The Third Sunday after Epiphany
“Jesus is Worthy”
St. Matthew 8.1-13; 2 Kings 5.1-15a
27 January 2019
Seminarian Simeon Cornwell, Vicar
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Throughout Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is portrayed as the New Moses. The One who comes to fulfill what Moses and the old covenant could not.
So Matthew records that Jesus, right before our text today, had ascended a mountain and taught the people, just as Moses once ascended Mount Sinai to receive God’s Law, from which the people were to be taught.
And just as Moses came down from the mountain, so too Jesus, at the beginning of our text, comes down the mountain. Yet both encounter vastly different things.
Moses was met by the unbelief of Israel, who chose a golden calf for their god. But Jesus encounters two men who portray exemplary faith: a leper and a Roman centurion.
Both these men have just heard Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Which means that they heard Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
It is this word of Jesus that elicits faith and encourages them to approach Him with their petitions.
But it is not just that they come to Him, but how they come. They do not come as if they are owed these services for which they are asking. They do not come as if they have something great to offer. Quite the contrary, they come empty-handed.
The first comes and acknowledges that it is completely up to Jesus’ compassion and mercy if he is to be healed of his leprosy. So he says, “If you will, You can make me clean.”
And what is Jesus’ reaction to the man’s humility? “I will”, He says, “be clean.” And immediately we’re told, he is cleansed.
So too with the centurion. He not only acknowledges that he is unworthy for Jesus to come under his roof, but he also acknowledges Jesus’ complete authority over his son’s illness.
If Jesus should so choose, this illness of his son must obey His command to depart. If He wills it, this disease is helpless against the Son of God. All Jesus needs to do is speak the word.
Just say the word. That’s all You need to do, says the centurion. And what is Jesus’ reaction to the humility of this centurion? Not only does He commend his great faith, but his son’s illness is healed that very hour.
These Gentiles show great faith in stark contrast to Israel, God’s chosen people, who meet Jesus with unbelief just as they had Moses.
These examples are not given to us so that if we have any physical illness all we need to do is come to Jesus with such faith and He will take it away.
Rather these examples are given us that we might imitate the faith of this leper and centurion.
They are given to encourage us to the same childlike faith. For without such, no one will enter the kingdom of heaven. Like children, all must confess complete and utter dependency upon Christ and His mercy.
In fact, these ailments of both the leper and the centurion’s son were used by God to show them their unworthiness, their helplessness. To remind them of their utter dependency on God.
These ailments were then gracious gifts of God, used to strengthen each man’s faith. Used to draw them closer to Him.
For it is only those who acknowledge and confess their unworthiness who are healed. Only those who acknowledge that they are poor in spirit who are blessed and to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs.
Satan, this world, and your sinful nature want you to trust in your own abilities. They tell you that you are worthy. That you are not completely and utterly dependent upon God. That you in fact, are fine and need no grace. No mercy.
Yet, as Luther remarks in his Large Catechism on the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “In short, if God does not forgive without stopping, we are lost.”
Those who will be thrown out into the outer darkness will be thrown out because they refused to acknowledge themselves as unworthy and so did not come before Christ in childlike faith.
These proudly rejected Christ and thought they had no need for healing.
But Christ has not come for the healthy, rather He has come for the sick. Do not, then, proudly hang on to your sins, but give them up to Jesus. Jesus who will never turn away any who come to Him weary and heavy laden.
For look again at the example of the leper and centurion and receive encouragement. Neither was turned away by Jesus.
So as the Lord comes down from the mountain of this altar, humbly confess your unworthiness and receive His healing touch. For He speaks the word, “Take, eat; Take drink. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Let this word be sufficient for faith to go away with true joy and peace. For you are not worthy, but He, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, is. And He comes with healing for all who ask Him.
And as you come, pray again our collect for today: “Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities and stretch forth the hand of Your majesty to heal and defend us.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.