Sermon for Epiphany 6 February 8, 2012
Today's Gospel tells us of Jesus’ continued healing ministry, this time
to a leper. Perhaps no disease mentioned in the Bible is a better metaphor
for sin than leprosy. Easton's Bible Dictionary describes the disease this
This disease "begins with specks on the eyelids and on the palms,
gradually spreading over the body, bleaching the hair white wherever they
appear, crusting the affected parts with white scales, and causing terrible
sores and swellings. From the skin the disease eats inward to the bones,
rotting the whole body piecemeal."
One of the truly devastating symptoms of leprosy is the lack of pain.
That's right, all that rotting of flesh and horrible sores cause little or no pain.
The reason for this is that the leprosy attacks the nervous system. The result
is that while there are massive reasons for pain, there are no nerves to carry
the pain signals to the brain. That means that there can be secondary
infections that also attack the body of the leper and he has no idea. He has
no idea because the nerves for pain are gone.
You know, we often say that we don't like pain. I think what we
really mean is that we don't like the things that cause pain. The actual pain
itself is a blessing. Pain provides a very useful indication that something is
wrong. Pain often warns us that we need to get something checked out.
Pain itself is actually a very good thing. It is the cause of the pain that is
actually the problem.
This lack of pain is one more way that leprosy is like sin. Although
the Bible says, [Psalm 51:5] "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in
sin did my mother conceive me," we ourselves don't notice our own sin. By
the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul tells us that [Galatians 5:19-21] the works
of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry,
sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions,
divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.
And yet, we see these things as just a normal part of life. We see
injury, sickness, decay, and death all around us and we figure that it is just
the normal process of existence. We often hear people say, "Death is just a
part of living," and this saying seems true and wise to us. Although we are
born in sin and death, we don't know that this is a problem. Just as the
inability to feel pain can be very dangerous, so also, our inability to sense
our sin puts us in danger of eternal damnation.
It is little wonder that we can see and point out the sin in everyone
else’s life while denying our own brokenness. We need something that
senses our sin. We need something that warns us of the danger of eternal
damnation. We need something that acts like the pain in our bodies to alert
us to the danger of our sin. That something is the Law of God.
The Law of God gives us the ability to sense our sin. As we gain the
ability to sense our sin, the pain becomes very strong. The Bible describes
this pain as being cut to the heart; (Acts 2:37) as bones wasting away;
(Psalm 32:3) and as the heavy hand of God. (Psalm 32:4) The pain of sin is
excruciating and we might be tempted to blame the Law for our pain, but it
is not the law that causes the pain. It is the sin. The sin has always been
there. The sin has always been eating away at us. The sin has always been
leading us on the way that leads to destruction. We can be thankful that the
Law of God makes us aware of the damage that sin does.
Now, although the Law is good for sensing our sin, it does us no good
if there is no treatment for our sin. If all we had was the law, we would only
have two choices. We could delude ourselves into thinking we had kept the
Law or we could go into a state of despair as we contemplated a terrifying
eternity in hell. Our outlook would be pretty hopeless.
The leper in today's Gospel had an outlook that was pretty hopeless.
He could look forward to different parts of his body rotting off until the day
that the leprosy hit something vital. Then he would die. His outlook looked
pretty hopeless until Jesus came along.
The leper approached Jesus with some very interesting words. He
obviously wanted Jesus to heal him, but his request takes the form of a
confession. "If you will, you can make me clean." These words are more of
a creed than a request. He has complete faith that Jesus can heal him, but
recognizes that Jesus in His perfect knowledge and wisdom may choose not
to do so. He comes with nothing but simple faith that relies on Christ's
mercy. His words along with his kneeling posture show that he has a proper
understanding that Jesus is more than just a man.
Jesus' heart went out to this man. Of course it was His will to heal
him. Jesus said to him, "I will; be clean," and immediately the leprosy left
him, and he was made clean. At Jesus' word, the man went from a body of
decaying flesh to perfect health. Modern medicine can cure many forms of
leprosy, but they all work gradually over time and cannot restore lost toes
and fingers. The word immediately tells us that Jesus' healing was
instantaneous. The word clean tells us that the man's health was better than
if the leprosy had never happened - the healing was perfect.
As soon as Jesus healed the man, though, things get a little bit weird.
