Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 23)
October 10, 2010
Text: Luke 17:11-19

“Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19; ESV). Actually, that’s a mistranslation. The text should read: “your faith has saved you,” for there is so much more than physical healing going on here. It is true, the Samaritan leper is healed from his leprosy. But more importantly, this Samaritan is healed from the leprosy of sin. Sin is not just the bad things we do, or the good things we fail to do. It is a disease that is passed down from generation to generation. It began with our first parents, Adam and Eve, who ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, and it has been passed down from parents to children ever since. It is a deadly disease, sin. In every case, it leads to death. St. Paul writes, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). So you see, it is no small thing that here Jesus says that the Samaritan’s faith has saved him. The Samaritan has not only been cured of leprosy. The other nine were cured of leprosy as well. By faith, the Samaritan’s sins have been forgiven.

Notice again what saves him: Faith! He is saved by faith, and not by his returning to give thanks to Jesus. So often this text is misused in such a way that it becomes a moralistic lesson in giving thanks. Of course, you should give thanks to God, not just when He does spectacular things like cure leprosy, but at all times, in all circumstances. You should give thanks for all the blessings He showers down upon you, including when He blesses you by laying a cross upon you. Thanksgiving is one component of prayer that we often neglect, and so we should make it a habit always to give thanks. But that’s not the point of the text. The point of the text is faith in Jesus Christ. The Samaritan has it. The other nine don’t. The evidence of the Samaritan’s faith in Jesus Christ is that he returns and gives thanks.

The Samaritan’s faith saves him. But what is faith and how does it save? Faith is trust. Faith is trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. This definition of faith is very important if we are to understand how faith saves. You see, faith is NOT the one good work I get to do to earn my salvation. Faith does not earn salvation any more than any other good work. Christ has earned your salvation by His sin atoning work, His fulfillment of the Law on your behalf, His suffering, death, and resurrection. Faith does not earn your salvation. Faith receives your salvation. Faith receives the salvation earned for you by your Lord Jesus Christ. Faith is the receiving hands of the beggar who has done nothing to merit the gift of his benefactor. Faith is simply trust in the benefactor, Jesus Christ. Faith is not intellectual knowledge. Faith is not the ability to confess, to speak Christian doctrine. Faith is simply trust. It is trust in Christ. And so even infants can have faith. You can even have faith when you are sleeping or incapacitated. Even those suffering with Alzheimer’s or dementia can have faith, because again, faith is simply trust.

And such faith is not something you drum up within yourself by your own powers. Oh no, you cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him. Faith is God’s gift. Faith is God’s action in you. It is all by grace. The Holy Spirit calls you to faith. He calls you by the Gospel. He enlightens you with His gifts in Word and Sacrament. He ties Himself to means so that you always know where to find Him, and where to find Christ and the Father. He ties Himself to the Word and the Sacraments. That is where He gives and strengthens faith. And that is where He sanctifies you and keeps you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ, so that you may have eternal life. Outside of Christ and the Spirit’s work in bringing you to faith, your will is bound. You have no ability to make a decision for Jesus. You cannot choose to believe. So you see, faith is all God’s work. Just as the Father has given you hands to receive His material blessings, hands that you did not earn, hands that you did not choose to grow on your body, hands that God gave you by His grace, so God gives you the spiritual hands of faith to receive His spiritual gifts in Jesus Christ: forgiveness, life, and salvation. Again, it is all by grace.

Faith receives. Faith is the receiving hands. And faith cries for mercy. Faith is that which cries to the Lord for mercy and help in every time of need. Of course, even unbelievers can cry for mercy. And the Lord gives great mercy to unbelievers in this life. All ten lepers cried out to Jesus for mercy. And Jesus cleansed all ten lepers. So what is the difference between the nine unbelievers, and this Samaritan believer? By faith, the Samaritan understands that he has done nothing to earn Jesus’ healing and salvation. The other nine think it is good and right that Jesus should heal them. After all, what did they do to deserve this leprosy? They are good Jews. They follow the Law of Moses. They aren’t like this Samaritan fellow, the odd man out. So upon Jesus’ command, they go and show themselves to the priests. The priests examine them and declare them clean. End of story for those nine. But by faith, the Samaritan understands that he must go not to the Jewish priests, but to Jesus, the great High Priest who will make the once-for-all sacrifice of atonement for his sins. By faith, the Samaritan comes to Jesus and prostrates himself before God in the flesh, giving thanks and praise to his Lord and Savior. And Jesus pronounces him clean, not just of leprosy, but of the vilest and deadliest of all diseases. Jesus pronounces the Samaritan clean from sin!

Faith receives the mercy of God, and gives thanks to the God of mercy incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. Beloved in the Lord, you have done nothing to earn the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. You are just like the Samaritan. By faith, you understand that you have not earned your healing from sin. You have no merit or worthiness within yourself by which you are saved. You are a sinner. You have no good works to bring to God in payment for your salvation. You can only bring Him your sin. By faith, you look to Another for mercy, even Jesus Christ. By faith, like the Samaritan before you, you prostrate yourself before the Author of life, the Great Physician, Jesus Christ. You come empty. He fills you. You have nothing to offer but your disease and sin. He heals you and forgives you. Your faith has made you well, nay; your faith has saved you! You have healing from sin. You have peace with God. You are made whole again. “Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the LORD and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears… Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!” (Ps. 34:3-4; 48:1 [Introit]).

Faith gives thanks! Faith praises! For though faith passively receives forgiveness and salvation, nonetheless, faith is always active. From faith flow good works and the giving of thanks and praise. To give thanks to someone is to say back to them the good thing that they’ve done for you. It is to acknowledge that they are responsible for the good that you’ve experienced. To praise someone is to speak highly of him, to exalt him, and such praise is directed both to the one you are praising as well as to others. And so beloved, by faith we give thanks to God. We acknowledge that not just some of the good we enjoy, but all of the good we enjoy comes from God. We thank Him for all the great and wonderful things He bestows upon us, for His undeserved mercy, and especially for the gifts of life and salvation He bestows upon us in Christ Jesus. And we praise Him. We not only sing our praises to Him, we also sing His praises to others as we confess Christ in our daily lives and vocations. And we live for Him. We live lives of thanksgiving and praise. We seek to fulfill His commandments. We daily crucify our sinful flesh, and walk in the newness of life given us in Christ Jesus, always trusting in the forgiveness of sins that we have in Christ. We make our whole life a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the God who has saved us by grace alone, and given us this salvation by faith alone, without works.

Faith alone without works. That is how we are saved. But faith is never alone. Faith is always active in good works. The apostle Paul writes: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10). Notice again, this is the gift of God. It is all the gift of God in Christ Jesus. Justification. Sanctification. It is the gift of God! By faith, the Samaritan understands this. By faith, you understand this. And so you also come this morning to the High Priest who has made the once-for-all sacrifice for your sins on the altar of the cross. You come to your High Priest Jesus Christ, and He pronounces you clean. You have been cleansed by His very blood. Thus being clean, you come to His house, to His feast. You come into the very presence of God and fall before His feet in thanksgiving. And Jesus says to you, “Rise. Rise out of the death of sin. Your faith has saved you. You are whole again.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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