Epiphany 3 + Matthew 8:1-13
Jesus, in His great compassion and love, desires not only to relieve the sick of their bodily afflictions and diseases, He also desires for sinners to share in the gifts of His kingdom: forgiveness, life and eternal salvation in heaven. In today’s Gospel lesson, the leper became a believing disciple and confessor of Jesus. The Lord told him explicitly to bear witness to the priests concerning the grace and mercy he had received. And consider how Jesus rejoiced over the faith of the centurion. Jesus promised him that he would sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. Both men received not only an answer to their prayers, but also the gifts of God’s kingdom.
Although the centurion recognized his unworthiness, he does not doubt that Jesus’ goodness and mercy would be greater than his sins. The centurion was certain that Jesus could help even from a distance. The centurion desired nothing more than a word from Jesus’ mouth, that was sufficient. The centurion believed with unshakable certainty that, since his own word accomplished so much, Jesus word would do so much more. At Jesus’ word, at His very speaking, sickness, death, and hell have no power, they flee away.
Do you believe anything is impossible for Jesus, the Savior from sin and the Healer of all sickness? Medical doctors do the best they can with their God-given skills, nevertheless, they cannot heal every illness; we still die. Some doctors are better than others are, some have better bedside manner, others have keen diagnosis. Some are rude and others seem not to know what they are doing. Perhaps you have thought the same about your pastor. Maybe you have felt that way about Jesus? Prayers seem to go unanswered, illnesses linger, death comes to a loved one either too soon or not soon enough. Maybe you ask yourself, where is my Savior Jesus’ healing hand when I need it? Does He really open His hand and satisfy our every need? Does Jesus really care?
The answer to these questions is yes, the Savior’s mercy is always there for you. With all the miracles that Jesus performed, you can see all of the grace and mercy of our Savior, in whom you sinners rejoice and in whom you enjoy life everlasting. When the Lord Jesus walked upon this earth, He revealed in the miracles He performed, above all else, His divine power and love for you and all mankind. Jesus wants to win your confidence and trust in Him. He wants you to realize that He is your Brother and Friend and God is your Father and you are His dear child, members of His holy family.
Today, as He continues to walk among you, physically present with you, through His Word preached and taught in all of its truth and purity and through the Sacraments of Baptism, Communion and Absolution administered to you, Jesus works even greater miracles in you; even more than healing your physical ailments. Today, Jesus attends to your physical needs, richly and daily providing you with all that you need to support your body and life; but ultimately, all Jesus’ activities serve one purpose, the finest, highest purpose of aiding your souls; strengthening your souls, building them up, keeping your souls in the one true faith, strengthening you in faith toward God and fervent love toward each other. Jesus is the true Physician, the Great Physician of body and soul. In Him you fear, love and trust above all things.
The leper was right when he said to Jesus: Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean. The centurion was right when he said to Jesus: Only speak a Word, and my servant will be healed. Jesus healed with a Word, laying His hand upon the leper and from a distance curing the palsied servant. The centurion saw the reality of Jesus when he said: 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. The centurion believed that the words that Jesus spoke are not just mere words but the power of God unto salvation, to all who believe. The centurion saw the grace, mercy and peace of God, in all of its fullness, in the words of Jesus. The Word of God was all that the centurion needed.
Jesus, the Great Physician of body and soul, delivers from death and all evil. He is the Savior of the world. Jesus is able to turn all your suffering and woe, all the hardship and distress of your earthly bodies of death, into true, everlasting, incorruptible bodies of life. Jesus lets nothing perish and become corrupt and fade away; not even your mortal bodies. Your bodies are just as important to Jesus as are your souls. When death and the devil have carried out their final work on man, when you breath your last breath and die, Jesus will still have the last word, the very last word saying: “You who are dead will rise and live in eternity! You will be like Me, perfect and holy. You are recreated in My image.” Jesus is most certainly the God of life, making all things new, making all things good, very good. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, the resurrection of the body is yours.
In today’s Gospel lesson, we see Jesus, the Son of God, humble Himself before poor, helpless, sick men and take their distress upon His shoulders. So too, on the cross, Jesus took your sin and transgression upon Himself and allowed that deadly sickness to take its toll on Him, putting Him to death. Jesus took all the pain and bitterness that sin causes you, He drank the bitter cup that you should have drunk, He bore the curse and died for you, taking your place on the cross. And now, Jesus, the Great Physician, has been given to you; He is your medicine of immortality, He is your life, He is your forgiveness, He is your salvation. Jesus, who died and rose from the dead won salvation for you, He gives you healing. Jesus’ holy, precious blood, that you receive in His Supper is now the drug that makes sin harmless, it removes it from you. Jesus, the Bread of Life, is the oil and the balm of healing for your wounded bodies and souls. Even though Jesus died, He lives; so too shall you, even though you die, will live forever and ever in His kingdom, seated with Him at the right hand of the Father.
Jesus lives and is forever with you, to speak His Word of life and salvation to you, you are not in want. Jesus sends His messengers, His pastors, to the end of the earth to proclaim peace to you. He sends His called and ordained servants of the Word to absolve sinners, freeing them from the bonds of sin, death and the devil. Jesus speaks only a word: Be cleansed! – and behold, by this word you are cleansed and declared righteous and holy before God your Father in heaven. What’s more, Jesus puts His Word of Absolution into your mouths, with His Body and Blood. Today, when you leave His altar, having received the most blessed Sacrament, you will leave with Jesus in you. And like Jesus, you will have a clean heart and a right spirit within you, you will have life in you, you will be strengthened for the journey ahead, as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, moving closer toward the life of the world to come. There, in heaven, you shall recover completely being restored to God’s image, the image of original innocence and blessedness and holiness; seated with Abraham, Issac, Jacob, the cleansed leper, with the healed paralytic, and with all the company of heaven.
Some would say it is horrible how much sickness and suffering and death we have around us, how much pain Jesus allows. But we need to see suffering as a great joy and blessing, we need to see that with Jesus, in death there is life, in suffering there is hope, in sorrow there is rejoicing, this is the way of Jesus. Jesus comes to you, especially in your time of pain and lays His hand upon your heart and opens it to cry out: “Lord, have mercy upon me! God, help me!” And when you call, you are already helped, the prescription is already written out and filled, and there is life and healing in His holy name. Blessed are you who believe and trust in Jesus, the Great Physician of your body and soul. Hear Jesus speak, “I am willing, be healed. Let it be done as you have believed.” Amen.