Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)
February 15, 2009
Text: 2 Kings 5:1-14; Mark 1:40-45

In order to understand both our Old Testament lesson and our Gospel lesson this morning, we need to understand that in the Scriptures, leprosy and its accompanying uncleanness is a picture of the disease of sin, original sin, our sin, and so our state of being unclean. So also the healing miracles that Jesus performs, the physical healing He brings with Him, are signs that He has the authority on earth to forgive sin, that He has the authority to heal us of our most dreaded disease, really the only deadly disease there is, sin. This is true in the Old Testament as much as in the New, for in the prophet Elisha’s healing of Naaman, we see a foreshadowing of the healing that Jesus brings. And of course we must confess all healing comes from Jesus, even healing in the Old Testament, so that in his office as prophet, Elisha speaks not his own word, but the very Word of God, which is the effective agent in the healing. In both of these cases, Elisha’s healing of Naaman and Jesus’ healing of the leper, the physical healing that is accomplished is a sign of the ultimate healing that Jesus brings, that He is always willing to bestow, the healing of sinners of the disease of sin.

Again, the Word of God is the operative agent in the healing, physical and spiritual. In the case of Naaman, the prophet Elisha doesn’t even come out to greet him at the door, but sends a messenger to speak a Word, God’s Word, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean” (2 Kings 5:10; ESV). This makes Naaman angry, for he expects the prophet to come out and perform the miracle himself, making a great show, calling upon the Name of the Lord and waving his hands over the infected area. In other words, Naaman’s faith is in the prophet and the spectacle, not in the Word of God. Naaman believes he knows a better way to be healed. “Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” especially this tiny, muddy, stinky Jordan River? “Could I not wash in them and be clean?” (v. 12). But his servant convinces him. If Elisha had commanded Naaman to do something great, something spectacular, he surely would have done it in a heartbeat. So surely if the prophet has asked only a small thing, wash seven times in the Jordan River and you will be clean, Naaman would do it. Reluctantly, Naaman goes down to the River Jordan. It cannot be any other river. The Word of God specifies the Jordan. He dips himself not once, not twice, not three times, but seven times. There is no result the first six times. The Word of God specifies seven times. And what happens? On the seventh dip, behold, “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (v. 14). Not only does Naaman come out of the water without leprosy, he comes out of the water without wrinkles, without blemishes, smooth as the skin of a baby. It is the original fountain of youth. But only because the Word of God says so. The Word of God always does so much more than we ask or expect. The Word of God heals thoroughly. The healing power is not in the prophet Elisha, not even in the faith of Naaman who only reluctantly does what Elisha says, but in the Word of God.

And so it is that in the Gospel lesson, the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, comes on the scene with His Word and His healing. He comes to fulfill what the healing of Naaman foreshadows, namely, the healing of sin. Jesus' miracles of physical healing are also signs of that ultimate healing from sin that He accomplishes on the cross. And so also we have in the Gospel lesson another leper, an outcast of society, one who according to the Law should have been standing far off from the crowd crying out, “Unclean! Unclean!” For leprosy made one ceremonially unclean, untouchable, because again, this disease was a picture of our inborn infection of sin. Leprosy, physically speaking, is a bacterial disease that manifests itself on the skin with lesions and sores that greatly disfigure a person’s appearance. In biblical times, and in some places even today, lepers had to live together in colonies segregated from the rest of society. And so this leper should have been warding Jesus off, “Unclean! Unclean!” But he does not do so. Instead he does something quite amazing. He comes up to Jesus and falls on his knees before the Master, entreating Him, “If you will, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40). And Jesus, moved with compassion for this child of God whom He had come to save, stretches out His hand and touches him. Don’t miss the import of this. Jesus touches the untouchable leper. And in touching him, the uncleanness of the leper is transferred to Jesus, and the cleanness of Jesus is transferred to the leper. Is this not a beautiful picture of what Jesus does for us in ultimately healing us of sin? “I will; be clean,” Jesus says (v. 41). It is a physical picture of holy absolution, “I forgive you all your sins.” All our sins are placed upon Jesus to be nailed to the cross. All of His righteousness is given to us in exchange.

