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 12, 2012

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany



Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (B)

February 12, 2012
Text: Mark 1:40-45

Cleansing is what the man needed. Leprosy had rendered him ceremonially unclean according to the Law of Moses. That meant that not only was this man grotesquely disfigured by a very painful disease (leprosy is a bacterial disease that severely damages the skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes), he also became a social outcast. He could not be near other people. He could not be in the company of his friends or his family. He was not allowed to attend church services at the local synagogue. When people came to close to him, he had to shout out the warning, “Unclean, unclean.” Many thought that leprosy and other afflictions were punishments from God on account of the sufferer’s sins, and though this is not the case, many today believe likewise. Needless to say, leprosy had rendered this man among the walking dead. He could not work. He could not live in community. He could do nothing but sit and beg. And warn people away. Leprosy was utterly devastating in the fullest sense of the word.

But then Jesus comes on the scene. The man does not warn Jesus away. The man does not call out “unclean, unclean,” as he is supposed to. Instead, he runs to Jesus. He falls down on his knees before the Savior and implores Him: “If you will, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40; ESV). If You will, You can clean up my skin, erase this debilitating disease. If You will, You can make me ceremonially clean according to the Law of Moses. If You will, You can restore me to my family and friends, to the synagogue, to society. The man does not doubt Jesus’ ability to perform the healing. By his pleading, he confesses that Jesus is the very One who can help. But he leaves the manner and timing of the healing in the hands of his gracious Lord. It is the same as if he said, “Thy will be done.” And we learn something of prayer here, from the man with leprosy. When we pray for things that God does not expressly promise to give us in His Word, like temporal healing from disease, we always add, “Thy will be done.” For God knows what is best for us. In His infinite wisdom, He knows how best to accomplish His good and gracious will in our lives, what will be beneficial for our lives in Him, for our very salvation. We know that God ultimately will heal us in body and soul, in the resurrection. But we do not know if He will heal our bodies in this earthly life. And so, when we pray for healing, we leave the timing and that manner of healing up to Him. We simply confess along with the leper: “If you will, you can make me clean.”

Our Lord is compassionate, gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love. Often He does extend His hand of healing. And that is precisely what He did for the leper in our text. “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean’” (v. 41). The first time the leper had been touched since his dread disease had been revealed. This, by the way, made Jesus ceremonially unclean, which makes the most important theological point of our text: Jesus takes our uncleanness into Himself and bears it all the way to the cross. But He doesn’t just take away what is bad in us. He gives us what is good in Him. He makes the man clean by giving him His own cleanness: physical, ceremonial, social, spiritual. With great compassion, Jesus touches the man. And He speaks His healing Word. “I will; be clean.” And the man is clean. Because that is how powerful the Word of our Lord Jesus is.

Uncleanness in the ceremonial Law of the Old Testament is a symbol of our sin. Our real uncleanness, our real leprosy, is sin. In the Old Testament, a leper who had been healed was to go and present himself to the priest for inspection, bathe himself in water, and make several sacrifices, including two lambs, or if the leper is poor, one lamb, to be offered as a guilt offering (Lev. 14). And, of course, the imagery is clear here, and very important. The lamb points to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who touches us with His true body and blood and cleanses us of our uncleanness, and is the sacrifice for our guilt before God. We, too, bathe in the water of Baptism, and we are thus cleansed. Our sins are covered in Baptism with the blood of the sacrificial Lamb, the sinless Son of God, Jesus Christ.

The man in our text was to go and show himself to the priest and offer for his cleansing that which Moses commanded, “for a proof to them,” (v. 44), as a testimony against their hard hearts, as a witness that Jesus had, in fact, cleansed the man of his leprosy, as a witness that Messiah had arrived in the person of Jesus. Interestingly enough, Jesus did not want the man blabbing about the miracle all over town, and the reason becomes clear enough when the man does exactly the opposite of what Jesus commands: He does not go to the priest. Instead, he talks freely about the miracle and spreads the news “so that Jesus could not longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter” (v. 45). This is not a verse against evangelism. But the man didn’t follow Jesus’ evangelism instructions. Note this very carefully, dear Christians: We are to do evangelism according to Jesus’ instructions and not according to our own notions of what might produce the best results. Otherwise, we might get in the way of Jesus’ mission in spite of ourselves. The priest does not receive the evangelism, does not receive the man’s testimony. Rather, Jesus job is made more difficult by a mass of people who want all sorts of things from Him, but the last thing they want is cleansing from sin. Which is to say, they miss the whole point of the miracle in the first place. Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb of God who comes to take away our sin, our uncleanness, and give us His cleanness, His righteousness in exchange.

And it all happens in Baptism. You may think, as Naaman did in our Old Testament lesson (2 Kings 5:1-14), that to be cleansed of leprosy, cleansed of sin, by taking a bath, is the silliest notion any prophet has ever proposed. You may say to yourself, “How can water do such great things?” And, of course, the answer is quite elegantly stated by Dr. Luther in the Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986): “Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things.” For you see, “without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: ‘He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.’ [Titus 3:5-8]”. Naaman thought it was a ridiculous notion that washing seven times in the dirty, stinky Jordan River would cleanse and restore him. And ordinarily he would be right. Water, especially dirty, stinky water like that in the Jordan, cannot do these things. Except when the Word of God is added. The Word is the power in the water. Naaman’s servants convince him to give it a try. He dips himself once. No healing. He dips himself again. No healing. He dips himself six times. No healing. But the seventh time, the full number prescribed by the Word of the LORD, brings about the cleansing and restoration that Naaman so desperately needs. How can water do such a great thing? Certainly not just the water does this, but the Word of God in and with the water. And so it is with Baptism. The Word and Name of God delivers full cleansing from the leprosy of sin, full restoration of the sinner in relationship with God, because God says so. It is not the water that does it, but the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. For our Lord Jesus commanded His Church to make disciples of all nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), and He promises, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).

Cleansing is what you need. Sin has rendered you unclean according to the Law of God. Sin has made you spiritually grotesquely disfigured. It has cut you off from God. It has cut you off from other people. It has made you subject to death and eternal condemnation in hell. But now Jesus has come on the scene. And His whole will is to cleanse you. Beloved, fall before your Lord Jesus in repentance, believing that He can cleanse you, that He is your only help, your only hope. He says to you this morning precisely what He said to the leper in our text: “I will; be clean.” He is the priest to which you are to present yourself. He bathes you in the cleansing waters of Baptism. And He Himself is the sacrificial Lamb of your guilt offering. He offers Himself in your behalf on the altar of the cross. Now you are cleansed. Now you are restored in fellowship to God. Now you are restored in relationship with other people. Now you have life and the eternal joy of heaven and the resurrection. Beloved, you are clean! Beloved, you are free! Which is to say, you are Baptized. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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