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Epiphany 3 – Matthew 8:1-13

by pastorjuhl ~ January 28th, 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

There are actually three miracles in today’s Gospel. The first is the healing of the leper. The second is the healing of the centurion’s servant. The third and greatest miracle is the faith of these two men, especially the centurion. Even Jesus was astonished at this Gentile’s faith. If Jesus Himself is astonished at the centurion’s faith, then this must be a miracle and worth contemplating. True faith in Jesus Christ is a divine miracle.

First, let’s consider the leper. He had little opportunity to hear and learn God’s Word because of his leprosy. He was excluded from the community because of his disease. Perhaps he heard the Word as a youth, but as he grew older and leprosy contaminated his flesh he was not able to hear the Word with family or with neighbors. Maybe he had only heard our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, which concluded in Matthew chapter seven. At any rate, this leper truly believed Jesus could and would make him clean from leprosy. The leper believed Jesus is God and Messiah. This is a miracle – a miracle of faith.

The centurion had even greater obstacles to faith. He was a Gentile, a soldier, and lived in Capernaum, a very wicked city. Jesus says about Capernaum in Matthew chapter 11: will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. Even with three strikes against him, this centurion has great faith, so great that Jesus cannot help but be astonished about it. The centurion believes Jesus can help where no other man can help, for his servant was sick unto death. Doctors gave up on him, but he believes Jesus is able to do what doctors cannot do.

What is more, the centurion adds these words to his request: Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. This is truly remarkable faith! No wonder Jesus was astonished. The centurion believes Jesus does not need to be present in order to heal his servant. This is as much a divine miracle as the healing itself.

Consider these words from the author of the epistle to the Hebrews: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith has to do with nothing but unseen divine things, yet faith is certainly irrefutable. You have by nature a heart that is set apart from God and all heavenly things, a heart that is full of unbelief, hatred of God, pride, self-righteousness, blindness, and folly, Though you recognize yourself as an accursed sinner before God, you, like the centurion, embrace God as your dear Father with confidence because of the merit of Jesus Christ’s blood and righteousness. Jesus is your Savior just as He is the Savior of the centurion and the leper. That is as much a miracle as the two healings in today’s Gospel.

Though faith has to do with unseen divine things, it is worked through means: the seemingly inconspicuous Biblical Word, the Gospel of a crucified Christ. Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter two: The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. No wonder so many wise men of the world laugh at Holy Scripture. They want to master the Word rather than let the Word master them. Faith is also worked through the easily despised means of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. Every baptism, every word of absolution, every time you eat and drink Christ’s true Body and true Blood, is a miracle. Consider an infant baptism. It is amazing that a little child comes to faith through baptismal water. That little child has the kingdom of heaven, just as Jesus says: Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.

Consider also the effect of faith on the leper and the centurion. The leper came to Him and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” The leper completely submits to God’s will. He is ready to suffer patiently for a while longer if that is the Lord’s will. That last part about patiently suffering is something we often forget as Christians. God’s will may be for you to endure an affliction patiently for a while in order to humble you. He also may be trying to teach you patience under the cross. Whatever the reason, we still pray that difficult, yet comforting petition, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

The centurion is not used to humbling himself before anyone. Usually it is the other way around. He tells Jesus, I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, “Go,” and he goes, and to another, “Come,” and he comes, and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it. The centurion does not have to be kind to the people of Capernaum. He is a Roman soldier. He could have nothing to do with them. Yet the centurion does care for his slave as other Gentiles perhaps would not. Consider also in Luke’s account of today’s Gospel that some Jewish elders came to our Lord to ask Him to heal the centurion’s servant. The reason why is that [the centurion] is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue. Whoever heard of a Gentile showing such love to Jews? We do here. This centurion puts all of us to shame.

Faith brings a change of heart. We see this in all the good things the centurion does for the people of Capernaum. Martin Luther saw the unbroken connection between faith and good works in his preface to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Faith is a living, daring confidence on God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad, bold, and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures; and this is the work of the Holy Ghost in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace; and thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers, who would be wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God to work faith in you; else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think or do.

True faith in Jesus Christ is a divine miracle. Only God can work such faith in His Gifts. This faith then shows itself with love toward both God and men. Though we are not worthy of this gift, we receive it in hearing and keeping His Word in preaching. We receive what the Word bestows: forgiveness of sins and eternal life. These are greater gifts than healing from leprosy or sickness unto death. Healing from earthly illness is the icing on the cake. We have everlasting healing of our soul because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Believe it for His sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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