This is, after all, the point of Jesus’ miracles. If Jesus can cure leprosy, cast out demons, heal diseases, and raise the dead, then He is God, and He has the authority on earth to forgive sins. This is the ultimate healing. And this healing, dear brothers and sisters, is for you today. Jesus is here today to pronounce His healing to you, “I will; be clean.” He has come to cleanse you of the leprosy of your sin. He does this through means, the Word and the Sacraments. He does it through Baptism, water connected with the Word of God. How can water do such great things? Don’t be offended, like Naaman was, that God would use ordinary water, the ordinary act of washing, and ordinary words, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” to cleanse you. Perhaps you would prefer something more spectacular, like faith healings, for example. Perhaps you’d rather come up one by one and have me wave my hands over you, calling on the Name of the Lord, so that every earthly malady of which you suffer can be healed. But God doesn’t promise to work that way. He promises to work through water and the Word. Again, how can water do such great things? It is not the water indeed that does them, but the Word of God in and with the water. That is where God has promised to work. That is the truth to which Naaman’s cleansing in the Jordan points. Water and the Word combine to give you Christ’s righteousness. Jesus, too, would be dipped in the Jordan, baptized into Naaman’s uncleanness and your sin, sanctifying all baptismal waters that you might be baptized into His righteousness. You are washed clean in Baptism, with all the cleanness of Jesus Christ. It is no wonder Peter declares that Baptism now saves you (1 Peter 3:21).

So also, you are cleansed in preaching. For all preaching is absolution, or at least it should be. All preaching ought to forgive your sins. That is why preaching is both Law and Gospel. Christian preaching is the voice of Jesus calling you to repentance for your sin and uncleanness, and applying His blood and righteousness for your cure. A sermon is not a lecture, contrary to popular belief. It’s not the boring middle part of the church service, in spite of what the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh may lead you to believe. The sermon is Christ in action. Something is happening to you even now as you sit in the pew struggling to pay attention. Jesus is speaking His healing Word to you through the mouth of His unworthy servant. Jesus is speaking His Holy Spirit into you. Jesus is forgiving your sin. This in spite of the sinful, bumbling preacher. This in spite of your impatience and wandering mind. Jesus is here! God in the flesh is speaking! His Word is the operative element in your healing.

And so again, we have the Supper of our Lord. Don’t be put off by the simplicity of it all. No, it’s not a physically satisfying meal. You’ll still want to go to fellowship hour for a snack after the service, and lunch after that. But don’t be fooled. That little wafer of bread, that little sip of wine, is Jesus’ body and blood, for your forgiveness, for your cleansing. Marvelous! “The body of God’s Lamb we eat, A priestly food and priestly meat; On sin-parched lips the chalice pours His quenching blood that life restores” (LSB 624:6). Again, it’s the Word of God that brings Jesus’ body and blood to the meal for our forgiveness, life, and salvation, for your cleansing. The Supper is the visible, tangible, healing touch of Jesus. So simple, yet so profound. It is our ultimate healing from sin and death.

Beloved, we are so tempted to seek more spectacular healing than that which Jesus gives. A boring sermon can’t be the life-giving Word of God, we think. Water, bread, wine, what have these things to do with our healing? We need impressive displays, if not miracles, then at least the glow of having had a spiritual experience. We need dynamic worship that gives us goose bumps or makes us warm and fuzzy inside. We need practical messages about how to live our best life now. Then the people will come in droves and we won’t have to suffer through another stuffy, boring liturgical service…

But that is not the Gospel, dear friends! This is exactly why Jesus was so stern with the leper, warning him not to tell anybody about the healing, but simply to go to the priest for a clean bill of health and offer the prescribed sacrifices of thanksgiving. It’s not that Jesus is against evangelism. No one wants to evangelize more than Jesus, who gave His life for the salvation of the world. It is rather that Jesus wants people to come to Him for the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins, their ultimate healing, and not for a show, not for the miracles, not for the mountaintop spiritual experience. We see this when the leper can’t keep his mouth shut in the Gospel lesson. Now the crowds surround Jesus wherever He goes. That sounds like it should be a good thing. But they don’t want the Gospel. They want the show and they want the easy cure. They don’t want the preaching. They don’t want the forgiveness of sins. They want what makes them feel good. This is a picture of you and me whenever we doubt the Word’s effectiveness, whenever we’re bored with it, whenever we think we’ve had enough of it, whenever we grow weary with church and sermons and sacraments. We forget that every encounter with the Word is a healing encounter with Jesus Christ. Repent.

Repent and know that Jesus is here with His cleansing for you. Here in the boring old church service with the poor excuse for a preacher and the water and the bread and the wine, promising to do more for you through these things than you could ever ask or imagine. He says to you this morning, “I will; be clean.” And you are restored. Go tell others, by all means. But don’t tell them to come because we’re friendly or we have really good fellowship hours or they’ll feel all warm and fuzzy after the sermon. That’s not the Gospel. Tell them to come because Jesus will cleanse them here. He will cleanse them from the leprosy of sin, even as He has cleansed you. Jesus touches untouchable sinners, you and me. He takes our sin and uncleanness into Himself on the cross. He gives us His righteousness. Depart in peace. You are clean. Jesus forgives you all your sins. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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