Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany

"By Him all things were made, and nothing was made that was made apart from Him, the creating Word." John 1. The swan was painted by Norma Boeckler.

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Pastor Gregory L. Jackson

Bethany Lutheran Church, 10 AM Central Time

The Hymn #44 Ye Lands 2.41
The Confession of Sins
The Absolution
The Introit p. 16
The Gloria Patri
The Kyrie p. 17
The Gloria in Excelsis
The Salutation and Collect p. 19
The Epistle and Gradual
The Gospel
Glory be to Thee, O Lord!
Praise be to Thee, O Christ!
The Nicene Creed p. 22
The Sermon Hymn # 264 Preserve Thy Word 2.55

Commending Faith

The Hymn # 249 Isaiah Mighty Seer 2.75
The Preface p. 24
The Sanctus p. 26
The Lord's Prayer p. 27
The Words of Institution
The Agnus Dei p. 28
The Nunc Dimittis p. 29
The Benediction p. 31
The Hymn #45 Now the Hour of Worship 2.95

KJV Romans 12:16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. 17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. 18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. 20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. 21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

KJV Matthew 8:1 When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. 2 And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. 3 And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. 5 And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, 6 And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. 7 And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. 8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. 9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. 10 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. 11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 13 And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.

Third Sunday After Epiphany
O almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all dangers and necessities stretch forth Thy mighty hand, to defend us against our enemies; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one true God, world without end. Amen.

Commending Faith
First miracle, Lenski:
“This leper is willing, if Jesus shall so will, to remain in his living death. Submissive faith can go no farther. This leper distinguishes divine temporal from divine spiritual and eternal gifts. He knows that he is asking only for the former which God’s wisdom and love may and often does withhold from us; but gifts such as pardon, peace, spiritual consolation and strength are always freely granted since it is without question God’s will that we have them. How this leper came to such faith we are unable to say; but his case is one that shows clearly how the teaching of Jesus produced the most blessed spiritual effects.
On leprosy see the Bible Dictionaries and Trench, Miracles. Luke states that the man was “full of leprosy”; the disease had progressed very far. The leper was accounted as one dead and thus as unclean. It was a bold act on the part of this leper to work his way through the crowd to the feet of Jesus.”
Lenski, R. C. H.: The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel. Minneapolis, MN. : Augsburg Publishing House, 1961, S. 319

This Gospel consists of two miracle healings. There are many healing miracles in the Gospels and even groups of miracles mentioned. When details are offered, they have great significance, especially since the Gospels are so short in length.

The first miracle involves a man full of leprosy, in Luke’s version. In other words, he is close to death and hideously deformed. No one can miss the fact of his leprosy, and he is also shunned and excluded from human company, except for other lepers.

He was bold to come through the crowd and to come forward. As Lenski observed, his question itself shows great faith in Christ. If someone wanted to nitpick, the bowing and the use of Lord were not so great, since that was common in that area of the world. Alexander the Great caused great conflict in his Greek soldiers by asking to be treated that way, which was entirely foreign to them. The Greeks created one of the few democracies in the history of the world. Before this time our presidents have never bowed before kings because our tradition, from the Greeks, of freedom.

The lepers question was the key item, because he said in a few words, “You have the power to change this wasted, ravaged body and made it healthy again – with just a Word.” The leper’s entreaty does not question Jesus’ ability. It emphasizes his trust in the power of Christ with a Word.

The divine power of Jesus spread in every direction from the healings, the style of those miracles (beyond any human’s), and the other miracles. Some were seen by only a few – the disciples. But in the course of three years, Jesus raised up three people from the dead: the young girl, the widow’s son, and Lazarus. He walked on water and stilled the storm. His first miracle, turning water into wine, was public and witnessed by many who never expected or imagined such a thing. Therefore, His reputation spread in all directions, and the leper clung to the hope of the Savior cleansing him.

Our translations make it seem to be a matter of Jesus wanting to. Another way to express the leper’s request is to translate, “If You choose to heal me, You can make me clean again.” Jesus reached out His hand and said, “I do choose to heal you.” And the leper was cleansed.

Luther pointed out that, no matter what the conversations involved, Jesus always granted the request of those who asked Him for help. Many people balk at certain details, such as when Jesus appeared to be difficult (Canaanite woman, asking for her daughter). But each miracle has a lesson or two embedded and we only need to listen.

Jesus healed lepers and the blind. We can only imagine the thrill and the joy they experienced when their lives were changed in a moment.
This example of faith shows us what it means to trust utterly in Christ. Jesus said (John 16) –“The Holy Spirit (preaching the Word) will convict the world of sin, because they do not believe on Me.”

