3rd Sunday after Epiphany + Matthew 8:1-13 + January 22, 2017

Introit 

Worship Him, all you His angels. Zion hears and is glad.
And the Daughters of Judah rejoice because of your judgments, O Lord. (Psalm 97:7b paraphrase, 8)

The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; Let the multitude of isles be glad!
He preserves the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous, And gladness for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. (Psalm 97:1, 10b–12) 

Collect for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Almighty and Everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to help and defend us; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 

Readings
Jeremiah 33:6-9
Romans 12:16b-21
Matthew 8:1-13

Sermon on Matthew 8:1-13

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         Both of the men that approach Jesus in the Gospel lesson have maladies that are far worse than physical afflictions. The first man is a leper. Leprosy in the Scriptures probably covered a wide array of skin diseases, but in every case it is something communicable and deadly. The Lord instructs Moses and Aaron in Leviticus 13:2-3, “When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling, a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes on the skin of his body like a leprous sore, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests. The priest shall examine the sore on the skin of the body; and if the hair on the sore has turned white, and the sore appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous sore. Then the priest shall examine him, and pronounce him unclean.” With that pronouncement of “unclean” the leper was to be segregated from everyday life. He was to live outside the camp of Israel, or outside the city in what would come to be known as a ‘leper colony.’ This separation was necessary so that the leprosy was contained, lest it spread to more people and infect them. This means that those deemed “unclean” by the Lord’s representatives was unable to worship in the Tabernacle, unable to offer sacrifices to the Lord for the atonement of sins, and unable to enjoy the fellowship of the Old Testament church in her Divine Service. Being “unclean” was as much a spiritual condition as it was a physical condition. “Uncleanness” is separation from everything, the inability to touch or be touched by other humans, or by God in His holy house.

2)         The second man that approaches Jesus comes as a surrogate for a suffering man. A centurion, a Roman captain, and probably a pagan, approaches Jesus in Capernaum. He says, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” (Matthew 8:6) At first glance this affliction seems purely physical. The man is paralyzed, unable to move. He has been segregated from others by being rigid in his bed. Like the Leper, this man is separated from ordinary life by this physical disability. But this man is more than paralyzed. He is “dreadfully tormented,” the Centurion says. Torment is a spiritual condition. The Greek word St. Matthew uses here for “tormented” is the same word which Demons often use when confronted by Jesus in the Gospels. In Mark 5:7, Jesus confronts a demoniac and the demon recognizes Jesus as the Only-Begotten Son of God and shrieks, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.” The torment this demon was referring to was the torment of hell, the suffering of God’s eternal wrath toward sin and rebellion. This is the fate of every demon and their master, the Devil. St. John sees a picture of their eternal suffering in Revelation 20:10, “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” The torment that awaits the Devil and his angels, and all those who reject the Lord Jesus’ Christ, is a physical and spiritual torment. It is eternal separation from God and an eternal enduring of the full wrath of God against sinners.

3)         So this man, lying paralyzed on his bed, is “dreadfully tormented.” He is struggling against not only his physical debilitation, but an evil conscience. When we say “evil conscience” we mean that it feels as if God is set against you. This man sees his paralysis as a judgment from God for his sin. As he lays rigid in his bed his conscience convicts him of his sinful actions. All men are born with a natural knowledge of God and part of that natural knowledge of God reveals itself in the conscience. All men know that there is a God and that God will judge our actions at some point according to some standard of righteousness. The man’s conscience believes that this paralysis is God’s judgment and a visible manifestation of God’s wrath. The conscience that is not healed by the Gospel is continually thinks that God is against him, and habitually running from any thoughts of God, because those thoughts are only convicting and can only drag that soul further into the depths of Hell. The one who suffers from an evil conscience is the one of whom the proverb is spoken in Proverbs 28:1, “The wicked flee when no one pursues.” This spiritual torment, the evil conscience, is, as Luther commented in a Letter to Jerome Weller, “truly a descent into Hell.”

