Sermon Notes, 4th Sunday after Epiphany, 29 January in the Year of our Lord the 2017th
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. Matt 8:1-13 (KJV)
The open scene of today’s text is of Jesus coming “down from the mountain.” There is no sweeter communion on earth than that which is shared with our Father in Heaven. Jesus often resorted to mountains to pray since all of the hustle and bustle of the world is left below, and only the ethereal mist of the mountain remains to enhance our fellowship. The multitudes did not follow Him DOWN the mountain, but rather waited for Him to come down before they followed. Many today desire a convenient and entertaining time of worship. Serious worship may appear to them to be tiring and boring, but to our Lord, it was the essence of joy.
But, remember, we cannot remain on the mountain top forever. After we are strengthened and nourished by prayer and communion, we must again descend to the world as a ship let down into the sea. The work is on the lower level, and the communion well above. So the multitudes were persuaded to follow Him when there was no mountain-climbing involved. It was an early symptom of “EASY-BELIEVISM” that permeates the religious world in our day.
Among the multitudes, we are told, was a leper. May I be so bold as to pronounce the entire multitude a gathering of lepers in the spiritual sense for all were infected with the smelly, deadly disease of sin. “2 And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” There are three, perhaps even four, important aspects of the leper’s approach that needs illumination. Can you see them in this one verse? 1) The leper came to the only source of healing available – the Lord Jesus Christ. He is also OUR only source of healing and salvation. 2) He came in the right attitude – that of worship. We need to worship the Lord if we will enjoy the benefits of His blessings. 3) He expressed his great need to the Lord. We cannot expect the Lord to come to our need if we do not even bother to raise prayers to Him. And 4) He ONLY expressed his need, but made no request. The request is implicit in the expression of need and trust to satisfy it. If it is the Lord’s will to heal us, He will surely answer our prayer. If not, it may be to our benefit that He does not answer.
“3 And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” Our best comfort and peace is also the will of our Lord to grant; but notice the mode in which Jesus healed the leper. He could have simply spoken the word and the man would have been just as healed. But, no, Jesus is making another point here. 1) “Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him.” No man had touched the leper in the many moons since he had contracted this filthy and highly contagious disease; but Jesus deigned to TOUCH the man.2) He not only touched his wretched body by that touch, but the deeper chambers of the man’s heart and being. We are not too good to touch the dying and lost; in fact, we MUST! He healed the man’s leprosy, but He also granted a greater healing – that of salvation! When Jesus says to us, “Be thou clean!” it means an utter and completed cleansing of our hands, feet, head, mind, and soul. The healing of the Lord is never partial or gradual, but rather COMPLETE at once: 3) “And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”
The next words of our Lord are almost humorous were they not so critically important to the narrative: 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.” Please observe a mystery hidden from many eyes in this last counsel of our Lord to the leper. Just imagine how this counsel must have sounded to the leper! “See thou tell no man.” This leper undoubtedly has a family from whom he is exiled to the leper colony. He has not been allowed to draw near either friend or foe without shouting well ahead, “UNCLEAN,” as a warning. Now Jesus has healed the man. His face is no longer distorted by rotten patches of flesh (excuse the terminology). His ears and nose are whole again, and so are his limbs all restored to perfect health. Now, he is to tell no man – not even his close friends, neighbors, and family. Do we presume that these will not notice that he is healed? IMPOSSIBLE! After being healed, he no longer is required to shout, “UNCLEAN!” He no longer wears the rags or the countenance of a leper. It will be impossible for any to see him without knowing that he has been healed. The only question that this leper will be asked is, “How were you healed from that dreadful disease.” There can be no answer except the TRUTH – it was the Lord’s doing. When we have been blessed with so great a salvation of that found in our Lord Jesus Christ, we, too, must out with the TRUTH – it was the Lord’s doing! We cannot keep such a glorious secret, and that is the point, I believe, that Jesus is making here.
Continuing with the text, we find that our Lord is approached by a Centurion as He enters into Capernaum. Our Lord was particularly disposed to military men. This centurion is a Roman officer commanding a century (100) of troops, and sometimes as much as a cohort. Jesus found the faith of this centurion to be far greater than any He had witnessed among His own of Israel. Men and women of military backgrounds often exhibit a greater faith than others owing to their view of AUTHORITY. Joshua and Caleb were the only two men of Israel to survive the Wilderness Journey and enter the Promised Land because of their courage bolstered by faith. The Lord said of Caleb: “22 Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; 23 Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it: 24 But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it.” Num 14:22-24 (KJV) Caleb, like the Centurion of today’s text, was a man under authority (to God).
The faithful Joshua made clear the strength of his faith and character in the following two verses: “14 Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. 15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Josh 24:14-15 (KJV) You will observe that Joshua also exercised authority over his own family. A good soldier follows proper authority and also exercises authority in commendable ways.
Where did Joshua, Caleb, the Centurion, and others of military stripe acquire such strength of faith? It was from the sense of authority instilled into their souls as men of military disposition. If authority is sneered upon by the ranks of the military, that army will be worthless in winning battles. The military service requires prompt and unquestioning obedience since there may not be time enough to discuss the reasons for an order, or a delay in carrying it out. The need for prompt action required King Richard III (Act V, Scene IV of Shakespeare’s play to exclaim, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” Time in battle is everything. It may spell the difference in absolute victory or abject defeat!
The Centurion of our story was accustomed to observing the lines of authority. He himself was under authority, and he exercised authority as well over others. “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.” The great faith of the Centurion led him to understand who Our Lord Jesus Christ was – the ultimate Authority! He also recognized his own unworthiness to come into the Lord’s presence. None of us are so worthy, by the way. We are made so by the mercy and unmerited grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Though our Lord knew the heart of the Centurion ere he spoke, he expressed amazement at his faith in order to emphasize that faith in the hearts of the onlookers. “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.”
The result of unbridled faith and obedience under Authority is answer to prayer. If we have the faith, and recognize the Authority, the things we ask will be exactly those things that the Lord is disposed to grant us. Prayers for prosperity and satisfaction of greed fall to the ground at the feet of the petitioner.
Heed the counsel and commandment of our Lord: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15 (KJV)