We look in the mirror, and we certainly like to think that we see the Roman centurion staring back at us—a person of strong, commendable faith in God’s Word. And yet…our reality, if you’re bold to confess, is usually much more leprous and ugly.
The ugly Truth is that we don’t trust the Word of God; not always and not fully. In fact, we’re often very piece-meal and buffet-style in our trust. We proclaim trust in God when things are working in our favor, but when things don’t go the way we plan or the way we think they should go, we show our sinful rear-ends and we reveal our doubt and lack of trust in God above all things. We don’t trust that God’s in control. We don’t trust that God is working all things for the good of those who love Him.
I’m not going to beat this to death. I don’t need to. The proof is all around us. The proof is staring back at you from the mirror of God’s holy Word. And this is why what I’m going to say will undoubtedly rattle the cages of some of you, at least those of you who truly don’t trust the Word of God. You may say you do, but you don’t. You may fool everyone else, including yourself, but you don’t fool God. He knows the Truth. He knows your heart…better than you do. That being the case, this Gospel—His Gospel—isn’t for your ears, not because it’s not proclaimed and you don’t hear it, but because you don’t want to hear it or receive it or believe it. You choose to reject it. You choose to doubt it. You chose to despise it. Again, you can deny this, but your denial doesn’t change the Truth.
This Gospel is only for those who do repent; those who do recognize their deadly and sinful mistrust in God; those who do look into the mirror of His Truth and Word and recognize a corpse of sin staring back at them. This Gospel is for those who cry out to God to be merciful, not for their sake, but for the sake of Christ alone. This Gospel only makes sense to and is only received by those who cleave to God alone in humble, saving faith. Why? Because humble, saving faith understands that apart from God and His grace and mercy and love, the situation is hopelessly dire. It’s lost. It’s dead. True saving faith has it’s priorities straight. True, saving faith holds fast to Christ and the life and peace that is Him and issues forth from Him. True, saving faith holds fast to God’s Word and Promise.
And what does this Word and Promise declare? “It is finished, once and for all. Take and eat; take and drink, this is My body and My blood, given to you for the complete forgiveness of all your sins. Hear My Word of absolution. Your sins are completely forgiven and remembered no more. They have been drowned and washed over in My blood. I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
And that, my friends, is the sure and certain comfort and peace of Christ. That is the comfort, peace, and assurance of Christ that can only be known and understood in and through faith. I say all this only because you will leave here in a few minutes and enter into the world; a world full of sin and doubt; a world that doesn’t trust in God above all things; a world that despises God and His loving control. In just a few minutes some of you will stick around for our voters’ meeting. I HATE voters’ meetings. I hate them because the faith that is so easily professed in here is often checked at the door and left in the pew as the focus gets put on things like budgets and line-items and things that have NOTHING to do with salvation or the mission of the Church. For those who feel that such worldly, mammonly things are priority number-one, this won’t make sense to you, and I can’t make it make sense to you.
For those who do hold fast to Christ and trust in His Word, take heart. Be at peace. The Word of the Lord is all-sufficient. The Word of the Lord works. It accomplishes exactly what He purposes, and it never returns to Him void or empty. For better, for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in favorable election years and in not-so-favorable election years, in good economies and in recessions and depressions, in war and in peace, in peaceful and productive voters’ meetings and in selfish tiffs and playground spats that pass for voters’ meetings, God is in complete control, and He is with us always, loving us, protecting us, and nurturing us—ALWAYS. Be at peace, for God has never and will never forsake you. You belong to Him. It is finished. Nothing and no one can snatch that away. As one of my favorite seminary professors used to say, “We have our Lord’s promise (notice—the emphasis on the Word of Christ) that the gates of hell will never prevail, so neither will a couple of hemorrhoids in a voters’ meeting. Be at peace, and hold fast to Christ, from whence your peace comes.”
My dear friends; my dear brothers and sisters whom Christ Jesus loved enough to die for: Here is your peace [Word and Sacrament]. Here is the very Word and Promise of God, in the flesh for you. Here is the very Word and Promise of God, calling out to you and assuring you, “I am with you always.” I can’t make you believe this. I can’t make you hold fast in faith to this Truth. Only God can work this miracle of faith. But…God does just that, and He does it through the miraculous and life-giving, life-saving power of His holy Word. May this Word—His almighty Word—that washed you clean in the waters of baptism, fill your hearts, your minds, and your souls with peace and joy and thanksgiving. May His almighty Word of peace and grace fill you up and cause your cup to spill over. Basically, may the peace of God, which does surpass all human understanding, and which is known only in true saving faith, be and remain with and be witnessed in you and through you, now and into all eternity.
In His most holy name...AMEN.
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