Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany based on Matthew 8:1-13
Dear suffering and afflicted saints: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” With this short, simple phrase, the leper prayed to Jesus. “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
By calling Jesus “Lord” the leper confesses that he believes that Jesus is Lord and ruler over all creation; that He is the Lord of heaven and earth, the Lord of sickness and health, the Lord of life and death.
By saying, “if you will” the leper is submitting his will to Jesus’ will. He is praying for cleansing from his leprosy only if God so wills it.
By saying, “you can make me clean” the leper confesses that Jesus has the power and the authority to heal him. He confesses that he is unclean and only Jesus can make him clean.
In other words, he is saying to Jesus, “You are God. Because I have leprosy, you obviously willed me to be a leper and I deserve my illness. You have given me this illness because of my sin or to reveal your glory. I deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment and I would rather have this illness and your favour than to be healthy and have your wrath. I know you can heal me, but thy will be done.”
This is a prayer of faith. True faith trusts in God even when He does not heal you. True faith trusts that God knows better than you about what is good for you.
Jesus responded to the leper with the words, “I will; be clean.” Jesus willed him to be clean, so he was cleansed by the word of Jesus.
Can Jesus still heal today? He healed many during His earthly ministry from various illnesses and diseases. He even raised the dead. Can He still do it today?
Scripture tells us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8) so we know that He certainly can still heal.
Jesus said that He willed the leper to be clean. Does He will any less for you? Does He love you any less? Assuredly not! Jesus wills you to be clean of all illnesses and diseases, and He promises you that you will be cleansed. But He has not told you when. He has given you no firm date or time. He can heal you now. He may heal you now. He will most certainly heal you in the life to come. In heaven, you will have no ailments of body or mind.
He will bring you into heaven and give you a new body and mind not because you deserve it. You don’t. You deserve only temporal and eternal punishment. Jesus will bring you into heaven because He died for all of your sins. Jesus will raise your body from the grave because He has cleansed you of the dirt of your sins in your Baptism. Jesus will bring you into heaven because He continually absolves you of your sin and gives you His body and blood to keep you cleansed.
As the Roman centurion realized, Jesus has the authority to do this. As the Roman centurion had authority to send his soldiers to come and go according to his orders, he knew that Jesus has all authority in earth and heaven (cf. Matt. 28:18). This means that if Jesus commands a leper to be clean, he will be clean. If Jesus commands the centurion’s servant who was lying paralyzed and suffering terribly to be healed, he would be healed. If Jesus commands His minister to forgive you your sin in His name, it is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with you Himself (SC V.6).
He does cleanse you of your sins so you will be eternally in heaven with Him, and He will ultimately cleanse you of all illnesses and diseases and save you from every trial and tribulation.
When you pray, be careful that you don’t desire to be released from your trial against the will of God. Say joyfully, or at least firmly, “Not my will, by thy will be done.”
In fact, Scripture says we should rejoice in our suffering because God works through our suffering to strengthen us, to form us, and to increase our faith (Rom. 5:3-5). We should thank God for suffering because suffering teaches us to pray and pay attention to God’s Word. If we only knew the great good for us that is hidden under our trials, we would gladly give up all our days of joy for them.
Do not for one moment think that you are the only one under great trial. In First Peter 4, you learn that such trials are common to Christians, and in the next chapter that sufferings come upon all your fellow Christians who are in the world (I Pt. 4:12, 5:8-9). When a person begins to imagine that he alone is suffering, or that his sufferings are greater than those of others, it is a sign of a vanity and of being self-absorbed.
Finally, do not resist God when He drives you to His Word in suffering. Do not avoid His Word and thus sink and entangle yourself in your own thoughts or feelings, throwing yourself into the enemy’s camp that is besieging your soul. Cling to the words of Scripture. Ponder them in your heart. Repeat them again and again and direct the thoughts and emotions of your heart to them. Sing them in hymns of comfort and praise.
And pray. Pray saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. If you will, you can heal me. If you will, you can remove my trial and my affliction. But not my will, but thy will be done. If you know that this affliction is for my good, grant me to accept it, to rejoice in it, and to thank you for it. For I know that you desire only my eternal good – that is why you gave your life for me; that is why you suffered and died for me; that is why you have granted me to be baptized, and to hear your Word and absolution, and receive your body and blood in my suffering and affliction. And according to your promise to me grant me the resurrection of my body and life eternal according to your good and gracious will. Amen.”
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
[Portions of this sermon are adapted from “Brief Counsel for the Suffering and Afflicted” by W. Loehe.]