Sermon – Matthew 8.1-13 (Epiphany 3 – 2020)
Let us pray: O almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all dangers and necessities stretch forth Your mighty hand to defend us against our enemies; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him.
2 And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
3 Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
5 Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him,
6 saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.”
7 And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
8 The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.
9 “For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one,`Go,’ and he goes; and to another,`Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant,`Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!
11 “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
12 “But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour.
These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed,
Faith has a simple definition: it is the trust of the heart. It’s a simple definition, but with the word so often thrown around, we need to understand what faith is in the Christian context.
Faith has a simple definition: it is the trust in the heart. Everyone has faith. We are surrounded by so many voices telling us to put our faith in a plethora of things. Have faith in humanity. Have faith in yourself. Have faith in your faith. Have faith in this political candidate or that one. Have faith in fate that all things will turn out. But the faith of a Christian is a trust in Christ. The two men we see in our gospel reading today provide great examples of faith to us. And so we study their examples today. And we’ll do this by examining two things: How these men considered themselves, and how these men considered Christ?
How did the leper consider himself? The leper says, “Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean.” The leper doesn’t think that he is entitled to receive anything from Christ. He doesn’t complain that his suffering is unfair. He knows he is a sinner deserving ways much rougher. He is a man in need, in need of help for body and soul.
And what about the centurion? The centurion tells Jesus of the affliction of his servant. He thinks himself unworthy to receive help from the Lord. Not only that, but when Jesus immediately responds that He will come and heal the man, the centurion confesses that he is unworthy to have Jesus even in his house. His Roman education, his high military status, his authority, he doesn’t consider any of these things to make a difference in his worth in the eyes of Christ. This is reminiscent of Paul, when he speaks about his religious zeal before his conversion to Christianity. “I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him” (Ph 3:4-8). Paul and the centurion knew that they had nothing to boast of before Christ, that would make them worthy of His help and salvation.
Luther says about this faith shown in the centurion, “Thus true faith, properly speaking, brings along with itself contempt of self and a sense of unworthiness in comparison with others. [The centurion’s] example is thus of the highest comfort to us: that the more we feel ourselves to be unworthy and think that the promises of God have no application to us, the more we ought to desire them exceedingly, in the certitude that this desire is most pleasing to God, who wills and wishes that His grace should be fervently desired.” This is what Scripture says in the 51st Psalm, “You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.”
And then how does the faith of the two men consider Christ?
The leper goes to worship Christ. And here we get a picture of true worship. Nowadays worship is viewed primarily as something we do for God, giving Him service, glory and praise. And sure we can call that worship. It is. But how is worship pictured here? The leper isn’t offering Jesus anything. But he seeks help from Jesus, trusting that Jesus is good and gracious and will answer according to what is best for him. And there we see what the leper thinks of Christ.
He doesn’t say, “if God wills,” but “if You will.” He recognizes the divinity of Christ, He believes Him to be God. And He knows God to be good and gracious. He leaves the answer to His prayer in Jesus hands, where truly it belongs. He shares his need with Jesus, and trusts that Jesus, in mercy, will do what is best for Him. Perhaps, Jesus deems best for him to continue to suffer the leprosy. And the man is willing to suffer it, still having confidence that Christ is merciful, and what he suffers is best for his salvation and for the glory of God.
And what about the faith of centurion? How does he consider the Christ? The centurion, too, believes that Jesus is merciful. He simply tells Jesus of the affliction of his servant, and trusts that whatever Jesus answers, He answers according to His mercy.
And the centurion also believes in the divinity of Christ. When Jesus offers to go to the centurion’s house, the man confesses the greatness of Christ. He doesn’t consider Jesus to be merely a great man, but a great God, who is not bound by space and time. He believes that Christ’s word is a divine and almighty Word. Jesus speaks and just as the wind and waves obey, so also must affliction obey.
So seeing these two examples, we see that a believer considers himself unworthy of the favor of God. No works, no status, no special lineage, nothing makes us worthy before the eyes of God. And we confess this in our confession of sins. We acknowledge our sins before God. We have offended His holy law. We deserve nothing but His wrath.
But faith also trusts that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He is indeed gracious and merciful. Faith believes that God’s favor rests upon us, not on account of our worthiness, for we are not, but on account of the worthiness of Christ, who is our perfect Mediator. Faith has confidence that God will respond graciously to us, granting us what is best for our good.
Faith is simply the trust of the heart that God is gracious to us on account of the Son, Jesus Christ.
But there’s one more thing for us to consider: what this faith receives. What did the leper receive? This leper had this devastating disease, and was ceremonially unclean, and therefore an outcast. He must remain separated from the other Jews, lest others may become unclean by contact with him. But what does Jesus do, Jesus in His grace was willing to help, and does the unthinkable. Jesus, in His abundant mercy, touched the man. Jesus doesn’t become unclean, but Jesus makes the leper clean. He speaks the word, and heals the leper of his leprosy.
Jesus is willing to help us. We are outcasts of paradise, banned from Eden with Adam and Eve. We are alienated from God by our sin. But Jesus comes to us, and gives His life for our redemption. His blood cleanses us from our leprosy of sin. His Word says salvation is won, there is forgiveness of all your sins. And the powerful word of God gives you what it says, and faith trusts that word receives that word and the blessings it gives.
He assures us of forgiveness and eternal life. These things we can be assured of, but when it comes to our physical ailments and other afflictions that we suffer, we know that God answers according to His gracious will. He is merciful, and so we bring our cares and concerns to Him, and He knows how best to answer them. Sometimes we must wait upon His counsel and will with long-suffering. Yet faith can cling to His mercy, and His sure promises in His Word that will never fail you. “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in you.”
And consider also what the faith of the centurion received. The early Church Father, Chrysostom, says it well, “because he made himself out unworthy even to receive Christ into His house, he became worthy both of a kingdom, and of attaining unto those good things which Abraham enjoyed.” To use a parable of Jesus, the centurion took the lowest place of the table, and Jesus says, “Friend, go up higher” and puts him in a place of honor (Luke 14:10). Christ exalts him. In faith, the man has Christ’s forgiveness, His righteousness, and citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. So it is for you, believers. Through faith, you have Christ’s forgiveness, righteousness, and are exalted to citizenship in His eternal kingdom. Such are the gifts of Christ’s mercy. Such are the things that you have through faith.
May God preserve this faith in us, and grant many from the east and the west to also know His mercy. Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.