4)         We see these same maladies at work in our flesh, do we not? The ritual impurity and uncleanness of the Old Testament is a picture of the unrighteousness of the human heart and actions which flow from the heart. Jesus says that we are by nature sinful and unclean in Matthew 15:18-19, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.This means that even the best of our works are unrighteous before God, as Isaiah says in his sixty-fourth chapter, (v.6), “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.How easily we give the members of our body over to be enslaved by sin, so that our members become “instruments of unrighteousness.” The answer for such spiritual uncleanliness isn’t a more rigorous self-discipline or the injection of more pious platitudes throughout the day. In the Old Testament there was only one way to remove the ritual impurity. Hebrews 9:13 says, “The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.” That blood cleansed them outwardly, ritually. The author of Hebrews goes on in the next verse to say, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” Our spiritual uncleanliness, the stain of unrighteousness that resides on our hearts can only be cleansed by the blood of Jesus, which earns the atonement for all of our sins and the sinfulness of our hearts.

5)         The “dreadful torment” of the Centurion’s servant is a picture of what the Devil does to Christians when they do fall into sin. He torments them with an evil conscience and accuses you day and night for what you have done, or for what you have failed to do. One of his weapons against you in the evil conscience, which can only see God as your adversary. The Devil wants you to think that the Lord is out to get you and looking for reasons to punish you for your sins. When the Devil has his hooks in you, everything that happens to you is seen as wrath from God. This conscience cannot truly pray, because this conscience thinks of God as enemy. No one asks their enemies for relief. The soul that lives in the Hell of an evil conscience is downtrodden by Satan and stands accused day and night before the throne of God. This causes a spiritual paralysis, making us unable to pray, unable to fear, and unable to trust the Gospel, that God is merciful to us in Jesus Christ and desires to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
 
6)         In contrast to these spiritual maladies stands faith. Faith hears the Gospel and believes that it is ‘for me.’ Faith apprehends Christ by His Word. Faith hears the promises of Christ and the promises about Christ grabs hold of them, saying, “Jesus is mine and all His gifts are mine.” The Leper comes to Jesus in faith. “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” The Leper approaches Jesus with this word because He believes, against all earthly odds, that Jesus IS willing to cleanse His spiritual malady. He certainly believes that Jesus CAN heal him. But he believes that Jesus WANTS to heal him. The leper’s faith is rewarded, too. “I am willing. Be cleansed.” And by this Jesus teaches all of us that He wants to forgive your sins. He wants to cleanse you from your unrighteousness. He desires to absolve your sins when you repent of them and mourn over them in Godly sorrow. He is willing now just as He was willing then. In contrast to the torment of the centurion’s servant stands the faith of the centurion. He will not even allow Jesus under His roof because He understands how authority works. Speak the word and it will be accomplished. The faith of the centurion believes that Jesus is willing and is able to perform such a great work of releasing his servant from the physical, and spiritual paralysis. Faith in the Gospel is the only thing that can drive out our guilty, ashamed, and evil consciences. The Gospel is the only Word can calm the “dreadful torment” that rages in our hearts and minds when the Devil attacks us with our sins, present and long past.  

7)         In the Gospel Jesus gives Himself to you, so that you might know that He is FOR YOU and not against you. He shows this to you, and gives you faith to believe that Gospel, by absolving you and removing your sins. They can no longer torment you. They are gone. The temptations which well up from the depths of your own heart no longer need to frighten you, for Christ speaks His Gospel to you in order to strengthen you, so that you do not so easily give your members to be slaves of unrighteousness and impurity. The Gospel, heard, read, pondered, and meditated upon, gives you Jesus, your God and Lord who is FOR YOU and not against you. And to fortify this faith in your heart all the more, He gives you His very body and very blood in His Sacrament, given and shed FOR YOU for the forgiveness of all of your sins. He wants to show you over and over again that “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) He gives you this faith through the Gospel preached and in the Sacrament so that you might be healed today, and every day, all the way up to your dying day, through faith in Christ Jesus, which believes, no matter what the world or your conscience might say, that He is a God for you and not against you. “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” “I am willing.” Go in peace. Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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