The purpose of all preaching is not to show people their carnal sin, which they realize already, but to create and renew their trust in Christ by proclaiming the Word of the Gospel.

The carnal sin preachers begin and end with Law. Notice that all false teachers rely on the Law because they do not trust the Gospel themselves. In the name of Jesus they extinguish faith in Jesus.

All the New Age ministers are influenced directly by the Pentecostals, who conjure up the Holy Spirit on their own, without the Word and Sacraments. But their real masters are the occultic teachers of Asian religion. That is where Norman Vincent Peale got the book he plagiarized (The Power of Positive Thinking) and turned into a best-seller. Schuller copied the concept as Possibility Thinking, and Fuller Seminary copied him. When I hear Jeske calling on the powers of the universe to help us with our personal problems, Time of Grace, I am hearing Asian religion – which I have covered in about 50 university classes.

So let’s look at this leper’s faith, which is a prelude to the Roman officer’s faith story. The leper did not deserve to be in the crowd. He was loathed and feared by everyone. They did not want to catch his disease, which can be communicated. Worst of all, he had the look of a dying man. If he had a shack, he would never put up a mirror to see what he had become. Doubtless he was very weak too. The crowd could have pushed him into the ditch or beaten him away with their staffs. In spite of his fears and self-loathing, he went forward and asked in faith.

So it is when we come before God to receive His grace through the Means of Grace. We do not come to the Throne of Mercy because we are worthy but because we need His cleansing. The Gospel is not logical or reasonable. We have to overcome the limits of our human reason to trust in God’s mercy, to receive His love and forgiveness.

And the way we deepen that trust is to abide with Christ in the Word and Sacraments. As God taught us, this alone is the way in which His grace comes to us. This alone is the work of the Holy Spirit. And only through the Means of Grace do we produce the fruits of the Spirit, because the fruits come from God – not us.

The Roman Officer
The centurion was a high-ranking Roman officer, a man who had survived many battles and the incredible rigor of Roman military life. A Roman soldier never rested. He was always in training or in battle. If he needed work to be done, there were camps to be set up and stone walls to be built. Many European towns began as Roman outposts and camps. Just to illustrate one job of the soldiers. They built 10 foot walls for their camps, but also dug 10 foot deep ditches in front of them, sometimes behind them as well. That is an enormous amount of soil and rock to remove. The idea was to make the wall intimidating and almost impossible to scale. No soldier was ever asked if he felt motivated to do such work. The orders were given and he obeyed. Death was the penalty for not obeying, and there was no trial.

The only way to understand the second miracle completely is to realize that the officer trusted in Jesus so completely that he confessed before the crowd –

“I am a Roman officer. I do not deserve to have You enter my house. If I command something to be done, it is done in an instant. No one doubts or questions my word. I do not debate whether it will be followed. I know it will because I have absolute authority given by Rome. I hold life and death in my hands. Therefore, to heal my dear servant, You do not need to come to my home. You only need to say the Word and he will be healed. I know that, because I understand that You have divine authority far beyond my human authority.”

10 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. 11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus marveled at the officer’s faith, so faith in Christ must be very good indeed. He even said that the centurion’s faith was greater than anything in Israel. The typical request was to have Jesus present, but the centurion understood the efficacy of the Word. He had that kind of human authority, but it was derived from Rome. Jesus had and still has divine authority from Himself – as God.

How troubled must many Lutherans be, to overlook this passage and think that faith is a virtue of man and must be denigrated! That is the position of UOJ, which comes from Pietism. And yes, it is Pietism that trusts in the works of man and the outward signs of religion. Pietism is Law-oriented: real, relational, and relevant – they claim.

The faith of the centurion means utter trust in God’s Word. Jesus is conveyed to us in the Word and no other way. Mormons tried to tell me the Bible was confusing. I said, trying to be Baby Blue Eyes, “Do you mean that God became man, died on the cross for our sins, rose from the dead, and then communicated this message so that no one could understand?”

The Pietistic cell groups (small groups, lay led koinonia groups, share, care, affinity groups) demand works.

The centurion was a prime example for his time. If he stood in the market and ordered people to leave, they would leave without hesitation.
Therefore, when Jesus said, “Be healed,” at whatever distance, the servant was healed.

God says, “Your sins are forgiven.” They are forgiven. This is God’s command, not our feelings.

God says, “This is My Body, given for you for the forgiveness of sin.” That means receiving the Sacrament in faith forgives our sins. Rather than doubting the abundance of the Means of Grace, as the non-Lutherans do, we should be thankful for the many ways in which God’s grace comes to us in the form of the Word.

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