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Third Sunday after the Epiphany - January 23, 2022

[Read Matthew 8:1-13]


Jesus Is Willing; His Will Is Done

Sickness of body - sickness of soul - sickness of sin - Is the Lord willing and able to save me?

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. [Matthew 8:1-3]

Jesus was coming down from preaching the Sermon on the Mount. This man with leprosy – a painful and grotesque disease of the skin – said “Lord, if you will” – if you are willing – “you can make me clean” – You are able; if you are willing, you will and can.

Jesus responded, “I will” – I am willing – “be clean”. Jesus is willing. He is willing to place His hand on this unclean, contagious man – “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him” – and in saying “be clean” the man is saved – “immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”

He is able. Jesus sits at God’s right hand and is Lord and God of heaven and earth with His Father. Jesus is the one through whom God has created all things – every molecule and the invisible soul. He is able. Is He willing to save me?

Jesus is willing to heal the soul. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls [Matthew 11:28-29]. He saves in matters of the mind and spirit. He casts away devils – and casts away the devil’s accusations – and gives rest to the soul. He is willing.

Jesus is willing to heal the body. Most of the examples in the Gospels of Jesus ‘making well’, saving, are that of making bodies well, saving crippled and sick bodies. Man is created in God’s image from the dust of the earth [Genesis 1:27; 2:7]. You are a physical body – with a soul – but you are physical. He restores this fallen, physical image of God.

Jesus is willing. But is Jesus willing to make-well me, the sinner? When it’s my fault? Or when I deserve no less than what I’m suffering? When the world’s word is ringing in my ears, “Take responsibility; accountability; it’s on you”, is there nevertheless the hope of free grace from God. Help. Deliverance.

Or when I’ve been sinned against – it’s been forced on me – yet I’ve been made unclean by it. And I’ve responded to sin with sin. Is Jesus willing to save me, a sinner?

Is He willing when I have no reason, when I simply have sinned shamefully? Real sin. My fault. Shameful. When I deserve no less, am I even right to ask for grace? Is it right to ask for deliverance from just consequences?

God is merciful. He is willing. He laid the just consequences of your sin upon His innocent Son, Jesus, the Lord. Jesus is willing.

Leprosy comes in many forms as does our true leprosy, the leprosy of sin – sin in soul; sin in the body. Sin in my will by which I have willingly sinned. We repent because Jesus is willing to help and deliver. We have a healer to turn to, to repent to.

When Jesus came down from the mountain in today’s Gospel and encountered the unclean leper, Jesus had just been preaching the Sermon on the Mount – God’s holy and perfect Law – a beautiful sermon expressing perfectly God’s holy nature and holy will. A sermon which shows me to be so completely unholy. Unclean. The first thing Jesus does after preaching this sermon is that he touches and saves an unclean man.

In our Old Testament reading [2 Kings 5:1-15], through His prophet Elisha, the Lord cleanses Naman of leprosy – Naman, a foreigner, who was resistant to the Lord’s offer of grace and scoffed at the Lord’s humble means. Yet, through the word of servants, the Lord is persistent to heal this man. The Lord is willing.

He is willing when it’s your fault and/or when you deserve no less. Consider the woman caught in adultery. In John 8:1-11, a woman had been caught in adultery. Really caught, guilty of that shameful betrayal – a sin for which God’s own Law prescribes the death penalty [Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22].

Yet Jesus saves this woman from the just consequences of her own actions. He sends her accusers away – accusers who were not incorrect under the letter of the Law, but were wrong under grace. Jesus has grace, “Neither do I condemn you”, He says. He sends her away free. No penance to perform. Yet with an admonition, “Go and sin no more.” Don’t return to the trap from which I’ve freed you.’

And consider the gentile Centurion who says without lying, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof” [Matthew 8:8] – and his servant was healed. And consider the tax-collector in the Lord’s parable who said, “Lord, have mercy on me, the sinner” [Luke 18:9-14] – and he went home justified.

How can Jesus be willing to heal and save when it’s my own fault or when I justly deserve temporal or eternal punishments? It’s because He has laid it upon Himself. As the last word of today’s Gospel reading says, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’” [Matthew 8:17]

And as that quote from Isaiah 53 continues: “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the punishment that brought us peace, and by His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all”“His soul makes an offering for [your] guilt.” [Isaiah 53:5-6,10].

The love of God is such that the Lord has made your sins and leprosies His own. Your sins and sicknesses are His on the cross. He suffered the temporal and eternal consequences on that tree. It is finished. You are free.

Jesus is fully able and by grace is willing to heal all diseases and pains in body and soul. What temporary burdens we still do bear are crosses and fatherly disciplines which serve a purpose – to build us up; not to harm us.

God spares us from many, even most evils and perils in this life. What we do suffer serves the purpose of His love for us.

Full and final healing – perfectly thorough and complete healing of the guilty sinner’s soul and body – is to come and is sure and certain. It is yours in Baptism – by which you have died and rise in Him [Romans 6:3-5].

At death the soul is freed. At the Lord’s return, this body is raised like His body. Health of body. Health of soul. No sickness of sin. Only life forevermore – because Jesus is willing and His will has been done. Amen.

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