Instead of telling this man to tell others what he has seen, heard, and
experienced, Jesus said, "See that you say nothing to anyone …" In fact, the
Greek of this passage indicates that Jesus seemed angry or frustrated with
this man. The sternness of His command seems out of character for Jesus.
Why would Jesus give such a strange instruction? Why would He act
so out of character? Today's Gospel shows us the reason for this instruction
because the man decided to disobey Jesus' command. Instead of keeping the
healing to himself and showing himself to the priests, he went out and began
to talk freely about it, and to spread the news. As a result, we can see the
problem. Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate
places … Not only was Jesus hindered from taking His message to the
people, but even when they came, He had to undo their false ideas before He
could teach them His true message.
This was a life-changing event that this leper wanted to share. Think
about the purpose for informing others about what has happened to you.
Now if I were to tell you that we had to put down our 14 yr-old dog, Romeo,
this week, you might think that I want you to feel badly for us. It may bring
back memories for you of a pet that you dearly loved and your hearts go out
Let me tell you a little bit more about Romeo. I wasn’t always fond of
Romeo. He became a part of our family 7 years ago, just when we finished
our basement, including the carpet. Without getting graphic, let me just say
that Romeo made a major mess on the new carpet. I was not very happy
with him. In recent months his ability to control his bladder became more of
a challenge. We built a kennel for him in the garage for times when we are
not home and for overnight. The last two nights that Romeo was with us,
we barricaded him in the kitchen since he was shivering and wasn’t eating.
We thought he had gotten through the night without incident, until the day
after he was gone we discovered yet another puddle in the utility bathroom.
We were very at peace with Romeo’s departure until we received a
card in the mail from the Vet. It included this Romeo signature. Seeing his
paw print created half a tear for me remembering his playing fetch with the
tennis ball and matching pitch with the Friday morning city siren. Maybe I
was more fond of Romeo than I had thought. Before you say AWW, please
know that our life is so much simpler now that we are down to two dogs and
An even greater life change took place for the leper. We can't really
blame the man for wanting to tell everyone what Jesus did. His sudden
return from the living death of leprosy to new life and perfect health carried
him away. How could anyone keep his mouth shut after such an
experience? The man meant well, but his well-intentioned judgment was
mistaken. He listened to his own heart instead of the Lord's command. He
disobeyed Jesus' command and inadvertently retarded the Lord's work.
Jesus wanted the world to know that He was the Messiah who came to
take away the sins of the world. But too often, people got the idea that He
came to ease the burden of their earthly lives. The crowds often saw Him as
a source of free medical care, free emotional counseling, or free food. Very
rarely did people look to Jesus for salvation from sin, death, and the power
of the devil. Even His most faithful disciples did not truly begin to
understand until after Jesus rose from the dead. It is this confusion about the
true nature of the Christ that caused Jesus to instruct people to keep it to
themselves when He healed their bodies.
The errors concerning the mission of Jesus still abound today. Many
well meaning people teach about the Jesus who will make us prosperous, the
Jesus who will be our life coach, or the Jesus who will teach us how to have
our best life now. When people teach a message like this, they are very
popular. Of course they are popular. They are telling people what they want
to hear instead of what they need to hear. They believe that because the
Jesus they teach about is popular, that they are teaching about the true Jesus.
We know and celebrate the truth of Jesus. Just as Jesus cleansed this
leper, He can also clean us. Jesus has already taken the leprosy of our sin
into Himself. He has carried our sin to the cross. As He hung on the cross,
He endured the punishment of hell as the wrath of God poured forth onto
Him. In this way He produced the cure for our unrighteousness. As the
Holy Spirit inspired John to write [1 John 1:7] "The blood of Jesus [God's]
Son cleanses us from all sin."
This is the Gospel. Just as the Law of God diagnoses our sin, so also
the Gospel is the medicine that treats it. Jesus supplies that medication from
the cross. The Holy Spirit delivers that medication to us through Word and
Sacrament. We receive that medication through the Holy Spirit's gift of
Our Lord Jesus Christ produced the treatment for sin with His death
on the cross, but He did not remain in the tomb. His resurrection from the
dead assures us that the medication He earned for the leprosy of our sin is
effective. It assures you that the medication you receive through faith in
Him will change your eternal destination from the rot of hell to the life of
His presence. It is now our joy to tell the world of Jesus’ love, that He came
to save us sinners so that many more may be assured that they will rejoice
with Him for eternity. Amen (5)