Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sermon: Epiphany 3 – 2017

22 January 2017

Text: Matt 8:1-13

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is a great political debate in our country about health insurance and health care.  There are many different opinions about the role of government and the role of individuals to help those in need.  You might have seen some political cartoons that show Jesus healing or refusing to heal people, with Jesus purportedly saying things to support this political view or that political view.  

Indeed, Jesus has come to heal us, but not in the way that doctors and nurses do.  Their work is godly and noble, and indeed, God works through them.  But here’s the problem: doctors and nurses and insurance companies and technical marvels and drugs and therapies can only mask the problem.  They delay the inevitable.  They don’t cure us of death.  Again, this is not to minimize the good that they do, but when we speak of Jesus as the Great Physician, we mean that He really gets the job done.

Jesus hasn’t come to mask symptoms, but to eradicate the root cause of the problem itself.  For death is the wages of sin.  Jesus has come to destroy death by His own death – which was an atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin.

Thus all diseases are caused by sin: maybe our own, maybe someone else’s, maybe it has been lurking in our DNA since Adam and Eve’s fall.  

God did not create us to sin, to suffer, or to die.  God created us to partake perfectly in communion with Him and with all creation, to be filled with joy, and to live forever.

No politician can deliver that.  No doctor can prescribe that.  No insurance company can underwrite that.

Only Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Savior (which means, literally in the Greek of the New Testament: “healer”) can cure us from death and heal us from sin.

We see the Lord’s healing work when a “leper knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.’  And Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”

Cleansed!  The cure was in the cleansing, the removal of dirt – not mere surface grime on the body, but the grunge of sin.  For this is the same word used to indicate ritual purity in the Old Testament, which itself points back to the pure creation before the Fall, before sin, suffering, and death.  This is reflected in two English words we don’t usually connect: “cosmetics” and “cosmos.”  Cosmetics are agents that beautify and cleanse, and the Cosmos refers to the universe created by God.

The original created world was “clean” – it was free of things like leprosy and death. And it is the Lords will: “I will,” He says, “be clean.”  That is, “be like you were, and were always intended to be, when I created the cosmos.”  For “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” – in the Greek, the text says that “God so loved the kosmos.”

There is a connection between God’s love and the kosmos, and that love is carried out by the will of God in Christ Jesus: to heal, to save, to give perfect and eternal life.

The Lord also heals the servant of a centurion, a military captain, in the city of Capernaum.  In a twist, the Lord does not heal by direct contact, but rather by His Word alone.  The centurion understands the concept of delegated authority, “for I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I say to one, ‘go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’”

For this is how authority works in the secular world, especially in the Roman world.  The emperor commands the tribune who commands the centurion who commands the soldier, and the will of the emperor is carried out by the soldier through this chain of command. Authority flows downward and duty flows upward.  The centurion understands that Jesus is the true emperor – unlike Caesar Augustus who claimed to be the Divi Filius – the son of a god, our Lord Jesus Christ is truly the Filius Dei – the Son of the living and one true God.  Jesus isn’t just ordering soldiers about, He is ordering disease itself to flee.  And He has the power and the authority to carry out this kind of healing by His Word.

How marvelous is the centurion’s faith – this gentile soldier who did not count Himself worthy enough, that is, clean enough, for Jesus to come under his roof.  Yet he trusts the Lord’s very Word to heal and to save.  “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.’”

The Lord uses means to achieve His healing and His salvation.  In some cases, He uses physical touch: such as baptismal water, such as the bread and wine that are truly His physical body and blood – in order to forgive, save, and give everlasting life.

The Lord also uses the means of His Word – the Word of God, inscribed in the Holy Scriptures and proclaimed by a servant of the True Emperor, the Son of God, who places men under His authority to proclaim His Word – the Word that heals and saves and restores to perfect life.

For the Lord Jesus has not come to temporarily bandage our wounds, rather He was wounded for us, so that we might be restored to cleanliness – the kind of cleanliness we enjoyed at the creation of the cosmos.  The Lord, the only begotten Son of the Father, the One with the authority of the Father and the authority to command all of creation, has come to save, to heal, and to bring to life.

And the Lord says to you, dear friends, you who have to this place, to Jesus, seeking salvation and life, healing and restoration, to each and every one of you hearing this Word proclaimed by His authority, the Lord says to you: “I will; be clean…. Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.”  And by His Word, you are healed, saved, and restored to eternal life.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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